By Kyle Rapinchuk
Sometimes I wonder why the centurion in Matthew’s gospel recognizes Jesus’ identity as Jesus breathes his last breath. Sometimes I wonder why the curtain of the temple is torn in two and darkness covers the skies at the moment of his death. Sometimes I wonder how it is that the dead are raised. Sometimes I wonder why people are weeping in agony that their Rabbi, their leader, has been murdered. I wonder these things because so many I meet have made Christ’s death so tame. Jesus died for your sins, they say. Just believe and go to heaven; it’s that simple. Some even suggest that God could have just forgiven sin; death wasn’t necessary. Jesus’ death has become meaningless.
We have lost sight of the fact that when Jesus “died”, he did what was absolutely necessary for any of us to have hope, and yet absolutely impossible for anyone but himself to accomplish. We have forgotten that far from supporting Jesus in the moments of his death, we have largely lived our lives like those who yelled “Crucify him!” We have forgotten that Christ’s death means that the creator of all the universe has subjected himself to the most devastating of curses that came about when man rebelled against him. Jesus didn’t just die on the cross; Jesus subjected himself to worst shame on behalf of the worst people who didn’t even want or understand what he had to offer. Jesus didn’t just die on the cross; Jesus was delivered up according the eternal plan and foreknowledge of Almighty God. Jesus didn’t just die on the cross; Jesus became the object of the Father’s wrath.
Today we will look at Matthew’s account of Jesus’ crucifixion in Matthew 27. Read how Matthew records Jesus’ death in 27:27-50. What is intriguing is how Matthew crafts his account of the crucifixion in light of Psalm 22. Matthew could have recorded many events that happened during Jesus’ crucifixion, but he consistently focuses on those events that are also recorded in Psalm 22. The question is “Why?” Look at what we find in Psalm 22.
- “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” –Matt 27:46//Ps 22:1
- Mocked him—Matt 27:27-31//Ps 22:6-7
- wagging their heads—Matt 27:39//Ps 22:7
- “Let God deliver him now, if he desires him—Matt 27:43//Ps 22:8
- pierced my hands and feet—Matt 27:35//Ps 22:16
- cast lots for clothing—Matt 27:35//Ps 22:18
- cried out to God—Matt 27:46//Ps 22:24
It is clear that Matthew has organized the crucifixion account around Psalm 22, but why? What does this show us? One thing we learn from Matthew’s manner of presenting this account is demonstrated well by Peter’s words in Acts 2:23—that is was in accordance with the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. It also demonstrates that Jesus is the representative Davidic king who is being persecuted by the kings of the earth (Ps 2). In short, he is the true Messiah.
The second thing I think we learn is much more difficult. Psalm 22:24 says that “he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.” I think Matthew’s account in light of Psalm 22 demonstrates that God did not turn His face away from Jesus, but directed His gaze at him as He poured out His wrath on all sin. He had heard his cry, and He answered it, but He did so through judgment so that there could be the offer of salvation. Do you hear this? Jesus bore the wrath of God against all sin so that we, who deserve it, didn’t have to!
So what do we do about it? Let me first suggest that when we intentionally commit sin we are mocking God and what it cost Him to secure our salvation. Our vision of sin is too often softened by the fact that it has been forgiven. While we should not live in constant guilt of sin because it is true that it has been forgiven, we should by no means forget how wicked sin is. Sin is so egregious, so contrary to God’s nature, that He willingly poured out His wrath as He gazed at His Son so that we could be in relationship with Him. We must recapture the seriousness of what happened on the cross. We must recapture, as difficult as it is for our Western mindset, the fact that Jesus received on the cross not only our sin but also the Father’s righteous wrath. Only then can we understand why Jesus is in such physical anguish in the garden of Gethsemane that his sweat is as drops of blood (Luke 22:44). It is not merely the physical pain that he is envisioning, but the fact that he will bear the wrath of the Father.
And once we have properly grasped its seriousness, we can then truly understand the most amazing pronouncement of the gospel. We can finally understand the depth of the statement found in Romans 5:8—“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It is finished. And, perhaps not surprisingly, this hope of the Gospel happens also to be the concluding line of Ps 22: “It shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it” (v. 31).