Well, today is the final day of Lent. And my first Lent has led me to this final post – It is finished.
Station 13: Jesus Dies on the Cross
It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and when he had said this he breathed his last. Luke 23:44-46
At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah. One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to him on a reed stick so he could drink. But the rest said, “Wait! Let’s see whether Elijah comes to save him.” Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people. Matthew 27:45-53
So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. John 19:30
I absolutely love studying scripture from the historical and cultural context. It’s amazing to understand the audience and the culture surrounding the events of the time. I’ve found a great book recently to assist in this with the subject matter of the New Testament – and that is the The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament by Craig S. Keener. I got the Kindle version as I tend to study on the go (love spending time at Coastal Coffee Roasters). That book is the inspiration for much of what I’ve written lately – reading it has sparked so many ideas and thoughts that I’m having to keep a running list of future writing subjects.
So, here’s some thoughts and facts about the moments surrounding Jesus’ death.
Around three o’clock is when Jesus died… an event that quite literally shook the land, as if the earth was responding with it’s own measure of violence to the violence inflicted on Jesus.
His final words – My God, why have you abandoned me – is from Psalm 22. The majority of that particular Psalm is considered a Messianic prophecy. There are some historians who believe based on Jewish tradition that portions of this Psalm were often read during the time of early evening prayers and offerings in the Temple.
And that’s what makes this so fascinating to me – Jesus would have been aware of that and his words would have been echoing those of the priests in the temple. Their offering in the temple was imperfect. The perfect, spotless lamb of God was there for them and they couldn’t see it. The words of Psalm 22 – take a minute and read it – it talks of being ridiculed by scoffers, an undying thirst in the moment of need, garments being gambled over, bones out of joint, and pierced hands and feet… those in the temple couldn’t see what was literally happening to Jesus at that very moment.
So God did something pretty drastic. He tore the temple veil from top to bottom. Now stop… and here’s where the cultural context really gives insight into that event. In our current time, 2000 years later, we interpret that event as God providing access to all – no sacrifice is needed. And that’s not a wrong interpretation, but there is so much more to it. To the Jewish people of the time – the temple veil being torn would have indicated to them that God had departed the temple… as they were aware could happen from Ezekiel 10-11. God’s glory departed the temple in those passages. So, here, God departed the temple, a symbol that the old covenant was done, over, finished.
Back to Psalm 22 – the reference to that Psalm is full of meaning, especially when you read verses 22-31. They are triumphant, speaking of a body of believers that spans all the ends of the Earth. While Christ was reviled by his own people – a prophet not welcome in his own land – the future would bring triumph!
All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.
All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it! (Ps 22:27-31- NIV)
Station 14: Jesus Is Placed in the Tomb
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, who was himself a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be handed over. Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it [in] clean linen and laid it in his new tomb that he had hewn in the rock. Then he rolled a huge stone across the entrance to the tomb and departed. Matthew 27: 57-60
And so It was Finished. Jesus’s spirit had departed and the mourning began. Those crucified typically did not get a proper burial, instead ending up in a common grave. Yet, the wealthy could appeal on their behalf. There is historical, archaeological evidence of crucified skeletal remains sometimes being found in the tombs of the wealthy.
So Joseph of Arimathea, and according to John’s gospel Nicodemus, too, got permission from Pilate to take the body of Jesus. These two men, members of the Sanhedrin, would have been in the minority just the day before when Jesus was tried and convicted. Yet, they were faithful to the end.
So, Jesus was wrapped in fine linen, indicating honor and reverence. To be buried in a family tomb showed affection. Joseph of Arimathea, through an act of charity, was claiming Jesus as his own – quite the public profession of faith!
The Sabbath was quickly approaching or had just started by the time Jesus’ body was removed from the cross. Yet, Jewish law allowed honoring the dead in a limited fashion on the Sabbath. You could only do a basic anointing, wash, and wrap of the body. The more elaborate rituals would have to wait until after the Sabbath was over, explaining why the women were attempting to visit the grave the morning after the Sabbath. They wanted to finish honoring their friend and teacher.
The Silence of Saturday
Imagine the wait… that Sabbath must have been incredibly long and fearful for those closest to Jesus.
Mary and the women huddled together mourning and comforting each other, thinking how they could honor the one man who treated them as equals.
The other friends of Jesus – those affected by his life and love – Lazarus and his sisters? Were they of all people expecting the resurrection having witnessed their own miracle?
Did Nicodemus remember the words “You must be born again?” Was he wondering if new birth would happen for this Rabbi?
The celebration of the religious leaders, thinking they had rid themselves of a nuisance, cut short by the dramatic events in the temple the night before? How do you explain the ripped veil to the people? Did some start to doubt their actions at that time?
Did the healed leper, and the formerly blind and lame, and the woman who was healed by touching Jesus’ garment – did they know what had happened? How did they feel? Did the leper touch his now beautifully clean, olive skin and think back to his encounter with Jesus of Nazareth. Did the lame man rub his legs and whisper a prayer of thanks in remembrance of his friend?
The disciples, locked away – shell shocked by Judas’ betrayal, fearful they would be arrested as well, angry at Peter, perhaps? Regretting every action of the previous days? Maybe in a few lighthearted moments remembering the good times with their teacher. Did they break bread as it was time to eat and remember the words of their teacher just nights before when he said, “This is my body, broken for you.”
Perhaps some of them remembered the words from David’s Psalm, that we know as Psalm 30: Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning!