5 Miracles of Calvary
April 19, 2019
Jesus was almost dead.
That much was clear to everyone. He might live a few more minutes, but not much longer than that. Every tortured breath testified to the thorough job done by the Roman soldiers. They were experts at killing. It had all gone according to plan. They started with two criminals and this man Jesus.
Nine o’clock came. Crucifixion time. Hammers and nails. Screams of pain. Men stripped naked. The smell of death in the air. Blood oozing and dripping. Sweat rolling off the bodies. People watching, talking, laughing. “If you are the King of the Jews, come down from the cross.” For three hours it was just like any other crucifixion.
Three hours pass, an eternity of darkness.
Then high noon came, and with it three hours of total darkness. The sound of panic. People shouting. Then silence.
Three hours pass, an eternity of darkness.
At 3 PM the sun suddenly shines again. All eyes now focus on the man in the middle. He looks terrible. Something awful has happened to him during those three hours. His chest is heaving, the death rattle is in his throat. He speaks, then speaks again, then one more time, almost in a whisper he cries out.
Then he is gone.
The other two men are still alive, but Jesus has died. It happened quickly, suddenly, almost as if he decided it was time to die.
Here’s a fascinating note to consider. In describing the moment of his death, the gospel writers don’t say that Christ died. What I mean is, they never use that phrase. Matthew and John say he gave up his spirit. Mark and Luke say he breathed his last. They do this to stress the voluntary nature of his death.
No one took his life.
Jesus gave his life for others.
No one took his life.
Jesus gave his life for others.
When Matthew tells the story of the death of Christ, he mentions the miracles that accompanied it. These miracles teach us the utterly unique nature of our Lord’s sacrifice.
There has never been a death like it before or since.
Let’s look at these five miracles and see what they teach us about the death of our Lord.
Miracle #1: Darkness Falls
“From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over the whole land” (v. 45).
It happened suddenly and without warning.
One moment the sun was overhead; the next moment it disappeared. It was darkness itself, thick, inky-black darkness that fell like a shroud over the land. It was darkness without any hint of light. No one moved. No one spoke. For once even the profane soldiers stopped their swearing. Not a sound broke the dark silence over Skull Hill. Something eerie was going on. The darkness lasted for three long hours:
3:00 P.M. Just as suddenly as the darkness descended, it disappeared. People begin to shout. Some rub their eyes to adjust to the bright sunlight. There is panic on many faces, confusion on others. A man leans over to his friend and cries out, ʺWhat is going on here?”
It was not an eclipse or some sort of suffocating sandstorm that darkened the sky. This was a supernatural miracle of God. It was darkness sent from heaven.
Darkness sent from heaven
What does it mean? Jesus’ first word from the cross had been, “Father, forgive them.” His last word was “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” But in between he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In that agonizing moment Jesus bore the sins of the world. Isaiah 53:4 says he was “smitten by God, and afflicted.” But no longer. Jesus dies with the knowledge that the price has been fully paid, the cup emptied, the battle won, the struggle over. Whatever happened in those mysterious hours of darkness is now past. The familiar words of Isaac Watts describe what this first miracle means:
Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker died,
For man the creature’s sin.
Miracle #2: Veil Torn
“Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom” (v. 51a).
Everything about the Jewish temple taught people to keep their distance. There were courts set aside for the women and the Gentiles. There was a brazen altar upon which sacrifice must be made. There were steps leading up to the temple itself. Inside the temple were two main rooms, the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place (sometimes called the Holy of Holies). Only the priests could enter the Holy Place and only in a certain way at certain times to do certain prescribed religious functions. No one ever just “hung out” in the Holy Place. You came to do God’s business, and then you left. It was not a place for leisure. Important work was being done there, performed by men set apart by God.
But there was yet a place even more sacred than the Holy Place called the Most Holy Place, or the Holy of Holies. The heart of Jewish worship took place in that small area. If you read Leviticus 16, you can find the details spelled out. But we can summarize them this way:
Only one man could enter the Most Holy Place: the High Priest.
He could only enter the Most Holy Place one day each year: the Day of Atonement.
He must wear special garments.
He must bring with him the blood of a goat.
He must sprinkle the blood on the golden Mercy Seat.
Only one man, only one day
If anyone else besides the High Priest ever entered the Most Holy Place, he would be struck down. If the High Priest entered on any day other than the Day of Atonement, he would be struck down. If the High Priest came without the blood of a goat, he would be struck down.
Everything about the system screamed, “Stay away,” “Don’t come near,” “You are not qualified to come on your own.” It was as if the temple itself was a giant roadblock, making sure that no one could come into God’s presence uninvited.
If the Jews were tempted to forget about the prohibitions, if they decided to take matters into their own hands, God had ordered that a thick curtain be hung between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. That’s why Matthew tells us the curtain was torn “from top to bottom,” signifying God had done what only God could do.
The law that condemned us has come to an end, having been put to death in the death of Christ. When Jesus died, the old law died with him.
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who believe in Jesus.
The road to heaven is open to anyone, anytime, anywhere.
We know that we have eternal life.
Don’t let your sins keep you away
There is a message for you from the torn curtain in the temple:
Don’t let your sins keep you away.
God has opened the door to heaven.
The cross reveals the great heart of God, and that heart is filled with love. When Jesus died, the Father preached a sermon without words when he tore the curtain in two from the top to the bottom. It was God’s way of saying, “You are welcome in my family. Let nothing keep you away.”
Miracle #3: Earthquake Shatters
“The earth quaked, and the rocks were split” (v. 51b).
Earthquakes are not good news.
A recent article entitled Israel is Hundreds of Years Overdue for Massive Earthquake discusses the many fault lines found in or near Israel. Israel is “in a tough neighborhood, jostled between the four major tectonic plates: Nubia (Africa), Sinai (with Israel!), Arabia and Anatolia (Turkey).” That’s the science part of the equation.
The miracle is in the timing of the earthquake. God shook the earth the moment his Son died. An earthquake shook Mt. Sinai when the law was given by God (Exodus 19:18). Now there is an earthquake when Christ dies, signifying the end of the law once and for all.
At Mount Sinai the law condemned but could not save.
At Mount Calvary Christ died that condemned men might be saved.
Run to the cross and be saved!
The earthquake at Sinai reminded men they could not approach God on their own. The earth shook beneath the cross, as if to say, “At last the curse is being lifted!” (Romans 8:22-23). What the law could not do, Christ did for us when he died in our place, paying a debt he did not owe.
Here’s one more thought. Anytime you have an earthquake, business as usual comes to an end. An earthquake stops us in our tracks and reminds us we are not in control. When an earthquake comes, we run for cover as the earth beneath us begins to give way. Perhaps this earthquake was God’s way of saying to a wayward world, “Stop! Look! Listen! This is my Son who died for you. Run to the cross and be saved.”
Miracle #4: Saints Raised
“The tombs were also opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And they came out of the tombs after his resurrection, entered the holy city, and appeared to many” (vv. 52-53).
We don’t fully understand what happened here.
This much is clear. The earthquake split the rocks around Jerusalem, opening many tombs. Many of the saints (a term that always refers to believers) were raised from the dead. Evidently Matthew means the tombs were opened on Friday, but the saints were raised after Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday morning.
Christ rose first.
Then the saints were raised.
Those saints went into the holy city (Jerusalem) and gave testimony to the death-destroying, life-giving power of the Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot say with certainty how many were raised, or how long they stayed in Jerusalem, or even what happened to them later. Evidently it doesn’t matter, or we would have been told those things.
Many mysteries about this story
What does it mean? The graves were opened at 3 PM on Friday when Christ died. They remained open for all to see on Friday night and on the Sabbath. It was a sign from heaven that death has been plundered. John Owens spoke about the death of death in the death of Christ. Death died when Christ died because he went into the realm of death and came out holding the keys to death and Hades in his hand (Revelation 1:18).
On Easter weekend we often visit the graves of our loved ones. It’s a solemn thing to walk through a cemetery that is serene, beautiful, quiet, undisturbed. As we visit our loved ones, we think about how much we miss them, and we wonder where they are now and if we will see them again. From this miracle, we have an answer. Just as these saints rose bodily and presented themselves in Jerusalem, the day will come when our loved ones who knew the Lord will rise from the grave–free from death, free from disease, free from all corruption–never to die again.
The saints will be raised triumphant
The rising of the saints is a kind of firstfruits of the future resurrection of the “dead in Christ” when Jesus returns (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). It was a small sample in one location (Jerusalem) of the coming day when the saints will be raised triumphant, and all the graves of all the saints will be empty forevermore.
Miracle #5: Centurion Testifies
“When the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” (v. 54).
This may be the greatest miracle of all.
The centurion played a crucial role in the death of Christ. As the leader of a Roman “century” of 100 men, he was an officer held in high esteem. He had to be a man of good character, with a proven military record, who knew how to carry out orders promptly. He had to be an expert with the sword and with all other weapons.
This means the centurion wasn’t just any soldier.
He was a proven leader of men.
The centurion was a proven leader
Did he know the centurion whose servant Jesus healed (Luke 7:1-10)? It’s entirely possible because Roman officers in a small region like Galilee and Judea would no doubt cross paths. If they knew each other, then this centurion would already have a favorable impression of Jesus. Certainly he would know that Pilate had three times declared Jesus innocent of any crimes, and he would wonder why he was being crucified. He must have heard Jesus say, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” He heard him promise heaven to the penitent thief. He witnessed the darkness that fell on the earth, and he heard Jesus cry out, “It is finished!” More than that, unlike the usual criminals who died in agony, screaming bitter oaths, Jesus died quietly as he yielded his spirit to his Father in heaven. Mark 15:39 tells us he stood facing Jesus and saw how Jesus died. All of that must have made a huge impression on the centurion. Finally, he felt the earthquake that split the rocks in two. That led to his amazing statement of faith: “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
He watched Jesus died
Here is the answer to the schemes of Caiaphas, the frivolous curiosity of Herod, and Pilate’s cowardly vacillation. Here is the answer to the taunts of the crowd. Here is the answer to the Jewish leaders who wanted him dead. Here, too, is the answer to Judas who betrayed him.
They were all wrong about Jesus.
The centurion got it right.
He somehow saw through the blood and gore and the smell of death that hovered over Golgotha. A Roman soldier figured out what the priests and the politicians missed altogether. They saw a radical, a mystic, a troublemaker. But the centurion saw the Son of God.
The centurion got it right
Think about these miracles for a moment:
Jesus touched the sun, and darkness came on the land.
Jesus touched the temple, and the veil was torn.
Jesus touched the earth, and the rocks split apart.
Jesus touched the graves, and the saints were raised.
Jesus touched the centurion, and he gave a testimony.
Do you know him?
The first four miracles happened are meant to lead us to the final miracle. That’s the greatest miracle of all because it’s the miracle of a changed heart. It’s a miracle that happens whenever anyone comes to Jesus. It’s a miracle that can happen to you at this very moment. What Jesus did for the centurion, he can do for you.
Do you know him?
May God give us grace to take our stand with the centurion and say, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”