Some Messianic Prophecies, Part 4

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How would you describe the death of the Savior? We’re fortunate in that we have this seminal event recorded for us as viewed through three different lenses. Each lense gives us a different perspective, but taken together we are left with a pretty complete historical and spiritual record of what happened as Jesus Christ was crucified and died. Though these three perspectives differ on some things, they all agree on one: The Savior died to make atonement for our sins so that we may live at peace with God.

So let’s take a quick look at the three views of the Savior’s death.

Psalm 22:1 – 24

The first perspective is that of the psalmist; a poet.

Psalm 22 is really the first psalm of a trilogy made up of Psalms 22, 23 and 24. G. Campbell Morgan has titled each individual psalm like this: “The Savior,” “The Shepherd,” and “The Sovereign.” Another way to caption these psalms could be: “The Cross,” “The Crook,” and “The Crown.” You get the idea. This trilogy is all about Jesus Christ.

Even though the word Messiah (“Christ”) isn’t seen anywhere in Psalm 22, the Christological significance of it cannot be denied or escaped. Psalm 22 is quoted no less than seven times in the New Testament in relation to Jesus Christ. Psalm 22 is also linked to Isaiah 53 in noting the suffering Messiah. Jesus, shouting from the Cross, quotes part of the most famous first verse of Psalm 22, as though He Himself were saying it:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? (Psalm 22:1 NIV)

What Jesus famously said was the Aramaic of the Hebrew: Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani. This expression is what we refer to as “the fourth word from the Cross,” and when Jesus said it, the greatest transaction in history took place: the righteous died for the guilty. Jesus was the guiltless One who bore the sin of many. We who believe live because He died.

Though this psalm is all about Jesus, it also expresses an experience common to all believers, including the psalmist.  In the midst of some trial or problem, who hasn’t felt as though God had skipped out on them? Our faith is very often beset by despair, at least temporarily. But, as Jesus demonstrated, doubt may be there but faith presses on; you never give into your feelings, so that when you feel as Jesus felt, you cry out that much louder to God.

Beginning with verse three, the psalmist does something we should take note of. In the midst of a pressing trial, it’s a good idea to remember God’s past faithfulness and, as the he did, remind God of them!

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. (Psalm 22:3 – 5 NIV)

Verse three makes it clear: God is far above the fray, yet He has never been far from His people. No matter what was going on, He was praised. This technique is for our benefit. Naturally God doesn’t need to be reminded of how wonderful He is! But we need it. We often fall into the trap of thinking God isn’t perfect and altogether good. We need to remind ourselves that He does only what is good and beneficial for us.

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. (Psalm 22:6 NIV)

The psalmist gets back to his complaint, from the goodness of God to his own nastiness. Here is how our Lord was treated. Who but a poet could have put words to the sadness and humiliation experienced by Jesus Christ? Yet they are also prophetic. This is what happened to Him. Both Matthew and Mark note how onlookers stared at the spectacle of the Crucifixion (see Matthew 27:39 and Mark 15:29).  And yet, feeling as low as he felt, the psalmist recalls the good days of God’s mercy.

Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God. (Psalm 22:9, 10 NIV)

These are not unimportant verses. God had been with the psalmist from the very beginning. He was no crisis convert. He knew God and had experienced God’s presence for his whole life. But now, this poor fellow has nothing but trouble; trouble, trouble everywhere and God is apparently nowhere to be found. But that doesn’t stop him from doing this:

Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. (Psalm 22:11 NIV)

No matter how you may feel, God is there. To paraphrase Clarence Larkin, feeling is the fruit of a relationship, not the root of it. Nowhere in the Bible are we encouraged to put faith in our feelings but in the promises and the Person of God.  Jesus did, and we should too.

Matthew 27:39 – 56

We move from the emotional side of the Savior’s death to the historical records of the Synoptic Gospels. In Matthew’s account, we are given some interesting details. Jesus was crucified and died between two thieves. It’s entirely possible that they were associated with the political insurrectionist Barabbas. If this was the case, then it’s probable that Barabbas, not Jesus, was the one scheduled to die on that middle cross. Yet, in the most ironic twist of fate, Jesus took Barabbas’ place – a perfect illustration of His taking every sinner’s place on the Cross.

It’s hard not to think of Psalm 22 when we read these verses in Matthew 27 –

Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:39, 40 NIV)

It’s interesting that one of the taunts from the crowd was, “…if you are the Son of God.” This was exactly, word-for-word, what Satan said to Jesus in Matthew 4:3, during His temptation in the desert wilderness.

All three Synoptics mention what happened at noon on the day Jesus died:

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. (Matthew 27:45 NIV)

Three strange events took place when Jesus died: an unnatural darkness, the ripping of the Temple veil, and the resurrection of the saints. For three hours, from noon till 3 pm, the land was plunged into utter darkness. It was a literal darkness, yet it also symbolized of God’s judgment upon His people for the rejection of his Son. It shouldn’t surprise us that nature reacted the way it did as the Creator breathed His final breaths.

Before the veil of the Temple ripped from top to bottom, symbolizing the free access to God gained by Christ’s work on the Cross, our Lord cried out the words of Psalm 22:1. As I noted earlier, God never left Jesus for a moment; He was present throughout the entire agonizing event, reconciling the world to Himself.

The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. (Matthew 27:51 – 53 NIV)

The ripping of the veil is in all three Synoptics, but the earthquake and the resurrection of the saints is only recorded here in Matthew. An earthquake in this area is not unusual, but obviously the resurrection of the hagioi is not.  Why did it happen? Did they die again? How many people saw them? The text tells us that these holy people were raised when Jesus died, but they didn’t appear in Jerusalem until after His resurrection! What were these people doing for those three days? There are many questions about this event that will go unanswered until we see Jesus in Person. For now, it is enough to know that the death of Jesus benefitted far more people than just the living. His death reaches forward to touch the lives of generations yet unborn, but it also reached back in time to the faithful followers of Yahweh; people like the Patriarchs and the countless believers looking forward to the coming of the Messiah.

Hebrews 2:9 – 18

Finally, we have the writer to the Hebrews and his estimation of the death of the Messiah. To him, it all boiled down to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Just as the Jewish priests represented the people before God, so Jesus Christ tasted death for every man.

But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:9 NIV)

That phrase “taste death” is more than just a clever turn-of-phrase. Jesus didn’t just die; death is what touches all men. The death of our Lord was very different. He was without sin; He didn’t need to die for any reason. He was not under the curse of mortality – the “wages of sin” did not apply to Him in any way. He “tasted death” for others, so that they would never have to. Now, this means more than first meets the eyes. Because of what Jesus did, death holds no terror for the Christian. That’s why we read this of Stephen’s death –

Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:60 NIV)

Dr Luke wasn’t an infant, nor was he superstitious. He used the phrase “he fell asleep” for a reason! Stephen had no fear of death. He faced his own mortality with no more apprehension than does a man when he is drifting off to sleep!

Think about what Jesus’ death did for man. Man was created to be a noble creature – the noblest of all God’s creation because he was given the ability to willingly glorify God and live a life full of peace, prosperity, and honor. He was given dominion over God’s material creation – he was created to be the master of his world. But because of sin, man fell from this state of perfection to become a rebel from birth to death. But because of what Jesus did, at the very least man has a way to deal with the fear of death.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14, 15 NIV)

Verse 14 is a stunning declaration: Jesus became a man that He might die. That’s a statement that is truly counterintuitive. Life is seen as a gift from God! But this time, true life came through death. Because man listened to Satan, the prince of death, sin entered man and man’s world and ruined everything. Yet in Christ, death became the very means for the destruction of the power of Satan. The Devil is a defeated foe.

 

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