A Dark Day in Heaven and Earth: The Death and Burial of Jesus
“Then they led him away to be crucified…” Matthew 27:31
A Look at Crucifixion
Crucifixion was a well known and brutal form of public execution. It was not a quick death. Sometimes death didn’t take them for two or three days.
Condemned prisoners were hung on crossed beams of wood. After they were flogged or scourged, they were forced to carry the heavy cross beam (which could weigh as much as 100 pounds) across their already bloody shoulders to the execution site. Roman soldiers would choose the longest route possible to the execution site . All this was meant to weaken the condemned prisoner and break their will to live so they would die more quickly on the cross.
Prisoners were either tied or nailed with large spikes to the beams. The weight of their bodies made it difficult to inhale as they hung on the cross. So they would push up where their feet were secured to try to catch a breath. When they became too weak to push up, they would suffocate. If the process was taking too long, the soldiers overseeing the execution would break their legs so they couldn’t push up, hastening their deaths.
On to Golgotha
As Jesus carried his crossbar to Golgotha, the place of execution just outside the walls of Jerusalem, the Roman soldiers grabbed a man from the crowd – Simon from Cyrene (Libya today) – to carry Jesus’ crossbar. We’re not told why. Maybe Jesus was too weak from the flogging and scourging to carry it any farther. But remember, Jesus’ disciples had all deserted him (Matthew 26:56). Jesus was alone: and so, the soldiers forced Simon the Cyrene (a stranger) to carry Jesus’ cross (Matthew 27:32).
As they got to the execution site at Golgotha, the soldiers offered Jesus some wine mixed with gall; reminiscent of Psalm 69:21.
They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.
Mark 15:23 says the wine was mixed with myrrh. Wine mixed with either myrrh or gall would have a narcotic effect dulling the senses and numbing the pain. Traditionally, women of Jerusalem mixed this drink and gave it to condemned prisoners to ease their suffering in death.
Give strong drink to him who is perishing,
And wine to him whose life is bitter.
Let him drink and forget his poverty
And remember his trouble no more.
But when Jesus tasted the drink, he recognized what it was and what it would do. He refused to drink any. Perhaps because he wanted to be fully conscious of what he was about to do and feel the full measure of the pain.
Jesus intended to bear the full weight of our sin.
“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”
Between Two Thieves
Matthew 27:37-44 with Luke 23:34-43
“Father forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.”
A placard with the crime the the prisoner committed would be hung above him. But Jesus had not committed any crime, so above his head hung a sign written in three languages that read,
“This is Jesus, King of the Jews.”
It was meant to be an insult, to mock him. They didn’t understand the truth it actually conveyed. Jesus was King of the Jews, but he was so much more. His act of sacrifice would prove he was king of all creation.
To add to his humiliation, Jesus was hung between two thieves; one on his right and one on his left. The King of the Jews would die between two criminals.
People shouted insults at Jesus as they walked past. Even one of the criminals hanging there with him belittled him saying, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” Luke 23:39
But the other criminal asked him,
“Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Luke 23:40-41
Then he said to Jesus,
“Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Luke 23:42
This is a confession of faith. This criminal believed Jesus was who he says he was: the true King, the Messiah. And he recognized Jesus was the one who could save him from his sinful life, the one who could save him from death itself. He owned his crimes. He owned his sin. And he confessed willingly. Then he pleaded with Jesus for forgiveness and mercy.
And Jesus answered him,
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43
1 John 1:9 reminds us,
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Like the thief, we too can be forgiven. We too can be with Jesus in paradise. If we believe and confess.
It Is Finished
Jesus had been on the cross since early morning. At noon, a darkness came over all the land echoing the spiritual darkness that engulfed the hearts of humanity.
About three in the afternoon, as Jesus bore the full weight of our sin, he cried out in agony,
“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). Matthew 27: 46
Jesus knew this would come. This was the “cup” he pleaded with his Father to take from him: the moment God would lay the sin of the world on him; the moment that sin would separate him from his Father.
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
People thought maybe Jesus was calling Elijah. They offered him a sponge full of wine vinegar and waited to see if Elijah would come and rescue him.
Jesus cried out again in a loud voice.
John 19:30 says he cried,
“It is finished!”
And he gave up his spirit.
At the moment Jesus breathed his last breath, some amazing things happened.
The Curtain in the Temple Was Torn
The curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
Once, we had full access to God. We walked in the garden with him. But sin changed that.
After the garden, we had very limited access to God. God spoke to and through only a select few: the prophets and priests.
To further limit access to God, only one Priest was allowed to enter the holy of holies. And that one priest was only allowed to enter the holy of holies once a year, on The Day of Atonement, when he interceded on behalf of the people and sought forgiveness for their sins.
The holy of holies is what they called the innermost chamber of the tabernacle. That innermost chamber was where the ark of the covenant was kept. The very presence of God – the presence that we used to have access to in the garden – was said to rest between the cherubim over the mercy seat on that ark, in that room.
A veil, or curtain, separated that inner chamber, the holy of holies, from the rest of the tabernacle. This curtain is described in the Talmud to be the width of the palm of a hand (about 4 inches thick). No one but that one priest was allowed to go behind the curtain, and then only once a year. Only one priest once a year had access to God’s presence.
Such limited access.
The very moment Jesus died, God literally, physically tore the curtain that separated the holy of holies from the rest of the temple; the curtain that separated the presence of God from the people; the curtain that separated us from him. God tore it from top to bottom; from heaven to earth, from God to us.
Still, what does this mean for us?
It means that we no longer are separated from the presence of God.
It means we no longer need priests to intercede for us, and we don’t have to wait for that one day a year.
It means we now have direct, personal access to God; any day, any time.
“And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.”
The Earth Shook & People Were Raised to Life
The moment Jesus died, 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.
Jesus’ death had broken the power of the grave. No longer would death have the final say.
This is a foreshadowing of not only of Jesus’ resurrection, but also of the resurrection we look forward to when Jesus returns.
“Since we have been united with him in his death, we will be raised to life as he was.”
People Came to Faith
When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54)
The centurion and the guards with him had likely witnessed many crucifixions. But what they witnessed at this crucifixion was something they’d never experienced before. Darkness in the middle of the day. An earthquake. Tomb’s breaking open and people raised from the dead. Where could that kind of power come from? Only the Son of God.
For more about the amazing things Jesus accomplished in his death and resurrection, read our other blog post,
Jesus is Buried
Many women had been watching all of this from a distance. While most of Jesus followers (and all of his disciples) had deserted him, these women who had followed Jesus from Galilee were still there. Mary the Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons were among the women there.
As evening approached, a rich man named Joseph, came forward and volunteered to tend to Jesus’ body before the Sabbath started. Joseph was a man from Arimathea who had become a disciple of Jesus. He got permission from Pilate to take the body. He wrapped it in a linen cloth and placed it in a tomb that he had cut in rock – one that had never been used before. After carefully placing Jesus’ body in the tomb, Joseph rolled a large stone in front of the entrance. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph sat watching across from the tomb.
Placing a Guard at the Tomb
The chief priests and the Pharisees were worried that Jesus’ disciples would sneak the body away and claim he had risen from the dead. They went to Pilate and asked him to post guards at the entrance of the tomb. So, Pilate sent a guard to make the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and stand watch.
The dark day was over. Jesus was dead. The one they thought was their deliverer was gone. It seemed all hope was lost. But the darkness would not prevail. Victory was on the horizon.
This post is the sixth in the Easter Series “A JOURNEY TO THE CROSS: 40 DAYS IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF JESUS”.
Read the rest of the series here:
Introduction to “A Journey to the Cross: 40 Days in the Footsteps of Jesus”
Not Your Average King: Jesus Enters Jerusalem
Extravagant Worship: Jesus is Anointed
One Last Meal: Finding Jesus in the Passover
Letting Go of Control: Jesus Prays in the Garden
The Road to the Cross: Jesus’ Last Days
Weekly Scripture readings
Reflections for meditation, journaling, or discussion
Activities, and more
Read more about our Lenten devotional series HERE.
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