THE MIRACLE OF THE CROSS

Actor Jim Caviezel who played Jesus in the movie The Passion of the Christ talked in a recent interview about his awe and fear in being the person that would depict the suffering of Jesus. His attitude was refreshing - he was overwhelmed with the responsibility and kept praying that people would see The Lord and not him. During the making of the film he suffered a separated shoulder. While they filmed him on the cross he also suffered from hypothermia, and was even struck by lightning! All these things helped the actor to reflect the reality of the suffering of the cross and gave him more of an appreciation of the immense anguish experienced by Jesus. But admittedly, this was very small by way of comparison to Christ’s sufferings. When asked if he would ever do what he did again (i.e., play the part of Jesus on the cross), Caviezel said, “no.”

He went on to say… “It was so cold it was like knives coming through me. I had hypothermia. I don't know whether you've dealt with that, but on one day of hypothermia I was so cold I could barely get the lines out. My mouth was shaking uncontrollably. My arms and legs went numb. I was suffocating on that cross. In the mean time, you watch people have coffee and laugh. They were very indifferent about what I was going through.”

Understanding what Jesus went through and the reason He died on the cross is crucial to understanding salvation. The cross in and of itself is a miracle, but did you know that there were several supernatural events that happened at the time Jesus was dying on the cross? Each of these miracles gives us great insight to show us exactly what the cross was all about.
 
1) Darkness Covered the Land

As Jesus was dying on the cross Luke records the following: And it was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour (12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.), the sun being obscured;. Luke 23:45-46A

In the Bible darkness is a sign of judgment or coming judgment. When God brought the ten plagues on Egypt the plague of darkness was the ninth plague (Exodus 10:21-23) preceding the tenth and final plague (the plague of the death of the first-born Exodus 11:1, 12:29)…“and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was no home where there was not someone dead.” 12:30B
The Bible does not tell us why the darkness fell but it is clear that it was “the sign” as in the coming Day of the Lord (see Isaiah 13:9-13; Joel 2:30-31, 3:14-15; Matthew 24:29-30) of divine judgment falling. It might interest you to know that both secular historians and sources outside of the Bible confirm that this darkness did actually take place. Thallus wrote a history of the Eastern Mediterranean world from the Trojan War to his own time (Circa AD 52 written around the time of the earliest gospel or before). In speaking of Jesus’ crucifixion and the darkness that covered the land during this event Julius Africanus writing about AD 221 found a reference in the writings of Thallus that dealt with this cosmic report. He said, “On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness, Thallus, in the third book of the History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.”[1]
But it couldn’t have been a lunar eclipse because Passover time was always during the full moon.
Tertullian mentioned this event in his Apologeticum – a defense of Christianity written to skeptics:
“At the moment of Christ’s death, the light departed from the sun, and the land was darkened at noonday, which wonder is related in your own annals and is preserved in your archives to this day.”[2]

So what did the darkness mean? As mentioned earlier, throughout Scripture darkness is connected to judgment. This supernatural darkness points to supernatural judgment that is falling or about to fall. The darkness that fell over the land preceded Jesus’ death. The order that Matthew records is very significant, first comes the darkness then Jesus’ forsaken cry –
Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour.
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Matthew 27:45-46

But in this case the judgment was falling on Jesus! It came as the suffering of Jesus intensified beyond description and at the culmination Jesus cries out," My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46B). Incredibly this all signifies that Jesus is taking our judgment at the cross from God the Father (see Isaiah 53:10).
2) The Veil in the temple is torn in two

At the moment Jesus died (Matthew 27:50) another incredible miracle occurred:
And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, Matthew 27:51A

Josephus (the ancient Jewish historian) records that this veil was massive, it was blue and ornately decorated. It divided the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies (Exodus 26:31). In the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant symbolizing the holy presence of God. Only one person ever went behind this veil and that only once a year. The high priest would enter on The Day of Atonement and not without blood (Leviticus 16:13-15).

It is interesting to note that because of the time of year it was (Passover season) and the time of day it was (3:00 p.m. - the time of the evening sacrifice) the temple would have been packed with worshippers who were there to sacrifice their Passover lambs. By God’s incredible design it was the very time when all over Israel the Passover Lambs would die. Those sacrifices were not only no longer necessary but no longer effective (Hebrews 10:19-29). The curtain represented the fact and was a constant reminder of the reality that sin separates man from God (Isa. 59:1-2) and he cannot be in God’s presence without the provision of a blood sacrifice and even that was temporary and imperfect (Hebrews 10:4). This miracle that happened right as Jesus died was symbolic of the permanent opening of God's presence to man by the atoning death of Christ once for all (see Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-23).

This was also the time of day when the priest was burning incense in the holy place, and it is probable that he witnessed it. The tearing of the curtain “from top to bottom” (i.e., from God ‘down’ to man) shows us that God did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He removed the barrier Himself (“God will provide Himself the lamb” Genesis 22:8) dramatically demonstrating that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross opened the way to God through Christ, the holy of holies is now open (Rom. 5:1-2). Everything that pertained to the Old Covenant, the entire Levitical system of rituals, animal sacrifices, even the priesthood itself were done away with at the moment Christ died. All who know Jesus have access to the Father through our Great and glorious High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16). In effect God was saying My Son has paid the FULL redemption price for sin (John 19:30) come in through Him! The price has been paid for entrance into the sweet presence of Almighty God and anyone who thirsts may come (Revelation 21:6).
 
3) The earth shook and the rocks were split

Remember that Thallus, a source outside the Bible not only mentioned the darkness that fell upon the world as Jesus was dying, but that “the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down.”

The Bible says, “And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth shook; and the rocks were split” Matthew 27:51
When Jesus died Matthew tells us “the earth shook; and the rocks were split.” The earth shook so much on this occasion that it split rocks! If you live in Southern California you know that a strong earthquake gets everyone’s attention, you stop whatever you’re doing, make sure your loved ones are okay and you hold on, hope and pray! Perhaps one way to see this miracle is to understand that God was trying to get mankind’s attention!

But earthquakes like darkness in Scripture point to a display of Divine judgment – they signify God’s wrath. When Moses went up to receive the tablets of the Law we are told:
Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. Exodus 19:18

Speaking of the future Day of the Lord judgment Isaiah says: And {men} will go into caves of the rocks, and into holes of the ground before the terror of the LORD, and before the splendor of His majesty, when He arises to make the earth tremble. Isaiah 2:19
Jesus said of the coming time of God’s judgment: "But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken, and then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.” Matthew 24:29-30

The earthquake then was no doubt a sign of judgment, it happened right as Jesus died putting a divine exclamation point on the cross and perhaps signifying God’s anger that sin had cost so much. It cost the sacrifice of His Son, incredible suffering and mockery for sin, and enduring God’s wrath. It’s as if God is saying LOOK! Look at what it cost Me, stop and look at the cross! And be saved.

Among these many incredible miracles that happened around the crucifixion of Jesus there is yet another one that Matthew gives us that is astonishing:

4) The Tombs Were Opened and Bodies of Saints Were Raised!

And the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep (i.e. died) were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.Matt 27:52-53

Many of the tombs in and around Jerusalem to this day are hollow stone sepulchers, resting at ground level or just above. The earthquake was evidently powerful enough to split sepulchers like these. But that was not the miracle - that might have occurred in any earthquake. The great miracle is that those who emerged from the broken sepulchers were raised from the dead.
Matthew tells us they “appeared to many” (27:53). The obvious question is, why this miracle and why at this time??

This was to show that by Christ’s death, He had conquered death for all His people and this miraculous event is a foretaste of what is to come in the resurrection!! Jesus has defeated death, one of our greatest enemies (1 Corinthians 15:26) and He has brought life and immortality to the light through the Gospel (see 2 Timothy 1:10).

Jesus said…"I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this? "John 11:25-26

5) A Centurion Gets Saved!

There was one more miracle that is perhaps the most significant of all that happened on this day. A Centurion(s) got saved! You might think to yourself ‘how can the salvation of one man compare to this mid-day darkness, earthquakes, rocks splitting and people rising from the dead?!’ Until you pause for a moment and realize that this man’s conversion is what the cross of Jesus is ALL ABOUT!

Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, "Truly this was the Son of God!" Matthew 27:54

This man probably witnessed the exchanges between Jesus and Pilate he certainly witnessed the taunts and jeering from the crowd and the religious leaders (Matthew 27:39-43). He was in charge of overseeing the crucifixion. Centurions were the backbone of the Roman army. There were 60 centurions per full strength Roman legion (6,000). Each legion had ten cohorts (a regiment of the Roman military). The cohorts were divided into “centuries” of a hundred men. Each centurion had command over 100 soldiers and was roughly the equivalent of a sergeant. The centurions were usually career officers, hardened men of war. Because this particular officer was with those guarding Jesus, it appears he is the very one who had been given charge of overseeing and carrying out the crucifixion of Christ. Was he the very one who drove the nails into His hands and feet?

He and his men were close eyewitnesses to everything that had happened since Jesus was taken to the Praetorium. They had personally kept Him under guard from that point on…They had seen how Jesus held His silence while His enemies hurled accusations at Him. These same soldiers had strapped Him to a post for the scourging and watched while He suffered the horrific beating with quiet grace and majesty. They themselves had mercilessly taunted Him, dressing Him in a faded soldier’s tunic, pretending it was a royal robe. They had battered His head with the reed they gave Him as a mock scepter. These very same soldiers had also woven a crown of thorns and mashed it into the skin of His scalp. They had spat on Him and taunted Him in every conceivable fashion – and they had seen Him endure all those tortures without cursing or threatening any of His tormentors. They had heard Pilate proclaim Jesus’ innocence time and time again. Yet with a callousness that only a hard heart can bring they gambled for His garments put the cross in a whole in the ground dug for that purpose and sat down to watch Him die. With all the signs happening around him and seeing the nobility and majesty of Christ even as He died in the most horrible of ways was captured by Him, Mark writes:

And when the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, "Truly this man was the Son of God!" Mark 15:39
Seeing the supernatural signs was the capper, seeing and hearing the way Jesus spoke to the Father grabbed his hardened heart and he confesses “TRULY this was the Son of God!”
Luke adds: “Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he began praising (glorifying) God, saying, "Certainly this man was innocent" (23:47). Isn’t it ironic and fitting that the first converts to Christ RIGHT after He died on the cross may well have been the very Gentile men who killed Him!!

“In a dream I saw the Savior. His back was bare and there was a soldier lifting up his hand and bringing down that awful cat-o’-nine-tails. In a dream I rose and grasped his arm to hold it back. When I did, the soldier turned in astonishment and looked at me. And when I looked at him, I recognized myself.”

The reality of our condition is that we are all sinners. What does that mean? To be a sinner means that you fall short of the Divine standard of perfection (Romans 3:10, 23) before a Holy God. Because God is holy He will judge sin. Think of it this way, you would expect a human judge to judge a criminal for robbing your home or stealing your car, or even worse for murdering someone you love. And the Bible teaches that God will judge those who break His Law.

If you have ever lied, lusted in your heart, taken God’s name in vain, put other things before or above the God of the Bible, stolen anything (no matter what the value), dishonored your parents, hated someone without a cause, coveted another’s possessions or spouse you are guilty. If God judges you by the standard of His Ten Commandments do you think you would be innocent or guilty? Please know that God not only sees what you do, but also what you think and He even knows your motives.

This is why the cross is so important. The cross is the place where Divine love and justice/judgment intersect.

The Bible tells us “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (Romans 5:8-9).

The word here for demonstrated is primarily a merchandising term. It’s similar to the idea of a jeweler exhibiting his jewel on a dark velvet background and shinning upon it his most brilliant light. This means that God “displayed” His love on the cross. The cross stands at the forefront of history and continues to illuminate the truth of God’s love. But, it is important to see that not only did God put His love on display at the cross, He also put His righteousness and justice on display.

The cross is the place where God showed that He is serious about sin, but that He is love. So instead of judging you and me for our sins He poured His righteous judgment out on His Son.
And just as the heavens declare or reveal God’s glory - so the cross standing on the pinnacle of Golgotha gives us undeniable testimony (full revelation, if you will) of God’s love for us…

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers (1 John 3:16 NIV).
God treated Jesus on the cross like He had committed every one of our sins (Isa. 53:4-6), He suffered not only for our sins, "but also for those of the whole world" (1 John 2:2), though He had committed none of them (1 Pet. 2:22-24). Paul writes “who (He) loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). He died for you and for me!

If you don't know Jesus Christ, then you are lost and on your way to hell (Rom. 3:23, 6:23; 2 Thess. 1:9-10) - that's the bad news. But the good news is that Jesus came into this world and lived the perfect life that you could never live, He died on the cross and rose again from the dead to save you (1 Peter 3:18; Rom. 4:25). If you will turn from your sins, trust in Jesus and receive Him into your life as your personal Lord and Savior (John 1:12), you will be forgiven (Eph. 1:7), saved (Rom. 10:9) and righteous before God! (2 Cor. 5:17-21).[3]



[1] The Historical Jesus, Gary Habermas pp. 196-197
[2] The Murder of Jesus, John MacArthur pp. 228-229
[3] For a fuller treatment of the miracles at the cross see John MacArthur’s book The Murder of Jesus