“God is Dead?”

Matthew 27:35-50

Last week we read what Jesus endured prior to even being hung on the cross. The Roman guards managed to beat Jesus’ body so badly, someone else was needed to carry His cross bar to the place where Jesus was to be crucified. 

Notice how Matthew described the crucifixion, 

“Then they crucified Him,”

That’s it, point blank. We aren’t given any details. Perhaps because of its intense horror and brutality. Everyone in Matthew’s day was well acquainted with the horror of crucifixion so they did not need an explanation. Plus, there are no words that can describe the spiritual suffering that occurred. 

The Romans didn’t invent crucifixion but they managed to perfect it as a form of torture and capital punishment. They adapted the procedure in order to produce a slow death with maximum pain and suffering. 

I will touch on a few of the details to demonstrate their cruelty. We already know the victim’s back has been torn open and consisted of raw, ripped flesh. All clothing was removed, causing any clotting blood to immediately start flowing again. They would have been thrown on the ground in order to nail their hands to the crossbeam. Wounds would be reopened, deepend and contaminated with dirt. When the cross was lifted upright, each breath would cause the painful wounds on the back to be scraped against the rough wood of the beam behind. 

The nail that was driven into each wrist would have severed the large median nerve, causing bolts of fiery pain in both arms and often caused the victim’s hands to create a claw-like grip.

Outside of the pain, the major effect of crucifixion inhibited normal breathing. The weight of the body would pull down on the arms and shoulders, locking the respiratory muscles into an inhalation state, making exhaling near to impossible. A lack of adequate respiration resulted in severe muscle cramps making breathing even more difficult. There was only one way for the victim to get a good breath. They would have to push against their feet, flex the elbows by pulling from the shoulders, and again painfully scraping the back against the rough wood. Each time one tried to get a proper breath they were met with agonizing, exhausting pain which led to a quicker death. 

There was no such thing as a sterile crucifixion. Insects would light upon or burrow into the open wounds, or the eyes, ears, and nose of the dying and helpless victim. Eventually birds of prey appeared and it was customary to leave the corpse on the cross until it had been devoured by predatory animals. 

We happen to get our word “excruciating” from the Roman word “out of the cross.” 

I have used the term, “victim” in my description, but it is significant for us to remember that Jesus did not suffer as the victim of circumstances. He was in control. Jesus said of His life in John 10:18, 

“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”

This torture is terrible for anyone to endure. But to freely choose it out of love is remarkable. 

While Jesus was enduring crucifixion, the Roman soldiers who were waiting for Him to die were gambling to see who would get His clothing. The clothes had to be bloody and dirty, yet their behavior fulfilled what David had written in Psalm 22:18, 

They divide my clothes among them

    and cast lots for my garment. 

This means that all the pictures we have seen of Jesus hanging on the cross with what looks like an adult diaper is not true. He was nailed to the cross as a naked, humiliated man. 

The guards also continued with their mocking because they had written, 

“Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum” above His head, in three languages, Hebrew, Latin and Greek. 

The Latin initialism INRI captures this statement. 

“Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews”

The soldiers were not the only mockers. Jesus was crucified between two men, right in the center of humanity. In the gospel of Luke we are told that one of the criminals mocked Jesus yet one of the robbers repented and trusted Jesus, another depiction of humanity. 

Then there were the passerby’s hurled insults, shaking their heads. Their comments mocked Jesus for who He really was and is.

They mocked His as a:

  • Savior
  • King
  • Believer who trusted in God
  • The Son of God

They acted as, 

if Jesus would have done what they said, 

they would believe Him. 

The irony remains that had He done what they said, 

He wouldn’t save them. 

It was love that kept Jesus on the cross, not the nails. 

Just think about it, 

Jesus did greater than come down from the cross, 

He rose from the dead. 

And did they believe in Him then?

Not one man had any pity or felt sorrowful for Jesus at this point. 

This is the peak of the story where God demonstrates His love for humans, He endures all of this for our salvation. In response, Jesus received the summit of human’s hatred for God. God came to earth and this is what He received. 

Matthew records that for three hours there was darkness over all the land. This isn’t the whole time Jesus was on the cross. Mark writes in his Gospel that the crucificixion took six hours in total. The last three hours were in darkness, a symbol of God’s wrath, His removal of the Sun, over all the land. 

Phlegon, a Roman historian who lived in what we know as modern day Turkey, recorded what he experienced. “In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad, there was an extraordinary eclipse of the sun: at the sixth hour, the day turned into dark night, so that the stars in heaven were seen; and there was an earthquake.” 

The human side of Jesus cries out to the Father in agony. Psalm 22 appears again with Jesus’ cry, 

“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

The Greek word for cried, anaboao is a strong verb indicating powerful emotion or appeal to God. It was at this moment a holy transaction took place. God the Father regarded God the Son as if He were a sinner. 

Paul put it like this in 2 Corinthians, like this, 

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

God the Father had separated Himself from the human side of Jesus, but at the same time, God the Father was in Christ. Paul makes this clear in 2 Corinthians 5:19, 

“God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ,”

The English Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon comments like this:

“I venture to say that, if it had been possible for God’s love towards His Son to be increased, He would have delighted in Him more when He was standing as the suffering Representative of His chosen people than ever He had delighted in Him before.”

This is what Jesus dreaded most about the cross. This was “the cup” He trembled at drinking. Jesus drank the cup of His Father’s fury, the cup sinners are supposed to drink. Isaiah put it perfectly, 53:3-5,

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.”

We know the answer to Jesus’ question, “Why.”  Because Jesus had chosen to stand in our place, the place of guilty sinners. 

The one who never knew sin, made the infinite sacrifice to become sin and receive the just wrath upon sin and sinners. 


Because of God’s great love.

Those around Jesus questioned whether He was calling for Elijah. It was well known in Jewish culture that Elijah was expected to come again and prepare the world for the Messiah. One person actually tries to help Jesus by offering Him a sponge with wine vinegar. But even that person was mocked, and told to leave Jesus alone. Again, taunting Jesus with seeing if Elijah would actually come and save Him. 

Jesus was used to being misunderstood. 

It began when He was twelve and his parents had left Him behind at Temple in Jerusalem. They didn’t understand that He had to be about His Father’s business. He also knew what it was like to have His motives misunderstood. When He healed people, others said He did it by the devil. He reached out to sinners and people called Him a drunkard. Jesus knew what it was like to have His words misunderstood. Jesus said, 

“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again,”

No doubt motioning to His body, yet others insisted He was talking about the actual temple of Jerusalem. It didn’t matter which way Jesus turned. He even knew what it meant to have His silence misunderstood, while standing before Herod, then Pilate. 

Can you relate? 

> You are doing what you think God has told you to do

and people question what you are doing? 

> You were trying to help someone and they were

convinced you were “in their business” and nosy?

> You hang out with someone because they need a

friend and everyone is convinced of something


> You say something and someone twists it around and

convinces others it was something else, until you

almost start second guessing yourself?

> You decide it is better to say nothing at all and

someone thinks you have something to hide? 

It just seems like you can’t win, no matter how hard you try. 

Jesus can relate. 

At this point in the story, Jesus yields His spirit by uttering “It is finished.” Which is one word in ancient Greek, “telelestai” which means, “paid in full.” This was a winner’s cry, Jesus had fully paid the debt of sin we owed. He had completed the task before Him. 

No one took the life of Jesus, Jesus yielded it up, the only way a sinless person could die. Romans 6:23,

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This is it, the reason we come to worship. We are all sinners in need of the gift of God, which gives eternal life. Death is a 1:1 ratio, it happens to everyone. Eternal life is given to those who receive God’s gift, and believe. This gift is written in the Apostle’s Creed. As our benediction today we will recite it together. 

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
    creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
    who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
    and born of the virgin Mary.
    He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
    was crucified, died, and was buried;
    he descended to the dead.
    The third day he rose again from the dead.
    He ascended to heaven
    and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
    From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
    the holy catholic church,
    the communion of saints,
    the forgiveness of sins,
    the resurrection of the body,
    and the life everlasting. Amen.

Let’s pray.