The Dying Christ
Reformed Free Publishing Association
“Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.” Matthew 27:50-54
“And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus he gave up the ghost.” Luke 23:46
Everything surrounding this awful cross is wonderful.
We feel a great humility when we set ourselves to say something about one of its episodes. This is true of every attempt at exegesis of the holy word; but how much more when we attempt to say something of the dying Christ of God!
It was early when we arrived at the place of a skull. The rulers of the people had done everything with expediency and dispatch. They must have congratulated one another, and themselves. There! That is work that is well done. We are rid of him, who really was a thorn in our sides! At nine o'clock in the morning it was finished, as far as their nefarious labor was concerned. The Christ (in their eyes, the pseudo-Christ) hung on the cross. Let now everyone look to him.
Oh yes, the devil had his hour, we read; and he certainly used his hour. Every spirit or man at his post, each doing the thing that fitted the hellish plot; and here we have the result: Christ is on the tree of shame and dishonor. Satan has won his war!
But has he?
There is a masterpiece in existence, depicting the awful scene of the crucifixion. And with marvelous skill the artist has depicted on the face of Satan, hovering above the cross in a dark and lurid background of clouds, a sardonic leer or grin, but in it there is also an unspoken question of awful dread: Did I have the victory?
I wonder what exegesis Satan put on the perfectum of Jesus: It is finished!
And then that loud cry of Jesus as he bowed the head and gave up the ghost. Satan must have heard it. He certainly was there at the time.
And the import of the last crossword! Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit!
Also the terrifying signs at the death of Jesus: the earth quaked, the rocks rent, the graves were opened, the veil was rent, and even from the top to the bottom, signifying that it was God's hand!
Of course, Satan now knows that with all his hatred of God in the persecution of Jesus, he did nothing but help to lay the foundation of the holy city where the perfected kingdom shall be to God's praises forever!
Sorrows of Satan!
Yes, Jesus died on the cross.
And what marvelous things happened at his death.
First, he cried with a loud voice just before he died, and said: Father, into Thy hands I commend my Spirit!
This is a quotation from Psalm 31. And yet, it is no quotation, for they are the words of his own speech as he spoke them through the mouth of the prophet many ages before. He simply enters his own words and deepens them to the utmost and fullest significance.
Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit!
I hear in these words an exuberant gladness; it sounds to me like a shout of victory. That is especially so when we connect this last crossword with the one he uttered just before: It is finished!
We realize full well that his physical death is part and parcel of his humiliation; and that his body must rest in the grave so that he might show to the church of all ages that he has overcome death in all its agonizing phases, to show that he opens the grave for all those that follow him. But let us also see that this last cry of Jesus signifies that he is going HOME! He is going home! Home to God, his Father in heaven. From the moment that Jesus bowed the head and died, he arrived in the arms of God and at once he was in the midst of great rejoicings and jubilant singing. The blood of the New Testament arrived. I realize full well that the victory began with his resurrection, but I would like to contrast this last crossword with the fourth, and then we will realize that Jesus came to rest in Father’s arms. In his arms the spirit of Jesus rejoiced. Moreover, in his second crossword he had already prophesied: today thou shalt be with me in paradise! And in paradise it is well with Jesus! What inexpressible contrast to the cry from out of the depths and from out of the impenetrable darkness of a few moments before! There he felt forsaken of God; here he is in the hands of Father. There he experienced an amazing agony; here he experiences the delight of heaven.
There is glory already in his dying, a glory that shall progress to dizzying heights of the New Jerusalem in his final day.
Yes, the Christ of God died.
And both the church and the world shall know it. God will take care that this date does not pass unnoticed. Awful things shall happen.
The veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.
Why is that added to the holy record?
Undoubtedly it points to the fact that all this cross and dying, all this redemption and glory, is a work of the Triune God. He will not give his praises to another. For himself he created all things; well, it shall become evident that also recreation is his own work alone.
The veil is rent. Oh yes, but God reached down into the temple, and his own hands ripped the veil in twain!
There is gospel joy in that act.
For ages it was told the church that God dwelled in the holy of holies, and that no one might enter there that he die not. The high priest might enter there once each year, but he did so because of the fact that he was an official, a copy, a shadow, a type of one who was to come. But God was not at home for just anyone. That had to wait for more gladsome days.
The holy of holies was shut to all men because of their evil, filth, corruption and guilt.
And this is the gospel: a man was found who would open the door that led to the holy of holies, the home of God. And that man is Jesus. He will rend the veil, and that veil is his own flesh.
Do you notice how God’s timing is absolute and perfect?
At the moment Jesus died, the veil is rent, the body and the soul of Jesus are parted in death, and so the opening is made that leads to the inner sanctuary.
I think that Sanhedrin appointed an able committee to see to this strange phenomenon; and that this committee did good work: the veil was repaired or a new one bought and installed. I shudder at the implications of such an act. It says: I refuse to enter the sanctuary. And if we note that the sanctuary, or rather, the opening into the sanctuary, is the symbolic representation of the open arms of God, the matter becomes so horrible that we tremble. Sanhedrin, through its able committee, gave notice to God that they refused his Son!
But to the church of Jesus Christ, this act of God is gospel joy. The door is open! Heaven itself lies open to our wondering gaze.
Through the death of Jesus a new and living way is opened to the heart of God.
Oh no, we will not repair that breach which God made. But we will come, we do come to Thee, for Thou art our God in this dying Christ!
The blessing of a dying Christ!
The earth did quake and the rocks rent!
If you lived in places where earthquakes happen, you see more of the import of this testimony than if you have never before felt the earth shake beneath your feet.
We speak of terra firma, the firm and stable earth!
Well, if the creature is to be at rest and comfortable, the earth should be firm. It belongs to our nature to live upon terra firma. It is unnatural if the earth quakes. It should not be, according to the ordinances of creation.
But let us not accuse God when he takes the earth in his hands in order to shake it and cause all manner of hardship and fatality.
It is not God who is to blame! Perish the thought!
We, it is man himself, who is to blame. We have turned the foundations of the earth upside down through our sin and iniquity. You can find that in the Bible too. Sin is perverseness. And that word is akin to the earthquake. Oh, I am certain that when the judgment day comes all the calamities that shall befall the wicked shall be beautifully right, entirely just, wholly righteous. Our condemnation shall equal our corruption.
The earth must be moved. God's justice demands it.
He has done so many times. It really was not the first time the earth quaked when Jesus died. In the Old Testament they reckoned their years sometimes from “the great earthquake". God has rocked the world in his anger many times.
But I must tremble when I remember a word from Paul: Once more I shall move the earth, and all things!
And that is anticipated every time there has been an earthquake, and especially when Jesus died. It was a prophecy of the final earthquake of the last day. The rending of the veil is a blessing, but the rending of the earth and of the rocks is a curse, or, rather, the promise of the final curse of God when he shall take the earth and shake it in the full revelation of his righteous anger. I think that there shall be an eternal earthquake in hell.
But there is a blessing in it for you, my brother, a blessing in disguise.
The splitting earth and the rending rocks tell you that on the basis of the dying Christ there shall come a palace that is built on the immovable rock, and the rock is Christ. And Christ the rock is the revelation of God the rock (Deut. 32:4).
The rocks that split and the earth that quaked when the Christ died tell the church that they shall stand secure forever on the rock of God's everlasting love.
Oh, the blessings of a dying Christ!
He bowed the head and gave up the ghost!
Presently loving hands will take him down from the cross and lay him in a grave.
But when his body is separated from his spirit, it spelled life for many bodies of the saints that were resurrected and who appeared unto many after Christ's resurrection.
Another sign of the last day, and wrought for your and my comfort in the valley of the dead in which we dwell here below.
Oh yes, at the last day the graves of the saints shall be opened and they shall not only appear unto many, but they shall walk at liberty in the new paradise of God forever and ever.
What beautiful contrast! When Christ is made ready to fill the grave, the graves of his saints are opened. It is the gospel in wondrous acts of God. His death is our life. His burial is our resurrection. His agony is our bliss. Shall we not love him?
The marvels of God's everlasting gospel!
The blessings of the dying Christ!
The victim of Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod and the wicked world had died.
Their representative and officiating factotum, the centurion, could testify to the fact. God took care of that! He had not only seen the death of this strange man, but he also saw the attending signs.
And he marveled with great admiration
A great change had come about.
First the howling mob with their gibes and jokes and taunts and sneers, reviling the dying Christ.
And now the quaking earth, the rending rocks, after the inexplicable three hours darkness! And the mockers flee in great fear!
The strange death of this victim: he cried with a loud voice, and then such mystifying language: “into Thy hands I commend my spirit!"
It was all so unusual, so strange, so out of the ordinary!
God will have his witnesses even out of the Roman oppressors.
No, I do not know if the testimony of this man spelled salvation for him. He may have meant: this dying man is more than an ordinary mortal. We know that the superstitious Romans believed in the gods dwelling with men.
But, at any rate, this man must be a witness for God. Even as Nebuchadnezzar, the wicked king of the Old Testament. He must attest unto the great deed of almighty God, when his Christ died.
But I like to believe that this centurion is a representative of God's elect out of the great heathen world that will find all their joy in the dying Christ, but then the Christ who rose again, and is now sitting at the right hand of God!
O God! We thank Thee for this dying Christ, for his blood speaks good things, better things than the blood of Abel!
Good Friday is good, for it tells me that his death is my life for evermore!
This meditation was written by Rev. Gerrit Vos in the March 15, 1948 issue of the Standard Bearer.