Red Letter Year: 6/11

Matthew 27:45-65

45 At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. 46 At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

47 Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah. 48 One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to him on a reed stick so he could drink. 49 But the rest said, “Wait! Let’s see whether Elijah comes to save him.”

50 Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, 52 and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. 53 They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people.

54 The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “This man truly was the Son of God!”

55 And many women who had come from Galilee with Jesus to care for him were watching from a distance. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James and Joseph), and the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee.

57 As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of Jesus, 58 went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to him. 59 Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a long sheet of clean linen cloth. 60 He placed it in his own new tomb, which had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance and left. 61 Both Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting across from the tomb and watching.

62 The next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate. 63 They told him, “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while he was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’ 64 So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.”

65 Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can.” 66 So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it.



Despite what you may have heard (in a Carman song perhaps) or seen  in a (Mel Gibson) movie, Jesus was not forsaken, he was not abandoned. The Father didn’t go anywhere. The Holy Spirit did not leave Jesus. We have to know this, because we know Jesus is God – there was no time when the Trinity was short a member. Jesus was not expelled from the divine community. On the contrary, Jesus brought death, suffering, abandonment, and forsakenness into the life of the Godhead. This was too much for death, of course, it could not remain in the presence of so much LIFE. Jesus destroyed death precisely by embracing it, by bringing into the life of God. Death had no power there, and was rendered powerless by Jesus.

Jesus was not forsaken, and neither are you. You have not been abandoned. You have not been forsaken, you are not being forsaken now, and you will never be forsaken. This is what the Lord told Joshua who had gone off alone and afraid before the battle: “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.” (Josh. 1.5) This is what we read in Ps. 22: “For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.” (Ps. 22.24) This is what Paul tells us in Romans: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (8.38-39)

This means that atonement theories (see yesterday’s post) that try to explain Jesus’ forsakenness in terms of God’s redirected wrath against humanity are wrong and give people a wrong understanding of God. Jesus did not die on the cross because God was angry with you. Jesus died on the cross because God loves you.

The New Living Translation (NLT)Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Red Letter Year: 6/10

Matthew 27:27-44

27 Some of the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into their headquarters and called out the entire regiment. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. 29 They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. 31 When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.

32 Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. 33 And they went out to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). 34 The soldiers gave him wine mixed with bitter gall, but when he had tasted it, he refused to drink it.

35 After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. 36 Then they sat around and kept guard as he hung there. 37 A sign was fastened above Jesus’ head, announcing the charge against him. It read: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” 38 Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.

39 The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. 40 “Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!”

41 The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus. 42 “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him! 43 He trusted God, so let God rescue him now if he wants him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 Even the revolutionaries who were crucified with him ridiculed him in the same way.


When we read the story of Jesus’ death it is natural to ask the question, “why did Jesus have to die?” Throughout the history of the church, various answers have been given, most of them having some basis in the letters by Paul and others that make up much of the New Testament. Whether it is part of a cosmic battle between God and Satan, some form of ransom payment for our sin-bound selves, the ultimate moral example, or the requirement of God’s justice, each of these explanations (often called “atonement theories”) has been the ‘soup of the day’ at various times. The trouble is, each of these explanations are built on oblique references that then get over-narrated at the expense of the actual story we have here that tends to get under-narrated.

Even modern attempts like The Passion of the Christ do not properly narrate Jesus’ death as the the Gospels present it. Unlike Mel Gibson, Matthew does not linger on the gory details. Over narrating those only serves to detract from the story Matthew is telling. All four Gospels are remarkably similar at this point. As much as we may want to ask why, they tell us what happened. We find the same in Acts where this narrative is an essential part of the core Gospel that gets repeatedly shared; not why Jesus died, only that he died. If Matthew offers us any explanation, it would be that Jesus died because he insisted the Temple be a house of prayer. John will tell us that he died because God loves the world so much. But for some reason, those never became the basis of popular theories.

You may have noticed that even at the foot of the cross the religious leaders were still asking for a sign. Still looking for something they could believe in on their own terms. We do the same when our explanations become more determinative than the story of what actually happened. We want to focus on the ‘back story,’ as if the ‘real truth’ lay somewhere behind what Matthew tells us. But that is not the case. Explanations are fine so far as they go, but none of them tell the real story. The real story is right above, just scroll back up.

The New Living Translation (NLT)Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.