Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Miracles of Calvary: The Earthquake

Matthew 27:50-51 - "And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split."

The timing of the earthquake--at the very moment Christ died--indicates that it occurred by God's direct intervention. But why?

The earthquake was Calvary’s answer to Sinai.

Hundreds of years before, God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses. These laws reveal the sinfulness of our hearts. When we try to keep the Law of God, we discover it's impossible. We can't do it. Why? Because our nature is inclined to disobey, not to obey. If we were able to keep the laws of God, then there wouldn’t have to be a blood sacrifice to cover our sins.

The Bible describes what it was like just before God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai: “There was a thunder and lightning, a thick cloud on the mountain, and a loud trumpet sound, so that all the people in the camp shuddered. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was completely enveloped in smoke because the Lord came down on it in fire. Its smoke went up like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain shook violently” (Ex. 19:16-18; HCSB).

Just as there was an earthquake at Sinai, there was an earthquake at Calvary. Sinai foretold of Calvary. Sinai is a picture of God’s judgment of us because we have disobeyed His God’s law. Calvary is a picture of God’s mercy toward us. The earthquake of Calvary reminds us of what Christ has done.


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Friday, August 15, 2008

The Miracles of Calvary: The Tearing of the Curtain

Matthew 27:50-51 (HCSB) says, “Jesus shouted again with a loud voice and gave up His spirit. Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom.”

Centuries before Jesus walked the earth, God told Israel to build a Tabernacle, which was a mobile tent that served as Israel's meeting place with God. The Tabernacle had three sections—the Outer Court, the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies. There was a curtain separating each of the sections.

If you were a Jew living in Israel at the time, you could enter the Outer Court. As you walked in, you would see the bronze basin of water and the bronze altar. The bronze basin reminded you that you must be cleansed of your sins to approach God. The bronze altar served as a reminder how you must be cleansed: through a blood sacrifice.

Beyond the first curtain stood The Holy Place, where only priests could enter. The Holy Place contained three symbols of intimate union and fellowship with God: the bread of the Presence, the golden lampstand, and the golden altar of incense.

The Holy of Holies stood beyond the second curtain. Only one man—the high priest—could enter the Holy of Holies, and he could only enter once each year. Before entering the Holy of Holies, he would have to make a sacrifice for himself and all the priests. Then he would make a sacrifice for all the people. Inside the Holy of Holies were the most intimate and glorious symbols of God’s presence, power, and grace: the ark of the covenant, the atonement seat which covered it, the cherubim (angels) on the seat, and the Shekinah cloud of glory.

The curtains separating the three areas of the Tabernacle represented barriers to worshiping God. Each curtain existed to conceal what lay behind it and to prevent any further passage beyond its boundaries.

By the time Jesus walked the earth, the Tabernacle was no more. Herod's Temple was built to be a permanent re-creation for the Tabernacle. The second curtain, which separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, is the one that was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died.

The details of the curtain that hid the Holy of Holies were formulated in the mind of God Himself, who described it to Moses. It was made of finely twisted purple, blue, crimson, and white linen, with beautiful cherubim sown into the pattern. The curtain hung by hooks of gold suspended from four pillars overlaid with gold. To summarize Nicholson, "It was a symbol of life, power, beauty, glory, and mystery. The embroidered cherubim watched over and guarded the Holy of Holies, undoubtedly communicating to the priests, 'You may go this far, but no farther.'"

It was this second curtain which was torn in two from top to bottom. Who tore it? Only God could have. The tearing of the curtain was an indication that the sacrificial system of the Tabernacle by which men could approach God's presence had come to an end.

The curtain was torn at the exact time the evening sacrifice would begin: at 3 p.m. In other words, at the moment Jesus died there were priests in the Holy Place who witnessed the tearing of the curtain.

It's impossible to know the exact effect this had on the priests, although Acts 6:7 (HCSB) says, “So the preaching about God flourished, the number of the disciples in Jerusalem multiplied greatly, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith.”

Some people who doubt the supernatural might claim that this event is simply an example of Christian mythology. But consider this: The Gospel writers were bold enough to publish their accounts in the midst of the priests. Yet not once did any unbeliever in that day contradict their account. And even though we have the writings of unbelieving ancient philosophers like Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian, none of them discount the tearing of the curtain. The curtain hiding the Holy of Holies really tore in two pieces that day from top to bottom.

What does this mean for you? You can enter God’s presence.

The reason the curtains had to be established in the first place is sin. Sin is the obstacle to enjoying God’s presence. God will not fellowship with someone whose sin is still upon him. That sin has to be paid for, and that’s exactly what Jesus did on the cross.

When the sin was removed, so was the barrier that signified our separation from God. Now you can approach God freely. Hebrews 10:19-20 (HCSB) says that “we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He has inaugurated for us, through the curtain (that is, His flesh).”


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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Miracles of Calvary: The Darkness

While a student at The Criswell College in Dallas, I had a New Testament and church history professor we would call Danny. It didn't seem right to refer to one of our favorite professors by his first name, but he wouldn't allow us to call him "Dr. Akin" because he had not yet finished his doctoral dissertation on Bernard of Clairvaux. And if anyone ever referred to the Middle Ages as "The Dark Ages," Danny would quickly inform us of the myriads of wonderful, yet overlooked Christians who stood for Christ during those centuries.

One day, as we were studying the crucifixion of Christ, we happened across Matthew 27:50-53, which describes some very unusual events occurring at the moment Jesus died. Danny said to us, "If anyone can produce a paper telling me what all that was about, I'll give him an 'A' for the class." Although I ended up with an 'A' anyway, I wish I had happened across William Nicholson's
excellent little book called The Six Miracles of Calvary. Originally published in 1927, it gives as good of an interpretation as I've ever read about these strange miracles.

30725: The Six Miracles of Calvary: Unveiling the Story of EasterThe Six Miracles of Calvary: Unveiling the Story of Easter

Edited by Dan Schaeffer / Discovery House Publishers

With all due respect to William Nicholson, I think he missed one. Beginning today, my next seven posts will be dedicated to observing, interpreting, and applying the miracles of Calvary.

Miracles are not events in and of themselves. Miracles are signs that point to something greater. Behind each miracle stands an eternal truth.

The Miracle of Darkness

Matthew describes what happened about the day Jesus was crucified: "Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour" (Matt. 27:45, NASB). Jesus was on the cross for six hours before He died—from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. So for the last three hours on the cross, there was darkness over the land.

Some people who don’t believe in the miraculous have said that this was just a natural solar eclipse. If Jesus died during an eclipse, consider the following:

  • The chances that Jesus would die during a total eclipse are astronomically low. Total solar eclipses occur on average once every year and a half. That such an eclipse would occur at Jerusalem on that day is so remote that it could be said to be miraculous.
  • The longest duration for a total solar eclipse is less than eight minutes. A three-hour total solar eclipse would again be a miracle.
  • Jesus died on a Passover. Passover always occurs during a full moon, when the sun and the moon are in different parts of the sky.
I love it when skeptics try to explain away the miracles of the Bibles by presenting alternative theories that require the miraculous.

The darkness during Jesus' crucifixion was not the result of a natural phenomenon. It was caused by the will and direct action of God. The darkness--at that exact time and that prolonged--was something that only God could cause.

The Hebrew Bible prophesied that the darkness would occur. In Amos 8:9, the Lord says, "And it will come about in that day...that I will make the sun go down at noon and make the earth dark in broad daylight."

The Creator of light (cf. Gen 1:3) and the One who is Light (1 John 1:5) made it dark on the earth to draw attention to Himself. The darkness was the background of the cross, showing God's displeasure with and judgment of sin.

God the Father present at the cross, demonstrating by the darkness that He was judging His Son for our sins. As Nicholson notes, "The three hours of deathly darkness [Jesus] suffered on the cross at Calvary perfectly illustrated the heaviness of His Father’s hand upon Him" (p. 23).

What does it mean that the sky grew dark for three hours that Friday? That our sins are paid for, and that is the best miracle of all.


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