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The Death of Jesus

45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.

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Matthew 27:45. Now from the sixth hour. Although in the death of Christ the weakness of the flesh concealed for a short time the glory of the Godhead, and though the Son of God himself was disfigured by shame and contempt, and, as Paul says, was emptied, (Philippians 2:7) yet the heavenly Father did not cease to distinguish him by some marks, and during his lowest humiliation prepared some indications of his future glory, in order to fortify the minds of the godly against the offense of the cross. Thus the majesty of Christ was attested by the obscuration of the sun, by the earthquake, by the splitting of the rocks, and the rending of the veil, as if heaven and earth were rendering the homage which they owed to their Creator.

But we inquire, in the first place, what was the design of the eclipse of the sun? For the fiction of the ancient poets in their tragedies, that the light of the sun is withdrawn from the earth whenever any shocking crime is perpetrated, was intended to express the alarming effects of the anger of God; and this invention unquestionably had its origin in the ordinary feelings of mankind. In accordance with this view, some commentators think that, at the death of Christ, God sent darkness as a Mark of detestation, as if God, by bringing darkness over the sun, hid his face from beholding the blackest of all crimes. Others say that, when the visible sun was extinguished, it pointed out the death of the Sun of righteousness. Others choose to refer it to the blinding of the nation, which followed shortly afterwards. For the Jews, by rejecting Christ, as soon as he was removed from among them, were deprived of the light of heavenly doctrine, and nothing was left to them but the darkness of despair.

I rather think that, as stupidity had shut the eyes of that people against the light, the darkness was intended to arouse them to consider the astonishing design of God in the death of Christ. For if they were not altogether hardened, an unusual change of the order of nature must have made a deep impression on their senses, so as to look forward to an approaching renewal of the world. Yet it was a terrific spectacle which was exhibited to them, that they might tremble at the judgment of God. And, indeed, it was an astonishing display of the wrath of God that he did not spare even his only begotten Son, and was not appeased in any other way than by that price of expiation.

As to the scribes and priests, and a great part of the nation, who paid no attention to the eclipse of the sun, but passed it by with closed eyes, their amazing madness ought to strike us with horror; 283283     “Leur foreenerie noun, doit blen estonner, et nous faire dresser les cheveux en la teste;” — “their madness ought greatly to astonish us, and to make our hair stand on end.” for they must have been more stupid than brute beasts, who when plainly warned of the severity of the judgment of heaven by such a miracle, did not cease to indulge in mockery. But this is the spirit of stupidity and of giddiness with which God intoxicates the reprobate, after having long contended with their malice. Meanwhile, let us learn that, when they were bewitched by the enchantments of Satan, the glory of God, however manifest, was afterwards hidden from them, or, at least, that their minds were darkened, so that, seeing they did not see, (Matthew 13:14.) But as it was a general admonition, it ought also to be of advantage to us, by informing us that the sacrifice by which we are redeemed was of as much importance as if the sun had fallen from heaven, or if the whole fabric of the world had fallen to pieces; for this will excite in us deeper horror at our sins.

As to the opinion entertained by some who make this eclipse of the sun extend to every quarter of the world, I do not consider it to be probable. For though it was related by one or two authors, still the history of those times attracted so much attention, that it was impossible for so remarkable a miracle to be passed over in silence by many other authors, who have described minutely events which were not so worthy of being recorded. Besides, if the eclipse had been universal throughout the world, it would have been regarded as natural, and would more easily have escaped the notice of men. 284284     “Plus aisément on l’eust laissé passer sans enquerir la signification;” —”it would more easily have been allowed to pass without inquiring into its meaning.” But when the sun was shining elsewhere, it was a more striking miracle that Judea was covered with darkness.

46. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried. Though in the cry which Christ uttered a power more than human was manifested, yet it was unquestionably drawn from him by intensity of sorrow. And certainly this was his chief conflict, and harder than all the other tortures, that in his anguish he was so far from being soothed by the assistance or favor of his Father, that he felt himself to be in some measure estranged from him. For not only did he offer his body as the price of our reconciliation with God, but. in his soul also he endured the punishments due to us; and thus he became, as Isaiah speaks, a man of sorrows, (53:3.) Those interpreters are widely mistaken who, laying aside this part of redemption, attended solely to the outward punishment of the flesh; for in order that Christ might satisfy for us, 285285     “A fin que Christ fist la satisfaction et le payment pour nous;” — “in order that Christ might make satisfaction and payment for us.” it was necessary that he should be placed as a guilty person at the judgment-seat of God. Now nothing is more dreadful than to feel that God, whose wrath is worse than all deaths, is the Judge. When this temptation was presented to Christ, as if, having God opposed to him, he were already devoted to destruction, he was seized with horror, which would have been sufficient to swallow up a hundred times all the men in the world; but by the amazing power of the Spirit he achieved the victory. Nor is it by hypocrisy, or by assuming a character, that he complains of having been forsaken by the Father. Some allege that he employed this language in compliance with the opinion of the people, but this is an absurd mode of evading the difficulty; for the inward sadness of his soul was so powerful and violent, that it forced him to break out into a cry. Nor did the redemption which he accomplished consist solely in what was exhibited to the eye, (as I stated a little ago,) but having undertaken to be our surety, he resolved actually to undergo in our room the judgment of God.

But it appear absurd to say that an expression of despair escaped Christ. The reply is easy. Though the perception of the flesh would have led him to dread destruction, still in his heart faith remained firm, by which he beheld the presence of God, of whose absence he complains. We have explained elsewhere how the Divine nature gave way to the weakness of the flesh, so far as was necessary for our salvation, that Christ might accomplish all that was required of the Redeemer. We have likewise pointed out the distinction between the sentiment of nature and the knowledge of faith; and, there ore, the perception of God’s estrangement from him, which Christ had, as suggested by natural feeling, did not hinder him from continuing to be assured by faith that God was reconciled to him. This is sufficiently evident from the two clauses of the complaint; for, before stating the temptation, he begins by saying that he betakes himself to God as his God, and thus by the shield of faith he courageously expels that appearance of forsaking which presented itself on the other side. In short, during this fearful torture his faith remained uninjured, so that, while he complained of being forsaken, he still relied on the aid of God as at hand.

That this expression eminently deserves our attention is evident from the circumstance, that the Holy Spirit, in order to engrave it more deeply on the memory of men, has chosen to relate it in the Syriac language; 286286     “A voulu qu’il fust escrit et enregistré en langue Syrienne, de la quelle on usoit lors communément au pays;” — “determined that it should be written and recorded in the Syrian language, which was then commonly used in the country.” for this has the same effect as if he made us hear Christ himself repeating the very words which then proceeded from his mouth. So much the more detestable is the indifference of those who lightly pass by, as a matter of jesting, the deep sadness and fearful trembling which Christ endured. No one who considers that Christ undertook the office of Mediator on the condition of suffering our condemnation, both in his body and in his soul, will think it strange that he maintained a struggle with the sorrows of death, as if an offended God had thrown him into a whirlpool of afflictions.

47. He calleth Elijah. Those who consider this as spoken by the soldiers, ignorant and unskilled in the Syriac language, and unacquainted with the Jewish religion, and who imagine that the soldiers blundered through a resemblance of the words, are, in my opinion, mistaken. I do not think it at all probable that they erred through ignorance, but rather that they deliberately intended to mock Christ, and to turn his prayer into an occasion of slander. For Satan has no method more effectual for ruining the salvation of the godly, than by dissuading them from calling on God. For this reason, he employs his agents to drive off from us, as far as he can, the desire to pray. Thus he impelled the wicked enemies of Christ basely to turn his prayer into derision, intending by this stratagem to strip him of his chief armor. And certainly it is a very grievous temptation, when prayer appears to be so far from yielding any advantage to us, that God exposes his name to reproaches, instead of lending a gracious car to our prayers. This ironical language, therefore — or rather this barking of dogs — amounts to saying that Christ has no access to God, because, by imploring Elijah, he seeks relief in another quarter. Thus we see that he was tortured on every hand, in order that, overwhelmed with despair, he might abstain from calling on God, which was, to abandon salvation. But if the hired brawlers of Antichrist, as well as wicked men existing in the Church, are now found to pervert basely by their calumnies what has been properly said by us, let us not wonder that the same thing should happen to our Head. Yet though they may change God into Elijah, when they have ridiculed us to their heart’s content, God will at length listen to our groanings, and will show that he vindicates his glory, and punishes base falsehood.

48. And immediately one ran. As Christ had once refused to drink, it may be conjectured with probability, that it was repeatedly offered to him for the sake of annoyance; though it is also not improbable that the vinegar was held out to him in a cup before he was raised aloft, and that a sponge was afterwards applied to his mouth, while he was hanging on the cross.

Matthew 27:50. Jesus having again cried with a loud voice. Luke, who makes no mention of the former complaint, repeats the words of this second cry, which Matthew and Mark leave out. He says that Jesus cried, Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit; by which he declared that, though he was fiercely attacked by violent temptations, still his faith was unshaken, and always kept its ground unvanquished. For there could not have been a more splendid triumph than when Christ boldly expresses his assurance that God is the faithful guardian of his soul, which all imagined to be lost. But instead of speaking to the deaf, he betook himself directly to God, and committed to his bosom the assurance of his confidence. He wished, indeed, that men should hear what he said; but though it might be of no avail to men, he was satisfied with having God alone as his witness. And certainly there is not a stronger or more decided testimony of faith than when a pious man—perceiving himself attacked on every hand:, so that he finds no consolation on the part of men—despises the madness of the whole world, discharges his sorrows and cares into the bosom of God, and rests in the hope of his promises.

Though this form of prayer appears to be borrowed from Psalm 31:5, yet I have no doubt that he applied it to his immediate object, according to present circumstances; as if he had said, “I see, indeed, O Father, that by the universal voice I am destined to destruction, and that my soul is, so to speak, hurried to and fro; but though, according to the flesh, I perceive no assistance in thee, yet this will not hinder me from committing my spirit into thy hands, and calmly relying on the hidden safeguard of thy goodness.” Yet it ought to be observed, that David, in the passage which I have quoted, not only prayed that his soul, received by the hand of God, might continue to be safe and happy after death, but committed his life to the Lord, that, guarded by his protection, he might prosper both in life and in death. He saw himself continually besieged by many deaths; nothing, therefore, remained but to commit himself to the invincible protection of God. Having made God the guardian of his soul, he rejoices that it is safe from all danger; and, at the same time, prepares to meet death with confidence, whenever it shall please God, because the Lord guards the souls of his people even in death. No as the former was taken away from Christ, to commit his soul to be protected by the Father during the frail condition of the earthly life, he hastens cheerfully to death, and desires to be preserved beyond the world; for the chief reason why God receives our souls into his keeping is, that our faith may rise beyond this transitory life.

Let us now remember that it was not in reference to himself alone that Christ committed his soul to the Father, but that he included, as it were, in one bundle all the souls of those who believe in him, that they may be preserved along with his own; and not only so, but by this prayer he obtained authority to save all souls, so that not only does the heavenly Father, for his sake, deign to take them into his custody, but, giving up the authority into his hands, commits them to him to be protected. And therefore Stephen also, when dying, resigns his soul into his hands, saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit, (Acts 7:59.) Every one who, when he comes to die, following this example, shall believe in Christ, will not breathe his soul at random into the air, but will resort to a faithful guardian, who keeps in safety whatever has been delivered to him by the Father.

The cry shows also the intensity of the feeling; for there can be no doubt that Christ, out of the sharpness of the temptations by which he was beset, not without a painful and strenuous effort, broke out into this cry. And yet he likewise intended, by this loud and piercing exclamation, to assure us that his soul would be safe and uninjured by death, in order that we, supported by the same confidence, may cheerfully depart from the frail hovel of our flesh.