When Martin Luther encountered the very first chapter of the Bible, he immediately encountered a problem. When we read, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” (Genesis 1:1) we trust the translators and don’t really think about what these words might be in Hebrew. You see, in Hebrew, the word for God is plural … Gods … as in more than one. On the other hand, the word for created is singular. It means only one entity did the creating. There is a tension here. The word for created forces the sentence to say that one and only one God created everything. Never the less, the word for God means more than one. How can we resolve this tension? The only way to resolve the tension in this sentence is to recognize that while God is one and only one, there is still something that is more than one about Him.
Then Martin Luther encountered the next verse and read, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2) Here we see that although God is one, there are at least two persons within God … the Creator and the Spirit.
In verse three, Martin Luther read, “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:3) Here he once again called attention to another oddity in the Hebrew. There are two different words that we can translate as say or speak, but in Hebrew, one of these words denotes only and strictly the uttered word, but the other word also denotes a thing or a person. In this passage, Moses used the Hebrew word that denotes a thing or person. It says that God is, so to speak, the Speaker who creates; nevertheless, He does not make use of matter, but He makes heaven and earth out of nothing solely by the Word which He utters.
Now compare with this the Gospel of John: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1) John is in proper agreement with Moses. He expressly adds: “This Word is God and yet is a Person distinct from God the Father, just as a word and he who utters a word are separate entities.” Yet even though this distinction is very real, it does not disturb the unity of God. So it is that by the time Martin Luther got three verses into the very beginning of Scripture, he had already shown that Scripture assumes a Triune God, Creator, Spirit, and Word.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 1: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1-5, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 1 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 16–17.
As we make our way through the Bible, we learn that God the Creator is God the Father, God the Spirit is God the Holy Spirit, and God the Word, is God the Son, Jesus Christ.
The point here is to impress upon you the fact that, from the very beginning, the Bible teaches a unified God of three persons … that this has been the case forever. The Father eternally begets the Son. The Son is eternally begotten of the Father. The Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. This is an eternal thing that transcends time and space. The relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is perfect and eternal.
Now consider the words of Jesus from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) Here is the eternal Son begotten of the Father crying out that God has forsaken Him. What does it even mean that within this eternal relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that one forsakes another? The wisest human mind is not able to begin to answer this question. Consider the transcendent relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is beyond time and space. Yet, here in time and space … on a hill near Jerusalem. The Son of God suffers and cried out with a loud voice, saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
What human condition can even compare to it? Consider the expressions of homesickness that you often hear from those who have had to move into a nursing facility of some sort. How often have you heard them remark how much they miss living at home? Or consider the expressions of grief that you hear from the widows and widowers that you know, some of whom are gathered with us today. Oh, they have learned to move on with their lives. They’ve had to. But it can never, ever be the same as when they shared their life with a spouse.
Now consider Jesus on the cross. Consider the grief of homesickness caused by less than a century in a house. Consider the grief of parting after less than a century of life together with a spouse. How much more did Jesus suffer when His eternal, perfect relationship with the Father experienced this forsakenness? The thorns, the rod, the whip, the nails … these are all bad enough, but the worst is the forsakenness experienced in the eternal relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Never the less, this is the price that the holy, innocent Son of God paid because the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6) Your sin and my sin earned this forsakeness for us. We should be the ones suffering the agony of eternal forsakenness by God, but here is God the Son carrying the sin of the world and enduring the punishment for that sin. You should be on that cross, but you are not. He does not deserve that cross, but there He is. He is there for you.
Creation itself recoiled at this supernatural forsakenness. Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. (Matthew 27:45) Even the sun could not bear to watch this supreme sacrifice on the part of the Word of God through whom it was created. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. (Matthew 27:51–52) The very earth shuddered and released her dead.
In the midst of creation’s response to this supernatural forsakenness, we heard, “Behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:51) The curtain of the temple blocked the way to the Most Holy Place or the Holy of Holies. The curtain limited access to this Holy of Holies. Even the High Priest was restricted to once a year … Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On that day and that day alone, the High Priest sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice. Now, with His perfect suffering unto death, Jesus, the Ultimate High Priest has fulfilled the Day of Atonement. The way to God is no longer restricted to one man on one day. The old system of sacrifice, priesthood, and temple worship is over. Jesus has opened the way for every repentant sinner to enter God’s presence. God may now dwell openly with His people without destroying them for their sin. When Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11–12) Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. (Hebrews 10:19–22)
When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54) The pagan Roman soldiers of the execution squad witnessed all these signs and concluded that something important had just happened. As witnesses, they proclaimed that the man they had crucified was the Son of God. Once again, we see that the proclamation of the Gospel is not just for Jews, but it is for all people in all places and times.
The Jewish leaders on the other hand, were the opposite of the Roman execution squad. They had many more opportunities to hear and watch Jesus. When Jesus promised to rise from the dead, the disciples were very confused, but the Jewish leaders heard Jesus very well. In their stubbornness, they went to Pilate one more time. The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ 64Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” (Matthew 27:62–64) They planned to make certain that no one would ever believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
By this time, Pilate was probably sick and tired of dealing with them. 65Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” 66So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. (Matthew 27:65–66) Little did they know that they were providing more witnesses for the greatest sign of all … the resurrection that Jesus promised to all who heard Him.
God the Father laid the iniquity of the world upon His Son, Jesus. Then His justice forced Him to turn away from that sin so that Jesus endured the forsakenness of God … a forsakenness with the eternal, perfect, loving relationship that only exists between the persons of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We cannot begin to understand this punishment, but it is the punishment that we deserve. Never the less, because Jesus took this punishment onto Himself, we shall never experience it.
Instead, all who believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins will receive the blessing of the torn curtain. We have the right and the confidence to enter the eternal Holy of Holies by the blood of Jesus. We look forward to eternal life in the joy-filled presence of the Living God. Amen
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