Midweek Lenten Sermon for March 30, 2011

Sermon: The Miracle of the Splitting Rocks

(Matthew 27:51c)


It must have been more than deafening.  Words cannot describe what took place on that first Good Friday at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.  We read of it in Matthew’s Gospel in these words:

“And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.  The tombs also were opened.” (Matthew 27:51–52)

Today we direct our attention to the miracle of the splitting rocks.

I don’t know how the rocks were split.  They were certainly not hit with anything like a hammer. The King James Version of the Bible uses the word rent.  The word rent means to split or tear.  The word might suggest that an inner stress caused the rocks to split.  There certainly was reason for stress. Whatever way it happened, God did it.

The words “the rocks were split” have been seen by some as a fulfillment of Luke 19:39–40.  This takes us to the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday.  Jesus was being praised, as we well know.  The Pharisees were doing anything but.  One thing they were doing was planning His death. We read: “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.’”  I can’t even imagine how this must have sounded.  Think of it—rocks splitting apart, perhaps from inner stress, one after the other, some at the same time.

Some Bible commentators believe that the situation was so terrible, so unjust, so demeaning, so disgraceful, so wrong, that praise of Jesus for what He was accomplishing for the salvation of the world was so lacking, that to compensate the rocks cried out.  We might be inclined to point the finger at the disciples, who pretty well deserted Jesus at His arrest.  Peter followed Him into the courtyard of the high priest, but when a servant girl indicated that he was one of Jesus’ disciples, Peter denied it.  John and Mary were at the crucifixion, but we don’t know where the others were.

We might point the finger at the Pharisees, for along with others they planned Jesus’ death; for the mock trial; for the nasty things they did; for inciting the crowd to cry out, “Crucify Him.”  In Matthew 26:59–68, we read:

Now the chief priests and the whole Council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put Him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’ ” And the high priest stood up and said, “Have You no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against You?” But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard His blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” Then they spit in His face and struck Him. And some slapped Him, saying, “Prophesy to us, You Christ! Who is it that struck You?”

Or we might point the finger at the Romans.  After Pilate had washed his hands of the whole affair, we read:

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before Him. And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him, and twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head and put a reed in His hand, and kneeling before Him, they mocked Him saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on Him and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they stripped Him of the robe and put His own clothes on Him and led Him away to crucify Him. (Matthew 27:27–31)

Or we could point the finger where the Scriptures point the finger, and that is at us. St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:3: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.”

Over and over again in the Scriptures we read about “our sins.”  We heard about some of the sins of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, and they were terrible.  We heard about some of the sins of the Romans, and they were also terrible.  How about “our sins”?

The Scriptures say a lot about “our sins.” For example, in 1 John 1:7–9, we read: “The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

What is sin?  It has to do with our very nature; with being descendants of Adam and Eve.  They were tempted by the devil, the father of lies, and they fell into sin and became sinful by nature.  And so we, too, have a sinful nature.  Our sinful nature naturally leads us into actually sinning.  Sin has been defined as “transgression of the law” or “lawlessness.”  Sin involves actually doing things that are wrong according to the law, an example of which would be the Ten Commandments, but it involves more.  Sin can involve doing nothing, that is, failing to do what God would have us do.  Sin can also involve having wrong thoughts or saying words that we should not be saying or failing to say things that we should be saying like kind, helpful, forgiving, truthful, or Gospel words.

There are other verses that speak of “our sins.”  For example, in Isaiah 53:5–6, we read: “He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  St. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:24: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.”  St. Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:7: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.”

That Jesus Christ suffered and died for our sins is a truth that is at the very heart of the Gospel.  The Good News is that the heavenly Father, in view of the blood shed on Calvary for our sins, is graciously offering to the world of sinners His forgiveness and salvation.  Besides that, He is offering the services of the Holy Spirit, who works through the Word and the Sacraments to create saving faith placed in the Savior through which we receive that which is freely offered.

The splitting of the rocks was a miraculous sign that God is powerful and almighty.  God signaled that He was in control of the situation.  He could have stopped the crucifixion.  But God the Father, out of love for you and me, permitted Jesus Christ to suffer and die for our sins.  The God of power and love is in control of our lives and promises to bless and protect those who are His own through the faith in Jesus Christ worked in us by the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


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