In his newly translated primer on the book of Matthew, Reformed pastor Cornelis Vonk writes powerfully about the monumental moment of Jesus’ death.
Summarizing the heart of the Gospel and its profound implications for human freedom, Vonk reminds us of the lasting power of God’s incredible sacrifice.
“Death did not overcome Jesus,” Vonk writes, “for he was so willing to lay down his life himself.”
Shortly before dying, Jesus is forsaken by God. This happened when, in addition, an hour-long darkness had spread across the whole (Jewish?) land….We do not know the cause of this darkness, but we do know who caused it: God must have done that.
With that darkness he showed something incomprehensible to our understanding. What was that? That at the end of his life on earth, our Lord Jesus Christ bore the full wrath of God, his wrath against the entire human race. And for what purpose did this happen? So that everyone who one day wanted to enter into eternal life would remain pardoned from condemnation under that divine wrath. How could this be? By Jesus functioning as the perfect substitute who bore that hellish condemnation. Jesus did not need to do that for himself. He had never thought or done anything bad, nor had he been conceived and born in sin. Nevertheless we know that he was condemned by God, forsaken by God.
He said so himself when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v. 46).
…But Jesus did not die as everybody else up to that point had died. They had to die. But Jesus placed his own life in God’s hand. Matthew writes that he released “his spirit,” that is, his breath. John writes that he “surrendered” the spirit. That word is even more clear. Death did not overcome Jesus, for he was so willing to lay down his life himself. He could do that (John 10:17–18). He had the power to do that, the divine power. And as man, or we say, “according to his human nature,” Jesus had sufficient strength to speak with a loud voice.