The big idea of our Good Friday passage: Jesus truly is the Son of God. Our passage this evening provides three reasons to believe that Jesus truly is the Son of God: (1) The curtain, (2) The tombs, and (3) The Centurion.


Matthew 27:51-54 ESV Study Bible

What Did the Temple Look Like in Jesus’ Time?

R.T. France, Matthew, NICNT

Sermon Transcript


Who do you say that Jesus is? In the verses leading up to Matthew 27:51-54, the passage I’ll be focusing on this evening, one of the things that you probably noticed is that a debate is taking place. The debate concerns the question, “Who is Jesus?” Early in the Gospel of Matthew, a voice from heaven declares that Jesus is God’s Son, with whom God is well pleased. But not everyone heard that. As Jesus drove out demons, the demons declared Him to be the Son of God. Jesus identified Himself as the Son of God. When Jesus asked His disciples who He was, they identified Him as the Son of God. And when on trial, the question that Jesus is forced to answer is whether He is the Christ, the Son of God. He affirms it, but instead of bowing down and worshiping Him, the people of Israel dwelling in Jerusalem at the time charge Him with blasphemy and hand him over to the Romans to crucify Him. On His way to the cross, some mocked him: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (v. 40). “He trusts in God; let God deliver him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (v. 43). So, who’s right? Who is Jesus, truly? The question is not who do we think He is, how do we like to think of Him, or who do we want Him to be, but who is He, truly? The answer we receive at the culmination of the crucifixion scene in Matthew 27:54 is “truly this was the Son of God.” Who is Jesus? The big idea of our Good Friday passage: Jesus truly is the Son of God. Our passage this evening provides three reasons to believe that Jesus truly is the Son of God: (1) The curtain, (2) The tombs, and (3) The Centurion.


Our passage for this evening begins with the dramatic words “and behold,” which indicates that we’re about to read about the extraordinary effects of Jesus’ death on the cross. And the first effect comes at the beginning of Matthew 27:51: And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. To understand the significance of the curtain, you have to know a little bit about the temple. The big idea with the temple is that it’s where God dwells with his people. God is spatially everywhere, but he’s especially present in the temple. The very first temple in the Bible is actually the Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden is the first place where God dwelt with his people. Adam and Eve enjoyed unhindered and unspeakably joyous access to God in the garden temple. After Adam and Eve sinned, they were barred from the Garden, barred from God’s very presence. But God in his grace and mercy did not leave humanity to wander from his presence forever in judgment. Rather, God chose one person, Abraham, to be the father of a multitude of people, Israel, so that they would be a blessing to all people. And though God is spatially everywhere, His presence especially dwelt with His people in Israel’s temple. And as you can see from the image on the screen, the Jewish temple in Jesus’ day was a massive complex, but it’s important to know that Jesus himself was never actually permitted inside (second image). Only selected priests were allowed into the Temple sanctuary. And only the High Priest, once a year on the Day of Atonement, could go into the Holy of Holies in the back of the Temple, where God’s manifest presence dwelt. The high priest could only enter the holy of holies on the day of atonement after offering a sacrifice to atone for his own sins. And, as you can see, separating the temple sanctuary from the holy of holies was a massive, thick, floor to ceiling 60-foot curtain. The curtain separated the holy, majestic, all satisfying presence of God from sinful people. And when Jesus died, that curtain of separation was torn in two from top to bottom.

What’s the significance of the curtain being torn in two? It signifies the removal of separation between God and humanity through the death of God’s Son. Listen to the way that the author to the letter to the Hebrews describes the significance of the curtain. Hebrews 10:19-23: Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. The Lord Jesus is the great high priest who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to pay for sins and all who receive and rest in Jesus alone for salvation are rescued from eternal conscious separation from God and welcomed into God’s presence, at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore. Through his death, Jesus welcomes us behind the curtain. Truly he is the Son of God.

Imagine you decide to take a day trip to Washington D.C. to enjoy the historical sites and near the end of the day you drive by to see the White House, the most protected residence on the planet. Now let’s say you decide to go in, unwelcomed because you want to see the president. What would happen? Of course, you’d be stopped by large people with large guns. Now imagine that just as they’re carrying you away you manage to utter the name “Jesus.” Suddenly, they uncuff you, dust you off, give you a new suit or dress, and the gates fling open so that you can be rushed right into the oval office. Through his death Jesus tasted separation from the Father on our behalf so that we can be welcomed behind the curtain as God’s adopted sons and daughters by grace. Truly he is the Son of God. But it’s not just the curtain that reveals that Jesus truly is the Son of God, secondly, it’s…


Matthew 27:51b-53: And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. Though this narrative is historical – it really did happen – Matthew doesn’t answer all of our historical questions because the significance of this scene is theological, that is, it’s intended to teach us about God. Matthew is seeking to teach us something profound about the death of the Son of God: his death brings life. When Jesus goes into the grave, graves open. Jesus’ death brings life.

As strange as the opening of tombs at the death of Jesus is, the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, in one of my favorite passages in the whole Bible, promised that this would happen. Ezekiel 37: The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live… So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. 11 Then he said to me, “…13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 600 years before Jesus’ death, the Lord said that we would know he is the Lord when he opens our graves. The tombs tell the truth. This one whose death brings eternal life for all who receive and rest in Him is truly the Son of God.

If you’re not yet a Christian and you’re just checking out the claims of Christ, I am so glad that you decided to join us tonight. There is something incredibly important that I want you to know about Christianity. Christianity is not good advice about how you can be a better you. Jesus did not come to make bad people good. Jesus came to make dead people alive through his death. Imagine you’re walking down the street and, as gross as it might be, imagine that you come upon a corpse. Would you give the corpse good advice about how to live a better life? Of course not, it’s dead and can’t take your advice. The Bible says that by birth and choice we are all spiritual corpses destined for eternal judgment. We don’t need good advice because dead people can’t take advice. We need the only good news that truly matters: because Jesus truly is the Son of God his death brings life. He died the death we deserve so we can enjoy the eternal life he deserves. If you’re checking out the Christian faith, please don’t come to Jesus as though he’s a life coach to give you advice, come to him as the Son of God who died so you can live. And if you are a Christian, never forget and never stop rejoicing because you’re a miracle. You’re not a bad guy made good. You’re a dead person made alive by the death of Christ and through his death you’ll live forever. Jesus truly is the Son of God because of the curtain, the tomb, and finally because of…


Matthew 27:54: 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!” The battle-hardened centurion and his guard would likely have witnessed countless crucifixions. It’s not the crucifixion that filled them with awe and faith, it was the darkness, the earthquake, and the cracked tombs that led this Roman centurion to believe that this first century Jewish peasant truly was the Son of God. NT scholar R.T. France points out that the Centurion’s confession is the climactic theological point of Matthew’s Gospel! God has twice declared that Jesus is his son (3:17; 17:5); demons have recognized him as such (4:3, 6; 8:29; Jesus has said so himself (11:25-27); cf. 24:36) and has frequently referred to God as his “Father,” and has even on two occasions hinted publicly that he is God’s “Son” (21:37-39; 22:42-45); the disciples have hailed him as “God’s son” in a moment of crises (14:33), and Peter has included this title in his considered estimate of Jesus (16:16). But right up to the time of Jesus’ trial no human observer outside the disciple group has used such language of Jesus…Now, however, people outside the community of faith have recognized and declared the truth, and so reversed the mockery, and the fact that they are not even Jews reinforces Matthew’s message that the new people of God is not to be restricted to the children of Abraham. Jesus truly is the Son of God because he welcomes Centurions, people least likely to believe in him to become adopted children of God through his death. As I close, I want to say one final word to those of you who aren’t followers of Jesus. I imagine that some of you consider yourselves to be the least likely people to follow Jesus. Perhaps you were raised in a different faith or have no faith at all. It’s not too late and you’re not too far to rethink your life on an incredibly deep level when it comes to Jesus. If the Centurion can believe, then anyone can believe, even you. The curtain, the tombs, and the centurion all reveal that Jesus truly is the Son of God. Let’s worship Him!