The Seven Mighty Miracles of Calvary
June 15th, 1980 @ 10:50 AM
SEVEN MIGHTY MIRACLES OF CALVARY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-15-80 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Seven Mighty Miracles of Calvary. There are four sermons that I have prepared in this present series. Last Sunday was the first one, The Seven Mighty Miracles Of the Old Testament; the next time, The Seven Mighty Miracles of All the Ages of All Time; and then the last one, The Seven Mighty Miracles at the End of the World; and today, The Seven Mighty Miracles of Calvary. Some of them are from the heaven above. Some of them are on the earth beneath, and some of them are under the earth. But all seven of them are in a class of wonders by themselves.
The first is found in Luke 23:44; Luke 23, verse 44; “And it was about the sixth hour,” at high noon, “and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour,” until 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon. “And the sun was darkened” [Luke 23:45]. That is the first miracle of the cross. At high noon, God blotted out the sun. It was a darkness like that in the land of Egypt that lasted for three days, a concentration of force [Exodus 10:21-22]. It was a darkness that could be felt.
It was a miracle of God. It was not an eclipse. An eclipse lasts but a very few minutes. This darkness lasted for three interminable hours [Luke 23:44]. An eclipse of the sun would be caused by the passing of the moon between the earth and the sun. This is in a Passover season, when the moon is in its full and on the opposite side of the earth from the sun. An eclipse is gradually presented before the eye of the earth. This is sudden. Suddenly, the whole earth is darkened, and then no less suddenly does the light shine again after the passing of the third hour; a miracle of God, an intervention from heaven [Luke 23:44]. And the awesome silence of those three hours was frightening and terrible.
The business around the cross was very significant. The soldiers were busy raising the three who were crucified. They were busy gambling at the foot of Jesus for His garments [Matthew 27:35], the throng passing up and down before the Lord wagging their heads and throwing up to Him insults and the taunts [Matthew 27:39-40]. And the high priests were busy criticizing Pilate for the wording of the superscription he nailed above the head of Jesus on the cross [John 19:19-21]. Then this awesome darkness, itself completely silent; no longer are any taunts and insults thrown. All that was heard was the dripping of the blood from the wounds of our Lord. It was a frightful silence, so much so that Luke 23:48, says, “They smote their breasts.” And Matthew 27:54 says, “The people feared greatly.”
What is the meaning of that miracle of the blotting out of the sun? [Luke 23:44-45]. It was the covering of the agony of our Lord when He paid the price of atoning redemption for our salvation. There is a mystery in that darkness into which human heart and mind cannot enter; when God smote His Son, as Isaiah 53 describes it, “Smitten of God, and afflicted” [Isaiah 53:4]; when God turned His face away, and the Son cried, “Eli, Eli, lama — My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” [Mathew 27:46], no mind could ever fathom the depth of the mystery of the suffering of God’s Son for our sins. God just shut it out. He blotted out the sun [Luke 23:44-45], so awesome and so terrible was that payment of our debt of death and sin [1 Peter 2:24].
You sang a moment ago,
Well might the sun in darkness hide?
And shut his glories in.
When Christ, the Mighty Maker died
For man, the creature’s sin.
[from “At the Cross,” Isaac Watts, 1707]
We don’t know. We don’t understand, just that God blotted it out and darkened the face of the sun—the first mystery and the first miracle of Calvary [Luke 23:44-45].
The second we read in Matthew 27, verses 49, 50, 51, “Jesus, when He had cried with a loud voice, yielded up His spirit. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” [Matthew 27:50-51], the second mighty miracle of Calvary: the rending of the veil [Matthew 27:51]. The old rabbis in the Talmud say that that veil was a hand’s breadth thick. It was sixty feet long. It was thirty feet wide, and the same rabbis say, in the Talmud, it took three hundred priests to raise it up, to lift it up. Josephus tells us, so strong and mighty that veil that teams of horses could not pull it asunder. Yet, at the voice of our Lord, “It is finished” [John 19:30], God took the veil and tore it from the top to the bottom [Matthew 27:51]. It was not seized by the hands of men and torn from the bottom to the top. They could not have done it. It was done by the hands of God from the top to the bottom. Nor did the earthquake rend it asunder, “Behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent” [Matthew 27:51]. After the rending of the veil, the very earth shook, and the rocks were rent, and it would have been an amazing thing had the earthquake just torn the veil and left the building intact and undamaged. It was a miracle of God, that tearing of the veil in twain [Matthew 27:51].
You see, it has in it a marvelous and incomparable lesson for us. The whole tabernacle and temple were built to show the cast-outwardness of the sinful man and the unapproachable holiness of God [Exodus 33:20]. Around it all was a wall [1 Kings 7:12]. And inside the Court of the Gentiles, another middle wall of partition [1 Kings 6:36], and beyond the inside the Court of Israel another wall to the Court of the Priests [2 Chronicles 4:9]. And beyond the Court of the Priests, the brazen altar, the laver, and then another obstruction, the door into the Holy Place [1 Kings 6:31]. And walking through the Holy Place, with its seven-branched lampstand, its table of showbread [1 Kings 7:48]—and before that veil, the golden altar of prayer and incense [2 Chronicles 4:1]—there was the veil itself, blocking the entrance into the presence of God [2 Chronicles 3:14]. And beyond the veil, the Holy of Holies, with the ark and the cherubim looking full down upon the mercy seat [1 Kings 6:27]. God in Christ tore that veil asunder, and every eye could look sweeping into the very presence of the Holy of Holies [Matthew 27:51].
The middle wall, a partition in Christ, is broken down, and now any man anywhere, without priest or mediator, can walk for himself into the very presence of God and speak to the Lord for himself [Hebrews 10:19-20]. Anywhere is a good where to call upon the name of the Lord. A kitchen corner is as acceptable in God’s sight as the most beautiful and ornate cathedral, for the way into the presence of God has been opened in the death and in the sacrifice of Jesus our Lord. The author of Hebrews writes it like this, in Hebrews 10:19-20: “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the Holiest”—the very Holy of Holies—”by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh.” The tearing of the flesh of our Lord is the tearing of that veil. The author of Hebrews says, “By which we are invited to come boldly into the presence of God’s throne of grace, and there to ask for help in time of need” [‘Hebrew 4:16]; the rending of the veil, our entrance into the very presence of God, the second mighty miracle of the cross [Matthew 27:51].
The third great miracle of Calvary: “And the earth did quake, and the rocks were rent” [Matthew 27:51], this, at the very voice of the Son of God. When He shouted His word of victory, “It is finished” [John 19:30]. the very earth responded. Why? Because in the giving of the law that condemns us all, no man has kept the law in its perfection. All of us have sinned, and come short of the expectation and glory of God [Romans 3:23]. In the law, in its giving, the lightning flashed, and the heavens were filled with the thunder of God’s voice. And the wrath of the Almighty shook Mt. Sinai! It quaked, it trembled, and the rocks were rent [Exodus 19:16-18, 20:18].
This is the law of God by which a man, when he’s tried, is condemned unto death [Deuteronomy 17:6]. But on Calvary, the love and grace and mercy of God were poured out in atoning redemption for us [John 19:30], and the earth replied. The earth responded [Matthew 27:51]. All of the tremors of Mt. Sinai [Exodus 19:16-18, 20:18] were absorbed in Mt. Calvary, and we are freed and forgiven in His grace and in His blood [Ephesians 1:7].
One other thing: this response of the earth to the shout of our Lord, “It is finished” [John 19:30], is a harbinger and a promise of the regeneration of the earth one glorious and climactic and consummating day. In the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans, Paul says that all creation labors in travail because of the curse until that day when the Lord’s chosen saints shall be manifested [Romans 8:19-23]. The sons of God appear in glory and in victory! [Romans 8:19]. And when the Lord shouted, “It is finished” [John 19:30], the responding earth shook in wonder and in glory of the regeneration that is yet to come! [Matthew 27:51]. There shall be in His omnipotence a new heaven and a new earth, and there will be no more curse [Revelation 21:1-5].
The fourth marvelous miracle of Calvary: “And the graves were opened; and the saints that slept arose” [Matthew 27:52]. The fourth miracle: the opening of the graves; it seems as if that earthquake were intelligent, that it were a living thing, that nature has gone beyond itself in nature, and it is selective. The earthquake opened the graves, that is, of the saints, just of the saints. This godly man, that godly woman, these who had fallen asleep in the Lord, their graves were opened, that select few. What a marvelous miracle of God’s promise and earnest of what is yet to be and a demonstration of what Christ is and has done. Look at that. The graves were opened [Matthew 27:52].
That was Friday afternoon. The Sabbath came on at sundown, and no work was permitted on the Sabbath. So those graves were opened to view Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It was an open exhibition of the ableness and power of our Lord to break asunder the bonds of death and of the grave [Acts 2:24]. They were opened, exhibited, plain to be seen and for view.
And a second thing, it was a portent of the breaking open of the prison doors of Hades [Revelation 1:18]. Our Lord Christ, when He entered the realm of the dead, when He entered Hades [Matthew 12:40; Acts 2:27], the earth shook, and the graves were opened when our Lord became master of sin and death and the grave [Matthew 27:52]. John wrote it like this when he saw the exalted and resurrected Lord [Revelation 1:9-16]: “I fell at His feet as one dead. And He laid His right hand upon me and said, Fear not…I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore. And I, I have the keys of Hell and of Death. In My hands are the keys of the Grave and of Death” [Revelation 1:17-18].
And the open exhibition of the power of Christ: when He entered the realm of the dead, when He entered Hades, the graves were opened, and Hades’ prison doors were opened, and God’s saints, resurrected, walked out [Matthew 27:52-53].
And that is the fifth marvelous miracle of Calvary: “And many of the bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after His resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many” [Matthew 27:52-53]. That’s one of the most marvelous things written in the Book of God, and, to me, in that miracle are two miracles. One is the resurrection of the bodies of the saints after the Lord’s resurrection, going into the city, these bodies that had been raised from the dead. And we have it translated here, “They appeared unto many” [Matthew 27:52-53], enephanisthēsan. Enephanisthēsan: that’s a first, aorist, indicative, passive, third-person plural of emphanizō. Emphanizō is to—to declare, to manifest, to show forth. In the passive voice, the subject is acted upon. So these who were raised from the dead, they manifested themselves. They showed themselves. They made themselves known. After the resurrection of our Lord, these saints enephanisthēsan, they made themselves known. They showed themselves, who they were [Matthew 27:52-53]. And that is the second miracle of it. That’s all that is said. The reticence of the Scripture is as wondrous as the miracle itself. Who were they, these saints who were raised from the dead? Had they just died, or had they been dead for generations?
What did they look like? How were they dressed? Did they walk down the streets? How did they come into the house? Did they knock at the door, or did they just suddenly appear? How were they known? It says here, “They made themselves known” as such [Matthew 27:53]. How did they make themselves known? Was it intuitive spiritual knowledge, such as the disciples immediately recognized Elijah and Moses [Matthew 17:1-4], and they’d been dead a thousand years? The Scriptures never say.
God somehow has hidden from our eyes the secrets of the mysteries of the life that is yet to come. Ten thousand times do I wish I had answers. When I preached through the Revelation, it was the center of the book. It was difficult, and I thought, “When I come to the resurrection, and the millennium, and the new heaven and the earth, it’ll be easy.” It was ten times harder. I held a memorial service yesterday afternoon, Saturday afternoon. Once again, a thousand things press upon my heart. I wish I knew. God hides it from our eyes. And in the law of Moses, we are forbidden on pain of death to seek answers among the dead [Leviticus 19:31, 20:6]. We don’t know.
How is that “spiritual body”—the very words itself are contradictory and anomalous. A “spiritual body”; they’re contradictory. A spirit is one thing, a body is another thing, and to say “a spiritual body” is an anomalous description. We don’t know; God hides it from our eyes. So this marvelous miracle here. One thing we do know, and that is the apostle Paul writes for us the order of that resurrection of the bodies. Now this is an interpretation on my part, but I think Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:23 writes the order of our resurrection, the order of it. If you have a little pencil, you can put a little perpendicular mark after this. In 1 Corinthians 15:22 Paul writes, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every one of us in his own order” [1 Corinthians 15:22-23] and the word there is like an army passing by; this battalion, this battalion, this battalion, each one of us is in order. Then he gives four orders: first, Christ was raised from the dead; second, the firstfruits, and these are those saints that were raised from the dead and went into the holy city and made themselves known as themselves unto the people [Matthew 27:52-53]; third, they that are Christ’s at His coming [1 Corinthians 15:23]. When the Lord shall come with a shout and the voice of the archangel, the dead in Christ shall rise first, and we, we shall all be changed [1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52]. And then last, the end ones. You see that “cometh” there? [1 Corinthians 15:24]. In my King James Version, it’s in italics; that is, it’s not in the original. “Then the end ones”; that is, those that shall be resurrected after the tribulation and entering into the glorious millennium [Daniel 12:2].
In that order: one, two, three, four, and the second here. First Christ, and then second this marvelous miracle of Calvary: the bodies of the saints arose and went into the city and revealed themselves unto the people as themselves [Matthew 27:52-53]. That is, God’s omnipotence showed itself in the dissolution of these bodies. He raised them from the dead, and they appeared as themselves unto the people. I can’t understand that. All I know is God says that He marks that dust of His saints [Psalm 103:14]. And some glorious day, He shall speak to that dust and raise it to Himself in glory [Daniel 12:2]; you, yourself. These made themselves known as themselves and appeared, the bodies of the saints [Matthew 27:52-53]. It’s a miracle of God. It belongs to His omnipotence [Revelation 1:18].
Miracle number six, John describes it as a miracle; in the [nineteenth] chapter of the Gospel of John, beginning at verse 33, miracle number six: and when those soldiers came, they broke the legs of the first, then of the second of the malefactors [John 19:32]. “But when they came to Jesus, they saw He was dead already, and they break not His legs, but one of the soldiers with a spear nussō”—that’s the only time in the Bible that word is used, nussō; it means stab, it means pierce, it means thrust—one of those soldiers took his iron spear and stabbed, thrust it into the heart of the Lord Jesus [John 19:33-34]. And then what John says is a miracle, “And forthwith came there out blood and water. He that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe” [John 19:34-35]. John writes that as though he hardly expected to be believed, so wondrous was the sight he beheld, when that soldier pulled out the spear out of the heart of the Lord Jesus, and it was followed by a flood of water and of blood [John 19:34]. How does John think of that? In his letter, 1 John 5:5-6, the disciple writes, “Who is he that overcometh the world? It is he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God. This is He”—the Lord Jesus—”that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood” [1 John 5:5-6].
To John, it was a miracle what he saw; blood, the crimson of life poured out, an actual atonement for our actual sins [Romans 5:11]. Jesus died a sacrificial death [1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21], and John says, “I saw the blood of His life poured out, but also water” [John 19:34]. Water in the Bible is a symbol of the cleansing word. “You are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” [John 15:3]. “He hath sanctified and cleansed the church with the washing of water by the word” [Ephesians 5:26], the word of God symbolized in the water. And also, we are regenerated by the Holy Spirit of God in the washing of regeneration [Titus 3:5]. And John, as he looks at the Lord, when that spear was pulled out of His heart, there came blood and water [John 19:34]; atoning blood, the crimson of His life [Leviticus 17:11], and water, the gospel message that cleanses us from all our sins [1 John 1:7], and the Spirit of God that regenerates us, makes us new [Titus 3:5].
Isaac Watts wrote, and you will find this imagery in our hymnology:
My Savior’s pierced side
Poured out a double flood.
By water, we are purified
And pardoned by His blood.
[“Let All our Tongues be One,” Isaac Watts, 1709]
Augustus Toplady wrote it like this:
Rock of ages, cleft for me;
Let me hide myself in Thee.
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.
[“Rock of Ages,” Augustus Toplady, 1775]
There came out blood and water [John 19:34].
And the seventh miracle, the last one: the seventh miracle is the miracle of the preaching of the gospel of the cross. My brothers and my sisters, the cross was an instrument of execution. It was the same thing with the Romans as an electric chair is to us today. It was a sign in the days of the Roman Empire of the horrible execution of a felon or a traitor, a malefactor, a murderer. Heretofore, they impaled through the abdomen. They stabbed and then held up a victim.
The Romans invented crucifixion. Sometimes, the sufferer would stay on there three, four, five, and six days in unspeakable agony. It was a sign of awesome suffering and a penalty. And yet, that cross is the symbol of the saving grace of God. The apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 6:14, “God forbid that I should glory, that I should boast, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And he wrote to the church at Corinth, “I refuse to know no other thing, except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” [1 Corinthians 2:2].
What an amazing thing that the instrument of execution on which Christ died should be on the top of our churches, just as high up as we can raise it, a cross; or around our necks in a golden chain; or as a symbol, a charm bracelet; or as an embellishment of a church in a stained-glass window, the cross of Jesus Christ. No wonder John Bowring, Sir John Bowring, member of Parliament, emissary of the British government, in Macao, the British colony beyond Hong Kong, seeing there that church destroyed except the facade and that cross high and lifted up—I stood there one time and looked at that, and I thought of the first stanza of his wonderful hymn: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” [Galatians 6:14],
In the cross of Christ I glory,
Towering o’er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round His head sublime.
[“In the Cross of Christ I Glory,” John Bowring]
And as the chorus of the hymn we sing,
In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory ever;
‘Til my ransomed soul shall rest
Just beyond the river.
[from, “Near The Cross” Fanny Crosby]
This is the gospel of our salvation, the cross on which Jesus was crucified and did die [Matthew 27:32-50]. It’s a miracle. It’s a miracle of God.
Now may we stand together? Our Lord in heaven, never are we more humbled than when we stand at the foot of the cross. This He did for me [1 Corinthians 15:3]. Had there been no other soul lost in this world, He yet would have suffered and died for me [Galatians 2:20]. O wonderful Savior, the incarnation of the grace and love of God [Matthew 1:20-25; John 3:16], what can we do to show Thee our profound and everlasting thanksgiving and gratitude, Lord, for saving us [2 Timothy 1:9], for dying for us [Hebrews 10:5-14], for paying our debt and penalty of sin? [Ephesians 1:7]. What can I do?
. . . drops of grief could ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give myself away;
‘Tis all that I can do.
[“At the Cross,” Isaac Watts, 1707]
And we offer to Thee, Lord, the humble sacrifice and thanksgiving of our lives [Romans 12:1-2].
And in this quiet moment of appeal, no one moving, but all of us standing and praying and waiting upon God, somebody you, give himself to Jesus [Ephesians 2:8]. A family you, a couple you, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles: “Pastor, we have decided for God, and here we stand.” Our ministers will be here. Our deacons will be here. With infinite love and welcome we await your coming. Make that decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we sing, take that first step. It’ll be the greatest step you ever made in your life. Down that stairway, there’s time and to spare, into that aisle and down to the front, make it now, do it now.
And our Lord, for the sweet harvest You will give us, we shall praise Thee forever. In Thy saving name, amen.
While our choir sings and while our people pray, into that aisle and down here to the front: “Pastor, I have made this decision for Christ.” God bless you. Angels attend you as you come, while we pray and while we sing.