Return to Sermons | Home

“The Miracles of Lent: Earthquake”
Matthew 27:51-53


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Lenten Vespers VI—March 28, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

In the first message for this year’s Lenten sermon series, “The Miracles of Lent,” we looked at the miraculous darkness that enshrouded the earth for three hours as Christ hung upon the cross.  I mentioned that miracle is also recorded in ancient sources outside the Bible.  For instance, the classical Greek author Plegon wrote a book about unexplained natural phenomena, titled “Questions of Nature.”  He reports: “In the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad there was a great eclipse of the sun, greater than had ever been known before.  For at the sixth hour the day was changed into night, and the stars were seen in the heavens.”  The 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad is equal to the year 33 A.D.!

Plegon also records the miracle we are considering this evening, the great earthquake that took place the moment of Christ’s death.  Matthew reports: “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.  At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split.”  Plegon confirms this miracle when he says that along with the mysterious darkness, “An earthquake occurred in Bithynia and overthrew a great part of the city of Nicea,” which would be about 700 miles from Jerusalem.

Jesus once said that “the stones will cry out” in testimony to him, and as would be expected the earthquake which occurred at the moment of his death also left geological evidence in the Holy Land.  Earthquakes leave a particular kind of sediment layer, and such a layer is found in the Holy Land, also dating to 33 A.D., and indicating an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.5.

There is currently a corporation in our community that is attempting to counteract misinformation and get the truth out about their product.  They are using every means possible to get people’s attention, to impress upon them the true message about their product. That was also the reason why God sent the miraculous earthquake and other miracles at the moment of Christ’s death.

Those who conspired against Jesus were spreading all sorts lies and misinformation about him, in an attempt to discredit him.  They said that he was in league with the devil: “He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”  They claimed that he was crazy: “He is . . . out of his mind. Why listen to him?”  Before Pontius Pilate they falsely accused him of leading a rebellion against Caesar and paying taxes to the Romans: “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar.”

Jesus’ enemies thought that the ultimate discredit against him was the manner of his death, for crucifixion was considered the most shameful and humiliating way to die.  “Those who passed by hurled insults at him . . . Save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!’  In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he cannot save himself! He’s the King of Israel? Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.’”

It was because of all the lies and misinformation about Jesus, and especially the lie that since he had been crucified he could not possibly be the Son of God, that at the moment of his death God used every means possible to get people’s attention, to impress upon them the true message about his Son.  “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.  At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split.”

Matthew goes on to record yet another mysterious miracle that took place the moment of Christ’s death: “The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.  They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.”  Perhaps those who were raised had recently died, like Lazarus, who was in the tomb four days before Jesus raised him from the dead.  This mass resurrection at the moment of Christ’s death is a powerful sign from God that his Son’s sacrifice earned for us forgiveness of sin and eternal life.  As Jesus promised, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even though he dies, yet shall he live.”

“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.  At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split.  The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.  They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.”

Earthquake tremors can be felt for many miles from the epicenter. According to Plegon, this earthquake was felt by not only by the people throughout the Holy Land, but also in neighboring countries.  Just as this earthquake radiated out from Jerusalem, following Jesus’ resurrection the Good News about him spread from Jerusalem throughout the world and across the centuries, all the way to us.  As Jesus said, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in [my] name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. . . and to the ends of the earth.”

The Romans were brutal rulers who routinely carried out large numbers of crucifixions.  But, the strange events that took place at the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth—the darkness, the tearing of the Temple curtain, the earthquake, the mass resurrection—was all God’s way of testifying that this was no criminal, or a routine crucifixion.  And Matthew tells us that was exactly the effect all these extraordinary events had even on the centurion and the squad of Roman soldiers who put Jesus to death: “When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God!’”

Amen.

  Return to Top | Return to Sermons | Home | Email Pastor Vogts