All the Way to Calvary: Calvary’s Miracles

The life of Jesus was filled with miracles. Even in His final hours, those who saw Him hoped to see Him perform more.[1] But although He refused, the record of Scripture tells us many miracles occurred at the place called Calvary.

The Miracle in the Skies

“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, because the sun’s light failed” (Luk 23:44-45a NET). We have already written at length about the mysterious darkness that rolled in followed by Jesus’ cry of desolation. But it is clear that heaven began to respond to earth’s events in ways that no spectator could ever forget. And if the darkness was a cosmic sign, there followed a cultic[2] one.

The Miracle in the Sanctuary

“And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” (Mat 27:51).[3] It seems best to conclude that this veil was the one in front of the Most Holy Place in the temple rather than the one before the Court of Israel. This was a double curtain approximately 90 feet high. Its height and thickness (that of a man’s hand) meant that no human hands could ever have torn it. Like the darkness, this was yet another act of God.

The time was three o’clock in the afternoon and the priests in the temple would’ve been busy with their activities associated with the evening sacrifice. Its occurrence at this hour would ensure there would be a large number of witnesses to the veil’s rending. And “without the veil to hide the presence of God, no Jewish priest would have dared to enter the holy place of the temple. The tearing of the veil made the Jewish system of worship temporarily unworkable.”[4]

The theological significance of this miracle is twofold: it suggests both the termination of the Jewish system of worship and the inauguration of a new and living way into the presence of God secured by the blood of Jesus (Heb 10:19-22). The veil’s splitting was simultaneously the end of one era and the beginning of a new one.

The sacrifice is o’er,
The veil is rent in twain,
The mercy-seat is red
With blood of Victim slain.
Why stand we then without, in fear?
The blood of Christ invites us near.[5]

The Miracle of the Stones

We are indebted to Matthew alone for this detail: “and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent” (27:51b). Earthquakes occurred at significant moments in biblical history: at the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai (Exo 19:18), during the rebellion of Korah and his men in the wilderness (Num 16:31-33), in Elijah’s encounter with the Lord at Horeb (1Ki 19:11) and, fittingly, at the resurrection of the Lord Jesus (Mat 28:2). The death of Christ was the most important event in all of earth’s history, and we would be surprised had the earth not shaken. God wants us to know that the death of His Son was literally an “earth-shaking” incident.

But the earthquake and the way the rocks split seemed designed to carry out a particular purpose. The rending of the rocks explains how rock tombs could be opened. Perhaps some stones were even rolled away (as was the stone at Jesus’ tomb) from the mouths of caves which contained the bodies of saints.

The Miracle of the Saints

Matthew writes, “And the graves were opened; and many 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” (27:52-53). It seems best to infer from the words “after his resurrection” that these Old Testament saints were raised and left their sepulchres after Jesus was raised and left His. Scripture doesn’t tell us what happened to them afterward, but it is likely that their experience was similar to that of Lazarus (Joh 11), who would naturally have died later.

The Miracle of the Soldiers

The events at Calvary powerfully affected all who were present (see Luk 23:48), but none so much as the centurion in charge of the crucifixion and his associates who “feared greatly” (Mat 27:54) after what they observed. Mark and Luke mention the centurion’s response, but only Matthew reports that his reaction was shared by “they that were with him,” a reference to the soldiers.

Mark includes the fact that the centurion “stood over against him [Jesus]” (15:39), revealing that he had a full view of everything that happened to our Savior. He, along with the soldiers under his command, had a front row seat to these unforgettable events. They heard Him pray for them as they fastened nails into His hands and feet. They could read the title above His head and perhaps wondered if this Man could really be a king. They heard His authoritative words to one of the criminals promising him paradise. They were there when the skies went black, and sat for three hours pondering the meaning of it all. They heard His mighty cries and watched Him bow His head in death. And then the earth began to shake beneath their feet. It was all so overwhelming. It led them to confess two things: first, that Christ was truly a righteous Man (Luk 23:47)[6] and, second, that He was “the Son of God” (Mat 27:54; Mar 15:39).

The title “Son of God” was on the crowd’s lips as well as the lips of the Jewish leaders as they shouted out in mockery of Jesus (Mat 27:40,43). Surely, the soldiers heard it. And now, it was their confession, not out of mockery but in sincerity. Some commentators seem to go out of their way to imply that this declaration falls quite short of genuine conversion, but I am not convinced by their arguments. “Grammatically speaking, Mark’s use of ‘Son of God’ in 15:39 is meant in the full Christian sense.”[7] Matthew records this confession on the lips of Jesus’ disciples during His earthly ministry (14:33). The evidence suggests that these soldiers, along with their leader, were saved at the foot of Christ’s cross.

How touching, then, that the first converts at Calvary were a criminal who mocked Him and the men who nailed Him to the tree, becoming miracles themselves by God’s saving power. Amazing grace!

We have ended our meditations at the cross, where hung the lifeless body of the Lord Jesus. But we know the rest of the story. Nicodemus was on his way. Joseph’s tomb would soon be ready. The women would prepare their fragrances. But for the second time in a few days, the earth would shake (Mat 28:2), and the best news the world ever heard would be delivered – “He is risen!” (v6). And now the One who was on a tree for us is on a throne for us. I’d like to make it more personal. Scripture permits us to make it personal. God longs for us to make it personal. He is on that throne for me. He was on that tree for me. We join the Apostle Paul to say, “The Son of God … loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20 KJV).

Virginia Williams Moyer (1870-1903) wrote upwards of 40 hymns. The final stanza of one of her compositions reads:

O ‘twas wondrous love the Savior showed for me,
When He left His throne for Calvary,
When He bore my trespass, bore it all alone;
Praise His Name forever, make it known.

But perhaps the most memorable words she penned are the chorus, a refrain I can remember singing since I was a young child, and which inspired the title of these articles.

All the way to Calvary He went for me,
He went for me, He went for me;
All the way to Calvary He went for me,
He died to set me free.

Amidst all our meditations at the Savior’s cross, let us never forget this life-changing, eternity-changing truth – “He went for me.”

[1] Mat 27:39-44; Luk 23:8

[2] I.e., related to worship

[3] This and all remaining Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV.

[4] David Gooding, According to Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1987), 346.

[5] Horatius Bonar (1808–1889)

[6] Arguably, this confession may have only been that of the centurion.

[7] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2002), 480.