Darkness – A Meditation on the Passion
Dropping into church on Good Friday you’d think we were celebrating the death of God. Of course, God cannot die. Of course God cannot die, but there is a sense in which you’d be on to something.
Why is a cross central to Christianity? Why was it constantly on the mind of the Lord Jesus Himself before He died? [i]
The gospels make little of the crucifixion event. They don't strum the emotional heartstrings. Some churches emphasize the horrors of crucifixion, but the Gospels don’t. Psalm 22, written by David a thousand years before His death, and 600 years before any historic record of crucifixions gives a much clearer account.
There David, moved by the Holy Spirit, presents a view from the cross. “ They have pierced my hands and feet,” says the Speaker. The crucified Man is distressed by the people who mock Him, reject Him:
But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me…
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him… (Psalm 22:6-8)[ii]
He continues, emphasizing His physical pain:
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax…
The Victim experiences extreme thirst from blood loss.
my strength is dried up like a potsherd…
I can count all my bones— (vv. 14-17a)
He watches the activities around Him.
they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots. (vv. 17b-18)
Psalm 22 gives details the Gospel writers gloss over. Like them, let’s move quickly to the moments of His death.
“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.” (Matthew 27:45)[iii]
Dying, He enters thick darkness. At His birth brightness shone at midnight; now darkness descends at noon. A strange chill falls over the land for three hours. The Roman historian Thallus, writing about 52 AD, tells of supernatural darkness on that day.
Think back to Israel in Egypt. That previous period of supernatural darkness fell for three days, not three hours. Moses said to Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” Pharaoh resisted, repeatedly. Then a darkness that could be felt descended on Egypt, divine judgment for disobedience. (Exodus 10:21-22)
Jesus, in His human nature, experienced such darkness. He was in exile from the felt Presence of God. “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying… ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (v. 46) “Forsaken!” The word grabs our attention. We ask ourselves, “Was Jesus Christ the Son truly abandoned by His Heavenly Father? Did God turn His face away?” What a terrible thought!
It needs careful interpretation. Jesus, the rabbi, is quoting Psalm 22. Rabbis, when they wanted students to read something carefully, would quote a part, expecting them to read the rest for themselves. So to understand, we must read on. Soon we find:
…and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him. (v.24)
Jesus experiences a darkness that could be felt. He sensed fully what it means to be human, alienated from the Presence of God. As a man, He feels abandoned. But we human beings know that how we feel is not always a good measure of reality.
Thinking it through, we must conclude that Jesus on the cross was never, not for one moment, abandoned by His Father. Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” How could He be abandoned? While Jesus is fully human, He is also fully God, and God cannot be split off from God. (John 10:29-30)
And why would God turn away from His Son when, all His earthly life, Jesus had been perfectly obedient? He was not abandoned by God but in His human nature He was subjected to the wages of sin – to death – a willing substitute for His people. He displays obedience even to death. Why turn away now? (Philippians 2:8)
John Stott once said, “God Himself gave Himself to save us from Himself.” In love, the Father gave Himself in His Son – in Christ – to save us from His own wrath – a work of God alone, reconciling the world to Himself. (2 Corinthians 5:19)
This is a great mystery of our faith. Why did God so arrange things that this terrible moment was necessary? We don’t know. But so it is. We must humbly believe it. It was all of God. It was His doing.
Continuing – at about the ninth hour, the darkness about to be lifted, Jesus again cries out in a loud voice. John’s Gospel tells us He quotes the last words of Psalm 22:31, “he has done it!” In John’s Greek, “Tetelestai!” Finished! Paid! Accomplished! It is not a cry of fear or failure, but of triumph! Now the darkness can end! The punishment is turned aside. (John 19:30)
So Jesus gave up His spirit. Done! Finished! (v. 50)
God the Father is satisfied. As if by His own hand, at the moment of Jesus’ death, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, ripped top to bottom! The Holy of Holies is seen. God’s people can safely access His Presence. (v. 51)
“God Himself gave Himself to save us from Himself.” We stand stunned! Overwhelmed! Awe-struck! And whisper, “Hallelujah!”
This is based on a message called “After the Passion” from the audio set TRINITY: The Two Natures of Christ. Though this text is from Matthew, the set largely addresses Hebrews 2, delivered by Liam Goligher, Senior Minister at Tenth Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia PA, in early 2017.
He is also the host of the broadcast No Falling Word on the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals site. They have produced two sets of his TRINITY messages. “The Highlights of the Trinity Debate” page includes the blogs he wrote, which set ablaze a wide-spread discussion of the Trinity, beginning in June 2016, and is ongoing.
[i] Matthew 16:21, Luke 17:24-25, 22:15
[ii] This message has two main texts, first Psalm 22. If a verse-alone reference is given for poetic passages, it is from that Psalm. All emphases mine.
[iii] This message has two main texts. The second is Matthew 27:45-54.