Matthew 27:45-46 45 From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. 46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Matthew 28:1-7 1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
When I think about the events of the crucifixion and resurrection story I think about the story of creation. In the Creation account we read in Genesis that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. When God did a big thing, a new thing, a new life thing, things went from dark to light. When we read the crucifixion and resurrection account from Matthew’s Gospel we see darkness on the face of the earth while Jesus was on the cross, and we read about the light of the early morning as the ladies went to the tomb and found that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead. For on that first Easter morning, something big, something new had happened as things moved from darkness to light.
Let’s back up and talk about the darkness at the cross of Calvary. Mark’s Gospel tells us the crucifixion began around 9. For three hours the enemies of Jesus mocked him. They made fun of him by hanging a sign over His head that said, “This is Jesus, King of the Jews.” They cast lots for His clothes. Those who passed by hurled insults at Him, telling Him to save Himself. One of the most shocking passages to me in all of Scripture is verses 41-43 in Matthew 27 where the chief priests and teachers of the religious law and the elders mocked him. Can you imagine? Can you imagine the leaders of the church, laughing at and belittling Jesus? What blasphemy! If you read the text carefully, you will see this kind of thing went on for three hours, from nine to noon.
What happened at noon is definitely symbolic of what had been going on from 9-noon as Jesus received brutal attacks, the worst kind of bullying, and humiliating treatment from others. It was also symbolic of what was happening to Jesus internally. Verse 45 tells us that for three hours, from noon to three o’clock darkness fell upon all the land.
For three hours (noon to 3 pm), “darkness fell upon all the land.” Darkness descended on the entire earth in the middle of the day. A solar eclipse? No. Those don’t last very long.
You could dismiss the whole deal about darkness descending if you were suspicious of Scripture’s accuracy, I guess. After all, it’s just one verse of Scripture, and yet there is tons of extra historical writing about this “day of darkness.” From the historian and theologian, Tertullian who wrote in the second century to the Greek writer, Phlegon, who wrote about the event, and others, they documented the day the sun was hidden for three hours in the middle of the day. What did it mean that darkness descended and covered the earth? Oh, it happened alright.
There is only one explanation for the darkness at the cross. Revisit the Old Testament for a clear understanding, and you will see the only explanation is the judgment of God. Jesus was under God’s judgment as He hung on the cross of Calvary.
Israel was no stranger to God’s judgment. They had witnessed it before. It was never a good thing when darkness descended on the earth. When Moses was trying to convince the Pharaoh of Egypt to free God’s people from slavery, the 9th of ten plagues God performed against Egypt was a plague of darkness. Exodus 10:21-23 21 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt–darkness that can be felt.” 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. 23 No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.
It is interesting to me that darkness was the 9th plague. It came before the last plague, the 10th plague which was the plague where the firstborn in every Egyptian family, including the firstborn of their livestock was killed. To ensure that the Israelites didn’t have their firstborn sons and the firstborn of their flocks killed when the death angel passed over their properties they were to put lamb’s blood ib the doorposts of their homes. The blood of the lamb would be the sign for the death angel to pass over their homes, hence the Feast of Passover that is still celebrated by the Jews today. The point I am making is that darkness fell during the 9th plague before the lamb’s blood was applied during the 10th plague which led to their ultimate freedom. Coincidence? Do we see a similar order at Calvary? Darkness, followed by the death of God’s first-born and only Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world?
This Exodus passage says that the darkness could be felt. Imagine with me what that kind of darkness feels like? The judgment of God, leveled against you. For Jesus it was the judgment of God for the whole world’s sin, leveled on Him. Suffocating darkness fell.
When it is dark fear can overtake us. When it is dark, the way isn’t clear. When it is dark we lose our sense of direction. When it is dark we have a sense of “lostness,” a sense of “aloneness.” What would those at the cross have felt or understood during that day of darkness? We don’t read about any insults being flung at Jesus when night fell in the middle of the day, but Jesus broke the silence with these words in Matthew 27:46 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Darkness was painful for Jesus. It was emotionally debilitating. It was a pain unlike He had yet experienced. The beatings and pounding of nails into His flesh were nothing compared to the heaviness and despair of being forsaken by God the Father. Three hours of darkness. It may as well have been an eternity.
If you look in your Bible you will see a little footnote after the word “forsaken.” Jesus was quoting from Psalm 22, a Psalm that described the crucifixion in great detail. It was written 1000 years before the crucifixion which was also several hundred years before crucifixion was even invented. Isn’t that amazing? Remember how Jesus quoted from the Old Testament on Palm Sunday to help the people see He was the One who had been prophesied about hundreds of years earlier? Here, on the cross, He was doing the same thing. Could they see the Messiah in the dark?
The darkness was the result of the sin of all people, past, present, and future, being placed on Jesus. There was darkness at the cross of Calvary because God the Father turned away. He couldn’t stand the sight of sin. He leveled His judgment for the sins of the world on Jesus, His Son. The punishment that was yours and mine because of our individual sin was piled on Jesus. God looked away, and there was deafening silence.
Here is the big point of the darkness. It represents sin, yours and mine. Because we were born with darkness in our hearts, with sin in our hearts, we have lost our way. We cannot see God clearly in our darkness. The Bible says our understanding is darkened which means we don’t even think about God the way we should. Sin has made us its slave. We deal with fear in the darkness of our sin, fear of everything from what people think of us to what happens when we die. The three hours of darkness for Jesus on the cross when God the Father turned away are symbolic of what a human life is without the life of God interacting with a person. Jesus, during those three hours, was without hope because He was without God. People who live and die in their sin live and die without hope. Cheerful news for Easter Sunday, I know. Look at your neighbor and say, “It’s going to get better!”
When Jesus breathed His last breath, there was an earthquake, and a heavy, thick curtain in the temple was torn in two. It was a curtain so heavy that it would have taken 300 men to lift it. It was torn in two suddenly by the power of God after Jesus said, “It is finished.” What happened was huge. The curtain had been the separation wall between God and people. God’s presence was understood to dwell behind the curtain in the “Holy of Holies.” The curtain was there to remind people that sin separates us from God. It had been there to remind people that God was holy and sin made us unholy. Because of that we weren’t able to be in His direct presence and commune with Him intimately. The Israelites had to fellowship with God through a system of rituals and sacrifices. But the significance of the crucifixion is that when Jesus breathed His last, the sin of the entire world was paid for which means we can be free from sin, AND a way was made for us to know God up close and personal! Because of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, the torn curtain reveals we don’t have to go through a priest or a ritual to get to God. We can come to Him as individuals and walk right into His presence and fellowship with Him each and every day.
We can move from the darkness of sin into the light of the presence of the Glory of God! In Matthew 28, Mary Magdalene and Mary, Jesus’ mother, went to the tomb to find that the stone over the tomb where Jesus had been laid had been rolled away. Matthew was sure to give us the detail about darkness during the crucifixion as well as the detail the ladies went to the tomb at dawn. He wanted us to know it was light enough for them to look into the tomb and see it empty. He wanted us to know it was light enough for them to know it was angels who were speaking to them giving them the news that Jesus had risen from the dead. He wanted us to know that in verses 9 and 10 it was light enough for them to see the Resurrected Jesus when He appeared before them. He told them when to do in verse 10. He told them not to be afraid but to go tell the others the good news and to tell them to meet Him in Galilee where He would appear to the rest of them.
Oh in the light of the Resurrection that morning, hope RETURNED to their life! They had taken spices to try to anoint Jesus’ dead body because they hadn’t had time to do it on the Friday before, but instead of anointing a dead body they conversed with angels and the Risen Lord. In the light of the Resurrection they were REASSURED and all fear about what they would do next or how they would live was gone. In the light of the Resurrection they were given the RESPONSIBILITY to witness to Jesus’ being raised from the dead. In the light of the Resurrection they were given a ROUTE to follow as they would go wait for Jesus in Galilee. In the light of the Resurrection as Jesus appeared in a different, new kind of body, the women would see and experience the REALITY of life beyond the grave! 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is this reality that there is life beyond the grave in heaven with God for all who put their trust in Christ that separates Christianity from EVERY OTHER religion. Mohammed’s bones are still where his body was buried. Confucius’s body is still resting below the earth’s surface. Bhudda’s remains are still buried below the ground. Joseph Smith is still where he was left after his funeral. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology is still six feet under. But Jesus! But Jesus arose with power and a shout from Heaven to make Him the only person ever to defeat death, and because He beat it, we too can live forever in Heaven with Him by placing our trust in Him and His work on the cross in the dark and His work in the grave in the early morning light!
After Jesus’ crucifixion the disciples had gone into hiding. They were afraid of what might happen to them because they had been followers of Jesus. I mean, if they killed Him, what would happen to them? John’s Gospel tells the story of Jesus appearing to them in chapter 20. Once they saw the Resurrected Lord, they were given courage to come out of the shadows of hiding and to resume life, a new kind of life, with a new way of relating to Jesus through the power of His Holy Spirit. They became dynamic witnesses to the Resurrection from Christ and the church of the Living God was born in and through their testimony. They had a whole new lease on life and a whole new perspective for living that energized them and compelled them and fulfilled them and blessed their lives abundantly. They had gone from darkness to light.
That is the power of the Resurrection this morning. We can move from the darkness of sin to the light of a dynamic relationship with God that gives us new life and a new purpose for living.
Ephesians 5:8 says, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” Psalm 18:28 says, “You, Lord, keep my lamp burning. My God turns my darkness into light.” When you believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus from the dead and choose to turn from sin to follow Him, you move from darkness to light, from death to life, from confusion to clarity, from constantly pursuing contentment to purpose that satisfies for a lifetime. Who doesn’t want that?
Are you walking in darkness you can feel? Has your way been enshrouded with heaviness? Is your darkness emotionally debilitating? Do you feel lost? Do you sense things aren’t right between you and God? Are you living without hope? Are you afraid of what is going on in your life? Are you afraid to die? Are you trapped in the sin that is simply addiction to the things that break God’s heart? This Easter Sunday morning something big can happen. You can be made new. You can walk in the newness of the light of God’s salvation. You can experience resurrection for yourself as you die to sin and are made alive in Christ! You can be free from the penalty of sin. You can live unafraid and with purpose and power. Just as light burst on the scene in the darkness at creation, light can burst into your heart and life that will change your life forever! Will you join me this morning in moving from darkness to light?