Friday, April 14, 2017

A Terrible Darkness

We only call this Good Friday because we know the world did not end on Friday. It would not have been a Good Friday at all if Sunday hadn’t been Resurrection Sunday.

If Sunday morning had dawned and that great solemn stone had still been there, guarded by soldiers, sealed by Rome, this would have been a terrible day, the worst of days.

So we know it was “good” because Jesus did what He set out to do – pay for the sins of people like you and me. Mission accomplished. It required of Him blood and sweat and tears and death. But from that came joy and peace and hope and glory. 

That’s why we love the cross. For us it is the enduring symbol of God’s extraordinary love and of the all-sufficient sacrifice of Jesus. But we do well to remember how terrible that day felt at the time. Because at about noon, God turned the lights out.

One of the two thieves staked out on either side of Him had just said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And our Lord had responded with “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” And then came darkness. It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. (Luke 23:44-45)

Darkness can be a friendly darkness, when you don’t need to turn the light on to find your way to the bathroom or to the refrigerator. And sometimes it is a romantic darkness, with a soft breeze and the fragrance of flowers. 

But this was not that kind of darkness. It started at noon. Springtime in the desert would normally mean a bright, sunny day. But nothing was normal about that day.

It was darkness over the whole land. It was not a solar eclipse. (Passover always took place at full moon, and an eclipse is impossible at full moon.) Luke’s account says the sun’s light “failed.” The Greek word means to fall, to die out.

So this was not supposed to happen by men’s reckoning. It was a supernatural event. God simply turned the lights out for three hours, from noon to 3 p.m. while His Son hung dying on the cross. What did He mean by the darkness?

This was the darkness of God’s judgment. The prophet Zephaniah described “the day of the Lord” as a day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness (1:15).

You could argue that God was showing His sadness, or His displeasure with the people who were killing His Son. But I don’t think so. This darkness was God’s judgment on His own Son. It was God’s wrath being poured out upon Christ. Do you remember how Jesus described hell? He called it “outer darkness” (Matt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30).

During these three hours it must have been almost completely silent. People must have been stunned, disoriented, afraid. Nobody had a cellphone or a flashlight. They just stood there. Or hung there.

Those who came to the cross for macabre entertainment or to celebrate getting rid of Jesus got more than they bargained for. And for those who loved Him, oh, it must have been terrible.

Remember the ten plagues of Egypt? The ninth plague was darkness, and the tenth plague was the death of the firstborn. That’s exactly the order of the cross. In this terrible darkness God was judging His own Son so we would not end up in darkness forever.

Because we’re all in darkness without Christ. Ephesians 5:8 says for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light. The prophet Isaiah said, The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. (Isaiah 9:2)

Remember Paul’s conversion, how he was, for a time, blinded. And later when He gave his testimony before King Agrippa, he recounted how Jesus had told him he was sending him to the Gentiles:  to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me. (Acts 26:18)

John said in the opening of his gospel, In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:4) And of course that’s why Jesus said in John 8:12: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 

Friday’s darkness leads to everlasting Light for those who follow Him.