Mark 15:33 “At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.”
For the first three hours, from 9 a.m. until noon, Christ hung on Golgotha with the sun shining brightly on him. Spurgeon comments, “There could be no mistake about the fact that he was really nailed to the cross for he was crucified in broad daylight. We are fully assured that it was Jesus of Nazareth, for both friends and foes were eyewitnesses of his agonies. For three long hours the Jews sat down and watched him on the cross, making jests of his miseries. I feel thankful for those three hours of light or else the enemies of our faith would have questioned whether in very deed the blessed body of our Master was nailed to the tree” (on the Lord’s Day morning, April 18th, 1886 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle). You know that the Koran denies that it was Jesus of Nazareth hanging on the cross. It claims that Jesus was replaced by Barabbas, that God would not allow so great a prophet to die in such a way. Thus Mohammed had little respect for truth, and total ignorance of the meaning of the cross. The whole Islamic theory is rendered null and void by those three hours of light which gave opportunity for inspection and witness-bearing. It was indeed the Lord Jesus who was crucified, but then, suddenly, at noon, the light went out.
The annual date of the Passover was always set by a lunar calendar; it was at the time of a full moon. Solar eclipses cannot occur when the moon is full, so an eclipse cannot be the explanation of the darkness settling over the whole land from noon until three o’clock. Who has ever heard of a solar eclipse lasting for three hours? Also you must understand that the Passover is the spring wet season and so it is almost impossible that a specially dense dust storm could be the explanation of the three hours of darkness. No naturalistic explanation is adequate for these hours of darkness.
As the miracle of redemption was taking place on the middle cross another miracle was taking place in the creation. Christ’s power over the earth was often shown during his life. When he gave the order the winds did what he told them to do. Waves were stilled, and a tree withered and died all at Jesus’ word. A herd of pigs threw themselves into the sea. A fish picked up a coin in its mouth and swam into a net. Rocks cracked and an earthquake took place as Christ died. There is no explanation for those events nor for this darkness other than they were acts of God. It was as if God put his hands around the sun.
At Bethlehem night had been turned into day as the glory of God shone around the shepherds. Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God and saying, “Glory to God.” At Golgotha day was turned to night. Creation was walking in step with redemption. As our Lord Jesus entered further and further into the damnation, as he sank deeper into the pit of dereliction, so there was a corresponding darkness in the creation.
At Bethlehem all the angels from heaven stood erect on the fields and lanes that led from the flocks of sheep to the stable. Bethlehem was carpeted with angels, as far as the eye could see; in every direction the amazed shepherds looked there were tens of thousands and thousands upon thousands of angels who had come from heaven to greet their Lord and worship him. How different it was at Golgotha . Tens of thousands of demons had come from the pit and were there tormenting and torturing their hated Master, urging him to end the enfleshment and curse God, tempting him to despair. All the battalions of the Prince of darkness had come from hell and were settling on Christ like a swarm of bees would settle on a man and sting him to death. He was at his weakest, utterly alone, bearing the onslaught of the pit, standing in an evil day but having done all he stood. We, alas, have not yet resisted unto blood as we strive against sin. He was in this darkness but he never wavered nor faltered. He was continually saying, “Nevertheless not my will but thine be done.” In the darkness he didn’t say, “Well I can’t be expected to be thinking of my mother and of my friends now.” There he loved his suffering neighbours as his suffering self.
On the Mount of Transfiguration the glory of God the Son shone out of Jesus like the sun shining in its noonday brightness. His very clothes were transfigured; the sight was absolutely dazzling. On Mount Calvary the glory of God the Son was veiled by a cross, the nails, and the body distorted by pain so that it became increasingly inhuman in its appearance. This is what the darkness was covering. These miracles were all the insignia of his Godhead.
At creation God said, “Let there be light.” Until that moment darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the deep itself was black. Then God spoke and light filled the universe, across the heavens from north to south and east to west, and on the earth from pole to pole, eastern and western hemispheres, northern and southern hemispheres, light was omnipresent. At redemption there was darkness covering the whole land. You understand it was not simply over Golgotha, not just over Jerusalem , probably not only over the land of Israel from Dan to Beersheba . The Greek gé means the ‘earth.’ There is an apocryphal ‘Gospel of Peter’ written five hundred years later and it says that the darkness covered Judea , but Mark says the whole earth suffered, that is, to all the globe that at that moment was being lit by the sun. Here in Aberystwyth on that day about 1975 years ago, some time in the morning, there was a darkness that hid the light of the sun; the primitive Welsh were gold miners, fishermen and farmers, some of whom lived in the old earthworks on Pen Dinas. They would have been deeply troubled and cried to their gods for mercy, and maybe they sacrificed an animal, praying that the sun would shine again. They had never experienced such a day in their lives, and thus, all over the world, the Eskimos, the Hottentots, the millions of peasants in a great Chinese civilization, the Indians and the Incas of Peru were all still and fearful as for three hours their lands was dark. Men put down their axes, the ploughmen ceased from ploughing the fields, navigators in mid-ocean didn’t know how to steer their ships, men sitting in banks and at the receipt of custom called hurriedly for lights. Soldiers at war lay down their swords. Candles were lit all over Jerusalem . Children wept, birds roosted in the trees, the cattle and sheep were silent; nocturnal animals appeared that dark afternoon, and all creation was awry not knowing why the sun was refusing to shine.
Darkness At Noon is the title of Arthur Koestler’s best book, a novel describing the arrest of a communist official, his long trial where he is accused of some mismanagement of a Russian scheme, and his ultimate execution. It was the cruel betrayal of people who really believed in socialism. 20 million such men died in the Gulag through the bleakness of Stalinism. I read the Penguin paperback at school in the 1950s; it marvelously captured the darkness that men themselves had made in Russia but everywhere also again and again in human history. Such times are nothing like the darkness of Golgotha . The condemned man hanging in the epicentre of the darkness was utterly blameless. He had walked in the light in fellowship with his Father all his life. Every day when he arose he appropriated his Father’s presence and rested in his Father all day. His own soul had been filled with the light of God; his life was lit up by the love of God day by day. Here is a man as sinless as God himself; as holy as an angel. His whole life has been spent in enriching others. Their lives had been lived in darkness, like one man who was in chains, living among the tombs in Gadara , a feared outcast, possessed by a legion of demons. Jesus came to him with light and love and truth, delivering him from his self-destructive despair and Satanic domination. He had done this to thousands of people. “Come to me, you who labour and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest,” and five hundred had come to him over three years and their burdens were lifted. The knew their sins were forgiven. They knew God and they knew themselves for the first time in their lives. He has given sight to those who were born in darkness, yet this great Physician and Saviour was the one nailed to the cross and dying in the darkness. Upon him the darkness fell. Why?
My eyes cannot penetrate all this darkness. Certainly the darkness has something to do with Christ being a substitute. I can see that, but don’t tell me that this is all there is to know. There is much more to our Redeemer’s death, but it is covered in great darkness. God only knows the love of God. Christ alone knows what he accomplished when he hung for six hours on the cross. We need to take the shoes off our feet when we come to Golgotha . This is the holiest ground this world has ever seen. God veiled the cross in darkness, and in darkness much of its deepest meaning lies. None of us has the capacity to receive more than God has told us. There is much we all should know and our failure to meditate on the death of Christ leaves us in darkness. Yet we are sure that God was manifest in the flesh, and in that human flesh under the cover of those hours of darkness he put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. So much we are certain of. How can we approach this?
1. THE DARKNESS SHOWED THE SYMPATHY OF THE CREATION WITH ITS LORD.
We sing the words of Isaac Watts,
“Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut its glories in
When God the mighty Maker died
For man the creature’s sin.” (Isaac Watts)
When we undress for bed we draw the curtains. When we sit with our dying loved ones the nurses draw the curtains around the hospital bed and we have a quiet times with them to the end. But in Jerusalem it is high noon; the sun is shining brightly and the Son of God hangs naked dying on a cross, gawked at and mocked by all his enemies. Then suddenly the clock strikes twelve and darkness falls on the whole land. The sun is refusing to cooperate with sinners in their fiendish sport. Not so much fun shouting in the dark at someone you can barely see. The whole creation is groaning and travailing in pain as its Maker is being murdered, yet Christ reigns in that darkness from that tree. By him all things consist. In him all things live and move and have their being. The sun shines at his behest; the comet moves in its path by him; the sparrow falls because he determines it. Christ is reigning from the cross, but now it is from the heart of darkness. We are told that “Moses approached the thick darkness where God was” (Ex. 20:21). Christ is present today in the deepest darkest prison cell in the world. The Lord who worked in chapels in Wales in 1904 during a great awakening also met with miners at the blackness of the pit bottom.
We were sitting in a prayer meeting this week in Swanwick at the Reformation and Revival Conference, all of us gathered in a circle and one by one praying, with Christ in our midst, and suddenly the lights all went out. There was a trigger mechanism – a kind of sensor in that room, a power saving device, by which, when it detected no movements for ten minutes or so, it judged the room was empty and extinguished the lights. We prayed on in the gloom, but Christ was still in our midst in the gloom as in the light, and when our praying was over and we arose and stretched then the light returned.
2. THE DARKNESS SPOKE OF DELIVERANCE FROM OUR CHAOS.
You consider how the world began; initially the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. It was formless at first. It was in a state of chaos. It needed the systematic reordering of the stuff God initially had made, and the record of Genesis chapter one is a delineation of how God transformed it and gave it order until he could pronounce it to be ‘very good.’ From the chaos of darkness to ordered light. There was morning and there was evening day by day.
It is the same picture you have of divine redemption on Golgotha . The first impression is one of chaos. The chief priests of Israel have condemned Israel ’s Messiah to die on a cross. The religious leaders of the people are mocking the promised Christ whom God has sent. The Roman occupying forces and the Jewish conquered people are bonding in their hatred for Jesus of Nazareth. Pilate the Roman governor and Herod the Jewish king have become friends because of their mutual contempt for our Lord. They have joined together in condemning Jesus; Jew and Gentile are both rejoicing in his death. Even the underclass, represented by two convicted felons, are also expressing their hatred of him. Here is a scene of terrible inhumanity, of torture and slow death, and people are mocking the dying men especially Jesus. It is a picture of dark confusion. What’s all this about?
A few weeks later on the Day of Pentecost what a glorious change has taken place. Thousands of Jews and Gentiles alike are broken hearted concerning what they did to Jesus. Jew and Roman are united in their love for God the Son. Some months later a Roman centurion named Cornelius sends for Peter the Jew inviting him to come to his home for a meal with a message. Peter is the speaker. There in that Gentile home Peter the Jew and Cornelius become brothers; they’ve both been baptized by the Spirit into Christ. Soon Paul is writing to a church in what today we know as Turkey and he is saying to them, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gals. 3:28). All of them alike could sing
“Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night.
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I rose, the dungeon blazed with light.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.” (Charles Wesley)
The one Saviour has done one glorious work which has become the only way slaves and slave owners, Roman citizens and barbarians, literate and illiterate, millionaires and paupers, old folk and children may be released from their dark captivity to sin, and all be taught how to live and love one another, and all be given divine energy and grace to live as God requires. So from the cross there is unity and brotherhood flowing today and uniting the nations of the world. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Jesus may have seemed a smoking flax on Golgotha but he was not extinguished. He came blazing forth on the third day and today he illuminates the nations of the world. The back of the tapestry looks utterly chaotic. Turn it around and there we see Jesus hanging on the cross. He reigns over the nations, bringing together all kinds and classes of men and women making them brothers and sisters in the family of God.
Alun McNabb’s daughter went to Nairobi in the summer where she is working in a school on the opposite side of the city from Keith Underhill and Trinity Baptist Church . She has been helping in an orphanage and last Saturday she met a little girl who has been adopted by a preacher. He has been going to see her every week for a long time bonding with her, and she loves him. He came on Saturday to take her to his home permanently and she was so excited. He finally came into the room and she ran up to him and put her arms around him and hugged him and said, “You’re going to be my Daddy for ever and ever. She had been an orphan alone in the darkness of bereavement but now through the bonds of Calvary grace she has been united to a Christian family for ever and ever.
3. THE DARKNESS SPOKE OF GOD’S JUDGMENT ON MAN’S SINS.
Think of how God’s prophets had addressed this careless and disobedient people about the Day of the Lord that was coming. The people pinned all their hopes on the coming of the Messiah. What a utopia that would be for them, they imagined. He would overcome all their enemies and they could get on with their lives, prospering, eating and drinking to their fullest satisfaction. Amos speaks sternly to them, “Woe to you who long for the day of the LORD! Why do you long for the day of the LORD? That day will be darkness, not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him. Will not the day of the LORD be darkness, not light – pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?” (Amos 5:18-20). And then he returns to that theme three chapters later, “‘In that day,’ declares the Sovereign LORD, ‘I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight’” (Amos 8:9). It’s not going to be a day of judgment for ‘them out there’ at which we will gloat, but for you and me. We must all appear before the judgment seat of the Lord and it will not be like an encounter with a figure dressed in blue and gold smiling at the top of marble stairs welcoming us to all that is sweetness and light – as so many out of body, near-death experiences report, no, “that day will be darkness and not light.” How searching will be that encounter with Deity! For every idle word we must give account on that day.
A Christian teenager went off to college two months ago; she knew no one on the campus at all. She had prayed that she would meet a Christian. A few days after arriving there she bumped into a girl and as they talked together the girl said to her, “Are you a Christian?” “Yes,” she said. “I’m a Christian too,” she told her, and her heart rejoiced that God had answered her prayer. Then the girl spoke again and she said these words to her, “And if you swear, don’t worry. I swear too.” Her heart sank. What sort of ‘Christian’ was this? Like no one she had ever met before. Did she not know that on the day of judgment we shall give account for every idle word. How foully can sinful men speak? How vilely can sinful women speak? How discreditably can professing Christians speak? But all the sins of the tongue are going to be revealed in that tremendous day, and so for many it will be darkness and not light.
God is light, and we lived our lives in the kingdom of darkness. When light meets darkness what happens? The darkness goes. You wake up in the night and you switch the light on and your squeeze your eyes tight because the light is so bright. The darkness has vanished because the light has come and it’s a painful and shocking thing when the light comes. “Woe to you who long for the day of the LORD! Why do you long for the day of the LORD? That day will be darkness, not light.” (Amos 5:18). How the light will judge the darkness.
Think of the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart, how Moses pleaded with him to let the Lord’s people go. Again and again Pharaoh went back on his word and defied God and so the Lord brought the rod of judgment on Pharaoh in the form of one great judgment after another until he was constrained to let God’s people go. “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.’ So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. 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.” (Ex. 10:21-23). It was a thick darkness. It was a discriminating darkness for it wrapped itself around the Egyptians like a thick rug and they couldn’t see their hands in front of their eyes, but for God’s people in Goshen there was light. It was the judgment of darkness.
So it is on Golgotha ; the darkness spoke of God’s judgment and at its heart is the Son of God, but he is holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners. God says of him, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Then why is he at the epicentre of the gloom? If he came to judge us then who could stand in his presence? There would be no hope for one of us. We would all be condemned. But God set not his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved. Jesus is suffering the blackness of judgment, but it is not for himself – for he did not deserve the mildest rebuke. It is for those into whose darkness he made his own, bearing their sin and judgment.
My friend Alun McNabb was talking to a converted Jew recently and he told Alun of his concern for another Jewish doctor to whom he had spoken a number of times. “How can I reach him more effectively?” he’d asked himself. What he decided to do was to print out Isaiah 53 on a piece of paper. Among the verses of this chapter are these, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:3-6). So this Christian saw this Jewish doctor again and at the end of the consultation he gave him the piece of paper and he said to him, “Will you read this?” “Fine,” the man said, and he went to stuff it in his case. “No,” he stopped him, “I’d like you to read it now.” So the Jew glanced at those words. Then in a few minutes our friend said to him, “Who do you think those words were written about?” “Oh,” the Jew said, “about your Jesus.” “Isn’t that extraordinary?” replied the converted Jew, “those words are from your Hebrew Scriptures, from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 53, and yet you say that they are about my Saviour Jesus Christ. That is what I’ve been trying to tell you so often.”
In the Old Testament itself the people knew that the blood of animals could not accomplish for them a pardon for their sins. They knew they were types and foretastes of a permanent divine forgiveness which God would accomplish. I tell you that the entire Old Testament sacrificial system calls into question the justice and righteousness of God if there is no real divine sacrifice offered by Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews, in Hebrews chapter 10, verse 4 says this: “The blood of bulls and goats cannot forgive sins.” Now what was the whole atonement ritual of the Old Testament based upon? The sacrifice of bulls and goats and pigeons and red heifers and sheep and doves and other animals, and yet the author of Hebrews says the blood of bulls and goats can’t forgive sins. He doesn’t mean the blood of bulls and goats can’t forgive now in the New Testament age, but that it couldn’t in the Old Testament. He means that never was it able to forgive sin. The blood of animals can’t atone for human sin. If I murder someone the blood of goats and lambs can’t obtain my forgiveness. They cannot bring about reconciliation. They can’t accomplish redemption. They can’t propitiate God’s wrath for my wretched life.
Then our eyes fall upon the words of the prophet Isaiah in chapter 53 where he tells us of the great anti-type, the glorious sin-offering, the servant of the Lord who one day would come, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. The propitiation offered by Christ demonstrates and vindicates the justice of God in establishing the Old Testament sacrificial system. Golgotha provides a real sacrifice on which they are all based. They were the pictures; this is the reality. They were the types and he was the anti-type. The darkness of Golgotha reveals the brightness of God’s righteousness. God doesn’t just sweep sin under the carpet. God doesn’t give a yellow card to a sinner. There are no yellow cards in the divine economy. God gives a red card. The soul that sinneth shall surely die. But God in his amazing pity has dealt with sin by the death of his own Son. He gave the red card to sinless substitutionary Christ! Those animal sacrifices in the Old Testament weren’t effectual to forgive sin. They pointed forward to the promised one, the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 who accomplished our pardon all by himself on Calvary ’s tree.
Dr. Ligon Duncan of Jackson had a professor in Covenant Seminary in St Louis , Missouri who spoke evangelistically in various settings, and he would speak rather boldly. He was invited by a group of Christian businessmen who had a weekly luncheon in the city of St. Louis to address them. They always asked the speakers to make a gospel presentation. He was told before he came that there would be some Jewish businessmen present as well as Gentile unbelievers. Some of the Jews there had long believed on Christ but others of the Jewish men wouldn’t be Christians. He was told, “Now you speak on anything you want.” So he decided, “I know what I’ll talk about . . .” He entitled his message, ‘Moses the Great Barbarian.’ Now I’m sure that phrase was calculated to offend about half of the people there. That’s a rather audacious kind of statement; Moses is the epitome of Jewish culture. He is the great prophet. He is the law giver. How dare you speak of Moses as ‘the great barbarian.’ But this was his important point, that if Moses by himself had instituted a sacrificial system of animals that Moses imagined would by itself turn away the wrath of God, then Moses is no different from a Welsh savage on Pen Dinas 2,000 years ago who saw the sun grow dark at midday and sacrificed a calf to make the sun reappear. This Welsh savage is under the delusion that he can appease and placate and please the gods that he serves by killing an animal.
The crucial difference between Moses’ sacrifices and the savage’s sacrifice is simply this, that Moses’ sacrifice is pointing forward to the true sacrifice of Jesus Christ. They were not in and of themselves able to or designed to forgive sins. But they did point forward to the one real sacrifice that does forgive sins. You see the crucial lesson? Christ’s cross-work flows in both directions. It flows backwards in time, and it flows forward in time. It is Christ’s cross-work which provides the covering for the sins of all those who were under God’s covenant of grace in the Old Testament. That’s why it was righteous for God to be merciful to them, even though at that time in history no real sacrifice for sin had been provided. Also Golgotha flows forward to us. We live 2000 years after the crucifixion, after Christ’s atoning work, and yet his benefits continue to flow forward. Justification shows us how God’s mercy is grounded in justice and righteousness.
4. THE DARKNESS SPOKE OF THE SUBSTITUTIONARY WORK OF CHRIST.
Paul was the church planter and pastor of the Galatian congregation. By Paul the joyful news of salvation came to these people, of sins forgiven, hell subdued and peace with heaven. They were no longer without God and without hope. They no longer feared the grave. They knew God and they knew themselves as forgiven sinners. They loved Paul who had brought this message to them. He says, “you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me” (Gals. 4:14&15). Do you see the depth of their love? They would have made any sacrifice to show to him their love. They would have torn out their eyes and given them to him. They would have plunged themselves into darkness for his sake, and that is exactly what the Lord Jesus Christ did. He went into our darkness; he lived there; he had tabernacled among it for thirty years and then, as it was concentrated on the hill of Calvary, he took our darkness and suffered there under God’s judgment in our stead.
The Lamb of God, says John, takes away the sins of the world. It is not just Israel ’s sin. Here is cosmic redemption. Men and women, will you listen eagerly to this? You may have heard it 2,000 times; will you hear it again? It came freshly to me last week as I was speaking to Ian Hamilton of the Presbyterian Church in Cambridge . BBC Radio 2 had invited Ian to take part in a 30 minutes discussion with a Rastafarian and a Daoist (a branch of the Confucian religion.). They were both lecturers in London colleges. As the programme came to a close the producer asked them to share a spiritual experience they had each had. The Daoist was caught off guard and she asked that the tape be stopped for a minute. She had not been prepared for that, but then she composed herself. Her response was that the previous week she had dreamed she had seen an owl and then she became an owl. The Rastafarian said he did not believe in these spiritual experiences and was happy to live a day at a time. Ian Hamilton said that one day he heard that God had become a man and had died for his sins on the cross and ever since that time his whole life had been changed. He had a large post-bag of grateful letters from Christians humbly grateful to hear the Christian faith spoken of on Radio 2.
Ian’s words came fresh to me. How can we ever get tired of hearing of Calvary ? I was listening to Lord Coe earlier this year as he was heading the British bid for the Olympic Games to come to London , speaking of the advantages and the plans that had been drawn up. A reporter had heard the spiel many times before and he asked Sebastian Coe, “Don’t you get tired of saying the same thing over and over again?” Seb Coe said, “When I get bored with the message then I have to remember that there are people out there who haven’t heard it once.” So let me tell you all this extraordinary message; the Lord Jesus “took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:3-6). This was the Creator God’s extraordinary plan for the redemption of the cosmos. He sent his own dear Son to the world. Can you believe it? Bob Irwin who was an astronaut and had stood on the moon said, “The extraordinary thing is not that man has stood on the moon but that God has stood on the earth.” We have sung it today in a hymn of Joseph Hart.
“Almighty God sighed human breath!
The Lord of life experienced death!
How it was done we can’t discuss,
But this we know, ‘twas done for us.” (Joseph Hart, 1712-68),
There on Golgotha he entered this outer darkness where sin is condemned and he did it in our place, in order that we might enter the kingdom of light. He has submitted himself to the pain of it all that we might be given the joy of the kingdom of heaven. The Son of God suffered abandonment that we might see the Lamb in all his glory in Emmanuel’s Land. My friend Jonathan Wood spent some summer months in Kenya near Kerachi, and one afternoon the pastor took him to a Christian orphanage where there were many children orphaned through their parents dying of AIDS. Jonathan spoke to them, and then with their bright eyes these little children gathered together and sang to him this children’s hymn, which brought a lump to his throat,
“Soon and very soon we’re going to see the King.
No more crying there we’re going to see the King.
Maybe it will be today we’re going to see the King.”
How do we know that? Because of the great accomplishment of Jesus Christ. What was that accomplishment? His preaching the Sermon on the Mount? No, that he became the Lamb of God and took away the sin of the world. You will remember how Paul is talking of the great humbling of God the Son, the one who was in the form of God and didn’t consider it robbery to be thought equal with God. Equal with God! Yes! Yet he humbled himself to death even . . . says Paul . . . even the death of the cross. How did Jesus die? “Oh, he died on a cross,” we say as we go on to other things. Even . . . the atrocious and unspeakable death of the cross – that was how he died. Think of it! The one who said, “I am the light of the world,” is at the centre of gross darkness, and he is hanging there for this incredible reason, because he loves me. What he is doing is delivering me from outer darkness where the worm doesn’t die and the fires are not quenched. He is delivering me by absorbing all that darkness into his own life and triumphing over it by his light. The light shone in the darkness and the darkness could not extinguish it.
That is the teaching Wales needs, that Christ was crucified for men, that God has punished sin in his Son, and that God is ready to forgive the sinner. Whosoever believes in Jesus Christ has everlasting life; he has passed from death to life. This is what changes men and women. This is what makes them hate their sins and hunger for holiness. ‘‘Tis all my business here below to cry Behold the Lamb!’ When the children of Israel lay dying in the wilderness it would have been vain for Aaron to bring out the smoking incense and wafted it over those bitten by the venomous serpents. Incense wouldn’t have revived them and they’d have shown no improvement if the Levites had formed a choir and sung sweet music to them; still they’d have died. It would have been vain for Moses to take out the ten commandments and read them out one by one to dying people. The ten commandments are no prescription to deliver the dying. Lift up the brazen serpent! That is the one thing Israel ’s camp needs. Let the dying look at the one lifted high, and that is the one thing sinners needs today, Christ placarded on the cross, hanging in the darkness, that whosoever will look to the great sin-bearer will live.
Here is a poor woman; she lives in the poverty trap. She goes to bed when it is dusk because she has no money to pay for her heating and lighting. It’s all been cut off. She is just about surviving in winter’s long hours of darkness, but one day you walk by her flat and you see the light shines cheerfully out of her windows. What has happened? One person is of the opinion that some kind benefactor has paid all her debts to the electricity company and they have reconnected her to the national grid. Someone else has heard that she had married a loving man and he has taken care of all her liabilities. Whatever story is true she now has light; she has power; she has new life. Do you see what I am saying? The wages of sin is death, but Christ has tasted death for sinners. He who was not in debt to God at all has paid the debt for all whose trust is in him. He has taken our liabilities, our poverty and our darkness and he gives us power and light. Take this free gift he offers. There is no light for any man except in Christ. Until you believe in him thick darkness will blind you, and you will limp and stumble and stagger on through life like that pathetic George Best did.
I ask you this, did this darkness happen? Did it really occur? Did it take place? Did Jesus of Nazareth die on a cross? Yes. Did darkness come upon the earth? Was Matthew mistaken? He was there; you were not. Mark also tells us it happened, and this is what Luke says, “It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining” (Lk. 23:44). Did this miracle happen? For me it is not monstrous at all. It seems to me to be eminently fitting that when God the Son died upon Golgotha that darkness should come upon the earth for three hours. Did Jesus preach? Did he heal? Did the storm obey him? Did he raise the dead? Did he hang in darkness for three hours? Was John right to say that he was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world? I cannot see what proof anyone of you has that these things are fictions and lies. Only an anti-supernatural prejudice, only a resistance to God being the Lord of your lives. Isn’t prejudice a foolish thing on which to launch into eternity? Isn’t it dangerous? In the name of truth you can trust in the mighty Son of God. Is your life going to be a long day’s journey into night? How terrible! May it be a brief day’s journey into light, a blessed pilgrimage spent with the one who says, “And I’ll never leave you nor forsake you.”
If there are periods of darkness with no light at all then do not despair for the Lord Christ himself has been there. If you have fallen into misery on account of sin then don’t give up hope, for the Father’s well beloved Son passed through denser darkness than this. Christian, if you are in the dark today then remember you are in the King’s cellars. You will not find Christ in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standing in the way of sinners, nor sitting in the seat of the scornful but in the King’s cellars is a good place to meet the man who hung in darkness for you;
“Yes, Lord, in hours of gloom,
When shadows fill my room,
When pain breathes forth its groans,
And grief its sighs and moans,
Then Thou art near.”
Oh Jesus, the preacher tells me that your cross stood in such darkness as this. Oh Saviour hear me! And he will; he always does.
27th November 2005 GEOFF THOMAS