When the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:33-39)
In Jesus’ day, the hours of the day were counted from the time of sunrise. The sixth hour would be noon or midday, and the ninth hour would be 3 p.m. The Scriptures tell us that at midday it became as midnight; darkness covered the whole land. Having endured the beatings, the crown of thorns, and the nine-inch nails driven through His feet and hands, our Lord hung spread-eagled on a rough, wooden cross. Jesus now entered into the most horrific aspect of His crucifixion. It can easily be missed, because it is, in a word, unfathomable.
The darkness mentioned here in the Scriptures reflects the Father removing His fellowship from His precious Son. From all eternity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit had existed in a perfect relationship of fellowship, love, and glory—until now!
It was one thing to suffer at the hands of men who were used of God to punish the sinless Savior for the deeds of sinners like you and me; but now the Holy Father unleashed His unimaginable wrath and judgment on His beloved Son, who was hanging on the cross, bleeding and dying, to pay the penalty for our sins—all our sins. Because God’s eyes are too pure to look upon evil (Habakkuk 1:13), He turned his back on Jesus, who had become sin on our behalf so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The physical pain Jesus endured during His crucifixion—we get our English word excruciating from the French word for crucify—is truly difficult for most of us to imagine. That shuddering, gasping agony is reduced to the level of a mosquito bite, however, compared to the shattering supernatural anguish He experienced when He suffered something no Christian will ever have to experience: being forsaken of the Father.
The terrifying darkness at the sixth hour was not the result of some natural phenomena, such as an eclipse or dust storm; it was a supernatural sign from God to the watching world. At the time when the sun would normally be at its brightest, midday became as midnight, and God judged the One who had never known sin in the place of those who had known only sin since Adam and Eve’s catastrophic fall in the Garden of Eden.
Luke’s Gospel describes the darkness thus: “The sun was darkened” (Luke 23:45). In the original Greek text, we would read this statement as “the sun failing.” The One who called the world into existence and hung it on nothing, who spoke light into existence, sent this supernatural darkness so that we might understand the blackness of our sin and the damage it has caused.
Darkness in the Scriptures is often associated with judgment against sin and wickedness. The prophets spoke often of God’s judgment against sin that would be demonstrated in the form of darkness. Who can forget the darkness God sent to cover the land of Egypt as judgment against Pharaoh when he refused to let the Israelites go (Exodus 10:22-23)? Darkness is also used as a description of hell: “Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30).
For three solid hours, from the sixth to the ninth hour, God poured out His cup of wrath and judgment on His precious Son, who was paying a debt of sin He did not owe for those who owed it but could not pay. Jesus hung on that cruel cross, forsaken by His Father, and endured the unthinkable darkness of sin and hell. The light of eternal love between the Father and the Son had been utterly extinguished. On that day, when Jesus willingly took our place as our Substitute . . . our Savior. He experienced the “outer darkness” that we will never have to experience. J. C. Ryle profoundly wrote:
It was meet and right that the attention of all around Jerusalem should be arrested in a marked way, when the great sacrifice for sin was being offered and the Son of God was dying. There were signs and wonders wrought in the sight of all Israel, when the law was given on Sinai. There were signs and wonders in like manner when the atoning blood of Christ was shed on Calvary. There was a sign for an unbelieving world. The darkness at mid-day was a miracle which would compel men to think.
As we celebrate Easter this week, and it is “meet and right” that you and I take some time to reflect on the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for our sins. As we reflect on the unimaginable price Jesus paid, let us not merely remember the physical pain our Lord endured, but the searing supernatural pain of separation from His Father that He experienced so that we would never have to. He did it in our place and on our behalf. He did it for me . . . and for you. And He did it fully and finally and completely, as evidenced by His victory cry from the cross: “It is finished!” (John 19:30.)
Truly, Jesus is the Light of the world. Is He your light? By God’s grace may it be so this Easter season!
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!