33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 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?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36 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.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 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 ESV
At Noon on Friday, as Jesus hung on the cross, His life slowly ebbing away, the sky was suddenly darkened. Luke described it rather poetically: “the sun’s light failed” (Luke 23:45 ESV). For three hours Jesus had suffered in broad daylight, in full sight of the high priest and the other members of the Sanhedrin, who mocked Him relentlessly. The crowd that had gathered to watch this macabre spectacle, cast their eyes and their ire on Jesus, taunting Him to save Himself by coming down from the cross. The soldiers looked up at Him with scorn as they gambled over His garments. Even the two criminals who were being crucified on either side of Him couldn’t resist the temptation to revile this so-called King of Israel. For three long hours, Jesus hung in broad daylight, facing the judgment of sinful men. Then. suddenly and unexpectedly, the sky grew dark. And for the next three hours, Jesus would face the righteous judgment of God.
Jesus had been charged with the crime of blasphemy by a religious council made up of mere men. He had been condemned to die by the earthly authority of another man, an official representative of the Roman government. And Jesus had been scourged, mocked, beaten, and nailed to a cross by men who wore the uniform of the Roman Legion, serving at the behest of the Emperor. But none of these men were responsible for what was taking place that day. This entire scene had been the pre-ordained plan of God. He had orchestrated the whole affair so that His sinless Son could bear the righteous judgment that must be poured out on mankind’s rebellion. With the darkening of the sun, the wrath of men was replaced by the wrath of God. What transpired at high Noon that Friday was the pouring out of God’s judgment against the sin and rebellion of mankind, just as the prophet Amos had predicted.
“And on that day,” declares the Lord God,
“I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight.” – Amos 8:9 ESV
Isaiah had also prophesied about this dark day when “the Lord laid on him the sins of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 NLT). Paul would later describe the nature of Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice in terms that we could understand.
For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT
At that very moment, the full weight of God’s divine retribution for the sin and rebellion of mankind was poured out on His Son. Jesus hung on the cross as the sacrificial Lamb, destined to bear the full brunt of God’s just and righteous anger for the centuries-worth of open disdain and disregard for His rightful rule and reign. Paul tells us that “God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18 NLT). And one of the ways God revealed His anger against mankind’s rebellion was to abandon them to a life of futility and hopeless slavery to sin. “God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired” (Romans 1:24 NLT).
But ultimately, mankind would be forced to pay for their sin and rebellion, and the payment required would be death, “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 NLT). But the payment God would demand would involve much more than just physical death. It would require eternal separation from Him. Mankind’s rejection of God would eventually result in their permanent and painful casting from His presence. But God had a plan to remedy this problem. He had arranged to send His Son to act as the ransom for the sins of many. He would give His life as the sinless substitute for a humanity that had been justly condemned by its own stubborn refusal to honor God.
And when the sun darkened, it was a visible display of God’s glory departing the scene. As the Son took on the full sum of humanity’s sin, the Father was forced to look away. As Isaiah put it, “the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.” The guilt and condemnation for every sin – past, present, and future – was placed upon Jesus. But not only did He bear the guilt, but He also experienced the full measure of God’s displeasure and divine judgment. And that is what led Jesus to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34 ESV). At that precise moment, Jesus experienced the unbearable reality of being separated from His Heavenly Father, for the first time in His eternal life.
Back during God’s deliverance of His people from their captivity in Egypt, He had brought a series of plagues against Pharaoh and the Egyptians. The tenth plague was darkness. God had told Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt” (Exodus 10:21 ESV). And that pervading darkness lasted for three long days. Interestingly enough, the plague of darkness was followed by the death of the firstborn. And in the same way, the three hours during which all of Israel was plunged into darkness would be followed by the death of the firstborn Son of God.
Even in His cry of despair and pain, Jesus quoted Scripture. He cited Psalm 22:1, demonstrating that His sacrificial act on the cross was in fulfillment of God’s Word. Jesus was not questioning the actions of His Heavenly Father. He was simply acknowledging that this moment had been pre-ordained and was a non-negotiable part of the redemptive plan of God. Jesus had to be forsaken so that mankind’s sins could be forgiven.
For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. – Hebrews 9:22 NLT
Jesus knew that His suffering for sin was necessary. He also knew that His Father would be forced to turn His back on Him as long as He bore the sins of mankind. And the only thing that would satisfy the just demands of His Father would be the sacrifice of His own life as payment. The author of Hebrews reveals that the death of Jesus was the only solution to mankind’s sin problem.
For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God,
“You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings.
But you have given me a body to offer.
You were not pleased with burnt offerings
or other offerings for sin.
Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God…” – Hebrews 10:4-7 NLT
Jesus had come to do God’s will. And that required Him to suffer the unbearable reality of separation from His own Father. And during that three-hour interval, when darkness covered the land of Israel, God provided yet another visible sign to demonstrate the efficacy of His Son’s sacrifice. Mark indicates that “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38 ESV). This massive curtain, that hung in the temple, and separated the Holy of Holies from the Most Holy Place, was torn in two. This rending of the curtain symbolized that the barrier that separated sinful men from a Holy God had been removed. With His death, Jesus was making access into God’s presence possible for all who would accept His sacrifice on their behalf.
…he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. – Hebrews 9:12 ESV
He poured out His own blood on the mercy seat located within the Most Holy Place. He atoned for the sins of mankind by offering His sinless life as the all-sufficient sacrifice, once for all. And as the darkness receded and the light was restored, Jesus breathed His last. His mission complete, He laid down His life and died. And one of the men who had assisted in His crucifixion and bartered over His garments looked on in wonder. And all he could say was, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39 ESV). The doubter became a believer. The one who had mocked Jesus became His follower. Into the darkness of his life, the Light of God shone bright and clear. This man experienced exactly what Jesus had told Nicodemus.
“…whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” – John 3:21 ESV
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.