At 9am on a bright Friday morning Roman soldiers crucified Jesus like they’d done a thousand other derelicts (Mk 15.25). They drove spikes through his wrists. Maybe they toenailed his hands. They drove spikes through his heels on either side of the cross.
They shot dice for his clothes. Souvenirs of a man hung there like a carnival sideshow. Another day at the office.
The execution was textbook until noon. Then something mysterious happened (Mk 15.33). Darkness enveloped the “whole land” for the next three hours.
Scholars debate the nature of this darkness. Was it over the whole earth or just Israel? Perhaps it was an eclipse or unusually dark clouds.
Whatever the case, it was God’s darkness on loan to Satan for an “hour” (Lk 22.53). The entire judgment theme in redemptive-history accumulated for these three hours.
Since creation, darkness has always signified something is not quite right (cf. Gen 1.2). “God saw that the light was good” (Gen 1.4) which meant the formless, void and dark waterworld was not altogether good. Therefore, “God separated the light from the darkness.” The Good from The Not-Good. God wrote the story of redemption into creation itself.
We naturally refer to difficult seasons in our lives as “dark times.” We know darkness to be mysterious, dangerous, confusing, foreboding and unwanted. We dance in a field at sunrise but cower paralyzed in that same field at sundown. We hear the birds at noon but only wolves at midnight.
We are scared of the Dark. We are suspicious of shadows (Ps 23.4). Something inside warns us darkness ought not be. We crave light at the end of tunnels.
“Make your face to shine upon your servant; save me in your lovingkindness” (Ps 31.16).
“O God, restore us and cause your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved” (Ps 80.3, 7, 19).
“So now, our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his supplications, and for your sake, O Lord, let your face shine on your desolate sanctuary” (Dan 9.17).
There is something oppressive and judgmental about darkness. We use darkness to hide ourselves from God (1 Thess 5.7). God uses it to hide himself from us.
“Behold, the day of the LORD is coming . . . for the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light; the sun will be dark when it rises and the moon will not shed its light” (Is 13.9a, 10).
“For this the earth shall mourn and the heavens be dark, because I have spoken, I have purposed, and I will not change My mind, nor will I turn from it” (Jer 4.28).
“And when I extinguish you, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud and the moon will not give its light. All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you and will set darkness on your land” (Ezek 32.7-8).
Darkness means God’s curse and judgment. His light, blessing and salvation.
And there is Jesus. Hanging naked on a damned tree in the dark. The Dark.
“It will come about in that day,” declares the Lord GOD, “that I will make the sun go down at noon and make the earth dark in broad daylight” (Amos 8.9).
Calvary’s darkness was not a strange cosmic disturbance to get people’s attention. It was the culmination of God’s judgment long portrayed and promised on sinners. It now engulfed the Son of God. The Father is cursing the Son and all the cosmos must obey.
“If a man has committed a sin worthy of death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree . . . for he who is hanged is accursed of God (Dt 21.22-23).
In Genesis 3, God cursed the serpent and the ground. But he did not curse Adam. Adam would endure the consequences of the curse but he himself was not cursed. Why? Because God would curse the Second Adam so that those born to the first Adam would be saved.
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE’—in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing [Light] of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal 3.13-14).
In Exodus 10.21, God commanded the ninth plague:
“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward the sky, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even a darkness which may be felt.'”
A darkness “which may be felt.”
Egypt experienced three days of complete darkness where “they did not see each one another, nor did anyone rise from his place” (v23). That’s darkness “which may be felt.”
Our family has toured a couple of caves. In each case, when in the deepest part of the cave, the guide turned out the lights. It was a darkness that could be felt. It wasn’t merely the absence of light. It felt like the presence of darkness. Suffocating. Heavy. Tangible. Sure-footed just seconds before, darkness knocked us off balance and we groped for the nearest rail. Darkness took our breath away.
The ninth plague preceded the tenth and final plague: the death of all firstborn sons in Egypt. God did not exempt Israel from this plague. But he provided a means of protecting them from his judgment: The Passover Lamb (Exod 12).
Three days of tangible darkness preceded God’s judgment. Either the firstborn son died or the passover lamb in his place.
The New Exodus began at noon that day on Golgotha. Three hours of tangible darkness before the death of the Firstborn Son who was also the Passover Lamb. His blood smeared on the post. All hell broke loose. And we went free.
“Hell came to Calvary that day, and the Savior descended into it and bore its horrors in our stead” (Hendricksen).
For three hours–literally an eternity for us–God turned off the light of his countenance. He cursed Jesus for our sin. The Light of the World entered The Darkness where every ounce of his Father’s grace was removed. There he breathed his last (Lk 23.46) so that when we breathe our last we will feel God’s Light.