In Darkness He Hung

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From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) (Matthew 27:45-46).

Today is April fool’s day. But there is no tomfoolery in our text. Here we find the darkest, deepest mystery of the scriptural story. The Son of God hangs on a cross calling out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Theologians may look with puzzlement at this scene, but it should cause a sinner to gaze with wonder.

Echoing the darkness at creation, the earth is in chaos again. With darkness, the natural world puts on, as it were, widow's clothing, going into mourning. Here, the human world has committed its most heinous crime. The Son of God came to it, and in response the world's most godly religion and its most advanced government combined to kill him. In great sympathy with its Creator and his Son, the earth plunges into darkness. The king of glory hangs suspended between heaven and earth.

The weight of the world’s evil converged upon Jesus, blotting out the sunlight of God’s love. Jesus is ‘giving his life as a ransom for many’. The sin of the many, which he is bearing, has for the first and only time in his experience caused a cloud to come between him and the father. Jesus has loved and obeyed the father, the one who delighted in him. Now he hangs on the cursed tree.

Jesus remained obedient to the Father to the end. And this, this period of God-forsakenness, formed the heart of his God-given mission. He takes with him, into the darkness of death, the sin of the world: my sin, your sin, the sin of countless millions. This weight that hung around the world’s neck is dragged down to destruction.

Rage, pain, and despair made crucifixions gruesome. Yet, Jesus' cry from the cross is not these but prayer. Matthew allows Jesus' Aramaic speech, as if to say: "These are sacred words." This sentence is the Gospel at its deepest; this is why Jesus came – to carry the judgement we deserve.

Jesus' lifeline has been cut. He dies here before he dies. This is Jesus' descent into hell. We should simply stand back in silence before this awful scene and wonder what it means.

When Mel Gibson was producing the film, The Passion of the Christ, he used his own hands in the scene of the Roman centurion nailing Jesus to the cross. In explanation, Gibson said, "It was me that put Him on the cross. It was my sins [that put Jesus there]."

Because of our sins Jesus went there. He turned his face to Jerusalem knowing death waited. He let himself be nailed to the cross to die for us, for the world, and for God's creation. We deserved the curse, but he willingly shouldered it.

Jesus hung on the cross so that we would not be hung there. He hung on the cross so that we would not be abandoned by God as he was. This is no tomfoolery. This is the love of God for me and you.

We need that cross. Without it we are doomed. Without the cross we do not see the love of God. This suffering of God, this sacrifice of God -- all for us, all because of our sin, all because we could not do it for ourselves. For even our death would not have brought us into fellowship with God, nor paid the penalty for our sin.

If all we know of the Bible is that Jesus died for us on an old, rugged cross, then we know enough. This is no tomfoolery. Here is the mystery of the thing: At the very moment when he was most fully embodying the love of God, he found himself totally separated from it, the love which he had known in precious intimacy from eternity.

As he hung on the cross, Jesus did without the Father’s face, so that we might behold Him face to face. For see, hovering behind the dark clouds, the Holy Spirit waits for the Father’s signal. When it comes, the Spirit will breathe life into the Son’s body again. And see the Spirit, brimming with anticipation, to breathe life into all who believe in the foolishness of the cross.

Almighty God, from whom proceeds the fire of love which alone can destroy and purge all the evil of our hearts, and of our world: send your loving Holy Spirit upon us, baptizing us again with that holy fire, that we may ourselves be delivered from the snares of the enemy and be liberated to bring your love and redemption to the ends of the world: through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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