Summary: First in a series of three describing the Day the Earth really did stand still
Look at Me
“And when they came to a place called Golgotha, which means 'Place of a Skull,' they gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink. And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots. And sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there. And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”...And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God; let God rescue Him now, if He delights in Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (Mat 27:33-37, 39-43)
We are all familiar with this part of the story, and we, more than any one else, know that in spite of all the celebrated men and women who have ever walked upon this earth, who have ever done anything noteworthy, have ever thought noble thoughts, dreamed great dreams, displayed impressive heroism, or even lived in the depths of infamy, that this Man and this event is the apex of human history. What happened had to happen. There was no other way. As Peter would remark shortly afterward:
“...the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.” (Acts 3:18)
On the surface, this day was a day of hopelessness, a day of despair, a day when all the forces of evil were focused on one thing: destroying the life of a genuinely innocent man. Yet in the middle of all this, Jehovah God showed His majesty to fallen man by performing something truly miraculous.
“Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour.” (Mat 27:45)
We read those fifteen words in practically the blink-of-an-eye, but do we ever really think about the implications of this span of time. I would submit to you that for three hours; 180 minutes; 10,800 seconds, the entire universe stood still while its Creator worked His greatest miracle in securing its eternal redemption.
We need to set the stage. For the Jews, the feast week commonly called the Passover started with the meal itself, and was followed immediately by the Feast of Unleavened Bread. They were observed between the 14th day and the 21st day of the first month, called Nisan. During this week celebrants swelled the population of Jerusalem to several hundreds of thousands, with many coming from throughout the Diaspora to be in the city for the observance. In addition, the tetrarch of Galilee, Herod Antipas, and Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate were in attendance. Pilate always led a large contingent of Roman auxiliary troops from his capital in Caesarea Maritima to maintain civil order. They always treated the Jewish feasts as potential powder kegs of religious zealotry.
Many of these pilgrims would stay over in the city, and not return to their respective homes until after Pentecost. Luke described these self same men as being:
“...devout men from every nation under heaven.” (Act 2:5)
Yet on this day, before the judgment chair of Pilate, this crowd, being mostly unfamiliar with all the aspects of Jesus’ earthly ministry, was easily manipulated by the Jewish religious hierarchy into a barely controllable mob that would obediently clamor for His death. As the day wore on, and the act drew out to its inevitable conclusion, the Jews became even more boisterous in their derision of Jesus’ helpless form on the cross, and mockingly sought one more sign, one more miracle, to 'prove' to them His claim of being The Anointed One. As we read earlier from verse 42:
“…‘let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him.’” (Mat 27:42)
Well, the Jews got their sign, they got their miracle, and they got it in spades. Everything went dark, everything went silent, and the universe, the entirety of God’s creation, stood stock still. Skeptics gainsay this event as being nothing more than the fortuitous happenstance of a solar eclipse, but that was not the situation at all. The Passover itself always occurred during a full moon, with the Feast of Unleavened Bread taking up the lunar third quarter afterward. This was the fifth day of the waning moon, and was not close to approaching new moon required for an eclipse. Beside, even in an eclipse, there is still background illumination. A person can still see, and can still move about in relative safety. However, that was not the case here. The Greek word used by Matthew is ‘sko-tos,’ which means ‘darkness, the absence of light.’ I wonder if it is feasible to expand that definition to further mean, 'the withdrawal of light?' There is no direct tie, but it is the same word used by Matthew to describe a place of stifling torment: