As we read this passage, two questions come to our minds:
1. Why did darkness cover the whole land (v. 45)?
We are told there was a thick darkness over the whole land for three hours, from "the sixth hour until the ninth hour," or from noon till three o’clock in the afternoon. In other words, at the time of day when the sun should be at its height and shining its brightest, the land was dark.
Some suggest this darkness resulted from an eclipse of the sun, or, as some films have portrayed it, from a great rain storm and the cloud cover that accompanied it. The fact remains, however, that though natural means may have brought about this darkness, it was brought about for a supernatural purpose. The supernatural nature of this darkness is revealed by the fact that this was prophesied in Scripture.
"‘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 (NASB)
Still, we want to know what caused this darkness to fall on the earth? But also, we would like to know . . .
2. What made Jesus cry out as He did (v. 46)?
We are told that associated with the darkness covering the land for three hours, that Jesus cried out. Matthew tells us that Jesus cried out at the end of this three hour period of darkness. There are two things we would like to understand about our Lord’s cry from the cross.
A. We want to understand the motivation behind our Lord’s cry.
We find it significant that the Bible tells us that Jesus "cried out in a loud voice. " In other words, He screamed.
We find this significant because despite all the suffering our Savior had experienced up to this point, He had maintained His composure. Not once had He cried out in anguish, despite the fact that He had been betrayed and forsaken by those closest to Him; despite the fact that He had been unjustly tried, convicted, and publicly humiliated; and despite the fact that He had been scourged, beaten, forced to carry a heavy cross to His place of execution, and nailed to that cross as He was crucified.
Despite all the emotional and physical suffering He had endured, the Bible tells us that, "They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence." - 1 Peter 2:23 (The Message).
Again, this is in keeping with Old Testament prophecy, where we are told, "He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth." - Isaiah 53:7 (NLT).
Yet, once the three hour period of darkness had passed, for the very first time through-out this entire ordeal, Jesus did cry out. We would like to understand the motivation behind our Lord’s cry.
B. We want to understand the meaning behind our Lord’s cry.
Verses 47-49 tell us that those who stood nearby did not understand the meaning of our Lord’s cry. They misunderstood Him to be calling for the prophet Elijah for help. In reality, what Jesus did was quote Scripture. Specifically, He quoted from Psalm 22:1.
But why did Jesus quote from this Psalm as three hours of darkness ended? We would really like to know the meaning behind our Lord’s cry.
Well, in answering these questions, we need to understand why Jesus came and what Jesus did.
1. Why Jesus came -
"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many," - Mark 10:45 (NIV)
Jesus came to give His life as a payment (a ransom) for our sin.
The Bible tells us that when God created man, he did so with an eternal purpose in mind. God intended for man to enjoy constant communion with Him, so that he might be led to live in such a way as to bring consistent glory to his creator. As the head of the earthy sphere of God’s creation, man would thus lead all the earth to bring glory to its creator.
But God also created man with the ability to choose. He did not intend for man to obey Him by coercion, but by choice. So God created man with the ability to choose and provided man with the opportunity to choose. What man chose, was to go his own way, rather than God’s way. By the way, going one’s own way rather than God’s way is what the Bible calls "sin."
Now in explaining the choice to man, God made sure he was fully informed.
"And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’" - Genesis 2:16-17 (NIV)
It was made clear that if man chose continued communion with God, he would know life to the full as he enjoyed God’s constant provision ( "You are free to eat from any tree" - including the tree of life) and constant protection ("in the garden").
If man chose to go his own way rather than God’s way, however, he would know death. Literally, the Lord warned Adam, "dying you will die." In other words, when Adam chose his way over God’s way, he would immediately experience spiritual death (no longer having communion with God - the source of all life ) and eventually experience physical death - God would bar his way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-24).
Because of Adam’s choice that was made on behalf of the human race, everyone born into this world is born into sin and under condemnation.
Jesus came to reverse all that. He came to make a way to escape the consequences of sin and the condemnation they are born to live under. You see, because of man’s sinfulness, there is nothing that he I could do to correct things. "We are all infected and impure with sin. When we proudly display our righteous deeds, we find they are but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall. And our sins, like the wind, sweep us away." - Isaiah 64:6 (NLT). In fact, because of our sinfulness, we do not even recognize the problem (a broken relationship with God) nor the solution (a right relationship with God). "There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God," - Romans 3:11 (NIV).
That’s why Jesus came. He came to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. Because we did not understand the problem, He had to take the initiative - as God, He chose to take on human form to come to where we were. Because we could not provide the solution, He had to make payment for our sin penalty Himself - He went to the cross to suffer in our place.
Oswald Chambers writes, "In the Cross we may see the dimensions of divine love." Indeed, love takes the initiative and bears the burden necessary to make a relationship right. That’s what God did for us in Christ. You see, the cross of Christ was not just an instrument of execution, it was also an instrument of exhibition - through the cross we have exhibited the love of God for a lost world."
2. What Jesus did -
2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV) tells us that "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." Jesus was sin-free but became our sin in our place. 1 Peter 2:24 (NLT) says that "He personally carried away our sins in his own body on the cross so we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. You have been healed by his wounds!"
Herein lies the answer to the questions we posed earlier. The wrath due us was poured out against the sins that He bore in His own body on the cross. Through His cross, He overcame the penalty of spiritual death; and through His resurrection, He overcame physical death. What Jesus did was reverse the effects of Adam’s choice!
Now we can understand why darkness cover the face of the earth and why Jesus cried out as He did. When Jesus suffered on the cross, He did so for our sins, and it was as if God were putting a funeral drape over His creation. It was as though the universe went into mourning. It was as if the sun refused to shine. It was as if what was taking place on the cross was so dark that creation itself could not stand the event.
Well might the sun in darkness hide and shut his glories in,
When Christ, the great Redeemer died, for man, the creature’s sin.
In that darkness, Jesus cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" which is a quote from Psalm 22:1. In so doing, Jesus was declaring that in paying the penalty for our sins, He experienced the loneliness of sin.
Up until the cross, because of His sinlessness, Jesus had known full and unbroken communion with the Father. But on the cross, He suffered the experience of complete loneliness and abandonment. In His humanity, Jesus suffered the punishment of hell for us as He experienced what it feels like to be abandoned by God. That is why He cried out as He did. He experienced on the cross the horror of hell itself as the sins of the world were poured out upon Him.
"Jesus, the infinite Son of God,
was able to suffer in a finite period of time on the cross,
what you and I, being finite human beings,
would have to suffer for an infinite period of time in hell."
When Jesus talked about hell He used many terms, but one of the terms was "outer darkness." I’ve heard people laugh about going to hell. I’ve heard lost people make fun of it and say, "If I go to hell that will be all right. I’ll have plenty of company down there. We’ll have a big party together." But the Bible describes hell as a place of darkness. You are not am to see anyone in hell. You are not going to be having a big party in hell. You are going to experience what it means to be lonely, as no human being has ever been lonely in this life. Think about it. For eternity, never to see anyone else. For eternity, to cry to God for mercy and never hear an answer.
As symbolized by the darkness that overshadowed the earth, and as illustrated by the cry of our Savior on the cross, we understand that at Calvary, Jesus suffered our hell for us so that we wouldn’t have to.
As we said, Jesus quoted from Psalm 22. We are given an amazing insight into the crucifixion in Psalm 22.One interesting phrase from that psalm is found in verse 6, "l am a worm and not a
man. . ." The Hebrew word for "worm" there is most interesting. It is the name of a particular worm that was crushed to extract its blood, so that it might be used to create a crimson red dye, a dye used to dye the robes of kings. Jesus left His royal throne in glory and came to this sinful world to offer Himself as a sacrifice for our sins, being crushed for our sins, shedding His precious blood, so that we, through faith in Him, might be privileged to wear the robes of royalty!
The prophet Isaiah explained this way, "He was wounded and crushed because of our sins; by taking our punishment, he made us completely well. All of us were like sheep that had wandered off. We had each gone our own way, but the LORD gave him the punishment we deserved." - Isaiah 53:5-6 (CEV).
After paying the penalty for our sin and experiencing our hell for us, John tells us that Jesus requested something to drink. I believe this was so that He might have enough strength to make the next declaration that John tells us, "It is finished!"
The words, "it is finished" comes from the Greek word, "tetelestai" which literally means, "paid in full." In the ancient world, when a debt was paid off, the receipt was stamped with the word "tetelestai" or "paid in full."
Through suffering our hell for us on Calvary, Jesus fully paid the debt for sin. Our debt has been paid. God has already paid the just penalty for every sin I have ever committed or will commit. Now, Because God is a holy and just God, every sin must be judged and will be judged. The only question now is where? For us who trust in Christ, our sins are already judged and paid in full. Those who reject Jesus Christ will pay the just penalty of their own sins. You can choose to pay the penalty for your own sins, electing to suffer an eternity of loneliness in hell, or you can accept the fact that Jesus has paid the penalty for you and experienced the suffering of hell on your behalf.
Finally, having experienced spiritual death on behalf of all mankind, Jesus allowed Himself to experience physical death. The significance of our Lord’s physical death is found in the fact that He had completed the work of paying the price for our sins through suffering spiritual death (hell) for us.
"I give up my life, so that I may receive it back again. No one takes my life from me. I give it up willingly! I have the power to give it up and the power to receive it back again."
- John 10:17b-18a (CEV)
When Jesus died physically, it was only because He had completed the work of paying the price for the sins of the world.
During the civil war, the law provided that if a man had a verifiable hardship situation, he could be exempt from military service, if a willing substitute could be secured to go in his place. One man found himself in just such a situation. A neighbor volunteered to go to war as his substitute. Not only did the neighbor serve in his place, but he also died on the field of battle. This was all duly recorded. Some time later, the government tried to draft him for military service. The man went before the county judge to explain his situation. In so doing, all he had to do was tell him to look in the book of records, and there he would find it recorded that he had secured a substitute who had willing gone in his place.
Likewise, I find that I am in a hardship situation. I am lost in my sin. I cannot pay the debt I owe. But that’s OK. A substitute has offered Himself. His name is Jesus. And because I have accepted Him as my substitute, it is recorded in the book that my debt has been paid. I need not fear death, for when I stand before the judge of the universe, he will see by my name the words, "debt paid in full." How about you?
"Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son," - John 3:18 (NIV)