Night at Noonday
As I write this, I am sitting in a condo from where I can see sunlight reflecting off the calm ocean. This bright sunlight contributes to the happy atmosphere of a beach vacation, and I wonder how the relaxed mood here in the condo would change if the sky outside went suddenly black. Blacker than a cloudy, moonless night. Blacker than an approaching hurricane. Nearly two thousand years ago, the whole earth, not just the half covered in night, not just the seaboard threatened by a hurricane, was covered in this absolute blackness.
Nearly two thousand years ago, some Romans crucified a religious rebel in the capital city of a remote region of the empire. To the Roman soldiers executing this rebel with two other criminals, the rebel’s crucifixion was no different from his fellows’ crucifixions, which were no different from the countless crucifixions countless Romans had executed during their reign over the Mediterranean world.
But capital city that witnessed this religious rebel’s execution was a religious city. Jerusalem, the capital city of the subjugated Jews, was also the site that day of the Jews’ most important religious festival: Passover, specifically, the Day of Preparation. Hundreds of thousands of Jews converged for the annual sacrifice. Little did they know that the rebel on the cross–not the year-old male lambs–was to be that year’s unique sacrifice for all time.
The sun stopped shining because the crucified rebel was no rebel at all. In fact, he was the only Person to live who never disobeyed the highest law–God’s law. He was Jesus, the Christ, Son of God and Son of Man. The sun stopped shining because this “rebel to Rome” was dying in the place of rebels to God.
As the Gospel According to Matthew records,
Now from the sixth hour [noon] there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour [3 p.m.]. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. (27:45-50)
For the hottest part of the day, the brightest part of the day, “the sun’s light failed” (Luke 23:45). As Matthew related, the sun didn’t shine because Jesus, God the Son, was forsaken in that moment by God the Father. This aspect of Jesus’ death is a mystery, one that our Trinitarian minds find hard to make sense of logically. How can the one Triune God experience abandonment and forsakenness?
Paul begins to answer this question for us: “For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). On the cross, God was forsaken of God, as Martin Luther put it, because God the Son “was made to be sin” although he “knew no sin.” When Habakkuk said that God is “of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong,” (Hab. 1:13), he was not denying God’s omniscience; rather, Habakkuk was pointing out that God cannot sweep sin under the rug. As a perfect Judge, God must judge and condemn sin. As Peter later wrote, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous” (1 Pet. 3:18). Jesus died not for his own sins–he had none–but for the sins of his people, of all who would ever trust him for salvation.
Jesus’ death on Passover is significant for this very reason. As John explains in his Gospel,
Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came outblood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”
Because it was the day of Preparation, because it was Passover, the Jews wanted the three crucified men to die before sundown, before Passover proper began. But one of the soldiers struck Jesus with a spear instead of breaking his legs because, practically, “Jesus was already dead” and, prophetically, “Not one of his bones will be broken.” The Scripture John there referenced was Exodus 12:46, in which God instructed the Israelites how to eat the Passover meal. Only by eating the flesh of the sacrificial lamb in their houses would God pass over the Israelites and spare them from the death he was to visit on all the households. Jesus, then, was the final and true Passover lamb, the one who would once for all satisfy God’s wrath on his people’s sins, to be received by faith (Rom. 3:21-26).
The sun stopped shining at noon nearly two thousand years ago because Jesus was dying his sacrificial death. God was forsaken of God. The Son of God, as the Son of Man, was taking the full punishment for his people’s sins in his body on the cross. And this is why Good Friday is good! The darkest day in history was, in fact, good because on that day Jesus accomplished his people’s redemption by dying in their place. So, everyone, have a good Good Friday. Praise God for the salvation he has given us by Jesus’ death for our sins on the cross!