OT Reading: Ps.31:1-24
Reading: Lk.23 :44-49
I’m sure your experience is the
same as mine. Time seems to move at different speeds. You’ve been waiting a
long time for a special event to take place and how the time seems to drag! It
may be a holiday or it may be a family reunion, and yes, I do know that’s a bit
hard to even imagine these days. But finally the day arrives. You get to your
destination and you meet up with that group of friends or those family members
but then the next thing you know it’s all over, over almost before it had
begun. How time seems to fly when you’re really enjoying what’s going on!
And of course it’s rather
different when things are not going so well. How time seems to drag then!
Perhaps you know what it is like to wake in the middle of the night and sleep
has deserted you. You look at the clock – it’s 3am and far too early to get up.
You turn over and toss and turn wondering whether you’ll ever drop back off to
sleep. After “hours” of this you decide to look at the clock again and what do
you find? It’s now a quarter past 3. It felt like hours but in reality it was
just 15 minutes – how time seems to slow right down at just the wrong moment.
And for the men hanging on those
three crosses outside Jerusalem time would have felt as though it was hardly
moving at all! Two of them were paying their debt to society for the crimes
they had committed but the third was suffering for our sins.
As we rejoin the scene of that
momentous day those men have already been there nailed to their crosses for
three long hours and there are more to follow. Jesus was paying a heavy price
to save you from your sins.
The executions had begun at 9am (Mk.15:25)
and it was now noon. The sun was at its highest, shining with its greatest
force – normally you could expect the temperature to continue to rise for the
next three hours, but this was anything but a normal day. Luke has a number of
extraordinary things to tell us.
Instead of bright sunshine at
midday that day, something else happened. It was dark. Indeed there was a
profound and widespread darkness. Darkness wasn’t restricted to one mound
outside Jerusalem it covered the entire land. Luke mentioned it because it was
unusual and it was significant.
Why was it dark? What caused this
darkness? Luke doesn’t waste his ink on going into great detail but simply
records the facts. It was dark because the sun’s light failed or was darkened.
Oh, yes, someone says I know what
it was, it was an eclipse.
But think again. How long do
eclipses last? If you remember hearing about one on the radio you know you’ll
have to be quick if you want to see it because they’re soon finished: a total
eclipse may last as long as 71/2 minutes but most are
much shorter than that. But on the day that Luke is describing the darkness
didn’t just last for 71/2 minutes it went on and on for
No, this wasn’t an eclipse – in
fact it couldn’t have been a solar eclipse for they can only occur when there
is a new moon. Those executions however took place at the time of the Feast of
the Passover and that feast only occurred when the moon was full.
It wasn’t then an eclipse but the
sun was darkened – the explanation is not to be sought in the realms of what is
normal. It took place because God was involved.
But what does it mean?
The Bible frequently refers to
darkness as a spiritual condition, for example, men in their rebellion against
God live their lives in darkness.
But darkness is also used to
describe divine displeasure as God acts to deal with the problem of sin in
We read back in the OT prophet
Amos the following words concerning such judgment as he describes the Day of
20 “Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day
of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light...
Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light, and gloom with no
brightness in it?”
Later in his book Amos adds more
“And on that day,” declares the Lord GOD, “I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight.”
The prophet Zephaniah has a
“A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and
devastation, a day of darkness and
gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness,”
The truth of the matter is that
the time had come for God to deal with sin as he poured out his wrath upon the
sin-bearer. Jesus wasn’t a sorry victim of circumstances, an unhappy innocent
wrongly condemned, he was a voluntary sacrificial offering.
Isaac Watts wrote movingly about
this darkness in one of his hymns as he described the reaction of nature to the
gravity of what was taking place. This is how he put it:
the sun in darkness hide,
his glories in,
the mighty Maker, died
the creature’s sin.
This was the hour for which he
had come and been preparing all his life and it was an immensely serious and
terrible hour. How the darkness highlighted this – there would be three long,
painful and intensely distressing hours during which time hell came to the
central cross on Calvary. So awful were the sufferings that it was towards the
end of these hours of darkness that Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
This was the price that Jesus
paid that you might be pardoned. This is the price that sets you free. This is
the price that Jesus paid that you might never be called upon to pay it
What a marvellous Saviour he is!
How compassionate and good and kind! How amazing the grace of God is! Have you
realised that? Have you embraced the Saviour as your own? He was lifted up on a
cross to die in order that he might draw men to himself and so deliver them –
has he delivered you?
If he has I’m sure you’ll want to
shout aloud with me “Hallelujah, what a Saviour!”
Yes, extraordinary things took
place that day at Calvary!
The Temple Curtain
The darkness was not the only
extraordinary event of that day. Luke also tells us about another highly
significant thing that took place. I’m referring to the tearing down of the
great curtain in the Temple.
If Luke’s gospel was the only
account we had we might be tempted to think that this event preceded Jesus’
death but Mark and Matthew help us see things more clearly. The curtain’s
destruction is tied closely to the death of the Lord Jesus immediately
following that death if not actually occurring at the very moment of that
Now we may want to ask whether
this event really is of any importance at all. Well, the answer is yes because
of the significance of that curtain.
The temple was the place where
God had told his people that he would make his presence dwell amongst them.
However because of his holiness and his people’s sin it was impossible for just
anybody to draw near. The deeper into the temple you went the more access
became restricted. Finally before the Holiest place of all, the Holy of Holies,
a great curtain hung protecting the access. The high priest might be able
proceed beyond that curtain to represent the people but even his access was limited.
The curtain was necessary because the people were contaminated by sin and the
curtain served to keep sinful people away from God.
If people were to be able to
enjoy a close relationship with God the curtain that restricted access would
have to be removed but until sin was properly dealt with it couldn’t be
removed. When Jesus died on his cross he did deal with the problem of our sin
and that was dramatically demonstrated with the tearing down of that temple
Both Matthew and Mark add the
detail that the curtain was torn from top to bottom indicating that this was no
normal act of wear and tear or something caused by human activity – God was at
work showing his approval of what Jesus had achieved! God tore down the curtain
as his Son died – he wants sinners to be saved and brought into his family!!
Later in the NT the writer to the
Hebrews refers to the spiritual realities that lay behind the literal physical
destruction of the curtain:
“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters
into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner
on our behalf,”
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the
blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the
curtain, that is, through his flesh,”
An Extraordinary Cry
Jesus had been brutalised before
he was ever crucified. He had been nailed to his cross at 9 in the morning and
he was still hanging there 6 hours later. He was dying.
Now as a man dies he grows weaker
and his voice usually diminishes to a barely heard whisper. But not in our
Luke tells us that the last time
Jesus spoke he did so with a loud voice. You see even as he dies Jesus remains
in total control. Life doesn’t simply slip away from him – no-one takes his
life from him but rather he uses the authority he had received from his Father
to lay down his life of his own accord. And in doing so he entrusts himself
into his Father’s care:
Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit
my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.”
These words are adapted from some
of the words of the Psalm we read earlier, Psalm 31. There in v.5
we read the following:
hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.”
If you compare this carefully
with what Jesus called out you’ll see that there are three things to note:
1. Jesus retained one part
2. Jesus added another part
3. Jesus omitted an inappropriate part
The entrusting of himself into
another’s care remains the same but importantly Jesus added something that the
Psalmist hadn’t – Jesus deliberately entrusted himself into the hands of his
Father. Although he had suffered for a long period on the cross and cried out as
the Father turned his face away his faith in his Father never faltered.
Finally, how could he pray about being redeemed for he himself stood in no need
of being redeemed? How useful Scripture proved to our Lord at this time and he
demonstrates even in this extreme situation an intelligent understanding of the
OWrd of God.
It was indeed a remarkable thing
to be able to cry out with a loud voice at such a time and he certainly did so
in order that others might hear what he had to say. His trust in his Father’s
love and care was undiminished. His God who had turned his face away when he
bore the sin of his people was still his Father and still worthy of his trust.
Extraordinary events call out for
a response, a reaction, and Luke in continuing his account of this eventful day
records three different sets of reactions : the centurion, the crowd and Jesus’
acquaintances. We will consider them in turn.
Luke prefaces his remarks about
the centurion with these words:
when the centurion saw what had taken place...”
Presumably the centurion had been
present throughout the day and seen everything that had taken place. He would
have seen and heard Jesus interaction with the crowds as he was taken to the
site of the crucifixion. He would have heard Jesus praying for the forgiveness
of those who didn’t know what they were doing. He would have seen how he coped
with the mockery and the insults. He would have doubtless listened with
astonishment as Jesus promised the thief crucified alongside him a place in
Paradise that very day. Then he would himself have experienced that strange
darkness that covered and remained upon the land for three hours and finally he
would have heard the Saviour’s confident entrusting of his spirit into his
Heavenly Father’s hands.
He had never before seen anything
like this! Maybe if he hung around a little at the crucifixion site he would
have heard of those strange events in the Temple as word would quickly have
spread about what had happened to the curtain.
And how did he respond to it all?
Plenty of folk when confronted with extraordinary events just carry on as
though nothing had happened – don’t understand and not bothered either. But
that was not true of this man. Confronted with serious evidence he came to
serious conclusions and acted decisively. I hope you have done the same sort of
thing in your own encounter with Jesus.
Firstly, this centurion praised
God. Many of your neighbours never do that. They are far more ready to
blaspheme than they are to glorify the name of God. How much did this centurion
understand of what was really taking place in the eternal plan of salvation
that day we can’t exactly say but we can say that he understood enough to
Don’t focus upon what you don’t
yet understand but surely you have understand enough to begin to praise God. Is
such praise a part of your life?
Secondly, this centurion had come
to a formed opinion concerning Jesus Christ crucified. He didn’t regard him as
an obvious failure, just another misguided fanatic who paid the ultimate price
for his folly. Not a bit of it. He looked at what he saw and came to the
conclusion that Jesus was an innocent man who certainly didn’t deserve to die.
Indeed his words actually imply more than mere innocence: he declared Jesus to
be a man in right standing with God and that despite every appearance there
might have been to the contrary.
What is your assessment of Jesus
Christ? What conclusions have you come to concerning this exceptional
character? And what have you done about it? This centurion went public with his
praises and declarations, have you? The appropriate way to respond to Jesus is
with repentance and with a public confession of faith which is normally
accompanied by the obedience of water baptism. Are you falling short in your
response to Jesus? If you are when are you going to do something about it?
Next Luke turns to consider how
the crowd of on-lookers reacted to the events of the day. He describes them as
those who had turned up to watch a spectacle – why is it that an execution
always seems to draw the crowds? Perhaps this crowd was made up of a wide
variety of different characters some with a more genuine interest in the man
from Nazareth than others. Well they certainly got more than they were
expecting that day!
They too saw and heard the same
things that had so moved the centurion but their general reaction was not the
same. We don’t read of them praising God or making declarations of faith
instead we find that they went back to their homes “beating their breasts.”
That act can imply a number of
different things. It can mean they went to their homes lamenting what had
happened – what a shame that this sort of miscarriage of justice can occur in
our country! Or it could mean that they returned to their homes mourning the
loss of such a man. Or again it might mean that they were more deeply affected
still and returned guilt-ridden to their homes. Maybe they beat their breasts
as a demonstration of self-reproach as they tried to deal with that sense of
guilt that engulfed them.
The death of Jesus Christ is a
fact of history that has intensely emotional implications. The individuals in
the crowd were deeply affected but I hope they didn’t stop with a mere beating
of their breasts, I hope they went on to exercise genuine faith and trust in
the Lord Jesus too. I hope that whatever your reactions have been to this Jesus
that you won’t stop either until you have come to exercise a genuine faith in
The final group that Luke directs
our attention towards concerns people who did already know Jesus to a degree.
We don’t know exactly who Luke had in mind but we do know that he wanted us to
recognise in particular that this group included those women who had followed
him from Galilee. Doubtless one of the reasons Luke speaks of them here is to
prepare the ground for the account he would go on to give concerning the
resurrection morning for some of those women would have a prominent role to
play there too.
But here they are at the site of
the execution. They’re standing at a distance and they’re watching.
Was it too dangerous for them to
come closer? Had they been closer but subsequently withdrawn, We just don’t
know but they were still there and they were still watching and they seem to
form a group that was quite distinct from the wider crowd. How important to
associate with God’s people – they could offer mutual support and encouragement
in what must have been a very trying time for any follower of the Lord Jesus.
It would later be important for them to know what had really gone on and so now
they stood carefully watching. They would have a role to play in the future.
Which of them, I wonder, passed on their
accounts to Luke as he made his enquiries into the Life and Times of Jesus the
For the moment life was tough for
a follower of Jesus. Their Lord had died – yes, he had conducted himself with
such an extraordinary calm confidence but he was dead now after all. And they
weren’t expecting anything more. What was next in store for them?
Well, we have the tremendous
advantage of already knowing what happened next. We know that the death of
Jesus meant the end of our sins and our alienation from God but it most
certainly didn’t signal the end of Jesus! Easter Sunday was to follow Good
Friday. The upheavals of the events of that first Good Friday would be trumped
by the early morning earthquake of Easter Sunday when an angel would descend
from heaven to roll the stone away from the tomb. And he would do so not so
that Jesus could come out but that we might see he had already gone, that he
was already raised to life.
If you have already placed your
faith in the Lord Jesus you have so much more cause to praise our God and
Saviour Jesus Christ than that centurion way back then. But if you haven’t yet
trusted him you have reason to beat your guilt-ridden breast more than the
crowds that day for you too know more than they.
Jesus really died upon the cross
because you and I are really sinners who need saving and this is God’s way of
doing it. When we come to see that it becomes marvellous in our eyes. Believe
on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.