The Adventure Link: The Passion of the Christ Darkness Falls Across the Land
Posted by Rev. Jeff Dixon, Senior Equipping Minister, Covenant Community Church on Mar 30, 2004, 15:50
The Adventure Link
New Series begins....The Passion of the Christ
Darkness Falls Across the Land
Mel Gibsonís new film The Passion of The Christ opened in theaters on Ash Wednesday, February 25th, 2004. This is a feature length film portraying the betrayal, trial, beating, and crucifixion of Jesus. The movie, filmed in Aramaic and Latin, artfully intertwines flashbacks to earlier episodes in Jesusí life, giving fuller meaning to His person, His sufferings, His relationships, and the message of His life to humanity. The film opened to some controvery and has become a runaway box office blockbuster.
The film brings to mind some interesting questions and thoughts. This Easter season you will find a number of churches that are teaching series on the Passion of the Christ. The decision was made on the Adventure Link to do the same and over the next month we will cover truckloads of material...so get ready.
Scripture records a number of supernatural phenomena that occurred while Jesus hung on the cross. Those events were God's own supernatural commentary on the cross. They gave proof that the execution taking place that day just outside Jerusalem's city walls was an event of cosmic importance.
The routes to the city that day were jammed with pilgrims coming and going as they
prepared to celebrate Passover. Few if any of them realized what a monumental event was occurring at Calvary. God's true Paschal Lamb was dying on that very Passover to provide forgiveness for all the sins of all the redeemed of all time. That was the very focal point of redemptive history yet as far as Jerusalem was concerned on that day, relatively few were taking notice.
But then suddenly all nature seemed to stop and pay attention.
THE SUN DARKENED
The first of the miraculous signs that accompanied Jesus' death was the darkening of the
sky. Matthew writes, "Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land" (Matthew 27:45). Matthew was counting hours by the Jewish system, so the sixth hour would have been noon. At the precise moment when the noon sky should have been brightest in the sky, darkness fell over all the land, and remained for three hours.
This was probably not a total blackness, but rather a severe darkening of the normal
daylight intensity of the sun. "Over all the land" is an expression that might refer to the land of Israel, or it could refer to the whole world. I'm inclined to think that the sun itself was dimmed, so that the darkness would have been universal, and not limited to the local area surrounding Jerusalem.
As a matter of fact, according to some of the Church Fathers, the supernatural darkness
that accompanied the crucifixion was noticed throughout the world at the time. Tertullian
mentioned this event in his Apologeticum, a defense of Christianity written to pagan
skeptics: "At the moment of Christ's death, the light departed from the sun, and the land was darkened at noonday, which wonder is related in your own annals and is preserved in your archives to this day."
The darkness could not have been caused by a solar eclipse, because Passover always fell on a full moon, and a solar eclipse (caused when the moon gets between earth and sun, blocking the sun's light) would be out of the question during the full moon. But God is certainly able to dim the sun's light without recourse to any planetary phenomenon like an eclipse. During Moses' time, darkness had fallen on Egypt because a plague of locusts was so thick that the flying insects had blocked the sun (Exodus 10:14-15). In Joshua's time the opposite had occurred, and the sun seemed to stand still over Israel for a whole 24-hour period (Joshua 10:12-14). In Hezekiah's day, the shadows turned backward ten degrees, as the earth's rotation seemed to reverse for about 40 minutes (2 Kings 20:9-11). The darkening of the sun is commonly mentioned in Scripture as an apocalyptic sign (Isaiah 50:3; Joel 2:31; Revelation 9:2). Amos wrote of the last days of the earth, "'And it shall come to pass in that day,' says the Lord GOD, 'That I will make the sun go down at noon, And I will darken the earth in broad daylight'" (Amos 8:9). Throughout Scripture, darkness is connected with judgment, and supernatural darkness of this type signifies cataclysmic doom (cf. Isaiah 5:30; Joel 2:2; Amos 5:20; Zephaniah 1:14-15). So the darkening of the sun at noon like this was certain to evoke widespread fear that catastrophic judgment was about to fall.
Scripture does not say why the darkness at Jesus' crucifixion; it only reports it as a fact.
Various interpreters have tried to explain the darkness in several ways. Some have suggested God sent the darkness as a veil to cover the sufferings and nakedness of His Son, making it an act of mercy toward Christ. Others have suggested the dimming of the sun signified God's displeasure with those who put Christ to death. There may be truth in both of those ideas, but neither seems to get to the heart of what the darkness signified. Since this kind of supernatural darkness is always associated with divine judgment Scripture, it seems reasonable that this darkness was also meant to convey a message of judgment. Coming as it did during the time when Christ's suffering was most intense, in the three hours before He cried out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46) This darkness may well have signified the Father's judgment against the guilt Christ bore in His person on our behalf.
In any case, the darkness is certainly an appropriate reminder that the cross was a place
of judgment. In those awful hours of darkness, Christ was bearing the judgment meant for His people. He was standing their place as the wrath of God was being poured upon Him for their transgressions. That may be why the biblical narrative links the culmination of the darkness with Christ's outcry to the Father: "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?' that is, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'" (v. 46).
Matthew records what the taunting crowd said in response to Jesus' outcry: "Some of
those who stood there, when they heard that, said, 'This Man is calling for Elijah!'" (v. 47).
Eli is Hebrew for God. (Mark uses the Aramaic cognate, Eloi.) Lama sabachthani is
Aramaic, meaning, "Why have You forsaken Me?" Since Aramaic was the common
language of the region, it seems unlikely that all the spectators at the cross were truly
ignorant about the meaning of His words. It appears that their remark ("This Man is calling for Elijah!") was a deliberate misrepresentation of His words, another cruel and sadistic sneer at Christ.
Their behavior further makes clear their mocking intent: "Immediately one of them ran
and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to
drink. The rest said, 'Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him'" (vv. 47-49).
The one who ran to fetch the vinegar obviously did so for melodramatic effect, to complete his mockery by pretending to be generous and compassionate to Jesus, but really only seeking another means to taunt. Vinegar would have been a disappointing refreshment to someone in such a state of dehydration, though it would have helped some. In fact, shortly after this, when Christ did utter the words, "I thirst" (John 19:28), the vinegar was all He was offered. By then it was close at hand (v. 29) because of this
individual's devilish taunt. But at this point, others who were standing close by forbid the
prankster from giving Christ even mock assistance, saying, "Let Him alone; let us see if
Elijah will come to save Him." Despite the ominous darkness, they were reveling in Christ's sufferings, and they did not want anyone to offer Him relief, even if the assistance rendered were merely a fiendish insult.
Matthew indicates that such cruel taunting continued to the very end. It was at some
point in the midst of that continued taunting that Christ said, "I thirst," and was then given a sponge full of vinegar. Shortly afterward, "Jesus cried out again with a loud voice", saying "Tetelestai!" Then commending His spirit to God, He "yielded up His spirit" (Matthew 27:50).
The adventure continues.....
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