************ Sermon on Matthew 27:45-46 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 10, 2009
"Darkness and Hope"
A Christ experienced darkness on the Friday we call good. I want you to observe with me that what Christ experienced was increasing darkness.
We start by thinking of the betrayal by Judas. Try to imagine a trusted friend and companion, someone you have shared good times and bad times with, someone you have come to depend on and lean on. Imagine your feelings, your anger, your bitterness, the darkness, when this friend betrays your trust (Jn 13:18-30).
We think of the Garden of Gethsemane. Remember His prayer of anguish: "Father ... take this cup from me ..." (Lk 22:42)? Remember the earnestness of His prayer: His sweat like drops of blood falling to the ground (Lk 22:44)? Remember how there is not for Him any prayer support, how the disciples keep falling asleep as He prays (Mt 26:40,43,45)?
We think of the Sanhedrin. It is an illegal meeting of the assembly, there are trumped-up charges, witnesses lie, the death penalty does not fit the crime He is found guilty of, and after the trial He is beaten and spit upon (Mt 26:57-67).
We think of Peter. He is scared, scared for his life, so he denies even knowing the Lord, let alone being one of His disciples (Mt 26:69-75). And Peter does this after saying he will never deny or forsake the Lord (Mt 26:35).
We think of the crucifixion (Mt 27:32-44). How painful is it? One man describes it like this:
The unnatural position makes every movement painful; lacerated veins and crushed tendons throb with anguish; exposed wounds gradually gangrene; arteries – especially at the head and stomach – become swollen and oppressed with blood; and while each variety of misery goes on gradually increasing, there is added to them the pang of a burning and raging thirst.
We think of death (Mt 27:50). What can be blacker, darker, than the death of Him Who is light?
We think of burial (Mt 27:57-61). Imagine that: the Lord of glory put in a grave.
B In this evening's text we come to the heart of all this darkness experienced by Christ.
(Mt 27:45-46) From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. (46) About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" – which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" How can this be? It is the middle of the day – around noon. It can't be an eclipse for it is the time of the Passover which is always held during a full moon, when no eclipse is possible.
We turn to the book of Genesis and we read there that in the beginning "darkness was over the surface of the deep" (Gen 1:2). You know what happens next:
(Gen 1:3-5) And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. (4) God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. (5) God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day. By God's decree, ever since that first day of creation, light and darkness each have their separate place. But not on Good Friday. On Good Friday the darkness leaves its appointed place. It invades the light. The darkness which God has separated from the light and joined to the night, is dislocated and moved into the midday.
C It should not escape our notice that darkness implies the judgment of God. Recall, for instance, the ninth plague God sent to the Egyptians.
(Ex 10:21-23) Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt – darkness that can be felt." (22) So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. (23) No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days.Jesus Himself referred to the place of outer darkness that is reserved for those on whom the judgment of God will rest. It is a horrible place, a place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30).
We also cannot help but notice that even Jesus is in the midst of darkness. In other words, even Jesus has the judgment and curse of God resting upon Him.
D Darkness points not only to judgment but also to separation, isolation, aloneness. When that supernatural darkness descends, Jesus is separated, isolated, and alone.
In a final assault on Jesus, our text shows Him cut off in the darkness. He Who came to join all men to Himself is utterly alone. Even as the nails drive apart the joints in Jesus' body and the cross tears at His shoulders, so the darkness cuts Him off from all Whom He loves: His disciples, His family, His friends, even His Father in heaven.
He is in the heart of darkness, all alone, even without the Father. So He cries out, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" These words of our Savior are nothing less than amazing. Time after time God is presented on the pages of Scripture as being so faithful. His promise to His people is,
(Heb 13:5) Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. (Cf Deut 31:6)Never once does God fail to live up to this. When Israel cries out to God because of the cruel bondage they are suffering in Egypt, He hears and delivers them. When the children of Israel stand helpless between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army, God comes to their defense and delivers them from their enemies. When the three Hebrews are cast into Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace, the Lord is with them. But here, at the Cross, with His only begotten Son hanging there, God is absent.
"Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" This cry startles, staggers, and surprises us. Imagine, the only begotten of God, the eternal and natural Son of God, making such a cry! Didn't God say at the baptism and the transfiguration of Christ, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased" (Mt 3:17; 16:5)? Didn't Christ live in the bosom of the Father? From eternity, and during thirty some years here on earth, didn't Christ enjoy unbroken fellowship with the Father? Never once did Christ have a thought, a word, a deed out of harmony with the Father's will. Jesus lived not one second out of the conscious presence of the Father. But now, now the beloved Son is forsaken by the Father: "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" This cry, I say, startles, staggers, and surprises us.
E This cry also demands an answer. Why does God forsake Jesus in both body and soul? Why is Jesus physically and spiritually abandoned by God? What breaks the bond of perfect communion that has existed from eternity between the Father and the Son? Why does Jesus have to suffer the pangs and torments of hell? Why is the Father's curse upon the Son? What is the barrier that now exists between the first and second persons of the Triune Godhead? Why is Jesus alone in the heart of darkness?
The answer is sin. I think of 2 Corinthians 5:21 which says, "God made him who had no sin to be sin ..." Jesus becomes sin, He takes on sin, He is cursed and abandoned and forsaken, He is in the heart of darkness, all because of sin. Your sin. My sin. The sin of the world.
A We need to recognize that there is more than darkness in the words of our text:
(Mt 27:45-46) From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. (46) About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" – which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"How horrible it is to be without hope. But Christ, and we because of Christ, are not without hope. Hope in the heart of darkness – that's what we see in our text for this evening.
In a psychiatric institution there was a man who was nicknamed "No Hope Carter." His was a tragic case. A victim of a non-treatable disease, he was going through the final stages where the brain is affected. Before he began to lose his mind, this man was told by the doctors that there was no known cure for him. He begged for one ray of light in his darkness, but was told that the disease would run its inevitable course and end in death.
Gradually his brain deteriorated and he became more and more despondent. Two weeks before he died he was in his small, locked room pacing up and down in mental agony. His eyes stared blankly, and his face was drawn and ashen. Over and over he muttered two forlorn and fateful words: "No hope! No hope!" He said nothing else, and no one could pierce the veil of darkness that surrounded him.
B Hope in the heart of darkness. So you can see this in our text, I have to tell you a very important principle of Biblical interpretation. The principle is this: when the New Testament quotes an Old Testament verse, the entire passage and not just the one verse is in mind.
In the heart of darkness Jesus cries out, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" This is a direct quote from the Hebrew of Psalm 22:1. Though it is especially the first verse that Jesus has in mind, He is also thinking of the rest of the psalm.
I would like to ask you to turn with me to Psalm 22. We see so much there that applies to the sufferings of Christ upon the cross.
(Ps 22:6-8) But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. (7) All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: (8) "He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him."
(Ps 22:16) Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.
(Ps 22:18) They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.
In verses 22-31 this Psalm takes on a decidedly positive note. Follow along as I read these brief selections:
(Ps 22:22-23) I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you. (23) You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
(Ps 22:25) From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows.
Why this change from darkness and pain to praise and worship? What accounts for this? We are given the answer in verse 24:
(Ps 22:24) For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.
In crying out from the cross the opening words of Psalm 22, our Lord most certainly also has in mind the hope of verse 22 on. In other words, even in the heart of darkness, while experiencing the agony of being abandoned and cursed and forsaken by God, even then and there Christ is thinking of the victory of Easter Sunday.
C Hope in the heart of darkness – that's what we see in our text. And there is hope not only for Christ but also for us because of Christ. We see our hope in the triumphant conclusion to Psalm 22. The psalm starts with the personal: I, me, my. It ends with the plural: brothers, congregation, descendants, great assembly, ends of the earth, families of the nations, posterity, future generations.
What's the connection between Christ and us? In being forsaken by God, Christ took on our sin. I think again of what the Apostle Paul says:
(2 Cor 5:21) God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.Christ took our place! He was forsaken so we don't have to be. He was separated from God so we don't have to be. He was in the heart of darkness so we don't have to be. So, we say with the psalmist:
(Ps 22:23) You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
Darkness and hope. That's what we hear in the awful cry from the cross.
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