Of all the national powers that have ever existed, no nation or ideology can come close to the impact of Christ’s death on the cross. Without the cross, we would have no resurrection. Without the cross, we could not experience God’s profound love. Without the cross, Satan and demons would rule over the earth.
The cross was Jesus’s crowning act of obedience and love. And this obedience and love the Father profoundly approved and enjoyed. Therefore, Paul says this amazing thing: “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.“ (Ephesians 5:2, ESV). The death of Jesus was a fragrance to God.
But, let’s camp out on one particular verse that is often overlooked in the cross narrative, “Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.” (Matthew 27:45, NKJV).
Three hours of darkness and silence. Imagine that. Darkness covered the land. Man had done his last and worst. What was this darkness? What does it really mean? Why do all the synoptic gospels mention it?
Jesus had said as he entered Jerusalem, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” (John 12:23, NIV). At the garden of Gethsemane, three days later, Jesus had prophesied to his captors, “This is your hour, and the power of darkness.” (Luke 22:53, ESV). The hour of darkness has come.
It’s the hour of evil. It’s the hour of Satan’s greatest opportunity to take out Jesus. Darkness for three hours. Darkness rules and Jesus feels the abandonment of His Father.
This is why Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me.” (Matthew 27:46, NKJV). In the death of Christ, God laid on him our sins. In hatred of sin, but love for the sinner, God turned away his sin-laden Son and gave him up to suffer the full force of death and cursing. Darkness ruled.
But the darkness ruled for only three hours. Jesus emerges as Christo Victor. Paul describes it well in his letter to the Colossians, “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.” (Colossians 2:13-15, NKJV).
Jesus triumphed over evil during those three hours of darkness. “The darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.” (John 1:5, CEB). The chief priests joined in the hellish taunt, “He saved others; but He cannot save himself,” and they laughed at him. But here is the truth and don’t miss this: In order to save others, Christ will not save himself.
Why did he not save himself? Because God is love, and true love is never satisfied with the destruction, but with the saving, of the sinner. Love is not about annihilation but restoration! Jesus did not save himself in those three hours, he saved you and me. He did not come down from the cross, He went up to the cross in order that we might not.
The life that Jesus lived qualified Him for the death He died—the death He died qualified us for the life we can now live. “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish it.” (John 1:5, CEB).
On the road,
Steve Holt D.D. MA