Friday, April 19, 2019

Good Friday - Jesus Screams In the Absolute Darkness




SCRIPTURE - MATTHEW 27:45-46


From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. 
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?"


Priest, in Jerusalem


WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THESE VERSES?

As Jesus hung suspended on a cross, an unnatural darkness began in the middle of the day, and continued into the natural darkness of sunset. New Testament scholar R. T. France writes: “Given the symbolic significance of the darkness as a divine communication there is little point in speculating on its natural cause: a solar eclipse could not occur at the time of the Passover full moon though a dust storm (‘sirocco’) or heavy cloud are possible.” (France, Mark, 651)

N.T. Wright writes: “It can’t have been an eclipse, because Passover happened at full moon, so that the moon would be in the wrong part of the sky.” (Wright, Mark for Everyone, 215)

Craig Keener says that the darkness "could come from heavy cloud cover. But the Gospel writers use it to convey a more profound theological point." (Keener, Matthew, 685)

However it happened, this was a God-caused darkness. Jesus is bearing the load of the sins of all humanity. Sin causes separation; in this case, from God. Sin separates us from Light. Sin is a darkness machine, a separation app. Sin and light cannot coexist.

Years ago Linda and I and our sons visited Cave of the Winds in Colorado Springs. We were guided into the depths of these tunnels to a place where we were told that, when the lights in the cave were turned off, we would experience "absolute darkness." I thought, "This is cool!"

The lights went off. We stood there, for several seconds. Our guide said, "You are now experiencing absolute darkness. Place your hand right in front of your eyes. You will not be able to see it."

He was right. It was so completely dark I could not see what was right before me. Had the lights failed us that day we would not have been able to see each other. I imagine we would have said things like, "Are you still near me?" "Are you here?" "We've got to stay close to each other!" And, "Don't abandon me while I'm in this darkness!"

On that day 2000 years ago the physical darkness that covered the land was not absolute, but the existential darkness was. The thickness of this world's sin and failure and shame and guilt weighed on the heart of One Man. Out of this ungodly darkness, Jesus screamed.

"Screamed?" I think so. The Greek wording here is: ἐβόησεν  ὁἸησοῦς φωνῇ μεγάλῃ. Eboesen ho Iesus phonay megalay. Phonay megale. A mega-phone! Jesus mega-screamed these words over and over and over again and again, the verb indicating continuous action. 
He doesn’t call God “Father,” but Ὁ θεόςμου ὁ θεός μου…  Ho Theosmou ho Theos mou...  “My God… My God…”Jesus is in union with Abba Father God, but it now feels like separation. Six hours after he was placed on the cross, three of them being hours of darkness, Jesus feels abandoned by God.

We don't know how long the feeling lasted. Assume three hours. Perhaps he screamed over and over for that long. And know that, for Jesus, it was utterly real and all-embracing. (Craig Keener comments that "the early church would hardly have invented Jesus’ cry of despair in uttering a complaint about alienation from God, quoting Ps. 22.” Keener, Matthew, 682)


As the weight of this world’s evil converges on Jesus, he is giving his life as “a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28). The sins of the “many,” which he is bearing, have caused a cloud to come between him and “Abba” – Father God. 

1 Peter 2:24 explains it this way:


He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, 
so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; 
by his wounds you have been healed. 

Paul, in Galatians 3:13, writes: 


Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law 
by becoming a curse for us, 
for it is written: 
"Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree."

The curse of sin is that it creates a great divide between us and God. Sin breaches relationship. As Jesus bears our sin he experiences the Great Separation. Listen to how N.T. Wright expresses this.

“Out of the unexplained cosmic darkness comes God’s new word of creation, as at the beginning… And it all happens because of the God-forsakenness of the son of God. The horror which overwhelmed Jesus in Gethsemane, and then seems to have retreated again for a few hours, came back in all its awfulness, a horror of drinking the cup of God’s wrath, of sharing the depth of suffering, mental and emotional as well as physical, that characterized the world in general and Israel in particular. The dark cloud of evil, Israel’s evil, the world’s evil, Evil greater than the sum of its parts, cut him off from the one he called ‘Abba’ in a way he had never known before. And welling up from his heart there came, as though by a reflex, a cry not of rebellion, but of despair and sorrow, yet still a despair that, having lost contact with God, still asks God why this should be.” (N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone, 216-217)


REFLECTION

1. Take time today to slow down in your heart, get alone, bow before God, and think of the suffering of the Christ.

2. Refuse to take for granted what Jesus has done for you. Consider how and what it means that he bore your sins, and by his stripes you are healed.

3. Express thanks to God for what he has accomplished on the cross, which is: your justification; your being set right with God.



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My two books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

I'm now working on...


Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart 

Technology and Spiritual Formation

I am editing a book of essays on the Holy Spirit, authored by my HSRM colleagues. Hopefully this book (Encounters With the Holy Spirit) will be out by June.

And, when all this settles, Linda and I intend on writing our book on Relationships.