The passage can be read here.
We had a solar eclipse in the UK a few weeks ago. It wasn’t a total eclipse in South Wales where we live but it was still impressive enough to get me out in the garden with a colander and a sheet of paper to take some pictures. I even managed to get my wife, Jackie, to begrudgingly venture out to take a look, but to be honest, she wasn’t very interested. Eclipses are strange events, even though it wasn’t a total eclipse, it did get noticeably darker and colder. Birds stopped singing and it became very quiet. Whatever caused the darkness at the crucifixion, and we can say an eclipse is unlikely due to the position of the moon at Passover, it must have felt very strange and was probably frightening.
Whatever caused the darkness it was a miracle of God. From the Old Testament we know that darkness is sometimes associated with God’s judgement.
Before them the earth shakes,
the sky trembles,
the sun and moon are darkened,
and the stars no longer shine. (Joel 2:10)
In that day,” declares the Sovereign LORD,
“I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight. (Amos 8:9)
Even though we are sinful, we still get angry with sin, when we see the innocent oppressed and abused for instance. God is rightly angry with sin and the darkness is part of his judgement. Furthermore, it seems that at the cross, God is angry with Jesus. God’s righteous anger should have been focused on us – it’s what we deserve. Instead the judgement of God fell on Jesus as he died in place of sinners.
The torn curtain in the temple is very significant. It separated the Most Holy Place, where originally the Ark of the Covenant had been placed from the Holy Place. Only the priests where allowed in the Holy Place and only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place and even then only once a year. Outside was a court for men where Jewish men had access, outside that, a court for the women and then around that, right on the outside was a court for the gentiles. When Jesus died the curtain which was the barrier into the presence of God was torn, Matthew stated it was; ‘torn in two from top to bottom’ (Matthew 27:51). Jesus’ death has broken down the barriers; it’s almost as if God himself has reached down to tear it apart from Heaven to earth. The way is now open.
“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:18)
Jesus decided when it was time to die. As we’ve already considered, the victims of crucifixion tended to fade out of life unable to speak. Jesus called out in a loud voice. His words in death, a prayer from Psalm 31:5; ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’
There was no privacy for Jesus even in death. He was watched, every word noted, every breath observed. The centurion in charge of the crucifixion was impressed. He must have seen many die but he saw that Jesus was different. Similarly, the onlookers who had come to see the spectacle seemed moved by what they had seen. There are others too, those who knew him and had followed him on the long hard road to Jerusalem. From John we know Jesus’ mother had been at the cross earlier (John 19:26-27), did she stay to the end? I’m sure she remembered the words of Simeon more than thirty years earlier; ‘And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ (2:35)
Jesus died to save us. He faced a judgement that should have been ours. His death opened a way into the presence of a God who is holy. Salvation is God’s free gift, we can’t earn it or build up to it, it’s a gift we do not deserve yet we can receive anyway. But it isn’t cheap, Jesus gave everything, he paid the price in full, on the nail.
I believe as they beat on his beautiful face
He turned a torturer’s chair to an altar of grace
Where the worst we can do met the best that God does
Where unspeakable hate met the gaze
Of unstoppable love
At the crux of it all there he hangs
I’ve placed my hope in a crucified man
When the purest and best took the force of our curse
Death’s victory armada juddered into reverse…
And either we bow or we stumble and fall
For the wisdom of a suffering God
Has made fools of us all
I gladly admit that I am
But I’ve placed my hope in a crucified man