OUT OF DARKNESS
It was high noon. Stomachs were growling. Servants scurried about fetching water, wine, and food. They piled dates, pomegranates, olives, grapes, figs on low tables for their masters to come and recline. Sandals were left at the door. The morning dust was being wiped off of hands preparing to eat. Others who could not afford the luxury of pausing midday, took out their food that had been wrapped that morning for them to eat. It was meager, but enough to calm their rumbling stomachs and put out the ache of hunger that seemed ever close by in a time and place where food was for survival, not extravagance. People everywhere were gathering for the noon meal. The sun had risen that morning, like every morning, but amidst the normal routine of people in Jerusalem – in fact in the midst of the routine of people in every city, in every place, this particular day was anything but routine.
Because at high noon, right when hunger set in, the world went dark. The sun stopped shining.
Businesses stood still, farmers stopped working, people stopped walking and talking and stared up at the sky. It was a universal moment of silence and questioning as everyone looked up wondering what had happened? What had happened to the sun?
What was going on? It was high noon? They should feel the warmth of the sun on their face. They should wipe the sweat from their brow. They should have another six hours of light before dark. What was going on? What happened to the sun?
They did not have their lamps with them. They weren’t prepared for a blackout. The masters of the house called out for light... at noon. The servants must have tripped over each other stumbling in the dark, startled and unprepared. A few let out curses as they stubbed their toes.
It was the middle of the day. People were at their busiest. And now, no one could move unless they reached out their hands to feel their way around like one who was blind. They weren’t used to walking in the dark.
It was only a few minutes after twelve o'clock noon and slowly the twinkling lights from frantically found oil lamps slowly began appearing in a dark Jerusalem. It was midday and it felt like midnight. Only people were not in their beds.
Luke tells us that during the crucifixion of Jesus, it was not only the dark night of the soul, but it was literally dark outside:
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. Luke 23:44-45
On a hill, known to the people as Golgatha, the place of the skull, the Romans were crucifying more criminals. They did this to publicly humiliate and shame them – but more importantly to warn the population not to get out of hand. Do not mess with the power Rome.
But on this particular Friday, it was not only criminals that were subjected to the hideous torture that crucifixion brought. For one of three men was an innocent man, it was Jesus.
He had been betrayed by Judas, abandoned by his disciples, put on trial, flogged, ridiculed, mocked, humiliated, embarrassed, his clothes taken, a crown of thorns placed upon his head, and then his hands and feet nailed to a cross. Many had gathered to watch, jeer, sneer, and mock. Others watched with horror as the one who had healed them, who had taught them, who had laughed with them, the one who had fed them, the one who had miraculous powers to cast out demons, heal the sick, and calm the storms was taken from them. They were powerless to do anything. Where was the power of Jesus that they had witnessed? Couldn’t he come down and save himself?
Perhaps those most impacted were those who he had restored their sight. Jesus had healed the blind. And on that day at Calvary, perhaps they understood the most what was happening as the world went dark around them. For just a short time ago Jesus had set them free from a lifetime of darkness.
Now, by the time the darkness came, Jesus had already hung on the cross for three hours, from nine o’clock in the morning to twelve noon.
As Jesus neared death on the cross, God caused the world to be cast in darkness, perhaps as the shadow of God’s grief, as his only Son died. And as the world looked up and asked, “Where is the sun?” God responded, "Look up at the cross… “Where is mySon?”
Historians, outside of the Bible even acknowledge that something strange happened that day. C. Tertullian, a church historian, wrote to pagan adversaries in the second century. He wrote,
“At the moment of Christ’s death, the light departed from the sun and the land was darkened at noonday. This wonder is related in your own annals and is preserved in your archives to this day.” – Tertullian
Phlegon, a Roman astronomer, says of that day,
“The greatest eclipse of the sun that was ever known happened then, for the day was so turned into night that the stars appeared.” – Phlegon
People have tried with great fervor to explain away the miracle of darkness.
Some think it was just a solar eclipse. But astronomers tell us that this was during the Passover, a full moon, and impossible at this time. Even if it was a solar eclipse, the maximum possible duration of a total solar eclipse is seven minutes and 31.1 seconds…not THREE HOURS. Others suggest a lunar eclipse, but the darkness happened during the day, not the night. Some posture a volcano that put ash over the land, like Pompeii, but this is never mentioned anywhere nor is there any evidence for it. Perhaps a large thunder storm with clouds rolled in? Or a heavy dust storm? Again, we have no record of this and the suddenness and completeness of the dark doesn’t make this likely. One writer argues it was “an oppressive gloom that followed after an earthquake."
Perhaps this theory is the closest. For scripture tells us that,
"At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split, and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life." Matthew 27:51-52
There was an earthquake at the death of Jesus. But the earth went dark before the earthquake. It was under the cover of darkness that Jesus had his final hours. Matthew reports that Jesus cried out his final words about three in the afternoon.
From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). Matthew 27:45-46
God brought a cover of darkness when his only Son was dying. Maybe it was to blind human eyes to an event that was too sacred for them to behold. For the very Son of God was dying. Maybe it was because the world had shown such spiritual blindness to the truth of God that God brought physical darkness to bring it full circle.
In nature, darkness always surrenders to light. The dawn always follows the dark night. Bright stars punch holes of light in the dark sky.
But here, the darkness of Calvary was so intense that it smothered the light.
Do you remember as a child being afraid of the dark? Maybe it’s because you saw creepy shadows or heard mysterious noises. You were sure there was something hiding in the closet…or under your bed…Maybe it’s because your imagination got carried away and as you were peering into the darkness you wondered what kind of evil monster was lurking there, just waiting to pounce on you? Whatever it was, that fear was real in your mind.
Darkness makes us feel vulnerable and even afraid.
When darkness descends upon us these days, we are quite powerful. With the flick of a switch of a flashlight, we can force the darkness away. Darkness does not stop us. We can light our own way now. We can see in the dark, we can read in the dark, we can even drive in the dark.
We turn our car headlights on and let that light push us through the night. It makes us feel like we are in control in the dark. But unplug us, remove us from our electrical source, or our car battery, and we are not so powerful. Only God truly has power over the darkness.
God created everything out of darkness. He brought the light. He established the cycle of day and night. He hung the stars, the sun, and the moon in the sky. For there is no darkness in God.
God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. I John 1:5
But God has power over the darkness and God uses darkness to reveal deep things. Treasures. Things that we cannot see in the light.
And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness--secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name. Isaiah 45:3 NLT
God turned out the lights on the world on that Friday over 2000 years ago. Some may have thought it was to hide a scandalous death. But perhaps the world also went dark to remind it that the death of Jesus was not a sign of weakness. But a sign of POWER.
God’s power has been shown all through scripture that He controls the darkness.
God brought the darkness when God’s people were in captivity in Egypt. One of the plagues that Moses ushered in upon Pharaoh was the Plague of Darkness. Moses stretched his hand and a darkness spread over Egypt; a darkness that could be felt. For three days Exodus chapter 10 tells us that no Egyptian could see or move about. God used that darkness to help free his people from captivity. God would now use this darkness to free the world from the captivity of sin.
God cast his prophet Jonah into the darkness for three days in the belly of a great fish that swallowed him. For three days Jonah sat in darkness, waiting, hoping, praying, and seeking God. God used that darkness to change a heart of rebellion to become a heart of surrender. God would use this darkness to change many hearts of rebellion to sweet surrender.
The prophet Amos even prepares the people that this day of darkness was coming….
“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
I doubt anyone saw the darkness coming that day. I’m sure no one knew what to do with it while it lasted three hours. Maybe it caught people’s attention that God was doing something to which we needed to pay attention.
Maybe some realized weeks later that three hours of darkness was to prepare them for three days of waiting. For in three days Jesus would burst forth from the darkness of death, the very darkness of a tomb, he would come into the light, he would be the light, he would be our light, he would be the light of the world.
God brought the darkness to bring you out of it. Jesus went into the darkness to bring us out of it.
Lisa Toney, Champion of Hope