If the timeline of human history is imagined as an hourglass, the crucifixion of Christ would be the pinch point, the narrow part in the middle. All human history and biblical prophecy points to the death of Christ on the cross. The dispensation of grace flows and expands outwards from this singular point in time. God’s merciful justification of the human race, His eternal plan of salvation and redemption flow outwards from this singular point in history to encompass every person, land and era.
Up to this point in the narrative, Mark points to the physical suffering, the mockery, and the hatred of men. Men had done their worst, physically and mentally, to vent their hatred at the Lord Jesus Christ. They wanted to weaken, humiliate, and destroy Him and His gospel. Now, the punishment heaped upon the Lord turns to the moral dimension and His bearing of our sins in His own body on the tree.
A very large proportion of Old Testament prophecy looks forward to the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the narrative now, the sheer concentration of prophecies and scripture fulfilled is worthy of mention. In the death and burial of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Gospels confirm the fulfilment of prophecy seemingly in every other verse! As we go through Mark chapter 15, fulfilled prophecy is woven into the narrative.
Man had committed the worst atrocities against the only begotten Son of God Himself, not recognizing that He was dying on their behalf.
Man’s cruelty was already felt in His physical suffering, the taunts of men and His humiliation. Now, it was going to get much worse for the Lord Jesus. There was darkness over the whole land for three hours.
What a perfect, holy, morally upright God’s wrath against sin meant for His Son, was unseen even by those at the foot of the cross. This was an act of mercy on God’s part. The people at the cross would include the women who so dearly loved and followed Him. You could imagine that they did not need to see the agony of their beloved Christ suffering for their sins. However, even His enemies would not be able to bear the sight.
The three hours of darkness symbolizes a withdrawal of God’s light and favour. The cold, hard reality of abandonment would be experienced by Christ. Christ Himself is referred to as ‘the light’, John 8. 12, and 1. 4, 5. The ‘holy, harmless, undefiled’ one, was bereft of the warmth and comfort that follows from the perfect unsullied relationship with God. It also signifies to the people around who were witnessing that they were putting to death and extinguishing the ‘light of the world’.
The Israelites would be bereft of the warmth of their relationship with God. The darkness had already been prophesied, ‘And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day’, Amos 8. 9. The Israelites would know from their founding history, that while they were slaves, God delivered them marvellously from Egypt. The immediate precursor to the plague that set them free was the plague of thick darkness of three days. The stubbornness of Pharoah would ensure that the plague of darkness would be followed by the plague of the death of the first-born. Israel should have been ecstatic about the arrival of Messiah, the Son of the living God. Instead, their actions and hard heartedness caused them to lose the only begotten. Spurgeon says, ‘Observe that when He was born, midnight turned to midday, and when He died midday turned to midnight’.1
It should be remembered that the punishment borne by the Lord Jesus Christ during the darkness was in addition to the physical and mental agony that He was already facing. It was not as though any of the previous pain or torment had stopped and this was a new torment. In addition to what man inflicted, the wrath of an absolutely holy God against the ‘sins of the whole world’, 1 John 2. 2, past, present and future was being visited upon the one who was daily His delight and the one who was in the bosom of the Father. This includes the very sinful actions that were at that very moment being perpetrated. The sheer magnitude of grace shown towards man can be seen in this - Christ was facing the righteous wrath of God against the injustice of the crucifixion which was being perpetrated against Himself! As the centurion said, ‘Truly this … was the Son of God’, v. 39.
At the ninth hour, Christ cried ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani … My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ v. 34. This is an echo of abandonment from Psalm 22, and another reminder from scripture about what was prophesied.
This was not just muttered under His breath. This was a clear, loud voice to be heard by all standing at the site. They would all know that the Saviour felt alone and abandoned. We have no record of anguish from the Lord Jesus Christ when He was abandoned by all on His journey to the cross. Judas had betrayed Him. Peter had denied Him. His disciples had run away. His earthly family did not believe Him (until later). ‘My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my sore; and my kinsmen stand afar off’, Ps. 38. 11.
He was not only abandoned by the judicial system and the priestly class, but they also actively took part in crucifying Him. However, during all these times we do not have a record of Him expressing His abandonment.
God is a God of absolute justice. ‘In him is no sin’, 1 John 3. 5. Yet here we see Him hanging on the cross, being made a curse for us. The wages of sin is death, enmity, and exile from God Himself. It was surely of utmost difficulty for Him to be abandoned in such a manner. But here at the cross we see that Christ feels that God Himself has abandoned Him. ‘The Redeemer was left alone with the sinner’s sin’.2 In quoting Psalm 22, Christ lets us have a glimpse into the torment of His soul. Lamentations chapter 1 verse 12 states, ‘Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger’.
Surely, we would struggle to know how to answer such a question. As happens so often today, people would talk about the injustice of God not intervening in the unjust punishment of a righteous man. If anyone was able to question why He was abandoned, it would be Christ. Yet, we see the psalmist in Psalm 22 acknowledging the greater good that would come from this abandonment. Psalm 22 verse 3 states that God is holy. The overall objective in the redemption plan of God is also mentioned in this Messianic psalm, vv. 25-31. Christ has already acknowledged this and is putting His Father’s plan into action, and, in the process, willing to be forsaken by His God! Hallelujah, what a Saviour!
It is interesting to note the time He uttered these words. It was uttered at the ninth hour, after the three hours of darkness and loneliness. While going through dark times and difficulty, if a person has a scintilla of hope or any knowledge that he/she will get through this stage, he/she will soldier on, fight and persevere. It is when there is no hope and no chance that anguish completely overcomes a person. The Lord is omniscient. He knew that He had ‘power to lay it down, and … power to take it again’, John 10. 18. He knew He would rise up again and He said so to others. And yet it is interesting that Christ did not utter this cry at the beginning of the period of darkness but at the end of the period of darkness. His task was almost complete. He knew it and yet, the weight and effect of His separation and the punishment that He had endured at the hands of a righteous God compelled Him to cry these words out.
The darkness and the prophecies fulfilled had so far failed to move the hard hearts of those around the cross. The crowds mocked Him, saying He called for Elijah. Although it is John that records the words ‘I thirst’, Mathew and Mark record the fact that He was given a drink. At least out of sympathy for a dying man, a sip of water to a tortured, dehydrated man would have comforted Him. Yet they chose to further humiliate Him. However, it was prescient in further fulfilling prophecy, Ps. 69. 21.
We can understand the state of His physical thirst, His tongue would cleave to His jaws, Ps. 22. 15. Christ would not use His omnipotence to slake His thirst. He had already told Satan that ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God’, Matt. 4. 4. The humiliation of Christ was immense. Here is the one who would create water, divide the waters and walk on water being made a sorry spectacle; pinned to a cross with men taunting Him with vinegar. Think of the acidic vinegar touching His parched, broken and bloodied lips. When they heard Him, they mocked Him saying that this was a call for help from Elias. Wright alludes to the prophetic power through which the Lord was unveiled to the world. He says, ‘Just as Elijah challenged the powers of darkness to the great contest, in which the god who answers by fire was to be God, so now Jesus takes on the rulers of the world; the might of Rome, the law of Israel and behind both, the usurping and destroying power of Satan’.3 It is ironic that they should invoke the history of Elijah in this context. The priests and the scribes were cold hearted and putting to death their Messiah and Saviour. Their homage and worship of God was through mechanical and superficial adherence to the law. It was not the sacrifice of the chief priests and scribes that pleased God. Instead, God was pleased with the sacrifice of Christ. Just as fire fell and consumed completely the burnt offering on Mount Carmel, the offering on Calvary was the sacrifice deemed acceptable by God. It was also a rejection and repudiation of the Cain-like sacrifice of the religious leaders of the day.
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