What is striking about Matthew’s account of the crucifixion is the number of supernatural events that accompany the final three hours and the death of Jesus (Matt. 27:45-54). The sky turned dark at midday. The curtain in the temple was ripped in two. There was an earthquake. Tombs were opened and some of the dead came to life.
These were cosmic signs – “apocalyptic fireworks,” as one writer puts it – bearing witness to the reality that powerful things “were happening behind the scenes through the death of Jesus of Nazareth.” This is what happened when the Sinless One was made sin; when the Lord of Glory was crucified; when the Author of Life died. The created order was testifying that something of unparalleled magnitude was taking place to the Creator himself. Let’s reflect on the first of these events.
Darkness Covers the Land
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. Matthew 27:45 (ESV)
In the prophecy of Amos 8:9 we read, “‘And on that day,’ declares the Lord God, ‘I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.’” That day had come.
There are some profound ironies in Jesus being engulfed in darkness on the cross. For example, on two occasions in the Gospel of John, Jesus declared, “I am the light of the world” (8:12; 9:5). In fact, John introduces his gospel by saying of Christ, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). And again, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (1:9). In John 12:46, Jesus could say: “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in Me may not remain in darkness.”
At the Transfiguration, the glory of the Son of God was unveiled for a moment, and Matthew 17:2 says Jesus’ “face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” – Mark says “his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:3; cf. Luke 9:29).
We hear in 1 John 1:5 that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” When we are redeemed, Peter says, we “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
In Revelation 1, we are given a description of the risen, glorified Christ. John says, “his face was like the sun shining in full strength.” When we move forward, into eternity and get a glimpse of the new heaven and the new earth, Revelation 21:23 declares, “the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” Revelation 22:5 adds, “And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light.”
But now, on the cross, Jesus, the Light of the World, the essence and source of light, is engulfed in darkness. What happened during those three hours of darkness? We don’t understand the depths of all that was transpiring, but verse 46 gives us some insight: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”
It is out of this darkness that Jesus’ cry of desolation comes, because during those hours the Son of God took the burden of our sins upon himself, and was punished for them in our place. To use the language of Isaiah 53, “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised [or crushed] for our iniquities.” The darkness speaks of divine judgment that was taking place. Christ was there as the propitiation for our sins – absorbing and bearing the full measure of the wrath of God. Jesus Christ was experiencing the just punishment of a holy God against sin and unrighteousness. Again, Isaiah 53:10 says, “the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief.” And the lights went out.
What makes it all the more amazing to us is that Jesus himself is the holy one of God. He never sinned. He enjoyed unbroken fellowship with the Father in the glory of the Godhead from eternity past. And when he laid aside that glory to come to this earth, the Father opened the heavens to declare at his baptism and again at the transfiguration: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17; 17:5).
But now the heavens are silent, as Christ suffers the judgment of God for us … in our place condemned he stood. It was our sin that created a disruption in the glorious fellowship of the Godhead. The hymn-writer, Isaac Watts, wrote, “Well might the sun in darkness hide and shut his glories in, when Christ, the mighty Maker, died for man, the creature’s, sin.”
One of the great preachers of the twentieth century was Donald Grey Barnhouse. Barnhouse tells of the time he visited the Hoover Dam and was impressed at how this great structure held back water for miles and miles. As he looked at the dam, he thought of God’s patience. He said, “The first time there was ever a sin committed, the wrath of God was stored up against that sin. As more men lived upon the earth, and as their hearts grew more wicked…the store of wrath grew greater and greater, held back by the patience of God, which lies across the valley of His judgment like a dam across the river.”
Then Barnhouse speaks of the cross where “the Lord Jesus Christ came and stood before the dam of God’s patience…In that dark hour the storm of God’s wrath reached its peak. The sun grew dark, night fell upon the earth at noon. God broke down the dam of His patience, and the raging waves flooded upon the Lord Jesus.” That’s what was happening during the three hours of darkness.
So, on this Good Friday, rejoice in the death of Christ. Remember that Jesus cried that agonizing cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” so that we will never have to utter such words. Jesus experienced the wrath and judgment of God so that we might be spared. Jesus died so that we might live…now and forever.
What’s your response? I hope it’s not indifference or unbelief. I hope your heart cries out: “Hallelujah! What a Savior!”
 Derek Tidball, The Message of the Cross (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 132.
 Donald Grey Barnhouse, Man’s Ruin (repr.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 1:227-228.
Mark Stevenson (PhD, University of Wales) has been teaching in the Bible and Theology Department at Emmaus since 1999. He is the author of the book "The Doctrines of Grace in an Unexpected Place." He and his wife Tonya have 4 children and live in Dubuque, IA.