“From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.” (Matthew 27:45 NIV84)
For centuries Christians on this day (Good Friday) have participated in the tenebrae service (the service of darkness). Darkness comes into play in a couple of ways on Good Friday. Not only did we have the unnatural darkness from noon to 3 pm over the whole land, but Jesus, Himself, said that this was the day for “the hour of darkness.” This was a day of spiritual warfare and judgment. In our verse for today, Matthew recorded the three hours of darkness that came over the land at the tail end of Jesus’ crucifixion. I would like to use this devotion to argue that these three hours are the most spiritually significant hours in all eternity. Jesus, the very Son of God, was dying for the sins of all humanity. I’ve read books and articles that describe the pain and suffering that Jesus went through from His arrest on Thursday night and His crucifixion on Friday afternoon. I’ve read scientists’ and doctors’ descriptions of what Jesus’ body went through during His beatings, scourging, and finally the crucifixion itself. But I contend that none of that suffering compares to the suffering of the heart and soul that was taking place in the darkness.
Jesus’ first phrase from the darkness came nearly three hours in as He said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” This is a quote from Psalm 22, but startling words, nonetheless, coming from the Son of God. I believe this is the only time that Jesus ever failed to refer to God as “Father.” In this darkness, Jesus was drinking the cup of God’s wrath and punishment for our sins. He was experiencing separation from God (hell) on our behalf. He was experiencing suffering in that darkness that we can barely imagine. But Jesus was not only imagining the suffering, as He did in the Garden of Gethsemane, but rather that day He was experiencing it to the full. Would that it be just the physical suffering that comes from beatings and nails. But on this day, for Jesus, so much more was happening in the darkness.
Jesus’ second statement from the darkness is important for us to hear. It is so important that He welcomed a sponge soaked in wine-vinegar to be put to His mouth so His next words could be clearly heard. The next thing to come out of Jesus’ mouth was a single word, “Tetelestai!” (“It is finished!”). When He spoke this word, I assure you that not only did those near the cross hear it, but the sound of this word traveled to the heights of heaven and the depths of hell. The sound of this word had a deafening reverberation in the spiritual realms. Heaven rejoiced and hell surrendered to the assertive claim. It is a single word with a tremendously significant meaning. It is in the perfect passive tense. Jesus was proclaiming that He had accomplished (paid in full) a debt that went back to the beginning of time and would go forward until the end of time (the last day). With “tetelestai” Jesus had declared the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15. Not only had He appeased God’s wrath due to sin, but He had also crushed the head of the enemy. Jesus didn’t die a victim, but a Victor! He did everything that was necessary to redeem humanity and to destroy the power of the enemy. In this one word, we can be certain that our salvation is won! But we’re still not done.
Near the tail end of the darkness Jesus spoke His final phrase from the cross. He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Please notice the use of “Father.” This is proof positive that Jesus paid the price completely on the cross and accomplished the victory. He called to His heavenly Father to bring His spirit back to heaven because He had accomplished all that the Father had willed for Him. Note: The crucifixion did not kill Jesus. It killed the thieves crucified with Him, but it did not kill Him. Jesus, Himself, said that “He would lay His life down and pick it up again.” Jesus was not a victim of Roman crucifixion, but rather the Son of God who had accomplished the will of His Father and was now returning to Him.
On this Good Friday, may we peer into the darkness of that day long enough to be overwhelmed to know the extent to which God would go to show us His love. May the last three phrases of Jesus from the darkness remind us that we have been freed from ever having to experience what He experienced in those hours. Finally, may the word tetelestai (it is finished) grow to have a more significant meaning for our daily lives.