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May 2004 | by Roger Ellsworth

The darkness of Calvary

Have you ever tried to imagine yourself watching the crucifixion of Jesus? What would you have found most unforgettable? With no shortage of details from which to choose, I would select the darkness that shrouded the land. This darkness fell at noon and lasted until three o’clock.

There has never been such darkness. The darkness of the darkest night could not equal it. William Hendriksen calls this darkness ‘intense and unforgettable’. Charles Spurgeon says it was ‘midnight at midday’.

This darkness becomes even more astonishing when we reflect on Jesus as the dispeller of darkness.

Go to the beginning. There is the earth — ‘without form and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep’ (Genesis 1:2-3). But Christ, by whom all things were created (Colossians 1:16), said, ‘Let there be light’, and the darkness rolled away.

The darkness of death

Throughout his public ministry, the Lord Jesus dispelled darkness. There was that pathetic man possessed with a legion of demons. Living among the tombs, he went about shrieking and terrorising the people. They tried to bind him, without success. The darkness of sin and despair is written all over this man, but Jesus sets him free (Mark 5:1-20).

Then consider the heart-wrenching situation in which Jairus loses his daughter. The darkness of death descends on her, even as her father pleads with Jesus to come and heal her. The servants say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?’ (Mark 5:35).

But death is no trouble for Jesus. He goes with Jairus and drives away the darkness of death (Mark 5:41-42).

Again, Bartimaeus sits in the darkness of blindness. He cannot see the children playing. He cannot see the blue sky or the trees gently swaying in the breeze. He cannot see the stars or the glowing hues of the sunset.

Everyone thinks his situation is hopeless — but Jesus, the dispeller of darkness, comes along and liberates him from his darkness (Mark 10:46-52).

These are just a few instances in which Jesus drove darkness away. It is no wonder that he said, ‘As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world’ (John 9:5).

Astonishment

Light followed Jesus wherever he went, and darkness fled before him. But the darkness did not flee when Jesus hung upon the cross. Instead, it engulfed him.

He, the darkness-dispeller, could have made it vanish. He could have said again, ‘Let there be light’. If he had done so, the darkness would have evaporated and barren Golgotha would have been bathed in light.

Why, then, did Jesus endure the darkness of Calvary? Part of the reason is that it was fitting for the realm of nature to register horror as men crucified the Lord of glory.

I asked the heavens, ‘What foe to God hath done
This unexampled deed?’
The heavens exclaim,
Twas man; and we in horror
snatched the sun
From such a spectacle of guilt and shame.

Thomas Manton writes: ‘The sun seemed to be struck blind with astonishment, and the frame of nature to put itself into a funeral garb and habit, as if the creatures durst not show their glory … while Christ was suffering’.

Hell came to Calvary

But that is only part of the explanation. The rest of it lies in what Jesus was doing on that cross. He was there as the sin-bearer. He had no sin of his own, but he went willingly to the cross to suffer the penalty of God’s wrath against the sins of his people.

Jesus experienced hell itself — banishment from the Father — so that his people might escape it. He explained the darkness of Calvary when he cried out, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27:46).

Hell is the place of separation from God. As such, it is the place of ultimate darkness. Jesus’ endurance of hell for his elect was symbolised by physical darkness enveloping the world.

William Hendriksen declares: ‘Hell came to Calvary that day, and the Savior descended into it and bore its horrors in our stead’.

It comes down to this fundamental proposition — Jesus refused to dispel the darkness of Calvary, that he might scatter the darkness of our sin.

The light of heaven

He is dispelling that darkness even to this day. Because of Christ, every child of God can gladly join the apostle Paul in saying, ‘God who commanded light to shine out of darkness … has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4:6).

By his atoning work upon the cross, Jesus saves sinners. He drives away the darkness of their sin and grants ‘repentance … and forgiveness of sins’ (Acts 5:31). He says to those who hear his voice and follow him: ‘I bore the darkness of your hell upon the cross, and I give you eternal life’ (see John 10:28).

All who come to the Lord Jesus can be assured that they will never see the darkness of hell but only the light of heaven. They will experience the truth of these words: ‘And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be [there] and his servants shall serve him.

‘They shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads. And there shall be no night there. They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever’ (Revelation 22:3-5).

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