The Day the Sun Refused to Shine

The Day the Sun Refused to Shine
Keith Phillips
April 9, 2020
Luke 23:44-45

Without question, the single most identifying marker of Christianity is the cross, as representing the cross upon which Jesus died. Hands down, the most universal symbol that depicts what it is to be a follower of Jesus Christ is a simple, empty cross.

Yet how strange are the ways of God that the cross should come to represent Christianity when we remember the horror with which crucifixions were regarded in the ancient world. It was an ignominious death, so much so that those like the Persians and Romans, who invented and perfected this slow, painful method of execution, reserved it for the worse of criminals, the vilest of offenders. So, the last place anyone would expect to find a king is hanging upon a cross. Yet, this is precisely where we find the King of kings, nailed to a wooden cross, His diadem a crown of thorns, His attendants His executioners.

We read of this dark hour in human history in Luke’s Gospel. Here we see that there is rejection at the foot of the cross. There is great ridicule and hate. There is pain and reproach. And ultimately, there is sin and death. But at the cross, there is also divine love and mercy displayed. You see, the cross simultaneously communicates the enormity of our sin and the penalty for it. And at the same time, it displays the enormity of God’s grace toward undeserved sinners like you and me.

For all who believe, the cross represents the accomplishment of redemption, the full forgiveness of sin, the complete satisfaction of God’s holy and righteous anger, reconciliation and a restored access with God, justification by God and with God, even life everlasting. Suffice to say, the cross is the focal point of God’s plan of salvation, the climax of all redemptive history. All roads in Scripture have been leading to this one, defining moment, and find their intersection in Christ’s cross. For this reason, the Puritan preacher and Bible commentator, Matthew Henry, asserts, “the cross is a story we must think about, and think about some more, until ultimately all thought is drowned, our hearts are touched, and our wills are completely subdued."

“It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two” (Lk. 23:44-45).

Jesus hung on the cross for a total of six hours. Scripture tells that our Lord was crucified at the 3rd hour (approximately 9 a.m.). The people had been standing there looking on. Rulers had been hurling insults and sneering. Robbers had been jeering verbal abuse. One of these thieves ultimately repented and received a wonderful assurance of salvation this very day. Jesus had uttered his first three words or statements from the cross already, the first two of which are reported by Luke. Then, at the sixth hour, 12 o’clock, something of a very dramatic nature took place as darkness envelopes the land for three hours until Christ dies at the 9th hour, or 3 p.m.

It is hard to fathom, but here we find recorded for us, the most tremendous period in all the running millennia. Only thirty-three years earlier there had been a dazzling light in the night sky announcing the birth of Christ, the long-awaited Messiah and Savior of the world. Now there is darkness at noontide as the Son of God dies by the hands of evil men. A black curtain falls over the stage of human history, shrouding the cross in a thick blanket of dramatic darkness.

But this was no ordinary darkness. This was a divine interruption into the ordinary course of nature. Though some translations suggest that the sun was merely eclipsed, this was no ordinary eclipse like the ones we may be accustomed to. For one thing, this blotting out of the sun lasted for three solid hours, whereas a total solar eclipse would typically last only a few minutes. Further, this was Passover, which meant that the timing of Christ’s crucifixion coincided with a full moon. This makes a solar eclipse impossible given that the moon is on the wrong side of the earth. We are left to conclude that this darkness had some other cause—a sovereign cause.

So what, we may ask, is the significance of this darkness? First, darkness in Scripture is often used as a symbol of mourning and grief. Listen to the words of the prophet, “And on that day, declares the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight… I will make it like the mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day” (Amos 8:9-10). These words became reality the day Jesus was crucified. The sun refused to shine as the Light of the World was seemingly snuffed out. James Montgomery Boice comments, “It was as if a veil had been drawn over the unspeakable suffering of God’s Son.” The cross, we might say, was draped in the mourning sackcloth of darkness.

The darkened sky was a symbol of mourning and sorrow, but second, it was also a sign of divine judgment. Darkness enveloped the land as Christ suffered the shame and reproach of the cross, becoming the sacrificial, substitutionary sin offering for mankind. The cross was like an altar upon which the perfect Lamb of God was slain to make the satisfying sacrifice for our sins. Functioning as both Priest and Sacrifice on that rugged cross, the Son of God bore the guilt of our sin and shame.

Simply put, the blotting out of the sun represented the eternal torments of the damned that Christ was enduring as He hung suspended between heaven and earth. To this point, Bible commentator, William Hendrickson remarks, “Hell came to Calvary that day and the Savior descended into it and bore its horrors in our stead.” So unimaginable was the reality of being forsaken by the Father that R.C. Sproul asks, “I wonder whether Jesus was even aware of the nails and thorns. He was overwhelmed by the outer darkness. On the cross, He was in hell, totally bereft of the grace and presence of God, utterly separated from all blessedness of the Father”.

On this first, Good Friday, there was a cosmic disturbance in creation itself that gave witness concerning what Jesus was spiritually accomplishing upon the cross—namely, suffering God’s judgment against our sin and in our place. In these bleak, silent, and dark hours, He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). It is no wonder that Jesus breaks the silence of this three-hour period, from noon-3 p.m., with that haunting cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

With horror, the Son now found his entire being to be sin in the Father’s sight. Wave after wave of our unrighteousness was poured over Christ’s sinless soul. All of our lies, adulteries, hatreds, selfish indulgences, anger, jealousies, murders, pride, the mass of our corruption was placed upon His perfect purity. Even more astounding, this Jesus did willingly, voluntarily so that we might, in turn, become the righteousness of God. “Well might the sun in darkness hide and shut His glories in, when Christ the Mighty Maker died for man, the creature’s sin” (from ‘Alas and Did My Savior Bleed’, Isaac Watts).

Keith Phillips - Elder

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