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When Darkness Falls

Monday, August 21st, 2017

Today the United States is seized by eclipse-mania, as millions of people across the nation don odd-looking spectacles to observe a rarely glimpsed solar eclipse. Many are traveling large distances to get the best vantage point for the complete – or in some cases near complete – obscuration of the sun. Yet the most dramatic historical darkening of the skies was global, and concealed the central event of human history: Christ’s vicarious, sacrificial death. As the Gospel records it:

Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, ‘Father, “into Your hands I commit My spirit.”’  Having said this, He breathed His last.” Luke 23:44-46 [Boldface mine.]

Degrees Of Torment

When thinking of the Lord’s historical death, modern people tend to concentrate on His physical sufferings. The awful scourging, psychological torment, and beatings that He endured prior to the cross, as well as the nails through His extremities and the physical pain that accompanied crucifixion. This attention to His physiological sufferings likely stems from our own human understanding of sorrow. We can identify with bodily pain; sooner or later, we all endure sickness and corporeal affliction. Accordingly, we can picture Jesus’ physical sufferings.

Without minimizing the physical pain that Christ endured, His spiritual sufferings were the worst part of the cross. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 describes it: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” During the three dark hours the Lamb of God sacrificially took away the sin of the world by becoming a propitiation where the righteous judge condemned and punished sin but spared and justified believers in Jesus (John 1:29; 1 John 2:1-2; Rom. 3:23-26.) During that supernatural darkness on the cross, “the Lord . . . laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6.) It was a sight too terrible and too holy for fallen human eyes to behold. As George West Frazer poetically expresses it:

“‘Twas on that night of deepest woe, when darkness round did thicken,
When through deep waters Thou didst go, and for our sins wast stricken;
Thou, Lord, didst seek that we should be with grateful hearts remembering Thee.

How deep the sorrow, who can tell, which was for us endured?
O love divine, that broke the spell which had our hearts allured!
With heart and conscience now set free, it is our joy to think of Thee
.”[i]

The great hymnist and preacher, John Newton adds:

How bitter that cup no heart can conceive,
Which Jesus drank up, that sinners might live!
His way was much rougher and darker than mine:
Did Jesus thus suffer, and shall I repine
?”[ii]

From Darkness To Light

Thankfully, the Lord’s redemptive sufferings are over. He never needs to repeat His perfect sacrifice (Heb. 10:10-18.) The One who endured the deepest darkness, now inhabits unimaginably brilliant light – in keeping with His identity as “the Light” (John 1:4-5; 1 John 1:6-7; 1 Tim. 6:16; Acts 26:13.) After the darkness of the cross and the tomb, He arose from the dead and later ascended back to heaven’s glory (Rom.1:4; Acts 1:2-11.) For those who repent and believe on Christ for salvation, trusting in Him to save them through His finished sacrifice and resurrection, He promises eternal life in His kingdom which knows no darkness (Rom. 10:9; Rev. 21:23.) To ignore or disbelieve His offer of gracious salvation by faith is to remain spiritually lost, under God’s righteous sentence of condemnation (John 3:16-21, 36.) If one leaves this world in that state, they will endure eternal punishment in “outer darkness” (Matt. 25:30.)

Solar eclipses are temporary, lasting only a matter of hours across a continent like North America. By contrast, suffering God’s wrath in the lake of fire lasts forever for those who have not trusted the Lord Jesus. Since Christ died for guilty sinners like you and me, there is absolutely no need to eternally perish in this way. As He says: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24.)

A Future So Bright

The believer’s bright destiny is well-expressed in a classic hymn:

The glory shines before me, I cannot linger here;
Though clouds may darken o’er me, my Father’s house is near:
If through this barren desert a little while I roam,
The glory shines before me, I am not far from home.

Beyond the storms I’m going, beyond this vale of tears,
Beyond the floods o’erflowing, beyond the changing years:
I’m going to the better land, by faith long since possessed:
The glory shines before me, for this is not my rest.

The Lamb is there the glory! The Lamb is there the light!
Affliction’s grasp but tore me from phantoms of the night:
The voice of Jesus calls me, my race will soon be run;
The glory shines before me, the prize will soon be won.

The glory shines before me, I know that all is well;
My Father’s care is o’er me, his praises I would tell:
The love of Christ constrains me, his blood hath washed me white;
Where Jesus is in glory, ‘Tis home, and love, and light.
[iii]

___________________________________________________________________

[i] G.W. Frazer, “‘Twas on that night of deepest woe,” electronic ed. accessed on 8/21/17 here: http://www.stempublishing.com/hymns/ss/188

[ii] John Newton, “I will trust and not be afraid,” electronic ed. accessed on 8/21/17 here: http://ehymnbook.org/CMMS/hymnSong.php?folder=p01&id=pd01601

[iii] Hannah K. Burlingham, “The glory shines before me, I cannot linger here” electronic ed. accessed on 8/21/17 here: http://ehymnbook.org/CMMS/hymnSong.php?id=pd16544