The Consummation at the Cross
The Crucifixion of the King
The Consummation at the Cross
Luke 23:44-46
 
If you’ve been following the news recently, you’ve heard about Trayvon Martin, the young man who was killed in Florida by a neighborhood watchman.  I have listened to multiple talking heads telling the world what should have been done or needs to be done. 
 
But the truth of the matter is, we don’t yet know what the truth of the matter is.  We don’t really know all the details that led to his being shot. In fact, we may never know.  It may be, as some would suggest that he was a victim of racial attack.  Or it could be that it was an act of self-defense on the part of the man who did the shooting.  But we really don’t know the truth. 
 
In contrast to that, we do know the truth of the events that led to the death of Jesus Christ.  In fact, it would have to rank as the most blatantly unjust acts ever perpetrated on any man in human history because Christ was absolutely sinless.
 
The injustice of the trials is unbelievable.  They are followed by cruelty that is equally hard to comprehend.  Jesus is made to be the butt of their jokes as they mock the idea of Him being a King.  Both Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers are involved in this comedy.  They crush a crown of thorns on His head, throw a purple robe on Him and put a false scepter in His hand and hail Him as some kind of King.
 
At the crucifixion itself they crucify one thief on one side and another on the other side to ridicule the idea of a king with his two attendants on his right and left hands.
 
But something dramatic happened at the height of this comedy. It turns into a drama. And suddenly it is no longer the Jewish leaders or the Roman soldiers who occupying center stage.   Somebody else takes center stage. In a moment the comedy is silent and the drama begins as God Himself shows up that day.
 
I suppose most all of us understand what is happening on this day at Calvary as Christ dies.  We all understand that Christ died for our sins. Every true Christian knows that and believes that.
 
We understand a little bit about the physical suffering and humiliation that Jesus endured.  We know a little of this great loving sacrifice that Christ demonstrated.  But while it is true that there were physical tortures that need to be understood and there is love that needs to be understood and needs to be emphasized, there is an element at Calvary that is major in the revelation of the New Testament that often gets overlooked, and that is the presence of God.
 
Calvary is more about the wrath of God than it is about anything else. Yes, it is human cruelty and injustice at its worst. Yes, it is an expression of sacrificial love at its best.
 
But most importantly what goes on at Calvary has meaning for you and me because of what God does there. It is when God shows up at Calvary that it becomes the saving event that it is.
No doubt, Jesus is the victim of human injustice. Certainly He suffered horrendous, agonizing pain. Without question He died as a willing and loving sacrifice.  Those things are true.
 
But we need to think more deeply. We need to get out of the shallow end of the pool and into the depths. Because only there will you find that God was present at Calvary.
 
Jesus was crucified at nine o’clock on Wednesday morning of Passover week. Historians and church leaders down through history would have us to believe it was Friday, but from a Scriptural standpoint that is impossible. 
 
In order to get three days and three nights, and provide days for the Sabbaths of Passover, we must place His death on Wednesday.  So by around nine o’clock on Wednesday morning, Jesus is on the cross. 
 
For the first three hours, the people and the rulers and the soldiers and even those being crucified dominated the scene. It is a scene of blasphemy, ridicule, sneering, scorn, abuse, and mockery.
 
There’s only one exception to the rule through those first three hours and that’s one of the thieves who sees the truth and is wonderfully saved while he’s hanging next to Jesus. The rest are content to run the joke as far as they can.
 
But the comedy ends at noon. They’ve had their three hours and it’s over. And when it was over, God took center stage. It had been the people’s theater; but it now belongs to God.   
They had been the actors on the stage and now God would be the center of attention. 
 
And in three verses of Scripture we are told about the appearance of God at the crucifixion.  They are simple enough to understand.  They don’t really require an outline.  So let’s just look at these three verses and see what they tell us.
 
Verse 44
 
That would be noon. By the Jewish clock, the sixth hour was always mid-day.  That means the sun was at its apex. Keep that in mind; it becomes a very significant detail in what is happening here.  So here it is, springtime in the land of Israel.  It is high noon on what we assume to be a brilliant, sunny day.  It’s one of those days, perhaps, when you find yourself squinting, even when you look away from the sun.
 
Jesus has now been on the cross for three hours.  During those three hours He has spoken three times.
 
First He says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
 
Secondly, He looks at His mother, Mary, and John the beloved Apostle, and He says, “Behold your mother, behold your son,” and what He’s doing is committing the care of His mother to John.
 
And the third thing He said was, to the thief hanging beside Him, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
 
Three hours, three statements.
 
While those words are being spoken and these three men are dying and loved ones are weeping, the air was filled with mockery and scorn and sneering and abuse being thrown into the face of the crucified Jesus by the crowd.
 
And then, all of a sudden, at high noon on a brilliant day, in the midst of all this commotion, the lights went out.  There’s no moon. There are no stars. It is pitch black. And I don’t think we can even imagine the shock and chaos that darkness brought.
 
All of a sudden on a sun-filled day this eerie, frightening, disturbing moment shatters their fun and sobers their minds and without warning their world goes completely black. There’s no electricity, no flashlights, no emergency lighting.  It’s just absolute darkness.  So intense is this darkness, I would speculate they couldn’t even safely move.   
 
What caused this blackness? Some have suggested that this was a natural eclipse. That is not possible since Passover is set by the full moon and you can’t have an eclipse with a full moon.
 
Others have suggested that this is the presence of Satan who is bringing the power of darkness on the head of Jesus. That doesn’t work either because Satan is not in charge of the natural world. He could bring moral darkness or spiritual darkness but not physical darkness. 
 
There is only one other alternative and that is God. How would the Jews have viewed this? Would they say, “Whoa...an eclipse?” No, full moon, Passover.
Would they say, “Satan has arrived?” No.
 
What would they say? What would be their first thought when instantaneous total darkness hit them and they couldn’t see their hand in front of their faces and the darkness lasted for three solid hours? What would be the thought that entered their minds?
 
Some would suggest they wouldn’t think about God because God is light. Sometimes, it’s true. God did appear originally in leading Israel out of Egypt a cloud of light in the day and fiery light at night.
 
And God did come down in Shekinah light to dwell in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle and again in the Temple.
 
And it is true that many of the Psalms refer to the Lord as “my light and my salvation”.  He sent His Son as the Light of the world.  His people are to be a city set on a hill.  No doubt about it God associates Himself with light.  And an Israelite would have known that.
 
But they also knew that in certain circumstances, God also presents Himself through darkness.
 
Maybe their minds would snap to Genesis 15 where God comes to make a covenant with Abram. And God says, “I’m going to make a Covenant with you, to bless you and through you I’ll bless the world.”
 
And when God decides to seal that covenant with blood, He arrives, “when the sun was going down, and with “terror and great darkness.”
 
 
 
Or maybe they would think of Exodus 10 when the Lord said to Moses down in Egypt, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even a darkness which may be felt.”
 
Or maybe they thought of how after the Jews had left Egypt, they came to the foot of Mount Sinai and they stood at the foot of the mountain, and according to Exodus 19 says, “There was thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and the Lord descended and fire with Him and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace and the whole mountain quaked violently.”
 
The people of Israel would have well known that the presence of God could be associated with pitch black darkness.
 
But they would have also known there was more  to it than that because when God showed up in darkness it was always associated with judgment.  Those times are consistently referred to in the Old Testament as “The Day of the Lord” and it is a description of final judgment. 
 
Joel 2:10 says, “The earth quakes before them, the heavens tremble; the sun and moon grow dark, and the stars diminish their brightness. The Lord gives voice before His army, for His camp is very great; for strong is the One who executes His word.  For the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; Who can endure it?”
 
 
 
 
Later in verses 30 and 31 of that chapter we read:
““And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.”
 
Then along came Amos and in chapter 5 verse 20, “Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light?
Is it not very dark, with no brightness in it?”
 
And in 8:9, “And it shall come to pass in that day, says the Lord God, That I will make the sun go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in broad daylight”
 
Understand, these are all Jewish prophets.  Those gathered at the cross would have heard these verses.  Another one came along named Zephaniah.
 
Zephaniah 1:14-15, “The great day of the Lord is near; It is near and hastens quickly. The noise of the day of the Lord is bitter; there the mighty men shall cry out. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastation and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness”
 
So the Jews knew a lot about this darkness.  They knew it represented the presence of God and He brought with it final judgment. 
 
And I have an idea that as they were sneering and mocking Jesus and their whole world went pitch black in the middle of the day, some of them must have had the thought, “The comedy is over.”
 
In fact, not to be sacrilegious or irreverent, as I was thinking about that the picture that came to mind was the look on the face of ol’ Wiley E. Coyote from the Road Runner cartoons when he realizes a rock is falling on his head or the trap he had planned turned around and bit him instead.
 
They understood exactly what was happening here.  In fact, just a few verses later in verse 48, when the lights came back on, notice what we find them doing.
 
What is the beating of the breast about?  That was their sign for grief and fear. This darkness symbolizes divine wrath. This is “Day of the Lord” kind of darkness. This is the presence of God in judgment.  And that’s why I say there’s a new actor on the stage. 
 
God has now arrived at Calvary and He didn’t show up in light and glory and kindness and grace, but in darkness. And wonder of wonders, He doesn’t show up to bring judgment on the people, but on His Son. 
 
Divine wrath is now being poured out in its final form. And from noon to three that day God literally brought hell to Jerusalem and unleashed it on His sinless, perfect Son.
 
Now think about that:  What is hell? Hell is where God punishes people forever. Hell is where God pours out His fury on people forever. God is the power behind the punishment in hell. Sometimes people say, “Hell is being separated from God.” 
 
 
 
That’s an incomplete thought.  Hell is only separation from the love and comfort of God.  But hell is still the presence of God as those there experience His punishment and justice. 
 
By the way, this is the cup that Jesus anticipated in the Garden.  This is that moment that he asked was there a way to avoid.  During those three hours there’s no comedy, there’s no sneering, there’s no scorning, there’s no mocking, there’s no blasphemy, there’s no taunting recorded. No one said anything, not even Jesus.
 
And on this day in the darkness of a place called Calvary, God, who is the punisher of all the souls in eternal hell, shows up to punish His Son.  He gives His Son eternal hell so that those who would believe could have eternal heaven.  In these three hours Jesus suffers the eternal hell for all who would believe.
 
Some believe that Jesus went to hell to suffer; that’s not what happened.  He went to hell not to suffer, but to announce His victory over sin and Satan.  His suffering was on the cross. 
 
It is here that He bears in His own body our sins. It is here that He is made sin for us who knew no sin. It is here that He is wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. It is here that He is made a curse for us.
 
It is a stunning thing to think about it. All the people who will spend forever in hell will be there because they will never be able to pay for their sins and yet in three hours, Jesus could pay in full for all the sins of all the people who would ever believe.
Only the eternal Son of God could suffer an eternity of punishment in three hours.  And then, as suddenly as this darkness came, it left.   “There was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.” Three hours later, at three o’clock in the afternoon, the light returns.
 
Mark 15:33 tells us what Jesus said.
 
How are we to understand this? Theologians have thought and talked and written volumes on this. I will confess to you I have struggled over that verse for years.  And I will tell you I don’t expect to understand it better or more fully than those who are educated and learned. 
 
But this week, I came to the realization that maybe it’s not as complicated as we try to make it. Maybe the expectation of Jesus the Man was when the darkness was over, and He had paid the price and borne in full to the satisfaction of God the fury of God on behalf of all who would believe, that there would be immediate comfort.
 
Maybe He thought when the darkness leaves, the judgment is over and this experience will be over and it wasn’t. And while He is anticipating the sweet communing comfort of fellowship with God, it doesn’t come. 
 
You can hear it in the way He addresses God.  “My God, My God”.  It’s the only time in the entire New Testament where Jesus refers to God as anything other than Father.  Has He lost His affection for His Father?  Has the relationship changed?
 
I think I can help you with that. Jesus used double expressions on a number of occasions. The first one is in Luke 10:41.  Mary and Martha have Jesus as a guest in their home and Martha is upset that Mary isn’t helping with the household chores.  And Jesus tells Martha she is upset about less important things than worship, and He begins His comments like this:  “Martha, Martha.” Was that an absence of affection? I don’t think so.  He loved Martha.  Instead it was the presence of disappointment. 
 
How about Luke 22:31? Just before the arrest of Jesus, the disciples are arguing about who is the greatest among them.  Simon Peter will be denying the Lord in just a little while, and Jesus looks at Peter and says, “Simon, Simon.” Is that a lack of love? No. That’s an expression of intimacy with disappointment in it.
 
How about Luke 13:34?  Jesus looks over the beloved city of Jerusalem, full of His people the Jews, who have rejected their Messiah and says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem.” Is that a lack of love? “How often I would have gathered you as a mother hen does her chicks, but you wouldn’t have it.” It’s affection with disappointment in it.
 
And now here, Jesus is on the cross.  He has just endured three hours of hell.  He made it; He fulfilled God’s will for His life.  He was equal to the task.  He has been faithful, and the brilliant light of the day returns indicating the judgment is over, but there is no relief. 
 
 
 
In fact, there is not even an acknowledgment from heaven.  There is no “This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well-pleased” as there had been at His baptism. There is no commendation of Him as there had been at the Mount of Transfiguration.  Just absolute silence. 
 
And His response to that silence is, “My God, My God.” This is intimate, but it’s the disappointment of the moment. Where’s the comfort?  That’s a fair question. Why didn’t God bring Him instant comfort?
 
Well, it seems to me that this is the final picture of the suffering of hell. This is a reminder to all sinners that the full fury of God’s punishment is not all there is to hell.  The rest of the story is He will never be there to comfort. He will never be there to show sympathy. He will never bring relief. And if Jesus is to endure a full hell, it is both the punishment of God and the absence of comfort. Hell came to Calvary that day in its fullness.
 
And then God added His exclamation point to the work He had done on the cross.
 
Verse 45
 
It’s been dark for three hours, pitch black. Nobody could see their hand in front of their face. They’ve been standing around for three hours trying to communicate and figure out what was going on. And now the lights come back on, and life begins to resume.
 
 
 
Down at the temple, you’ve got priests getting ready to start the slaughter of tens of thousands of lambs and other animals in preparation for Passover.
 
They are now three hours behind in their work.  They have to start the process because the lambs must be slaughtered between three and five. 
 
And just as they begin to kill the Passover lambs, they hear a noise.  What else could go wrong on this day?  There has been this terrifying darkness.  They’ve had earthquakes and graves bursting open.  They’ve had this chaotic crucifixion going on, and in addition to that Passover is almost upon them when suddenly they hear this loud tearing sound coming from inside the holy place in the Holy of Holies as God rips the curtain from the top to the bottom.
 
There were at least 13 curtains in the temple but one of them was the most important because it was the one that blocked the Holy of Holies. The High Priest and only the High Priest could go in there once a year and only for a moment to sprinkle blood on the Mercy Seat and then get back out.
 
The Holy of Holies symbolized the presence of God and the curtain declared that nobody got in.  It was closed to everyone. But at three o’clock right on Crucifixion day, the light dawns and God rips open the Holy of Holies because Jesus Christ has officially activated access. The cross opens the way of access. 
 
And now because of what has happened over on Calvary God split the curtain and threw open the way to His presence.
 
When that happened, the temple was obsolete, the High Priest was obsolete, all the priests were obsolete, and all the sacrifices were obsolete. Everything going on in that place was obsolete. It was over. They were all shadows. They were all symbols of what was to come.
 
So precisely at the moment the priests were beginning to slaughter animals who could not take away sin, God ripped open His presence because of the sacrifice of One who did take away sin. The only sacrifice that really mattered had already been offered. 
 
What a day! When God showed up in judgment, He also showed up in salvation.  Judgment on His Son means salvation for us. All the fury goes on Christ, the way is open for us. All the fury goes on Christ, life after death is made available to us.
 
After the darkness is gone, after the earthquake is over, after the veil is ripped, the chaos must have been beyond description in Jerusalem.
 
But there is a serene calm on that middle cross.
Listen to how John describes it. 
 
John 19:28, after this, after all those things we described, “Jesus knowing that all things had already been accomplished in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” It’s over. He’s taken it all. The way is open, resurrection life is provided, He’s done. And in that sweet serene calm, He says, “I’m thirsty.”
 
 
 
He wouldn’t drink anything, you remember, all the way through so that He would feel the full experience of everything coming His way, but it’s over.  “I’m thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there so they put a sponge full of the sour wine, like vinegar really, on a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth.
 
“When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, tetelestai, it’s finished. Bowed His head, gave up His spirit.”
 
Now go with me back to Luke 23 and we’ll close with this.
 
Just before He yielded up His spirit, just after He had said, “I’m thirsty,” and after He had triumphantly said, “It is finished,” and just before He gave up His spirit notice what this verse says. 
 
Verse 46
 
it would be impossible for a crucified victim to do that because you die of asphyxiation.  No oxygen, no strength, barely able to whisper and incoherent in the trauma, the death by crucifixion robbed you of the ability to use a strong voice. 
 
And yet He is strong.  In fact, He is triumphant. He said in John 10, “The Great Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” He said, “No one takes My life from Me, I lay it down on My own initiative. I have power to lay it down, or authority to lay it down. I have authority to take it up again. Nobody takes My life.”
 
Here’s the proof, “He cries out with a loud voice, He shouts at the top of His lungs in full strength.” What does He say? “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.”
 
If there were any Jews around they should have recognized that quote.  That was Psalm 31:5, a very familiar verse. In fact, it was so familiar it was their evening prayer before they went to bed. It was their “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer. They prayed it regularly. “Into Your hands I commit My spirit. 
 
But Jesus made two changes.  First, He added something, “Father,” sweet communion has been established. Hell was there for three hours and then it was gone. The punishment is over. The suffering is over. Sweet communion with the Father is re-established.
 
And then He left something out. Psalm 31:5 ends like this, “You have ransomed Me, O God, God of truth,” or, “You have redeemed Me.”   That wasn’t appropriate for Jesus to pray because He was not the One who needed redemption.  It was not He who was redeemed at the cross, He was the Redeemer.
 
It was you and I who needed redemption. So how do we respond to this? Well, that’s next week’s message, but let’s close with
 
verse 47
 
There’s only one way to respond and that’s to say,
 
“I give my life to Him Who was willing to give His life for me.”
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