From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. Matthew 27:45-50
This Good Friday Morning broke with glorious sunshine and warmth here in Wake Forest. The weather has been cold but deceptively sunny, so the sunshine combined with warm temperature was a welcome change. But early this afternoon, the weather shifted quickly. The sky grew dark and it began to rain. The change reminded me of the account Matthew gives of a similar Passover that took place two thousand years ago. I read this account of the crucifixion of Christ with new eyes today because last night I attended my first Passover Seder with a Messianic congregation. Participating in a religious tradition that has been observed for thousands of years is a soberingly reflective event all by itself. But to practice a Jewish observation with a group which is concurrently celebrating the sacrifice of the Messiah to which the Passover points? Well that was an overwhelming experience for the senses as well as the soul.
Just take a moment and think about the three hours that are described in the short passage above. They are the climax of history. From the moment Eve chose to doubt the word of her Creator, all of time had been hurtling toward this moment of redemption. Eve’s decision did not take God by surprise, and His plan to redeem mankind was not a kneejerk reaction to the choices made by His creations. Genesis 3:15 declares God’s promise that the seed of woman would overcome the evil one, crushing him under His heel. God then chose Abraham to be the man through whom this promised seed would be delivered to the world. Just read the Old Testament. The thread woven throughout Scripture is the promise that there would be One who would deliver His people and save them. Through famine, war, sin, near destruction, terrible choices and a few faithful, God showed Himself faithful to keep His promise to His people that He would provide a redeemer to sit forever on the throne of David.
God instituted the sacrificial system as a picture of the sacrifice that would be required for the forgiveness of sin. Hebrews 9 is a beautiful explanation of how this picture pointed to and was fulfilled in the sacrifice of Christ. It was no accident that His crucifixion occurred on the Friday of Passover. Jesus is the perfect Lamb of God, the one and only God-Man who was perfect and could therefore serve as a worthy sacrifice to take upon Himself the judgment for our sins.
There is no way our minds will ever be able to comprehend “the Great Exchange” that took place during those three hours of darkness. So often we focus on the physical pain and sacrifice of Christ that took place on that tree. But have you ever stopped to think about the emotional and spiritual sacrifices made? Before this time, Jesus had spent 33 years on this earth, walking in perfect communion with the Father. Think about how disconnected you feel when there is sin in your life that breaks your communion with God. Now, imagine you had never before experienced that disconnect and now, suddenly, every sin ever committed has created a seemingly unspannable chasm between you and the Father. When Jesus was being falsely accused before Pilate, He fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah and like a sheep before his shearer, He was silent. It was not the attack on His character that caused Him to cry out. Throughout the rejection, the lies, the betrayal and denials, he remained silent. Scripture records that He did not utter a sound while enduring a physical beating that was known to kill its bearers before they ever reached the hill of Golgotha. But when He bore the weight of our sins on Himself, the separation from the Father was so excruciating He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That sort of pain is truly excruciating; the word excruciating literally means “out of the cross.”
I so flippantly talk about sacrifice and pain. I know nothing of sacrifice and pain. On this day over two millennia ago, Christ offered Himself as the one and only sacrifice worthy of being the once for all sacrifice for our sins. He accomplished for us what we could never accomplish for ourselves so that we will never have to experience the truly excruciating power of the curse of sin.
My question for you this Good Friday is, Have you recognized your sin? Do you know that you are separated from your Creator? Can you see that here is nothing you can do within yourself to restore that relationship? God is the only one who is able to provide what is needed for our relationship to be restored, and He sacrificed Himself as the ransom for our sins. Do you recognize your need for a Savior? He offered Himself for you. There will be no better time to offer yourself in repentance, thanksgiving and obedience to Him. Paul declared “now is the day of salvation!” God knew before time began what He was going to do about us and our rebellious nature. But the question now is, What are you going to do about His offering of salvation and forgiveness?