Good Friday: The Darkness Before the Dawn
March 19, 2021
Categories: Easter, The Cross of Christ
We call this day “Good Friday.” There is debate about the origins of this title because it seems paradoxical that this day–the day that such a horrific event as the brutal execution of the Son of God–would be thought of as “good.” But regardless of the history behind the title given to this day, we can be sure it is indeed “good” because the events that took place on it form the cornerstone of the gospel.
And the gospel, by very definition is “good news.”
The cross is the necessary tragedy that leads to the triumph of new life in Christ through His resurrection. To put it another way, we must face the darkness of Good Friday before we embrace the dawn of Resurrection Sunday.
Mark 15:33-38 contains Mark’s account of the final three hours of the crucifixion of our Lord. In these verses we find in shorthand the profound mystery of the cross–the significance of what was accomplished on Calvary through two signs, namley, the cup poured out and the curtain torn in two.
The Cup Poured Out
The Facts of the Cross of Jesus
This passage has an eerie overtone of darkness and judgment. We see in v. 25 that it was “the third hour” when Jesus was crucified, which would be 9:00 am. We know that Christ was exhausted, not only from the stress of the situation, but from the fact that He had been up all night undergoing multiple, illegal trials.
We know that prior to being crucified He had been scourged, a brutal flogging that was done by multiple soldiers and carried out until they were exhausted or the commander told them to stop. The whip that was used in the flogging was laced with pieces of bone and metal which would embed themselves into the skin and rip away the flesh, exposing the tissue and even bone. Some people died as a result of merely being scourged. We know that after this a crown of thorns was placed upon His head, and that He was beaten with a reed, spit upon, and mocked.
We also know that He was forced to carry His cross to the place of the crucifixion until Simon of Cyrene was compelled to relieve Him. We know that when He reached Golgotha, nails were driven through His wrists and feet and He was hung upon the cross under the weight of His own body, His raw flesh dragging upon the wood every time He pushed upon the nail within His feet in order to be lifted enough to gasp for a breath, all while enduring the constant mocking of the crowd.
Now, after having been on the cross for three hours, we are told in v. 33 that from the sixth hour to the ninth hour–from noon until 3:00 pm–darkness covered the whole land. This could not have been an eclipse because Passover always occurred during a full moon and a solar eclipse can only happen on a new moon. This was divine darkness–a sign from God about what was taking place. Darkness in Scripture is a sign of judgment. You may recall that one of the plagues of God’s judgment set upon Egypt for refusing to free the Israelites was a darkness that could “be felt” for three days (Exodus 10:21-23). In Joel 2:2, the day of God’s wrath is described as “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness.”
“The cross is the necessary tragedy that leads to the triumph of new life in Christ through His resurrection.
Near the end of this final three hours of darkness upon the cross, our Lord cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani,” which is Aramaic for “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?”
Here our Lord Jesus is quoting from Psalm 22:1, which is a Messianic Psalm that depicts the crucifixion in vivid language. This particular Psalm predicted the mockers around the cross and their taunts, the torture of the crucifixion, the parched tongue of Christ, and the garments that were divided and garment that was left untorn. Psalm 22 is so clearly prophetic that Charles Spurgeon called it the “Psalm of the Cross,” and William Plumer said it may be called “The Gospel According to David.”
Our Lord Jesus reminded His disciples after His resurrection that what had happened had been according to “my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). Jesus, knowing this beforehand, speaks the very words of Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?”
This is one of the most profound and mysterious statements in all of Scripture: the Son of God saying to God the Father, “Why have you forsaken Me?” It is a mystery of all mysteries that during this time, the sweet fellowship the Father and Son had enjoyed from all eternity was broken as the Father turned away from the Son.
Why would He do this? How could He do this? The answer is found in the fact that at the cross the Father placed upon Christ, the sinless One, the sins of all who would believe upon Him. We read in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This is what was prophesied by Isaiah when he stated that the Messiah “bore the sin of many” (53:12). The Apostle Peter used similar language when he said that “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24).
“Why would—or how could—the Father forsake Son? The answer is found in the fact that at the cross the Father placed upon Christ, the sinless One, the sins of all who would believe upon Him.
This is what we call imputation: the counting of something to be so. In other words, the Father thought of our sins as belonging to Christ. Isaiah 59:2 says that “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” Habakkuk 1:13 says that God is “of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong.”
And so, as the sins of the many are counted as belonging to the sinless One, the Father turns away.
The Accomplishment of the Cross of Jesus
But the Father did not merely turn away from Christ because of this imputation of sin; He simultaneously poured out His wrath upon Him for the punishment of that sin.
Back in Mark 14:36, we are told that our Lord prayed to the Father in the garden, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” In the OT, the wrath of God was spoken of as a cup that would be poured out. Psalm 75:8 says that “…in the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.” In Isaiah 51:17, the Lord said to Israel, “Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering.”
Typically, when we recall the scene of Jesus’ anguish as He prays in the garden, we understand Him to be in anguish over the physical torture he is about to undergo, and certainly this is true. Jesus knew the brutality of crucifixion, and in His humanity He was greatly distressed by the thought of what He would soon be facing at the hands of wicked men. But his prayer concerning the cup goes beyond the mere physical torment of the cross. The cup that he would be facing was the wrath of God against sin. And here in chapter 15 of Mark’s Gospel, we see our Lord Jesus experiencing the full measure of this cup. He did it for sinners like you and like me, that we might be forgiven. He is the propitiation for our sins, bearing God’s wrath to the end and in doing so changing God’s wrath for us into favor. The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 3:25–26 that this was a demonstration of the righteousness of God because it proved that He is a righteous God who maintains justice and yet simultaneously reveals that He is a merciful God who forgives sinners. Isaiah, 600 years before the cross said of Him:
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
“The Father did not merely turn away from Christ because of this imputation of sin. He simultaneously poured out His wrath upon Him for the punishment of that sin.
We must not mistake Christ’s words, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” as a cry of misunderstanding or dejection on Christ’s part. This is Him in His humanity bearing the weight of the cup, but He still refers to the Father as My God. And the words of the Psalm which He is quoting go on to announce the triumph and vindication of the Messiah which the Father brings about. Isaiah 53:10 says that “it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.” Our Lord Jesus was fully submitted to the will of the Father. Remember that He prayed, “Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” John 10:17-18 records His declaration that “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
This is exactly what we see in vv. 35–37. The bystanders mocked at His cry to the Father, saying that He was calling Elijah to come and rescue Him. John tells us that at this point He said, “I thirst,” and so as we see in v. 36, someone gave Him some sour wine on a sponge (something they were more than happy to do because it would keep the victim hydrated and prolong his suffering). And they continue their mocking: “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take Him down.” But Jesus had wanted the sour wine only to moisten his tongue in order to utter a loud cry before breathing His last. It was not a cry of anguish, but a cry of victory, as John tells us that He shouted, “It is finished!” Luke adds that He confidently cried out, “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit,” a quotation from Psalm 31:5.
At this point, the work was finished, the debt of sin had been paid. The wrath of God had been satisfied; the cup had been poured out.
The Curtain Torn in Two
We are told that immediately upon the death of Christ, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” This was the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies–the Most Holy Place–from the Holy Place. This curtain was an elaborately woven fabric that was 60 feet tall and 30 feet wide–and it was torn from top to bottom. The Holy of Holies was the place where the ark of the covenant with the mercy seat was. No one was allowed to enter this place except for the high priest, and that only once a year, on the Day of Atonement–and only with blood of a sacrifice, as we read in Leviticus 16:2, and as the writer of Hebrews reminds us in Hebrews 9.
This is the second sign Mark records in relation to the crucifixion: the darkness was a sign of God’s judgment; the tearing of the veil was a sign of God’s deliverance. Not only had God’s wrath been satisfied and His righteous character vindicated, but the tearing of the curtain symbolized the access that sinners now have to the Father through the finished work of Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews tells us that “when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (9:11–12).
In Hebrews 10:19–20, he says: “we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh.” We who believe were once separated from God because of our sin, but our Lord Jesus bore that sin on the cross in order to open up to us the Holy of Holies, to give us bold access to Him through faith in His finished work upon the cross. Hebrews 9:15 says that because of this sacrifice, our Lord Jesus Christ “is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.”
This is the reason Good Friday is indeed “good.” The cup has been poured out, but not upon us. Christ has taken it for us, in our place. As a result, the curtain has been torn in two, giving us bold access to the throne of grace through faith in Jesus, who is our High Priest. This is the truth we glory in on Good Friday, even as we anticipate the celebration of the completion of the good news of the gospel on Resurrection Sunday.
“This is the reason Good Friday is indeed “good.” The cup has been poured out, but not upon us. Christ has taken it for us, in our place.
About the Author
Lloyd Murphy is the pastor-teacher at Firm Foundation Bible Church in Prescott Valley, Arizona. A northern-Arizona native, Lloyd is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley, California. He and his wife Christie have four children, Caleb, Anna, Leah, and Joel.
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