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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:The Darkness Speaks
Text:Mark 15:33 (View)
Occasion:Easter (Good Friday)
Topic:Christ's Suffering

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Suggested songs:

Hymn 21:1-3

Hymn 21:4

Psalm 22:1-3

Psalm 77:1-2

Hymn 23:1-8

Reading: Mark 15

Text: Mark 15:33

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

When our family lived up north, we often saw bears. Around our house, they were usually grizzly bears, going after the garbage. But on the way to and from Smithers, we’d usually see black bears. From time to time we’d stop the truck and just sit at the side of the road and watch them. One thing that always struck me was the depth and richness of the blackness on some of these bears. As much as I love Robert Bateman, I don’t think he’s ever done it justice, nor do I think any painter could. Of course, the odd bear would be mangy or have some brown streaks in it, but most of the black bears up there are as black as a moonless night. I often thought about this. After all, who made the black bear black? The black bear was not a freak of nature, but a beautiful expression of the mind of our Creator. He thought that this bear would be beautiful in black and he made it so.

Which brings us to some reflections about the colour black. Black is just a colour. Black is something that can be beautiful, as in when you see a black bear and you’re filled with praise for its Maker. And in the Bible as well, the colour black by itself is not equated with sin. Sometimes it’s associated with it, but that’s always in connection with darkness – which is black.

The Scriptural concept of darkness is something different than the colour black. In the Bible, darkness is usually a strongly negative image. Why is that? Well, let’s start at the beginning. In Genesis 1:1, we’re told that God created the heavens and the earth. Verse 2 tells us that darkness was on the face of the deep. Verse 3 tells us that God created light. Then verse 4 has something interesting: “God saw that the light was good.” He doesn’t say the same thing about the darkness. God never says that the darkness was good. Darkness is physically oppressive. Darkness goes with death. Darkness is where a lot of evil things happen.

Nevertheless, God is still in control of the darkness. In the Old Testament, he used darkness when he revealed himself. For instance, when God made his covenant with Abram in Genesis 15, this was done under the cover of darkness. In Exodus 20, we learn that Moses, when he went up to Mount Sinai, when into the thick darkness where God was. 1 Kings 8:12 tells us that God dwells in a cloud of darkness. And so on. It’s clear that God is in control of darkness and he uses it whenever and wherever he pleases.

And that’s what’s happening in our text on this Good Friday. Christ is on the cross. God sends darkness for three hours. And in this, God is using the darkness to communicate. He remains the sovereign God of all creation, including the darkness! And so I preach God’s Word this morning with this theme:

With his Son on the cross, God sends darkness!

We’ll consider the message in this darkness

  1. For his Son
  2. For those who killed his Son
  3. For us today

1. The message in this darkness for his Son.

Our text simply tells us that darkness came over the whole land from about noon until three o’clock. The other gospels, except for John, tell us the same thing. Luke adds that the sun stopped shining. There are couple of things to consider here.

First of all, the extent of the darkness. In the past, Bible interpreters have debated whether the darkness was over the land of Palestine or whether it was over the entire face of the earth. The word used in Greek could have either meaning. Most likely it was only over the land of Palestine because it was there that the context was found which would give meaning to it.

The second thing to consider is the supernatural character of the darkness. In other words, there was no explaining away this darkness with things like eclipses and the like. An eclipse was impossible because of the position of the moon at the time of the Passover. Moreover, who ever heard of an eclipse lasting for three hours? No, it was clear that something out of the ordinary was happening. God was sending a message. Through some means, and we don’t know how, God stopped the sun from shining for three hours.

Through this darkness God had something to say. It was first of all a message to his Son hanging on the cross. Sometimes we think that God was silent at this moment. And in one sense, perhaps he was. There was no verbal communication. But God was speaking through the darkness. And his message was: “My forsaken Son, you bear the curse of sin.”

As Christ was hanging on the cross, he was cut off from fellowship with God. Now we can raise all kinds of questions about how it’s possible for the second person of the Trinity to be abandoned and forsaken by God. There are no easy answers. This is one of those mysteries where the deeper you probe the more questions you find. So, let’s not go there and let’s just respect the deep mysteries of God. The important thing for us to grasp is that Christ was cut off from God. He expressed his consciousness of this in his quote from Psalm 22 in verse 34. The darkness captured the fact that he was alone, abandoned by God the light and refuge of salvation.

He was also cut off from man. In the darkness he could see no one. He had little support to begin with – just a few women standing at a distance -- but now he was totally blind. Blind to the presence of any other. Many times in his parables, the Lord Jesus spoke of those who were cast into the outer darkness. Now he was the one cast out. Cut off from God and cut off from man. The only fellowship left was with pain and the suffering of hell.

There was no comfort for him in the darkness. A few moments ago, I mentioned Genesis 1. Light was the first gift to creation. Now that first gift was taken away from the Lord Jesus. Think about it. Almost all life depends on light, perhaps even all life. Darkness sustained means death. Most things die in the dark. People stumble in the dark. There is no comfort in darkness. For the Lord Jesus, there was nothing but stark blackness and pain. Experienced entirely alone.

It was in this way that he, all by himself, experienced the fulfillment of the great and awesome day of the Lord. The Old Testament prophets had often spoken of a day of judgment that they called the day of the Lord. Oftentimes, the day of the Lord was accompanied by darkness. Think of a passage like Amos 5:18, “Woe to you who long for the day of the LORD! Why do you long for the day of the LORD? That day will be darkness, not light.” And then verse 20 of Amos 5, “Will not the day of the LORD be darkness, not light – pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?” Judgment comes with darkness!

The darkness on Golgotha, the darkness on Palestine, it expressed God’s burning wrath against sin. Against our sin! God was saying to his Son: this is what you must bear, and this is how must bear it. In the worst possible way: in the dark. I’m taking the light away and you will suffer my wrath entirely alone and cut off from every good thing. Really, brothers and sisters, the darkness epitomizes and captures Christ’s descent into hell.

This is our Saviour. He had to hear that awful message God was sending in the darkness so that we would be brought back into fellowship with our Creator! The depth of his suffering, the black darkness he endured, reminds us of the seriousness of our sin. Should we ever be tempted to forget the sinfulness of sin, reflect on the darkness! That darkness spoke volumes. It did so for Christ, but it did so also for those who put him on the cross. Let’s consider that now with our second point this morning….

2. The message in the darkness for those who killed God’s Son.

People often wrestle with the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. On the one hand, God is 100% sovereignly in control of everything that happens. But on the other hand, man is 100% responsible for his unbelief and disobedience. That interchange happens on Golgotha as well.

You see, the death of the Messiah was in God’s redemptive plan. You need only to read passages like Isaiah 53 to know that God had this all worked out. He not only knew what would happen ahead of time, he also ordained it all. So, when Christ is hanging on the cross in the darkness, this was no surprise to God. This was the way it had been planned to happen.

But at the same time, the people who put the Messiah on the cross were responsible for what they did. Both aspects were captured in Peter’s Pentecost sermon. In Acts 2:23, Peter preached and said, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” So it was God’s plan for the Messiah to die, but the Jews bore responsibility for doing it. God is 100% sovereign and man is 100% responsible.

Now in this connection, the darkness had a message from God to those who had put God’s Son on the cross. Earlier on, in Mark 8:11-12, the Pharisees had demanded a sign from heaven from the Lord Jesus. The way he answers in Mark 8:12 is very peculiar and most Bible translations don’t really capture it. In the NIV, Mark 8:12 reads like this, “He sighed deeply and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.” Now if you look in your NIV, there is a period after the word “it.” But the Greek indicates that there should be three dots, what we call an ellipsis. In Greek, this is an unfinished sentence. In other words, Jesus was saying, “No sign will be given to it, except…” And then he doesn’t say! He leaves it wide open. They wanted a sign? Now as the Messiah is on the cross, a sign belatedly comes. It’s the sign of darkness.

And what was this sign communicating to these murderers? It was a prophecy about covenant judgment. Earlier I mentioned the day of the LORD and its connection with darkness in the prophets. Sometimes that’s in the context of foreign nations. But many times it also comes in the context of God’s Word to his very own people, to Israel. One example is found in Joel 2. The Word of the LORD comes through the prophet commanding the trumpet to be blown in Zion. Why? Because the day of the Lord is coming! And it will be a “a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness.” God’s judgment is coming and this time not upon the other nations, but upon Israel! This is covenant judgment. God’s people had not been faithful to him. Instead of listening to the prophets, they put them to death. And when God’s own Son was sent into the vineyard, they did exactly the same thing! Put him on a cross on the Place of the Skull!

All of this happened at the time of the Passover feast. You remember, I’m sure, what the Passover feast was all about. It was about celebrating God’s delivering the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Now think back for a moment to that great moment in history. Was there darkness? Yes, there was. It was one of the last plagues, right before the death of the firstborn of the Egyptians! It was darkness in Egypt, darkness so thick that the Bible tells us it could be felt. Yet, and this is an important point, “the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.” Total darkness in Egypt, but light in Goshen. There was judgment in the darkness, but also salvation. Now on this day of the LORD during the Passover feast, the tables have turned! It is dark in the Promised Land. But here too, as in the days of Moses, there was judgment in the darkness, but also salvation. Judgment on the people for rejecting Christ and crucifying him, but at the same time salvation for God’s elect. The Jews knew the Passover story. They knew the message in the darkness then, they were therefore responsible to know the message in the darkness now! After all, wasn’t every Passover a sort of reliving of the whole event? Seeing the darkness, they could have and should have known that this was God’s message to them. A message like a coin with two sides. Judgment and salvation. That message is also there for us today and so let’s consider that in more detail in our last point this morning…

3. The message in this darkness for us today

As we consider what the darkness has to say to us today, let’s think about those two aspects of judgment and salvation. Let’s flesh it out some. The Jews were responsible for rejecting what Christ said. But many of them were given a second chance when the apostles began their preaching ministry in the book of Acts. Peter preached that they should repent and believe in Christ. And some of them did! Three thousand on the day of Pentecost alone. At the same time, many did not believe.

The message of the darkness to them and to us hangs on what those who hear the preaching of Christ do with that message. The darkness of Good Friday was only covenant judgment for those who heard the preached Word and rejected it and died in unbelief. For those who heard the apostolic preaching of the Christ and repented and believed in him, for them the darkness gave way to light and light means life!

And brothers and sisters, that’s something that’s true for us today as well. The darkness of Good Friday continues to be a sign, a tool in God’s hand to communicate to us. Paradoxically, it’s the same message as God gave to the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. It happened in the dark of night. God’s glory appeared in a bright cloud and they heard his voice, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” That’s the message the darkness of Good Friday communicates to us. God is telling us that this is the Saviour! If we refuse to listen to him, we will suffer God’s judgment and wrath. We will be cast into eternal darkness and death. However, if by God’s grace and Spirit, we listen to the preaching of the Lord Jesus, we are living in God’s light already, and will do so even more fully in the age to come. So, the issue for us becomes: what do we do with the preaching of Christ, the preaching of God’s Word? Do we listen or simply appear to listen? Do we work with what we hear through the course of the week or does it go in one ear and out the other? The darkness of Good Friday is the Word of the Lord to you today: what are you doing with the preaching of Christ? Will it be for your judgment or salvation?

But it also says something else. I’ve sort of already hinted at that. Things are sometimes not what they seem. God was absent on Golgotha. He had withdrawn his presence and comfort from Christ. It had to be this way – this was hell, the burning wrath of God against sin. But that does not mean that God was not active! He was still working through the darkness to bring light and life, to bring salvation to his chosen people.

Now think about the sufferings we experience. They are different than Christ’s. He was abandoned by God. We have his promise that we will nevermore be forsaken by Him. We might feel abandoned by all, including God, we might doubt and wonder. But the truth is that even though it might not seem like God is there, he is. And you look at the darkness of your suffering and you wonder whether God is working. Well, he is. He is working all things for good for those who believe in the one who endured darkness on a cross on Golgotha. God is King and Lord, He is there and He is active for you! And all because of what your Saviour endured in his God-forsakenness on the cross.

The darkness speaks on Golgotha. The darkness of Good Friday continues to speak today. It speaks God’s voice to us. God says, “This is your Saviour. Believe in him, that he endured this darkness for the forgiveness of all your sins, and you will dwell with me forever in the light.” Think of Revelation 22:5, speaking about the new heavens and the new earth, “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” AMEN.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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