Faith in the Darkness
Passage: Mark 15:33–15:47
Faith in the Darkness
November 18th, 2007
Way of Grace Church
I. How Do You Handle the Darkness?
When you were a kid, were you afraid of the dark?
Everyone handles darkness differently, don't they? Consider darkness in the bedroom for example. There are some people who have to have complete darkness when they sleep. So what do they do? They buy the thickest drapes, something like Dracula would have, or they have two or three layers of drapes, or screens on their windows to shut out the daylight.
On the other hand, there are some people who only like it only semi-dark, so they keep a light on or plug in a night light. Now if you're like me, you are by necessity in this second group, because the last thing you want to do at night is get up and trip over or step on one of the five or six toys that has somehow found its way onto your bedroom floor.
How do you handle the darkness?
This morning, we will be reminded that there are others kinds of darkness that we must consider, that we must handle.
Let's turn back to God's word this morning, as we continue with out study of the Gospel of Mark. Turn with me to Mark 15:33-47 (page 853).
II. The Passage: "Truly This Man Was the Son of God" (15:33-47)
Now, if you were with us last time, you'll remember that Jesus has been handed over, by the Jewish leadership, to the Roman authorities, who have crucified him as a royal imposter. If the physical suffering wasn't enough, everyone present has been mocking him, even the criminals crucified with him. Listen as we resume the story in verse 33:
33 And when the sixth hour had come [that is, 12 noon], there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. [3pm] 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, "Behold, he is calling Elijah." [in Aramaic, the name Elijah sounds like the word here for "God"] 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down." [in keeping with what we saw last week, this could simply be more ridicule] 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was the Son of God!" 40 There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.
42 And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. 45 And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. 46 And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.
Notice first that we have here two sections in this one passage, both of which are marked by time references. The first part is verses 33-41, "when the sixth hour had come" (v. 33), and the second is 42-47, "when evening had come" (v. 42).
The first section here deals with events at the cross, the second section deals with events after the cross. The first describes the death of Jesus, the second, the burial of Jesus.
But in terms of connections between these two parts, we also see that in both sections, the same two women are present: Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Joses. In the first section, they, along with Salome (who may be the mother of the apostles James and John), they are said to be "looking on from a distance" as Jesus dies on the cross. In the second set of verses, they are following Joseph of Arimathea as he buries the body of Jesus.
Now, why is this worth thinking about? Well, even though there is extreme significance in terms of the details of Jesus' death, one of the main things Mark is doing here in these two sections is confirming that there were witnesses who, number one, saw Jesus die, and number two, saw Jesus buried, and number three, knew the location of Jesus' tomb.
It would have been natural for those in the First Century to question certain things about the message of Jesus as it spread across the Roman Empire. They might have asked, "How do you know that happened if all of his followers fled?" Or they might have wondered, "How do you know Jesus was really dead?" Or, "What if the first witnesses simply went to the wrong tomb?"
Obviously, as we'll see next week, these women will go on to play a crucial role on the Sunday morning after Jesus death, when they go to his tomb to anoint his body for burial, since there certainly wasn't any time to that Friday before sunset.
We see some of these points confirmed in the text itself. Notice in verses 44 and 45 that Pilate is surprised that Jesus has died after only six hours. Most who were crucified spent two or three days in agony before they died of asphyxiation. So the Roman authorities also confirm the reality of Jesus' death.
What's also interesting about this passage is that we find two unlikely characters confirming the significance of Jesus Christ. Even though he was crucified a common criminal or a rebellious slave, Jesus was someone of incomparable importance. This recognition of Jesus might be understandable coming from one of his Galilean followers, but look at verse 39.
The first unlikely testimony comes from one of the Roman soldiers posted by the cross. The way in which Jesus died has led the soldier to confess Jesus as the Son of God.
Now I don't think the soldier suddenly came to a precise understanding of Jesus' relationship to the God of Israel. No, this Roman was used to honoring one known as the "Son of God". That was one title given to Caesar, since it was believed that Caesar was somehow divine. So here, what we see, is this soldier acknowledging that this Jew crucified as a royal imposter really is the King of kings, not Caesar. A pretty stunning testimony.
The second unlikely character who confirms the significance of Jesus is Joseph of Arimathea. Did you notice what verse 43 tells us about Joseph. He was a member of the Jewish Council, the Sanhedrin, the very group that condemned Jesus and delivered him to Pilate and to His death. An unlikely character to ask for Jesus' body and donate a tomb,
So as we've talked about before, whenever you are studying Scripture, you need to ask yourself, "What is the author's main point of what I'm reading? What purpose does it serve in the broader context? What would be missing if this section was removed?"
If we answer those questions in regard to this passage, we would have to say that a big part of why Mark has included these verses is to confirm both the manner and reality of Jesus' death and burial, historical events that were witnessed by and confirmed by various individuals. Furthermore, what these verses do is testify to the fact that, even in this horrible death, Jesus' unique identity was confirmed by men who were unlikely witnesses.
But there is another feature in this account that tells us this was no ordinary man, and thus no ordinary death.
III. The Significance of Darkness
Let's go back to the very first verse of this passage, verse 33. Look at what it says:
And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.
Darkness? Why darkness? Well, the first thing that seems clear here, the reason Luke includes this note, is that this darkness was not some kind of freak weather occurrence. It didn't just happen to be really, really overcast.
No, even though Mark doesn't tell us this specifically, it seems fairly obvious that God brought about this darkness. But again, why? Was it just some kind of divine special effect to add to the gloom?
No, I think there are several ways we could understand the reason for this darkness.
For example, Luke tells us that when the Jewish leadership came to arrest him in the Garden, Jesus said, "But this is your hour, and the power of darkness." (Luke 22:53)
So this darkness at the cross could represent the apparent victory of the human and satanic forces that opposed Jesus.
Or listen to this from the prophet Amos:
"And on that day," declares the Lord God, "I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. (Amos 8:9)
So if we are to understand this darkness at the cross in light of Amos 8, we would say that this was a sign of divine judgment.
It might be a warning of judgment against those who betrayed, tortured, and hung the Son of God on the cross, or it could be a picture of God's judgment being poured out on Jesus. Remember what Paul told the Galatians:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us-for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE" (Galatians 3:13)
Even though he knew no sin, Jesus became a curse for us by taking the curse of sin.
So which one is it? How should we understand this darkness? I don't think we can know because the passage doesn't tell us. It may be that one of these ideas is being communicated through this midday darkness, or that all of them are true.
Mark simply tells us there was darkness over the land for three hours. He doesn't try to explain it. But he does tell us something about what happened in the midst of this darkness.
We read, in verse 34, that in the midst of this darkness Jesus cried out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Jesus is reciting here the opening words of Psalm 22. His cry is an affirmation of faith, "My God. My God..." (double emphasis), but at the same time, a confession of despair, "Why have you abandoned me?"
It's disturbing statement coming from Jesus. As once commentator put it, "nothing up to this point in Mark's Gospel has prepared the reader for this cry."
Now, there is a lot of speculation about why Jesus uttered this cry, but because, once again, Mark does not add any explanation, we can only know so much. But I think it might be fair to say that Jesus' feelings of forsakenness were related to the reason for this supernatural darkness that came over the land.
You see, darkness is a symbol of being cut off from the true Light; it speaks of spiritual blindness, of an inability to find God. That's why the Bible tells us that apart from God's grace, all of us walk in darkness.
So here, at the very least, in light of Jesus' words from the cross, I think we can say that the significance of this darkness is that it represents the reality that, in some way, God, to use a phrase from the psalms, God has hidden his face.
Humanity has crucified His Son. The Son has become a curse. And God has hidden his face.
Yea, darkness seems like a pretty good way to illustrate the awfulness of the situation.
IV. Expressions of Faith
But think about this. Think about how these women, must have felt in the midst of this darkness, for we read in verse 41, "When he was in Galilee, they followed him [that means, they were his disciples] and ministered to him ...". And now he was dead. Yes, it must have seemed like God was hiding his face.
Think about how Joseph, who is described by the other gospels as a secret disciple of Jesus, think about how Joseph must have felt. As a member of the Council, had he remained quiet while Jesus was condemned? Probably so, because in verse 43 we read that he had to overcome fear and muster up the courage to ask Pilate for Jesus' body. Only now does Joseph come to stand with Jesus. Yes, it must have seemed like God was hiding his face.
So what brought these women to the cross, in spite of the possible dangers of being associated with Jesus? What kept them there to watch the agony of their Master, and his awful death? What emboldened Joseph to go and ask for the body of a man condemned by his own comrades? What drove Joseph to bury Jesus that afternoon, in spite of the very real possibility he, a member of the Jewish Council, could be a Sabbath violator?
Wasn't it faith? No, not faith in what Jesus could do or would do. There is absolutely no indication that any of these people were expecting the resurrection. Their reactions on Sunday make that pretty clear.
No, the faith that drove them to act, even in the midst of this darkness, even when the face of God seemed hidden, when nothing seemed to make any sense, the faith that drove them to act was faith in what Jesus had said and done. The impact of his life motivated these disciples, even after his death.
When all the others had fled, these women and this man took courage to continue ministering to Jesus in the only way they could at this point.
Do you ever feel like God's is hiding his face? In Christ, God has promised us that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), that nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:39).
But there are times, aren't there, there are times when God seems far away, when it's hard to get a sense of his presence, when we are confused about his will, when the certainty of his promises seems to fade.
There are times that we feel like these two Marys and Joseph must have felt, times when nothing seems to make sense. Times when we don't feel like fighting; times we don't feel like pressing on; times we don't feel like reading the word or praying; times we don't feel like turning the other cheek; times we don't feel like abstaining, or sharing, or resting, or loving others because we don't feel like God is there. His face seems hidden.
It is in those times that God, in light of what Jesus has said and done, calls us to have faith in the darkness.
In the darkness, our Enemy wants to drive us toward doubt. He wants us to ask, "Have I been fooling myself? Is this really true? Am I wasting my time? Should I really feel like this?"
If you've ever been caught in a power outage, you know that sometimes the darkness can overtake rather quickly. You might be in walking across a room or down a hallway and suddenly you can't see. What do you do? Well, the worst thing you could do is forget the direction you were headed, and forget what you saw when there was light.
All of us, at different times, will find ourselves in this kind of darkness, the kind of darkness behind which God seems to be hiding his faith.
But, brothers and sisters, if you have placed your trust in Jesus Christ as your only hope, God is calling you, in times like this, to remember the way you were headed, to remember what you saw so clearly before the darkness came.
These women had followed Jesus and ministered to him. Joseph was looking for the kingdom of God, and in light of his actions here, must have found what he was looking for in Jesus.
What's your story? If you were there, how would Mark describe you? What do you know, without a shadow of a doubt, what do you know God has given you? What has he shown you? How has he rescued you?
In the midst of this kind of darkness, go back and remember. Remember. And then keep going.
There is a certainty that can be ours because of the certainty of what Jesus has done.
There is still one more feature of this story that confirms for us that this was no ordinary man, and thus not an ordinary death.
Look again at verses 37 and 38: And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
Even though Mark does not add any kind of theological or spiritual commentary to this account of Jesus' suffering and death, the theological or spiritual significance of this tearing of the curtain would be fairly clear to anyone who understood something about this Temple.
This curtain or veil hung in the Temple and separated the holy place, the first chamber, from the holy of holies, the second chamber where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. The holy of holies represented the place where God himself dwelt. And so the curtain was a symbol of the separation that existed between a holy God and sinful men and women.
But at the death of Jesus, remarkably, that separation was taken away.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews tells us this about what Jesus has done:
We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf... (Hebrews 6:19, 20)
You see, through His death, Jesus has reconciled us to God. He has removed the barrier and established a relationship for those who trust in him. We no longer have to go to God through a human priest or intercessor. We can now, with confidence, draw near to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).
How do you handle the darkness? Now you know the kind of darkness I mean.
There is a certainty that can be ours because of the certainty of what Jesus has done.
Hold onto that in the darkness. Cling to the promise that, if you have given yourself to Jesus in faith, you belong now to God.