We count life in days. Whether we like it or not. It is a fact. One day comes with light and ends in darkness. Good days feel short, bad days feel longer, but it is only an illusion. They are all exactly the same length – every minute to the last second. We rest in the certainty of this rhythm. Since the beginning of time darkness and light marked our days in the rigid routine that rules our lives.
We plan en look forward to special days. Days are marked on the calendar as festive days, holidays, wedding days and birthdays. Dark days come unplanned. We look back and remember sad days, tearful days, days of longing, painful days and depression days – days that seem to plod along in the dark night of the soul and leave us deeply wounded. Those days were not marked ahead on our calendar.
God’s darkest day was planned long before time was counted.
In a garden on Thursday night long ago, a Man struggled with His following day. He knew the pain day was coming. The day was marked in heaven. In his human body he shied away from what He knew was coming. An angel came to strengthen him. The new day came – the day marked by darkness on the calendar of God the Father.
Dawn brought the soldiers and the Roman’s words: John 19:5:
When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
Pilate was unprepared for this day and thought he had authority to pardon this bloodied, tortured, simple Jew who seemed to anger the Jewish leaders and the people so much. He found that even though he wanted to show mercy, he could not. He said the words as if he willed the crowd to feel sorry for Him and let Him go, but the day was marked and pre-ordained and Pilate was a mere pawn in the Plan.
History credits the Persians with crucifixion as a method of execution. They did not want the flesh of an evil man to penetrate the earth and hoped that the vultures and crows would let the evil disappear. The Carthaginians took it over from them and the Romans learnt it from Carthage. It was a shameful death. No Roman citizen would have ever been subjected to it and it was reserved for slaves and serious criminals. The soldiers that had to execute it, was given much alcohol to be able to watch the cruel, slow death. Experts say that the crucified man dies of asphyxiation, since the lungs cannot function in such a position.
A crucifixion was usually preceded by a scourging with a leather thong-whip into which little pieces of sharp bone was tied to inflict the most damage to the naked back of a man. He was whipped until he passed out or lost consciousness. When he came round, the cross was put on his back and the longest possible road was chosen for the prisoner to walk with the cross. The reason for the conviction was written down and carried before him, so that anybody who knew of any fact that could mitigate the sentence, the procession was stopped and the trial continued right there.
Pilate wrote for Jesus – the King of the Jews. The Jewish leaders were unhappy with this, but Pilate refused to change it. Nobody from the crowd came forward to say anything on His behalf. The very people whom He taught and healed jeered him on to the cross. They did not see. They thought they were doing the right thing by their religion.
Oh, how dangerous is that – that we could lose sight of Jesus Himself in our zeal to be religious.
When Jesus stood next to Pilate that day He was already scourged. The mere fact that He could stand on His feet was a miracle. The words of Pilate are very significant. Pilate spoke Latin, but the New Testament was written in Greek. The Greek words that he used were ho anthropos, which meant: see, the man. That was normal Greek for a human being, but not long afterwards the Greek thinkers were using that name for the heavenly man, the ideal person, the hero of mankind. Jesus was indeed worthy of that name even in His darkest hour.
Pilate was powerless in the face of the church and the crowds and gave in. Even he, in his position of authority could not mitigate the sentence and reluctantly handed Jesus over to be crucified.
The day was marked and planned ahead of time. Nobody could have altered the outcome.
Darkness marked the day.
For most people in this desert-like outpost of the Roman Empire, that Friday was an ordinary day, marked by the Passover that was about to begin. Tradition prescribed the preparations to remember the dramatic deliverance from slavery. The routine was set in stone, just as the law given to Moses. They had to remember the blood on the doorposts as the blood of the lambs was thrown against the Temple foundations.
A few years after the crucifixion, a census was taken over Passover in Jerusalem and an estimated 256 000 lambs were slaughtered. According to the law, a lamb was shared by 10 people, that brings us to 2,5 million Jews in the city over Passover. No wonder the Sanhedrin (Jewish Council) needed Judas to betray the whereabouts of Jesus that night, especially to get through the secret, nightly trial. Can you imagine the bloody mess around the Temple when the blood of the lambs was sprinkled around the foundation of the Temple?
Jesus died on the hour the lambs were slaughtered. The symbolism should have been clear. The sun was darkened and the earth shook. Maybe the priests looked up and wondered about the darkness that interrupted their very important rituals, so focused that they had already forgotten the drama of that morning that sent the Galilean preacher to the cross. They also did not realize that their rituals would soon be ending. Fourty years later the Roman Emperor destroyed Jerusalem and only the one wall of the Temple were left.
No more lambs are slaughtered, no blood flows. The perfect Lamb has died. The sacrifices ceased because the perfect Lamb of God was crucified.
On the hill outside the city His death was etched into the minds of the onlookers. He cried with a great voice, not the faint whisper of a dying man: Finished! Just one word in Aramaic and Greek.
He died with the prayer of Psalm 31:5 on his lips:
Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.
This was a very well known lullaby of any Jewish mother putting her child to bed. Jesus died in the arms of His Father.
Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two.
The darkness is not something to fear. It was in darkness that the veil was torn and the Most Holy was accessible. In the darkness the Presence is real. In your darkness you will experience God’s Presence, His loving arms, His still soft voice that will sooth and calm you with the lullaby of heaven.
So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.
God is in the darkness. He will turn your dark day into victory. The dark day of heaven is still the greatest victory over death and pain in the entire history of mankind.
For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you.
1 Peter 1:18-21:
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
Dear Pebble pals, let us be still and think upon the cross of Jesus before this Easter weekend so that the holiday and activities of a long weekend not blur the exceeding salvation that we are so privileged to have. It is, after all, the most important time on the Christian calendar.
Day of darkness, day of blood, day of redemption, day of victory, day of power.
And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…