At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at 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 near heard this, they said, "Listen, he's calling Elijah." One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to take him down," he said. With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!"
Stand with me at the scene of the cross. Here there is no Easter Sunday, no glorious resurrection. No, here we are faced with the cross. Right here right now is our reality. Right here at the cross, right now at the cross is all we know. We have walked with Jesus as he taught with authority and wisdom. We have marvelled with the crowds as he healed the sick and raised the dead. We have celebrated with singing as this young Galilean rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, seemingly the Messiah we had all been waiting for. Yet now we stand in the darkness of this scene of crucifixion, and all that has gone before seems distant, irrelevant and worthless. For before our eyes hangs this man, this same man. How do you respond to the man on the cross?
Darkness envelops the land and now as our eyes squint and strain through the darkness we feel relieved because we cannot see as clearly the fullness of the horror of the scene. The darkness now seems to hide it. But then what our eyes miss our ears do not, and a gut wrenching sound echoes out in the midst of the darkness.
‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
Here at this sound the darkness of the land cannot hide the reality of the scene before us. Here at this sound our ears do not need to strain to know what is happening, for here at this sound we glimpse the truth of the horror of the event. This God-Man is god-forsaken.
His cry comes from the depths of his heart, for here he is alone, here he is abandoned. He is not singing a Psalm to prove his messiahship (Psalm 22). He is in torment, a place of unimaginable pain. Surely for Jesus, here the darkness is accompanied by silence. Here no longer can he hear his Father’s voice calling him the delight of his life (Mark 1:11).
As Jesus hangs in darkness and despair are we not confronted with the reality of our situation? For should it be us who hang there in darkness and despair because of the enormity of our sin? Because we have not loved God with all our heart soul, mind and strength, the One that has, hangs in our place. As he is suspended in our place, the horror of our sin and its consequences are heard.
As Jesus hangs on the cross the power of sin, death and darkness unleash its worst upon him. Powers that we were meant to feel the weight of. Yet in darkness and despair, Jesus experiences the weight of sin so we do not have to. Jesus hangs there so that we can be reconciled to God, so that we do not have to cry out ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ for how could we ask such a question when we face the actuality of our sin? To be god-forsaken should have been our only certainty.
As we hear the depths of despair in the voice of the Son of God, how do we respond to the man on the cross? Do we stand and discuss together what his cry might mean; cold to the reality of the suffering he endures? Or do we leave the group for a second and present Jesus a token offering on the end of a stick, as though it might soften the weight of cross that hangs on his back? How do you respond to the man on the cross?
As Jesus hangs in darkness, do we concede that it has overcome him (John 1:5)? Has the Light of the World been extinguished for good? Yet because of such pain and suffering, because of this journey, by Jesus, through the valley of the shadow of death, we can be sure that nothing we go through has not already been known by the Son of God. No pain or hurt, tear and mourning, crying or shame has not already been known by Jesus himself. Therefore, when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me (Psalm 23:4)! As sin, evil and death unleash their worst onto Jesus, as the horror of separation and abandonment confront him at the cross, we can stare humbly, reverently and with tears in our eyes at the cross, peering through the darkness, and see that Jesus hangs there, representing us, bearing the full weight of all our sin, so that we can know that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:39). Because Jesus was abandoned, we can know reconciliation. Because Jesus was in despair, we can know joy. Because Jesus cried out in dereliction, we can cry out in joyful reunion!
When glimpsing the horror of the scene, hearing the depth of the despair, and as we hear Jesus cry out and see the way he died, do we, with the centurion, say surely this man was the Son of God?
But do not merely gaze at the scene as if staring at the scene itself is enough. No, be sure that here God has done something, God has taken the first step, God, in his grace has made it possible for us to respond. A mystery has occurred here at the cross, a mystery that we are invited to share in. Here in such starkness and brutality, God reveals himself to us that we might respond to him. How then will you respond to the man on the cross?