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Tuesday
Jul282015

Darkest Hours, Darkest Days

We sophisticated moderns are accustomed to occasional solar and lunar eclipses, watching the sky as either the sun or moon become obscured by the other. It is still an amazing spectacle, but scientifically we know that it is only temporary and the star or satellite will quickly return to normal. There was one day, however, when the sun was obscured, not by a coincidental positioning in the heavens, but as a divine signal of God’s anguish. What followed those three hours of darkness were three days of mystery and suspense, in which our own fates hung in the balance, though we were yet to be born.

Discussion

I. Darkest Hours

A. An Innocent Man

1. we are naturally indignant when an injustice occurs, and we want to make it right if we have the power

2. ironically, however, God’s grace required the greatest injustice in the history of the world, the brutal execution of a perfectly sinless man, the very son of God

3. betrayed by a lieutenant and abandoned by his closest friends, Jesus found himself hanging upon a Roman cross with the approval of the Jewish Sanhedrin and the community in Jerusalem that had only recently cheered his habit of healing their infirmities and filling their bellies with fish and bread

a. just as we wince when innocent children are murdered or left to die in blazing hot cars in the Texas summer, just as we are outraged when harmless old people or business owners are robbed or gunned down by vicious thugs, so we should understand the injustice of the cross, and our own role in bringing Jesus to it

b. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh…” (First Peter 3:18 ESV)

B. Darkness

1. we are each capable of committing great acts of darkness, perhaps called that because we generally prefer to keep them secret, or we choose to deny them when confronted by our own guilt or those we have offended

2. God sent Jesus into the world, not to sit upon an earthly throne, but to lead captivity captive, securing redemption for every sinner who would but believe and obey him

3. still, most will ultimately choose to hold onto the temporary pleasures they derive from indulging sinful appetites rather than invest in faith and longterm salvation (John 3:16-21)

4. regardless of what we do now, Christ still died on the cross, and his death is still a powerful sacrifice for the sins of believers, but the injustice our sins preceded should humble us every day, and especially every time we sin again (First Peter 1:17-19)

C. The Cross

1. the reader arrives with Jesus at the cross after a three-year ministry, entering into the royal city of Jerusalem with an impromptu palm leaf parade, only to find growing hostility among the religious leadership

2. a conspiracy between the Jewish council and a disgruntled apostolic insider led to Jesus’s arrest; a kangaroo court convicted him and a Roman governor upheld his death sentence

3. in a matter of hours, Jesus went from celebrated hero to the cross, the cruelest punishment the Romans allowed, and one that was to serve as a public spectacle and deterrent to acts of civic rebellion

4. Jesus was no direct threat to Roman rule, and had no plans to overthrow caesar or to establish an earthly kingdom of his own

5. still, lies, greed, envy, and politics ensured that the middle cross would be occupied that early spring Friday (Matthew 27:35-50)

a. because the Passover occurred during a full moon, and eclipses only occur at a new moon, we know this was not a coincidence, nor even a natural occurrence

b. this three-hour darkness, beginning at noon and ending at the time when the Jews would begin their evening sacrifice, was evidence of God commenting on man’s wickedness, the injustice that he was permitting in the name of grace, and the symbolism of the appearance that Jesus was being forsaken

c. these were the darkest hours of mankind’s history of rebellion and iniquity

II. Darkest Days

A. The Tomb

1. like the others, Jesus was removed from the cross when he was judged to be sufficiently dead, but unlike the others, his remains were quickly interred in a wealthy man’s tomb, and there it was widely, if not universally, believed, they would rot behind a heavy stone

2. to ensure his dead body would not be stolen by his followers so that they could claim he had been raised from the dead according to his own prophecies, the governor agreed to appoint his own soldiers to guard the tomb as well

3. interred on Friday, his body remained there, sealed in by a stone, guarded by armed men, and utterly devoid of any living spirit for three days as the Jews calculated time

a. the sun set Friday evening as his mother wept and his friends wondered

b. all day Saturday, the disciples grieved and rested, the Sanhedrin quietly celebrated, and the spirit of Jesus basked in Paradise

B. Darkest Days

1. the more time that passed, the more permanent this new arrangement must have seemed; though the sun rose and fell as normal, these were the darkest days in human history as God waited

2. to the Jews who believed in Jesus, disappointment reigned, for most of them thought Jesus was going to deliver them from Roman bondage and reestablish the earthly kingdom of David

3. to the Jews who rejected Jesus, and to the Gentiles, it was just another Saturday

4. to them, the climax of the story had already occurred, but to God, it was yet to come

5. imagine the attitude of the devil, whose inciting of Judas Iscariot’s greed and exploitation of Pontius Pilate’s timidity had brought about the cross — did he celebrate his victory, or wonder why it had been so easy, maybe too easy?

C. Resurrection

1. everything changed Sunday morning, when the sun rose and so did the dead (Matthew 28:1-10)

2. make no mistake about it — without the resurrection, the sun keeps coming up and going down, but mankind remains in utter darkness, spiritual blackness, doom and decay

3. because Christ took up his life again, our faith makes sense and becomes a powerful witness to the world, and a reason to pursue virtue with gratitude (First Corinthians 15:1-7)

4. in fact, faith makes no sense without the miracle of resurrection, the restoration of life to something that has died (First Corinthians 15:16-19)

a. Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God … by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4)

5. and Christ’s resurrection ensures our own (First Corinthians 15:50-57)

D. Motivation

1. the resurrection is more to us than a festival in the spring, or a tradition from our past; it is a hint at our future and motivation in the present (First Corinthians 15:58)

2. it is the climactic act in Jesus’s earthly sojourn, one that we imitate when we are converted and express belief in it (Romans 6:3-6)

3. understand that our faith is not finished when we believe, nor even when we are immersed, but we rise from that watery metaphor to walk a new path (First Peter 1:3-5)

Conclusion

Peter, a witness of the sufferings of Christ, his crucifixion, and his resurrection, described water baptism “as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God” (First Peter 3:21-22).

Questions for Review


  1. Who was responsible for Jesus being on the cross?

  2. Why do most people want to hold on to temporary sin, even if it means forfeiting eternal life?

  3. Of what crime did the Sanhedrin find Jesus guilty?

  4. Where was Jesus between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning?

  5. What is the climactic moment in the time of Christ on Earth?

  6. Why can’t one be a Christian without believing in the miraculous?

  7. What do we do to imitate the resurrection of Christ?

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