33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”
36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.
(Mark 15:33-41 NIV)
Jesus has been up all night, arrested and tried illegally by the Jewish religious leaders, and found guilty of blasphemy against God. These Jewish religious leaders, forbidden by Jewish law from carrying out the terms of the sentence (death), turn to the Roman governor Pilate and claim Jesus committed high treason against Rome by claiming to be king.
Pilate sees through their envious hatred of Jesus, and even though he knows Jesus is innocent, he caves in to the demands of the unruly crowd and orders his soldiers to crucify Jesus. The soldiers take Jesus and two other criminals to the place of execution and nail them to their crosses. From 9 AM until 12 Noon, Jesus endures the rejection and mocking of the religious leaders, the taunts and curses of the men crucified on either side of Him, and the insults of those passing by.
In today’s text, Mark tells us that at Noon, darkness descends over the land for three hours. There is no mention of thunder or lightning; there is no mention of any kind of scientific explanation like a solar eclipse. In the Bible, when darkness occurs when there should be light, this is normally a sign of God’s presence (Genesis 15:12-21, Exodus 10:21, 14:20, 20:21, just for a few examples). This is not merely the absence of light, but a darkness that can be felt, the very presence of Almighty God.
The prophet Amos spoke of this day:
9 “In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
“I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight.
10 I will turn your religious festivals into mourning
and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth
and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son
and the end of it like a bitter day.
11 “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
“when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.
(Amos 8:9-11 NIV)
At 3 PM, Jesus cried out in his native Aramaic, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” God was present, as signified by the darkness, but had broken fellowship with His Son and turned His back on Jesus as Jesus bore the sins of the world. Jesus did not reject His Father, but felt for the first time the pain of separation from His Father.
Someone heard Jesus utter these words, and thought Jesus was calling for Elijah. With a morbid sense of curiosity, these people waited around to see if Elijah would show up.
Mark says that Jesus gave a loud cry, then breathed His last breath and died. This was not a cry of resignation, but a cry of victory. The soldier overseeing the crucifixions heard Jesus, and exclaimed that Jesus was truly Diety. He had likely never heard or seen someone die in such power and strength as Jesus did.
Today’s passage also tells us that when Jesus died, the heavy curtain that separated the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies in the temple was ripped from top to bottom. God was signifying that mankind now had direct access to God through the death of Christ. No longer was an intermediary such as a priest needed to go before God on behalf of the people.
Three women are mentioned as bystanders during Jesus’ crucifixion. Other women are present, but not called out. These three women are introduced now; their introduction will become evident later.
If this were the end of Jesus’ story, it would be a sad ending indeed. The good news is that there is a “rest of the story” yet to be told.
This is Friday, but Sunday’s coming.