Three Hours of Darkness

For a few hours Monday, there was unity in America, as all people with special glasses were gazing at the eclipse. There were exclamations of wonder and awe. Others were disappointed, expecting more than they saw. We have read only a few articles about the experience. My thoughts ran from how gracious God is to share His glory with us, to His bringing this unity, if only for a few hours. More than this, my thoughts have been centered on another day in history over two thousand years ago, when there were three hours of darkness during the middle of the day. Never hearing a sermon on this, I searched for what Charles Spurgeon had to say, and am blessed that I can share it here. He actually preached on this passage twice. The link to the second one is shared after this one. I pray your hearts will be blessed by this sermon as mine has been.

“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.”
Matthew 27:45

“THIS darkness was not occasioned by any of the natural causes which generally produce darkness. It was in the middle of the day, precisely at noon, that the darkness came. It could not have been caused by an eclipse, for, it being the time of the Passover, we know that the moon was just then at its fullest—at which period no such thing as an eclipse of the sun could possibly occur. It could not, then, have been produced from that cause.

And from the way in which Luke describes it, it does not seem to have been occasioned by the sun being eclipsed by any other body, for if you look to his narrative you will find he seems to say that the darkness came first, and that afterwards the sun became dark. Whether this was through some dense vapor coming over the face of the earth, an intensification of some of these fogs to which we are so accustomed, or whether it was through a miraculous action upon the atmosphere, so that while the sun shone its light was no longer able to reach the eye, we cannot tell, but in some way or other darkness prevailed over all the land from twelve o’clock till three in the afternoon.

We suppose that this darkness came on suddenly and, if so, it must have been most striking. Just in the midst of their ribald mirth, while they were staring at the naked body of their victim and insulting Him with their jests and jeers, wagging their heads, and thrusting out their tongues—just at that very moment total darkness came on!

We suppose it to have been total, or, at any rate, such a gloom as to be a “darkness” which “was over all the land.” We suppose, too, that just as suddenly this darkness was withdrawn. As soon as the Savior expired, just at the moment when He gave His last triumphant shout, “It is finished,” the sun gleamed forth again and the earth laughed once more in the sunlight—for the great trial of Christ, the great struggle for man’s salvation—was then all over! Such a phenomenon must have been most striking. The sudden darkening and the sudden lighting up of the world must have been a thing to be remembered and to be talked of by all who saw it!

As for ourselves at this time, we have not so much to do with the physical causes or with the appearance, itself, as with the spiritual meaning of this darkness. There is light in this darkness, if not to the natural, yet to the spiritual eye, if we have grace to discern it.

That Sacrifice!—the death of Him—
The high and ever Holy One!

Well may the conscious heaven grow dim,
And blacken the beholding sun.”

There is something to be learned, even from the darkness—something to be learned from the light, and something to be learned from both the darkness and the light together. In the first place, there is, we believe—

I. SOMETHING TO BE LEARNED IN THIS REMARKABLE DARKNESS which covered all the land during the sharpest and severest part of our Savior’s agony.

We learn, first, the sympathy of creation with her Lord. There is a singular sympathy in creation between God’s vicegerent on earth, namely, man, and the world. When man was in his integrity, then the earth was fruitful, but when man fell, the curse fell upon the ground as well as upon man. “Cursed is the ground for your sake.” Then the thorn and the thistle sprang up, being sent by God as a token of His displeasure with man. We believe, brothers and sisters, that “the creature was made subject to vanity not willingly,” and that in due time, when sin has been cleansed away; this earth of ours will be redeemed from the curse.

We are looking for the happy and halcyon time when the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the trumpet of the archangel and the voice of God, and then this poor darkened planet shall be washed from her night garments of mist, and shall shine out like her sister stars, the unfallen worlds, praising and magnifying the God who created her! Now if there is this sympathy, as we are sure there is, between the earth and man, much more is there a sympathy between the earth and God—and still more between the earth and that Man who was God as well as man! Observe that when He was born, midnight turned to midday, and when He died mid-day turned to midnight.

When He was born, heaven was lit up with splendor and from angelic choirs the Bethlehem song was heard, while men also rejoiced, because unto them a child was born, unto them a Son was given. But when he died, heaven put out her brightest light! “You sun, of this great world, both eye and soul,” you did—and, perceiving it in midday—midnight, with your face all wrapped as in a mantle for very shame, you did lament Him whom men scoffed and mocked, for you were the chief mourner at the death of the King of Kings.

The earth, then, thus showed her sympathy with the Lord Jesus Christ by her darkness. Remember, too, that she also trembled through her ribs of stone, for there was an earthquake and the veil of the temple was split in two—and even death acknowledged its defeat, for many of the saints that slept, arose. There is a wondrous sympathy, then, between the world and He who made and redeemed the world—and this was manifested by the darkening of the world at the time of His death!

But, secondly, there was in great deal more in the darkness than this. It was surely a rebuke and a check to the insulting cruelty of man! What louder rebuke, though without a sound! What stronger check, though without a voice, could have been offered to that assembled throng? The Roman in his pride, the Jew in his bigotry and the Gentile in his hatred of all that was sacred, were all there—and all did their utmost to pour contempt on Christ! And just in the midst of it they were like the men who sought after a light in Sodom—as if they were all smitten with blindness—they could not find their way! It was all dark round about Him. Now they could no longer scoff at Him. They dared not now say, “Let Him come down from the cross!”

I suppose that during those three hours there must have been an intense silence, or if men ventured to use their lips, they whispered to one another, “What is this that has come upon us? Is this the judgment, and is that man, after all, the King of the Jews, and is this darkness, this darkness which may be felt, the taking away of the light of mercy from our eyes that we may perish in everlasting darkness?” I think I can hear them muttering thus, as some of them found their way to their homes, stumbling and falling to the ground, and others of them coming together for the sake of company to keep up their courage—but all of them sitting astonished in the thick darkness and wondering what it could mean— when a tremor went through all the earth and the veil of the temple was split and even the heathen centurion, astonished by all these surprising concomitants of the death of this crucified man, said, “Surely this must be the Son of God!” It was an amazing rebuke, then, to the wickedness of man which then came to its climax round about the cross.

Was it not also, in the third place, the furnishing of our Savior with a retiring room, not that He might get a shelter, but that He might now be able to do His great work—bear the full weight of our sins and endure the extremities of the divine wrath? I must not say it, but I do think it would have been impossible for human eyes to have looked upon the Savior when He was in the full vortex of the storm of wrath which fell upon Him—and that God, even in mercy to man, shut the door that man’s eyes might not see the Savior in that fearful extremity of misery! It was not meet, when He trod the winepress, so that He should be gazed upon. He must tread the winepress alone in all the fullest meaning of that word, with not even an eye to gaze upon Him! It must be in the thick that He must press those grapes of wrath and stain His garments with His blood.

Oh, brothers and sisters, you can have no thought—it is impossible you should— of the depth of the Savior’s sufferings! The Greek liturgy, when it speaks of Christ’s sufferings as “Your unknown sufferings,” has just hit the mark. They were unknown—unknown to us and unknown, also, perhaps, to lost souls in hell, so dire and so extreme were they! He was shut up in the darkness that He might there alone bear the whole of it.

And was not this darkness, too, intended to be to us a sort of emblem of His state? It is as much as if God had said to us, “You want to know what Christ had to suffer? You cannot know, but that black darkness is the emblem of it.” The darkness seems to say to us, “Oh, mortal, you cannot understand me— those poor optics of yours are meant for another element, namely, for light—you lose yourself in me! You cannot find a pathway in the thick black darkness.”

So Christ on the cross seems to say to us, “My people, you can follow Me to some extent. In some of My paths you must follow Me, but here, as your atoning surety and as the vicarious sacrifice for your sins—here you cannot follow Me. This is not your element— you will lose yourselves here. You cannot comprehend it! It is only I, only I who have endured the wrath of God, and know what it means, who can travel on this road.” Christian, when you are most oppressed in soul with fellowship with Christ, and when you feel that when asked the question, with James and John, “Are you able to drink of this cup, and to be baptized with the baptism wherewith I am baptized?” you could answer, “Yes, we are able”—mind, there is a point where you are not able—there is something in that cup which you cannot drink. There is a depth in that baptism which you cannot know.

Thank God that you cannot know it! Bless the Master that those paths of horrid gloom, where hell’s blackest nights thicken into the most intense infinitude of darkness, you can never know! “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” was not a cry for you, but for the Savior! To be cast out of God’s presence and to bear the weight of sin, is not for you, but for Christ. He has done it for you, and so the darkness becomes a fit emblem to you because you cannot understand it, neither can you fathom nor understand the depths of the Savior’s sufferings.

Once more. Does not the darkness, inasmuch as it is an emblem of Christ’s sufferings, also set forth to us our own condition? I suppose the Savior was, by force of His suretyship, compelled to take the very place which the sinner should have occupied. The plan of salvation is just this, that Christ shall take the sinner’s place and suffer in the sinner’s stead what the sinner ought to have suffered. The very pith and marrow of the gospel lies in that word—“substitution.” Christ, who knew no sin, was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. We take Christ’s place because Christ took our place! He stood in the place of lost sinners. Well now, the place of a lost sinner is the place of darkness. Outer darkness will be his eternal place, and darkness is his present state—his natural condition—as the Apostle said, “We were sometimes darkness.”

“Well might the sun in darkness hide,
And shut his glories in,

When God, the mighty Maker, died
For man, the creature’s sin.”

So the Savior is made to be in darkness and as man would have had to abide forever in darkness, misery, despair, and hopelessness, so the Savior is, for three hours, denied the light of the sun! He is denied all comfort, denied all mercies—He is left without a glimpse of His Father, or a ray from the light of the sun because He then stood in the place of His people! Ah, Christian, ought not this to make you hate sin, to think that sin thus put you in the dark and would have kept you there, and continued you in the bleakness of darkness forever?

Ought it not, too, to make you hate it when you remember that it put your Lord in the dark, and made Him hang bleeding from His wounds without a light to cheer Him or a glimpse to comfort Him? If, Christian, you do not hate sin when you think of this darkness, surely you must be still in the dark! We gather, then, these few lessons from the darkness, though we are persuaded that there are many more in it. But now we come to—

II. GATHER SOME LESSONS FROM THE LIGHT.  Con’d.
Gracious Father, thank you for the darkness of that day, when Jesus passed through it on our behalf, so that we, as your people, will never have to experience this darkness; your judgment reserved for those who have rejected your Son as the Light of truth that came into our darkness to save us. In Jesus’ name we thank you and praise you. Amen.

The Three Hours of Darkness ~ Charles Spurgeon’s second sermon on Matthew 27:45