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Home » DAILY BIBLE STUDY » THE PASSION OF CHRIST Reflecting On History’s Darkest Hour

THE PASSION OF CHRIST Reflecting On History’s Darkest Hour

THE PASSION OF CHRIST Reflecting On History’s Darkest Hour

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No moments in history deserve more quiet reflection than the hours of Jesus’ suffering just before His death. The angels of heaven must have gone silent as the Lord of the universe suffered in dimensions far greater than could ever be portrayed on any big screen or reenactment. What happened in the dark shadows of gnarled and twisted olive trees can bring our hearts not only to sad wonder but to a lifetime of gratefulness. In the following pages, RBC Senior Research Editor Herb Vander Lugt uses his lifetime of study and pastoral ministry to reflect on the meaning of what the world is once again recognizing as the passion of Christ.

WHEN DARKNESS REIGNED It is Thursday night in Israel. In a garden outside the city walls of Jerusalem, the full moon of Passover casts shadows among scarred and gnarled olive trees. Jesus has regained His composure after a period of intense emotional anguish. The glow of torches and the sound of many feet announce the appearance of Roman soldiers led by a group of religious leaders. They have come to arrest Jesus on charges of blasphemy.

A man named Judas steps forward and identifies his friend and teacher with a kiss of betrayal. Jesus confirms, “I am He.” At these words, the arresting group falls back. Jesus gently chides them, but allows them to take Him. As He does, He says, “But this is your hour—when darkness reigns” (Lk. 22:53). This arrest of Jesus marked the beginning of history’s darkest hour. But in the darkness, God was at work.

CHRIST’S STRUGGLE IN THE DARKNESS

John Wesley said of Christ’s followers, “Our people die well.” Many do, even in the worst of times. History tells of men and women who remained serene, even joyful, while facing a martyr’s death. Millions have calmly chosen 2 This was the beginning of history’s darkest hour.

But in the darkness, God was at work. torture and execution over disloyalty to their Savior. But for a period of time in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus did not show such composure. The Gospel accounts portray Him as deeply troubled and distressed on the eve of His trial and crucifixion. Asking Peter, James, and John to accompany Him and pray for Him, He separated Himself from them a short distance, fell to the ground, and prayed. But instead of remaining long in prayer as He had often done in the past, He soon returned to His disciples, apparently feeling a need for their companionship. He did this three times. According to the writer of Hebrews, “He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears” (5:7).

There are those who have made an issue of Jesus’ turmoil. Some have contrasted His anguish with the resolve of Socrates, who is said to have calmly obeyed the order to kill himself by drinking hemlock. They speak critically of Jesus’ cry from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mt. 27:46), saying it reflects devastating disillusionment and utter despair. But in their own darkness, many have closed their eyes to the significance of what transpired that night and on the day that followed.


They have missed the fact that God and Satan were, at this moment in time, engaged in the crucial battle in the War of the Ages. In the following pages we will see how both God and Satan, together with the disciples and enemies of Jesus, were all contributors to the indescribable anguish Jesus endured that dark Thursday night and even darker “Good Friday.”

GOD IN THE DARKNESS

Loving fathers do all they can to protect their children from unnecessary pain. But according to the Bible, God the Father deliberately intensified the mental anguish and physical pain of His Son during the last 15 hours of His life. Isaiah 53:9- 10, written some 700 years earlier, says, “He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer.” About 25 years after the crucifixion of Jesus, the apostle Paul wrote, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). These are shocking words. Why would God intentionally “crush” His innocent Son? What did Paul mean when he said that God made “Him who had no sin to be sin for us”? To answer these questions, and to begin to understand the suffering of Gethsemane, we must look at the meaning of the word death in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death.” SEEING OUR NEED As the “wages of sin,” “death” involves more than the physical process of dying. The most important element in “death” as the “wages of sin” is spiritual rather than physical. To the people of Christ in Ephesus, Paul wrote, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live” (Eph. 2:1-2).

Notice that the Ephesians were “dead” while they were living. According to the Bible, every person before salvation is spiritually alienated from God. That is the reason for Paul’s plea, “Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). To redeem us and make it possible for us to be spiritually alive—in touch with God—Jesus as our substitute had to experience both physical death (separation of the soul from the body) and spiritual death (separation or alienation from God). When people reject the gospel, they remain spiritually dead. And when they enter eternity, alone and without Christ, they experience “the second death” (Rev. 20:14). This eternal separation from God forms the essence of hell. Therefore, when Paul said that God made Jesus “to be sin for us,” he meant that God treated His sinless Son as if He were a sinner. He caused Jesus to experience physical death and the desolation of hell (the second death). In Galatians 3:13, Paul expressed this truth when he wrote, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’”

MAKING A SACRIFICE FOR US With this in mind, let’s return to Gethsemane. We see Jesus “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mt. 26:38). Anguish swept over Him. He had often spent long evenings talking with and finding strength in His Father. But this night was different. Three times He got up to seek out His disciples. He was not finding satisfaction through prayer. Instead He sensed that His Father was beginning to withdraw from Him. This was the “cup” He dreaded (v.39). It would be so much easier for Him to suffer the physical pain associated with dying if He could do it while in communion with His Father Luke described only our Lord’s third prayer, but he added a detail not mentioned elsewhere: “An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Lk. 22:43). Notice that the coming of the angel both strengthened Him and increased His anguish.

On the one hand, the angel apparently helped Jesus by assuring Him that, although the Father must withdraw His presence, the hosts of heaven were watching Him with breathless wonder. On the other hand, the coming of the angel increased His anguish, perhaps because it brought home to His soul the reality that God was indeed withdrawing from Him. Instead of speaking directly to Him, the Father spoke through one of His servants. Jesus was beginning to experience the desolation of hell. Yes, He had chosen to undergo all the pain and shame that awaited Him without the help of His own divine power, without the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and without the support of His heavenly Father.

Some 14 hours later, after almost 6 hours on the cross, the intensity of our Savior’s spiritual anguish wrenched from Him the cry: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mk. 15:34). After receiving a drink of sour wine from a Roman soldier, Jesus realized that He had emptied the cup of God’s wrath against sin. This brought a triumphant cry from His lips, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). All that was left for Him to do was die physically: “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Lk. 23:46). He bowed His head and gave Luke described only our Lord’s third prayer, but he added a detail not mentioned elsewhere: “An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Lk. 22:43). Notice that the coming of the angel both strengthened Him and increased His anguish.


On the one hand, the angel apparently helped Jesus by assuring Him that, although the Father must withdraw His presence, the hosts of heaven were watching Him with breathless wonder. On the other hand, the coming of the angel increased His anguish, perhaps because it brought home to His soul the reality that God was indeed withdrawing from Him. Instead of speaking directly to Him, the Father spoke through one of His servants. Jesus was beginning to experience the desolation of hell. Yes, He had chosen to undergo all the pain and shame that awaited Him without the help of His own divine power, without the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and without the support of His heavenly Father. Some 14 hours later, after almost 6 hours on the cross, the intensity of our Savior’s spiritual anguish wrenched from Him the cry: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mk. 15:34). After receiving a drink of sour wine from a Roman soldier, Jesus realized that He had emptied the cup of God’s wrath against sin. This brought a triumphant cry from His lips, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). All that was left for Him to do was die physically: “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Lk. 23:46).

He bowed His head and gaveup His spirit (Jn. 19:30). As we reflect on this scene, we cannot help but think of the pain the Father and the Holy Spirit must have felt as they saw the Son, the fellow member of the eternal trinity, suffer and die as He did—abandoned and alone. How they must have longed to reach out,

Source: RBC Ministries.

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