A Study of Mark 15:33-34
It was in the beginning of our Lord’s earthly ministry that John the Baptist pointed to Jesus as He stood at the Jordan River and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Literally, John said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who is bearing the sin of the world.” That is, John identified Him not simply as the One who would in the future bear, but as the One who was presently bearing, our sins.
He bore the sins of His people, of His church, His whole life long—from His conception in Mary’s womb, until the giving up of His life on the cross. He carried them upon Himself into the three hours of darkness upon the cross, during which time He earned a full pardon for all of those sins by suffering the just, horrible, and full penalty that the sins of His people deserved.
In certain places, the sin-bearing of Jesus Christ came to a heightened expression. In Gethsemane, the garden where, in the hours before the cross, all the suffering that was necessary to remove those sins was presented to Him in the figure of a cup handed to Him by His Father, and where He prayed three times, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me, nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39).
The sins came upon Him markedly upon Golgotha when they crucified Him, and especially when He was crushed in the jaws of death and poured out His own blood as a sacrifice for the sins of God’s children.
As we follow the account of our Lord’s crucifixion and death upon Calvary, we notice that at twelve noon a marked change came over the cross. Up to twelve noon the Scriptures emphasize what men do to Him. There was His trial during the night, the mockery, the crucifixion. And then, as they crucified Him at nine o’clock in the morning, for the next three hours there is nothing but the jeering, taunting contempt at the hands of men.
But at twelve noon there is a change — a change from what man does to what God does. For a veil of darkness is cast over the cross. And from twelve noon until 3 p.m. all men are silent. God came to the cross to speak a word of justice, a word of judgment, and a word of wrath. And it was at the end of those three hours of darkness that God’s eternal Son in the flesh pierced the darkness with the cry: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34).
We want to approach to those words, those unfathomable words of the Lord on the cross. As we approach those words today, we hear God’s Word, “Take off the shoes from your feet, for the ground on which you stand is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).
On the one hand, we are drawn to try to understand that cry. We will be taken, then, to the very heart of the heart of the gospel, to the soul of the soul of the gospel. If we seek our life by faith in Jesus Christ, we cannot but be drawn to the glory and to the majesty of those words.
And, on the other hand, we feel driven back by the mystery of God forsaken by God. We can only stand in shame, as we consider those words, about how horrible our sin must be. We can only stand in uncomprehending and amazing awe of how gracious God is, that He gave His own Son to eternal death for us.
We read in Mark 15:33 , “And when the sixth hour (that is, twelve noon) was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.”
As I said, the Holy Spirit is directing our attention now to a change in focus that began at a certain time — from noon until 3 p.m. a thick darkness fell upon the cross of Calvary. As I said, our Lord was crucified at nine o’clock in the morning. For the first three hours, light shone upon the cross and Jesus could be seen hanging crucified. The foot of the cross is very busy with clamor and jeering and ridicule and scorn. But then, when the sun was at its zenith, shedding its brightest rays, when its light and warmth were at its peak, a thick, horrible darkness fell over all the land and over everyone. No matter how drunken in unbelief, no matter how stupefied in contempt for the Christ — everyone knew that something unusual, something frightening was happening. And there was silence around the cross. Not a word was spoken. Mouths were shut. For God spoke by sending a darkness darker than a hundred midnights.
What caused it?
Was it an eclipse of the sun?
No. No eclipse lasts for three hours, nor plunges the earth into immediate darkness. God did this. God gathered up all the light of the earth and put His hand in front of the sun and closed the mouth of men.
How extensive was this darkness?
We read in Mark 15:33, “there was darkness over the whole land.” Luke tells us that it was over the whole earth. And the word that is used by Mark can be translated, and is properly translated, earth. It was over the whole earth. Midnight fell upon the earth as God came to visit His Son with all the holy wrath that the sins of His people deserved. No camera could shine through that. This could never be portrayed. This is God, now, in a moment of time, coming to His own Son to bring to our sins what they deserved.
What does that darkness mean?
The answer of the Bible is clear and undisputed. Darkness is a symbol of the judgment and the wrath of God. We remember the ninth plague that fell upon Egypt before God brought Israel out of the land of Egypt and poured His judgments upon Egypt’s gods and upon Pharaoh. We read in Exodus 10:21, “And the Lord said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand toward heaven that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even a darkness which may be felt.”
It was a thick darkness, a darkness that no candle’s light could penetrate. Men would sit down in fear and in dread. So the darkness that now descends upon Calvary is the darkness of God coming in His judgment against sin. Jesus Himself made that plain when He characterized hell, the place of God’s wrath and judgment on sin, as a place of “outer darkness.”
He said that the children of the world would be “cast into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12).
And the apostle Peter also describes hell as the place where the impenitent receive eternal darkness, which is reserved forever for those who reject the gospel.
The darkness on Calvary, therefore, represented God’s judgments that were now being unleashed and poured out in their full measure. God’s holy fury (for God is holy and righteous), which banishes sin to outer darkness, this fury is going to be placed upon Him who hangs upon the cross in the stead of and in the place of all those who were given to Him by His Father’s eternal grace of election.
The Lord knew that this was to happen to Him. In the Psalms He had spoken: “The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow” (Psalm 116:3).
Again, “All thy waves and billows are gone over me.” (Psalm 42:7).
The darkness of our hell, the darkness of what was owed by us, the judgments that deservedly were our own would then be transferred completely to the Lord, the head of the church.
It was out of that darkness, near the end of a period of three hours, that there arose the loud cry of our Lord that rent the silence around the cross. We read, “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
Again the Holy Spirit emphasizes the time. It was at the ninth hour, that is, at the end of the three-hour period of pitch darkness, the tail end, in the last moments, so that shortly after His cry the darkness is lifted from Calvary and the light returns.
There have been three hours of silence, three hours when the boasting and blasphemous swagger of men had been silenced. Men had their mouths shut before the holy God and they only groped in fear. During those three hours, eternity’s darkness had fallen upon our Lord Jesus Christ.
What was done during those three hours?
A veil is drawn over our eyes. We cannot see this with our eyes. This cannot be portrayed.
But it brought Him to cry out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
We are told that He cried out with a loud voice. It was not a muffled moan of a man on the brink of death. It was not something that He whispered hoarsely to those who were nearby so that you would have to bend your ear to hear what He had to say. No, it was a loud voice. We get the word “mega” and “megaphone” from the Greek word that is used. “Mega,” tons, big. It was a loud voice, filling all of Golgotha, filling the whole land around Him. In fact, this voice fills heaven and earth. Our Lord Jesus has now hung upon the cross for six hours, bleeding, in the agony of the body, and now, for three hours, in the unfathomable agony of soul. He has borne the unbearable. He has swallowed up the eternal hell of God’s children. At the end, after a silence of three hours during which each person cowered and was silent, Jesus marshalls tremendous physical strength, and His cry rends the air. It was spoken in a language that all would know: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani.” “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
What was that cry?
It was not a cry of despair.
He does not say, “Oh God, oh God,” but “My God, My God.” Whatever it meant, it was spoken by the Lord in the confidence and in the faith that God was His God — “My God, My God.”
It was a cry of amazement, of the experience of abandonment — why, to what purpose have you forsaken Me, have you abandoned Me?
His cry was directed to His God and it was asked in amazement, “Why have you abandoned, forsaken Me?”
What does that mean?
We cannot fathom those words. We must bow in repentance and in thanks — repentance of our sin and thanks for God’s grace.
But let me tell you a few things about what it does not mean.
It does not mean that our Lord complained in unbelief, that He asked, “Why hast Thou given Me over to this treatment of men? Why have you let men do this to Me?” He is not asking that.
He knew the answer to that!
Nor is He asking the question because He does not know the reason. His words, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” are words that He is taking directly from Psalm 22:1.
And in Psalm 22:3 the answer is given.
Why does God forsake Him?
“But thou art holy in thy ways.” He knew that He stood as the substitute of God’s people and that God, in His holiness, was now to bring to those people the wrath that their sins deserved. Only, God would bring that wrath not to them, but to their representative. And Jesus knew He was their representative.
Still more. It does not mean that the Father, the first person of the Trinity, left the Son, the second person of the Trinity, or that the Father was in any way displeased with Him. The Lord could say, “My Father loveth Me because I lay down My life for the sheep.”
The Father loved the Son!
What does it mean?
It means this, that God, in eternal love for His people, had taken the hot coals of the holy judgment that our sins deserved and placed them upon His beloved Son and gave His Son to suffer what we would deserve in an eternity of the darkness of hell. The cup that the Lord saw in Gethsemane, a cup that was forged by the holiness of God as it reacts against and consumes the sins of which we are guilty — that cup He has now willingly taken and He has drunk it all.
It pleased the Lord to bring this to Him (Isaiah 53). Voluntarily our Lord has entered into this darkness for us. In love for us, the Father had placed it all upon Him. God the Father took the judgment, which would consume us eternally in hell, and poured it all into the soul of His Son. A darkness deeper than a hundred midnights has been brought to Calvary.
And Jesus now has endured that darkness for us!
Let us allow the Scriptures, then, simply to explain the mystery to us.
“For he (that is, God) hath made him (that is, His Son in the flesh) to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
(II Corinthians 5:21)
“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.”
The One whose delight it was to commune with the Father is now made to suffer all that it means to be cast out by a holy God into the darkness of eternal hell.
The darkness that He deserved?
The darkness that we deserved. God had placed upon His Son the judgment that the elect of God deserved in order that they would not bear that judgment but be made righteous in Him.
I know why He was abandoned of God.
No, I cannot comprehend, I cannot at all fathom the depth of what is being revealed to us.
Jesus abandoned by His God!
In a sense I am glad that I will never comprehend the depth of that. But I do know why this had to be.
Do you know why?
The answer is this: So that I might never be forsaken of God.
We do not leave the cross shaking our heads in confusion asking, “Now what was that all about?” We do not leave the cross as those who are leaving the movie The Passion of the Christ with some type of emotional response to terrible brutality shown to a man, and somehow resolve that in the light of that brutality we should live a different life.
No. That is not how the grace of God causes you to leave the cross!
As the cross is brought to you in the way that God intends it to be brought — through the Word and by the preaching of the gospel — we leave the cross knowing exactly what has taken place. And we know why. God has abandoned His Son, God has poured darkness down into the soul of His own Son on Calvary.
So that His children, whom He has chosen merely of grace from eternity, might have the light of life and never be forsaken of Him. So that you and I, as the children of God, might have the light of eternal life.
That is the mystery of the grace and the love of God. The mystery is this: how awful is my sin! How deep, how terrible, is the sin of which I am guilty.
How inexcusable it is!
And how incomprehensible and how glorious is the grace and love of God!
For He was forsaken in our place, so that we might never be forsaken. He was abandoned in order that we might never be abandoned. As He cries out with a loud voice upon Calvary’s cross, all of God’s children, who are brought to faith and repentance by the grace of the Spirit, now know that they shall not be forsaken of God, that God will not deal with them as their sin would deserve, for He has done that to His own Son.
At the foot of the cross, let us hear the gospel.
Why was Jesus forsaken of His God in the darkness of Golgotha?
God says the answer is this: Because I made Him to be a curse for you so that you, a curse-deserving sinner, may go free.
I placed Him in the place of My people, of those whom I have chosen freely of grace so that they should not be abandoned in the darkness of their hell, but that they might have the light of eternal life.
That is the gospel. It is entirely of God. It is entirely of His grace.
Do you hear it?
Do you hear it as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit in your heart of hearts?
Then bow in worship and be lost in praise and marvel.
And then go down to your house — no matter the way that you take, no matter the trials that God is pleased to bring now into your life, no matter the difficulties, the tears, and the sorrows — go down to your house with just one thing in your heart: I will never be forsaken of God.
By Carl Haak