The following transcript was adapted from a sermon I preached in my church, Truth Baptist Church, on the Good Friday of 2019, which in turn was heavily inspired by Timothy Keller’s book King’s Cross: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God. We often think that embracing our calling brings us a life of coherence, joy, and fulfillment. However, for the Son of God, embracing His call involves agonizing pain, suffering, and hell. May we pause and meditate on what it took Him to reconcile us to the God who so lovingly calls us to Himself.
A Cry in the Dark
33 At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama 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 One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, 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, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
Why do we call it, ‘Good Friday’?
Dear brothers and sisters, dear friends: in the Bible texts that we read, we have just witnessed the last few moments in Jesus’ life, from the night He was betrayed, to the unfair trial, through all the mindless torture and humiliation, to this very moment when Jesus died. Friends, if this is the first time you’ve ever attended a Good Friday service, you might be wondering why Christians would call it “Good Friday”. How can it be ‘good’ to see a good and innocent Man, a founder of a religion, to die in such pain and loneliness and horrible suffering? What ‘good’ is there to speak of?
Indeed, when we looked at the events that transpired, we could not see that any good can come out of it. This was dark stuff. It exposed the darkness of the hearts of the people who were shouting, “Crucify Him!”. It exposed the darkness of the hearts of the religious leaders, the Pharisees and chief priests, who would twist the truth to protect their own power.
But here, the darkness became real. The sky literally turned dark. At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour (Mark 15:33). The sixth hour was noon; the ninth hour was 3:00 p.m. So, from 12:00 to 3:00 in the afternoon, as Jesus was dying, there was total darkness.
This was not a natural eclipse
Many people suggested a natural cause for this event. Maybe it’s an eclipse. But a solar eclipse does not create absolute darkness for more than a few minutes. Furthermore, a solar eclipse can’t happen during the time of a full moon, and Passover is always celebrated at a full moon. What about a desert windstorm? The kind that can kick up enough dust to obscure the sun for days at a time? But Passover falls in the wet season, so this darkness couldn’t have come from a windstorm.
This was a supernatural darkness.
In the Bible, when there is an inexplicable darkness during the day, it is always recognized as a sign that God is angry with sin. It is a judgment from God. The prime example of that phenomenon is the darkness over Egypt – that was the 9th plague at the time of the first Passover (Exodus 10:21–23). So when this darkness fell, we know that God was acting in judgment. But who was God judging?
Listen to what Mark says, in v. 34:
34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
God was not so much judging the people who were crucifying His Son. God was judging His Son.
All through the events we had read so far, we saw a Jesus who was poised and in control.
He was so firm and courageous when the guards arrested Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. He took His ground at the unjust trial, when the religious leaders were so eager to find fault with Him.
He did not flinch when the soldiers scourged Him with whips and lashes.
But here, something had happened. Jesus “cried out in a loud voice”. It’s a Greek word that literally mean – Jesus screamed.
Now, this really troubled many people at this point because it looked as if Jesus broke, that He lost confidence in God and as if He was saying to God, “You failed Me.” This has troubled many people. Did He just crack under pressure? One interesting thing is that historians know, that if this is such a troubling statement, then for sure it wasn’t made up. If you were making up the death of the founder of your faith, and you’re trying to promote that faith, you would never put such unheroic, disheartened, hopeless despairing words into his mouth. In other words, it was such a discouraging statement that for sure He said it. It really happened.
If you were making up the death of the founder of your faith, and you’re trying to promote that faith, you would never put such unheroic, disheartened, hopeless despairing words into his mouth.
But what does it mean? Why did Jesus scream? Was it the physical pain? Was it too much for Him to bear?
Look at what He said, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”
My GOD. When Jesus started to cry out, he didn’t say, “My head, my head!” “My hands, my hands!” He was not referring to His physical suffering. (He didn’t say a word when He was flogged) He didn’t say, “My friends, my friends!” He was not referring to His psychological suffering, His social abandonment. This was something way beyond physical or mental torture. It is His infinite spiritual suffering. He said, “My God, my God.” On the cross, Jesus was forsaken by God Himself.
MY God. He said, “My God.” That’s the language of intimacy. To call anyone “my Wendy” or “my Marcus” is affectionate. And in the Bible, to call God, “my God”, is a covenantal address. “You shall be my people, and I shall be your God.” It was the way God said someone could address him if he or she had a personal relationship with him.
“My God, you have forsaken me.”
The judgment was to be forsaken. If friend or colleague comes to me and says, “I never want to see you or talk to you again,” I will feel pretty bad. But if today my wife comes up to me and says, “I never want to see you or talk to you again,” that’s a lot worse. If you ever suffered a divorce, a rejection, or if someone you love died without forgiving you – that is one of the most painful thing that can happen to you.
The longer the love, the deeper the love, the greater the torment of its loss.
But this forsakenness, this loss, was between God the Father and the Son, who had loved each other from all eternity. No love between friends, no parent/spouse, no husband/wife comes close to the love between the Father and the Son. This love between the Father and the Son was infinitely long and absolutely perfect! And Jesus was losing that love.
There’s a word in the Bible that describes this condition. It’s called hell. The presence of God is something our soul needs, like the flower needs the sun. And if this moment the sun goes out we will be immediately dead. We couldn’t survive a second without the sun. Now Hell is to be cut off from God, cut off from the source of life and love and hope, source of everything that is good. Jesus was experiencing hell for us on the cross. At this point, His soul was plunged into infinite, utter darkness.
The Darkness darker than the Black Hole
The Black Hole. On April 10 this year, the world saw the first ever photograph of the event horizon of a black hole some 50 million light-years away. Stephen Hawking speculated that the black hole is where gravity is so strong as to drag light back and prevent it from escaping. Because nothing can travel faster than light, everything else will get dragged back also.
The darkness that Jesus experienced on the cross was darker than the black hole. Because the Light of the World allowed Himself to be sucked into that black hole of total separation, total forsakenness – of hell – for you and me.
You need to understand that, hell is not in time. It’s a spiritual condition of being utterly cast away from the presence of God. There’s no such thing as 3 hours in hell. It’s not as if Jesus could say to Himself, “If only I hold out for 3 more hours, it’ll be over.” He was experiencing an eternity and infinity of suffering.
Jesus was experiencing hell for us on the cross. He was experiencing an eternity and infinity of suffering.
If I ask you, “What if you die one day, and you realize that God is real and hell is real?”
You might defiantly answer, “I’m fine with that – at least all my friends are there.”
But guess what? You will not find your friends in hell. Because friendship is a gift from God. When you are cut off from God, you will be left utterly alone.
That was what Jesus went through on the cross. That was why He cried out in the dark.
“WHY have You forsaken Me?”
Why? The perennial question. Why did God forsake Jesus on the cross?
When Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” He wasn’t asking a rhetorical question. Jesus intentionally referenced the first line of a Psalm in the Bible – Psalm 22:
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?
7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads:
8 “He trusts in the Lord;
let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted away within me.
16 Dogs have surrounded me;
a band of evil men has encircled me,
they have pierced my hands and my feet.
Psalm 22 was written by King David, who lived 1,000 years before Jesus. When you read the details, you know it can’t be written about King David. He wasn’t ‘poured out like water’, not was ‘his bones out of joint’; no one ‘pierced his hands and feet’ nor ‘cast lots for his clothing’. No, this was describing an execution. King David living 1,000 years before Christ was making a prophecy, that points towards Someone who will be executed in precisely this manner, and yet was perfectly innocent and will be vindicated by God. Because later in Psalm 22 you’ll read how God will “deliver [His] life from the sword”, He will “rescue [Him] from the mouth of the lions] (vv. 20-21) God will “listen to His cries for help”. And finally in the last verse,
31 They will proclaim his righteousness
to a people yet unborn–
for he has done it.
What else did Jesus cry out when He breathed His last? “It is finished”. I have done it. The sacrifice has been made.
So the cry in the dark was not just a scream. It was a hint at the fulfilment of a prophecy, a Grand Plan to save us that was formed before the world came to be. I tell you, whatever the upcoming Avengers movie Endgame throw at us, whatever the grand plan that Dr Strange came up with to defeat Thanos, it can never be compared to the Grand Plan that God has conceived to save us that cuts across the eons of existence! Jesus died to save us sinners. He was forsaken so that we never would be.
The answer to the question, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was because Jesus was experiencing our judgment day for us.
It wasn’t a rhetorical question. WHY? The answer is: For you, for me, for us. Jesus was forsaken by God so that we would never have to be. The judgment that should have fallen on us fell instead on Jesus.
Why have God the Father forsaken Jesus on the cross? For you. For me. For us. As one Christian songwriter wrote, “We are the reason that He gave His life; we are the reason that He suffered and died”. It’s true. We are the reason that Jesus had to die. Because Jesus, the Perfect Son of God, was made to be a sacrifice for all of us, and God the Father poured out all His wrath and judgment on Him, so that He absorbed all the wrath and punishment in Himself. So that when we put our faith in Jesus – like the centurion who cried out, “Surely this is the Son of God” – if we submit our lives to Him, all the punishment of our sin will be wiped out. Totally, absolutely wiped out. Because it has all landed on Jesus.
This tells us 2 things:
- We are so wicked that Jesus has to die for us. Nothing you can do, none of your good deeds, random-acts-of-kindness, none of your social work or donation or corporate-social-responsibility events can stop the wrath of God crushing on you like a tsunami, because in the eyes of a holy God we are wicked to the core. Jesus is saying, “Despite all you’ve done for Me, I’ll still have to die for you.” There is no room for pride.
- We are so loved that Jesus willingly died for us. If you read the text you’ll realize that at every point Jesus knew what was coming and He knew He will be utterly forsaken by the Father and suffered eternal hell on the cross. But He chose it. He chose to die so that one day you and I will live forever, to be with God and with Jesus who was raised to life. “Despite all you have done to Me, I love you and I’ll still die for you.”
Christianity is the only religion that says that God himself actually suffered, actually cried out in suffering.
Why then do we call this, Good Friday? Because we are looking right at the greatest act of God’s love, power, and justice in history – for us.
God came into the world and suffered and died on the cross in order to save us. It is the ultimate proof of his love for us.
What is the darkness in your life right now?
Are you in a darkness of despair, where everything seems to go wrong?
Perhaps you are suffering a period of darkness in your life, where everything just seems to go wrong. You may be going through depression or severe anxiety, over events you have no control over. Maybe you were frustrated at work, wondering if people still value you as a person even if you are not performing.
Jesus’ cry in the dark demonstrates that God can be working in your life even when it seems like there is no rhyme or reason to what is happening.
And when you suffer, you may be completely in the dark about the reason for your own suffering. It may seem as senseless to you as Jesus’s suffering seemed to the disciples. But the cross tells you what the reason isn’t. It can’t be that God doesn’t love you; it can’t be that he has no plan for you. It can’t be that he has abandoned you. Jesus was abandoned, and paid for our sins, so that God the Father would never abandon you. The cross proves that he loves you and understands what it means to suffer.
Are you in a darkness of your sin?
The Light of the World allowed Himself to be swallowed up in the ultimate Darkness – of being separated from God – so that in Him we can have the Light of Life.
Jesus Christ not only died the death we should have died—but he also lived the life we should have lived but can’t. His was perfect obedience, in our place. It doesn’t matter who you are—centurion, prostitute, hitman, minister. The curtain has been ripped from top to bottom. The barrier is gone. There is forgiveness and grace for you.
When Mark said that the centurion “heard his cry,” he is pressing the story right up to your ear. If you listen closely to that cry—My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?—you can see the same beauty, the same tenderness. If you see Jesus losing the infinite love of his Father out of his infinite love for you, it will melt your hardness.
No matter who you are, it will open your eyes and shatter your darkness. You will at long last be able to turn away from all those other things that are dominating your life, addicting you, drawing you away from God.
Jesus Christ’s darkness can dispel and destroy our own, so that in the place of hardness and darkness and death we have tenderness and light and life.
Let us close our eyes, in silent contemplation. Let us meditate on how much the Lord Jesus Christ love us, by entering total darkness for us, to save us from our darkness of sin and despair. Let us each whisper a prayer in our hearts to say, Thank You, thank You Lord Jesus, for dying for us on the cross!
This post is part of a ‘Called to Preach’ column, in which I share sermon transcripts I have used, preaching tips and ideas, and related resources, to help lay preachers embrace our calling to proclaim the Word of God. Let me know if this post has encouraged you in any way, or drop a comment below so I can improve. I really appreciate your feedback in this.