TRAGEDY AND TRIUMPH
When it was twelve o’clock midday, there came a darkness over the whole earth, and it lasted until three o’clock in the afternoon. And at three o’clock Jesus cried with a great voice, “Eloi, Eloi lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God! My God! Why have you abandoned me?” When certain of the bystanders heard it, they said, “See! He is calling for Elijah!” Someone ran and soaked a sponge in vinegar and gave him a drink. “Let be!” he said, “till we see if Elijah is going to come and take him down.” Jesus uttered a great shout–and died. And the veil of the Temple was rent in two from top to bottom. When the centurion who was standing opposite him saw that he died like this, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” There were some women watching from a distance, amongst whom were Mary of Magdala, and Mary the mother of James the little and of Joses, and Salome. They had accompanied him in Galilee and had attended to his needs. And there were many others who had come up with him to Jerusalem.
Here comes the last scene of all, a scene so terrible that the sky was unnaturally darkened and it seemed that even nature could not bear to look upon what was happening. Let us look at the various people in this scene.
(i) There was Jesus. Two things Jesus said.
(a) He uttered the terrible cry, “My God! My God! Why have you abandoned me?” There is a mystery behind that cry which we cannot penetrate. Maybe it was like this. Jesus had taken this life of ours upon him. He had done our work and faced our temptations and borne our trials. He had suffered all that life could bring. He had known the failure of friends, the hatred of foes, the malice of enemies. He had known the most searing pain that life could offer. Up to this moment Jesus had gone through every experience of life except one–he had never known the consequence of sin. Now if there is one thing sin does, it separates us from God. It puts between us and God a barrier like an unscalable wall. That was the one human experience through which Jesus had never passed, because he was without sin.
It may be that at this moment that experience came upon him–not because he had sinned, but because in order to be identified completely with our humanity he had to go through it. In this terrible, grim, bleak moment Jesus really and truly identified himself with the sin of man. Here we have the divine paradox–Jesus knew what it was to be a sinner. And this experience must have been doubly agonizing for Jesus, because he had never known what it was to be separated by this barrier from God.
That is why he can understand our situation so well. That is why we need never fear to go to him when sin cuts us off from God. Because he has gone through it, he can help others who are going through it. There is no depth of human experience which Christ has not plumbed.
(b) There was the great shout. Both Matthew (Matt.27:50) and Luke (Lk.23:46) tell of it. John does not mention the shout but he tells us that Jesus died having said, “It is finished.” (Jn.19:30.) In the original that would be one word; and that one word was the great shout. “Finished!” Jesus died with the cry of triumph on his lips, his task accomplished, his work completed, his victory won. After the terrible dark there came the light again, and he went home to God a victor triumphant.
(ii) There was the bystander who wished to see if Elijah would come. He had a kind of morbid curiosity in the face of the Cross. The whole terrible scene did not move him to awe or reverence or even pity. He wanted to experiment while Jesus died.
(iii) There was the centurion. A hard-bitten Roman soldier, he was the equivalent of a regimental sergeant-major. He had fought in many a campaign and he had seen many a man die. But he had never seen a man die like this and he was sure that Jesus was the Son of God. If Jesus had lived on and taught and healed he might have attracted many, but it is the Cross which speaks straight to the hearts of men.
(iv) There were the women in the distance. They were bewildered, heart-broken, drenched in sorrow–but they were there. They loved so much that they could not leave him. Love clings to Christ even when the intellect cannot understand. It is only love which can give us a hold on Christ that even the most bewildering experiences can not break.
There is one other thing to note. “The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” This was the curtain which shut off the Holy of Holies, into which no man might go. Symbolically that tells us two things.
(a) The way to God was now wide open. Into the Holy of Holies only the High Priest could go, and he only once a year on the day of Atonement. But now, the curtain was torn and the way to God was wide open to every man.
(b) Within the Holy of Holies dwelt the very essence of God. Now with the death of Jesus the curtain which hid God was torn and men could see him face to face. No longer was God hidden. No longer need men guess and grope. Men could look at Jesus and say, “That is what God is like. God loves me like that.”
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