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“The Miracles of Lent: Darkness”
Luke 23:44-45


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Ash Wednesday—February 22, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The sermon series this year for our Lenten Vespers services is “The Miracles of Lent,” focusing on miracles that are part of the Lenten story of our Savior’s suffering and death.  We begin our Lenten journey this evening by considering the miraculous darkness that enveloped the earth for three hours on Good Friday, as our Lord hung upon the cross: “It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining.”

In the ancient way of reckoning, a day was considered to begin with sunrise at about 6:00am, which was counted as the “first hour” of the day.  Mark’s Gospel tells us, “It was the third hour when they crucified him.”  So, on Good Friday Jesus was nailed to the cross at the “third hour” of the day, about nine o’clock in the morning. 

Many of the events we are familiar with from the Passion story took place during the initial three hours of his suffering upon the cross that morning, from 9:00am to noon. Jesus prayed that his heavenly Father would forgive those who crucified him: “Father, forgiven them, for they know not what they do.”  Jesus heard the plea for mercy of the thief being crucified beside him, and assured the thief that very day he would be with him in heavenly glory: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”  Jesus also placed his mother Mary into the care of the disciple John: “Woman, here is your son. . .  Here is your mother.”  

As he hung dying on the cross the soldiers divided his garments and cast lots for his robe. The chief priests complained to Pilate about the inscription posted above Jesus’ head, “The King of the Jews.” And a crowd of mockers gathered around the cross making fun of Jesus and hurling insults at him.  “If you are the king of the Jews save yourself!  Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”

Then noon arrived.  “It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining.”  As you continue reading the account of our Savior’s suffering and death, you get the impression that this mysterious, dramatic darkness brought a halt to all the activity, and a somber silence fell over the crowd.

Toward the end of the three ominous hours of darkness, Jesus cried out from the cross four more times:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

“I thirst.”

“It is finished.”

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” 

Luke concludes, “When he had said this, he breathed his last.”  Then, just as quickly as darkness had dramatically come over the whole land at noon, at three o’clock the light suddenly reappeared after our Lord’s death.

This miracle of darkness actually is recorded not only in the Gospels but also in other historical writings from the time outside the Bible. For instance, the classical Greek author Plegon wrote a book about unexplained natural phenomena, titled “Questions of Nature.”  He reports: “In the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad there was a great eclipse of the sun, greater than had ever been known before.  For at the sixth hour the day was changed into night, and the stars were seen in the heavens.”  The 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad is equal to the year 33 A.D.!

This strange event was so well-known and well-documented in the ancient world that even the heathen opponents of Christianity acknowledged it had taken place.  Debating some them, the early church father Tertullian wrote in about 200 A.D.:  “At the moment of Christ’s death the light departed from the sun, and the land was darkened at noonday.  This wonder is recorded in your own annals, and preserved in your own archives to this day.”

The Greeks and Romans were excellent astronomers.  They fully understood when, and where, and for how long eclipses should take place.  They realized this unexplainable, mysterious darkness was no normal eclipse.  That is why Plegon describes it as a “great eclipse . . . greater than had ever been known before.”

The early Christians saw deep symbolic significance in this miracle of darkness.  First of all, this miraculous darkness testifies to the true identity of One hanging upon the cross. During his life Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God.  Those who rejected his claim demanded that he “show them a sign from heaven.”  Well, now they’ve got their sign—an unmistakable, spectacular sign from heaven.  As Matthew reports: “When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’”

And, this wasn’t the first time that unique astronomical events heralded who Jesus of Nazareth really is.  For, when he was born “the glory of the Lord shone round about” the shepherds, and the Wise Men were led to him by the light of a special star.  Now, some 33 years later, the ominous darkness which hangs over him at his death is like the negative image of the glorious light which had filled the skies to announce his birth.  John’s Gospel says, “The world was made through him.”  So, it is very fitting that as he dies creation itself goes into mourning, and the very world he made clothes itself in black.

The darkness that enveloped our Lord as he hung upon the cross also symbolized what was being accomplished by his suffering and death.  Throughout the Bible darkness is symbolic of evil and sin.  Paul says in Ephesians, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness.”  And in Romans, “So let us put aside the deeds of darkness.”  “This is the verdict,” Jesus said. “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”

Peter says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross.”  So, the darkness over the whole land as Christ hung upon the cross symbolized all the wickedness, all the sins of the whole world being heaped upon him.  As John says, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world.”  God’s own Son suffered and died upon the cross in your place, suffering in your place the punishment your sins deserved, earning for you forgiveness for all your sins.  As Paul says in Ephesians, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.”

This Good News of the forgiveness of sins was symbolized at three o’clock on Good Friday, as the sun began to shine again.  For, just as darkness in the Bible symbolizes sin, light symbolizes salvation and eternal life.  Paul puts it this way in Colossians: “The Father has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.  For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness, and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” 

So, just as the gloomy darkness that hung over Calvary symbolized our sins heaped upon God’s Son, the glorious light that flooded back after his death symbolizes that the price he paid for our sin has been accepted in full by God the Father.  “I am the light of the world,” Jesus says. “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Amen.

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