It is high noon, and an execution is taking place. The Middle Eastern sun has beaten down on three criminals being crucified by the Roman empire. But now, a mysterious gloom covers the land, and for three hours, Jesus suffers alone in the darkness.
“Eloi! Eloi! lema sabachthani?” Jesus’ words have burned themselves into Mark’s heart, and he records them in the original Aramaic. For our benefit, he translates them: “My God! my God! why have you forsaken me?” It is three o’clock in the afternoon, and Jesus has been nailed to a cross for six hours. Normally, the victims of crucifixion last much longer than this. But Jesus is about to die, and he knows that God has chosen not to save him.
His body is dying from the physical abuse it has suffered, but his spirit is being killed far more quickly because he knows his Father is crushing him (Isaiah 53:10). His ravaged mind grasps for the words to describe his agony, and finds them in the Psalms. His ancestor David had cried to the Lord:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1–2)
As the day has worn on, and an unearthly night has settled on the land, Jesus cries out to his Father but finds no rest. His own people have betrayed him into the hands of their Gentile overlords, who have crucified him. His closest friends have abandoned him, denied him, betrayed him. Priests and criminals have reviled him. And now Jesus knows that God himself has forsaken his Servant. He is alone.
His cry is so mangled that a bystander mistakes the tortured Eloi for Elijah. He remembers a Jewish tradition that the prophet Elijah is available to rescue righteous people in need. Seeing that Jesus is dying rapidly, the bystander offers him a sponge soaked in sour wine to keep him alive a little longer. “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down,” this person says. Perhaps God will show his love and favour by sending Elijah to rescue this suffering man.
Elijah never comes.
And finally, Mark records, “Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.” His strength doesn’t ebb away; he doesn’t slowly lapse into unconsciousness. Unlike any other crucified man, Jesus dies with a loud scream of agony. He is not defeated by Rome; he dies with strength remaining in his broken body.
On the Temple Mount, one of the great curtains of the temple is torn in two, from top to bottom, by a supernatural hand. This curtain has barred God’s people from accessing his throne room, the holy inner rooms of the temple. Now, the way is opened through the death of Jesus.
At Golgotha, a Roman centurion stands facing the dead body of Jesus. He has stood guard over many crucifixions, but he has never seen anything like this one. He sees that Jesus has died like no other man, and in fear he says, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”
Jesus is dead. His enemies have gotten rid of him at last. He has been despised and rejected by everyone around him, and forsaken by God himself. But now, for the first time, a human being has declared that Jesus is the Son of God.
This Roman centurion, an outsider, understands what Jesus’ followers never could. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant,” Jesus had said, “and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” And then he said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43–45).
Jesus has been forsaken by God, but this doesn’t mean that he is a worthless failure. On the contrary, his willingness to do his Father’s will and “give his life as a ransom for many” proves that he truly is the greatest man in all of history—and not just a man, but the divine Son of God.
I’m not the kind of guy who gets excited about celebrating holidays or setting special days aside.
But the truth is that I need Easter.
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.
I was born with a mind already shaped to believe that my behavior is what will make me acceptable to God. It’s not hard to think this way. The culture around me promotes it. Do all the right things and be a decent person, and God will be happy with you.
But how much is enough? God’s law is too high a standard. How can I love him with all my heart and love my neighbor as myself? That would take a zealot—one of those Christians who are championed in little paperback biographies, spiritual giants whose stories I have no hope of matching.
I can’t become one of these radical Christians. I don’t know how. I haven’t traveled overseas and adopted dozens of orphans or preached the gospel to villages or spent three hours a day in prayer or given away all that I own. I don’t have the will to force myself into anything more than a marginal level of devotion today.
I feel deadened by failure. The law has killed me. And so I die to the law. There is no hope here, only inadequacy and guilt. I am repenting not only of my sin, but also of my righteousness.
This is exactly the way God planned it. This is how he cuts me off from my self-sufficiency and teaches me to live in his strength.
I have been crucified with Christ.
It’s not enough to be given Christ as an example. So many popular teachers will say that this is all he came to be. Anyone who says that is a slave merchant, trying to sell me into bondage to the law again—as though I could match Jesus!
No, I am not called to match Jesus. I have been joined to him. When God looked at him 2,000 years ago, he saw me. He saw my endless sin and my pathetic self-righteousness. And he dashed the fury of his wrath against Jesus until not a drop was left over for me to drink. I have been crucified, but not I—Christ in my place.
On that cross, Jesus obeyed his Father and became obedient even to death. There was never a better man, because he is the Son of Man, the man who is God. On the cross he fulfilled all righteousness: love for God and love for man. And because I am joined to Christ, I was there too. I have been crucified with Christ. When God looks at me, he sees the righteousness of Jesus. I look like him.
It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
Most people would say that I am fairly decent and polite. I know better because I see the inside of the costume. It is frayed, torn, and filthy with sin.
The good news is that I don’t need it any more. I don’t need to force myself to be one of these “radical Christians.” I don’t need to feel depressed because I can’t measure up. That’s the way a self-righteous person thinks. Jesus wants me to look at him, at his righteousness, and know that it is mine. It is mine because he is mine, because he is alive, because he is risen from the dead.
And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
I live because the Son of God lives. I am joined to him.
If he were still dead, I would still be dead. If he were still dead, I would have no one to trust. If he were still dead, I would have no proof that God loves me.
But he is alive.
It’s true that my mindset is that of a dead man. Even now, I feel the shame of knowing that I haven’t prayed enough, that I haven’t shown enough kindness to others, that I haven’t given enough of my money away, that I haven’t been courageous enough to tell others about Jesus Christ. I need to do more, more, more.
That’s how a dead man thinks. You can scarcely call it “life” to be crippled with doubts and fears like that.
The grim reality is that nothing is ever enough. I can never be radical enough. I don’t have what it takes. That’s why I live by faith in the Son of God. I trust him. I trust that he loves me. I trust that when he gave himself for me, it was enough to satisfy the Father’s need for holiness. I trust that he is not merely the Father but now my Father.
It’s so hard to think this way. So hard. It is not intuitive. It doesn’t make sense. I usually don’t feel that it’s true. That’s why I have to trust Jesus on this one.
You see, Jesus is alive. And that means that he hasn’t left me but is still joined to me. And that means that when God sees me, he will always see Jesus. And he really loves Jesus.
I haven’t been given a system of principles and laws to trust in. I’ve been given a person—Jesus Christ. And this person is alive and victorious and interceding on my behalf, at this very minute, before the throne of the Almighty God.
I need Jesus.
That is why I need Easter.
May the Holy Spirit open your eyes this Easter to see your need for Jesus Christ. May you know that when you believe in him, you are joined to him and never let go.
Scripture taken from Galatians 2:19–20.
He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)
Nobody wants to go to hell. Nobody wants to bear the punishment for his or her sins. In fact, many professing Christians refuse to accept the doctrine of hell. It seems so barbaric, so awful. How could a good and loving God send people to an eternity of torment?
Perhaps a better question would be, how can a good and loving God send his Son to torment on the cross?
When Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) he wasn’t exaggerating. You and I may feel forsaken by God from time to time, but we have this promise from him: “The LORD loves justice; he will not forsake his saints” (Psalm 37:28).
But Jesus truly was forsaken by his Father. And 1 John 2:2 tells us why. He was a propitiation. God was angry at us for our sins, and rightly so; we are guilty of high treason against him. But then he sent his own Son into the world as a man and poured out his wrath for us on Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ, the only righteous man, bore the sin of a wicked world. This means that the cross was a punishment far worse than hell. In hell, a sinner bears the penalty for his own sin. On the cross, Jesus bore the penalty for the sins of his people at least, if not all mankind.
Three hours in the darkness. It doesn’t seem long to us, but “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). Each second on the cross was an eternity of suffering, isolation, agony. The Lord did not experience hell on the cross; he experienced a billion hells, because he was not suffering for the sins of only one man but for the sins of the whole world.
We can’t even fathom what hell is like for an unrepentant sinner. Jesus used the imagery of fire and darkness to describe it, but it eclipses any language. How much more does the crucifixion of our Lord surpass comprehension! With the Roman centurion, we can only say, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). No mere man could have borne that infinite suffering; he would have been crushed in an instant. Only a God-man could bear it. That is why Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father.
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). Take the time today to watch this video drawn from a sermon by R. C. Sproul. It’s a solemn reminder of the wrath of God against sin and the incredible love of God for us. He sent his Son to endure a punishment worse than hell.
What a powerful exchange between Pilate and the Jewish leaders!
19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”
This inscription was to describe “the charge against him” (Mark 15:26). The chief priests were claiming that Jesus was being crucified for something He did—He claimed to be the King of the Jews. Pilate saw through that. He knew that Jesus was being crucified for who He was—the King of the Jews. That was His crime: being the Holy One of Israel sent from God. (Of course, Pilate cared more about saving his own hide.)
Jesus was always at odds with the world. He had told His disciples that “if the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). He was “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). The world would never love Jesus. Even today, it doesn’t love Him but only respects Him—as long as His teaching is watered down, neutered, or ignored. Jesus said many hard things that would cause a lot of people to dislike or hate Him…if they were to read what He said.
Jesus did not come into this world to survive. He did not come to fit in. He came to die. We are called to be holy like Jesus, which means we are called to die to this world. I confess that I get too comfortable here. May God help me to live as a stranger in a world that hates Jesus, my Lord.