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February 21, 2016

Sermon  Luke 23:44-45 . . . “It’s a Miracle:  Darkness at noon”

“It’s a Miracle:  Darkness at noon”

Luke 23:44-45

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Darkness at Noon is the title of Arthur Koestler’s best-known book.  It’s a novel that tells the story of a man named Rubashov, a communist party leader, who’s arrested, imprisoned and tried for treason against the government he once helped to create.  It’s ranked number eight on the list of the one hundred best English-language novels of the 20th century.

The story begins as Rubashov is arrested by two men from the secret police in the middle of the night.  And as he sits in prison in solitary confinement, he thinks back on the life he lived—about his life as a soldier, about his faithfulness and fearlessness, and about his loyalty to his political party.  

Until he had his doubts.  He came to realize that, in spite of twenty years of power, the government he supported, the government he believed in, was wrong.  Communism had failed.  Social utopia was nothing more than just a dream.  

And as he was tortured and interrogated, as he sat beneath a glaring lamp for hours and deprived of sleep, he confessed everything he had said and done.  

The story ends with his execution.

Darkness at noon.

When we hear that title, we can’t help but think of Christ and His suffering on the cross.  Listen to the words of Luke chapter 23:  “It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed.”

As Jesus lived and worked among us, His life was full of miracles.  Just as soon as He was born, angels appeared to shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem and a bright star shone in the sky.  A virgin named Mary rejoiced at His birth and an old man named Simeon burst into song. Just as Simeon called Him, He was “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel.”

When He was twelve, teachers of the Law listened to Him and asked Him questions.  Later, when He taught the crowds, the people begged Him to speak some more.

He gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf.  He raised the dead and made the lame walk.

And as His life was full of miracles, it’s no surprise that, when He died, there were miracles once more.  The Bible tells us that when He breathed His last breath, the earth quaked, tombs broke open, a curtain tore, and the bodies of many holy people were raised to life.

There’s no one like our Savior Jesus.

But of all the miracles that could have accompanied our Savior in life or in death, there’s one no one could have ever imagined or expected—darkness, deep darkness--a darkness so deep and so dark, it could not only be seen.  It could be felt.

It must have been quite a shock.  For three sad hours, from nine until noon, Jesus lay suffering and dying.  High priests mocked Him, soldiers taunted Him, the crowd hurled insults at Him.  Even a thief, a thug, hanging beside Him on his cross, railed at Him.  “Aren’t You the Christ?” he cried.  “Save Yourself, and us!”

Then suddenly, at midday, high noon, when the sun should have been at its highest and brightest, the Bible says there was instantaneous, can’t-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face, pitch-black darkness.  The sun’s light failed.  

Everyone knew what they had been doing—taunting, mocking, blaspheming—then, all of a sudden, in an eerie, frightening, panicking, disturbing moment—darkness.  Without warning, their world went pitch black.  And in the place of mocking and taunting, of cursing and gambling, of scoffing and blaspheming, there was nothing but a deathly silence.

There was no electricity, no battery-powered emergency lights.  Oil lamps, with their little floating wicks, could be found most anywhere, but who would think to need one of those in the middle of the day?

Was it an eclipse?  It couldn’t have been.  A solar eclipse is gradual.  You know when it comes and when it goes.  And a total solar eclipse never lasts much more than seven minutes.  Surely not three hours!

Even more, anyone could tell you it was Passover.  Passover always happens during a full moon.  And you can’t have an eclipse during a full moon.

Was it cloud cover?  Maybe a dust storm?  Hardly.  It would take far more than that to completely blot out the sun.

So what was it?  What brought on this sudden, pitch-black darkness?

It was judgment, God’s judgment, on the sin and shame of mankind.  Here was God’s Son—good, perfect, holy, without sin--dying for all the sin of all mankind.  And as all of nature looked in horror at what God was doing and what man had done, it grieved and groaned in sympathy at the crucifixion of the Son of God.

This isn’t the first time there was such a darkness.  Remember in the book of Exodus chapter 19, as the people of Israel stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai?

The Bible says there was thunder and lightning, a thick cloud and a trumpet blast.  Smoke went up as from a kiln and the whole mountain shook violently.  And as the people stood at a distance, Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

And in Genesis 15, as God promised Abram his descendants would be as many as the stars in the sky, he fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.  Then God said, “Know for certain that your descendants…will be enslaved and mistreated for four hundred years.  But I will punish the nation they serve…and afterward they will come out with great possessions.” 

And think of the words of the prophet Joel:  “I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke.  The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.”

And the words of the prophet Amos:  “Why do you long for the day of the Lord?  That day will be darkness, not light.  It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall, only to have a snake bite him.  Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—pitch dark, without a ray of brightness?”  And he wrote:  “’In that day,’ declares the Sovereign Lord, ‘I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.’”

Was it strange that a deep darkness would cover the land as Christ died on the cross?  

In a way, it was, for John wrote in his first epistle:  “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.”

When God first called creation into existence, His voice echoed from the depths of eternity, “Let there be light.”

When Christ was born in Bethlehem, night turned into day as angels appeared to shepherds and the glory of God shone round about.  A multitude of the heavenly host, as far as the eye could see, praised God and said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.”

On the Mount of Transfiguration, as Jesus stood with Moses and Elijah, His glory shone like the sun.  Even His clothes were transfigured, “whiter,” wrote His disciples, “than anyone in the world could bleach them.”

But now, as He suffers and dies for all the sins of all the world, tens of thousands of demons storm out of their pit to torment the sinless Son of God.  All the battalions of hell settled on Christ like a swarm of bees, biting Him, stinging Him to death.  At His weakest point, utterly alone, He bore sin’s fury, drinking the cup His Father asked Him to drink.  And as the darkness, the deep, deep darkness of judgment fell on Him and covered the earth, no wonder, no wonder, He cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

George Best was an Irish professional soccer player back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, and was one of the best players the sport has ever known.  Those who knew him called him, “the greatest player to ever pull on the green shirt of Northern Ireland.”  In 2007, Gentlemen’s Quarterly even called him one of the fifty most stylish men of the past fifty years.

But for all his strength and ability on the field, he had a dark side.  For one thing, both of his marriages failed.  Also, in 1972, he was arrested and charged with assault when he broke a barmaid’s nose.  No surprise there.  His first wife left him for beating her.  Also he was known to say things like, “I used to go missing a lot…Miss Canada, Miss United Kingdom, Miss World.”  And he said, “In 1969, I gave up women and alcohol—it was the worst twenty minutes of my life.”

But as he lay dying, at the age of fifty-nine, he published a picture from his hospital bed warning of the dangers of all the things he had said and done.  He said, “Don’t die like me.”

Escape the darkness.  Leave the darkness.  Come to Your Savior, Jesus, dying on the cross.

Nearly a hundred years ago, George Bennard probably said it best when he wrote the words of his hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross.”  It goes like this:  “Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world, has a wondrous attraction for me; for the dear Lamb of God left His glory above to bear it to dark Calvary.  So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it someday for a crown.”

 

 

In deep darkness, dear Lord, our Savior suffered and died.  By Your grace, bring us out of the pit of our despair, that we may walk in the truth and wonder of Your light.  This we ask in Jesus’ name.  Amen

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