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The Last Three Hours
Christ bears the punishment for sin on the cross
from the gospel of Mark 15:33 to 37
The cross is meant to stab your heart with love. As you study the crucifixion, you see horror, blood, suffering, and mockery, but the crucifixion was meant to crush your inner person with the magnitude of Christ’s love for you. As you witness His suffering under God’s wrath in darkness, bearing sin in our place, experiencing the hell of separation from His heavenly Father for you, bearing an eternal torment meant for every sinner in this room, we must respond by saying, “This is how much I am loved by God.”
Open your Bible to Mark 15:33. My job is to faithfully explain Mark’s intended meaning today. I’m to clearly expose the one meaning the author intended–the one interpretation of this passage today. But there is no room for distant intellectualizing and mere information gathering this morning. The cross is meant to burn in your soul and be the passion of your entire life.
Today’s passage describes in brief the last three hours of Christ’s crucifixion. And these final moments reveal the unfathomable depths our Lord went to in order to atone for our sins and provide salvation for all who turn to Him. Do you understand? Today is the highpoint of all of history. This is the death of Christ. This is the long-awaited Lamb of God dying for the sins of the world, and it all begins with . . .
#1 The Darkness of JUDGMENT at 12 noon Verse 33
“When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour.” The sixth hour–the Jewish day begins at 6 AM, right around sunrise. There are no watches or clocks in the first century world, but the sixth hour was always considered to be midday, noon, when the sun was at its zenith. So it’s the sixth hour–high noon.
During the first three hours on the cross, the Lord spoke three times. He’s already said, 1) “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” which wonderfully informed the thief on the cross next to Christ that forgiveness was available, if he asked for it.
As many of the women who served the disciples and the apostle John were close by the cross, Jesus said to John the apostle, 2) “Behold your mother,” then Jesus said to Mary, “Behold your son,” as the Lord put Mary in the care of John, and John in the care of Mary.
Then Jesus said to the one repentant thief who did seek forgiveness, 3) “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
During the first three hours, Christ is suffering crucifixion and mockery. But now it is midday, the brightest part of the day–and it is precisely at this moment, verse 33 says, “darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour.” A supernatural darkness fell over the world at the sixth hour until the ninth hour–from 12 noon until 3pm.
At the birth of the God-man, there was brightness at midnight–at the death of the God-man, there was darkness at noon. The crucifixion began at 9am in the morning, but at the brightest part of the day, noon, it’s now pitch black.
First HOW did darkness fall over the whole land?
Some claim this was a localized darkness, but “whole land” means the whole earth–everywhere the sun shone on planet earth was dark. The Church fathers spoke of this darkness being worldwide. Tertullian spoke about an unusual darkness on that day.
This was no dust storm blocking the sun–it’s the rainy season. This is not an eclipse, because that doesn’t block light for three hours–and Passover is always during the time of the full moon, and a solar eclipse cannot occur during the time of a full moon. This is not an alien spacecraft blocking the light. There is no natural explanation for this darkness–all that misses the point.
During this three-hour period, Luke 23:45 explains the sun was obscured. Luke used the word ekleipo to describe the darkness, which has the meaning of failing or ceasing to exist. There was no light—none. You’ve experienced pitch black, right? You can’t see your hand in front of your face–you can’t see anything at all. And all this is in the middle of the day—everywhere the sun was supposed to be hitting the earth, it was now black.
Second WHY did darkness fall over the whole land?
This supernatural darkness is an indication of God’s active presence in judgment, where the sins of the world are placed on the person of Christ as He stands in your place as your substitute. This wasn’t just a light show, this was a heavenly object lesson. This supernatural darkness is pointing to God’s divine wrath against sin.
I can’t imagine what it was like to be crucified with the increasing heat of the noontime sun–the agony of moving up and down on the cross in order to breathe, while being baked by the increasing heat of the sun is overwhelming. And people were watching this event out in the open, bearing the heat and the brightness of the day.
And no one expected this darkness would happen at noon. God supernaturally blocked the rays of the sun so that half the earth was covered in an intense, heavy black. In the Bible, God is often spoken of as light—“the Lord is my light.” His presence in the Shekinah glory was that of blazing light. John the Baptist said in John 1:9, “Jesus was the true light, which coming into the world, enlightens every man.” Jesus even said in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world.”
But the Bible also describes God’s judgment as darkness. So the presence of God could be manifest light, and the presence of God could be manifest darkness. So verse 33, “darkness fell over the whole land” is described elsewhere in the Scripture as an indicator of God’s presence in judgment.
Do you remember just prior to the first Passover in Egypt that darkness spread over the land right before the firstborn dies? Now, before the ultimate Passover lamb, darkness also prevails as God’s judgment is poured down on Christ on the cross.
The Old Testament prophets speak of cataclysmic events of divine judgment being times of darkness. Darkness points to divine ferocity. Darkness symbolizes righteous wrath–final fury being unleashed. Darkness is the ultimate form of God’s presence in judgment. You remember what the prophets said.
Isaiah 13:10 to 11 declared, “The sun will be dark when it rises, and the moon will not shed its light…I will punish the world for its evil.”
Joel 2:30, “I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth. Blood, fire, columns of smoke, the sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” That’s the Day of the Lord, the final eschatological judgment on this world. At that time, God reveals Himself in darkness, not light.
Amos 5:20, “Will not the day of the Lord be darkness instead of light? Even gloom with no brightness in it.” Again, Amos 8:9, “It will come about in that day, declares the Lord God, that I will make the sun go down at noon and make the earth dark in broad daylight.” That all comes on the Day of Judgment. Zephaniah 1:14 and 15, “Near is the great day of the Lord, …15 A day of wrath is that day … a day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness.”
The New Testament affirms this, Mark 13:24, “In those days, after that tribulation, THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT.” That is why Hell, everlasting subjection to divine judgment, is a place Jesus describes as darkness. Three times in Matthew, Hell is described as outer darkness where there’s weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth in eternal, unrelenting, tormenting blackness.
The darkness is not the absence of God, but the wrath of God. Darkness is expressing God’s presence in judgment. So God is the one who is present in the judgment of Hell from noon to 3 o’clock on the cross. Do you grasp what that means? Verse 33, “When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour.” That means Hell came to Israel. From noon to 3 o’clock, Hell came to Jerusalem. For three hours, Hell fell upon Golgotha, as God unleashed the full extent of everlasting punishment on His Son for you.
It is much like Isaiah 13:9, “The day of the Lord is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, to make the land a desolation; and He will exterminate its sinners from it.” God hates sin. God must judge sin. And now sin will be judged. Since God is the true power behind Hell’s punishing experience, God is the true power behind the darkness of Calvary–and here on the cross, God unleashes Hell on His Son with fierce anger for you.
This was the cup Jesus anticipated in prayer in the Garden, the cup of wrath. This is why it was such a revolting anticipation that it made Him sweat drops of blood, because in these three hours, Jesus suffered the eternal Hell of all the people throughout human history who would be saved. He bore all their eternal punishments together, and Christ did it in three hours.
One commentator asks this profound question–ready? “If a sinner, in an eternity of punishment, can never pay the price of sin, and thus he or she pays for it for all eternity–then how could Jesus, in three hours receive the full eternal wrath for all the sinners who will ever believe?
The answer is, He could receive an infinite and eternal amount of wrath, because He is an infinite and eternal person. His capacity for everything is limitless and eternal. Jesus had to be a man to be our substitute, to take our place. But Jesus had to be God to take God’s wrath for your sin.
The darkness, then, is not the absence of God, nor is it the presence of Satan. The darkness is God in full judgment fury. It is infinite wrath moved by infinite justice, releasing infinite punishment on the infinite Son, who could absorb all the torments of all the eternities of Hell, and accomplish all of it in three hours.
Kent Hughes and I say, “Wave after wave of the world’s sin was poured over Christ’s sinless soul. Again and again during those 3 hours, his soul recoiled and convulsed as all the millions of lies, murders, holocausts, lusts, rapes, hatreds, jealousies, envy’s and pride were poured out on His purity. In the darkness, Jesus bore it all in silence–writhing like a serpent on the cross, he bore the darkness of God’s wrath for your sin.”
It is in those three hours that He bore in His body our sins.
It is in those three hours that He was made sin for us.
It is in those three hours that He took the curse.
And at that ninth hour, it ended. At 3 o’clock, it ended–though there is still another element to Christ’s sacrifice.
#2 The Harshness of SEPARATION, near 3pm Verse 34
“At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which is translated, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” This is possibly the most heart-wrenching cry in the entire Bible. The wonderful RC Sproul says, “This cry represents the most agonizing protest ever uttered on this planet. It burst forth in a moment of unparalleled pain. It is the scream of the damned–for us.”
This is the only saying of Jesus (of those famous last sayings of Jesus on the cross) recorded in Mark for us. It sounds like agony, and it feels like God abandoned His Son. This statement is very difficult to understand, because it is Trinitarian, the Godhead, the three persons yet one God expressing a divine cry. I believe what’s happening here is the full judgment of God’s wrath against sin has ended, and Jesus is crying out for comfort.
After God’s full vengeance for sin has been expressed on Christ with the entire cup of God’s wrath being drunk by our Lord, and with the darkness now gone, it seems as if God is gone. Christ seems to be experiencing a separation from God immediately after He has borne all the fury of His wrathful presence.
Christ knew God was exploding judgment on Him. And maybe just in this moment, when He might have expected sweet oneness with the Father to return after the unimaginable, incomprehensible exhaustion of just having suffered eternities of Hell–in this moment Christ says, “Where is God?” Of course Christ would say these words, because they are prophesied in Psalm 22:1, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” telling us it’s not that God isn’t there in the punishment. No, Christ is saying, “Where are You in the comfort?” It is Hell again.
This is a very frightening reality–do not miss this. Hell is the full fury of God’s personal punishment of holy wrath. And God will never be there in Hell to bring comfort or compassion. Jesus Christ is giving us a sneak preview of Hell–punishment without comfort, without compassion, without sympathy, without relief. That’s what Hell is.
Our Lord Jesus, for you and for me, suffered all that Hell is–all the vicious, intense, fury of divine wrath. And He experienced it all, also, with the absence of divine comfort and compassion. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” What you have here is Jesus, crying out in the anguish of soul, experiencing supernatural separation from His Heavenly Father, resulting in the scream of the damned.
What can this possibly mean? The mystery of this verse is so great, that the great reformer, Martin Luther, is said to have gone into seclusion for some time to understand the depth of it. But when he came back, he was more confused than when he began.
Theologically, when Christ was forsaken by the Father, their separation was not one of nature, essence, or substance. Christ did not in any sense or degree cease to exist as God, or as a member of the Trinity. He did not cease to be the Son, any more than a child who sins severely against his human father ceases to be his child. But Jesus did for a while cease to know the intimacy of fellowship with His heavenly Father. Somehow, because of bearing sin and the darkness of God’s wrath, our Lord experienced a separation and the Hell of no comfort, no compassion, and no sympathy.
Practically, this forsakenness, this incredible loss, was between the Father and the Son who had loved each other from all eternity past. Their love was infinitely long, completely perfect, with divine intensity and absolute purity–and Jesus was losing it. Here is Jesus, the Creator of the world, being unmade. How? Jesus was experiencing our judgment, our Hell, our torment—“Why have You forsaken Me?” was not a rhetorical question.
And what was the answer to, “Why have you forsaken me?” Answer–for you, for me, for His children. Jesus was forsaken by God so that we would never have to be. The judgment that should have fallen on you and me fell on Christ instead. Jesus cried out the scream of the damned so that you would not have to be damned. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” reflects the enormity of the cup of wrath our Lord is drinking. Our Lord was cut off from His constant communion with His Father.
And when Jesus said, “My God, My God,” it’s the only time in the New Testament Jesus ever referred to God–every other time Jesus spoke to or of God, He called Him Father. And our Lord here is not only feeling God’s absence, but also the oneness of intimacy and affection that exists in the Godhead. Whenever you read a double expression like, “My God, My God,” that is the speaker’s way of calling out with deep affection.
In Genesis 22 the angel says, “Abraham, Abraham…”
In Exodus 3 God says, “Moses, Moses…”
In 2 Samuel 18 David says, “Absalom, Absalom…”
In Luke 10 Jesus says, “Martha, Martha…”
In Luke 22 Jesus says, “Simon, Simon…”
And I love Acts 9 when Jesus says, “Saul, Saul…”
And here in Mark 15, “My God, My God…”
That is deep, divine, affection. It is the cry of a broken heart of intimacy. “My God, my God…”–Christ was somehow separated so that you would not have to be.
Look again at verse 34—notice, “Jesus cried out with a loud voice.” The gospel writer Mark is trying to help us see something obvious to the first century reader that you might not understand. Don’t forget what is going on here. After the massive amount of torture prior to the cross, and the physical pain of crucifixion added to the mental abuse of relentless mockery. Then after God pours infinite hells of punishment on Christ, Christ is still strong enough to cry out with a loud voice.
Mark is telling us Christ is not being forced to die. Our Lord is choosing to die. But in that moment of separation, Jesus asks where the Father is when He needed comfort. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” As Jesus bore the guilt of our sins alone, God the Father poured out on Jesus the full fury of His wrath.
Who was it that killed Jesus? God the Father did. There were secondary causes, but it was God who killed Christ. Why? To give Christ a redeemed Bride to worship Him forever. But Christ was killed for you and for me, for sinners–for sinners who want forgiveness. For rebels who long to return home to their Creator. For the defiled who desire to intimately know their holy God.
Beloved, this is the greatest moment in history. Justice would not be winked at. Sin had to be punished. So God punished His own Son instead of you, because only Christ God could take it. Perfect Jesus, fully God and fully man, became the object of intense hatred of sin and vengeance against sin that God had patiently stored up since the beginning of the world.
At the cross, the full fury of all that stored up wrath against sin was unleashed against God’s very own Son. And the burden of the entire world’s sin, and the Lord’s complete identification with sinners somehow involved a horrible and real separation from His heavenly Father. And it was your sin that caused this supernatural separation.
The Father forsook the son because the Son took Isaiah 53:50, “our transgressions…our iniquities.” Jesus was, Romans 4:25, “delivered up because of our transgression.” First Corinthians 15:3, “Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” But that did not stop the unjust mocking, even at the cross.
#3 The Contemptuousness of MOCKING, near 3pm Verses 35 and 36
“When some of the bystanders heard it, they began saying, ‘Behold, He is calling for Elijah.’” 36 Someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink, saying, ‘Let us see whether Elijah will come to take Him down.’”
Jesus spoke the language of the people in verse 34, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” But it sorta sounded like Jesus was saying something else–Eloi sounded like Elijah. We make fun of each other during announcements. Say one off word or strange phrase, and someone will make fun of you. It is playful, fun, funny, and no one gets hurt–even when we make fun of Marco the German, or Nigel the Kiwi.
But this sarcasm is not playful, nor fun, nor funny–because they are making fun of God. They’re mocking Christ–blaspheming. So now the hateful comedy is reprised. When they clearly heard Jesus loudly say, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” (it was clear and loud), they said, “Behold, He is calling for Elijah!”
Listen–they heard what He said in own their language, in Aramaic, “Eloi, Eloi,”–“My God, My God.” They heard what He said. But in mockery they reply, “He’s calling for Elijah.” Why would they say that? Because the Old Testament taught in Malachi 4:5 to 6, when the Messiah came Elijah would be present. Jesus said He was the Messiah, so He must be calling for Elijah.
This is more mocking–more biting sarcasm, more verbal abuse. You remember that the prophet Elijah didn’t die, but ascended to Heaven in a chariot. Jewish tradition stated that Elijah returns in times of crisis to rescue the righteous. And Malachi links the arrival of Elijah with the arrival of the Messiah.
So with a hurtful play on clearly understood words, verse 35, some of the bystanders heard it and they began saying, “Behold, He is calling for Elijah.” Eloi to Elijah became the fuel for their scorn. He’s calling for Elijah to rescue Him because He’s righteous. He’s calling for Elijah, because He’s the Messiah.
The darkness has just ended, the lights have come back on, and they immediately return to their mocking. You’d think black darkness for three hours would shut their mouths–maybe make them just a little afraid. But no, their hearts are hard. So how deep is this blasphemy? Verse 36, “Someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink, saying, ‘Let us see whether Elijah will come to take Him down.’”
They mocked Christ, thinking He was hallucinating, and in order to prolong the show they’ll give Him a little wine so Christ can continue to amuse them. Sour wine is the cheap wine vinegar consumed by soldiers, usually mixed with water. “Oh, let’s give Christ something to drink. That will prolong His life a little bit. And if we prolong His life, maybe Elijah will show up and rescue Him.”
Christ did say at this point, “I thirst,” just as Psalm 69:21 says He would. And He was offered this drink–but only in mockery. “Let’s see if we can extend this life a little longer and maybe Elijah will show up.” Wow–what hate. This crowd has seen it all. They’ve seen His healing. They’ve seen Him cast out demons. They know He can raise the dead. Leaders and people went to Bethany to see Lazarus after he came back from the dead.
They all heard Jesus teaching just that week. They hailed Him as the Messiah on Monday. They saw Christ stop the corruption in the Temple on Tuesday. They witnessed Him stump every great spiritual leader from every group in the Sanhedrin on Wednesday. None of it had any effect on them. They’ve seen His compassion, wisdom, graciousness, and power. And now they see how He dies, and it has no effect on them. Like today, it’s as if they only use Christ as a swear word.
#4 The Strength of FINALITY at 3pm Verse 37
Mark gives us a few very simple words, “And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last.” Why a loud cry? Because Jesus reminds us, John 10:18, “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative,” meaning no one takes My life from Me–I lay it down of Myself. He didn’t die because He couldn’t breathe. He didn’t die because He was out of strength. Crucified men ran out of strength and couldn’t speak–but Jesus screamed out with a loud voice. This is His choice.
In John 19:30 it says, “When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said [and this was His loud cry], ‘It is finished!’ And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” It is finished is one word—tetAlestai, meaning it has been accomplished, completed, fulfilled, carried out. It’s done. The Greek verb, it is finished, is in the perfect tense–which describes past completed action with present abiding results. Get this–it was finished, and it continues to be finished forever.
Then there’s one final statement–Luke 23:46 records it. “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Christ chooses to die, decides to die, determines to die here. Jesus made three statements on the cross before the darkness, nothing during the darkness, and four statements after the darkness.
1) “Father forgive them because they know not what to do.”
2) “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
3) “Behold your son. Behold your mother.”
THEN AFTER THE DARKNESS
4) “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
5) “I thirst.”
6) “It is finished.”
7) “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.”
Then Mark 15:37 says, “and Christ breathed His last.” And immediately, what happens is stunning. You will be amazed–two major events, and so much more. And to really see it, you have to come back next week.
Friends, this is the cross of Christ–the apex of history. It teaches us so many things–let me help you with just a few.
A The Gospel is GOOD NEWS, because God did the work
All Religion is about people trying to reach God–the Gospel is about God reaching people
Religion is people working hard to live good–the Gospel is about God doing the work to make us good
Religion is people trying to avoid the penalty of sin–the Gospel is about God accepting the full penalty of sin
Religion is about people doing good works to please God–the Gospel is about God doing the work so God is pleased with us
The work of Christ on the cross is called good news because people can never be good enough to get to Heaven, never be nice enough to be free of sin, work hard enough to please God, and could never satisfy God’s hatred for our sin–but Jesus could. God became a man to take the punishment for our sin upon Himself. He paid the wages of sin, which is death.
And when we exchange all that we are for all that He is–when we turn to Him in faith and repentance, then He takes our sin on the cross, and He gives us His righteousness, so now when God looks at us, He sees Christ and His righteous perfection and allows us to enter into Heaven later, and transforms us now internally to want to follow Him. God does the work, and that’s good news.
Second Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Never minimize the awful weight of your sin. Never minimize the awful price of your salvation.
B The Gospel alone rescues people from Hell—Hell is real
It’s a real place, and most of the human race will suffer there forever. Jesus Christ talked more about Hell than any biblical writer.
Matthew 13:42, “will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Matthew 22:13, “Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
Matthew 24:51, “and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Jesus suffered Hell on the cross so you would not have to. The Lord in agony shouted the scream of the damned so you wouldn’t continue to be damned to Hell. But it means you have to turn to Christ. And those you love, those you know, those in lost countries all have to respond to the Gospel, cry out for mercy and have God awaken their heart, so that they can be born again. Because if they’re not, Revelation 20:15, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
C The Gospel is never SECONDARY–share it
First Corinthians 15:3 and 4, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
The work of the cross is never secondary, it is primary. It is of first importance, since the work of the cross is Christ providing salvation now and forever. You may live one hundred years in this life, but eternity is forever. And only Christ determines whether you live in heavenly bliss or eternal torment in Hell forever. If that’s the case, and it is, there are a lot of people around me who are headed to eternal Hell.
And friends, people will not get saved by watching your life. They’ll not get saved by you being nice to others. They only get saved when they hear God’s Word on the Gospel. Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” You have to tell them, and show them, and love them. But you have to tell them.
Why didn’t God toast all those who were mocking Christ?
Why didn’t God open up the ground and swallow the religious leaders?
Why didn’t God send angels to destroy the mocking thieves next to Christ?
Because God saved one of the thieves, and later saved at lot of priests. Acts 6:7, “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”
Just because God is merciful and patient now does not mean He will always be that way. Everyone is storing up wrath, and unless that wrath falls on Christ, then it will fall on you forever. Tell your lost family, tell your lost friends about what Christ did. Buy them dinner, write them a letter, care for them so that you have an opportunity to clearly share the good news.
D The Gospel is ESSENTIAL for every one of you
What will you cry to God—“God why have you FORSAKEN me?” Or, “MY GOD, MY GOD, why have you FORGIVEN me?” Today, these verses need to convince you of His great love for you! If you’re battling with being certain, read the book of 1 John and pass the tests of assurance that are found there. Read the book of James and pass the tests of faith that are there. And be warned, there is false faith, there are phony believers and self-deceived believers.
All true believers follow Christ, meaning they want to obey God’s Word–do you? Let’s pray.