March 25, 2016

But This is Your Hour, and the Power of Darkness! (Good Friday)

Passage: Luke 22:1 – 23:56
Service Type:

When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!’

Some of you may have seen the musical Motown when it was in Toronto. The story line of the musical revolves around the founder of Motown records Berry Gordy and his reluctance to attend an event in honour of Motown Records that featured many of the musical stars launched by his record company. Apparently bitter that so many of these stars left Motown for more lucrative recording contracts Gordy, at first, refuses the invitation. However, after many friends plead with and/or cajole him he relents and decides to go. The song he sings expressing his change of heart features this line—“can I turn my back on love?” As soon as I heard the line sung I thought—yes, we do, we turn our back on love all the time.

The Apostle John wrote, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” It is on the cross that this atonement is secured. On Good Friday at the foot of the cross we stand before the signature demonstration of the love of God. Here we witness his self-forgetful self-giving for our sakes. Here we see that he will go to any length for our sakes as he pours himself out without remainder. “Can I turn my back on love?” The height of human folly is that we do, we have in our sin given the collective finger to God telling him to leave us alone. And yet God comes while we were yet sinners and gives himself for us.

Good Friday is not for the faint of heart. As Jesus declared to those arresting him, “But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!” At the foot of the cross we are confronted with the reason that Christianity can never be just one of many religions—the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I don’t think you would be here today if you didn’t have at least a glimmer of an idea that the Crucifixion in an event unique in the history of religion and that it demands our awed and undivided attention.

We come to Good Friday in trust of our crucified Lord’s promise that he himself will be present, for in his risen glory he is indeed able to make the message of the Cross a living and breathing power—power for a radically reoriented living. I am glad you have come even though the cross seems foolishness to the world. If we are going to really appreciate what Easter means, we do need to come here. Without Good Friday the happiness of Easter is reduced to the short-lived sugar rush of Easter eggs.

1. I invite you to reflect with me on our Lord’s comment to those arresting him—“this is your hour, and the power of darkness!” Who do we identify as the “your” in our Lord’s pronouncement—this is your hour? In the events of the story these are the people aligned against Jesus. Jesus pointed out that when he was in the temple day after day they did nothing to him. But now they are acting under a cloak of darkness. Sin can only ever lead to darkness. It hates the light. We bristle at the older testament’s announcement of God’s wrath against sin; God is thought to be harsh. But God’s wrath is never God flying off the handle as we humans do. His wrath is his consisted opposition to all that destroys life. We are rather cozy with sin—at least when we consider to have it under control. Human perception is often that God seems terribly exercised over not very much. Like that business of “have no other gods before me;” sounds a little self-serving on God’s part wouldn’t you say? Sin never leads to light—our enemy may mascaraed as an angel light—but sin always leads to darkness.

“Over and over again all the New Testament writers in one way of another tell us that the death of Jesus was for sin. He underwent the ultimate disgrace, the ultimate humiliation. He interposed himself between us and sin’s fatal power. That is why his death was uniquely terrible. The shameful nature of crucifixion as a method of execution is directly related to the shameful conduct of the human race. As Jesus goes to the cross, he is denied even the last scrap of charity. We don’t grasp this easily. Reflect on it for a moment. He is not permitted a mask, or clothing, or a final meal, or the prayers of a chaplain. Crucifixion was specifically designed to strip away every shred of decency, privacy, or humanity. None of this is an accident. It is all connected to the depravity of the human condition that lies just under the surface.

Perhaps it was possible to avoid this conclusion once upon a time, but if there is one thing that technology and mass communications revealed to us in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries is the capacity of the human race for evil. The torturing and tormenting of the Son of God—for that is what it was—displays the truth about what the human race can do. The despising and rejecting of the Messiah is a portrait of what we are really like.” (Rev Fleming Rutledge in The Undoing of Death, p. 145) The declaration that Jesus’ death was for sin also means that the “your hour” on our Lord’s lips at his arrest also points that this is “sinful humanity’s hour.” I may not like portrait but I too am included in this “your” because I am a sinner.

2. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!’ Let us reflect on the power of darkness. What power is our Lord speaking about? Near the beginning of Luke’s gospel we have the story of Jesus’ wilderness temptation. Luke concludes this story with this remark: “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13) In the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus had prayed for this cup to be removed he told his disciples to “pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” In Luke’s account of what we call the Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught the disciples to pray “and do not bring us to the time of trial.” (Luke 11:4) Matthew’s account of this prayer coupled with this phrase is “but rescue us from the evil one.” Or as we pray “and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Clearly Jesus perceives and evil force that seeks our destruction. The Apostle Paul speaks of “principalities and powers,” that can’t separate us from the love of Christ. Peter likens the devil to a roaring lion. (1 Peter 5:8) James calls Christians to resist the devil. (James 4:7) John writes of spirits that are not from God. (1 John 4:1-3) The collective witness of the Bible is that there is an enemy of our soul that we need to resist and be delivered from.

In the arrest, betrayal, suffering, and death of Jesus all the powers of evil in the world are let loose. Chaos and night reign supreme. It that great Easter hymn The Strife Is O’er, we find this line, “Death’s mightiest powers have done their worst.” The forces of evil are doing the very most that they can do. Satan is unleashed against the only-begotten Son of God. He comes back to Jesus at the “opportune time” and in that dark hour whispers, “You see? I was right. You are a failure. You should have listened to me. I told you you weren’t going to be able to convince anybody. Where are all you fine followers now? Where are all those people you healed and all those tax collectors and prostitutes and fishermen you spent so much time with? There isn’t anybody left to carry your message. The world is in my power now; God has abandoned you.”

In this final onslaught of Satan against God’s anointed Messiah, we learn what is the outermost boundary and limit of the power of sin, darkness, and death. Please note that God in Christ has shown us that these powers are limited—as awful and destructive as they may be.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke draw attention to the darkness that was over the land from noon to three in the afternoon. Jesus’ comment to those arresting him gives us one aspect on what this darkness signifies. But other aspects of what this darkness signifies are understood from the Older Testament. The Bible Jesus read (our Old Testament) had informed him of the nature of his impending death at Jerusalem.

In the book of Genesis we are told that before God created the universe, chaos and darkness was all there was. Before God brought light and order into being, there was only darkness and disorder. (Genesis 1:1-3) The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep … and God said, Let there be light. God is the creator of light. By his powerful word he brought light into being where there had only been darkness.

With that in mind listen to the introduction of John’s gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. John 1:1-4, 9 John also records our Lord’s assertion “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12)

Putting this together we can say that when Jesus was dying in the Cross, the light of the world was going out. We are told that light originated with him. In the darkness of Golgotha, therefore, the creation goes into mourning for its Maker. The order of nature is reversed by the One who brought it into existence. God the Son is giving himself for the salvation of the world he has made. When Jesus yields up his life, the light of the world is shut off.

Take a moment now to try to put yourself in the place of the disciples. Try to imagine their situation. If we can do so, we will understand and celebrate Easter as never before. It is three o’clock on Good Friday. Capture the moment. This is the space between Good Friday and Easter. Jesus is dead. All is blackness and despair. Can you feel the magnitude of what he has done? Christ has descended to the dead. Satan has had his way. There is no human hope left. The long-awaited Messiah has died the despised death of the lowest criminal class. Nothing we can do will bring him back. All the spring flowers and sunshine and Easter eggs and greeting cards and positive thinking in the world will not bring him back. We are left in the wreckage, in the darkness, in the silence. There is nothing—nothing—that can rebuild this wreckage, nothing that can lighten this darkness, nothing that can break this silence—except an act of God.