Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Through the Darkness
Resurrection Sunday is supposed to be a thoroughly happy day. We celebrate, and with good reason. We say to each other the three most important words ever heard: “He is risen!”. We feel joy in our hearts and hear a song on our lips. All seems right with the world. But something happens when we leave the church doors. That world that seemed so bright while we are celebrating the resurrection of our Lord Jesus dims considerably when we face the challenges of our lives. That’s when the guilt sets in.
We feel guilty that we are not as happy in our lives as we were in church on Resurrection Sunday. We wonder if there is something wrong with us when the trials and tribulations we face get us down. Do we just not have enough faith?
Today I’d like to accomplish two things as we look at the account of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ: I’d like to explain these events in as plain as terms as I can, but then secondly, help us to realize that the brightness of that day only came about because those involved walked through the darkness that preceded it.
Luke 23:32 – 38
Jesus of Nazareth got caught up on the political/religious intrigue of 1st Century Palestine. The Pharisees and Sadducees, two political parties in Israel, were in control of the religious and economic life of their nation, while Rome controlled the political scene. Jesus had arrived some three years earlier – an itinerant carpenter turned preacher who, allegedly, performed many miracles including providing food for thousands, healing an untold number of people, and even raising some from the dead.
He’d become so popular that many Jews wanted Him to take over both the religious, economic, and political reigns. Because power was so important to the members of Israel’s ruling council, the Sanhedrin, they wanted a way to get rid of this upstart. They couldn’t legally execute him—that was a Roman prerogative. So, they hatched a plan to accuse Him of insurrection against Rome.
It almost didn’t work—and the religious leaders had to threaten a riot before the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, agreed to put Jesus to death using Rome’s accepted form of execution: crucifixion.
As Luke records for us, Roman soldiers, who did this for a living, took the condemned to a public place, nailed them to a rough cross-beam, then attached that cross to an upright beam and shoved the whole thing into a hole in the ground. Normally the victim would die of exposure (sometimes days later) but the crucifixion of Jesus was much different. First, Jesus was forgiving for his executioners because, as He said, “they do not know what they are doing.” They didn’t know Who they were killing, but went about their normal routine of dividing the clothes because the victim would no longer need them.
It was different, secondly, because of the politically charged nature of the event. Here the religious leaders and the soldiers took turns mocking Jesus because He had claimed to be what is called The Messiah—the One that was supposed to rule everyone. He was supposed to be a King, but what King ends up being crucified?
The third way this crucifixion was different was the words exchanged between the men on the crosses.
39 – 43
The men on either side of Jesus had broken Roman law and were simply getting their just deserts. Jesus, on the other hand, had not broken any laws. His death was not just. While one of the men yelled insults, the other plead for mercy—recognizing that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, and a King.
The first man wanted freedom on his terms. The second wanted freedom on Jesus’ terms: recognition of sin, repentance, and relationship with the King. Jesus replied only to the second where he told him: “Today you will be with Me in paradise.”
This then is the first darkness. The condemned man did not ever get down from that cross but died later when the soldiers broke his legs, removing his only way of supporting his diaphragm so he could breath. He suffocated in short order. Death awaited him and it took him. But Jesus promised that going through the darkness of death would not be his end—that it was but a transit stop on the way to paradise. The key was “you will be with Me.” His recognition, repentance, and relationship had formed a bond with Jesus so strong that the darkness of an excruciating death could not break it.
44 – 46
Now it was Jesus’ turn to die. Literal darkness came over the land as creation itself mourned the horrible injustice that the only human with no sin was being crucified as a criminal. The One who created the world was now being killed by His creation.
Jesus had faced a personal darkness as well. In Chapter 22, verses 39 – 46 He became despondent, and pleaded with His Father that if there was any way to accomplish His mission other than the cross—to please bring that about. The Father did not answer and Jesus placed Himself under submission to God His Father saying: “not My will but Yours, be done.”
Jesus utters similar words now on the cross, placing Himself into the hands of the Father. He breathed His last—voluntarily giving up His life. At that moment, the curtain separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Template tore in two from top to bottom. The body of the Lord Jesus was torn as He bore every sin that anyone had or would commit. God at that point made Jesus responsible for paying for those sins. His own Father turned His back on the Son, the first and only time in eternity that they had been separated. Having paid the price, He breathed His last.
47 – 49
Overseeing all of this was a centurion—a Roman army officer in charge of 100 men. This centurion was in charge pf the execution detail. He’d seen hundreds if not thousands of crucifixions. He knew how they were supposed to go. This one was very different for so many reasons:
- The calmness of the condemned King
- His seeming to be in total control of the situation
- The words exchanged
- The darkness
- The fact that Jesus could choose the time and manner of His own death
Luke records three responses to the crucifixion—the leaders and crowds struck their chests in anger (or perhaps wonder), while Jesus’ followers watched but did not know what to make of it. The centurion, however, had a different reaction. Perhaps his darkness was a jadedness over death. This man took life on a regular basis. He followed orders and killed people. But this Jesus broke through that monotony, and broke into this man’s reality in a way that probably changed him forever. Mark 15:39 tells us that he also said: “This Man really was God’s Son.”
It says that the women were perplexed. This is pretty mild compared to other gospels, which report both the women and the disciples were in deep grief. Here’s what Mark tells about Mary Magdalene, who personally saw Jesus and was crying so hard that she didn’t even recognize Him.
Mark 16:10-11 (HCSB) 10 She went and reported to those who had been with Him, as they were mourning and weeping. 11 Yet, when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe it.
Those closest to Jesus experienced the darkness of grief and loss. They are left perplexed and unbelieving. Until Jesus presents Himself to them alive.
So, what do we make of these stories? How does their darkness inform us as we either consider the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, or simply consider how to maneuver this life that is so full of darkness?
Let’s look at each person or groups’ darkness and how they went through it to something glorious:
Jesus was overwhelmed by the darkness of dread. He dreaded the cross and wanted to avoid it if He could. But there was no other way to save mankind. So how did He overcome it? He trusted Himself into God’s hand for God’s will.
- 2.The thief
The second thief was overcome by guilt. He knew he’d sinned. He knew he deserved to die. He was left without hope until Jesus hung next to him. He overcame his darkness by recognizing and acknowledging his guilt, and by seeking forgiveness and relationship with the innocent King Jesus. If you do the same, you too can be with Him in Paradise forever.
- 3.The Centurion
The Centurion faced the darkness and hardening of death. He’d seen it all, done the worst, witnessed the hopelessness in the eyes of the condemned and the finality of death. He himself controlled whether people lived or died. He overcame this darkness by seeing that Someone greater than death had come.
- 4.The disciples
The disciples experienced the darkness of fear, grief, and loss. Their Lord was gone and reports to the contrary were too good to be true. It was not until they were personally confronted by a risen Savior that their grief turned to joy.
Which are you?
- Maybe you are facing something that is causing you dread. Like Jesus, place yourselves in God’s hands for His will.
- You don’t realize you have sinned against God and stand condemned? Until we recognize and repent (change our minds) we are like the first criminal, to whom Jesus said nothing. My advice? Be the second criminal—face the darkness of dying to yourself and your sin.
- Perhaps life had hardened you like the centurion. See that Someone bigger than death is here
- Or perhaps you are confused, troubled or grieving. Jesus is alive. He is risen. He has overcome your worst darkness.
Sometimes going through the darkness is the only way to glory. Embrace it. Trust God in it, not yourself—your worth, your circumstances, or your senses – but His worth, His sovereignty, His outlook.
I close with the words of Jesus’ ancestor, King David: “Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thy rod and staff comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”