The Passion Week – A Dark Sabbath

The crucifixion itself began shortly before noon, or the sixth hour (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:25, 33; Luke 23:44; John 19:14).  Jesus died at the ninth hour or 3:00pm (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34; Luke 23:44).  The crucified victim may have remained on the cross for days.  Yet Jesus died in only three hours.  This surprised Pilate (Mark 15:44).

Pilate inquires, “Is it true?”

The centurion replies, “Yes.  He is dead.”

Jesus experienced immense physical trauma.  The gospels flesh out what Isaiah foresaw in Isaiah 53:4-5.

  • Jesus was beaten by the Jews (Luke 22:63).
  • Jesus was scourged or whipped by Roman soldiers (John 19:1).  This leads to tremendous loss of blood.
  • A crown of thorns was crunched down upon his head (Mark 15:17).
  • He was struck with the reed they used as a mock scepter (Mark 15:18).
  • He was beaten some more by Roman soldiers (John 19:3).
  • He was forced to carry his own instrument of death a significant distance, especially for a man in such a condition (Mark 15:20; John 19:17).
  • He faced insatiable thirst on the cross (John 19:28).
  • There was the unbearable agony of taking a breath on the cross.  Crucifixion meant a slow, painful death by suffocation.

All of this physical suffering is enough to cause life to ebb away from any person.  Yet people remained in the cross for days.  Why only three hours for Jesus?  There may be more to the time of Jesus’ death than purely physical reasons.   First, remember this took place during the Passover on the day of Preparation, i.e., the day before the Sabbath.  If a holy day was near, and one was, the Roman soldiers would expedite death by smashing the shin bones of the victim so he could no longer breathe.  The OT indicated that not a bone of Jesus would be broken (cf. Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12; Psalm 34:20).  Second, remember that Jesus died at the ninth hour or 3:00pm.  The Passover was commemorated with the slaughter of lambs, as God commanded.  The slaughter of the lambs was supposed to take place on the 14th day of Nisan (Leviticus 23:5).  This began on the ninth hour, or at 3:00pm!  Just as the cries of the dying Passover lambs began in Jerusalem, the Lamb of God excruciatingly but triumphantly cried out on the altar of Golgotha, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).  As the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:7, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”  The fulfillment of prophecy, no broken bones, and the sacrificial work of the Lamb of God both were factors, I believe, in the duration of Jesus suffering and the timing of His death.

Jesus’ corpse is taken down from the cross.  Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body of Jesus and received it.  His lifeless body was prepared for burial, placed in the tomb, and its entrance was sealed by a massive stone (Mark 15:42-47).  Sabbath has arrived.  This would be an unusually dark Sabbath.

What a disheartened Sabbath this must have been for Jesus’ disciples.  The Sabbath was a day of rest, or delighting in God.  It was instituted on the occasion when God created and said, “It is very good!” (Genesis 1:31-2:3).  The followers of Jesus just witnessed the death of their Messiah by the cruelest method ever known.  Current reality can be abrasive.  One wonders how much goodness the followers of Jesus perceived this particular Sabbath; how much delight they experienced on this particular Sabbath.  It was a very dark day.  This Sabbath was probably not characterized by delight but by mourning the death of the Christ.  But there was more.  The current reality was not the end of the story.  There was a providential hand still very much at work; though it was unseen.  The morning was coming . . .

This is a rather common human experience, isn’t it?  Days that were supposed to be filled with delight were filled with sorrow.  Relationships that were supposed to bring us joy brought disappointment.  Endeavors that promised fulfillment yielded emptiness.  Yet God was doing something on this Sabbath day that Jesus’ followers did not see.  God is also doing something in the times in your life when things have not turned out as you thought they should.  This is why God’s ways are not our ways–they are better.

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