Is Jesus really the king, the hero of God’s epic story?
32 As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. 33 They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 34 There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. 35 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they kept watch over him there.37 Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is Jesus, the king of the Jews.
38 Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” 41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
The Death of Jesus
45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and[c] went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.
What day will you remember as your darkest day? Perhaps because of an accident, a diagnosis, a government’s decision, a final end to a relationship, a painful failure…?
I remember my darkest day. 22nd July, 2014. My Dad’s 69th birthday. I phoned to say happy birthday at 7:20am. Thirty minutes later, after he received a phone call from the nursing home where my Mum was in palliative care, Dad called back: “I’m so sorry. Mum just died.” The world went dark.
I imagine that this scene was etched into Jesus’ followers’ minds as their darkest day. Their hero had been whipped and beaten, then dragged to the Place of the Skull. The only voices we hear are those which revile. They amplify their mocking calls for the “King of Israel” to save himself. How could Jesus possibly be the hero if he dies? Has Jesus just been an epic liar? Watching in the distance, his followers are noticeably silent – are they wondering the same things too?
Then, the unthinkable: No one comes to save Jesus, and he doesn’t save himself.
The hero dies.
And the world goes dark.
Unlike the death of people we love, Jesus’ death was different. Supernatural things start happening. His death breaks through the temple, the world, and the spiritual realm. The curtain of the temple torn in two… earthquakes… and what? Dead people coming out of tombs?! Things didn’t just get dark, they got weird.
The darkest day was unlike any dark day we have faced or will face. When we hear Jesus cry “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” we hear the cry of our hero experiencing the pain of our sin and separation from the Father, so we never have to be forsaken by the Father. As Jesus is enthroned on the cross with a crown of thorns as God’s heroic king, we get a taste of his kingdom – we can now enter into God’s presence behind the curtain with confidence because of his blood (Heb 10:19-22). We also taste a vision of our future: a shadow of the final resurrection; a reassurance that on dark days, even when we face our death or the death of ones we love, we have a hero who has won a life forever for all who trust him. And that will see us through the darkest of days.
Head: What can we learn about Jesus as King and what his kingdom is like from this account?
Heart: How does Jesus’ death shape the way we feel and respond to the dark days we face?
Hands: How could you encourage someone facing a dark day? What’s one practical thing you could do to care for them?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for rescuing me from the sin which would’ve led me into an eternal darkness, separated from the Father. Please drive the truth of your death and resurrection deep into my soul, and remind me that you stay with me, even on the darkest days.
A song to listen to: Man of Sorrows https://open.spotify.com/track/7kRc5L0VqfA2q8DCcyBgsZ