Luke 22, 23
What has been the darkest time in all of human history? There was a period of history which has been called the “Dark Ages.” Recently historians have been questioning that designation for that period of time, suggesting that perhaps it was not all that dark after all.
Because my parents came from Russia, I often think of the time of the communist revolution and the years of the cold war as a particularly dark time in history.
On the day that Jesus was arrested we read in Luke 22:53 that he said that this was the hour “when darkness reigns.” I would suggest that this is probably the darkest day in all of human history. Today, being Good Friday, is the day when we think about these things and so this morning we will examine Luke 22,23 and think about this day when darkness reigned.
What was it like when darkness reigned?
One of the things that happened on the day when darkness reigned is that Satan was active.
The first mention of the work of Satan takes place in Luke 22:3. We read there that the chief priests and teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus. The opportunity was provided by Judas when he decided to betray Jesus. Some of you may have seen the advertising of the book the Gospel of Judas which claims that Jesus put Judas up to betraying him. The Bible does not teach that. Jesus says in Luke 22:22, “woe to that man who betrays him.” The impetus for Judas’ decision was not, however, totally from within himself. We read that “Satan entered Judas.”
The second account of the work of Satan takes place in Luke 22:31. Jesus was together with his disciples in the upper room as they observed the Passover feast. He told them about what was about to happen to him and about his suffering. Knowing that this would be a difficult time, he warned Peter that “Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.” Satan was given permission to tempt Peter and try to get him to reject Jesus.
At this darkest hour Satan was very active in doing what he does and that is to tempt, to oppose God and to destroy.
The activity of Satan in this darkest hour is an indication of what is really going on in the universe and that is that there is a cosmic battle going on. Satan is opposing God and trying to destroy the kingdom of God and so it is not surprising that at the darkest hour of human history Satan would be active.
Since the reign of darkness is a reign of evil it is not surprising that at this time good is rejected.
As Jesus completed his time with his disciples at the Passover feast, we read that they went out to the Mount of Olives. While they were there, Judas and the crowd of people came out to arrest him. The signal which Judas had indicated with which he would identify Jesus was a kiss. A kiss is usually a signal of love and affection and when it is used as a sign of betrayal it is an evidence that normal goodness has been set aside and evil is present.
Goodness rejected is further seen in the comment of Jesus when they arrested him. He mentioned that had been peacefully among them for many years and they had not arrested him. He asks those arresting him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs?” In other words, it wasn’t as if he was a well armed terrorist or a violent man that they had to be armed to the teeth to make sure that the arrest went successfully. Once again we see that goodness is rejected and evil reigns. It is in this context that Jesus identifies the center of what is going on here and that is “this is your hour- when darkness reigns.”
Another event which demonstrates that darkness is active is that temptation overcomes those who are God’s followers. Although Peter is warned that he will deny Jesus, he does not listen to the warning. He is certain that he is strong enough and his resolve is great enough that he will not succumb to such a thing.
After Jesus’ arrest, Peter demonstrated his strong resolve and his bravery by following Jesus and going into the courtyard of the high priest where they were questioning Jesus. When asked about his association with Jesus, however, his resolve melted and his strength was gone. He denied Jesus – not just once, but three times!
When darkness reigns, temptation is strong and effective even among those who are firm and well resolved followers of Jesus.
When Jesus was with the disciples in the garden and praying about what was happening, he explained one reason why temptation is so strong in the darkness. In 22:40, He encouraged the disciples to “pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” But they failed to do so. Why? Because, as the text says, “he found them exhausted from sorrow.” When they were most vulnerable and most needed to pray, they were too overcome by sadness and the challenges of what was about to happen that they slept and didn’t pray and so became vulnerable to temptation.
That is what it is like when darkness reigns. Temptation is strong and good is set aside.
The trial is another great demonstration of the reign of darkness because in it we see that justice was set aside.
The accusation by which the Jewish leaders accused Jesus was that he claimed to be the Son of God. He made a clear claim to be God because he even used the name by which God identified himself to Moses, “I am.” Now if a normal person would make such a claim the accusation would be right. He would be guilty of blasphemy. The only problem was that all the evidence Jesus had given clearly showed that He was the Son of God, but they never thought to examine that. The accusation which condemned him was wrong.
During the trial before Pilate when the Jewish leaders were trying to get the death sentence for Jesus, Pilate saw no grounds for accusation. Three times he indicated “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” But the clear indication of innocence was not listened to and they condemned Him to death because when darkness reigns, justice fails.
When Jesus died, the centurion perceived, in 23:47, “Surely this was a righteous man.” But by now he was dead. Injustice prevailed. Good did not happen. That is what happens when darkness reigns.
Another evidence of what happens when darkness reigns is that natural laws were suspended. We read in 23:44,45 that darkness covered the whole land and the sun stopped shining. Whatever the cause of the darkness, it was a remarkable occurrence because the writers take note of it, but there is more to it than that. The physical darkness was a symbol of what was going on in the whole universe. This was the hour when darkness reigned and the physical darkness was a symbol of the darkness which now prevailed.
Above all, when darkness reigns, God is rejected.
The rejection of God is focused when Jesus was before the Jewish leaders, the people who were God’s chosen, who knew God’s ways, who were expecting God to come to them, who knew the promises of God. They heard Jesus admit quite plainly, “I Am” and they understood what this meant, that He was God come to earth. At that moment, they had a chance to accept God, but they did not and that is what made this the day when darkness reigned.
This was the day in history when all the darkness which had been from the beginning of people’s rejection of God was focused on Jesus. It was the day when darkness reigned.
Yet as we examine these things we would say that nothing much is different. The same conditions exist today. Satan is still active and opposing God today. All of us have experienced his temptations and his attacks. We still live in a world in which good is rejected. Gang wars as represented by the death of 8 men by violence this past week show that evil is still strong and good is not always present. We still yield to temptation and that temptation is very strong. Even when we look at government systems which seek to bring about a just society, we know that injustice still prevails.
As portions of Southern Manitoba are under water again for the third time in ten years, as tornadoes have once again caused devastation in the US Midwest and as they have announced that this year will be a very active hurricane season, we would wonder about the natural world and whether things really are getting worse.
It is also evident that God is still rejected by many people all over the world.
Does that mean that this is still the hour of darkness?
To that we say a firm “No!” There are some significant changes that have taken place which mean that although darkness is still present, it does not reign as it did on the day when Jesus died on the cross. The power and significance of those changes are the topic of Sunday’s message, for the resurrection changes everything and assures us that light has won and life is present and evil is not reigning as it was on that day. But as I say, that is the topic of Sunday, of the celebration of the Resurrection and I don’t want to steal any of Amos’ thunder.
Yet, even on the day when darkness ruled, there are hints of light. When we go from a well lit place into sudden darkness, it is pitch black and we see nothing. Yet as your eyes adjust, it becomes clear that darkness is not total. There is light in the darkness. In a similar way, on the day when darkness reigned, there were glimmers of light.
In the darkness, Jesus prays. There are some wonderful thoughts about facing the darkness when we realize that Jesus prays.
When faced with death and carrying the sins of the world upon himself, Jesus went to the garden and began to pray a prayer that was the most agonizing, deep prayer that has ever been prayed. For the sinless son of God to carry the burden of the sins of every man, woman and child on earth to death was the greatest burden anyone has ever carried. When Jesus was at the brink of bearing that burden, he prayed earnestly that it would be removed because he felt the depth of that experience. His prayer was so intense that “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”
The example of Jesus is an encouragement to us to do in the darkness what He did in the darkness. When we are in the deepest, darkest place in our life, we need to follow the example of Jesus and pray. In fact, Jesus encourages his disciples to pray. Two times, in verses 40 and 46 he encourages his disciples to pray. What a great encouragement and what a great lesson! When we are in darkness, let us learn to do what Jesus did.
But there is another great lesson when we meditate on the truth that Jesus prayed. The other mention of Jesus’ prayer is found when Peter was about to be tempted. Jesus knew that Satan had asked permission to “sift Peter as wheat.” Satan’s intentions were not just that Peter’s faith would be tested to see if it was genuine, but it was to destroy Peter. Jesus knew the evil of Satan and at that moment of crisis, Jesus promised that He had prayed for Peter. In Luke 22:32 Jesus said, “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.” And that is the way it happened. Peter fell when he denied Jesus, but he did not fall eternally. He was restored and when he repented of his sin he turned back to Jesus.
Friends, that is good news. Jesus prayed for Peter in his darkness and the Bible tells us in other places that Jesus still prays for us.
In John 17:9 we have a record of Jesus praying for his disciples. It says, “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.” The rest of the chapter is the prayer of Jesus and what a wonderful thing it is to listen in on Jesus praying for us.
Hebrews 7:25 also says, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”
The fact that Jesus prayed in the midst of the darkness is a challenge for us and encourages us to pray. The fact that Jesus prayed for Peter in the midst of his darkness is an encouragement for us. When we are in the darkness today, we can know that Jesus continues to pray for us.
The other thing that happens in the midst of the darkness is salvation.
While Jesus was hanging on the cross, he was hung between two thieves. They were also entering into the conversation that was going on all around on the ground beneath them. One of the thieves mocked Jesus as others had done, but the other one recognized who Jesus was and understood that he was an innocent man. While at the end of his life, he asked for salvation and Jesus promised in 23:43, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus gave salvation as he was dying for the sins of the world.
Of course, this offer of salvation may have looked rather strange at this moment because Jesus was hanging on the cross and was at the end of His life. How could he offer salvation.
He could offer salvation because the possibility of salvation was being established right at this moment of darkness. When it looked like all the forces of hell were winning, when darkness was reigning, what was actually going on was that His death on the cross was making it possible for the thief and not only the thief, but ever sinner that has ever lived to be forgiven and to be saved from the fate of their sin, which is death.
That meaning is presented in the last supper the disciples had with Jesus. As he ate with them, he told them about the meaning of his death. He was going to die so that they could live. As they partook of the bread, he told them that the bread symbolized His body which was given for them. As they partook of the cup, he told them that his blood was establishing a new covenant. The death of Christ was the means by which salvation was established. This great act of deliverance happened in the darkness indeed at the time when darkness reigned, which makes it all the more amazing.
One writer says, “the crucifixion, from the Jewish perspective, was meant to brand Jesus as cursed by God; the crucifixion from the Christian perspective, pictures Jesus as taking God’s curse against sin upon himself and allowing his people to be set free from sin.”
It is important to realize that this was a day of darkness and to understand just how dark it was on the day when Jesus died. This day when darkness reigned was a day when good was gone and evil was present. It was the day when all the opposition against God from every time in history was focused against Jesus.
How thankful we can be that darkness did not prevail. The glimmer of light that shines even on the day when darkness reigned is a powerful word of hope for us.
It assures us that whenever darkness presents itself in our world, God’s salvation is not gone. God’s salvation was established in the darkness and can overcome any darkness we may face today.
It assures us that in our darkness, Jesus prays for us and encourages us to pray.
Although the focus on death and darkness would suggest that “Good Friday” is a misnomer, when we see the light that comes out of this darkness, we know that it is exactly that, Good Friday!
May the meaning of this day bless our lives not only today but also in the days to come.