These pulpit notes are provided unedited and will thus contain some grammatical or typographical errors.
Thank you for joining us this evening. Please open your bibles to Luke 23.
As we prepare to partake in the Lord’s Table, I’d like for us to look at the account of Jesus’ crucifixion in the gospel of Luke. In doing so, I hope to prepare our hearts to take part in communion.
To summarize events leading up to our passage…
- It is Passover week when lambs were sacrificed in commemoration of the first Passover in Egypt, when God spared all who applied the blood of a lamb to their doorposts, from the judgment he was pouring out upon Egypt.
- It is during this week that Jesus is betrayed by Judas, arrested and tried.
- He has a trial before Pilate, then before Herod, then before Pilate again.
- Jesus is beaten, flogged, and mocked
- When the crowds are given an opportunity to see Jesus released, they demand the release of a murderous insurrectionist called Barabbas instead.
- Jesus then pronounces divine judgement upon Jerusalem.
- Jesus is crucified.
- Of course, you remember the scene, as Jesus is nailed to the cross there are on his left and on his right, others who are being crucified. Two guilty criminals.
Luke 23:32-46 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The Believing Criminal
In verses 42-43 we see one of the criminals, crucified next to Jesus, believes in him.
It reminds us that no matter your background, no matter the past pattern or degree of sin, no matter how much time you have left here on earth, you can be saved. The criminal on the cross illustrates this for us. He did not have any good works to speak of, he didn’t have time to show evidence of repentance beyond his words, and he would have no opportunity to prove the genuineness of his faith through discipleship.
Yet, what did he have? He was overcome with a fear of God as he considered the eternal state of his soul. In that fear of God, he recognized Jesus Christ as the righteous Son of God who had power over eternity. He believed that Jesus was the rightful King over the Kingdom of God and that he could save his soul.
With this confession, in the last hours of his life, this criminal was gloriously saved. This was salvation by the grace of God – who arranged this criminal’s divine appointment with the Christ. This was salvation, by grace, through faith in Christ and Christ alone.
And, in response to this criminal’s God-given faith, how did Jesus respond? With laboured breath as he hung on the cross, he said…
- Luke 23:43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Christ made a promise to this criminal – “Truly”, that is, without a doubt and “today”, you will “be with me”, in “Paradise”.
Jesus declares with absolute assurance that this man’s eternal destiny is now secure. He will be with Jesus, in Heaven this very day.
A criminal. A lifelong criminal for all we know. But a criminal, who with his last breaths confesses faith in Jesus as saviour and Lord. And the result? He is given assurance by Jesus himself that his sins are forgiven and that he will spend eternity in the presence of God. [Appeal for those who may feel “unworthy”]
So, we ask, on what basis does Jesus utter these words of absolute assurance? On what basis could he guarantee that this repentant sinner would find himself with Christ in the presence of God in heaven on that very day? Jesus could make that promise because Jesus knew what was going to happen momentarily…
In much preaching on the crucifixion, great emphasis is put upon the physical suffering of Christ. This is necessary to a certain degree in order to illustrate the vile hatred which mankind has towards Jesus. He absorbed the hate, vitriol and violence of a sinful people and bore in his body the consequence of their sin. And to be sure, the physical suffering and the physical death of Jesus were necessary. That being said, it was not the physical suffering which Jesus received at the hands of men, which made atonement for the world, but the suffering which Jesus experienced at the hand of God, which atoned for our sin.
It is this judgment by the Father, executed upon Jesus that we see next in our passage:
Luke 23:44-45 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
They crucified Jesus at the third hour, or 9 a.m. It is now the sixth hour or 12 p.m. And our passage says there was three hours of darkness over the whole land from the 6th to 9th hour, or 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. At a time when the sun would be its highest and its light and heat would be its most intense, everything went dark.
Darkness as Judgment
What’s happening here is not normal or natural. It is in fact a miraculous work of God the Father meant to communicate something to those present. What was he communicating? Darkness has been used by God throughout his dealings with men to communicate judgment, mourning and woe.
Amos 5:18 Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light,
Joel 3:14-17 Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. 15 The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. 16 The LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. But the LORD is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel. 17 “So you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who dwells in Zion, my holy mountain. And Jerusalem shall be holy, and strangers shall never again pass through it.
Not only is there biblical precedence for darkness to be used by God as a signal of his presence in judgment, but there is also precedence of a localized darkness brought about by God’s judgment:
Exodus 10:21-23 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.” 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. 23 They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived.
The Passover Connection
What is this? The ninth plague of Egypt, the Lord sends a peculiar darkness over the land. A darkness that “could be felt.” With the sun blacked out, the people would be overcome with a cold dread. They were an eerie three days in which the people of Egypt could see nothing, and could sense an impending judgment. It was these three-days of darkness which preceded the 10th and final judgment in Egypt. The death of every firstborn.
It is this final judgment which necessitated the Passover.
Because judgment was coming over all the land, God instructed his people to place the blood of a lamb on their doorposts. Through the death of the lamb, each household would be ransomed from slavery in Egypt and rescued from the wrath of God.
So, the first time we see darkness over a localized region like this, God is pouring out his judgment, while simultaneously providing a way of escape for those who believed by faith.
This is also exactly what God is doing here in Luke 23:
- Instead of three days of darkness, there are three hours of darkness.
- Instead of judgment upon the sins of Egypt, it is judgment upon the sins of the world.
- Instead of a temporary salvation provided by the blood of an earthly lamb, this is an eternal salvation accomplished by Jesus, the heavenly lamb of God.
The miraculous arrival of sudden darkness was an act of God the Father indicating a time of judgment and woe had come. It is meant to bring about feelings of fear, guilt and mourning in those who experience it.
Amos 8:9-10 “And on that day,” declares the Lord GOD, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. 10 I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on every waist and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day.
You can imagine it, sudden darkness in the middle of the day, in the midst of these unusual events featuring a man who had claimed to be the Son of God and who had just pronounced judgment upon the city – at this point many of the multitude who demanded his crucifixion are beginning to feel that something more is at play here. Their hearts are beginning to be struck with feelings of fear, guilt and mourning (this is clear by verse 48.)
This darkness however was about more than striking fear and mourning into the hearts of the people. It was an expression of God’s judgment. Not judgment which would be poured out upon the people, but judgment which He was about to pour out upon his son.
Penal Substitution in Three Hours of Darkness
This now, is where we find the divine purpose of the cross. Although it was sinful men who crucified Jesus, God the Father was at work, choosing this moment to work salvation for mankind.
Peter in preaching to thousands of Jews at Pentecost, many of whom are in the crowd now, said this:
Acts 2:22-23 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know– 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
This moment has been in the plan of God since before the foundation of the world. Peter and John and the other disciples in summarizing these events said:
Acts 4:26-28 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’– 27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
So, God is at work in these hours of darkness as Jesus hangs upon the cross. What is he doing? He is placing upon Jesus the sin and guilt of the world, and pouring his judgment out upon him. It is in these 3 hours of darkness that the events of Isaiah 53 are being carried out…
(after describing man’s rejection of Christ) Isaiah 53:10-12 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. 11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.
And so, in the moments when Passover lambs were being slain by Priests as suitable substitutes for their offerers, Jesus Christ hung on the cross where he was about to be slain by God as a suitable substitute for all who would believe in him. God has offered his Passover lamb, perfect, without spot and capable of taking away the sins of the world. His lamb would be able to bear his full wrath, thus satisfying his righteous judgment towards the sin of those for whom Christ died.
1 Corinthians 5:7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
(Substitutionary atonement / penal substitution)
1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,
Romans 8:32 [God] did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all…
What’s happening in these hours of darkness is God the Father is pouring out upon His own perfect Son, the just penalty for the sins of you and I. Jesus Christ, as the Passover lamb, the sin offering, the scapegoat, the perfect fulfillment of all of the sacrificial system, is bearing the full wrath of God which your sin and my sin deserves.
The word which the Bible uses for this satisfying of God’s judgment and turning away of his wrath is propitiation.
1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Jesus willingly bore the wrath of God which was due us, because of our sin. And, God’s wrath was completely spent upon Jesus. His wrath was expended, his justice was exercised, his righteousness was perfectly expressed.
WHY? So that you and I could be saved by God’s grace, through faith.
Romans 3:21-28 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
These hours of darkness are the hours of Christ’s greatest suffering as he, the sinless one, is counted a sinner by his Heavenly Father. He with whom Christ has perfect, uninterrupted fellowship has now turned his back on him, treating him as an enemy. He who was the perfect embodiment of God’s holiness is now being treated by God as the full embodiment of sin. He who deserved the greatest honour and exaltation by the Father is now experiencing divine rejection.
This, for Jesus Christ, the perfect one, was the greatest suffering he could ever face. It was this, the turning away of the Father’s face from him; the broken fellowship; and the treatment as a sinner which caused Christ to pray:
“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt 26:39)
Christ in these hours of darkness is experiencing what it is to be utterly forsaken by God. This explains Matthew tells us happens next in Matthew 27:46
Matthew 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
And with that, Jesus quotes Psalm 22 in expressing the utter distress of his soul. Christ absorbed the floggings without lashing back. He received the mocking without retribution. He even endured crucifixion while praying for his attackers. But now, experiencing the forsaking of the Father, he cries out with a LOUD voice. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The eternal one bore an eternal judgment in three hours of time. The Father placed upon Christ the sins of the world and judged him as such. His full wrath against those sins was spent upon Christ. His judgment was satisfied. His wrath was turned away.
Romans 5:6-9 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die– 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
Stuart Townend captures this moment well in his song, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us:”
How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory
God is Perfectly Satisfied – The Curtain is Torn in Two
How do we know God’s wrath was satisfied? Look at the latter part of verse 45:
The curtain of the temple was torn in two
Luke 23:45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
The centerpiece of Jewish worship was the Temple. Within the walls of the temple, beyond the courtyard, and past the altar stood The Holy Place. Within the Holy Place were two rooms. The first featured the altar of incense and the table of shewbread. Beyond this room stood a veil. A thick curtain, 60ft high and 30ft wide. Beyond this veil was the Most Holy Place. There in the Most Holy Place was the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat. It was here where the very presence of God would descend and dwell in the midst of his people. It was within this Most Holy Place that only the High Priest could enter, and that only once a year and when he did, he had to bear the blood of the sin offering on the day of atonement.
No one entered in, but the priest and even then, he had to come with blood.
The veil symbolized the reality that God was unapproachable by sinful men. There forever existed a division between God in his holiness and man in his sinfulness. The offering of the blood of a lamb was necessary because man’s sin deserved death and separation from God. God, by his mercy, allowed the sacrifice of a substitute in order allow man to go free and be spared his wrath.
There was a problem however. These sacrifices could never cleanse the conscience of men. They could temporarily assuage the wrath of God and make man ceremonially clean but they could never really take away sin forever. For this reason, the veil or curtain of separation remained as a constant reminder that Holy God is unapproachable by sinful man and that his wrath remained unsatisfied as long as man remained in his sin.
This was reflected in the passages from Hebrews which were read earlier tonight (Hebrews 9:1-14; Hebrews 10:1-18). Since Jesus satisfied the wrath of God, and made atonement for our sin, he has made it possible for those who believe in him to enter into the presence of God
Hebrews 10:19-22 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
The wrath of God was satisfied. Jesus once and for all and forever bore the wrath of God towards the sin of all who would believe in him. The veil was torn top to bottom by God himself signifying that the way into his presence had been made.
- Christ’s sacrifice is accepted
- God’s wrath is satisfied
- The way into his presence has been made
- The temple and the sacrificial system have been rendered obsolete, along with the power and influence of the hypocritical religious class of Jesus’ day.
Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit – Trinitarian Fellowship Restored
John records for us that at this time Jesus uttered the words “It is Finished!” And look in verse 46 of our passage:
Luke 23:46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.
Jesus, still in control of his own life, when he lays it down and when he takes it up, after he had born God’s wrath and accomplished all that the Father sent him to do says “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit!”.
And note the tenderness, “Father”. The Father’s back is not turned on Christ. The tender, intimate fellowship which the Father and the Son have enjoyed for all of eternity, is restored.
46 …And having said this he breathed his last.
And with that, Jesus is dead.
He is dead, but he is victorious. He has accomplished all that he came to do.
Mark 10:45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
John 12:27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.
Jesus has lived a perfect life, fulfilled the law, suffered at the hands of sinful men, and has borne the wrath of God. The result? God’s wrath has been satisfied. The way into his presence has been made. Sin can be freely forgiven, once and for all and forever.
And for whom is this sin forgiven?
John 3:14-18 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
This Good Friday, remember both the incredible depth of God’s love fur us (even while we were still in our sin), and the incomparable sacrifice which Jesus made as an expression of that love. Further, be reminded that if you’ve believed in Jesus, your sin-debt has been entirely paid. God is satisfied, your sin is forgiven, you have peace with the Father, and have been ushered into relationship with him.
If you have not yet trusted Jesus and Jesus alone as your saviour and Lord, be assured that if you believe in Jesus as the Son of God this evening, the one who fulfilled the law, bore your sin, and satisfied the wrath of God on your behalf, then the way into the presence of God has been made for you, just as it was for that believing criminal, hanging next to Jesus on a cross.