From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 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?”). When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” 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. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
Suddenly, right at noon, when the sun is brightest, it turned dark. It was so dark that there was no sunlight at all . . . nor moon or stars . . . just darkness. Everything came to a stop. No, it wasn’t an eclipse. Historians tell us that as far away as Egypt, everyone was experiencing the same mysterious and frightening darkness.
The darkness came because of a crucifixion—an ugly way for a person to die. This form of execution was meant to slowly suffocate a person to death. Jesus was crucified with two others outside of Jerusalem. Jesus was God’s special soldier. Now that hidden warrior was visibly dying.
This was the final battle. The big one. He had come into this world and had prepared every day of his life for this battle. Your future, my future, and the future of everyone who has ever lived was depending on the outcome of this battle: The Greatest Battle Ever Fought!
Websites that list “the greatest battles of all time” say their criteria is usually based on the influence of a battle on history. WWI was to be “the war to end all wars.” But how many wars have we experienced since then?
This was Greatest Battle Ever Fought! The life of Jesus is the most significant single life in all of history. And what happened on the cross at his death changed the entire world and everyone who has ever lived.
1. His enemy Satan attacked Jesus relentlessly.
Satan was relentless. Satan used physical pain and agony to get Jesus to give up. Jesus had suffered greatly to this very point: no sleep, the crown of thorns, the constant mocking, the pulling out of his beard, the blows to his face, the humiliation of having his clothing stripped off, the cruel scourging that ripped out skin and flesh down to the bone with each lash. Weakened, he was forced to carry his cross until he collapsed. And after all that they laid him down on the cross and drove long nails through his wrists and feet and hoisted the cross up and dropped it into its hole as the soldiers and the Jewish leaders mocked him. How can anyone do such things to another human being? That’s our Savior they were torturing! It’s hard to even read those words.
We begin to realize that all his physical suffering was nothing compared to the spiritual suffering that Jesus endured on the cross. The darkness shows us how much God hates sin, that terrible thing that always separates us from him.
In a way, we may be grateful for the darkness. It certainly must have shut up the mockers for a while, but it also covered up what no eyes should ever have to see as Jesus was on that cross, alone, against all the forces of hell. Satan hated Jesus. And at this moment he saw the Son of Man and Son of God at his weakest—where he might be vulnerable. Satan did everything to force Jesus to give up his life’s work of paying for your guilt and mine and for atoning for the whole world’s sins.
Perhaps he told Jesus, “You won’t make any difference, Jesus. You are not big enough to cover the whole world’s guilt and sin. The whole history of humanity is on my side, Jesus. Why do you care about these people? They turned on you. Even Judas and Peter did it. Thousands will turn on you later.”
The devil’s attacks had reached a fevers pitch. The internal pain and pressure mounted higher and higher. So much darkness! The weight of the sins of billions upon billions of people are pressing down on him—yours and mine included. And Jesus fought this powerful evil angel in this great darkness – alone, pure, holy, and faithful. Still loving us. Still holding his ground. Still doing his Father’s will.
But now the worst part: The Father’s white-hot anger burned against Jesus. Think of the power of God—the Creator of all things—that’s who directed his full anger and fury against Jesus. You can hear it in Jesus’ voice as his tone changed. An awful and loud cry came from those tortured lungs. Perhaps it a scream: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ It is hard to understand: that the heavenly Father, source of all true love in this world, turns his back on his Son, whom he had so clearly declared at his baptism and on the Mount of Transfiguration as “My beloved Son.”
The Father suspends his relationship with his dear Son Jesus, so that our great warrior Jesus could pay for this entire world’s sins. It must have torn at the Father’s heart. His wrath is focused on the evil that Jesus bore. At the beginning of this suffering, Jesus called him “Father.” You can hear the intimacy, the closeness. Now Jesus calls him “My God, my God” as he loudly asks that big WHY question.
You can see that while the relationship is broken, Jesus’ faith is still strong, even as he is left alone to bear such a burden. This is the moment of sheer horror for our warrior. It was the worst moment of his life, and his lonely suffering had reached its peak on that cross. It was there that the battle would either be won or lost as Jesus suffered for us. The perfect and holy Jesus was charged with our sin and he was willing to pay for it.
2. When the dust had settled, came the victory cry
Soon, the mockers started in again. But the end was near. They waited. But not long. Things happened very quickly. Jesus was thirsty. “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished’” (John 19:30). “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit” (Matthew 27:50).
Mark tells us that the temple curtain was “torn in two from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38). Someone has said that was God’s way of saying “Amen” to Jesus’ words “It is finished.” Every prophecy in the Old Testament about the coming Savior had been fully kept.
Notice how we can tell that the sacrifice of Jesus was completed: He says, “Father” again! God’s anger had been spent. The terrible separation between Father and Son no longer existed. That loud cry, “It is finished,” said everything. In this, The Greatest Battle Ever Fought, the work of atoning for humanity is over! Jesus had crushed Satan’s head, as predicted in Eden. It’s a clear knockout blow. The devil is mortally wounded, still walking around, but he can no longer win. Satan has been defeated!
Brothers and sisters, our home in heaven has been prepaid! There is nothing more you or I, or even God, must do to pay for our guilt and sin! We are forgiven! Jesus’ work is done. Everything is just as it should be. Neither the soldiers, the mockers, hell, or Satan could kill Jesus. Only Jesus, of his own free will, could give his soul into his Father’s loving hands. Our holy Jesus, who remained unspotted and unblemished as he experienced our hell, offered his pure and perfect life as the final, once-and-for-all sacrifice that had been promised ever since the Fall into sin! The Greatest Battle Ever Fought is over. IT IS FINISHED! The Greatest Battle Ever Fought has been won, and we have the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.