Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday
“The Miraculous Darkness”[1]
March 9, 2011

Text: Matt. 27:45: “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour” (ESV).

The darkness that descended upon the world from noon to three p.m. that Good Friday was the physical manifestation of the spiritual reality of all men. All men walk in darkness. Jesus Christ is the Light of the world. But “this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). So the world was covered by darkness from noon to three p.m., half of the world in the darkness of night, the other half in the mysterious and miraculous darkness of midday, to show that the whole world is shrouded in the spiritual darkness of sin and death, and the judgment of God is that He leaves us in such darkness.

Men try to explain this darkness away. The physical darkness of Good Friday is recorded not just in the Bible, by the way, but also in the literature of pagans. It is an attested historic fact that a strange darkness descended upon the earth for three hours that afternoon. But the pagans explained it away as an eclipse or some other sort of natural phenomenon. So also we try to explain away the spiritual darkness. We blame God. “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12). We blame the devil. “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (v. 13). “The devil made me do it.” We blame others. “I’ve had a hard life.” We pretend it is not darkness. “It’s not really a sin.” “Times have changed since the Bible was written.” “God made me this way.” “That’s just your interpretation.” This is darkness, beloved. It is the darkness into which we are born. We are born spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. Darkness. Total lack of light. Living in this darkness, we die in this darkness. And the judgment of hell is that we be cast out into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). That darkness is forever.

But there is this cosmic battle between Light and darkness, and it’s happening on the cross. The devil and his minions thought the darkness had won during those three dark hours. The devil, the demons, the unbelieving world thought they had defeated Jesus by killing Him. Little did they know. The Light’s victory is to be swallowed up by the darkness and to burst forth from its bloated belly. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). Jesus defeats death by willingly submitting to death, being swallowed up by death, that death may be swallowed up by life when Jesus bursts forth from the tomb. In dying, Jesus pays for the sins of the whole world. Humanity is redeemed, bought back with the blood of the Son of God, and the devil is defeated, the serpent’s head is crushed.

Lent is all about this cosmic battle. In the season of Lent especially we reflect upon and confess the utter darkness of our hearts and of our spiritual situation. And we reflect upon the great Light of our salvation that is Jesus Christ and His sin atoning work. When we speak of Jesus’ passion (from the Latin word patior, meaning to suffer), we speak of His suffering and death as payment for our sins. This is the great good news of Lent: Jesus suffered the darkness of God’s judgment for us, in our place, so that we could be brought into the Light of God. Jesus suffered our death, so that we could be brought into His life. Jesus suffered hell for us, in our place, so that we could go to heaven, and live with Him eternally in His joy. It is good and right that on this Ash Wednesday we be marked with ashes in the sign of the holy cross, that we may remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return, that we will die, but that so also Jesus’ cross and Jesus’ death marks us for life, for life everlasting as the redeemed of God, for the resurrection, for the Light. Today is a day of darkness, but this darkness is the triumph of the Light. For when Jesus cries, “It is finished” (John 19:30), the light returns. It is a sign of Jesus’ victory. It is a sign of the impending Easter Day. The devil is vanquished. Death is dead. The darkness is banished forevermore.

Beloved in the Lord, God keep you this Lententide in the Light of His Son Jesus Christ, that you be faithful as you take up your cross and follow Him. This Lenten journey is perilous, for it leads to Good Friday and Golgotha, to suffering and death. But the Lord will not leave you there. He will not leave you in the dust of death. For the Lord has called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] The theme and many of the thoughts contained in this sermon come from Miracles of Lent (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011).

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