Christ, the Evening Sacrifice
(45) Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.
(46) And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
(47) Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias.
(48) And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.
(49) The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.
(50) Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
Our text shows that Christ died shortly after 3:00 p.m. (here called the ninth hour). This would have been the time of the appointed daily evening sacrifice under Moses' Law (EXO 29:38-39). Evening was also the time of day when the annual killing of the paschal lamb (passover) was to occur (EXO 12:6) which in type spoke of “...Christ our passover...” (1CO 5:7). It was also at the time of the evening sacrifice when the prediction of Messiah's coming and His “cutting off” was delivered to Daniel hundreds of years before the fact (DAN 9:21-27); He would be “...cut off out of the land of the living...” (ISA 53:8). Christ's crucifixion began at 9:00 a.m. (called the third hour in MAR 15:25); thus, His cross-work concurred with both the morning and evening sacrifices the Law required each day (EXO 29:38-39). In covenant, Christ was “...the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (REV 13:8), the blemish-free lamb “...foreordained before the foundation of the world...” (1PE 1:18-20). From the morning of the world He was an appointed sacrifice and in the evening of the world He was sacrificed: “...now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself (HEB 9:26).
The darkness had obviously ended just before Christ died. All of His works had been done openly (JOH 18:20), and this last one was no exception: “...this thing was not done in a corner” (ACT 26:22-26). God made men see the awful price of sin so that they would “...look on him whom they pierced” (JOH 19:37). Further, by dying in plain sight, none could claim that darkness had provided a cover for a spurious death. The darkness, though, may well have indicated something else: the presence of the Father Who wrote the Law which condemned sinners. God was wont to “...dwell in the thick darkness...” (1KI 8:12). When God came down upon Mt. Sinai to give Moses the Law, there was “...a thick cloud upon the mount...” (EXO 19:16). Paul described that scene as “...blackness, and darkness...” (HEB 12:18-21). The Law, for all of its glory, was nevertheless “...the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones...” (2CO 3:7), “...the ministration of condemnation...” (2CO 3:9). For sinners, righteousness and life could never come by it (GAL 2:21; GAL 3:21) since “...Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (GAL 3:10). The Law basically declared man's doom in hell. Christ's soul suffered hell in His agony unto death (MAT 26:38 c/w ACT 2:25-27), and darkness is one of hell's attributes (2PE 2:4). It may be said that for every place the Law whispered grace, it shouted death and hell. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to conclude that the darkness that was upon the land from the sixth to the ninth hour (MAT 27:45) was when the weight of the Law's curse was loaded upon Christ: “...the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (ISA 53:6). He was made responsible for every sin that the Law condemned, and He had to bear it alone, forsaken by men and by the Father.
Our text also shows that Christ at the ninth hour cried unto God. It was the ideal time for this since the ninth hour was “...the hour of prayer...” (ACT 3:1). But the Father answered not. Christ had already suffered much from the time His soul began to be troubled hours before (JOH 12:27; MAT 26:38) plus the terrible pain that broke His body. The abandonment and then this silence from the Father was most grievous for heretofore the Father always heard the Son (JOH 11:41-42), and if God hears prayer, the answer is certain (1JO 5:14-15). Christ was here reduced to the level of the vain prophets of Baal for whom there was no voice or answer at the time of the evening sacrifice (1KI 18:29). Here was the last proof that Christ was fully made sin and wicked for us: “The LORD is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous” (PRO 15:29).
MAT 27:46 is the first and only time in all of Jesus' sufferings that He complained, “Why?” With the awful realization that the Father had forsaken Him and that there was no expectation of comfort from on high, Christ only then “...yielded up the ghost” (MAT 27:50). Let us contemplate all of this soberly and be more discreet in all the “Why's?” we throw up to God over the troubles we endure when He has promised to never forsake us (HEB 13:5).
In His suspension on the cross, Christ's hands were forced heavenward as if He were in praying posture, “...lifting up holy hands...” (1TI 2:8). David once said to God, “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice” (PSA 141:2). David was desiring that his spiritual sacrifice of prayer would suffice for the carnal bloody evening sacrifices under the Law which were accompanied by the burning of sweet incense (EXO 30:8; NUM 4:16). He by the Spirit knew that spiritual sacrifices “...please the LORD better than an ox or bullock that hath horns or hoofs” (PSA 69:30-31). Prior to His unanswered plea (MAT 27:46), the incense of Christ's prayer “...made intercession for the transgressors” (ISA 53:12): “...Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (LUK 23:34). But a spiritual sacrifice of prayer could not replace Christ's mortal sacrifice on the cross. He had to be both the bloody evening sacrifice and the evening incense. Everything about His sacrifice smelled right to the Father; He “...hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour” (EPH 5:2).