Here we have an account of Christ’s dying, how his enemies abused him, and God honoured him at his death.
I. There was a thick darkness over the whole land (some think over the whole earth), for three hours, from noon till three of the clock. Now the scripture was fulfilled (Amos 8:9), I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day; and Jer. 15:9; Her sun is gone down while it is yet day. The Jews have often demanded of Christ a sign from heaven; and now they had one, but such a one as signified the blinding of their eyes. It was a sign of the darkness that was come, and coming, upon the Jewish church and nation. They were doing their utmost to extinguish the Sun of righteousness, which was now setting, and the rising again of which they would never own; and what then might be expected among them but a worse than Egyptian darkness? This intimated to them, that the things which belonged to their peace, were now hid from their eyes, and that the day of the Lord was at hand, which should be to them a day of darkness and gloominess, Joel 2:1, 2. It was the power of darkness that they were now under, the works of darkness that they were now doing; and such as this should their doom justly be, who loved darkness rather than light.
II. Toward the close of this darkness, our Lord Jesus, in the agony of his soul, cried out, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Mark 15:34. The darkness signified the present cloud which the human soul of Christ was under, when he was making it an offering for sin. Mr. Fox, in his Acts and Monuments (vol. 3, p. 160), tells of one Dr. Hunter, a martyr in queen Mary’s time, who, being fastened to the stake, to be burnt, put up this short prayer, Son of God, shine upon me; and immediately the sun in the firmament shone out of the dark cloud, so full in his face, that he was forced to look another way, which was very comfortable to him. But our Lord Jesus, on the contrary, was denied the light of the sun, when he was in his sufferings, to signifying the withdrawing of the light of God’s countenance. And this he complained of more than any thing; he did not complain of his disciples’ forsaking him, but of his Father’s, 1. Because this wounded his spirit; and that is a thing hard to bear (Prov. 18:14); brought the waters into his soul, Ps. 69:1-3. 2. Because in this especially he was made sin for us; our iniquities had deserved indignation and wrath upon the soul (Rom. 2:8), and therefore, Christ, being made a sacrifice, underwent as much of it as he was capable of; and it could not but bear hard indeed upon him who had lain in the bosom of the Father from eternity, and was always his light. These symptoms of divine wrath, which Christ was under in his sufferings, were like that fire from heaven which had been sent sometimes, in extraordinary cases, to consume the sacrifices (as Lev. 9:24; 2 Chron. 7:1; 1 Kgs. 18:38); and it was always a token of God’s acceptance. The fire that should have fallen upon the sinner, if God had not been pacified, fell upon the sacrifice, as a token that he was so; therefore it now fell upon Christ, and extorted him from this loud and bitter cry. When Paul was to be offered as a sacrifice for the service of saints, he could joy and rejoice (Phil. 2:17); but it is another thing to be offered as a sacrifice for the sin of sinners. Now, at the sixth hour, and so to the ninth, the sun was darkened by an extraordinary eclipse; and if it be true, as some astronomers compute, that in the evening of this day on which Christ died there was an eclipse of the moon, that was natural and expected, in which seven digits of the moon were darkened, and it continued from five o’clock till seven, it is remarkable, and yet further significant of the darkness of the time that then was. When the sun shall be darkened, the moon also shall not give her light.
III. Christ’s prayer was bantered by them that stood by (Mark 15:35, 36); because he cried, Eli, Eli, or (as Mark has it, according to the Syriac dialect) Eloi, Eloi, they said, He calls for Elias, though they knew very well what he said, and what it signified, My God, My God. Thus did they represent him as praying to saints, either because he had abandoned God, or God had abandoned him; and hereby they would make him more and more odious to the people. One of them filled a sponge with vinegar, and reached it up to him upon a reed; “Let him cool his mouth with that, it is a drink good enough for him,” Mark 15:36. This was intended for a further affront and abuse to him; and whoever it was that checked him who did it, did but add to the reproach; “Let him alone; he has called for Elias: let us see whether Elias will come take him down; and if not, we may conclude that he also hath abandoned him.”
IV. Christ did again cry with a loud voice, and so gave up the ghost, Mark 15:37. He was now commending his soul into his Father’s hand; and though God is not moved with any bodily exercise, yet this loud voice signified the great strength and ardency of affection wherewith he did it; to teach us, in every thing wherein we have to do with God, to put forth our utmost vigour, and to perform all the duties of religion, particularly that of self-resignation, with our whole heart and whole soul; and then, though speech fails, that we cannot cry with a loud voice, as Christ did, yet if God be the strength of the heart, that will not fail. Christ was really and truly dead, for he gave up the ghost; his human soul departed to the world of spirits, and left his body a breathless clod of clay.
V. Just at that instant that Christ died upon mount Calvary, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom, Mark 15:38. This bespoke a great deal, 1. Of the terror of the unbelieving Jews; for it was a presage of the utter destruction of their church and nation, which followed not long after; it was like the cutting asunder of the staff of beauty (for this veil was exceedingly splendid and glorious, Exod. 26:31), and that was done at the same time when they gave for his price thirty pieces of silver (Zech. 11:10, 12), to break the covenant which he had made with that people. Now it was time to cry, Ichabod, The glory is departed from Israel. Some think that the story which Josephus relates, of the temple door opening of its own accord, with that voice, Let us depart hence, some years before the destruction of Jerusalem, is the same with this; but that is not probable: however, this had the same signification, according to that (Hos. 5:14), I will tear, and go away. 2. It bespeaks a great deal of comfort to all believing Christians, for it signifies the consecrating and laying open to us of a new and living way into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.
VI. The centurion who commanded the detachment which had the oversight of the execution was convinced, and confessed that this Jesus was the Son of God, Mark 15:39. One thing that satisfied him, was, that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost: that one who was ready to give up the ghost, should be able to cry out so, was very surprising. Of all the sad spectacles of this kind he never observed the like; and that one who had strength to cry so loud, should yet immediately give up the ghost, this also made him wonder; and he said, to the honour of Christ, and the shame of those that abused him, Truly this man was the Son of God. But what reason had he to say so? I answer, 1. He had reason to say that he suffered unjustly, and had a great deal of wrong done him. Note, He suffered for saying that he was the Son of God; and it was true, he did say so, so that if he suffered unjustly, as it was plain by all the circumstances of his suffering that he did, then what he said was true, and he was indeed the Son of God. 2. He had reason to say that he was a favourite of heaven, and one for whom the almighty power was particularly engaged, seeing how Heaven did him honour at his death, and frowned upon his persecutors. “Surely,” thinks he, “this must be some divine person, highly beloved of God.” This he expresses by such words as denote his eternal generation as God, and his special designation to the office of Mediator, though he meant not so. Our Lord Jesus, even in the depth of his sufferings and humiliation, was the Son of God, and was declared to be so with power.
VII. There were some of his friends, the good women especially, that attended him (Mark 15:40, 41); There were women looking on afar off: the men durst not be seen at all, the mob was so very outrageous; Currenti cede furori—Give way to the raging torrent, they thought, was good counsel now. The women durst not come near, but stood at a distance, overwhelmed with grief. Some of these women are here named. Mary Magdalene was one; she had been his patient, and owed all her comfort to his power and goodness, which rescued her out of the possession of seven devils, in gratitude for which she thought she could never do enough for him. Mary also was there, the mother of James the little, Jacobus parvus, so the word is; probably, he was so called because he was, like Zaccheus, little of stature. This Mary was the wife of Cleophas or Alpheus, sister to the virgin Mary. These women had followed Christ from Galilee, though they were not required to attend the feast, as the males were; but it is probably that they came, in expectation that his temporal kingdom would now shortly be set up, and big with hopes of preferment for themselves, and their relations under him. It is plain that the mother of Zebedee’s children was so (Matt. 20:21); and now to see him upon a cross, whom they thought to have seen upon a throne, could not but be a great disappointment to them. Note, Those that follow Christ, in expectation of great things in this world by him, and by the profession of his religion, may probably live to see themselves sadly disappointed.