Luke 23:44–46 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
They say that Jesus died of a broken heart. They say that that’s what explains the water and the blood that came out of his chest cavity when the soldier pierced his side with that spear. They say that that kind of blood flow could only come if his heart had been physically broken. That’s what they say. They perform their autopsy across the ages and they say, “Jesus died of a broken heart.” So they say.
They say other things too. They talk about how the nails because of their placement would’ve struck the nerve that travels up the arm, which, in turn, would’ve caused a 9.99 on Jesus’ pain scale. And this only after a night of beatings and a crown of thorns that had been jammed into the sensitive skin around his head, which imagery – let’s be honest – not a few of us in here have seared in our minds because we watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. We can see the flayed skin and the bleeding brow. And we haven’t talked about why crucifixion was so ingeniously wicked, so incredibly evil; how the muscles around your chest cavity become paralyzed; how you can breathe in but you can’t breathe out; how the Romans bent the victim’s knees just enough so they could push down on those nails and sneak in a shallow breath; how you’d hang until your chest was in so much agony that the lesser pain was to do that; how you’d have to do that kind of suffering calculus as you hung there; and how you’d finally die of asphyxiation, but normally only after the soldiers had clubbed your legs so you couldn’t get your breath anymore. So they say.
But not Luke. Please understand what I’m saying. I’m not saying Luke doesn’t report any blood. He does, but the only blood he reports is the blood that leaked into Jesus’ sweat in the Garden of Gethsemane. I’m not saying Jesus wasn’t beaten. I’m simply saying that Luke has nothing to say about it beyond the fact that it happened. And I’m not saying Luke doesn’t report the crucifixion. I am, however, saying that in no way, shape, or form does Luke describe the crucifixion. Not the hammer strikes. Not the torn skin. Not the angony on his face or the blood running down his sides. None of it. And this is the Gospel of a doctor. Luke was a doctor. He was trained to notice physicality. He was used to spotting symptoms and trying to understand the processes of the body. But Luke has almost nothing to say about any of it. No observations of Jesus’ physical condition. No graphic descriptions of Jesus’ dying process. No diagnosis of what was happening to him. And no autopsy of what finally killed him.
You know what we do get? We get a graphic description of a dying sun. Seriously. That’s Luke’s first and big deal just before he reports Jesus’ death. He describes a dying sun. Or to be more accurate, he describes a dead sun. This wasn’t just a sun hiding behind some clouds or what happens on a foggy day. It wasn’t even a perfectly timed solar eclipse. It couldn’t have been. Because we know the moon was full. And, plus, it was noon. Luke very carefully tells us that. The sun was at its zenith – the highest, hottest, and brightest time for the sun to be in the sky. It should’ve been so high that there were hardly any shadows and should’ve been frying everyone with its harsh UV rays. But for three hours it was dead. Three full hours. And just so we’re clear. This wasn’t the sun darkening. Or flickering. Or winking. This was the sun being just plain dead. Luke’s exact terminology for what happened is that the sun failed. It’s like somebody had flicked its switch off and, “the sun stopped shining.” (v. 45)
And not only did the sun die, the Temple did too. Quite violently I might add. “And the temple curtain was torn in two.” (v. 45) Not just a little rip. Not just a little snag. We’re talking torn in two from top to bottom. We’re talking no hope of repair. We’re talking about the Holiest Place of the Holiest places being ripped wide open. We’re talking about a place that only the High Priest could enter and that only once a year getting its gate thrown open like suddenly it’s an entrance to Disney World. And please understand what that means. We’re not just talking about the violence that was done to some nicely embroidered Temple curtain. We’re talking violence to a whole system of works and sacrifices associated with the Temple. Suddenly they were being torn from the people’s hands. Suddenly they were all made meaningless and empty, torn in two from top to bottom. Almost like their entire idea of how to approach God had to change. Like it wasn’t their behavior or their sacrifices or their works or anything about themselves at all. Like all of that was getting shredded – torn in two from top to bottom just like that curtain in the Temple.
That’s Luke’s only graphic presentation what died that day. That’s it. A dying sun and a dying Temple. In fact, the only glimpse he gives us of Jesus in the dying process is a Jesus who gets really loud about his inner peace. That’s it. It’s fascinating. All the writers of the first three gospels end up making that same exact point. Just before Jesus dies, they have Jesus getting loud. Really loud. And Luke does too. Luke has him shouting the most incredibly beautiful Psalm you’ll read just about anywhere. Not screaming in agony. Not being loud about his pain. Luke shows us a dying Jesus who’s shouting about his inner peace and his true trust. “Jesus called out in a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’” (v. 46) Jesus prayed a psalm. A beautiful Psalm. Psalm 31’s not psalm of lament or sadness. It’s one of trust. And of confidence. And even peace. Jesus was rejoicing and trusting and hoping in God’s salvation. Even as he was dying. And, “When he had said this, he breathed his last.” (v. 46)
And that’s our last glimpse of a living Jesus. For now… It’s miraculous really. A dead sun. A dead temple. And a trusting Jesus. That’s what Luke gives us. No graphic flogging. No gashed skin. No descriptions of a beaten up Jesus. Just a dead sun. A dead temple. And a trusting Jesus. It’s miraculous. Because it runs contrary to every expectation we might have. We might expect Luke to pound on us for repentance. To pound our eyes with the sight of blood and our ears with the cries of Jesus’ pain. We might expect him to overwhelm our senses with what no doubt was a violent, and a graphic, and a horror inducing death. And we might expect him to point the rightfully long finger of the law at us and stick it in our chests and say, “This is your fault. You did this. Your unbelief. Your lust. Your idolatry. Your pride. Your ignorance. You. You did this.” We might expect that. And more than just before it’s true. Because it’s what we want. We want him to stick it to us. We want him to let us have it with all the gory detail. Because that’s who we are. We’re addicts. We’re addicts to making our own way to God. We figure, “We may not be perfect. We may be sinful, but we can at least make ourselves pay – do a little penance – by making ourselves feel completely awful for what we did to Jesus.”
But Luke just won’t allow it. There’s nothing for us to latch onto to do that. He only gives us a dead sun, and a dead Temple, and a trusting Jesus. You know why? So we believe that through Jesus that old world (even its sun!) is over. The world of quid pro quo? Torn in two. The world of give yourself to God and then he’ll give himself to you? Dead. The world where you if you’re transformed and revitalized enough you can make God happy? It’s gone. Finished. Caput. Not even the most powerful and most obvious ambassador of that world order, the sun, can function anymore. Not even the Temple with its curtain and its sacrifices will do any good anymore. They’re over. They’re done. Because now there’s Jesus. And now there’s the light he brings. And now there’s the sacrifice he makes. And now there’s the eternal benefits he promises. There’s no Luke here dishing out some guilt trip, “Look at what you did to him.” There’s only a divine and Spirit-led Luke who’s saying, “Look at what he did for you. He brought you to God.” Search long and hard, but you’ll never find a Luke here who says anything like, “It’s so, so tragic. You sure did kill him good.” The only Luke you’ll find is one who says, “It’s so, so incredible. The old way of making God happy is dead. Jesus did everything for you. Trust it.”
And that’s it. Luke doesn’t want to turn us all into triage nurses who understand the graphic extent of Jesus’ wounds or sear into our souls what it all exactly looked like. Luke wants to turn us all into believers. He wants to sear onto our souls the truth. That old world where your sins get you down, turn your body to ash, and condemn you? It’s dead. It’s as dead and as failed as its brightest and most perfect star, the sun, was on that ancient day. Because Jesus was condemned instead you. And that old way of doing things where you’re good and if you’re not you make up for it with sacrifices and revivals and trying hard in your life? It’s over. It’s been torn in two from top to bottom. Because now there’s forgiveness in Christ – that’s the new way to God that’s been opened up wider than an entrance to Disney World. That’s what Luke wants. He wants you to receive the gospel.
They say that Jesus died of a broken heart and they may very well be right. But that’s not Good Friday’s great truth. Not according to Luke. You know what is? It’s not what sin did to Jesus. It’s what Jesus did to sin. He forgave it forever. And he brought people to God. And Luke wants you to know, he did that for you. Amen.