On Good Friday we enter the Holy of Holies of the Christian faith. We see God’s justice and His love in action. Everything led up to this; everything that follows depends on this. Only in this way, with the death of God’s only Son, can the sin of the land be removed in a single day.
May Jesus, the crucified Lamb of God whose death takes away the sin of the world, grant you His peace on this Good Friday.
“And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”” (mark 15.39 niv)
He’d seen men die before – lots of men, women and children too. Being in the army as long as he was, you saw things and did things that would make honest citizens blush – or turn pale. He’d seen horrible things, terribly sad things, and by now he was used to it. He could sit on a rock and eat his lunch with dead bodies just an arm’s length away, and it didn’t bother him. Death wasn’t so unusual for him anymore. Because of that, he didn’t put much stock in gods or religion anymore. To him, they just seemed like a coward’s way to avoid facing the fact of death. Sure, he offered the sacrifices and followed the rites along with everybody else, but that was just what you did. None of those things were real to him. A sword in your hand, money in your wallet, wine in your cup, a woman to keep you company – those things were real. Gods or organized religion didn’t seem all that useful when it was you and your enemy on the battlefield, eyeball to eyeball, and you had a sword in your hand. So his duty on this day didn’t seem all that difficult to him. Just watch some criminals as they were crucified and make sure that their relatives or friends didn’t make any trouble. He didn’t know what they’d done, and he didn’t care. He just did his job. They didn’t pay him to think – they paid him to follow orders.
But this Man, the one in the middle, was different. He wasn’t angry. Sure, He was in pain, great pain, but He didn’t curse the soldiers or the Roman government or Pilate. He didn’t shout obscenities at the crowds that jeered at Him, like a lot of crucified men did. He didn’t curse those who put Him on that cross or threaten them that fate was going to get them. In fact, He didn’t really say much of anything from the cross. What He did say didn’t make a lot of sense, at first. “Father, forgive them – they don’t know what they’re doing.” “I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise.” “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” And then last of all, with a great cry that sounded like it was being ripped out of Him, He called out clear and strong, “It is finished!” Then the ground started to shake. It was an earthquake – right when Jesus breathed His last! The rocks around them began to crack and split. The earth itself seemed to be tearing apart. The centurion had never seen anything like it! Nature itself seemed to coming apart at this man’s death. The sky had already been darkened for hours, which did not happen in the middle of the day – and now this! What’s going on?
It was that last cry and all that went with it that especially caught the centurion’s attention. This Man called on God as His Father, yet He was so bruised, bloodied, and torn up He didn’t even look human. Who was this Man, anyway? The centurion looked again at the superscription on the cross – Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews – and he remembered all that he’d heard about the King the Jews were expecting. He was the one who was going to lift the burden of sin and right every wrong for His people. He was going to conquer all His people’s enemies. So this was how the King of the Jews died.
Watching the whole course of this Man’s death, the centurion felt shaken up. This Jesus had to be more than just a man. None of the things that happened that day went along with a mere man’s death. The centurion knew that better than anybody. The centurion suddenly felt like his heart would burst open in his chest. He felt ashamed at his wild, violent life – all the terrible things he’d done. And yet he knew that the Man on the cross somehow had made it all right. He looked at Jesus’ bloody head lolling on His chest, and the centurion spoke out loud before he even realized it: “Surely this Man was the Son of God!” This Man is my Savior, the centurion realized. He died…for me. He took away my sin up there on that cross. And the centurion bowed his head and wept, because he’d been set free from a burden he didn’t even know he was carrying.
It matters what you say about Jesus. Lots of people say nice things about Jesus. They’re willing to call Him a great teacher, a moral leader, a shining example of love, humility, and self-sacrifice…but they won’t call Him God. They won’t confess what that hard-bitten Roman centurion confessed before Christ’s cross: surely this is the Son of God! No matter what else you say about Jesus, if you don’t believe He’s the Son of God, it doesn’t matter. Jesus gets all sorts of compliments to this day, from all sorts of people – Jews, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, even ordinary people like you run into at the store or sit next to on the airplane who put their own experiences and feelings above God’s Word. But if you don’t confess that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross for the sins of the world, you’re missing the most essential element of all.
Jesus is the Son of God. It’s inconceivable that the God who created the world in six days, who forms the baby in the womb, who upholds all things by His powerful Word, would allow Himself to be captured, tied up, spat on, slapped around, and finally railroaded into an excruciating and messy death – but there He is. It’s inconceivable that God could die, but the proof is hanging there on the cross. It insults your reason and it goes contrary to your pride and your sense of self, but nothing brings more gratitude and humble joy to a Christian’s heart than this, that God Himself would take on human flesh – your flesh – and die in your place, so you wouldn’t have to.
If Jesus is the Son of God, then His death counts for everyone – no exceptions. If Jesus is the Son of God, then all sins are paid for, including the ones that bother you the most. If Jesus is the Son of God, God Himself has supplied perfectly what God required of you – either perfect obedience or a payment in blood. Jesus gave both. If Jesus is the Son of God, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. If Jesus is the Son of God, His death means that God is no longer angry with you. Your sins no longer separate you from your God.
If you ever wonder if God could forgive someone like you, or if what you’ve done was too horrible for God to forgive, don’t wonder any longer. Look to the cross and see God’s answer. There hangs Jesus, the full and complete price for all your sins. Every last sin anybody’s ever done hung on His torn shoulders there on the cross. His blood covers all of your sins. They are blotted out in God’s book from now to forever. They will trouble you no more. By His wounds you are healed, totally and completely.
Jesus truly is the Son of God, and He’s your Savior. Each of us can say, “He’s my God and my Lord. That’s the kind of Savior I want – one whose whole life and death assure me that I am forgiven and loved by God.” Each of us can say, “Surely this Man was the Son of God.” Glory be to Jesus, the Crucified, now and forever. Amen.