Suffered under Pontius Pilot. Was crucified. Died. And was buried.
I’ve given a lot of thought to the events leading up to the crucifixion of Christ because of its centrality to the Christian faith, but I can’t honestly say that I have spent a lot of time pondering those few hours and moments immediately preceding his death. I consider the sham of a trial with the shocking injustice of its speed and the long walk up Golgotha. He was violently arrested from the garden of Gethsemane late one night and then by 9 AM the next day both Jewish and Roman rule condemned him to die, beat him to a bloody pulp, shamefully paraded him up a hill amid the voyeurs and rubberneckers, and hammered him onto an instrument of torture and death. And while I have read the verses chronicling his last moments countless times, so many of the details and symbolism didn’t ever sink in.
The darkness. Recitation of facts sometimes dulls their significance in my mind but on second thought, the eerie unnaturalness of it sends a chill down my spine. Here, the Roman centurion stood unflinching in his duty amid the swirling chaos of the unfolding tragedy. How many times had he enacted a scene of death? Hundreds? Thousands? How many died by his own trained hand? But I imagine his blood ran cold as this foreboding darkness swept in.
The sky fell dark at noon. Bad things happen in the dark. Nightmares lurk in the inky shadows. The centurion saw Jesus plunged into it. Every child understands the power of the light as soon as it is extinguished. As adults, we fool ourselves into thinking we can control evil and sorrow and even judgement by delaying the darkness and keeping it at bay with the feeble blue lights of our constant electronic companions.
The weighty, incomprehensible work of the cross all took place in darkness. Here, Jesus bore the totality of evil and the completeness of suffering that our sins buy us: physical torture, emotional betrayal by friends, political injustice, public mockery, and so on. But far and beyond it all, there comes a time – the first and last and only time – that the Son cannot call on God as his Father.
His whole life he identified as the Son, leaving the Gospels full of these references. Even on the cross he begged his Father to forgive us for we know not what we do. But as the darkness swallows him whole he cries out, “…My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) The ultimate suffering and separation is complete.
Still, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
And the Son, in the midst of the darkness, declares, “…It is finished…” (John 19:30) even before it lifts. And the centurion hears Jesus call out again, but this time as a Son to his Father, and with finality he commits his spirit into his Father’s hands.
Simultaneously, the temple veil rips in two from top to bottom leaving no human explanation in its wake. It must have sounded like the very rending of heaven as the only begotten Son’s death exposed the holiest of holy place to the lowliest of mankind. The perfect sacrifice of the sinless, beloved Son opened the way for us to reach the Father.
How fascinating and counterintuitive then that a Roman centurion entered in the as the very first person to grasp the truth! And he, not even a general, but a simple, hardened, battle-worn, calloused, career, enlisted soldier. When the sun gave no light he faced the Son and saw. When the war raged in every dimension he stilled himself and heard. And then he professed such a profoundly simple statement with the most freeing, yet, treasonous thoughts he could ever speak aloud as he switched allegiances from the emperor “god” to the true one. “…Truly this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39)
In that moment he stepped into belief and committed his own spirit into the hands of the Father. It isn’t that Jesus died, it’s that he had to die. He lived the life we should have and died the death we deserve so we don’t have to. In his death and suffering we have life and everlasting peace.
The Light always shines through the darkness. The darkness cannot win.
In response to the We Believe message series at Grace Church. Check it out at: http://discovergrace.com/we-believe-current-message-series-and-service-times/0