Two Veils, One Hope, Three Responses Part 2

Two Veils, One Hope, Three Responses Part 2
April 11, 2020
Keith Phillips
Luke 23:47-59

Why do we survey the wondrous cross time and again? It is because at the cross, every man, woman, student and single are on level ground. At the cross, we learn that we are all sinners standing in need of God’s grace. You see, the cross of Jesus Christ declares that the greatest need of every individual is salvation from sin, a salvation that is made possible through the sacrificial and substitutionary work of our Lord. Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission in the 19th century, reveled in Jesus’ great achievement on the cross exclaiming, “the whole debt for my sin was paid by Jesus upon the cross, what more is there for me to do?” Taylor knew that Jesus had accomplished everything in God’s redemptive plan. God’s righteous anger was completely satisfied. Man’s rebellious sin was fully atoned for. Satan was soundly defeated. Reconciliation between God and man was finally achieved. Forgiveness was firmly secured. So, Taylor responded by falling to his knees, receiving Christ, and experiencing the full forgiveness that Jesus alone offers and provides. Similarly, in Luke’s Gospel, we read of the effects of Jesus’ death and the response of three particular groups of eyewitnesses (the centurion, the crowds, and Jesus’s close companions). The Gospel writer first introduces us to a Roman centurion, the soldier in charge of the crucifixion. Notice his response, “Certainly, this was a righteous Man” (Luke 23:47). What a remarkable transformation has taken place here at the foot of the cross. This centurion, moments earlier, had supervised the cruel scourging of Jesus, possibly even mocking and ridiculing Him at some point. Whether he pinned Jesus to the cross, raised the hammer, held the nails, we simply do not know; yet, he was a “lawless man” (Acts 2:23), responsible for the greatest evil in human history—killing and crucifying Jesus. But now, a Christ-killer becomes a God-praiser. Here is a man, by his own confession, who states that Jesus died, not for anything He deserved. He was completely innocent and righteous. This is no small confession. Like the thief, whom we read of earlier in this account, the centurion now declares that Christ is sinless and holy. This is the response of genuine, saving faith. With spiritual eyes while standing at the foot of the cross, the centurion sees the Light of the World in the midst of dramatic darkness. As Jesus breathed His last, He breathed life into the heart of this Roman soldier, such that one of the very men who crucified Him would become one of the first to trust in Him, the first to speak after His death, and the only person to praise God at the cross. This is the miracle of the new birth, of spiritual regeneration. Jesus had turned an obscene instrument of torture and death into a beautiful throne of glory and grace. “And all the crowds who came together for this spectacle, when they observed what had happened, began to return, beating their breasts” (Luke 23:48). Like the centurion, I believe Luke’s intention is for us to view the crowd’s response in a positive light. Though they initially came hoping to be entertained, we see them leaving with heavy hearts. Earlier, they had joined in the cries to crucify Jesus. But now, they distance themselves from the religious leaders and cry tears of sorrow. This verse indicates that they begin to mourn and experience a godly fear. The people returned to their homes, beating their breasts in an act of sincere grief. For the past three hours, they had witnessed a number of supernatural signs such as darkness falling over the land, an earthquake, the splitting of rocks, the opening of graves. Further, they had seen with their own eyes Jesus’s behavior as the Suffering Servant and heard with their own ears his cry, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). And these things have brought conviction to their core until they become contrite, penitent, beating their breasts in recognition of their guilt and pleading for God to show them mercy. They had put to death the Righteous One, the very Son of God. As one individual notes, “They came in order to witness a show, but left with feelings of sorrow and woe.” “And all His acquaintances and the women who accompanied Him from Galilee were standing at a distance, seeing these things” (Luke 23:49). The one thing Christ’s death had was a number of witnesses and varying responses. Here, Luke mentions now a third group of individuals—Christ’s closest companions turned distant disciples. Admittedly, there is some ambiguity in this verse as we are not specifically told who was present among the disciples. Perhaps Jesus’s beloved disciple, John, was there alongside Mary, His mother. It is possible and has been suggested that Jesus’s brothers, James and Jude, could have been among this group. But Luke does draw particular attention to the presence of the women disciples, those whom we are told have followed Him from Galilee (Luke 8:2-3). Whereas many of the disciples had likely already scattered as the Shepherd was struck, Luke singles out these women for special mention because of their faithfulness to Jesus and the significant role they would even play in His ensuing burial and account of His resurrection. Still, the characterization of these close companions is not altogether positive. Those who had been following Jesus most closely were now the ones farthest away, most removed from the cross. And the likely reason is that they still were not quite sure what to make of this. In their minds, this was not how things were supposed to end, despite Jesus repeatedly telling them that He must go to Jerusalem and be crucified. They were confused. They were scared. This is what Scripture foretold, “My friends and companions stand aloof from my affliction, and my kinsmen stand afar off” (Psalm 38:11). They have not altogether abandoned Jesus, but remained, to a degree, geographically remote from Christ. This indicates a weakened discipleship, a weakened faith. They were withdrawn and unwilling to identify too closely with Jesus in His humiliation and death. Yet, this is a cost that every would-be disciple of Jesus must calculate in his or her mind. There is a price to pay for identifying with the crucified Christ. And there must be a reception of our Lord’s cross, a willingness to bear reproach, outside the camp, for His name’s sake (Hebrews 13:13). You see, outside the camp was where the leper was compelled to live. Outside the camp was where criminals were condemned and sentenced to death. Outside the camp was where the defiled and cursed were sent. Outside the camp was where the filth and refuse were deposited. Knowing this, may we be like Moses, who considered the “reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt” (Hebrews 11:26). Our response must be the same; to deny self, to take up our cross, and to follow Him! For salvation, we come to a crucified Christ, a reviled Redeemer. And there, outside the camp, we find grace and mercy, acceptance and access to God; for it is there, outside the camp, where we find Christ’s cross. May we all come to say, “If Jesus Christ be the Son of God and died for me, then no sacrifice is too great to make for Him” (quote by C.T. Studd, missionary to China, India, and Africa)!

Keith Phillips - Elder


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