Here in this passage we see clearly judgement and salvation side by side as Jesus takes our judgement so that our salvation is made possible.
Judgement and salvation (verses 44-46)
We have been on the road to the cross for some time, and in the last couple of weeks we looked at the crucifixion together and here we reach the end of Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and even into his burial. And we begin by seeing in verse 44 that as Jesus is hanging from the cross, darkness covers the land.
1. The darkness
Now, this isn’t a natural darkness. It isn’t a nighttime crucifixion or an evening crucifixion where darkness would be expected. As Jesus hangs there from the cross, and darkness covers the land it is the sixth hour until the ninth hour. To you and me, that is noon until 3pm. It is noon until 3pm and it’s dark outside. As Jesus hangs from the cross in the middle of the day, darkness covers the land.
Now why would it be dark in the middle of the day? That just doesn’t make sense. It was at the time of the Passover, a time of the full moon where there would be no possibility of an eclipse.
The only possible suggestion would be something supernatural. That the God who created the natural world in all its regularity, routine, and rhythm interrupted that regularity with something supernatural. What was it that God was trying to communicate by disrupting the natural order and bringing darkness in the middle of the day.
Now you might wonder why I had Shona come up and read an obscure passage in Amos 5 about something called ‘the day of the Lord’. Well, this idea of the Day of the Lord helps us understand exactly what’s going on at the cross, namely judgement and salvation.
We get to the prophets and the passages like Joel 2, Amos 5, Amos 8, and Zephaniah 1 which speak of the day of the Lord as judgement as the sun being turned to darkness. Now, for Old Testament Israel, in the first instance, this is talking about judgement coming upon Israel because of their persistent disobedience to God. However, we get to Jesus’ crucifixion and the sun is turned into darkness, darkness covers the land, there are strong images of the Day of the Lord of judgement occurring.
So God is overruling the natural order, turning daylight into darkness, this is the day of the Lord and judgement has come and it is coming upon Jesus. The blameless, faultless Son of God experiencing the darkness of God’s judgement upon himself. The judgement that was due to us was given to him. He took the blame as if he really was to blame.
Jesus the innocent became Jesus the guilty.
Jesus who loved his Father in Heaven became Jesus who hated his father in Heaven
Jesus the patient became Jesus the irritable,
Jesus the way and the truth became Jesus the liar.
Darkness covered the land because it was the Day of the Lord where God’s wrath was poured out, but it wasn’t poured out on us as we deserve, but upon his Son who didn’t deserve it. We, the guilty, go free, Jesus the innocent is condemned.
2. The curtain
Alongside judgement is salvation. And we see how salvation comes about in another strange event, the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
This idea of the ‘curtain of the temple’ might be a bit foreign to some of us. Why is there a curtain in the temple anyway? When humanity turned their backs on God, God could not dwell in any personal sense closely with his people. He was holy and humanity was not.
So when there was a temple built for God’s people to worship Him there, there was one curtain up which only the priests could go behind to make sacrifice, and then beyond that was another curtain which only the High Priests could go into called the Holy of Holies once a year to perform sacrifices. It was there in the Holy of Holies where the presence of God fully dwelt.
It seems all my spirituality comes from my son’s children’s books and children’s songs, but he has a book which describes the curtain in the temple as a massive ‘Keep Out’ sign. There was no sense in which God could dwell with his people because he was so holy and we were so sinful. But as the temple curtain is ripped in two, what does that mean? It means the big ‘keep out’ sign is torn up. All that is necessary for God to dwell with his people has been completed and he invites us to draw near.
Now we have access to the fullness of God’s presence by the blood of Jesus. And this means that we don’t just have access to some measure of God in a temple like the people of God in the Old Testament. It means we go beyond the curtain, it means we have access to God’s presence in all its fullness. There is no curtain separating us from the presence of God, there is no barrier between us as sinners and a holy God, because by the blood of Jesus, poured out on the cross, we have been made clean, and can therefore with full assurance draw near to God.
Our sin has been paid for because of the death of Jesus on the cross, we no longer are impure, unclean, unable to come into the presence of God, Jesus has cleansed us from our sin by the blood of Jesus, so now we can draw near into the presence of God in all boldness and in all faith because Jesus has made that way open to us.
Faith and salvation (verses 47-49)
Now, this great salvation has been won for God’s people, but it still requires a response of faith. And we see that in the response of the Roman Centurion in verse 47 who sees what has happened and he praises God and declares Jesus to be righteous, or more accurately to the Greek, declares Jesus to be innocent. We know from Matthew and Mark’s account that he also confessed that Jesus is the Son of God.
The Roman Centurion isn’t unmoved by what he saw, by what he heard; no he feels deeply and responds in light of that. He responds in faith and worship. Faith in who Jesus is and then praises God. This isn’t some cold stiff realisation of truth ‘Ah, of course, it all makes sense now, Jesus is the innocent Son of God.’ No it is a reality which he confesses, and it results in praise to God.
It’s really wonderful to highlight who it is who is responding. It is a Roman Centurion. The first person who responds to Jesus’ death after it happens is not a Jew, someone of the people of God of old or his followers, it was a Gentile, a Roman Centurion. Gentiles were not those who followed the God of Israel, they might have been religious, but their religion was not centred on the God of Israel. Gentiles may have been irreligious, pagan. And here we have, immediately after the death of Jesus, a Gentile responding positively to Jesus.
This is a display that Jesus is not only for Jews but for non-Jews too. That the first person to speak of Jesus, who confessed Jesus was a Roman Centurion, shows that salvation is possible for non-Jews too. At the time, a totally unlikely candidate in the eyes of God’s people, yet he was the first one to respond.
You might be here at the request of your parents, or you might be here at an invitation but you’re not a believer, you think ‘Nah, this Jesus stuff isn’t for me.’ Look here, we have a Roman Centurion, a non-Jew, someone outside of the typical ‘people of God’ at the time confessing Jesus.
This confession from the Roman Centurion surely says that Jesus is for you too. You might previously have never considered Jesus, you might have thought your path and Jesus’ path would never cross, but the Roman Centurion praising God here in this passage is a clear demonstration that your paths can cross, that Jesus can be considered for you.
So I’d invite you to reconsider, in the light of who it is here that is praising God, the most unlikely of candidates at the time, reconsider Jesus. Jesus doesn’t have a ‘type’, but is available to all. Won’t you take the step of the Roman Centurion and put your faith in him, praise God this morning and commit to following him? If Jesus is for the Roman Centurion, he is for you.
The Roman Centurion has expressed this faith in Jesus, won’t you join him this morning and put your faith in Jesus and enter into this great story of salvation? Of sins forgiven, of access to God the Father, of new life.
Devotion and salvation (verses 50-56)
What really hit me as I was preparing the sermon this week was the devotion of a few people towards Jesus in our Bible text this morning. Their faith in Jesus and their love for him led him to careful and faithful devotion.
1. Joseph of Arimathea
We see first Joseph of Arimathea in verses 50-54, taking Jesus whose body was hanging on the cross in shame and disgrace and giving it a honourable burial. He goes to the authority, Pilate, and asks Pilate if he can take the body down. He wraps Jesus’ body in linen cloth, and places him in a new tomb where no bodies had yet gone.
2. The women
And then you have those referred to as ‘the women’ from verses 55-56 and they don’t even have names, just ‘the women’. Just a group of women who care deeply about their Lord whom they love. And they go home to prepare spices and perfumes for Jesus’ dead body. And then even then, in the last sentence, they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. They were so careful in their devotion not to even break the Sabbath.
Everything that was done, was done with care, love, and adoration for Jesus. They didn’t leg it like the disciples, they didn’t throw their hands in the air and say ‘Well, there’s not much we can do I suppose.’ No, even in the face of their sadness of the death of Jesus, they continue to show him their loving devotion.
We know nothing of ‘the women’, they too aren’t well known but we know that they prepared spices and perfume for Jesus’ body, we know that they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commands. It was their careful, loving devotion they offered to Jesus that day.
What is remarkable is their quiet, faithful devotion. We know nothing really about Joseph or the women apart from what is here in the text. They were little known, yet they served Jesus faithfully and with devotion.
We go about our lives, our day to day and most of it is ordinary, unseen things. Nobody will write a book about us, and beyond our grandchildren or if we’re fortunate, great grandchildren, nobody will know we even existed.
Yet, in the quietness and the ordinariness of life, Jesus calls us to devote our lives to him. It is the normal and natural response of those who have been saved by him, of those whose faith is in him. He has given his life for us and he calls us to live for him in response with careful and faithful devotion.
So as we think of our home lives, as we think of our time alone when nobody is watching us, when we think of our service in church, not much of it is going to shatter the earth, very few people are going to see it, you won’t have this wonderful biography written about you. Yet, this careful, faithful, and quiet devotion is what we’re called to and its a beautiful thing.
As you spend your Sunday afternoon at home and are tempted to get out the work laptop to catch up on some work and you, like the women in verse 56 choose to rest on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment instead of work. Will anybody see that conscious decision not to work on the Sabbath? Will anybody praise you for that decision? Probably not. But it’s a conscious decision to honour Jesus with your life and it is beautiful.
As you sit an exam at school or university, it honours Jesus and is a beautiful thing when you don’t cheat. Will anybody know you made that conscious decision not to cheat? Will anyone praise you for making that decision? No, but it is a conscious decision to honour Jesus with your life and it’s beautiful.
As you are driving alone, it honours Jesus and is a beautiful thing when you don’t break the speed limit. Will anyone know you chose not to speed or will anyone praise you for not speeding? No, but it is a conscious decision to honour Jesus with your life and it’s beautiful.
As you are watching something on Netflix and something comes up that you ought not to be watching and you turn it off. Will anyone else know you’ve turned it off out of love for Jesus? Will anyone see that and praise it? No. But it is a conscious decision to honour Jesus with your life and it’s beautiful.
So as we consider what a great salvation was achieved for us on the cross by Jesus, that he opened the way for us to know God, we are called to respond by faith and for those of us who have responded by faith, God calls us to carefully keep his commands in faithful love to him.