I. THE ROMAN CENTURION WAS CONVINCED OF CHRIST'S RIGHTEOUSNESS AND DIVINE SONSHIP. (Ver. 470 In Matthew the exclamation of the centurion is given as, "Truly this was the Son of God;" while here in Luke it is, "Certainly this was a righteous Man." The one conclusion had reference to the Roman trial. His death was so glorious and triumphant as to vindicate his character from every aspersion. He was no malefactor, but a benefactor of mankind. The other conclusion had reference to the Jewish trial, which was on the ground of his claim of Sonship. Now, his last cry was in the light of Sonship, and "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit!" was so tenderly and yet firmly uttered as to convince the centurion that the Lord's claim was real. In the same way, should not our death as believers constitute some vindication of our character and claims? It should show that our righteousness and sonship were not pretences, but glorious realities.
III. THE PEOPLE WERE CONVINCED OF THEIR SIN IN HAVING CLAMOURED FOR HIS CRUCIFIXION. (Ver. 48.) The smiting on the breast was a sign of perplexity and penitence. They were evidently humiliated that they had so treated One who could so nobly die. If the conviction of the centurion was an earnest of the conversion of the pagan world, this was an earnest of the conversion of the Jewish (cf. Godet, in loc.). The meek and quiet spirit with which Christ died broke down their hard-heartedness more than any other course could have done; so that its effect was a manifest preparation for the triumphs of the Pentecost. And should not a Christian's death strike alarm into the heart of unbelievers, suggesting to them the possibility of their being unable to meet death with becoming courage?
III. His ACQUAINTANCE AND THE WOMEN FROM GALILEE ARE PETRIFIED WITH ASTONISHMENT. (Ver. 49.) "They stood," we are told, "afar off." They were so unmanned that they could not venture nigh. To them the death was inexplicable. It was apparently the defeat of all their hopes. It was a crushing blow. No mystery in providence had ever appeared to them exactly like this. They were ready to say, with Jacob, "All these things are against us." Is this not the position of God's people often? They have entertained bright hopes about the Master and his cause, but have found them fading away like summer flowers, so that they stand perplexed and afar off before God's providences. Is it not the dark hour before the dawn? Is it not the travail-hour before the jubilance of birth? The disciples experienced this, and so may we. Before apparent defeat, let us always exclaim by faith, "It is real victory."
IV. JOSEPH OF ARIMATHAEA IS LED BY CHRIST'S DEATH TO REAL DECISION. (Vers. 50-52.) Joseph, a good and just man, had been for some time, we know not how long, a "secret disciple" of Jesus. Nicodemus and he seemed to be in the same category, and perhaps they were led into faith about the same time. In the Sanhedrin they had done all that timid men could to prevent the crime of the Crucifixion; but popular feeling was always too strong for them. They had not as yet taken the bold step of professing to belong to Christ. But, strange to say, the death of Jesus, the apparent defeat of his cause, determined them both to be professors. Joseph accordingly goes and boldly begs the body from Pilate, that he may lay it in his own new tomb, while Nicodemus goes off to procure the needful spices. And here have we what seems a law in God's kingdom. Successors always appear to carry on his work. Christ's death induces two at least to join his cause at once. As the apparently important pass away, it is only to be succeeded by others, and perhaps a larger number, to take up the fallen banner and prove their faithfulness. Apparent calamities are splendid tests of character - they call forth the brave!
V. CHRIST'S FUNERAL COULD ONLY BE A TEMPORARY INTERMENT. (Vers. 53-56.) It was necessary that the body should be put away before the sabbath began. Now, if he died a little after three o'clock, there were less than three hours to complete the interment. There could not be the customary embalmment. All that was possible was to wrap the dear remains in linen with spices, and then, if nothing prevented, to complete the embalmment on the first day of the week. It was a hurried burial, therefore, and by compulsion a temporary one. Yet "with the rich was his tomb." It was in a virgin sepulcher, so to speak, he lay for a season, just as he had lain in the Virgin's womb. It was so far private also that none apparently but the immediate friends and acquaintances followed the funeral. All the circumstances combined to make the funeral and interment most singular. It was well known where they laid him; it was known that they intended completing the embalmment on the first day of the week; his enemies had every opportunity, therefore, to prevent any imposture about a resurrection. All was above-board, like everything in our Lord's life. Consequently there was in the burial of Jesus a noble foundation laid for that crowning hope of resurrection. We shall see that there was every advantage offered to those who wished to expose duplicity about his rising again. It was the most important burial and most hopeless, so far as the mourners were concerned. They above all others seemed oblivious of all promise of resurrection, - R.M.E.
Certainly this was a righteous man.
I. THE CENTURION PASSED THROUGH A MENTAL REVOLUTION AS HE WATCHED JESUS. St. Mark says the centurion "stood over against Him" — that is — was in full view of the Cross; he was able then to see very distinctly the end. He was probably closer to Christ than any one else, for he was stationed there for the purpose of watching Him. The power of this sight may be estimated by considering the man who was impressed by it — his calling, race, and position. He was an unlikely person to be affected by such a sight. He was not present from any motive of curiosity, like many who were in that crowd. He was there on duty. Further, the centurion was not likely to be convinced through previous instruction; he did not come to the Cross with the religious training of the Jew. Another element in reckoning the power of the Cross upon the mind of the centurion is his position; he was the subject of an unprecedented impression. It was not a current of sensation with which he fell in, but which he seems to have led and inaugurated. He stands out as the first and prominent exponent of the thought and feeling which the Cross had stirred. Whilst, however, we are trying to form some estimate of the power of the Cross from the extreme unlikelihood of the person who was affected by it; we must on the other hand take notice of certain events which, accompanying Christ's death, aroused the mind of the centurion. His faith was an intelligent faith, and not the product of a passing excitement or heated imagination; it rested on evidences. We must look to these, or otherwise we shall be in danger of regarding his faith as a sort of unreasoning impulse; and besides this, the inquiry will lead to some very solemn thoughts concerning our Lord's death. The loud cry which Christ uttered when He died, astonished the centurion. When he "saw that He so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God." Faith is the gift of God, but God gives also sensible helps to create dispositions for receiving His gifts. External grace appeals through the senses, whilst internal grace acts on the mind and will. The man was by this cry aroused either from indifference or hostility or contempt, and brought into a condition of receptiveness of Divine truth. There was another ground of faith connected with this cry, which also had its share in convincing the centurion. In the text St. Luke says when he "saw what was done, he glorified God." St. Matthew is more explicit, and mentions the earthquake as causing fear. Christ was like Samson, He manifested His strength more in His death than in His life.
II. BUT BESIDES THE EFFECT UPON THE CENTURION, THE CROSS MANIFESTED ITS POWER UPON THE CROWD OF PERSONS WHO HAD GATHERED TOGETHER TO WITNESS THE CRUCIFIXION. They had cried, "Crucify Him, crucify Him!" when Pilate had brought Him forth, His raiment dripping with the precious blood; but death produced a reaction, which pity could not excite. When the murderer sees death written upon the face of his victim, the passion which had prompted the deed melts into fear and remorse. The people felt that they had a share in that passion, had been instrumental in causing it; and the result was a new sorrow — new, as an experience, yet long ago predicted. Their sorrow was the fulfilment of the prophecy — "They shall look on Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him"; it was an epoch in the history of moral convictions. Their compunction was a result of grace, and not the mere cooling of vindictive passion. Those people had assembled out of curiosity and malice; they had come hither without any dispositions for receiving grace, but the Cross overcame them. The Spirit of God used that Cross as the instrument of a deep conviction of sin; and they became the first-fruits, the earnest of that which should afterwards be the normal effect of the Passion. Mourning for sin would henceforth be excited by the thought — "Jesus, my love, is crucified." Compunction was a great grace. At the moment when the sin of man had culminated, for God to unlock His treasures and begin to bestow them is an astounding evidence of His quenchless love! That those very persons who had rejected Him should thus be visited inwardly with a subduing and softening unction from the Holy One is a marvel of Divine forbearance. CONCLUSION: There are three thoughts, which are of practical importance in enabling us now to experience the power of the Cross as a source of compunction.
1. Our sins caused the Passion. We did not drive the nails into His hands or pierce His side, but — "He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows... He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities... the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." He "bare our sins in His own body on the tree." As the crowd who smote their breasts returned, they each one felt "I had a part in that." What the outward share in that Passion was to the actual offender, that our sins are in relation to the Cross as a mystery.
2. Again, the Cross was not endured for mankind as for a multitude in discriminately, but for each individually. Every human being might truly say, "He loved me, and gave Himself for me."
3. Once more — as the constant recurrence to the thought of Christ's omniscience seems to bring the Cross close to us; so to regard His remembrance of all that happened on Calvary, now that He is in glory, is another help to meditation on the Passion. The memory of Christ, uninfluenced by the passage of time, can look back on every detail of the Passion. He is not capable of forgetfulness, who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; each event, each sorrow, each pang is treasured up in His memory with a recollection more vivid than the creature can possess. Though in His glory, He is the same Jesus who suffered; and the marks of suffering abide — the sacred wounds, which are the perpetual memorials of His Passion. As with the eye of the soul we now behold Him and hold communion with Him, the remembrance of Calvary will pass from Him to us, and the spirit of compunction cause the heart to mourn over sin. Such thoughts may help us to gaze upon the Cross with a true sorrow. Whether it be the conversion of a whole life we need, or the renewal of some part of it, or victory over some habit of sin, we must place ourselves with the crowd before the Cross and pray for the manifestation of its power on our own minds and hearts. If there is the sense of lack of dispositions, the Cross can create them; only let us continue to contemplate it. Fire melts ice; the sun unfolds the flowers; the Cross can melt the hardened heart, and draw out from it new graces.
(W. H. Hutchings, M. A.)
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