The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. (Luke 23:47-49)
Seeing what happened at the cross changed the centurion, the witnesses, and all those who knew him. Jesus’ words, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do … Today you will be with me in paradise … Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit,” ring in my ears. When we declare ourselves victims and unloved, our strength depletes, and we fall into depression or sin. The enemy takes over, “helping” us find a bed to lie in, worldly wealth, or love in the wrong places, anything to keep us from doing God’s will. We’re in a state of mind where we don’t know what we’re doing. Yet Jesus forgives even murder and takes all to paradise who want to go with Him.
As a finale, God ripped the four-inch-thick temple curtain in half because when Jesus died, he became the high priest, removing our sin and providing the path for us to have communion with God through prayer and resurrection. We no longer need a human High Priest to walk beyond the curtain into the Holy of Holies for us, we can enter God’s holiness through Jesus.
The Jewish leaders at the cross who mocked Jesus and wanted Him dead were fully aware God darkened the sun when the Egyptians wouldn’t free the Jews in judgment of their sin. They knew of God’s promise through the prophet Amos that He would judge sin by darkening the sun at noon, turning Passover into mourning for an Only Son. Yet most, if not all, had hearts that remained hardened.
The centurion was a non-Jew who didn’t know Jesus, representing most of us at one time in our lives, perhaps now. At the cross, he realized Jesus was righteous and didn’t lie, that Jesus was who He said He was, the Son of God and the Son of Man.
The witnesses beat their breasts. According to Hand Signs of the Jew – Mitzvahs & Traditions (chabad.org) at any time during a confessional, when the words “we have sinned” or words to that effect are stated, it is the custom to beat the left breast over the heart with the right fist. The witnesses represent Jews. They realized they had sinned and were mourning but immediately left the cross. The experience didn’t change Jewish leaders, but it changed some Jewish people.
Those who knew Jesus remained at the cross, standing at a distance, watching and pondering all that had happened. They thought about Jesus’ words from the beginning of His ministry and what they meant. It’s a lot to take in, but the lives of these followers and listeners will change profoundly. Will we continue to follow Jesus and stand with them?
Almighty God, my Father in heaven, help me think about and understand what Jesus’ life and death means to me. Give me the power of Your Holy Spirit so I can overcome whatever the enemy places in my life to prevent me from doing Your will so the sun shines in my life once again. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.