“With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God.’”
Mark 15:37-39, NIV
Nearly two thousand years ago, some Roman soldiers were carrying out their orders – crucifixions. Putting criminals to death was part of their job. The centurion on duty will have seen many people die in the abject agony caused by this most cruel form of execution. But there was something different about this crucifixion – or more specifically, something different about the man they had just nailed to a cross.
No-one else had ever cried out to God asking Him to forgive those who were carrying out the execution. No other execution had ever been accompanied by an extraordinary three hours of darkness. No other execution had ever been marked by an earthquake. No other prisoner had ever cried out to God, as if He really knew him, saying, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” No other prisoner had spoken out words of encouragement about life after death while he was dying, as He said to another victim, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
This man was different – very different. As the centurion stood at the foot of the cross and looked up at Jesus, trying to make sense of it all, his mind was full of questions. Then, in the earthy reality of a soldier, he just spoke out his conclusion with what must have been divine revelation: “Surely this man was the Son of God!” Out of the mouth of a hardened Roman soldier came the revelation which every Jew and every Gentile needs to hear. Many people wear a cross round their neck or have a cross tattooed on their body, but most will have little understanding of what the cross really meant and still means today.
At the same time as the centurion was reaching his conclusion, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, declaring in the most dramatic of ways that a new way had been opened up for believers to enter into the holy presence of our holy God. For when, as believers, we are ‘in Christ’, as Paul described a Christian on many occasions, then we are at one with Him, with free access to the Father because of what the Son did for us at Calvary.
As I was writing this devotion the great cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris was being consumed by a devastating fire. In an iconic picture of the cathedral’s devastation the following morning, the huge empty cross was still standing and shining as if lit in gold at the end of the nave. I was reminded of John Bowring’s amazing hymn:
In the cross of Christ I glory,
Towering o’er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime.
What a glorious and comforting symbol the cross is to those who understand what it means. The comfort of knowing that the price for sin has been paid, my sins are forgiven and that because of Jesus there is a home prepared for me in Heaven. Comfort indeed! Truly amazing grace!!
Prayer: Thank You, Jesus, that You were willing to go to the cross for me. Thank you that a Roman Centurion simply looked up to You and knew who You were. Today, Lord, I look to the cross as a symbol of my redemption – and I look to You Jesus, my risen Saviour who opened a to the Father through the curtain separating a holy God from sinful man. Hallelujah, what a Saviour. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.