In our reading today Jesus mercifully and finally meets His death. Mercifully, because crucifixion often takes much longer. And finally, because it is the crowning moment of His work.
We looked at Jesus’ process and words during His final ordeal when we were going through Matthew’s gospel. We actually combined accounts from all four gospels to get a fuller picture, which we immersed ourselves in during the blog titled Death Comes Finally. I invite you to relive those moments again.
I know this is going to sound flippant, but I want to talk about the centurion who had an “ah ha” moment after Jesus died. His comment, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” strikes me strangely. This man was a practiced executioner. He had probably witnessed and assisted in numerous crucifixions. What was it about Jesus that made this man utter these words? Was it the way He didn’t struggle or cry out when the nails were being driven? Was it the look in His eyes? Jesus’ eyes were filled with love, sorrow, and pain instead of the hatred and anger usually associated with these proceedings. Was it the way He prayed for the Father to forgive all those involved? How about the fact that He didn’t respond to all those mocking Him? Or maybe it was the words of hope He offered the thief on the cross. Did the centurion understand Jesus’ words about God forsaking Him? Was it the darkness that covered the proceedings for the past three hours? How about the earth quake that followed His final breath? All these things added up to certain knowledge for this centurion. If he had been certain BEFORE Jesus was placed on the cross, what would he have done?
The centurion’s pronouncement AFTER all was said and done reminds me of the Salem witch trials. There were a lot of tests that stated if the person in question survived it they were truly a witch. Many people died at the hands of their accusers only to be pronounced innocent, BECAUSE of their death, afterwards. The only difference between our centurion’s pronouncement and the innocent verdict following such a trial was that the “proof” was different. The centurion didn’t need Jesus to come down off the cross and save Himself, as those mocking Him called for Him to do. He didn’t have to do some astounding miracle to demonstrate His power. What He did was far greater. He STAYED and finished the task. He maintained His sinless nature to the very moment God placed our sins on Him. He finished well. No fault was found in Him.
I also want to talk about Jesus’ final words, “It is finished.” We talk about the fact that Jesus’ work didn’t end there on the cross. He then had the job of applying His blood to the alter in Heaven and finishing off Satin’s hold on man. Jesus did this during His three days in the grave. The fact that He also rose from the grave is of paramount importance in the complete process of His redemptive work. And the fact that He still works in our lives today is a result of ALL His work, from creation on. So what was it Jesus was saying was “finished?”
God had a huge requirement for the removal of the barrier between Himself and man that only Jesus could fill. That requirement was for a perfect sacrifice. The animal sacrifices that had been bridging the gap for centuries was not able to remove the stain of sin; they could only cover it. The reason for that is that, even though the animals were sinless, they were not aware of or willing participants in their offering. The animals were not spiritually equal to us. They had no knowledge of what they were “surrendering” to or of its significance. Jesus had this knowledge on all counts. He proved it time and again when He told His disciples what was to come. He knew the reason He had to go through with the FULL process. And He was the ONLY one who was EVER sinless. Because of these characteristics (understanding, willingness, and sinlessness), Jesus was able to be that perfect sacrifice that would, not only cover our sins, but remove them forever. Jesus’ death was the finishing of that sacrifice. Jesus’ role as the Passover Lamb was finished. That was what Jesus was referring to when He said those words.
Jesus’ role changed at the moment of His death. No longer was He the awaited sacrifice but He was now the High Priest. The one who would sprinkle the blood, HIS blood, on the alter. The one who would make intercession for the saints. The one who would be the intermediary and access between God and man. The one who would set the prisoners free. He was able to fulfill this role because He was, and is, both God and man. He IS the bridge both literally and figuratively. He has lived both sides of the equation and knows intimately what it is to “walk a mile in the other’s shoes.”
Thank You Jesus that You willingly fulfilled every requirement for my salvation. That You completed Your role as the Sacrificial Lamb. Thank You also that You stepped through that role into the one You occupy on a continual basis. That of my Lord and Savior. My High Priest. My Intercessor with the Father. My Intermediary. Without You fulfilling this role I would still be hopeless. Your death on the cross was the completion of part 1. That was the beginning of freedom. But part 2 sealed it. Thank You for going beyond “It is finished” to “Well done good and faithful servant; enter into the rest prepared for you.” Thank You for bringing me all the way home.