The Responses to the Cross
The Crucifixion of the King
The Responses to the Cross
Luke 23:47-49
         
For those who you who haven’t been here for the last three weeks, we are studying the crucifixion from the Book of Luke, chapter 23.  So far we’ve taken a look at the comedy of the cross.  Those who were responsible for the death of Jesus thought it was quite a joke. 
 
If Jesus was a king, they would honor Him as one.  They give Him a crown and a robe and put a scepter in his hands and place Him of the throne of the cross between two attendants. For three hours on the morning of the crucifixion the air is filled with their mockery and blasphemy. 
 
Then at noon the lights go out as God moves in judgment upon His Son for the sins of the world.  At the conclusion of those three hours of darkness, Jesus makes a victory announcement and dies, commending His Spirit into the hands of God. 
 
It is quite remarkable that those six hours in one day are the most significant event in the history of mankind.  Equally remarkable are the responses that are given to the events of that day.  Three are given for us: the response of Roman soldiers, the response of the crowd, and the response of the followers of Jesus.  And it’s an appropriate way to close his record on the death of Christ because each of these responses is a right response.  The Roman soldiers responded as they should have.  And the crowd responded as it should have.  And the followers of Christ responded as they should have.
Each response is quite unique and together they give us the picture of the response that we bring to the cross as well.   In fact, it serves us well to examine our response in light of their responses.
 
Notice verses 47 to 49
 
Luke doesn’t waste any time.  As soon as Jesus breathes His last, verse 46, as soon as He dies, we find these immediate responses. 
 
We have just been through the most solemn moment in history as Jesus dies.  We have come to understand that He took the full wrath of God against the sins of all who would ever believe.  God showed up on Calvary, particularly from 12 to 3 in the darkness and in the earthquake and in the splitting of the veil in the Holy of Holies from top to bottom. 
 
God showed up in a preview of His full “Day of the Lord” judgment presence.  Only this time He didn’t pour out His judgment on sinners, He poured out His judgment on His Son in the place of sinners. 
 
And when it was over, the way to God was fully opened.  That was send in the shreds of the temple veil.   At the moment that Jesus died, a New Covenant was initiated and it didn’t need a temple or a priesthood or an earthly sacrifice.  All of that was over and what Jesus had said to His disciples in John 14 was now in existence.  He said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through Me.”
 
So all of the old was gone, and there was a brand new way now available. 
So we’ve considered all of that and now it’s time to look at these three responses and ask ourselves the question, what is my response to this monumental, unequaled event?
 
First of all we see the response of
 
1. The Convinced
 
verse 47
 
Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us about this soldier.  His testimony is extremely unlikely.  To understand that statement you need to know a little bit about a centurion. 
 
A Roman centurion was the commander of a hundred men.  A hundred men were called a century, hence their commander is a centurion.  Centuries were the building blocks of a Roman legion. The entire Roman army had about 25 legions.  Each legion consisted of about 6,000 men which was divided into cohorts of 600.  Each cohort had three maniples and each maniple was divided into two centuries. 
 
So basically, a century was the smallest unit in the roman system.  Each century was commanded by a centurion.  They were soldiers.  They were not elite, they were on the ground with the troops.  They had proven themselves and earned their way to that position because of their effective soldiering.  They had put their life on the line successfully and they were leaders in the hardest and most threatening of times.
 
 
This particular officer was guarding Jesus and obviously in charge of the soldiers who were responsible for this prisoner.  He was over the soldiers who, most likely, arrested Jesus in the garden. 
 
They have had the responsibility of staying with Him to make sure that He didn’t escape and now that He is dead, that no one took Him away. 
 
So here is a centurion who has seen all the events of the evening and day from the arrest through the crucifixion.  That means he was there for the trials.  Most likely, he supervised the scourging.  He has been in on the mocking and ridicule.  He saw the old purple robe be put on His back.  He knew about the crown of thorns and the reed for a scepter. 
 
His were the soldiers who would have taken that mock scepter and hit Him in the face with it, spit on Him and mocked Him and made a joke out of Him.    They were the soldiers who were eyewitnesses of the entire ordeal from the very beginning.  They heard all the conversations.  They heard all the accusations.  They heard everything that the leaders of Israel sent against Him and they heard the verdict of innocent repeated at least six times.
 
And yet as battle-hardened as they were and and as versed at crucifixion as they were, never had they seen a prisoner like Jesus.  There must have been a lot of prisoners that insisted on their own innocence who were guilty, but never had they seen a prisoner where others insisted on His innocence and He said nothing. 
 
This prisoner never retaliates, He never cries out, He never demands some kind of justice that He’s not getting.  He suffers with grace and majesty through the unjust trials and He takes all their mockery and abuse silently, never protesting even though they spit on Him, and taunt Him and mistreat Him.  He never curses them, He never threatens them.
 
They had to be utterly amazed at how differently He reacted to what was going on than every other prisoner they had ever experienced.  There was no category for someone to behave like this, an innocent man taken all the way to the cross and then they were the ones who nailed Him to that cross. 
 
But interestingly, until now, the uniqueness of Jesus doesn’t seem to have any particular impact on them.  They were hardened men.  And Jesus being passive, didn’t seem to make a difference in the way they treated Him.  They extended no sympathy.  They showed Him no mercy.  They hammered those nails through His hands and feet as they would through His hands and feet the hands of anybody else.  They dropped His cross into the hole dug for it while it ripped and tore the open wounds just like everyone else.  They cast lots for Jesus’ garments and they just sat down to watch Him die like they had watched hundreds of others die.
 
But all the while, for this centurion, all of those things must have been ruminating in his mind.  He heard Jesus pray for His killers, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  He heard Him promise paradise to a repentant thief who had been cursing Him. 
 
 
And certainly he was there for the darkness and the earthquake.  Never had he seen events like that and certainly never had he heard a crucified man crying out with a loud voice.  That had never been done. 
 
People who died of crucifixion had oxygen deprivation to their brains and were long incoherent before they actually died.  They couldn’t muster up enough breath to breathe, let alone to shout at the top of their voice.  This man took death by His own will and made it His servant.
 
And he watched Him die, and now he could no longer ignore reality.
 
Mark writes, “When the centurion who stood opposite Him saw that He cried out like this, and breathed His last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God.’” Where did he pick that phrase up? 
 
John 19:7 says, “The Jews accused Him this way, they said, ‘He made Himself the Son of God.’” And the centurion concluded that He was. 
 
Matthew notes that the earthquake coming at the exact moment along with the cry of Jesus pushed them over the edge into belief when they, not just the centurion, but the soldiers with him saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly. 
 
That little expression “feared greatly” is exactly the same words as were used on the Mount of Transfiguration when Peter, James and John feared greatly the transfigured Christ when they saw Him in His glory. 
This is the kind of fear that is a typical reaction of people who realized the truth of who Jesus is.  It dawned on them that they had crucified the Son of God.
 
Luke tells us the centurion said, “Certainly this man was righteous.” 
 
Mark that word “righteous”.  It was not just a statement about innocence.  It was a statement about positive righteousness that caused him along with the other soldiers to begin praising God.  They had come to an awareness of the true Son of God as the righteous one.
 
Did they know that the Old Testament promised that the Messiah would be called “the righteous One?”  Psalm 16:10 says He would be the righteous One.  Isaiah 53:11 says He would be the righteous One.  Jeremiah 23:5 says He would be the righteous One.
 
Whether they knew or not, they realized they had killed, not just an innocent man, but a righteous man.  Innocent is to say that He didn’t do what He was accused of doing.  Righteous is to say He only does what is right.  In fact, they had killed the Son of God.
 
And by the way, it wasn’t just the centurion but Matthew record that others with him came to faith.  They had absorbed the whole thing.  They heard the claims of Jesus they had heard, the accusations against Him, and they reversed the decision of public and court opinion enabled by the blessed Holy Spirit who gathered into the Kingdom there not just a thief but some hardened, idolatrous, pagan Roman soldiers. 
These are the first converts to Christ and they were saved just mere moments after His crucifixion. Here they are coming to faith at precisely the very time He dies.  What an appropriate response to the crucifixion.  It’s exactly what God said would Jesus said would happen.  He said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me”.  And here they are mere minutes after His death being drawn to Him.  They are the convinced. 
 
The next verse introduces us to
 
2.  The Convicted
 
Verse 48
 
Here the focus is on this fickle crowd.   What a week it had been for this crowd.  Talk about running the gamut of emotions.  Go back to the Triumphant Entry when Jesus came riding into town on a donkey and you find them throwing palm branches before Him and praising Him and hailing Him as the Son of David and the Messiah, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” They worshipped Him as their King, their Messiah.  This was the hope of their heart.  This was the moment the prophets had spoken of.  This was the climax of the Jewish faith.  This was their moment.
 
It is just a few days later when they are screaming for His crucifixion.  We will not have this man to reign over us.  His blood be on us and on our children.”
 
 
 
Then here we find them after the death of Jesus.  Verse 48 tells us the whole crowd is there.  They’ve been building all day.  They have continued to gather and now here they are surrounding the cross to see this “sight”.
 
 
This is the only time in the Bible this word is used.  It is a spectacle.  This is a one-of-a-kind event, a spectacular unequaled occurrence at Calvary, the divine spectacle at Calvary.  And what is their response?  They are terrified.
 
Why?  It all started with some frivolity.  It was just a comedy with Jesus as the butt of the joke.  But then God came and God’s judgment presence was known to them in the darkness and the earthquake and the comedy became a tragedy. 
 
And nobody, not even Jesus, spoke for three hours, If they did, it’s not recorded in the Bible.  But God poured out His wrath and His fury and they were terrified by the darkness, by the earthquake that split the rocks. 
 
It’s three o’clock now.  It’s time for the sacrifice of the Passover lambs.  They need to go to the temple.  And if they hadn’t already heard, by the time they get to the temple they’re going to find absolute chaos.  There would be tens of thousands of animals ready to be sacrificed by the full contingency of the priests who are in horror because the curtain has been torn from the top to the bottom.  That barrier that separates the Holy of Holies, the presence of God is in shreds.  No other that person other than  those who constructed the temple and the High Priest had ever even seen inside that room. 
Even the High Priest didn’t get in more than once a year of the Day of Atonement and only after he had made sacrifice for his own sins could he go in and come back out in a big hurry.  And now it’s thrown wide open.  The chaos at the temple would have been indescribable.  They wouldn’t know what to do. 
So as these people go back down from the place of the execution of Jesus and the two thieves, to go back to celebrate their Passover, they don’t go with any joy.  The comedy is over.  The tragedy has taken over completely and they’re described as doing one thing: beating their breasts, pounding their chests. 
 
They know God showed up.  Freshly spoken words of blasphemy which came so easily to their lips are now the cause of their own anxiety and their own guilt and their own fear.  And so they pound their chests. 
 
And I would suggest that is an appropriate response as well.  The fear of God is a right response.  Terror over one’s guilt and rejection of Jesus Christ is a right response.  Fear of divine judgment because of how you treat Christ is exactly the way a sinner should feel. 
 
One of the tragedies of our day is there is no fear of God.  We feel like we can do anything we want to do and live any way we want to live and say anything we want to say and nobody will tell us what to do.  There is no fear of God or judgment.  Dr. Adrian Rogers said, “Most Americans are strutting their way to hell believing they are too good to go there.”
 
It’s all a joke!  Just as real  as the ridicule of Christ was on that day is the ridicule of God today.
 
To believe in a God who judges is ludicrous.  To be a part of a church that teaches retribution and judgment is laughable and archaic.  Christ and Christianity and Christians are the laughing stock of our society. 
 
But I am here to tell you, fear of God has some benefits.  It is the beginning of the salvation experience.  It had some benefit on that day as well.  While it doesn’t seem to be resolved here in the text, it was preparatory for something that came later. 
 
As they walk down that hill feeling that guilt, that guilt would increase day after day after day as they couldn’t erase from their minds the memory of that event. 
 
But fifty-three days later, when Peter got up on the Day of Pentecost, and preached a sermon, the sermon ended like this, “Let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 
 
All of that guilt and fear of divine judgment over what they had done is brought to a head that day.
And when they heard this, verse 37 of Acts 2 tells us, “They were pierced to the heart.” 
 
All of what they are feeling here on Crucifixion Day just the God’s way of preparing them for Peter’s sermon on the  Day of Pentecost.  And they said to Peter and the rest of the Apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?  How can we possibly be saved from the wrath of God over our crimes against Christ?” That’s what they’re asking. 
 
What was Peter’s answer?  “Repent and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sin and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
 
Be saved.  “And those who received his word were baptized and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” 
 
The initial preparation for that repentance on Pentecost was the pounding of the chest in horror and terror and fear of what they had done to Jesus. 
 
In fact, if you read chapter 3 of the book of Acts, you will find that the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the message of Jesus Christ whom they crucified is indeed both Lord and Christ continued to ring from the Apostles’ lips throughout Jerusalem. 
 
The Apostles were hated by the leaders of Israel.  They were arrested by the leaders of Israel.  But that didn’t stop anything because the work had already begun in the hearts of many of those people who were there. 
 
And in spite of the Apostles being silenced by the leaders, Acts 4:4 says, “Many of those who had heard the message believed and the number of men came to be about five thousand.”  Three thousand men, we can assume plus women, five thousand men plus women, thousands of people are coming to Christ in the weeks following the death of Christ, preparation for that beginning that day on the hill when they were filled with the fear of God. 
 
That’s a right response when it leads to repentance and faith in Christ.  Because when it does, salvation comes. 
 
It was a right response by the convinced Romans to embrace Jesus as the Son of God and it was a right response from the people to feel fear. 
 
That leaves us with only one other group. 
 
Notice verse 49.
 
Here we find
 
3.  The Confused
 
Here we find that little group of friends and acquaintances who were followers of Jesus. 
 
Many of them were women.  John gives their names in John chapter 19 verses 25 to 27.  And there were others, like Susanna and Joanna who are mentioned  as followers of Christ.
 
There was also the disciple whom He loved, John.  And John tells us in that passage I just read you that they were standing near the cross, and they were at the beginning of the crucifixion
 
But now they’re no longer standing near the cross.  Verse 49 says, “They’re standing at a distance.” 
 
I picture that like this:  As the comedy unfolded, as the mockery and the abuse unfolded, as it became more cruel and diabolical, they moved farther away.  I don’t think it was from fear or embarrassment, but pain as their hearts broke.
And so they’re there, but at a distance, “watching these things”.  Here they are, watching without comment.  They didn’t know what to say.  They are in shock, they’re stunned.  They can’t comprehend it.  This is the Messiah, they know that.  This is the Son of God, they know that.  They’re devastated by what has happened to Him.  They cannot process it.  They cannot comprehend it.  It makes no sense, especially after all His teaching about a kingdom and freedom and liberty.   How can it be? How can it end like this?
 
This is the same attitude that shows up on the road to Emmaus and the disciples who can’t comprehend what has gone on.  As far as they’re concerned, they just don’t get it.  It’s as if it’s all over.  They’re stunned silence, shock. 
 
I think this, too, is an appropriate response, especially if the cross is the end.  If the cross is all there is, then we are left with shock.  They didn’t speak because they didn’t know what to say.  . 
 
Notice verse 55. 
 
Can you imagine the confusion?  How can it be?  What in the world went wrong?   Stunned silence is all they could bring
 
Until....chapter 24.  Sunday morning when the women and the followers of Jesus find out He is alive, everything changes!  And I would suggest to you it’s a proper response to be stunned by the cross.  It’s a proper response to be shocked by the cross, but the resurrection transforms all of that into great joy. 
 
I can’t begin to comprehend their sadness that day.  It would be impossible to even describe the sorrow that they must have felt as they stared at what they had seen.  But their sorrow turned to joy when He came out of the grave.
 
And that dear friend is why we celebrate Easter.  The resurrection is the only thing that verifies the faith of the convinced.  The resurrection is the only thing that brings resolution to the convicted, and only the resurrection can give clarity to the confused. 
 
Jesus died to bring sinners to the confidence that He is the Son of God, to bring sinners to repent of their sins, and to bring sinners to embrace His death and His resurrection. 
 
Are you convinced, convicted or confused? 
 
What’s your response? 
 
 

 

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