Faces In The Crowd

One of the great things about watching events on the television is that you can see things from a number of different angles.  For example, when the terrorist attacks hit in New York and Washington, television was able to give you the scene from many different camera angles.  We saw the attack from the perspective of people standing on the street, people who were in the building, and a few weeks ago we were even able to see it from the perspective of the firemen.

In athletics when an important play happens you are shown the play from several different angles.  In the Olympics, for example you are able to watch not only the event, but you can see the various reactions of the athlete, family members in the stands, opponents, coaches and even sometimes in the faces of those watching back home.  These different angles give us a better perspective of what actually happened.

The events during the last hours of the life of our Savior come in rapid fire succession.  It begins on the Thursday night when Jesus has a simple Passover meal with his friends.  Jesus begins the evening by washing the feet of His disciples.  Next He startles them with news that someone is going to betray Him.  Then they have their Passover meal.  During the ceremonial meal Jesus declares the words we have come to cherish, “This is my body, broken for you.” And “This cup represents the new covenant that is established through the shedding of my blood.”  They are precious words to us, but confusing words to those who listened.

Late in the evening the disciples and Jesus head to the Garden of Gethsemane.  While on the way to the garden Jesus delivers what we know as the Olivet Discourse.  These are the words of John 14-15 and some of the most well-known verses of the Bible.  Somewhere along the way Jesus stops to pray for His friends and for us.

When they cross over into the garden Jesus tells the disciples to pray and he goes further into the walled garden with Peter, James and John.  He asks them to “keep watch with Him.”  Then Jesus goes a little further and falls to the ground and prays with an intensity that cannot be imagined.  During this time Jesus faces the harsh reality of what is going to take place and seeks the Lord’s strength.  The disciples sleep.

Everyone is awakened when the group of soldiers, led by Judas comes to arrest him.  Chuck Swindoll provides a possible chronology of what happened next.

  • 1:30 a.m. betrayal and arrest in the garden
  • Unauthorized inquiry at the residence of High Priest Emeretus Annas
  • An unofficial (and illegal) trial at the home of High Priest Caiaphas
  • Official trial before the Sanhedrin
  • First interrogation by Pilate at his residence
  • Audience and mockery before Herod
  • Final judgment before Pilate
  • Whipping and beating at the Praetorium
  • 9:00 a.m. Jesus nailed to the cross (the third hour)

Within a 14 hour period Jesus goes from arrest to execution.  He is sentenced to death in a matter of hours.  It is obvious to anyone that Jesus is being railroaded.  But He endures.

These things all happen so quickly that it is easy for us to miss the impact of each event.  So tonight we want to replay one moment. In Luke 23:44-49 Luke describes the same moment as seen from several different perspective.  These are powerful and picturesque words.

It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. 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 23:44-49)

The Sun Stopped Shining

The first thing Luke does is show us what happened in the natural realm.  He gives us the broad picture. As Jesus suffered on the cross there was darkness from noon to 3:00 in the afternoon.  This was not a solar eclipse because Passover happens at the time of the full moon which makes an eclipse out of the question.  As Jesus faced the wrath of God it was as if God Himself turned away.  William Barclay says, “It is as if the sun itself could not bear to look upon the deed man’s hands had done.”

Warren Wiersbe remarks,

It was a God-sent darkness that shrouded the cross as the Son of God was made sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). It was as though all nature was sympathizing with the Creator as He suffered and died. When Israel was in Egypt, three days of darkness preceded the first Passover (Ex. 10:21ff). When Jesus was on the cross, three hours of darkness preceded the death of God’s Lamb for the sins of the world (John 1:29).

Imagine what it would have been like to be in absolute darkness for three hours in the middle of the day!  I know it’s kind of creepy when it gets dark as a Thunderstorm is approaching.  It must have been obvious that something ominous was taking place.   The sense of judgment was very evident.

Jesus surrendered His Spirit

Next, Luke zooms his camera in on the Savior as He dies on the cross. Crucifixion is that a tortuous death.  It was designed to be slow and agonizing.  The Romans saw this as a deterrent to crime.  No simple execution here.  If you crossed Rome you would be punished!  It was not uncommon for men to hang for days on the cross working to gain every last gasp of breath before they were too weak.  This is why the legs were going to be broken of those on the cross . . .to speed their death.  This is itself was certainly a gruesome prospect.  The legs were broken to make breathing more difficult and eventually lead to suffocation.

This was not the case with Christ.  He surrendered His own Spirit.  As the Creator of the Universe He had the right to surrender His earthly life when He chose to do so.  Again, let me quote Wiersbe,

He then addressed His Father in the final statement from the cross, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” (Ps. 31:5). This was actually a bedtime prayer used by Jewish children, and it tells us how our Lord died: confidently, willingly (John 10:17–18), and victoriously. Those who know Jesus as their Saviour may die with the same confidence and assurance (2 Cor. 5:1–8; Phil. 1:20–23).

Around the same time (either just before or just after, depending on how you read the gospel accounts) Jesus uttered the words “It is Finished” or “tetelestai” as his final word.  He said, Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit and then shouted (the text says, “a loud cry”), “It is Finished” and then died.  What a powerful experience this must have been.  His last words were not resignation to death, it was a cry of victory!

The Temple Curtain was torn in Two

Luke tells us that when Jesus died the curtain in the temple tore in two.  Matthew tells us that the curtain tore in two from top to bottom . . . this means that no individual tore the curtain.  Theologian R.C. Sproul tells us,

“This was an amazing event, both physi-cally and in its spiritual meaning. The curtain covered the golden doors that led into the Holy of Holies. It was about eighty feet high and twenty-four feet wide. Because of its great size, it was very thick and strong and consisted of several layers of drapes. Anything layered like this is virtually impossible to tear by natural means.

This was the curtain that kept man from the presence of God.  It was a curtain that was designed to safeguard people from God’s wrath.  You know the story, once a year the High Priest was able to go into God’s presence but only after sacrifices were made and elaborate purification rituals were carried out.  The Priest could enter this one time a year because of the command of God.  He could not enter whenever he so desired or he would be struck dead.

The ripping of the curtain would have been seen as a devastatingly horrible thing to the priests.  Yet, it was a sign of what Jesus had done on the cross.  He opened the way to fellowship with God.  The barrier was removed because of Christ’s activity on the cross.  Our relationship with God changed.  The tearing of the curtain was not horrible, it was staggering in how wonderful it was.

Notice something else, In Matthew we are told that at the moment of Jesus’ death, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” [Matthew 27:51-53]

These are odd words aren’t they?  But this “raising of the dead” was a sign of what the crucifixion accomplished.  Note that those who were dead did not rise until after the resurrection.  We’d like to know more about these folks.  How long did they remain alive? What was the response of those who saw them? What answer did they give for what was happening? How many people were there? But I think the point of this detail is that Jesus not only broke the chains of death for Himself, He broke those chains for everyone who has turned to Him in faith.

The Centurion Testified

In Luke the Centurion is quoted as saying, “Surely this was a righteous (or innocent) man”.  In Matthew and Mark we are told that the Centurion said,  “This man was the Son of God”.  Very likely He said both. The Early Church sometimes gave this Centurion the name, Longinus.

Understand, this man was a soldier, a leader of men.  He had probably fought many battles.  He had seen men die, perhaps many, before.  But he had never seen anything like this before.  He had never seen anyone like Jesus die.

R.C. Sproul remarks,

The exaltation of Jesus began immediately. The Roman centurion in charge of the crucifixion was moved to praise God, something only a regenerate person can do. Luke tells us that he stated for all to hear, “Surely this was a righteous man” (v. 47). Once again Jesus is declared innocent by a government official, just as Pilate had found him innocent. Mark tells us the centurion also said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (15:39).

It seems that the first trophy of grace given to Jesus after his death was the Gentile soldier who had crucified him.

What led this battle hardened soldier to make this proclamation? Perhaps it was several things,

  • The natural phenomena.  The darkness, the earthquake and the fact that Jesus died after He surrendered His Spirit certainly must have made an impact.
  • His demeanor.  Jesus was not angry and cursing others.  He seemed to accept the suffering.  Maybe the guard saw something in the eyes of Jesus.  He was unique.  He was not like the hardened criminals this man was used to seeing executed.
  • His words.  The Centurion heard Jesus pray for His accusers, He heard Jesus as he made provision for his mom, He heard him extend forgiveness to the criminal crucified beside Him, He     heard him say, “I commend my Spirit to you.” And then saw Him die.
  • His actions.  Jesus did not struggle. . . . at least with those who assaulted Him.  The only struggle seemed to be with God Himself when He cried, “My God, My God, Why have you Forsaken Me?”  But there was something different about Jesus.  In the midst of his agony Jesus seemed to be victorious.  He said, “It is Finished” and then gave up His Spirit.  It was as if there was a contest going on and Jesus won the battle.

The mere fact of this commander’s testimony does not mean that he became a true believer.  However, some church traditions suggest that he did become a believer because of what he witnessed.

The People Beat Their Breasts and Went Away

Having seen the response of the Centurion it’s as if the camera pans and we see the same moment in time but from a different camera angle.  This time the camera focuses on the town people who have come to watch an execution.  These people surely came out because of a warped desire for entertainment.  Maybe they came out with a sense of curiosity wondering if the miracle worker was going to something spectacular to save Himself.  Instead they saw the greatest travesty of justice the world has ever seen.

They came for sport and left broken by the horror of what had happened.  They were convicted by their own sinfulness.  Unfortunately, it appears they didn’t understand the forgiveness that Christ came to offer.

His friends watched with sadness

We can understand how the friends and followers of Jesus felt.  It is much like a funeral.  You stand at a gravesite but you feel nothing. You are in such shock that you can only go through the motions.  The word for “behold” implies they were watching intently.   They stared at these events and tried to comprehend what had happened and why.  Consider how quickly things changed.  Less that 24 hours earlier many of these followers were sharing the Passover meal with Jesus.  These people were in shock.

Imagine what was going on in their heads.  They could not know what would happen next.  They did not realize where all of this was going.  They could not anticipate how their emotions would change again in a couple of days.


You may find all of this interesting but you may still be asking, “So What?” What does this mean to me?

What I want you to see is three things.  First, notice that the death of Christ did not leave people indifferent.  How different this is from our own day.  Look around at the people you work with, your fellow students, some of your family and friends.  They move about as if nothing has happened.  Good Friday and Easter come and go without even be noticed by some.

Don’t you wonder why this is?  I do.  Is it because we have witnessed so much death on television and in the movies that we are unmoved?  Is it because the cross of Jesus has been so glamorized that it has lost the horror of what took place there?  Is it because we don’t care?

On the cross, Jesus extended to you and me the greatest act of love that we will ever receive.  It was a gift without equal.  We are fools to look past these things.  So please stop.  See clearly.  Look at these events from the various angles.  Replay them in your hearts and mind that you might see who He really was and why He went to the cross.

Second, in the death of Christ we see the horror of our own sinfulness.  At the cross we see the Centurion and the bystanders convicted by the injustice of what happened.  And I think anyone who rightly understands what happened on that hill of execution can’t help but think, “I did this!”  We are co-conspirators.  It was our sin that sent Him to the torture of the cross.  It was an indifference that was similar to our own that allowed this travesty of justice.  The cross should always bring a sense of darkness into our soul.  It should remind us of who we used to be.  It should lead us to repentance.

Finally, as we look at these things, we should find ourselves stimulated to live confidently and joyfully. These tragic events removed the veil that kept us from God.  We know longer have to wonder how God feels about us . . . the cross shows us.  We no longer need to wonder if we are valuable . . . God gave His Son on our behalf.  We no longer need to fret about whether we are “good enough” because we know that we don’t have to be good enough . . . we just need to trust the One who finished the work on our behalf.  We no longer need to be afraid of the future or afraid of death . . . Jesus told us that He would go and prepare a place for us.  He assured us that those who trust in Him would live even though they die.

The events on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday all happened so quickly that it is easy to miss some of the significance of what happened.  We should be grateful that the Gospels give us these different “camera angles on the faces in the crowd.”  If we take the time to see these things clearly, we will find the truth . . . . the truth that can set us free.

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