At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. 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, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15, verses 33-38.
Extraordinary: that’s the only word that can adequately describe these events. These things happened all within such a short period of time – within the hour of Jesus’ death – that it’s simply extraordinary.
Notice how the hard-hearted stayed hard-hearted until the very end. Apparently they weren’t moved by the raw emotion of watching an innocent man die. Granted, the chief priests didn’t believe Jesus was innocent at all. They wanted Him dead. Yet it’s a gruesome, awful thing to watch someone, even someone you despise, being tortured and then crucified. From these words (as well as corroborating & amplifying words from the other three gospels), it doesn’t seem to have phased them.
Notice that some acknowledged who Jesus was before He died, that He had the power to call for Elijah. There were some in the crowd who recognized the possibility that this Jesus may actually be divine, that He might just be who He said He was after all. Were they mocking Jesus in saying what they did? Perhaps, especially given the words about the sponge and “let Elijah get him down.” Yet don’t overlook the bare fact that, for the first time in this whole process, someone took a step back and said “hmmmm.”
Notice, too, that, at the same time Jesus died, the veil to the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple was torn. It signifies that there was no longer a veil separating God’s presence with God’s people. They had seen Him face to face, and He had done all that was necessary for sinful people to stand in His holy presence without being destroyed by that holiness. The people there on Calvary didn’t know about what happened to the veil until after the fact, but it served as yet another physical proof that Jesus was indeed God Immanuel: God With Us who they just had murdered.
Finally, notice the overwhelming, simple faith of the centurion. He was a military officer; think Army colonel. And he was a pagan, an unbeliever, a soldier doing his duty for the Roman Empire. And he was the first believer after Jesus died. This non-Jew, this Gentile, this man outside of God’s promised holy nation, was the first man who looked up in regret at the job he had just performed and acknowledged, “this man was the Son of God.” As he stood beside the cross, looking up at the bloody, wounded, dead body of Jesus of Nazareth, the centurion confessed what his heart and mind agreed. He was the first convert after the crucifixion: the first of billions.
Lord Jesus, I’m moved to tears by the story of Your death. Thank You for dying for the sins I deserve to die for.
Read Mark 15, verses 16-47.