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In most human societies appropriate burial of dead bodies is a sacred tradition. It matters profoundly that we ensure the proper resting place for those who have died. Yet, after burials happen, we don’t generally mention them specifically.
At first glance, Luke’s version of the centurion’s response to Jesus’s death seems like a glaring understatement. “Certainly this man was innocent,” rightly identifies Jesus’s lack of guilt. It makes clear once again the fact that he didn’t deserve to be crucified for sedition against Rome. He was no ordinary revolutionary, no guerrilla warrior, no terrorist. So, yes, “this man was innocent.” But couldn’t Luke have done better than this in his telling of the story?
The basic meaning of Jesus’s statement is clear. He was entrusting care of his mother to one of his most intimate friends and followers. He was making sure that she would be loved and cared for after Jesus’s death. Jesus knew he could trust his beloved follower with such an important responsibility.
Three men being crucified, suffering excruciating pain, literally. (The word “excruciating” comes from the Latin cruciare, “to crucify.”) One man begins taunting Jesus, sarcastically calling out for salvation he believes Jesus can’t deliver. The other, sensing something that he has never felt before, defends Jesus as an innocent victim. Then, in desperate hope, he cries out: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” In response Jesus says a most astounding thing, a most encouraging thing, a most curious thing: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
“They crucified Jesus.” “They,” in this case, refers to the Roman soldiers. Rome alone had the authority and the audacity to crucify people, one of the cruelest forms of execution ever devised. Crucifixion was so disgusting that Roman authors rarely referred to it. It was better left unmentioned.
Luke 23:27 notes that “a great number of people followed [Jesus]” as he walked to Golgotha. Luke gives no indication that they were crying out for Jesus’s death. In fact, by mentioning the women weeping for Jesus, Luke implies that at least many among the “great number of the people” were upset by what was happening to Jesus.
There is another dimension of the cross that we sometimes overlook on Good Friday. We see this dimension clearly in Ephesians 2:14-16, where the death of Christ on the cross brings reconciliation, not only between people and God, but also between alienated people groups.
We were created for work. And work, as God intended it, was to be good. As creatures made in God’s image, we were to do the good work of being fruitful, multiplying, filling the earth, governing it, tilling it, and keeping it.
But then something happened to corrupt the goodness of work. Sin happened.
We know very little about the centurion who appears in Mark 15. He is first mentioned in verse 39, “Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’” A few verses later, when Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the dead body of Jesus, Pilate summoned the centurion to find out for sure whether Jesus had died (15:44). When the centurion confirmed Jesus’ demise, Pilate let Joseph have the body (15:45). That’s all the gospels tell us about this particular centurion.
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