From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:45-54 (NIV)
The promise of Isaiah 53:5 comes to fruition at that moment. He was pierced because of our transgressions. He was crushed and broken for our iniquity. His punishment purchased our peace. He was wounded so that we could be healed. It is important for us as Jesus followers to see and understand that His sacrifice for us was no small or inconsequential feat. As we embrace the theology of the Cross, we take up our crosses as well. Because of Jesus we are free to die to ourselves and live for Him.
The Lutheran tradition can be a bit divided on the imagery of the crucifix. Some find it a bit macabre and gory to have a crucifix displayed in the church, or a bit too solemn and joyless for to focus upon the Body of Jesus as He dies on the Cross. Crucifixion is macabre. Jesus’ death was painful and dirty and humiliating. His grace- and our salvation- was infinitely expensive. We have no way to imagine the cost to our Savior. We cannot fathom the weight and the agony of carrying the sins of the whole world, for all of time.
Jesus would no more have been remembered than any other common thief or insurrectionist, except for Easter morning. Good Friday would commemorate nothing more than one of many men being crucified for being an enemy of the Roman Empire, if it weren’t for Easter morning. There was no shortage of crucifixions in Jesus’ day. Public crucifixion was common, and there were plenty of dissidents and criminals who met their death in ignominious fashion on Roman crosses. The difference is that for Jesus, crucifixion was not the end. The Cross could not defeat Him. The tomb could not hold Him.
We need to be shocked and appalled and brought to sorrow by the imagery of the crucifix just as much as we need the triumph of the empty cross and the empty tomb. It is good for us to regard Jesus as He is dying on the tree, as long as we understand that His death on the Cross is not the end of Him. Isaiah was completely right about Jesus. The age old prophecy has been fulfilled.
May the Holy Spirit bring us to the same conclusion as the centurion today: “Surely this man is the Son of God!” By His wounds, we are healed.