Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Luke 23:47)
By the time the centurion speaks these words, he has experienced the darkness. He has heard Jesus’ conversations with the criminals crucified with him. He listened as Jesus prayed for those who executed him. He witnessed the last breath of Jesus. He would have a lot to share that evening when his wife asked, “So how was your day?”
So who is innocent in our world? Newborn babies. Innocent victims who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. An innocent bystander who got caught in the line of fire. Someone with a solid alibi. That person about whom the jury decides, “We find the defendant not guilty.”
This Roman commander was the first of many to worship God in front of a cross. Crosses of every shape and size grab out attention as soon as we walk into a church. A 42 foot glass cross is in the front of my church sanctuary. I’ve seen some with a crucified Christ, some mysteriously suspended in air, and small crucifixes on a pole or a stand. The cross in the front of the church where I grew up was made up of hundreds of multicolored stones. (I spend many sermons trying them all.) A small crucifix hangs on the wall of our chapel.
No matter the shape or size of the cross before us in worship, you and I profess, “He was innocent.” He was the good teacher. He was the holy one of God. He fulfilled the law. He knew no sin. He was the perfect, unblemished lamb.
But he was pierced for my transgressions. He was crushed for my iniquities. God laid all of my guilt on him.
Without fail, every time I go to a funeral, someone gets up to tell those gathered how good the deceased was. He (or she) would do anything for anyone. He would give you the shirt off his back. The departed was good, kind, generous, faithful, unselfish, and giving. Makes me feel like a slug. I can’t imagine anyone saying any of those things about me.
And I hope you don’t. Instead, talk about the one on the cross. Talk about Jesus who was good, kind, merciful, faithful, unselfish, generous, holy and innocent.
All the praise is yours, Lord.