The Fifth Miracle of the Cross—The Response of the Soldiers

We have examined so far four supernatural events of the cross—the darkness, the torn veil, the earthquake, and the resurrection of the saints. Today we come to a final supernatural happening. Some may not think the response of the centurion and other soldiers is supernatural. However, any time someone has the faith to see Jesus for who He really is, God is at work!

This would not be the last time that someone would come face to face with the power of Christ and the cross and respond in faith. The confession of the soldiers has been spoken over and over again throughout history. Dan Leach, who lived just outside of Houston, Texas, made this same confession after being presented the evidence about Christ. On January 19, 2004, Dan Leach pulled off the perfect crime. By getting ideas from a popular television crime show, he murdered his girlfriend but made it appear a suicide.  The authorities ruled the death of the girl a suicide. But on March 7, 2004, Dan Leach walked into the local Sheriff’s Department and confessed to the murder giving very specific details that detectives said only the murderer would have known. What made Dan confess? Earlier that day, he went alone to a showing of the movie, The Passion of the Christ. After seeing what he called the death of an innocent man, he realized that he could not truly repent of his sin unless he turned himself in for the murder. A miracle occurs anytime a person turns from sin to the Savior.

As his title suggests, a centurion was commander over one hundred soldiers. “Those with him” suggests regular soldiers. The important thing to understand is that these soldiers were just doing a job. They had presided over countless other crucifixions. The crucifixion of Jesus was no different than any other crucifixion. These soldiers had no emotional attachment whatsoever to what was going on that day. That’s what makes this confession so amazing. They are not looking to follow Jesus. They had not investigated Jesus’ works or His words. But, when confronted with what they saw that day, they had no other choice but to exclaim, “Truly this was the son of God.”

Let’s remind ourselves of a few things in the context of this confession. The centurion and other soldiers made this confession in light of the works of God. The darkness, the torn veil, the earthquake, and the resurrected bodies certainly must have made an impression on the soldiers. Second, the soldiers made their confession in light of the way that Jesus died. We sometimes talk about someone dying with dignity. Never has anyone died in a more humble, yet dignified way as Jesus. Finally, the soldiers made their confession in light of the words of Jesus. Remember that Jesus spoke seven phrases from the cross. Two of these phrases must have stood out to the soldiers. First, Jesus said specifically about the soldiers, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Second, Jesus said to one of the criminals, “Assuredly, I say unto you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Certainly, in the midst of the works of God and the way the He died, the soldiers must have been amazed at the words of Jesus.

Most of all, we need to draw some conclusions from this confession. First, God desires that all would be saved. Consider the heart of God:

  • There is no past so problematic that God will not pursue.
  • There is no heart so hard that God cannot soften.
  • There is no sin so sinful that God cannot forgive.

The second conclusion to draw from the confession is that God demands a decision. Just as the cross demanded a response from the soldiers, Jesus, through the cross, demands and deserves a response from us.

In Bach’s oratorio, St. Matthew’s Passion, he designed the finale to make a very specific point. The finale musically dramatized the confession of the centurion. Bach felt that it was not enough to reflect only the confession of the centurion. He knew that every person must be willing to make this confession their confession. So, instead of the line being a solo, the entire choir sings this part. In addition, in the musical score accompanying this phrase, Bach musically wrote in his name for the bass line. This was Bach’s way of saying, “I believe that Jesus is the son of God.”

Can you put your name on this line? You must! For, God desires that all would be saved.  God demands your decision today.


The Fourth Miracle of the Cross: The Resurrection of the Saints

We’ve examined so far three miracles of the cross—the darkness, the torn veil, and the earthquake. Today we come to the fourth and most mysterious miracle of all—the resurrection of some who had previously died. A miracle like this screams for our attention. What was God saying through the resurrection of these saints?

Once I e-mailed seven of my ministry friends to ask them their thoughts on this miracle.  Four of these are pastors; the other three are Professors of either New Testament or Theology at Baptist Seminaries or Colleges. Out of the seven that I wrote, only one responded. The first sentence of his otherwise very brief response was, “You picked a good one.” He offered a comment or two before closing his paragraph by saying, “Let me know how you decide to preach on this passage.” In other words, “Good luck.”

Obviously, there is much that we do not know about this passage. The recording of this miracle leaves us with more questions than answers. Here are just a few of the questions we want to ask:

  1. Who were these resurrected people? Was Abraham raised? Moses? Noah?
  2. Did they continue to live?
  3. What kind of bodies did they have?
  4. Why didn’t the other Gospel writers mention this miracle?

Though we do not have the answer to these questions, we can be certain about a few things.

First, these bodies literally came to life. Whatever else you understand, please accept the absolute literal nature of this miracle. I am not sure quite what to make of this miracle, but this much I know—it happened. It would not have been recorded in the Gospel if it had not happened.

Second, like the other miracles, the resurrection of these saints emphasizes the importance of the activity taking place on the cross. The whole context is suggesting that everything in the world was affected by the death of Jesus. In fact, there seems to be good evidence from major sections of Jewish thought of the day that a bodily resurrection of Old Testament saints would occur when Messiah came. Jewish rabbis of that day taught to expect a bodily resurrection to occur at the revealing of Messiah.

We must draw our conclusions from what we know to be true. So, to what does this miracle point us?

The resurrection of these saints reinforces the unlimited power of God and the ultimate purpose of God. Don’t forget the background. The text tells us that many accusations were being made against Jesus. Those who passed by were mocking Him. Some shouted, “Save yourself.” Others called for him to come down from the cross if He really was the Son of God. Through all of this harassment, Jesus remained silent, but His answer was coming.

Jesus did not answer them until the tombs came open. Just because God is silent does not mean that He is incapable. The reason for His silence became evident when the soldiers declared that He was the Son of God. Do You think God ever wants to “answer” some of the critics today? He doesn’t answer them today for the same reason He didn’t answer on that Friday. He wants more people to be saved! This is not the first time that Jesus has delayed one request for a greater miracle. What if Jesus would have answered more immediately His critics? Would the soldiers have believed?

Maybe the silence of God seems too much for you right now? Do not lose heart. God may be about to speak in a way that you never expected.


The Miracle of the Earthquake

Five miracles happened as Jesus hung on the cross. The day became night, symbolizing Jesus taking the sin of history upon Himself. Next, the temple veil was split from top to bottom, symbolizing a new covenant of salvation available and accessible to all. Today, we examine the third miracle. Matthew reported an earthquake. I believe that this “splitting of the rocks” points back to a statement Jesus made to the Pharisees as He was welcomed into Jerusalem on the Sunday before that Friday.

Luke provides the details of the entry into Jerusalem as recorded in Luke 19.

36And as he went, they spread their clothes in the way. 37And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; 38Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest. 39And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. 40And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.

When we collaborate the accounts from Matthew and Luke, we find an interesting detail.  “If these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.” At the cross, we find the disciples at their worst. I remind you that it is not just Judas that betrayed Jesus.  Likewise, it is not just Peter that denied Jesus. In one way or the other, is it not true that all of the disciples deserted Jesus? Is it not true that the “these” of Luke 19:40 did in fact become silent? So, what was the response? Matthew tells us that the stones cried out!

I give you as a hypothesis that the earthquake and the splitting of the rocks were the prophetic fulfillment of Jesus’ words recorded in Luke 19. If this hypothesis is correct, then we have some certain conclusions from the earthquake. First, the earthquake establishes that Jesus is worthy to be praised. The precise reason that He is worthy to be praised was established at the cross.

Second, the earthquake establishes that Jesus will be praised. The fulfillment of this prophecy makes clear that Jesus will always be praised. The whole world may fall silent, but His name will be praised forever.

So, what’s the reason for our silence? Why do we not always praise Him as we should?  Some fail to see the significance of the cross. Do you really realize that would it not be for the cross, all of us would be stuck in our sin and bound for Hell? But, because of what Christ did, we are forgiven of sin, have the ability to be free of sin, and are on our way to Heaven at the exact moment of our death. That alone should keep us praising Him every moment of our lives.

Others are limited in their praise because they focus on what is seen rather than on that which is not seen. Here is the problem of the disciples. The disciples could only see Jesus’ death. They could only see the cross. They hadn’t understood Jesus’ words that He would only be three days in the grave. They could only see with human eyes. We do the same. We get distressed by our problems and forget that God is working all things together for our good.

So how should we praise Him? We should praise Him with our lips, of course, but do not forget, we should also praise Him with our lives.