I’ve read the account of the last hours of Jesus’ life many times, but recently as I was re-reading Luke’s telling of the narrative I noticed a small detail that had previously escaped my attention. After Jesus’ final breath, something remarkable occurs: a single act of public worship which leads to a multiplied response of repentance. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise. The same thing happened time and again throughout the life and ministry of the Savior. The moment of his death should be no exception.
In Luke 23:47 we read “When the centurion saw what happened, he began to glorify God, saying, ‘This man really was righteous!’” What happening did the centurion witness that caused him to worship God? If he was present from the beginning to the end, he witnessed a lot. He saw Jesus, as He was being nailed to a cross, ask forgiveness from His Father for those who tormented Him. He saw Him bear the brunt of insult after insult from the many who passed without a single retort. He was privy to the life-changing conversation between Jesus and the thief on the cross which ended with the assurance of Paradise for the criminal. And then, starting at noon, he watched as darkness covered the whole of that area for three full hours, culminating in a great earthquake and the splitting of the curtain of the sanctuary in the temple. Mark’s account tells us that it was “the way He breathed His last” that led to the centurion’s exclamation of worship. Surely this man had witnessed many deaths by crucifixion, but none had been characterized by acts of forgiveness and love or had been accompanied by such supernatural spectacle. Like so many others before him, the centurion suddenly recognized that he was in the presence of the divine, and he appropriately glorified God.
While the changed attitude of the centurion is certainly amazing, what is truly astounding is the effect it appears to have had on those present. This is evident in the very next verse where we read, “All the crowds that had gathered for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, went home, striking their chests” (Luke 23:48). Why is this significant? Because to strike your chest was not merely a sign of sadness, but more often a sign of penitence (see Luke 18:13). It was a means of humiliating oneself by beating your own flesh with the blows you felt you deserved. Now, it is entirely possible that Luke meant for us to understand this verse to mean that the people witnessed the same things as the centurion and they were responding in kind. But I think it is significant that Luke chose to provide the reaction of the spectators after the account of the centurion. It follows a pattern we see throughout the gospels.
When people witness genuine worship resulting from a changed heart, it has a profound impact upon them. Often we see in the gospels spectators, gathered around the fringe, seeking to see what Jesus is really all about, and often it is not only the miracle but the response of worship and the testimony of a changed life which leads them to follow Him. You and I can learn from this. When we genuinely worship God, and testify of the way in which He has rescued us from death it is not merely for our own benefit. There are always those on the fringe, looking in and hoping to catch a glimpse of something to explain why so many have placed their trust in this Jesus guy, and our acts of genuine worship might be the answer which leads them to true repentance.
NEWS AND NOTES:
Our vocal team will be taking the month of June off, and we will resume our Wednesday evening rehearsals after the Fourth of July holiday.
Kids Praise will also be on a limited schedule in June due to Vacation Bible School and Student Life Beach Camp. Watch your “Element Kids” newsletters for more information.
We had planned to have our annual “ROS Got Talent Show” on Sunday, July 30th but that event has been moved to Sunday evening, August 20th.
Finally, if you’ve not registered to volunteer for our upcoming VBS (June 12-16) let me encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to serve. You can register at our connection center or see Nick Decker for more details.
Thank you and I look forward to worshiping and serving alongside each of you!
In His Service,
Assoc. /Worship Pastor