Truly This Man was the Son of God

Text: St. Mark’s Passion | Mark 15:39
Date: Passion/Palm Sunday + 3/29/15

This year St. Mark has been hurrying us to understand the gospel; that the gospel is about the vicarious suffering of Jesus Christ the Son of God (Mark 1:1). So today we begin to understand. But it is only a beginning.

I guess it will always be “only a beginning” as long as we are on this side of eternity, walking under the shadow of the cross. Every year we rehearse the slowness of the first disciples to understand and to believe and we identify with them and confess our own slowness, our own doubt, our own unbelief. In the garden of His betrayal we with them give up. “And [all the disciples] left him and fled.” But that’s the first step in worthy repentance; to give up totally on self. Oh, they almost caught one of us. So observes St. Mark alone. A young man who followed Jesus. But they must have only grabbed him by his garment—a mere linen cloth—and “he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.” Buck naked. And isn’t that how we face God both at the beginning and the ending of our days? “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return” (Job 1:21).

As with our first parents, Adam and Eve, it is only as we notice that we are naked, buck naked, that is, as we now view ourselves only apart from God, on our own, ourselves the total center of our universe, that we discover the bondage of sin and its wages of death and our need for a Savior.

So, here He is. Who? This Jesus? But He is only a man! “King of the Jews”? Right! “Crucify Him!” And they did. And we did!

Strangely, it wasn’t one of us who have heard the story time and time again for ten or eighty years; it wasn’t one of us who have “been members of this church since I was an infant and it is from this church I intend to be buried;” it wasn’t one of us who rarely went off the rails, who faithfully studied God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions, “members in good standing” our entire lives who came to the first realization of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God. It was rather like this: “And when the centurion,” the Roman military guard, the pagan bystander, “when the centurion saw that in this way Jesus breathed his last,” death by crucifixion, something clicked, something happened and “he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!” This man was the Son of God.

So we may disbelieve it all if all Jesus is is only “this man.” We may miss it all if “this man” isn’t also the Son of God. “This man” died. Sure, we can believe that. We all die. But the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, God died? The old German Good Friday hymn has it, “O sorrow dread, Gott selbst, God Himself is dead.”

Catechism question 122: Why was it necessary for our Savior to be true man? Answer: in order to act in our place under the Law and fulfill it for us, and in order to be able to suffer and die for our guilt because we failed to keep the Law. Question 123: Why was it necessary for our Savior to be true God? Answer: in order that His fulfilling of the Law, His life, suffering, and death, might be a sufficient ransom for all people; and in order that He might be able to overcome death and the devil for us. This, in a mysterious way, the centurion learned, understood and believed simply when he “saw that in this way Jesus breathed his last.”

The Great and Holy Week which we begin again today annually strips us of any pretentions, posturing or self-importance, of any presumed worthiness, merit or self-praise and seeks to empty us in such a way as to fills us with this faith of the centurion.

Come now. Let us follow Him. Let us die with Him. Let us witness His supreme offering “for us and for our salvation.”

Jesus! Name of wondrous love,
Human name of God above;
Pleading only this, we flee
Helpless, O our God, to Thee. (LSB 990:6)