Text: Mark 15:38-39
Date: Passion/Palm Sunday + 3/25/18
How quickly things change.
Sometimes they strew His way
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King.
Is all their breath,
And for His death
They thirst and cry. (LSB 430:3)
And so has our attitude today changed from “All Glory, Laud and Honor” to this: “And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.” But if this is all you have heard and witnessed today you have missed the point. What point? The point of faith, the confession of faith that saves, faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Remember when we started this journey with St. Mark? He told us right off the bat in the very first verse of his gospel, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). This is the central theme of Mark’s gospel. At His baptism by John the voice from heaven said, “You are my beloved Son” (Mk 1:11). We are told that even the unclean spirits knew as when they saw Jesus, “they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God’” (Mark 3:11). But their words were not spoken in faith. As St. James said, “Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19). And again when Jesus healed another demon possessed man the evil spirit cried out with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” (Mk 5:7). Once again at His Transfiguration the voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mk 9:7). Finally, here at the climax of the whole thing, for the sixth and final time we hear the centurion who witnessed the entire crucifixion scene, moved to confess, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
So this is the saving confession we are to gain in this Great and Holy Week. For it is by this faith alone that we receive the benefits of our Lord’s death, namely, the forgiveness of all of our sins. For He died not for Himself but for us, not because of any sin on His part but for the sins on our part. This faith and confession is nothing less than a miracle, for the Roman centurion and for you and me!
For the scripture makes clear, as we say in the catechism, “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him,” much less believe in Him, much less believe that He is the Son of God. It was nothing less than the miracle of witnessing His suffering and death on the cross that the Gentile, Roman, heathen centurion suddenly was moved to proclaim, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!”
“This man.” Obviously, you could see this was a man, a human being who was suffering the same pain and death that you, I, or anyone could suffer. But almost all human criminals so crucified would, for one thing, be so in the throws of suffocation would not be able to yet cry out, as Jesus did, “I thirst,” and “it is finished.” This death had a supernatural element to it.
And what about the centurion’s faith? And what about your faith?
Remember that veil. “The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” The tearing of this veil happened precisely at the time of Jesus’ death signifying there was no more separation between God and men. The separation of sin was gone. Now everyone who believed in the Son of God crucified had access to God and the life of God in the forgiveness of their sins.
So does the Holy Spirit remove the veil of unbelief from sinners minds and hearts. Remember in the Old Testament that after Moses met with God on Mount Sinai “the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.” “And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face” (Ex 34:30, 33). So was this veil, this curtain placed in the temple to separate the holy of holies from the sight of all the people except for the high priest. St. Paul explained the significance in 2 Corinthians.
Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?
Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. but their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. and we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Cor 3:8, 12-18).
To confess “Jesus is the Son of God” is an act of faith. Faith is the gift of God worked in us through the Word of God. The centurion saw the very Word of God on the cross and believed. So with all people, Jew and Gentile alike, the Holy Spirit lifts the veil of doubt and unbelief, calling us by the Gospel, enlightening us with His gifts, sanctifying and keeping us in the true faith (Catechism, Third Article).
Now that we know and have believed in the glorious end of our Lord’s saving work we are prepared to walk into the Holy City, the Upper Room, the Garden of Gethsemane, with Jesus before kings and criminals to witness the sacrifice of the Son of God for the life of the world. Then the celebration of His resurrection will only empower the gift of faith and bring joy and hope to our hearts.