God’s Word for You
Luke 23:47-49 Truly this was a righteous man
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, June 25, 2019
47 When the centurion saw what had happened, he began to praise God, saying, “Truly this was a righteous man.” 48 When all the crowds who had gathered to see this spectacle saw what had happened, they beat their breasts as they returned home.
Matthew (27:54) tells us that this change of heart came over the other soldiers as well as the centurion. Tradition names him Longinus, and it is said that he became a Christian after this in Caesarea in Cappadocia and even died as a martyr. What we know for certain is that seeing the manner of Jesus’ death and his dying words, this Roman sergeant was convinced that the charges against Jesus were unjust and untrue and that he was “a righteous man.” The crowds (Luke’s term is plural) stopped their jeering. They had seen enough. They did not laugh as they walked away; they acted like people who grieved, beating their breasts. This was often a sign of mourning or grief (Isaiah 32:12; Ezekiel 21:12; Nahum 2:7), but it was also a sign of repentance (Luke 18:13; Jeremiah 31:9). Herodotus (Histories Book II) describes the Egyptians beating their breasts and groaning after the death of a loved one even before they took a body to be mummified.
49 But all those who knew Jesus, including the women who followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance watching these things.
Luke does not go into details about who these women were for the sake of Theophilus and other ‘Greek’ readers like us. Luther tires of sorting them out in his commentary on Galatians, calling it a “tedious business,” distinguishing one Mary from another, who was whose wife or mother, etc. This was no doubt necessary for Matthew and Mark since these Marys and their families would be reading these accounts. But Luke simply calls them “the women who followed him.” The women were those who had supported his ministry with their money and other gifts, “to care for his needs” (Matthew 27:55). Now, what was there to do? Stunned and bewildered; grieving; they stood watching in a kind of vigil. They couldn’t do anything more. His body was still on the cross; the other men were not yet dead. It was over. It was all over.
There are commentators and preachers who advise people who are dying to send their minds here to the cross, to these women. Why? Please do not repeat this advice to anyone. The dying Christian should not think of the dead Christ. Let theologians ponder the cross with Christ’s lifeless body still hanging upon it. Let catechism students spend a portion of one class period discussing this, and then let everyone—but especially the dying Christian—visit the empty tomb of Christ, to think of the resurrection! This is our glory! This is our hope!
Consider the cross. Before Jesus, the cross was an instrument of torture for the lowest criminals, something that brought only shame and dishonor. This was the shame and dishonor Jesus bore innocently on our behalf. Since Jesus’ crucifixion, the cross has become the unmistakable emblem of Christ. Nowhere can a cross or a crucifixion be depicted without calling up the image of Christ. Any artist who attempts to paint a crucifixion will only cause his or her viewers to think of Christ, no matter if the one being crucified is a man, woman, animal or robot. Everyone will think of Jesus. Jesus has emptied the cross and the tomb of their power, and he has even emptied the very thought of the cross of its power. When I was a little boy, I was playing in my Grandpa Smith’s woodshop, and I nailed two scraps of wood together. I was trying to make a simple little airplane to play with, but as soon as my Grandma Rose said that it looked like a cross, it ceased to be my toy airplane, and became a thing of reverence and awe. Any two sticks, a mere two strokes of a pencil can be made into a cross and remind us of what happened on that Good Friday. Ponder the cross. Believe in the work of Jesus on the cross. But don’t stop there. Leap ahead to the glory of the resurrection and everlasting life.
Pastor Timothy Smith