What convinced him?
“And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, he calleth Elias. And one ran and filled a sponge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down. And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:33-39)
What convinced that battle hardened soldier, a man who had probably slaughtered multitudes with steel-hearted coldness, what convinced this Roman centurion that the man he executed on that dark, dark day was the Son of God? Let me show you what he saw on that day of man’s infamy, the day of God’s glory, when the Son of God suffered the wrath of God in the place of men and women who were the enemies of God.
Let me show you seven extraordinary miracles which took place when the Son of God was made to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Here are seven miracles of Calvary. Six of them, if not all seven, were witnessed and carefully observed by the centurion. They convinced him that Jesus of Nazareth, with whose blood he was covered, is himself the Son of God.
The Midday Darkness
“And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour” (v. 33). Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us of this phenomenal darkness at midday, when the sun was miraculously turned into darkness for three hours. This noon-day darkness was predicted by Amos as an indication of God’s judgment upon the Jewish nation for despising and rejecting his Word (Amos 8:9).
Still, ungodly men appear in every age who try to explain away the miraculous things revealed in the Book of God. They tell us that this just could not have happened and did not happen, that it was just an exaggeration on the part of the Lord’s disciples, that it was only meant to teach spiritual lessons, or that it was an ordinary solar eclipse. But none of those cows will fly.
The report was given by divine inspiration and given by honest men. It was at the time of the Jews’ passover, which was always held during the full moon. In the 2nd century Tertullian asserted that this extraordinary midnight darkness at midday was reported and recorded by heathen chronologers and historians in the ancient archives of Rome. John Gill, commenting on Matthew 27:45, refers to one Dionysius the Areopagite, who saw this great darkness over the earth in Egypt and wrote, “Either the Divine Being suffers, or suffers with him that suffers, or the frame of the world is dissolving.”
Without question, these three hours of darkness, which engulfed the earth from twelve noon until three o’clock in the afternoon, are intended to teach us many things. Let me point out just a few things that are obvious upon the very surface. Certainly, these three hours of darkness are intended to display in the most convincing manner possible God’s abhorrence of sin. When God’s own Son was made to be sin for us, when God the Son was forsaken by God the Father as our Substitute, God turned out all the lights of heaven to show his abhorrence of sin.
The darkness that covered the earth that day was symbolic of the darkness and blindness of divine judgment upon fallen men. When God takes away the light, men cannot see. When God sent blindness upon the Jews, they kept all their religious ceremonialism, religious books, and religious customs; but they have no light to this day.
And this darkness was emblematic of the darkness engulfing our Savior’s soul when he was made sin and endured the wrath of God for us. It was at the end of these three hours of darkness, at three o’clock in the afternoon that our Savior cried out, “My God, my God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” This took place just as the Jews were offering up their daily sacrifice at the very time when the paschal lamb was slain. Both of these were eminent types of Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, whose very soul was engulfed in the darkness of God’s holy wrath and fierce justice.
The Rent Veil
“And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” (v. 38). Both Matthew and Mark were inspired to tell us specifically that the temple’s veil was ripped apart from the top to the bottom, not from the bottom to the top. It did not just wear out at this particular time. God almighty ripped it open!
This was not just a heavy curtain; it was a thick, thick veil, separating the holy of holies from the holy place. It was at least 40 cubits (60 ft.) in length! No one was allowed to go behind this thick, thick veil, except the high priest. He went in only on the day of atonement, and, even then, only with the blood of the paschal lamb. There he sprinkled the blood upon the mercy-seat and made a typical, ceremonial atonement for Israel’s sins.
Can you imagine the shock, the horror which must have seized the emptied-handed priest who was in the temple when this happened? For more than four hundred years the Jewish priests had faked the ordinances of God. Five things that were central to the worship of God in the typical dispensation were never found in the temple at Jerusalem after the Babylonian Captivity: (1.) The Ark of the Covenant, (2.) The Mercy-seat, (3.) The Urim and Thummim — Lights and Perfections, (4.) The Continually Burning Fire on the Altar, and (5.) The Shechinah. All these things find their fulfillment in Christ, who is the great Glory of the House of God. When the veil was rent apart, the exposed hypocrisy of the empty-handed priest in the holy of holies, with no ark and no mercy-seat upon which to sprinkle the blood of the paschal lamb, must have been shocking.
The rending of that veil displayed in the most vivid way possible the complete fulfillment and abolition of the entire Mosaic economy. The law was now totally fulfilled by the Lord Jesus Christ for us. All its types, all its requirements, all its purposes were fulfilled by our Substitute. — “Christ is the end of the law” (Romans 10:4). To try to re-establish the law, the priesthood, altars, sacrifices is nothing short of idolatry. It is an attempt to undo the work of Christ and sew up the ripped veil! Such an evil must not be tolerated.
That veil represented the humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ. When the veil was rent, it meant that the true Paschal Lamb had now been offered and accepted by God for the redemption of his people (Hebrews 9:7-12). When he entered into heaven with his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption for his people, the veil was ripped apart. The God-man’s precious blood opened the way for sinners to come to God (Hebrews 10:12-22).
The Earth Quaked.
Matthew tells us that when the veil of the temple was ripped apart, the earth quaked. “And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent” (Matthew 27:51). This earthquake was a token of God anger, wrath and judgment against the nation of Israel because of their evil works (Amos 8:7-8; Psalms 18:7). And it was an emblem of the shaking and removing of Judaism (Hebrews 12:26-27).
Next, we read in Matthew 27:51 that “the rocks rent.” This rending of the rocks certainly implies the terrible fury of God’s holy wrath. In fact, the Prophet Nahum uses similar expressions to describe God wrath (Nahum 1:5-6). What a warning God gives to sinners with every token of his displeasure! These were special, miraculous tokens of judgment upon the Jewish nation and of judgment to come. But every time God sends an earthquake, tornado, flood, tidal wave, or hurricane, he is warning you of the fury of his wrath!
But the rending of the rocks may also represent something gracious. It may speak of the conversion of God’s elect by the preaching of Christ crucified. As the result of Christ’s death, by the merit of his precious, sin-atoning blood, God the Holy Spirit breaks hard, stony-hearted sinners, takes away the heart of stone, and gives them tender hearts of flesh. John the Baptist once said, “God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matthew 3:9).
Though the hearts of his elect are as hard as an adamant stone (Zechariah 7:12), the Lord God graciously breaks the hard heart with the Savior’s blood and raises up children unto Abraham from Gentile stones Acts 2:37-42).
In Matthew 27:52 we read, “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose.” John Gill wrote, “This was a proof of Christ’s power over death and the grave. By dying, he through death destroyed him that had the power of it, and abolished death itself. He became the plague of death and the destruction of the grave, and took into his hands the keys of hell and death.”
Not only were the graves opened, Matthew tells us that after our Lord’s resurrection there was a miraculous resurrection of many of God’s saints.
“And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.”
We are not told who they are, so I will not guess; but many of the saints came out of their graves in resurrection bodies, just after the Lord Jesus did, walked the streets of Jerusalem, and were seen of many. This, too, was predicted in the Old Testament. It was written in Isaiah 26:19, “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.”
The resurrection of these saints, by virtue of Christ’s atonement, was God’s declaration that atonement was indeed made (Romans 4:25). And these resurrected saints stand as the pledge of our resurrection.
A Miracle of Mercy
I do not know whether the centurion witnessed the resurrection of these saints or not; but there is one more miracle he did witness, by which he was convinced that the crucified Substitute was indeed the Son of God. He witnessed that miracle of mercy described in Luke 23:39-43.
“And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
What a picture that is of God’s rich, free, matchless grace in Christ! Here is a condemned criminal against whom no condemnation can stand, a rebel reconciled to God, a thief transformed into a saint, and a sinner saved by free grace to the soul satisfaction of a dying Savior! This man’s conversion is a picture of ours (Ephesians 2:8-9).
“And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” (John 20:30-31)
Convinced of this one thing am I,
And to the mocking crowd,
With the amazed centurion cry,
“THIS IS THE SON OF GOD!”
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