Scripture: Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things. Luke 23:47-49 ESV
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Observation: Recapping Yesterday’s Daily Focus, Jesus, hanging in agony on his cross, is flanked by two criminals who were likely partners in crime with Barabas. Matthew tells us that both initially deride Jesus. Still, as time passes and they hear Jesus pray to the Father to forgive all who sought his death (v.34) while remaining silent to the taunts (vv.35-36), one of the criminals comes under conviction and rebukes the other, who continues to ridicule Jesus. The repentant man challenges his partner in crime to consider that they are receiving due justice and insists that “this man has done nothing wrong” (v.41). He then turns and asks Jesus to remember him when Jesus enters his kingdom. And true to his Gospel message proclaimed these last three years, Jesus promises the repentant man that he will be present with Jesus in paradise (his heavenly kingdom).
Today’s devotion picks up after Jesus breathed his last and commended his spirit to his Father. While Matthew and Mark also record this incident, both chronicle the centurion declaring Jesus is the Son of God (Matthew 27:54 and Mark 15:39). Luke, however, omits the centurion acknowledging Jesus’ sonship. Instead, he records the centurion praising God and contending Jesus’ innocence. And only Luke tells us the crowds dispersed, beating their breasts—a sign of grief.
Takeaway: The Greek word Luke uses in this text is dikaios, meaning either “innocent” or “righteous.” Either meaning is fitting for the Son of God, for the innocent Messiah is also righteous. But its first meaning better aligns with his trial and sentencing context. Indeed, the centurion is the fourth person in chapter 23 to declare Jesus’ innocence, along with Pilate, Herod, and the repentant criminal on the cross. As such, the centurion joins the others in providing the required testimony of two witnesses to establish legal innocence according to Jewish law (see Deuteronomy 19:15). Luke will echo this fact in the second volume of Christ’s church: Acts 3:14; 7:52; 13:28; 22:14.
Our takeaway? This passage confronts all of us regarding how we would respond under the same scenario. Pilate and Herod were bemused by Jesus’ humility and thus expediently declared his innocence as a wrongly accused man who posed no threat to their governing rule. The repentant criminal felt hopeful: he saw Jesus as the Messiah possessing the authority to bring salvation to those seeking him. The grieved crowd realized Jesus was innocent and felt compunction for their sinful part. The women who followed Jesus, and other acquaintances who knew he was innocent, felt helpless and stood afar in disbelief. Lastly, the centurion, who carefully observed all that occurred in Jesus’ last hours, also believed that Jesus was innocent but responded with praise to the Jewish God.
So what is our response? For many of us, our faith journey entails a little of each’s response. We may initially be intrigued by the Gospel story of Christ but unconvinced of its veracity. But as the Holy Spirit presses in on us and convicts us of our sins that nailed Jesus to his cross, we, like the crowd, may initially despair over our guilt. However, in due time, like the crucified criminal, the Holy Spirit will deepen our understanding of Christ’s grace that covers all our sins. Still, as we follow Jesus, there will be times when we stand far away in disbelief at how quickly circumstances have spiraled downward. But suppose we, like the centurion, keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Then, no matter the twists and turns, his Holy Spirit will move us to praise the Son of God and declare that he who knew no sin (who was innocent) became sin for us so that we might inherit his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). That’s our best vantage point that will see us through all the unexpected setbacks.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, who, being innocent and righteous, traded places with us so that we who are not innocent might inherit his righteousness. We confess, however, that we are prone to lose sight of Christ’s excruciating substitutionary death—particularly when life does not go our way. So would you please help us to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead in being more observant of Christ working in our midst: redeeming suffering and transforming hearts—starting with ours? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling