Friday, April 10, 2020

Good Friday Message - Truly the Son of God

As I was preparing for this Good Friday message and reading the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, I came across a passage that struck a chord in my heart and soul. As I read the story in each of the Gospels, I felt something move in my soul. I began to pray for wisdom and the words to express what I was feeling inside. My mind was awash with thoughts and words and they made no sense. They were more like images that quickly flashed and disappeared. It was like a surprise camera flash that leaves you almost blind at the moment and then, as your sight returns to normal, you see floaters and ghostly images floating in your field of vision. For days and hours, I had these images pop into my mind and quickly disappear. For a while, I thought that I was suffering from some sort of weird symptom of the coronavirus or some other malady.

The image I kept seeing was that of a Roman soldier, specifically an officer standing in front of Jesus as he fought for each breath. Streams of blood running down his face. A huge crown of thorns digging into his flesh. When Jesus gives up his last breath, I hear the Roman officer say, “This man truly was the Son of God!

There are many stories and legends associated with this soldier. In one story, he is given the name, “Longinus”. According to legend, he was a blind centurion who thrusted his spear deep into the side of Christ Jesus. As Jesus’ blood flowed from the wound, a few drops fell upon the soldier and he was healed of his blindness. Later in time, he converted to Christianity. In one version of the story, he helped clean the body of Jesus when it was removed from the cross.

No matter what the story, it still inspires and causes anyone who hears it to stop and think about that moment. During that period, a Roman Caesar was often referred to as “the son of god”. It would have been a major offense to use that same phrase when describing Jesus. A soldier heard uttering those words to describe a Jewish criminal would be tried for treason and possibly put to death on a cross.

 As I read the Synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, I began to imagine myself there at the moment of Jesus’ crucifixion. I could hear the crowds screaming at him as the soldiers carried out their orders to execute the criminals. As I close my eyes, I find myself standing next to this Roman officer who is probably in charge of the detail. His men are very well trained and know exactly what they are to do. They have probably carried out similar orders many times before and really never gave them much thought. For them, it was just another execution to carry out.

But, something happened inside one of them. He heard the crowds crying out for the blood of the Nazarene. He saw people shaking their fists at him and spitting on him. Some probably ran up to Jesus as the soldiers prepared to nail him to the cross to slap or strike him. Each blow was just another insult.

I am sure the officer began to wonder why this execution was so much different than the others. In the past, no one cared much or even showed that much attention or emotion to the others that he had executed. He tried to push the thoughts out of his head by giving orders and reading the decree regarding the execution. He could see some of the local Jewish officials pushing their way through the crowd to get a better view of the proceedings.

As each step of the process is completed, he feels something going on in his gut and chest. There is a tightness in his chest. He feels very uneasy. His hand clutches the pummel of his sword. Something doesn’t feel right to him. The officer is no stranger to this uneasy feeling. It feels like someone is watching him. He looks all around to see who is looking at him. But, everyone seems preoccupied with other things. No one is looking at him or, at least, that is what he thinks.

Finally, the moment arrives. Jesus’ cross and the crosses of the other two criminals are lifted into place. The soldier thinks to himself that all of this will be over in a few short hours and things will just go back to normal. Hour after hour passes and his uneasiness seems to get worse. I watch him pace back and forth like a caged animal waiting for some anticipated moment to occur.

In order to hurry things along, he finally decides enough is enough. The Nazarene just needs to die so that things can return back to normal. He takes a spear from one of his soldiers and thrusts it into the side of Jesus. He thinks to himself that the Jew will surely die quickly, but, more important, that feeling he has will end quickly enough as well. 

The officer’s feelings get worse and they begin to stir themselves into a frenzy. Just as the feelings reach their height, something happens. He looks up and realizes he is beholding his Savior and Lord. At that moment, he recognizes that Jesus was, is and will always remain the Son of God.

Although this story is fictionalized and huge liberties were taken with the narrative, that moment is the same for all Christians. We try for so long to deny the conviction and feeling in our hearts and the stirrings of our souls. We fight those feelings and stirrings tooth and nail every step of the way. We go as far as to ridicule him and even push him away, but he doesn’t leave us. Then, finally, one moment, we stop and look up and, just like the Roman officer, we see our Savior and realize what he did for us out of love on that cross, the emblem of suffering and shame.

The legend of Longinus tells a story of a Roman soldier who became a Christian and devoted his life to living the teachings of his Savior, Christ Jesus. There are no accurate stories of how he continued to serve in God’s kingdom, but I know that he served with humility and love, the same love and humility that he witnessed on a hill just outside Jerusalem by a man who people rejected.

I ask you to think about the man and the moment of his salvation. Realize that you, like him, fought hard to reject the teachings and love of a humble man who was truly the Son of God. Go and tell your story to others and help them to stand firm in His grace.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

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