Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 23:44-49 – The Death Of The Innocent One

Grace For The Journey

We are continuing our series of studies in the Gospel of Luke entitled, “Certainty in Uncertain Times.”  Luke has attempted to write an orderly account of the life and death of Jesus so that his readers may be certain of the things they have heard.  We are slowly inching towards the end of Luke’s account.  Now we are at the pinnacle of the life of Jesus – His crucifixion.  As we reflect upon our study of Luke thus far, we will recall the repeated declaration of Jesus’ innocence.

  • Luke 23:4 – “Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, ‘I find no guilt in this man.’”
  • Luke 23:14-15 – “And [Pilate] said to them, ‘You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and behold, having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him.  No, nor has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; and behold, nothing deserving death has been done by Him.’”
  • Luke 23:22 – “And he said to them the third time, ‘Why, what evil has this man done?  I have found in Him no guilt demanding death; therefore I will punish Him and release Him.’”

Despite the fact that Jesus was never declared guilty of anything, the Jewish leaders persuaded Pilate and the people to crucify Jesus.

Even when Pilate presented an opportunity to have Jesus released, the Jewish leaders called for a convicted criminal to be released instead.  We read in Luke 23:18-23, “But they cried out all together, saying, ‘Away with this man, and release for us Barabbas!’  (He was one who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection made in the city, and for murder.)  Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again, but they kept on calling out, saying, ‘Crucify, crucify Him!’  And he said to them the third time, ‘Why, what evil has this man done? I have found in Him no guilt demanding death; therefore I will punish Him and release Him.’  But they were insistent, with loud voices asking that He be crucified. And their voices began to prevail.”  At the command of Pilate, they led Jesus to Golgotha to be crucified along with two criminals.

While Jesus is on the cross one criminal asked Jesus to remember him, while the other questioned why Jesus does not save Himself. 

This leads us to our text this morning.  Throughout the book of Luke, and particularly in the last two chapters we have studied, Luke has sought to show the innocence of Jesus.  Our passage this morning is the crowning moment of Luke’s emphasis on Jesus’ innocence. 

In addition to the clear theme of the innocence of Jesus, we also see explicit evidence of God’s controlling hand at this moment.  We are taking our time throughout the end of Luke.  This morning we are studying the crucifixion and death of Jesus.  We will look at three reactions that came from the crucifixion and death of Jesus, the Innocent One.

Creation mourns the death of the Innocent One (vv. 44-46)

We see right away in verses 44 and 45 that this event is marked by a striking sign – darkness over all the earth, “Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.  Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two.”  In case you are curious what time that would have been, according to the Jewish time keeping system it would have been 12 PM to 3 PM.

There was darkness over the land for three solid hours. That is a big deal.  Obviously, it is not normally dark in our state from 12 to 3 PM. It would not have been normal for Jerusalem either.  Some have attempted to explain this darkness as a solar eclipse. That attempt is silly.  Remember, this is happening during the Jewish Passover.  The Passover took place during the full moon phase.  I am told that an eclipse during the full moon phase is impossible.

Instead, we can explain this darkness as evidence that God is fully aware of what is happening.  In Scripture when darkness covers the earth it is usually a sign of an eschatological event or the judgment of God.  In any case, we can be sure that this darkness is not a good thing. Rather, it is a sign that God is not pleased with the events taking place.

God is still absolutely 100% in control at this time, and He shows it by His creation crying out through darkness covering the Earth.

Next, in the latter part of verse 45, we are told that the temple veil, or curtain, is torn in two.  This does not mean that someone tore the veil as if one of Jesus’ followers were there tearing the temple veil.  Rather, it means that God Himself tore the veil.  Most biblical scholars agree that this veil or curtain was the one that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place.  The Holy Place would have been the place where only the high priest was allowed to go and intercede with God on behalf of the people.

The symbolism of the tearing

Of this veil is no small matter.

This would have been a catastrophic event for devout Jewish worshipers.  For centuries they worshipped God in this matter. They were never allowed to be in His presence.  This is in effect breaking down the barrier between God and man.  We will look more into this truth toward the end of our study.

Finally, we see Jesus exercise dominion over God’s creation and human life itself by willingly yielding His life at His appointed time.  Verse 46 tells us, “And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, ‘Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’  Having said this, He breathed His last.”  Jesus was not blind-sided by His death.  He was in control.  He laid down His life under His own control.  This statement not only shows Jesus giving Himself to God, but it shows Jesus’ humble obedience to the Father.  Some of the other Gospels give a more detailed account of the horrific nature of the crucifixion.  Luke, however, focuses on Jesus’ innocence and His obedience to the will of God.

Normally crucifixion was a slow death.  However, Jesus simply gave His life up willingly to the Father.  The phrase “Into your hands I commit my spirit” is a quote from Psalm 31:5.  This moment was foretold long ago.  Jesus was in control.  He willingly gave His life on the cross.  Not only did creation respond to the death of Jesus, but the people did also.  In verses 47-49 we see that the people are moved by the death of the Innocent One, “So when the centurion saw what had happened, he glorified God, saying, ‘Certainly this was a righteous Man!’  And the whole crowd who came together to that sight, seeing what had been done, beat their breasts and returned.  But all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”

We see three different perspectives to the death of Jesus in these verses . . .

1) We See The Reaction Of The Centurion.

A centurion was a Roman officer with leadership over 100 soldiers.  He probably would have witnessed most of the events leading up to this point.  At the least, we know that he witnessed Jesus’ interaction with His enemies, His interaction with the two criminals, His brutal crucifixion, His prayer to the Father, the darkness over the earth, and the death of the Son of God. 

The centurion says, “Certainly this was a righteous man.”  Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospel report the centurion saying, “Certainly this man was the Son of God.”  Luke, however, uses “righteous” or “innocent.”  This fits with his theme of showing the innocence of Jesus.  This is certainly not a problem or contradiction between the Gospels.  Rather these are complimentary accounts that lead us to the same point . . .

That Jesus is who

He claimed to be,

The innocent,

Righteous,

Son of God.

If there was any doubt left that Jesus was innocent, the Roman centurion lays that to rest in verse 47.

2) We See The Response Of The People In The Crowd.

Luke tells his readers that those in the crowd “beat their breasts.”  There are a few verses in the Bible that speak about people beating their breasts. 

  • In Nahum 2:7 and Isaiah 32:12-13 we are told this was a sign of grief or pain. 
  • In Luke 18:13 the tax collector beat his breast while praying to God which was a sign of contrition or repentance.

The reason for the crowd beating their chests was probably some of both.  They were probably feeling grief, guilt, contrition, humiliation, and confusion.  They were probably absolutely overwhelmed with emotion as they witnessed the death of the Righteous One.

Remember, just hours before, the crowd was responding in quite a different way toward Jesus. 

  • Luke 23:35 tells us that the rulers sneered at Him.
  • Luke 23:36 tells us that the soldiers mocked Him.
  • Luke 22, Mark 15, and John 19 tell us that they struck Him. 
  • Mark and John add that they also mockingly bowed down and worshipped Him.
  • Luke 23:21 tells us that when Pilate asked what he should do with Jesus, the entire crowd shouted, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!”

There is no reason for us to think that all of these people automatically accepted Jesus as the Son of God and the one Savior of the Universe.   However, something changed in their minds that day about Jesus.  They were horrified at what they had done to this Innocent Man.

We also see that that Jesus’ acquaintances and the women who followed Him stood at a distance watching these things.  Luke doesn’t tell us exactly what Jesus’ followers are thinking or feeling.  We can be sure that they were horrified, confused, heart-broken, and scared.  This is not what they expected of their coming Messiah.

This would have caused His followers to take a long hard look at the life and death of Jesus and try to make sense of it all.  They expected a conquering Messiah.  One who would bring power to the Jewish people, establish justice and truth, and bring God’s kingdom to earth.  As Jesus neared the end of His life, He repeatedly showed that this was not the kind of Messiah that He was to be.  However, no one expected it to end like this.  I am sure His followers were absolutely devastated.

So, here we are.  Everything that Jesus had lived for, His 33 years of life, His three years of ministry, His miracles, His sparring with the religious elite, His brilliant answers to His objectors, His innocent perfection comes down to this moment; and, His death on a cross.

The death of the Innocent One not only caused creation to mourn, it not only moved the people that were there, but . . .

3) It Changed Mankind Forever.

We see in verses 47-49 that humanity is changed by the death of the Innocent One.  Not only were the people that were present at the crucifixion changed, but everything about human civilization is now changed. 

The door that leads to a

Relationship with God

Will soon be wide open.

The tearing of the veil in the temple was a clear sign that now mankind is able to approach the throne of God. 

When that veil tore, it signified that Jesus’ death was the perfect sacrifice, and that He was the Perfect High Priest.  Hebrews 9:11-14 describes it for us, “But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.  Not with the blood of goats and calves, bit with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once and for all, having obtained eternal redemption.  For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to god, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”

These verses tell us that Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come.  He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world.  With his own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.  Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity.  Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God.  For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered Himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins.

In Hebrews 10:19-22 the Bible tells us, “Therefore, brethren, having boldeness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the vail, that is His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

These verses tell us that we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus.  By His death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place.  Since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting Him and what He did upon the cross and the empty tomb.  For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

Listen to the lyrics of one of my favorite modern worship songs:

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea:
A great High Priest, whose name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.

My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart;
I know that while in heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look, and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin.

Because the sinless Savior died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
To look on Him and pardon me

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Praise the One,
Risen Son of God!

Behold Him there, the Risen Lamb
My perfect, spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I am,
The King of glory and of grace!

One with Himself I cannot die
My soul is purchased by His blood
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ, my Savior and my God
With Christ, my Savior and my God1

The death of Jesus Christ changes everything.  It is part of the key moment in the history of human civilization.  Ever since the creation of our planet, God was pointing mankind to this moment.  Since the death of Jesus, people have looked back to that moment as a sign of God’s grace to the world.

No event in the history of mankind

Has been so monumental.

I  am so glad that there is more to the story!  Jesus did not stay dead, but He conquered death and rose from the grave.  He appeared to over 500 people.  He promised that He would return one day.  Finally, He ascended into Heaven and sent us the Holy Spirit.

Jesus offers us the opportunity to be saved from the punishment that we deserve for our sins because He paid a punishment that He did not deserve.  We are guilty, He is innocent.

The Bible says in 1 Peter 3:18a, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.”  Just as the blood of animals was shed by the high priest in the most holy place in the temple, so also Jesus shed His blood for the atonement, or payment, of our sins.  The Bible tells us in Hebrews 9:22b, “For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.”

 Creation mourned the death of the Innocent One, the people were moved by the death of the Innocent One, and humanity was changed forever by the death of the Innocent One.

I challenge you to take a look at the death of Jesus.  What do you make of it?  Is this simply a myth?  Is it a terrible tragedy?  Or, is it part of God’s plan to bring redemption to a world of sinners who desperately need it?

Robert Stein, a biblical scholar, says, “What was taking place was not simply the death of an innocent Jew by crucifixion.  It was not just the death of a righteous prophet.  It was far, far more.  This was the death of God’s Son by which He is able today to be the Savior of the world.”

I mentioned earlier that Jesus’ followers did not know what was going on at the death of Jesus.  We, however, are blessed with the ability to look back knowing the significance of Jesus’ death.  God has revealed to us through His Word that there is only one way for us to be made right with Him, and that is through Jesus Christ.  If you have not taken a hard look at Jesus, I urge you to do so now.

The Bible says in 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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