The Man on the Center Cross

Why was this one different than all the rest? He had been in this position before . . . standing before those condemned to die . . . witnessing many a man’s last breath as the weight of the cross won over their natural desire to take one more breath. So why was was this death so life-changing for him?

And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed His last . . . And when the centurion, who stood facing Him, saw that in this way He breathed His last, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!”    (Mark 15:37, 39 ESV)

I’ve been taught that the Romans had crucifixion down to a science. That they had mastered the technique of taking someone’s life in such a way that, not only was it exacting judgment on the condemned party, but it also acted as a vivid warning to any who would get on the wrong side of Roman law. It was the consummate object lesson of Rome’s iron-fisted control over those who would transgress the ways of Caesar. All the power in the hands of the executioners . . . none in the feeble attempts of those condemned to hold on to life. But there was something different that day about the Man on the center cross.

First, even in His suffering there was a caring consciousness about the Man, even as He hung there amidst the callous unconcern of His executioners. The centurion standing there had overheard the conversation between the King and the thief. Even in His own anguish and what should have been hopelessness, He assured the one who truly was a criminal, that “Today, you will be with Me in paradise.” How could He have been so sure? How could He be so composed as to show such concern and compassion for a sinner condemned justly to death? But that’s exactly what the Man on the center cross did.

What’s more, though His suffering was no less than others who had died a similar death, as the centurion faced Jesus of Nazareth, he sensed that something more was going on. The suffering of this Man seemed to extend beyond the physical trauma He endured, but there was a dimension to His suffering that transcended hanging on that tree. Certainly, never had the sky gone black as it had for those three hours of darkness. And just before the light returned the One called by some the King of the Jews cried with a loud voice, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” The Roman guard didn’t know what had happened during those three hours of darkness, but whatever it was, it seemed to be focused on the Man on the center cross.

And then, there was the sense of control Jesus commanded amidst the chaos His body was experiencing. Never had this soldier before seen one who seemed to permit death its victory . . . as if, He knew it would be but a temporary victory. As the centurion stood facing Him, he heard Him cry, “It is finished!” What had finished? What had just been accomplished? He didn’t doubt that something had just been concluded, but what was it? And then, the manner in which Jesus passed from life to death . . . calling out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit!” . . . then bowing His head . . . breathing His last as if it was He who determined it should be His last. Strictly speaking it was too early for Him to have expired . . . the process was designed to last longer . . . but it was if His spirit departed at just the time He determined it should depart. Such was the never-before-witnessed-by-the-centurion death of the Man on the center cross.

And what do you say when you’ve seen something you’ve never seen? How do you make sense of a death unlike any other death you’ve witnessed? When the centurion saw the manner in which Jesus breathed His last, he could only conclude one thing, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

The Man on the center cross . . . the Son of God . . . bearing my sin . . . taking upon Himself the wrath I deserved . . . defeating death . . . making the way of salvation.

To Him be glory now and forevermore! Amen!

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