Testimony of the Death of Christ (Luke 23:44-49)

      Pastor John Newton truly believed what he wrote in 1779, “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I am found, was blind but now I see.” Shortly before his death in 1807, Newton told a visiting friend, “My memory is nearly gone but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior.” There are many things that we will forget in our lifetime, but we must never forget those twin truths that we are great sinners and Christ is a great Savior. John Newton wanted the world to always remember his testimony so he wrote this to be inscribed on his tombstone,

Once an Infidel and Libertine, A Servant of Slaves in Africa,Was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour JESUS CHRIST, Preserved, restored and pardoned, And appointed to preach the faith, He had long laboured to destroy.

Due to the rich mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ, John Newton was transformed from an infidel, slave trader to a preacher of the gospel of grace.  How we understand the death of Jesus Christ will have a dramatic impact on our lives. Tonight, let us look at four testimonies about the Death of Jesus Christ so that we may never forget of our great sin and our great Savior.

The Creation Testifies to the Death of Christ

      As Jesus hung on the cross, creation testified to his death by bringing darkness upon the land. Luke 23:44-45a, “It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed.” The sixth hour to the ninth hour would have been 12 pm to 3 pm. This would be a very unlikely time for darkness to cover the earth. This darkness was not coincidence, but rather a divine act of God confirming his judgment against sin. Amos 8:9, “‘And on that day,’ declares the Lord God, ‘I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on every waist and baldness on every heard; I will make it like the mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day.’” Creation testifies to the judgment that fell upon the Son of God in his death. 

      Jesus was experiencing the judgment that we rightly deserved. He was being judged in our place bearing the wrath of God against the sinful rebellion of his people. This was not a natural solar eclipse, but a supernatural act where creation is testifying to the displeasure of God in the crucifixion of the only Son and God’s hatred of sin. We have all experienced physical effects caused by emotional issues. Whether it is anxiety or guilt, the physical effects are a sign that something is wrong. The darkness that fell upon the land was a physical effect as a sign that something was wrong. That darkness should always be a reminder to us of God’s hatred towards sin, but also a reminder that the night comes before the morning as the refrain from Genesis 1, “there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”  The darkness comes so we can appreciate the light. 

The Creator Testifies to the Death of Christ

      After the whole land went dark and God judged Jesus for sin, Luke announces one of the greatest sentences in history, “And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.” This may not seem like an earth shattering statement, but it is beautiful.  God’s presence always dwelt in the temple.  The temple was built as a sanctuary for the Lord. Specifically, God’s presence was manifested in the Holy of Holies. No one was able to enter the Holy of Holies except for the chief priest and he was only able to enter once a year on the Day of Atonement. There was a separation of God from the people. In Exodus, God said to Moses, “‘But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.’”(Exodus 33:20) The curtain of the temple represented how God was inaccessible to the people.

      As Jesus took God’s wrath on the cross, the curtain was torn in two. God is testifying to the world that through the death of his Son the world now has access to Him. Jesus Christ has reconciled the world to God by making peace through the blood of the cross. Man no longer needs to go to the temple to worship, but now God is looking for worshipers in spirit and in truth. The tearing of the curtain ended the worship in the temple because Jesus Christ had fulfilled the law by being obedient unto death. Beloved, we now have access through Jesus Christ. The torn curtain was God’s declaration that we can come to Him through Christ.

       I have always viewed the curtain being torn from man’s perspective. I will never forget first hearing of the torn temple curtain sitting in Anne Horsfall’s living room while my friend and mentor, Coach Pic, told us that we could have access to God through Jesus Christ. It was Easter weekend and it was one of the very first times I felt the Holy Spirit descend upon a room.  There was a weightiness of God’s glory in that room. I have always thought of this from my perspective, “I now can have access to God,” but only this past week have I viewed it from God’s perspective. God no longer is bound to the temple, but he has torn to the curtain so that He could have access to all people. God is pictured as coming out of his temple to reach out to all people.[1] God did not just open the door so I could come in, but He opened the door and then came to get me to bring me to Him. It is far more than just opening the door.  Jesus death represents the ultimate opening up of the way to God as he came to seek and save that which was lost.  God testified that through death of Christ, we have access to Him and He has access to us.

      Jesus remains in control to the very end. Jesus said in John 10:18, “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down on my own accord.”  We see that true here as Jesus gave up his spirit. Luke 46, “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this breathed his last.” The last words upon our Lord’s lips were a direct quote from Psalm 31. Psalm 31 was written for God to deliver the righteous sufferer. Jesus is testifying to his righteous perfection and his faith in God to deliver him from death. Psalm 31:5, “Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” Jesus placed his spirit into the faithful hands of God and in three days God would redeem Him from death.

      In death, Jesus placed his faith in the coming resurrection.  Beloved, this must be where we place our faith in death. Jesus entrusted his soul to God so you must entrust your soul to God.

The Centurion Testifies to the Death of Christ

            The Roman Centurion, who witnessed how Jesus was valiant and faithful unto to death, praised God and confessed his innocence. Luke 23:47, “Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” Luke has been highlighting Christ’s innocence over the last several chapters. Luke wanted Jesus’ righteousness and moral perfection to be clear to the reader. By the time Luke had been written there had been many stories going around about Jesus. There were people who testified, like the Pharisees did, that he was a rebel and stirred people up to violence.  Luke wanted his audience, the most excellent Theophilus, to see that nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus Christ was the Righteous One who suffered in the place of the unrighteous as 1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” This centurion saw the trust and hope that Jesus had in God and testified to the truth that Jesus was the innocent, Righteous One. Mark records him as saying, “Truly, this man was the Son of God.” This Roman soldier praised God and testified to the truth as he watched how Jesus died.

In 320 AD, another Roman soldier was impacted as he watched disciples of Christ entrust themselves to God in death. Emperor Licinius sent out an edict that all soldiers had to send out all of the soldiers had to make sacrifices to pagan God. The Roman 12th legion of Imperial Army had a choice, they could either bow to the edict of man or entrust their souls to Jesus.  These 40 soldiers replied, “You can have our armor and even our bodies, but our hearts' allegiance belongs to Jesus Christ.”

The General and the Emperor made repeated pleas with the men to renounce Christ. They first tried prison, but the men were staunch their trust in Jesus.  Finally, the Captain decided they had enough time and their defiance of the emperor had to be punished in death. It was the middle of winter and the men were marched to a nearby frozen lake outside Sebaste. The Captain stripped these 40 men of their clothes giving them the choice to freeze to death or renounce Christ. Every man disrobed exposing their bodies to the frigid temperatures. They held onto to one another singing their victory song they had wrote during their imprisonment, "Forty martyrs for Christ."

          These men believed that it was important for all 40 men to remain faithful as forty was a number of testing, Israel was tested for 40 years in the wilderness and Jesus was test for 40 days in the desert. They knew they this was their time of testing and wanted to be proven faithful. This prayer was heard by the Roman guard as these men stood together on the frozen lake, “Lord, we are forty who are engaged in this combat; grant that we may be forty crowned, and that not one be wanting to this sacred number.”

      Men slowly started to succumb to the elements. In the middle of the night, one of the 40, fell to his flesh, losing courage stumbled to the shore and renounced Christ. The Lord heard their prayer and answered their plea for one of the Roman soldiers who watched these men die with such courage and faith. He heard their prayer. He heard them joyfully sing. Their faith caused him to repent and to give his life to Christ. This new Christian disrobed and walked onto the frozen lake. It has been recorded that as he ran out to the lake, he shouted, “There are still 40!! There are still 40!! He died with his brothers ensuring that not one would be wanting from the sacred number.

      Beloved, Jesus Christ died so others may live. We are called to die so that others may live. Jesus was innocent and suffered unjustly, but continued to put his faith in God. We are called to follow his example. We are called to live righteous lives and may be called to suffer unjustly. Saints throughout history have suffered unjustly at the hands of the world. Eleven of the twelve apostles were killed for their faith in Jesus. Paul was beheaded for his faith. Early church father Tertullian wrote, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. We cannot avoid persecution, but we can hold fast to Christ.

      We live to carry the testimony of Jesus death with us every day so that others would experience his life. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12,

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Jesus’ death was not only our atoning sacrifice, but also our example to follow. We live with hope in the midst of suffering so that others will have life. Is that you? Do you rejoice in your sufferings so others can see Christ? Beloved, it is a privilege to believe in Christ and a privilege to suffer for him. If we are poured out for the sacrifice and service of others, we should be glad and rejoice. Jesus’ suffering was not in vain, but it leads us to eternal hope and reconciled us to God. Our suffering is not in vain for it leads others to the eternal hope in Christ and reconciliation with God. Carry the testimony of Jesus death with you every day so others may see Christ in you.

The Crowd Testifies to the Death of Christ

      It became evident not only to the soldier that Jesus was the Righteous One, but to the crowd as well. Luke continues,

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 23:48-49)

We do not know the exact thoughts of the crowd, but we can see that they realized that Jesus death was different.

The crowd probably were second guessing their pleas to have Jesus crucified. Luke says the crowd returned home, “beating their breasts.” This is a sign of mourning. Luke uses the same language in the parable Pharisee and the Tax Collector in the tax collector’s plea for mercy.  Luke 18:13, “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’” The death of Jesus affected the crowd. They were mourning his death showing that they did not believe that he deserved to die with the two men that hung to his right and left.

The crowd had changed their tune. They witnessed the death of Christ and were deeply affected by it. The death of Christ demands a response. Peter stood up at the day of Pentecost and testified to this death,

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:36-38)

We are to know for certain that God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ. We like the crowd who witnessed his death and the crowd who heard of his death, should be cut to the heart knowing that Jesus died for us. It was our sin that nailed him to the cross. It was our transgression that had to be punished.

 Does the death of Christ still affect you? We must pray that we never get over the death of Christ. We must pray that we will be like John Newton that at the end of our lives, if we can remember nothing else, we will remember that we are great sinners and Christ is a great Savior. Our sin led Christ to the cross, but His love for us kept him on the cross.

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Our shame, not in part, but the whole is nailed to the cross. Our guilt, not in part, but the whole is nailed to the cross. Our condemnation, not in part, but the whole is nailed to the cross. Our evil, not in part, but the whole is nailed to the cross.

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

Do not despair, Christ died for the ungodly.

      Creation testified to the death of Christ. The centurion testified to the death of Christ. The crowd testified to the death of Christ. How will you testify to the death of Christ? What will his death mean for you? Will his death mean your salvation or your condemnation? Beloved, we are great sinners, and we need a great Savior!! Let your life testify to death of Christ. Let us always carry in our bodies the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in us. Let His death be at work in us so that life may be at work in others.

[1] Bock, D.L. (1996) Luke 9:51-Luke24:53 (Vol 2). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.