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. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” Luke 23:44-47
Every time I read this short passage, I am amazed by the extraordinary things that happened. Let’s look at each one.
First, “the sixth hour.” Jewish hours at that time reckoned from sunrise to sunset, from about 6am to 6 pm. So the sixth hour would have been around noon. Imagine the alarm a sudden darkness at the height of day might have caused. The people in Jerusalem, going to the market, the temple, their daily routine. Suddenly, they are plunged into darkness! What emotions did they feel? Terror, panic, confusion I’m sure. Then on top of that, it lasted for THREE HOURS! And what about the people not in Jerusalem? Those in the city might be aware of the scene at Golgotha and the events leading up to this hour, but the rest of the country would have had no clue. After all, there were no cellphones or internet to disseminate the news.
Next, let’s talk about the curtain of the temple. This was a massive piece of woven fabric. According to some sources, it was probably at least an inch thick. “The size and thickness of the curtain ensured that no one would accidentally fall into the Holy of Holies as the veil was 60 feet long, 30 feet wide, and was about one inch thick and was so massive and heavy that it took 300 priests to manipulate it so there was no way that someone could inadvertently trip and stumble into the Holy of Holies and subsequently die as a result.” If you have ever tried to rip a piece of fabric, you know that it is hard to do this without assistance. And most fabric is not an inch thick! Plus it was 30 feet wide (or high). What human being could get up 30 feet in the air, in the inner room of the temple, and rip an inch-thick piece of cloth from the top to the bottom? Not anyone I know!
Yet another extraordinary event occurred: In Matthew 27, we read “The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” Dead men walking around?! Can you imagine the confusion, maybe fear, that was felt by those who saw these who were dead wandering around the city? For myself, I probably would have been frozen in place,especially if I saw someone I had loved and who had died. Remember, Jesus had not risen from the grave – that is three days away – he had only died. Yet His power over death was such that the dead were raised back to life.
Lastly, the centurion. A Roman centurion was “A centurion was a professional officer of the Roman army after the Marian reforms of 107 BC. Most centurions commanded groups of centuries of around 100 legionaries, but senior centurions commanded cohorts or took senior staff roles in their legion. Centurions were also found in the Roman navy. Wikipedia” They were professional, experienced and valiant. (Ancient History Encyclopedia) They were responsible for overseeing such executions as this one. Battle-hardened men. But now this man, this professional soldier, is moved beyond his own experience, and praises God. He even declares that this man he just executed is the Son of God. Not what you would expect from a pagan warrior!
But what does this all mean for us? First, they should make us stop and think. These are not naturally occurring incidents. Heavy tapestries do not rip by from the top by themselves. The sun does not darken for three hours by itself. Dead people do not come to life by themselves. Unbelieving, war-hardened men do not call someone God by themselves. By themselves. That is the key phrase here. No, they don’t happen on their own, BUT they happened in response to something. You see, even nature knows the identity of the one who died: “…I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40 ESV) The dead do not come to life on their own, but the power of Jesus can raise them. After all, He called Lazarus, the widow’s son, and Jairus’ daughter back to life. And, since the temple curtain was a symbol of the separation between sinful men and a holy God, only God could remove that barrier, and opening the way for us to come to God, THROUGH Jesus’ death on the cross.
So ultimately, from each one of us, a response is required. We need to consider these things, and ask ourselves how we will choose to view these events. Do we choose to ignore or dismiss them? We are free to do so, but then we choose to lose the gift that Jesus will offer three days hence – eternal life. Or do we, like the centurion, stand in awe of the power, mercy, and grace of God, and say “Surely, this is the Son of God.”
The tomb is empty!