Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
The evangelist Luke, when telling about the crucifixion, notes a period of darkness, approximately three hours’ worth, followed by the veil in the temple being torn, along with Jesus’ calling out to the Father that he was surrendering into the hands of God. He breathed his last and died. Luke 23:47-48 record the centurion in charge of the death squad being amazed, along with all the crowds. They saw what had happened and they understood it, no doubt better than we possibly can.
I’d like to mention just a few of the surprising factors. First, though both solar and lunar eclipses were understood in antiquity, we have no record of a solar eclipse in or around Palestine in the years surrounding Christ’s death. A solar eclipse doesn’t really last very long, but this period of darkness lasted for several hours. Luke and those he talked with interpreted this as a sign from God, not as any sort of natural phenomenon. Second, the veil of the temple was torn in two. This was a tremendously large piece of cloth-work, dividing the outer court from the very holy place. It would not pull apart easily. There’s no record of anyone actually doing it. The accounts given by the evangelists don’t have contrary evidence, such as letters saying it remained intact. There was no natural phenomenon which could have caused this to happen. Yet it’s reported. Again, the impression the witnesses at the time received, the impression we are to receive, is that God is doing a sign. Third, though Jesus was in the same kind of intense suffering which kills people in crucifixion, he had been talking reasonably about forgiveness just moments before. The process which would normally take several days to kill someone did not kill Jesus. Because people typically die of asphyxiation and dehydration in a crucifixion, they don’t have much of a voice. But he called out with a loud voice, then died. The only reasonable conclusion the centurion could have come to was that Jesus didn’t die of being crucified. He died because he surrendered his life. This would also have been evident to the onlookers.
What do we make of this account? Our reasonable conclusion is that God is doing something he wants us to notice. He is opening the holy place. He is making his work obvious to everyone who knows what time it is and that it is normally light in the middle of the day. He is showing that Jesus, the Christ, does have authority to lay down his life, as he said he did, and that he will presumably have the authority to take up his life again.
The Gospels give very real, believable accounts of real events. They were published early enough that readers and hearers could bring contradictory evidence. They show Jesus speaking and acting like the very God who is giving his life to redeem others. Based on these accounts, we should have the same, very reasonable, response to the events. Indeed, Jesus is innocent, indeed he is the Lord.
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