When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
The evidence was in. The verdict was obvious. “God must die!”
Not in the chambers of the Sanhedrin was the decision made. Not in the courtroom of the Roman governor. And surely, not on the streets of Jerusalem.
The verdict was delivered in the vault of heaven before time began. The Holy One, himself, decreed: “God must die!”
Our puny minds cannot penetrate the mystery of the Godhead. We cannot wrap our heads around the concept of eternity. All we can do is look in with wonder as events unfold.
We are permitted to look in at Christmas Eve through the eyes of shepherds who were keeping watch over their flocks by night. On Good Friday, we look through the eyes of a squad of soldiers who were keeping watch over an execution. The shepherds saw a vision of glory. The soldiers saw only gore.
Rome was the superpower of the time. On the day when darkness came at noon, some of her troops were stationed in the pitiful province of Judea.
At least four of them, with a centurion in charge, were ordered to carry out three executions.
They had no idea how far up the chain-of-command the order had originated.
Humans wanted the man, Jesus of Nazareth, killed. They did not recognize that Jesus was also God, even though this was his claim.
Actually, that is the one charge that stuck. Before Pilate, the Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God” (John 19:7).
In fact, he was the Son of God.
He had said: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?” (John 14:9,10)
Jesus is God! Scripture reveals that. We confess that: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God…God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father” (Nicene Creed).
In fact, he was also human.
This we confess with the words: “For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and became fully human” ( Nicene Creed).
Otherwise, there was no hope for us. “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one’” (Romans 3:10). We sin. The penalty is clear: “For the wages of sin is death…”
So, it was decided: “God must die!”
The Second Person of the Trinity would become human. He would die to meet the demands of justice. We hear: “For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering” (Romans 8:3).
Thus, the follow-up announcement: “…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
His death for our life. It’s the Great Exchange.
Roman soldiers saw it happen. The centurion knew what he saw: “Surely he was the Son of God!” The sentence was carried out.
“God must die!”
And he did.
Christ, the Life of all the living, Christ, the Death of death, our foe.
Who thyself for me once giving to the darkest depths of woe—
Through thy sufferings, death, and merit I eternal life inherit.
Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,
Dearest Jesus unto thee. Amen.
(Christian Worship 114:1)
Written by Rev. Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Belle Plaine, Minnesota.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. Note: Scripture reading footnotes are clickable only in the web version.