Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son” (Mark 15:37-39).
Watersheds are marvelous demonstrations of the laws of gravity and hydrology. Clouds touch the earth on mountain peaks and ridges depositing their gifts of rain and snow. The runoff pours down the rock and soil in a direction that depends on the incline of the upthrust earth.
If I stand beside a waterfall on the west slope of the Great Smoky Mountains, I know that the water will make its way down the rivers that will discharge into the Gulf of Mexico. A spring up-welling a few feet away on the east slope will send its waters down across the Piedmont and into the Atlantic.
As I write this, I am looking at the ridge line of the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California. The waters of the Santa Ana River tumble down the west slopes headed for the Pacific Coast. The waters of the Whitewater River rising a few miles east will enter the lower Colorado Desert and will empty into the Salton Sea in wet years.
Life thrives or is impossible to sustain depending on where the water flows. One can enjoy a lush rainforest on a west-facing slope and a dry desert in the empty rain shadow of an east-facing slope.
There is a phrase “watershed event” to describe an occurrence that has far-reaching and permanent consequences. Just as the snow-pack in the Sierra Nevada determines the reliability of water in kitchen taps in Los Angeles 400 miles away, so choices of relationships, school, and jobs as well as accidents or illnesses can impact our lives far into the future.
The crucifixion of Jesus is just such a watershed event. His anguished cry and the torn temple curtain marked the end of an era. No longer was it necessary to separate and protect the people from the presence of God. The torn curtain removed the barrier that barred a sinful people from access to their holy God.
The centurion’s recognition of Jesus’ true identity as the Son of God marked a beginning. God himself had cleared the path ahead to eternity and removed the sin that kept humans from taking it (Heb 9:26).
The pagan Roman officer probably didn’t grasp the full significance yet, but his revelation demanded a response. The dam had burst. The centurion was standing in the watershed of grace and its run-off would carry him all the way to the Father’s side if he chose to surrender to it.
There’s a lot of speculation, but no one really knows whether the centurion decided to follow Jesus Christ. What we know is that in a moment of darkness and violence when insults were flying, blood was flowing and breath was departing, a man trained for war watched Jesus die and caught a vision of God at work.
The centurion identified Jesus as the Son of God by the way he died. The legal rules of evidence give special credibility to statements made when the witness is under the stress of excitement from a startling or shocking event or condition. What convicted the centurion was that in the face of his accusers and executioners, Jesus died in his own way. Only someone with a fearless conscience and a faith that saw beyond the excruciating pain and darkness could know such peace in that moment.
“Certainly, this man was God’s Son” from an eyewitness invites one to explore the other side of the cross. Whether it is our calendar system, literature, songs, and the cross itself, an instrument of humiliation transformed into the best known brand in the world, “Jesus is unavoidable” in the words of theologian N.T. Wright.
It is disappointing that most people try to stay on the near-side of the cross. The Apostle Paul said that the idea of the crucified Christ as God is crazy foolishness to the secular world that is always looking for someone smarter and stronger. He said his own Jewish people were waiting for the Messiah as a king and conqueror and a crucified rabbi didn’t fit the billing (1 Cor 1:25). The world still reflects those lines of thought.
I’ve been legal counsel for a leading academic medical center for 33 years and it is clear to me that despite impressive and revolutionary scientific and clinical advances during that time, death remains the inevitable fact of human existence. There is no hope of escaping it by any human device or perfection. We will die and what then? You have no answer for that except futility if you stay on this side of the divide of the cross. The Living Water courses down the other side moving on with the Son of God (See John 4:14; 1 Cor 15:17). It’s time for you to follow.
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps 34:8).
Under the mercy of Christ,
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