“And when the centurion who stood facing him saw that he thus cried out and breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly, this man was the Son of God!’”
The centurion whirls around and sees Jesus, so suddenly dead upon that battle cry of triumph: “It is finished” – sees the central criminal with such stunning clarity, sees as he has never seen before – and whispers with the solemn weight of a personal confession, whispers in a late day’s dawning, “Truly, this man –“
Here is the paradox, both impossible and true.
Jesus is rejected by God, is cut completely off from God, is hung on a tree and thereby cursed, divorced at all points from his Father. And yet: it is in this same Jesus, at this same moment, precisely because of his sacrifice and death, that God is most present in the world! It is in Jesus on the cursed tree that God’s supreme intentions toward the world are made manifest: that he hasn’t come to curse, but rather to love and to bless.
God is not here with Jesus. Yet God is indeed here, in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself!
God and his sin-corrupted Son are as removed from one another as hell is from heaven.
Yet the whole passion is God’s design! Cursing is integral to that design. And the Father, although absent, is also here, accepting the sacrifice.
This once we can have it both ways and can delight in the breaking of the rules of the universe. This once the creatures, us, the created ones, can rise up in creation to peer beyond creation through a magic window at the Uncreated One, the Creator. Here is a window through which to gaze into Heaven, to know and believe the nature of God. Here, in paradox. Here, in the conjunction of impossibilities. Here, on Golgotha.
And here is the door through which God has crossed infinity to enter our finite existence, flooding the dungeons with light. Here is a door through which we by faith may enter Heaven, a doorway made of nails and wood, a crossing, a cross.
But deepen further this paradox. Ask: when were the windows most darkened for Jesus, that he could see nothing of God the Father? Answer: on Golgotha. And by what was the great door bolted shut and locked against his entering in? By the wood and the nails of the cross.
Christ’s unseeing is our sight.
His solitude is the beginning of our communion with God.
For it is on Golgotha that a centurion spins around and stares at the man in the middle, just as that man dies, exactly as Jesus gives up the spirit and slumps forward on the cross.
But all at once that centurion sees as though light burst upon his eyes, as though the veil between bright heaven and dark earth had been torn in two from the top to the bottom. The centurion sees better than he did, and more than he ever did before: he sees God! He sees the very nature of the love of God! The dying of one is the other one’s window, and what has been veiled is now revealed, and a pagan whispers with the solemn weight of conviction, confession, faith: “Truly, this man was the Son of God.”