Call to Worship March 24 2019
Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Luke
J.C. Ryle Luke 23:44-49
“Let us observe in these verses — the miraculous signs which accompanied our Lord’s death on the cross. We are told that there was ‘a darkness over all the earth’ for three hours. ‘The sun was darkened, and the curtain of the temple was torn in two.’
It was proper and right that the attention of all around Jerusalem should be arrested in a marked way — when the great sacrifice for sin was being offered, and the Son of God was dying! There were signs and wonders wrought in the sight of all Israel — when the law was given on Sinai. There were signs and wonders in like manner — when the atoning blood of Christ was shed on Calvary.
There was a sign for an unbelieving world. The darkness at mid-day was a miracle which would compel men to think.
There was a sign for the Jewish Church and the ministers of the temple. The tearing of the curtain which hung between the holy place and the holy of holies — was a miracle which would strike awe into the heart of every priest and Levite.
Signs like these, on special occasions, let us remember — are a part of God’s ways in dealing with man. He knows the desperate stupidity and unbelief of human nature. He sees that it is necessary to arouse our attention by miraculous works, when He brings in a new dispensation. He thus compels men to open their eyes — whether they will or not, and to hear His voice for a little season.
He has done so frequently in the days that are past. He did so when He gave the law. He did so in the passage before us when He brought in the Gospel.
He will do so once more when Christ comes again the second time. He will show a sneering, unbelieving world that He can suspend the laws of nature at His pleasure, and alter the framework of creation as easily as He called the earth into being. He will yet fulfill His words, ‘Yet once more I will shake not the earth only, but also the heavens.’ ‘Then the glory of the moon will wane, and the brightness of the sun will fade, for the LORD Almighty will rule on Mount Zion. He will rule in great glory in Jerusalem.’ (Hebrews 12:26; Isaiah 24:23.)
Let us observe, secondly, in these verses — the remarkable words which our Lord spoke when He died. We read that ‘Jesus cried with a loud voice: Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!’
There is a depth of meaning, no doubt, in these words — which we have no line to fathom. There was something mysterious about our Lord’s death, which made it unlike the death of any mere man. He who spoke the words before us, we must carefully remember — was God as well as man. His divine and human nature were inseparably united. His divine nature of course could not die. He says Himself, ‘I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down — and I have power to take it again.’ (John 10:17, 18.)
Christ died — not as we die, when our hour has come — not because He was compelled and could not help dying — but voluntarily, and of His own free will.
There is a sense, however, in which our Lord’s words supply a lesson to all true Christians. They show us the manner in which death should be met by all God’s children. They afford an example which every believer should strive to follow. Like our Master, we should not be afraid to confront the king of terrors. We should regard him as a vanquished enemy, whose sting has been taken away by Christ’s death. We should think of him as a foe who can hurt the body for a little season — but after that has no more that he can do. We should await his approaches with calmness and patience, and believe that when our flesh fails — our soul will be in good keeping.
This was the mind of dying Stephen, ‘Lord Jesus,’ he said, ‘receive my spirit.’ This was the mind of Paul the aged, when the time of his departure was at hand. He says, ‘I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day.’ (Acts 7:59; 2 Timothy 1:12.) Happy indeed are those who have a last end like this!
Let us observe, lastly, in these verses — the power of conscience in the case of the centurion and the people who saw Christ die. We are told that the centurion ‘praised God, saying: Certainly this was a righteous man.’ We are told that the people who had come together to the sight, ‘smote their breasts and went away.’
We do not exactly know the nature of the feelings here described. We do not know the extent to which they went, or the after-fruit which they brought forth. One thing, at all events, is clear. The Roman officer felt convinced that he had been part of an unrighteous action — crucifying an innocent person.
The gazing crowd were pierced to the heart by a sense of having aided, approved, and abetted a grievous wrong. Both Jew and Gentile left Calvary that evening — heavy-hearted, self-condemned, and ill at ease.
Great indeed is the power of conscience! Mighty is the influence which it is able to exercise on the hearts of men! It can strike terror into the minds of monarchs on their thrones. It can make multitudes tremble and shake before a few bold friends of truth, like a flock of sheep. Blind and mistaken as conscience often is, unable to convert man or lead him to Christ — it is still a most blessed part of man’s constitution, and the best friend in the congregation that the preacher of the Gospel has. No wonder that Paul says, ‘By plainly setting forth the truth, we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience.’ (2 Corinthians 4:2.)
He who desires inward peace, must beware of quarreling with his conscience. Let him rather use it well, guard it jealously, hear what it has to say, and treat it as his friend. Above all, let him pray daily that his conscience may be enlightened by the Holy Spirit, and cleansed by the blood of Christ. The words of John are very significant, ‘If our heart does not condemn us — then have we confidence toward God.’ (1 John 3:21.) That man is doing well who can say, ‘I always strive to have a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man.’ (Acts 24:16.)”