We refer to the day on which Jesus died as “Good Friday.” But to those who witnessed its events, “Bad Friday” or “Dark Friday” would have seemed much more appropriate. The events that transpired that Friday and the Sunday which followed, however, have turned this world upside down. What man intended for evil, God intended for good. Let’s look at some of the eyewitnesses whose lives were touched on that dark Friday.
A man named Simon, from the continent of Africa, happened to be in Jerusalem on the Friday Jesus was arrested. No doubt he had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Although Jesus was forced to carry his cross on the way to execution, he apparently fainted under its weight. And so the Roman soldiers ordered Simon to carry it instead (Luke 23:26). Simon must have been petrified. He didn’t know who Jesus was. He would have assumed him to be a criminal, and now unexpectedly he finds himself in a criminal’s death procession.
But church tradition tells us that Simon of Cyrene came to embrace Jesus as his Messiah. We have some corroborating evidence to that effect in the New Testament (Mark 15:21, Romans 16:13). Simon’s encounter that dark Friday morning forever changed his life and the life of his family as apparently his wife and kids also embraced Jesus as their Messiah. But others were touched by Jesus that day. In verse 23, Luke tells of two other men who were put to death that day—criminals, probably associates of Barabbas, whom you recall was released by Pilate. No doubt, Jesus was crucified on the cross intended for him. Picture the scene. Jesus, the Son of God, is crucified between two hardened criminals who observed how he died. They heard his last words uttered from the cross (Luke 23:34-39). After all that he had been through, Jesus remarkably prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” If anyone ever had a right to be bitter and hold a grudge, it was Jesus. Here he is, an innocent man in tremendous pain, asking his Father in Heaven to forgive his tormentors. What fruit was born from that prayer that day? It seems that at least one of the Roman soldiers was touched by the manner in which Jesus died: the Roman centurion—the one in charge of this whole operation. Verse 47 says, “Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he began praising God, saying, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’”
When Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them,” his immediate referent was directed at the Roman soldiers, but the request included a much broader audience, including every Jew and every Gentile throughout history. In a very real sense, we are all responsible for Jesus’ death. After all, it is our sin that compelled the Father to send his Son to die as a substitute for us, that we might be forgiven and come to know God personally. On the cross, Jesus bore the sins of mankind (1 John 2:2). But in what sense did Jesus bear the guilt of mankind’s sins on the cross? Does that mean that are all forgiven? No. The Scripture is clear that hell will be populated. It comes down to this question: What was the purpose of the atonement? In other words, what was the cross of Christ intended to accomplish?
The cross of Christ was intended to free God to unconditionally accept those who place their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. It doesn’t get any clearer than John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” We have an outstanding example of the simplicity of this requirement of “faith alone” in this very passage before us in Luke. Remember, Jesus was crucified between two criminals. At first, both hurled insults at him. But then one of them had a change of heart. Perhaps it was the manner in which Jesus responded to their abuse. As one criminal continued to hurl abuse at Jesus the other said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom!” (Luke 42). Suddenly, he understood the truth. He realized he was a sinner, unable to change himself, and he understood that this holy man could determine his eternal destiny. Simple faith. No other requirement necessary. Think about it. This criminal wasn’t baptized. There was no opportunity for him to do any good works. How did Jesus respond? “And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise’” (Luke 23:43). Simple faith. It’s not complicated; but once exercised, it changes lives and reverses destinies.
Luke 23:44-46 tells us, “It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT.” Having said this, He breathed His last.” This tearing of the veil symbolized for the priests and the people that the way into God’s presence was now open to all who would come to him through faith in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:1-10:25). No more sacrifices needed. No more intermediaries required.
Application / Challenge
- Recognize that the gift of forgiveness and eternal life comes in response to simple faith.
- Recognize that as long as a person is breathing and in their right mind, an opportunity remains to trust Jesus Christ as Savior. Genuine, deathbed conversions can and do take place.
- Follow Jesus’ example by praying for those who have mistreated you. Refuse to hold a grudge. Forgive them, as God has forgiven you.