As of 2020 there were between 800 million and 1 billion Protestants worldwide, among approximately 2.5 billion Christians. It seems we are safe in saying there are at least nearly 200 major Protestant denominations or denominational categories in the United States. It most likely is higher but this number covers all of the major denominations. That is still a scandal for Christians whom Christ desired would be one, as a reflection of the Triune unity of God (see John 17). If you read the histories of the various denominations, which call themselves Christian, you will see that there has not always been harmony among them. We then have to ask ourselves how has Christianity survived coming from so much discord for centuries. The only answer is that it possesses in its heart a power that humans do not have and this power is Christ, Son of Man and Son of God.
The power that is spoken of in the Bible is that intimate force in events and in the lives of men that assures the triumph of great ideals above and in the face of obstacles that seem to be insurmountable. Christianity, as detailed in the Bible, was not just a fad nor was it just the latest trend. People watched Jesus’ followers very closely. If you are a Christian reading this today, know that people really are watching you, no I am not paranoid, just like they did in scripture. People are looking to see if this Christianity is real and if it works in this life. If it can work in your life perhaps it can work in theirs.
When we look at the life of Jesus we see that HIS words were simple and HE had a power that made one marvel. Christianity has handed down a sacred deposit that has always found a group of heroes ready to give their lives as a testimony. The main focus of the Bible throughout its entirety, tells us that the Message of the Cross, the Death, and Resurrection of JESUS CHRIST are the important core themes of the Word.. Each and every chapter refers to Jesus in some way.
You see, during the death of Jesus on that Cross there were many peoples represented around that Cross. There were those who stood closest to the Cross-the centurion, the soldiers, the thieves on either side of Jesus. There were the women who loved Jesus and there also was the man who hurried up to offer Christ the drugged vinegar. And of course, there were the hate mongers who yelled: “If you really are the Christ come down off the Cross. (As a child in church I often thought what would they have done had Jesus had really come down from the Cross- but then as I got older I realized that He had to remain on that Cross so that I could receive salvation from my lost and sinful state).
Think about it, those people around the Cross represent each of us and our attitude about the Lord, Jesus Christ.
- Have we become hardened and insulated against feelings by a protective shell just like the tough Roman soldiers in that crowd. They had been at many crucifixions so it was not new to them. We become calloused in our souls and spirits when we see certain things over and over again.
- Are we trained, educated, competent like the Roman centurion?
- Are we burdened with knowledge of our guilt and the lives we have lead like the one thief on the cross or are we bitter and angry like the other thief who most likely blamed everyone else for his place on the cross.
- Perhaps, we are just curious, laying back and watching and then hurrying up to bring a sponge of vinegar to the dying One on the Cross.
- Do our hearts break ,as did that of Mary, His mother and the other women?
- Do we hide our faith like the Disciples? JESUS poured HIMSELF into His disciples for 3 ½ years and with the exception of John, we do not read that any of the other disciples were there at the Cross.
- Or have we become cynical, jaded elitists like the priests and scribes who believed that they were perfect and had no sin.
Oh, we don’t want to identify with “those people” at the foot of the Cross, but that group at the cross is a microcosm, a community, place, or situation regarded as encapsulating in miniature the characteristic qualities or features of something much larger. Humankind is regarded as the epitome of the universe. So we are all represented in that group at the foot of the Cross. Yes, there were those who jeered, mocked and most likely yelled out profanities, just as there are today. Yes, the Lord Jesus Christ hears your screaming at Him your blasphemies. However, remember each of us has to stand before the Cross and decide what we will do with Jesus. We all were in that group at the foot of the Cross. We can watch Jesus die for each of us and we can accept or reject what He did for us. That is our choice.
The Centurion heard everything that went on that day at the foot of the cross. It is believed that the centurion was so near that the splatter of blood may have come upon him. He heard Jesus say: “Father, forgive them…” I am quite sure these were new words to the ears of the pagan Centurion. Then he hears Jesus recommend His mother to His disciple, John. He watched and listened as Jesus does not answer when insulted by one of thieves. But to the other thief who believed in Christ Jesus saying: “Today, you will be with Me in paradise.” I am quite sure those words were even stranger to the Centurion because he knew that other thief was in a miserable condition.
You have to remember that while dying on that Cross, Jesus was suffering painful spasms and convulsions, however He showed an attitude in which there was no bitterness and only dignity. That Centurion heard Jesus say: “It is finished.” I am quire sure he thought what could be finished? Then Jesus said His last words; “Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit.” And He bowed His head and died.
The Centurion who had a front view seat at the crucifixion of Jesus cried out forcefully saying, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” Truly! Such was the power of Christ precisely in the moment that Jesus appeared to be the least powerful it was evident that there was such a power.
I pray that we all can be suddenly filled with awe and reverence as we stand at the Cross of Jesus and realize that whoever we are, or whatever condition we are in and the many ‘things we are going through-Jesus hangs on the Cross for each of us. And by His stripes and His suffering we can be healed!
The old hymn written by Isaac Watts in 1707 is still true today and it reminds us:
At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!