Growing up as a Roman Catholic, I was always relieved when I looked up at Jesus on the cross. I was grateful that the woodcarvers opted for a loin cloth. Modesty seemed like a reasonable and right policy for religious icons. The fact that this inaccurate representation was covering up the truth now seems on par for that church.
In the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed. After they sinned against God, they became aware of their nakedness and they tried to cover themselves with fig leaves (Gen 3:7). In an act that foreshadows Christ, God clothed them with the skins of animals (Gen 3:21).
Nothing in Scripture should ever be read and dismissed as “filler” material. As Jesus was crucified on the cursed tree, the soldiers below him were busy fulfilling prophecy (Ps 22:18; Mt 27:35; Mk 15:24; Jn 19:24). They had Jesus’ clothing and one robe was indivisible, so they cast lots (rolled the dice) to determine the new owner, by chance. People do that, but every decision is from the Lord (Prv 16:33).
Jesus Christ was naked on the cross. Roman crucifixion was humiliation unto death, and the sinless Son of God was made to be a spectacle by sinners. The mob, driven by diverse motives, was treacherous in covering up the truth of Jesus’ identity, as the long-awaited Messiah of God. The fact is that they had imagined a political Messiah over the Deliverer from the real enemies of sin, death, Satan, the world system, and eternal hell amidst the wrath of God.
In the crucifixion scene, there was a man without motive or agenda. He watched as the three criminals were hoisted to their final hours of life. He heard the religious leaders, even the other criminals, sneer at Jesus of Nazareth. He saw the inscription above the head of the Nazarene. Pontius Pilate inscribed zero criminal charges, as was custom. Instead, his disdain for the Jews was manifest, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews (Mt 27:37).”
With nail-pierced hands and feet, a crown of thorns, the naked man had been beaten unto disfiguration. The witness also heard amazing words come from the One being mocked and crucified. He heard prayers, instructions, and a cry of dereliction. Had this Roman centurion ever heard a criminal ask God to forgive his persecutors, posing as prosecutors?
During the three-hour ordeal, the Roman centurion had heard Jesus’ enemies reference Him as, “Son of God (Mt 27:40),” which they did not believe He was in fact. However, when the earthquake and the blotting out of the sun occurred, the people left the scene in fear and shame. They knew Jesus was a good man, but religion requires adherence to the program. Jesus was the proverbial scapegoat. He was despised and rejected by men, and He was forsaken of His Father, as the just wrath of God came down upon Him…the substitute.
Did anyone apart from the cohort hear the naked truth from this pagan soldier? With a voice crying outside the camp, the words of the unknown, unnamed servant of the state should sting us all, “Truly this was the Son of God (Mt 27:54).”
With no agenda, nothing to gain or lose, this Roman soldier was moved to utter words etched in infamy, nay, eternity. He was gathering facts and information. These were being processed in his heart and mind, until the ejaculatory utterance came forth to add insult to Pilate’s injurious placard witness. The Jews were being confronted by Yahweh through the words and witness of the Roman Gentiles. The irony is profound.
Messiah had come. The Scriptures were not broken. Prophecy after prophecy was fulfilled, along with the entirety of the Law of God granted to Moses (Mt 5:17). God’s chosen one was pinned to the cursed tree (Lk 23:35). On that dark day no one present except God and His Son knew what was really happening.
With all authority and in total control, Jesus died. He laid down His life (Jn 10:11, 15), even for one of the two naked men next to Him on their crosses (Lk 23:43). The promise of paradise was issued by the great high priest (Heb 4:14; 9:11), who was at that very moment offering Himself up to God, as the Lamb of God, slain for the sins of His people (Mt 1:21; Rev 5:6, 12), from every generation and from every nation (Rev 5:9). The blood and water poured out of his pierced side (Jn 19:34). The Roman soldier’s words were the culmination of gathered observations and musings. Could he have imagined himself, that day, being at the center and climax of human history?
We know nothing more of this pagan Gentile, on duty, probably wishing he was back home somewhere in the Roman world. The sights, the sounds, the smells, and the feelings in this man’s heart would surely be with him the rest of his days. No one had ever suffered like Jesus Christ.
My prayer is that we would remember the words of this eyewitness to the crucifixion of the Messiah. Jesus Christ was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities (Is 53:5). His shed blood has brought His people redemption and the forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7; 1 Pet 1:18–19). The very wrath of God was inflicted upon the physical body of Christ, which became the propitiation (Rom 3:25; Heb 2:17; 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10), the shelter from the wrath of God His people deserved, apart from the mercy of God.
Friend, will you consider the naked truth about the naked Christ, today? We have an eyewitness, whose words are few. He is the neutral character in this gruesome scene. You and I deserve to be where Jesus was that day. We are shameful people, but Jesus was stripped of everything so that He could secure righteousness before God. This was the very thing Adam lost for all of us.
Just as our first parents were clothed by God after the Fall, we must be clothed with the righteousness of Christ. Therefore, it is imperative we put on Christ and be dressed in the white robe of His righteousness, a robe washed in His precious blood (1 Pet 1:19; Rev 7:14).
God has accepted the sacrifice of His only begotten Son, proved by His raising Him from the dead (Acts 17:31). God has given Jesus of Nazareth the name above every other name (Phil 2:9). If you do not believe me, believe the one who was there that day and who tells you the naked truth about the naked Christ, “Truly, this was the Son of God.” Clothed in Him, we who believe, are unashamed.
Spokane Valley, Washington
March 20, 2021