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The Impact of Sacrificial Grace

What was it about the way Jesus died that left the centurion so convinced?

There is a bit of a cryptic account at the end of the gospel of Mark that leaves me curious. The Roman centurion professes to believe that Jesus is the Son of God after seeing “the way he died.” What was it about the way Jesus died that left the centurion so convinced? 

A plethora of answers could be imagined, and the text leads us to some specific things, but I wonder if it is because of Jesus’ death being so sacrificial? After all, one of the predominant metaphors used to describe Christ in the Bible is as a sacrificial lamb. The idea of sacrifice is notable and impressive.

That’s why I suspect that the conversion of the centurion had a great deal to do with the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ death. He was struck by the fact that Jesus was dying not for himself, but for others. The dying was selfless. 

If what impressed the centurion about Good Friday was sacrifice, I believe this also gives us a clue about what it might take to be able to get the centurions among us to be convinced of Christ’s sonship. 

Sacrifice is grace in the possession of the receiver. When a Christ-follower sacrifices their time for the sake of an unbelieving neighbour or friend, it is received as grace. When a church sacrifices their own needs for the sake of the community they live in, it is received as grace.

As a result of these sacrifices, eyes are opened and God’s love becomes clear. I have seen it happen. Sacrifice is convincing in a world in which everything is thought to be earned and deserved.

The idea of sacrifice as convincing grace is not new. Already in Berkhof’s Systematic Theology he states that the purpose of sacrifice beginning in the Old Testament was to “restore the offender to the outward privileges and place of the theocracy which they had forfeited by neglect and transgression.”

Essentially, those on the outside are meant to be brought into full restoration through the practice of sacrifice. Isn’t this kind of sacrifice our ongoing job as citizens of the Kingdom? Isn’t that meant to be the thrust of every believer, every church every Christian denomination?

I recently used the gospel of Mark’s account of the death of Jesus as I preached in Woodstock, Ontario for the Young Adult Winter Retreat. It was a joy and privilege to be part of about 100 20-somethings who express their desire to grow in the Christian faith.

It made me believe, once again, that the CRCNA in Canada is tracking in the right direction in terms of our sacrificial posture toward others. We serve so that others may see the grace we, as followers, already experience and so that we might all be restored to the privileges of God’s reign.

This article was made possible through a partnership with CRC Ministries within Canada.

  • Darren is the Canadian Ministries Director of the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

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