What do the news anchors mean when we hear, over and over: “More innocents were… today in…?” One definition of the word ‘innocent’ is:
Not guilty of a crime or offense.
“the arbitrary execution of an innocent man”
Synonyms: guiltless, blameless, in the clear, unimpeachable, irreproachable, above suspicion, faultless; honorable, honest, upright, law-abiding; informal: squeaky clean
“he was entirely innocent”
Turns out, this is almost the same as the third definition for the word ‘good:’
Possessing or displaying moral virtue.
“I’ve met many good people who made me feel ashamed of my own shortcomings”
Synonyms: virtuous, righteous, upright, upstanding, moral, ethical, high-minded, principled; exemplary, law-abiding, irreproachable, blameless, guiltless, unimpeachable, honorable, scrupulous, reputable, decent, respectable, noble, trustworthy; meritorious, praiseworthy, admirable; whiter than white, saintly, saint-like, angelic; informal: squeaky clean
“a good person”
The similarity is especially noticeable when we compare the synonyms. However, over the millennia, there has been only One among us that’s been unqualifiedly good. Speaking with the rich young ruler:
…Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. Luke 18:19 English Standard Version (ESV)
…Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. Mark 10:18 (ESV)
And, getting to the core of the matter:
…He said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” Matthew 19:17 (ESV)
The last remark seems outrageous, especially to our modern ears. How can we do such a thing as keep the commandments blamelessly (i.e., in innocence)? Concerning this very question:
[Jesus]…told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
“The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’”
Luke 18:9-12 (ESV)
The Pharisee claimed to practice the Law and thought himself righteous before God and better than his fellow-men.
“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Luke 18:13-14 (ESV)
The tax collector, on the other hand, fully expecting his due punishment, confessed his unworthiness under the Law and received mercy.
So we see it is by God’s mercy and unmerited favor, alone, that we can be justified (i.e., made right) before a holy and righteous God.
Who then is this holy and righteous one? To that, the scriptures attest:
Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.
Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”
And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts.
Luke 23:46-48 (ESV)
Calvin and Spurgeon both comment on these verses. Let us look at what Calvin said:
Now the centurion. As Luke mentions the lamentation of the people, the centurion and his soldiers were not the only persons who acknowledged Christ to be the Son of God; but the Evangelists mention this circumstance respecting him for the purpose of heightening their description: for it is wonderful that an irreligious man, who had not been instructed in the Law, and was ignorant of true religion, should form so correct a judgment from the signs which he beheld.
This comparison tends powerfully to condemn the stupidity of the city; for it was an evidence of shocking madness, that when the fabric of the world shook and trembled, none of the Jews were affected by it except the despised rabble.
And yet, amidst such gross blindness, God did not permit the testimonies which he gave respecting his Son to be buried in silence. Not only, therefore, did true religion open the eyes of devout worshipers of God to perceive that from heaven God was magnifying the glory of Christ, but natural understanding compelled foreigners, and even soldiers, to confess what they had not learned either from the law or from any instructor.
Examining the confession, he said:
When Luke represents [the centurion] as saying no more than “certainly this was a righteous man,” the meaning is the same as if he had plainly said that he was the Son of God, as it is expressed by the other two Evangelists. For it had been universally reported that Christ was put to death, because he declared himself to be the Son of God.
Now when the centurion bestows on him the praise of righteousness, and pronounces him to be innocent, he likewise acknowledges him to be the Son of God; not that he understood distinctly how Christ was begotten by God the Father, but because he entertains no doubt that there is some divinity in him, and, convinced by proofs, holds it to be certain that Christ was not an ordinary man, but had been raised up by God.
Calvin then clarifies our understanding of the Centurion’s confession:
The words, he feared God, must not be so explained as if he had fully repented. It was only a sudden and transitory impulse, as it frequently happens, that men who are thoughtless and devoted to the world are struck with the fear of God, when he makes an alarming display of his power; but as they have no living root, indifference quickly follows, and puts an end to that feeling. The centurion had not undergone such a change as to dedicate himself to God for the remainder of his life, but was only for a moment the herald of the divinity of Christ.
And, finally, he explains the multitudes’ reaction and gives us warning:
As to the multitudes, by [beating] their breasts, they expressed the dread of punishment for a public crime, because they felt that public guilt had been contracted by an unjust and shocking murder. But as they went no farther, their lamentation was of no avail, unless, perhaps, in some persons it was the commencement or preparation of true repentance.
And since nothing more is described to us than the lamentation which God drew from them to the glory of his Son, let us learn by this example, that it is of little importance, or of no importance at all, if a man is struck with terror, when he sees before his eyes the power of God, until, after the astonishment has been abated, the fear of God remains calmly in his heart.
Therefore, be not amazed at these things, but truly repent and believe.
Jesus and His Active Obedience, YouTube, Ligonier Ministries, Published on January 17, 2013