"And all the crowds which came together for this spectacle, when they saw what had happened, beat their own chests and returned." (Luke 23:48, EMTV)
Jesus has just voluntarily died. It was with a loud voice, not the weak voice of one dying, that He said, "Father, 'into Your hands I will commit My spirit.' "And after He said these things, He breathed His last." (Luke 23:46, EMTV).
The people and the soldiers have a response. The crowds beat their own chests and returned, and "when the centurion saw what had happened, he glorified God, saying, "Certainly this was a righteous Man!" (Luke 23:47, EMTV)
I suppose that the people came to see Jesus crucified because His name was well known. Perhaps many had hoped this to be the promised Messiah, perhaps they did not believe in Him, or some other reason.
They saw what happened. They heard Jesus shout out. They saw the darkness and felt the earthquake. Now it was over, and they beat their chests and returned.
Why did they beat their chests? Beating their chests expresses the idea of sorrow in the death of a loved one and/or repentance. Consider:
- "Then Samuel died; and the Israelites gathered together and lamented [literally "beat their breasts"] for him, and buried him at his home in Ramah. And David arose and went down to the Wilderness of Paran." (1 Samuel 25:1 NKJV)
- "When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned [literally "beat her breast"] for her husband." (2 Samuel 11:26 NKJV)
- "It is decreed: She shall be led away captive, she shall be brought up; and her maidservants shall lead her as with the voice of doves, beating their breasts." (Nahum 2:7 NKJV)
- "And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' (Luke 18:13 NKJV)
Why the sorrow? There were some who did not want Jesus to die. They may have been reminded of the sin in killing an innocent man. This reminds me of "And those who heard it began to go out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman being in the midst." (John 8:9 EMTV). Perhaps, as Matthew Henry wrote, some felt that in killing an innocent man, God would judge the nation. Perhaps, they thought of their own sins. The Scripture does not tell us the thoughts of these people.
Truly the Scriptures have been fulfilled, "And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn." (Zechariah 12:10 NRSV)
Truly He is the Lamb of God, "The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29 EMTV)
Truly His death had a purpose, "For Christ also suffered once to atone for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring you to God, being put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the Spirit." (1 Peter 3:18 EMTV)
What is our reaction to the crucifixion of Jesus? Do we walk away untouched? Do we think of our own sins? Do we think that Jesus was a failure, a fool, a lunatic, or got his just desserts?
1. Alas! and did my Savior bleed,
and did my Sovereign die!
Would he devote that sacred head
for sinners such as I?
2. Was it for crimes that I have done,
he groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!
3. Well might the sun in darkness hide,
and shut its glories in,
when God, the mighty maker, died
for his own creature's sin.
4. Thus might I hide my blushing face
while his dear cross appears;
dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
and melt mine eyes to tears.
5. But drops of tears can ne'er repay
the debt of love I owe.
Here, Lord, I give myself away;
'tis all that I can do.