The Face of Faith: The Centurion Part 1
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
Title: The Face of Faith: The Centurion
Series: Going to Jerusalem
Text: Matthew 27:54
Scripture Reading: Matthew 27:45-56 (GW)
45 At noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.
46 About three o'clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
47 When some of the people standing there heard him say that, they said, “He's calling Elijah.” 48 One of the men ran at once, took a sponge, and soaked it in some vinegar. Then he put it on a stick and offered Jesus a drink.
49 The others said, “Leave him alone! Let's see if Elijah comes to save him.”
50 Then Jesus loudly cried out once again and gave up his life.
51 Suddenly, the curtain in the temple was split in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split open.
52 The tombs were opened, and the bodies of many holy people who had died came back to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after he had come back to life, and they went into the holy city where they appeared to many people.
54 An army officer and those watching Jesus with him saw the earthquake and the other things happening. They were terrified and said, “Certainly, this was the Son of God!”
55 Many women were there watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee and had always supported him.
56 Among them were Mary from Magdala, Mary (the mother of James and Joseph), and the mother of Zebedee's sons.
Matthew wrote this about when Jesus died on the cross.
And Jesus… yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split. So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
Centurions represented the best of Roman men. They rose through the ranks to become commanders of one hundred men. Those who appear in the New Testament are presented as strong and good men.
This unnamed centurion witnessed the climatic events connected with Christ’s death. He was probably at the arrest and the trial; we know that he was at the cross. What he saw and heard had a profound effect on him. Just after the earthquake at Jesus’ death, the centurion confessed, “Truly this was the Son of God.” He had become a man of faith in Jesus Christ. This is the confession that God wants to hear from each one of us. If we look closely at this “face of faith” beneath the cross, perhaps we too can join him in his confession.
There are just two things that I want to present to you today:
First, the evidence for faith.
Second, the evidence of faith.
This noble man didn’t begin by believing in Jesus, he had to change his mind about Him in a relatively short time. He set out to help the Jews rid themselves of a nuisance but soon confessed the nuisance to be none less than the Son of God. What is the evidence that changed his mind?
First, there was the evidence for faith.
There was the manner of Christ’s suffering. Never had the centurion seen one human being undergo so much abuse. He had been harassed, beaten, mocked, whipped, spat on, and crucified. But not once did the victim lose His poise or react in anger. Even as the soldiers nailed Him to the cross, He was meek and submissive. The only words He spoke were a prayer: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
Observing Christ’s behavior gave the centurion a strange feeling. What kind of man was this? Surely He must be more than human! The centurion had been an eyewitness of Christ’s suffering from the very beginning. After Pilate ordered Him to be crucified, the centurion became one of those who joined in the humiliation and punishment of the Savior.
Matthew describes the scene like this: Then the soldiers of the governor
took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him. The soldiers were free to do with Him as they pleased. He became a plaything for this brutal, cruel crowd.
And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” It is frightful what they did to Him—Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. The soldiers took this opportunity to have fun with Him before He was crucified. Since He was going to die anyway, they could mutilate Him and do anything they wished with Him.
They played a cruel Roman game known as “hot hand” with their prisoners. All the soldiers would show the prisoner their fists. Then they would blindfold the prisoner, and all but one would hit him as hard as he could. Then they remove the blindfold, and if the prisoner was still conscious, he was to guess which soldier did not hit him. Obviously, the prisoner could never guess the right one. They would continue this until they had beaten the prisoner to a pulp. I believe that the Lord Jesus was so mutilated that you would not have recognized Him.
Then He was led from Pilate’s residence to be crucified. And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified. Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Him they compelled to bear His cross.
Jesus was subjected to horrible humiliation and to untold suffering. We are given the impression here that He was too weak to carry His cross because of the ordeal to which the soldiers had subjected Him.
Next we read: And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink. Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: “They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.” Sitting down, they kept watch over Him there.
In my opinion, it is here that we see humanity that has reached its lowest depth. You don’t need to go to skid row or to a prison to see man at his lowest, you can see him here. In the midst of all the pain that Jesus suffered, the soldiers were unfeeling, and “Sitting down, they kept watch over Him there.”
Christ’s suffering was certainly one evidence for faith in Him, but the second thing to consider is Christ’s love for His enemies.
This is how the word of God reports the reaction of the crowd: And they put up over His head the accusation written against Him: THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left. And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Likewise, the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.
The crowd’s hatred for Jesus was obvious. The people relentlessly hurled insults and accusations at Jesus even as He died. But He responded to their ridicule with love, gasping, “Father, forgive them.” He was concerned about the welfare of the crowd that was crucifying Him. What love! Christ’s attitude impressed the centurion and made him wonder about the judgment of the crowd and Pilate. How could someone with such love deserve to die?