|The confession of the Centurion … James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum, oil on canvas|
crucifixion of Jesus. (A centurion was a Roman commander of 80-100 soldiers.) …
54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” — Matthew 27:54
39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” — Mark 15:39
47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” — Luke 23:47
I wonder what kind of job it would have been to oversee crucifixions? Did these men develop a hardened, cold temperament? Did they get used to seeing people killed in such an inhumane way?
I can imagine that this Roman commander had seen many prisoners breathe their last at the end of an awful crucifixion. He knew what to expect and what to do.
But then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them… .” Was the centurion suddenly hearing the words of a deranged criminal?
From this side of history, we know the answer clearly is: “No, Jesus was not a deranged criminal.”
With this incident being recorded in each of the first three gospels I think the Roman soldier’s declaration at the crucifixion site is worthy of special consideration, especially for what it might mean for us today.
Here’s my thought… A hardened heart can become soft. Yes, it can happen. To the Centurion, to me, to you, to anyone. The Holy Spirit, who comes and lives within us, can change a person’s heart!
As I have baptized people into faith, I stand in the baptismal waters with them and before I baptize them I ask, among other questions, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?” When the baptismal candidate says, “Yes,” I then baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit..
What did the Roman Centurion say when Jesus breathed his last? You got it: “Truly this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39). That’s what baptismal candidates say. No different.
Did the commander actually believe this in his heart? I don’t know. He certainly knew something was different with the man Jesus.
Just like candidates for baptism in churches the world over on Easter Sunday will do, the centurion stood before God, and before men, and declared that Jesus was who he said he was. I wish we knew more about what happened to him. We know nothing about what happened to him after he declared Jesus to be a righteous man. Was he mocked? Was he relieved of his duties? Was he killed? Did he try and meet the disciples and other Jesus followers? We just don’t know.
We know only his famous declaration … “Surely He was the Son of God.”
I look at a man liked the Roman Centurion not so different from the way I look at myself. For me, the great hymn writer Isaac Watts summarizes the need of both the Roman Centurion and me with the words of the famous hymn “Alas and did my Savior Bleed“. In the hymn from the early 1700s hymn, Watts writes, “Alas, and did my Savior bleed and did my sovereign die? Would he devote that sacred head for sinners such as I?”
Gracious Father, take away my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh … a heart to love and adore you for the sake of your son Jesus.