Were you there—when they crucified my Lord?
10. Centurion seeking
Luke 23:44-47 (NIV)
Also—Mark 15:33-39, 44-45
Luke 23:44 It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.”
Mark 15:33 At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” 36 One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. 37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
Mark 15:44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph.
The Roman Centurion in charge
Our attention now is drawn to the Roman Centurion in charge. There are various Roman Centurions we read of in the Bible. The Romans worshipped multi-gods, as well as the only LORD God of Scripture. Most Centurions will be as ignorant and confused about how to come to know God as most other people are. But some Centurions we meet in the Bible seem really serious about the Lord Jesus Christ. Hopefully some turn from their sins to Christ, become ‘saved’, and so love and obey Him. Others seem to be seekers: remember that Jesus said, ‘seek and you will find.’ (Matthew 7:7).
The Centurion at the cross of Jesus
This man is remembered as the Centurion at the cross of Jesus. He reminds us that whatever you might have done or believed, or whatever your background has been or is, or however influential you have been or are, that you personally need Jesus. Because you need Him, just turn to Him for forgiveness and to receive eternal life. The Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross for you, took the punishment for your sins there, and rose again from the dead to be your Saviour. He will enter your life and change you if you do an about turn from going your own way—including your sins—and receive Him in your life personally as your Lord and Saviour.
No quick path to becoming a Centurion
A Roman Centurion in principle commanded a hundred (or ‘century’ of) men. In practice sometimes it was as few as eighty. I suppose that depended largely on how many men had been lost in battles and where the soldiers were stationed. Approximately a thousand men made up a cohort. Between 3,000 and 6,000 men (thirty to sixty cohorts) constituted a Roman Legion. There was no quick path to becoming a Centurion: the right to promotion was earned when a man showed he was a good and reliable soldier, with leadership qualities and undoubted bravery. He came up the ‘hard way’ through the ranks. He might have been injured in battle. He would prove himself as a hard and brave man, who also knew how to lead and inspire his troops. He was not a man to compromise easily on anything ‘shaky’ or doubtful! He would not ‘suffer fools gladly’.
Sequence of events
This Centurion is on duty, overseeing his men, at the crucifixions of Jesus and the criminals, one on each side of Him. He probably is responsible for all the other crucifixions taking place at the time, as is common under Roman rule in Jerusalem. Put together Luke 23:44-47 and Mark 15:33-45 and you get the sequence of remarkable events that this Centurion will witness, or know about, as he stands ‘there in front of Jesus’, crucified on His cross.
Mid-day darkness, and veil torn
First, complete darkness for three hours starts at mid-day (the same as their ‘sixth hour’), and when the overhead sun is always at its brightest. This goes on till 3.00 pm (their ‘ninth hour’). At the same time as the sun fails to shine, the multi-layered veil of the temple (as thick as a man’s fist) is torn in two, from top to bottom. (That veil separates God’s presence, in the ‘Holy of holies’, from the surrounding holy place. It signifies that sinful man is separated from holy God by his sin. It is torn from God’s side (the top) to man’s side (the bottom). Its tearing pictures the way to God being opened for sinners to come to God, because Christ is dying to bear their sins and take their punishment on the cross. That is why, today also, you can come to Christ. Jesus rose and is alive. If you trust in Him, He will enter your heart and life and change you from within. He has broken down the barrier of sin. All who repent and trust Him, find fellowship with God now and can enter Heaven’s Glory confidently after death.
Two of Christ’s cries from the cross
Before the darkness fell and the veil was torn, the Centurion hears Jesus crying out from the cross. Two cries are mentioned here—there were five other cries too. These first is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The second ‘loud cry’, before Jesus breathes His last breath, is “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” No-one took His life from Jesus: He laid it down Himself when He knew that He had fully paid the penalty for our sins. Is the most impressive thing to the Centurion, that Jesus is in charge even of the timing of His horrible death, and that He dies with such dignity?
Another cry: ‘It is finished!’
Another cry soon before that one is, ‘It is finished!’ (See John 19:30). It is a huge cry of triumph. A similar victory cry was shouted by a victorious gladiator after battling hard for his life in the amphitheatre. It signalled he had overcome the opponent or wild animal he was forced to fight. It means, ‘It is accomplished!’
Of course, that is exactly what Jesus did accomplish when He died on the cross. He conquered sin, death, and judgment. It would take an unrepentant sinner an eternity in Hell to pay for his sins. He would suffer both death and judgment. (Hebrews 9:27). Jesus paid for sin in full by shedding His own blood. Because He proclaims, ‘It is finished!’ I rejoice to know that my sin has been paid for in full by Him, even though I feel bad that my sins caused Him to die. I am forgiven completely and always. My sins are paid for by Jesus. Are yours?
Can a man with zero Bible background understand the gospel?
Remember that we are not looking at a Jewish expert in Old Testament theology! We are looking at a hardened soldier from Rome who has been brought up to believe in many gods—some very immoral and obviously wicked. We cannot expect him to know or understand God’s word, can we? Not unless the same Holy Spirit is at work who revealed Jesus to one of the dying criminals as the loving Saviour who dies to take that sinner with Him to His Kingdom in Paradise. But the Holy Spirit clearly is at work like that in this Centurion’s heart. This man with zero ‘Bible background’ simply stands before Jesus on the cross, takes in quietly what he sees and hears, and thinks humbly about it before God. Maybe he also prays for help to understand, or somehow senses God’s presence there? We do not know. What we do know is that he now possesses and openly proclaims two truths about Jesus that we all need to take on board. Many so-called theologians fall at these two hurdles of Jesus Christ’s sinlessness and deity!
Jesus—the ‘righteous man’ and ‘the Son of God’
He has taken in the meaning of Jesus’ last cry—and may be the others cries Jesus made too. He has also seen ‘how Jesus died.’ He knows Jesus has really died. He is so sure that he confirms it to Pilate who carefully checks up on that. (Mark 15:44). He comes to his faith by thinking about Jesus and his very real death on the cross. Those are excellent ways to come to trust in Christ. But he realises two other things as well. This Roman Centurion is now convinced Jesus was a sinless ‘righteous man’ (Luke 23:44), and the eternal ‘Son of God.’ (Mark 15:47).
The Lord Jesus Christ is unique—trust in Him
You can understand that Jesus needed to be entirely and perfectly a ‘righteous man’ in order to pay for our sins. If He was a sinner, He would have needed forgiveness Himself! A sinlessly perfect and completely pure sacrifice was needed to bear our sins and their punishment in His body on the cross. Jesus also had to be the eternal God so His sacrifice on the cross could cleanse forever all sins—past, present and future, for all people who turn from sin, trust in and submit to Jesus. He was and is the eternal ‘Son of God’. If He had not been God in the flesh, then so much of what He said and did would be blasphemy. The Centurion got that right too! No religious leader in all the world’s religions was either completely ‘righteous’ and sinless, or God by nature. Jesus is unique, Is all your faith in this ‘righteous man’, the eternal ‘Son of God’, the Lord Jesus Christ? If not, turn from sin and trust Him now. He will receive you!