Have you ever met someone who was cruel? Or how about someone so steeped in their job and making money that it was their God? They’re almost militant. How does one ever get through to them to help them see there’s more to life? There’s an interesting quote about Jesus in the Gospel of Mark just as he died on the cross. The quote was, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” Shockingly, it came a Roman Centurion.
Centurions were professional Roman Soldiers. They were brutal. They were battled hardened. Men died at their hands, frequently. Yet, the Roman soldier who saw Jesus die said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”. Why?
As the video clip below reminds us, Roman Centurions are rock solid fighting men. He should have been shouting “I am a soldier of Rome! I will not yield!”. Instead, he’s the first person to recognize Jesus as the son of God in it’s full weight and glory. That, Jesus, not Caesar, is the one true Lord.
Here’s a little more of the text from Mark:
With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 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!”
In his book and sermon series, King’s Cross, Tim Keller notes that the centurion’s first allegiance is to Caesar. For a Roman soldier, Caesar is the son of God, not some carpenter, turned Jewish rabbi with messianic hopes.
Put another way, Jesus, a rabbi with no money, connections, political clout, or resources was not Son of God material. For the ancient world, the son of God was powerful and mighty, not meek and humble. A son of God ascends to a thrown, not crucifixion on a cross. In this light, the soldier’s declaration is astounding.
Moreover, the centurion was only with Jesus a few hours at best. What was it that could have changed his mind? And for that matter, his allegiance.
The key comes from what Mark tells us. The centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, and saw how he died, obviously witnessed something powerful. Powerful enough to soften his heart and break through.
Keller writes this. It’s worth quoting in full.
What penetrated the centurion’s darkness? How did he suddenly come into the light? For some thirty years I have been thinking about this question, trying to figure out why it was the centurion who first understood who Jesus was. Here’s what I believe shone the light into his darkness: The centurion heard Jesus’ cry, and saw how Jesus died.
I have only ever seen one person actually breathe his last breath. I’ll never forget that experience. Very likely you, too, have been present for a death only once or twice, if at all. But the centurion had seen many people die – and many of those by his own hand. Yet even for him this death was unique. He saw something about Jesus’s death that was unlike any other. The tenderness of Jesus, despite the terror, must have pierced right through his hardness. The beauty of Jesus in his death must have flooded his darkness with light.
Leaning on Keller again, there were three responses to those who met Jesus – and they were always extreme. One was fear. One was hatred. One was utter worship and devotion.
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson