A nameless Centurion was stationed on a hill just outside Jerusalem. There was nothing new to his assignment. Many malcontents, murderers and mischievous men had been sent here to die and he had presided over many government-sanctioned deaths.
There was no use getting sentimental, most of these men would just as soon slip a blade into your back as any other means of passing time. He recognized justice was being served. So the Centurion stood his ground and watched as his men fixed the prisoners to the crude cross-timbers and then maneuver the instruments of death into a waiting hole.
The screams were likely the hardest part of his job. He had imagined from time to time what it must be like to be hung in this fashion, but these were enemies of Rome so they were his enemies. Today he would simply watch three more enemies die.
The Gospels do not share a significant amount of detail surrounding the Centurion located on the Place of the Skull, but we do know he was a man in charge of men (100 to be precise). He must have watched as the soldiers under him played a game that resulted in the parceling out of clothes Jesus owned.
Maybe this man watched as some of the disciples caught a glimpse of the man they had followed for three years. Perhaps this soldier caught sight of the anguish a mother felt as she watched her son slowly suffocate.
This Centurion was there when the sky turned black and when the rain fell. He experienced the earthquake and the taunting of one of the criminals on the cross beside Jesus.
The Centurion was charged with keeping order and making sure all three men died. He maintained the duty of a soldier and made sure all three men were lifeless. Two had their legs broken, Jesus was already dead.
Yet when it was finished and this Centurion had seen the sign, ‘King of the Jews’ hung above Jesus’ head and when he heard Jesus say, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do” something apparently happened to him.
Surely this Centurion had heard of the intense torture Jesus endured, he had seen the wounds with his own eyes, he may have even poked fun at the condemned man himself, but in the end the Centurion was left with only one thought. It was this thought that was overheard and written down, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39 – NIV).
This Centurion was a man’s man. He was tough and he carried out orders that lesser men could not handle. He was hardened for service and yet he watched a man die and came to an unusual conclusion. The man he had ordered to undergo death by crucifixion was God’s Son. He pronounced what the Jewish Sanhedrin had hoped to eliminate – the man dead on the cross was Messiah.
Anyone familiar with the Easter stories knows that Jesus conquered death by rising from the dead on the third day. You may also know that Jesus’ death on the cross was the sacrifice that made if possible for God to forgive sin.
Now it may not be worth wondering too long over, but I wonder if the Centurion’s conclusion ended in personal belief. If it did, I wonder how his life changed.
Jesus has always had this way of insisting that men and women make a decision about who He is. Those who encountered Jesus never left the same. That same Jesus continues to confront mankind and the results continue to astound.
Do you agree with the Centurion, “ Surely this man was the Son of God!” If so, how is this knowledge changing you?