The Roman Centurion at the Cross: Same Job, Different Day…

A Roman centurion who saw the crucifixion at very close range was in prime position to be an eyewitness to Jesus’ final hours. So, there’s this: “Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54 NASB)

A Different Point of View

This is one of the most unsolicited and surprising eyewitness testimonies about Jesus. Take a look at the one who spoke. A typical Roman centurion 1) was not Jewish. He didn’t know about any of the ancient prophecies and certainly wasn’t looking for a deliverer from Rome. 2) He was probably accustomed to crucifixion as part of his job, so he should have been harder to impress by any run-of-the-mill Crucifixion. 3) Was a military commander based on merit, so they usually rose through the ranks and were experienced, competent men. 4) Had usually been on campaigns (and was probably here) far away from home. As a result, his level of worldly understanding was probably greater than the average villager’s.

This centurion had probably not personally seen Jesus’ miracles or heard him teach. (Why would he? He had been doing his job occupying Judea, not following Rabbis around…) In all likelihood the only exposure he ever had to the Son of God was as a battered, humiliated criminal who was facing his last hours on earth.

Not the Same Old, Same Old…

He was not steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures or looking for a Messiah, and of all the people Jesus encountered he perhaps would have known the least about Jesus’ background, reputation, and wisdom. It just wasn’t in a Centurion’s job description to know. He never sat in the temple courts and listened to this Rabbi, and he never saw him turn water into wine or calm the wind and the waves…

It’s likely, though, that while doing his job he HAD seen other crucifixions. They were messy, drawn-out, boring events with the same inevitable outcome… The soldiers were so bored with death that they whiled away the time gambling for the criminals’ meager possessions. Yet somehow THIS crucifixion was different. This crucifixion challenged the centurion’s view of the world. It made him look at Jesus differently as well. It may have been the earthquake and the upheaval surrounding Jesus’ death that changed his perspective, but I think it was more than that.

centurion

A New Beginning

Perhaps it was the dignity that Christ carried with him to the cross; perhaps it was the things Jesus said to the criminals who were being crucified alongside him. Or, maybe it was the fact that he said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Perhaps it was merely the look in Jesus’ eyes that challenged and convicted third-party observers to see him as more than a convict getting his just reward…

Whatever it was, the Roman centurion watched Jesus die. It was perhaps their only encounter. He went from seeing Jesus as a common Jewish criminal to seeing him as the Son of God. Pause and reflect on those days in Jerusalem. Think about all the different observers of the events surrounding Jesus’ death. Consider all of the different players that participated in the crucifixion. There was no way to know it was an event that signaled the end of an empire, and the beginning of a kingdom.

There were Roman leaders, soldiers, Pharisees, curiosity-seekers and followers who watched Jesus die. Surely, as they reflected later on the punishment of this rabbi from Galilee, it was something they remembered the rest of their days. It was a sea change, a significant turning point. They looked back at the cross and remembered his composure and his countenance. When you look back at the crucifixion, what do you see?

The Centurion’s Job

The Roman soldier watched the prisoners die;
This was just a job he had to do.
He listened and he heard a prisoner cry,
“Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
He turned to look at Jesus as he died,
And saw forgiveness written on his face;
He knew he’d never be the same inside,
Since he encountered Jesus face to face…

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For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Proof: Some People Need to See It Before They’ll Believe in God

In today’s marketing consumer-driven world, people who sell products run focus groups and test markets to make sure they have all the proof before they go to market. Then they invest resources on the outcome. When they believe they have a winner, only then do they put their faith into their ad or product. So does faith come from proof? Or does true faith come BEFORE the proof is evident? Apparently faith back in Bible times was not as sophisticated as it is in our modern marketing world. Here are three examples of how that is so:

Some KJV Examples

“And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean…” (Matthew 8:2, KJV)

“(And) The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed…” (Matthew 8:8, KJV)

“And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way. And, behold, they cried out, saying, “What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:28-29 KJV)

proof

Matthew 8 records three very different testimonies about Jesus. There is a leper asking to be cleansed; a Roman centurion who asks that a servant of his be healed; and two men possessed with demons who recognized Jesus and who identify him as the Son of God. These testimonies revolve around life-changing healing events, which certainly deserve our attention.

Put the Horse Before the Cart

Even though they are eyewitness accounts from people who come from very different elements of class and culture, all of them are notable for the same reason. Do you see what it is? Read the three verses again and see if you catch it. In each case, they affirm their utter belief that Jesus can do something miraculous BEFORE he has acted on their behalf. He had not yet healed the leper; the centurion’s servant was still at home sick; and the possessed men cry out about who Jesus was from the midst of their affliction.

It’s not, “Wow, Lord, thanks for what you did. NOW I believe.” It’s, “Lord, I believe, (Or, in the case of the possessed men, “I acknowledge who you are”) so I know you are going to do something amazing.” Over and over, curiosity seekers and Pharisees asked Jesus to “show me a sign”, and skeptics would hold back their faith, waiting for Jesus to prove who he was. People still do it today. But these people came to Jesus believing in him and confident that he could solve their problems. Then he did it.

Maybe we’ve got this faith thing backwards, and we are supposed to believe in Jesus not because of what he’s already done, but because of what he is about to do. Would your life change if you approached him the same way? “Lord, I believe. If you would just take me as I am, I know you can do something amazing.” Why not try it? It’s worked before.

Proof

“Show me proof of God”, they said, “Just show a little sign.
If there is a Creator, where oh where is the design?
You say that in the Bible I can find the Gospel truth:
I’ll believe in Jesus when you show a little proof!”
Faith dependent on results is just not faith at all;
Faith believes when evidence is really very small.
A miracle may help you see that Jesus is the one,
But faith believes in miracles before they’re ever done.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread