Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen

 Tom Lowe
6-7-03
Given at NHC and
Langston House on
Thursday, 8-7-03


Title: The Face of Faith: The Centurion

Text: Matthew 27:54

 

Scripture Reading: Matthew 27:45-56 (GW)

45  At noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.
46 About three o'clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
47 When some of the people standing there heard him say that, they said, “He's calling Elijah.” 48 One of the men ran at once, took a sponge, and soaked it in some vinegar. Then he put it on a stick and offered Jesus a drink.
49 The others said, “Leave him alone! Let's see if Elijah comes to save him.”
50 Then Jesus loudly cried out once again and gave up his life.
51 Suddenly, the curtain in the temple was split in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split open.
52 The tombs were opened, and the bodies of many holy people who had died came back to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after he had come back to life, and they went into the holy city where they appeared to many people.
54 An army officer and those watching Jesus with him saw the earthquake and the other things happening. They were terrified and said, “Certainly, this was the Son of God!”
55 Many women were there watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee and had always supported him.
56 Among them were Mary from Magdala, Mary (the mother of James and Joseph), and the mother of Zebedee's sons.


Introduction

Matthew wrote this about when Jesus died on the cross.  

And Jesus… yielded up His spirit.  Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split. So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

Centurions represented the best of Roman men.  They rose through the ranks to become commanders of one hundred men.  Those who appear in the New Testament are presented as strong and good men. 

This unnamed centurion witnessed the climatic events connected with Christ’s death.  He was probably at the arrest and the trial; we know that he was at the cross.  What he saw and heard had a profound effect on him. Just after the earthquake at Jesus’ death the centurion confessed, “Truly this was the Son of God.”   He had become a man of faith in Jesus Christ.  This is the confession that God wants to hear from each one of us.  If we look closely at this “face of faith” beneath the cross, perhaps we too can join him in his confession. 

There are just two things that I want to present to you today:

First, the evidence for faith.

Second, the evidence of faith.

This noble man didn’t begin by believing in Jesus, he had to change his mind about Him in a relative short time. He set out to help the Jews rid themselves of a nuisance but soon confessed the nuisance to be none less than the Son of God.  What is the evidence that changed his mind?

First, there was the evidence for faith.

There was the manner of Christ’s suffering.  Never had the centurion seen one human being undergo so much abuse.  He had been harassed, beaten, mocked, whipped, spat on, and crucified.  But not once did the victim lose His poise or react in anger. Even as the soldiers nailed Him to the cross, He was meek and submissive.  The only words He spoke were a prayer: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” 

Observing Christ’s behavior gave the centurion a strange feeling.  What kind of man was this? Surely He must be more than human! The centurion had been an eyewitness of Christ’s suffering from the very beginning.  After Pilate ordered Him to be crucified, the centurion became one of those who joined in the humiliation and punishment of the Savior. 

Matthew describes the scene like this: Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him. The soldiers were free to do with Him as they pleased.  He became a plaything for this brutal, cruel crowd.

And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him.  When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” It is frightful what they did to Him—Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. The soldiers took this opportunity to have fun with Him before He was crucified. Since He was going to die anyway, they could mutilate Him and do anything they wished with Him. 

They played a cruel Roman game known as “hot hand” with their prisoners.  All the soldiers would show the prisoner their fists.  Then they would blindfold the prisoner, and all but one would hit him as hard as he could.  Then they remove the blindfold, and if the prisoner was still conscious, he was to guess which soldier did not hit him.  Obviously, the prisoner could never guess the right one.  They would continue this until they had beaten the prisoner to a pulp.  I believe that the Lord Jesus was so mutilated that you would not have recognized Him. 

Then He was led from Pilate’s residence to be crucified.  And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified.  Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Him they compelled to bear His cross.

Jesus was subjected to horrible humiliation and to untold suffering.  We are given the impression here that He was too weak to carry His cross because of the ordeal to which the soldiers had subjected Him. 

Next we read: And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink.  Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: “They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.”  Sitting down, they kept watch over Him there.

In my opinion it is here that we see humanity that has reached its lowest depth.  You don’t need to go to skid row or to a prison to see man at his lowest, you can see him here. In the midst of all the pain that Jesus suffered, the soldiers were unfeeling, and “Sitting down, they kept watch over Him there.”

Christ’s suffering was certainly one evidence for faith in Him, but the second thing to consider is Christ’s love for His enemies. 

This is how the word of God reports the reaction of the crowd: And they put up over His head the accusation written against Him: THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.  Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left.  And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”  Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.  He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.

The crowd’s hatred for Jesus was obvious.  The people relentlessly hurled insults and accusations at Jesus even as He died.  But He responded to their ridicule with love, gasping, “Father, forgive them.”  He was concerned about the welfare of the crowd that was crucifying Him.  What love!  Christ’s attitude impressed the centurion and made him wonder about the judgment of the crowd and Pilate.  How could someone with such love deserve to die?

The third evidence for faith is the natural phenomena that occurred when Christ was crucified. 

It was a strange day.  After Jesus had hung on the cross about three hours, darkness came over the land.  Even though it was high noon, there was no sun to be seen.  Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. Our Lord was put on the cross at the third hour which was about nine in the morning.  By twelve noon, man had done all he could to the Son of God.  At twelve noon it became dark, and the cross became an alter on which the Lamb who taketh away the sin of the world was offered. Nature hid her face in shame at the unspeakable wickedness of men.  God may have meant the darkness to be creation’s symbolic mourning for Jesus while he was suffering for the sins of mankind. 

As the centurion stood near the cross during the darkness, he heard Jesus exclaim, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”   And Jesus… yielded up His spirit.  Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.  So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

About three o’clock Jesus died.  At that time the whole countryside began to shake with an earthquake.  Rocks were torn to pieces, and the tombs were opened as God saluted the conquering Savior.  The veil in the temple, the curtain which separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple, was torn in two from top to bottom.  This was God’s own proclamation that in the death of Christ the barrier between God and man disappeared. 

The risen saints were God’s evidence and guarantee that the power of death had been broken. When His body was torn upon the cross—when He had paid the penalty for your sin and my sin in His own body—then the way was opened into the presence of God.  Therefore, you and I don’t need to have a priest or preacher go into the presence of God for us; we can go directly to the throne of God through Christ. 

The centurion saw it all and he sensed that there was a connection between Christ’s death and all of these miraculous events.  Surely He was not a criminal!

The final evidence for faith is the manner of Christ’s death. 

The centurion had seen many deaths in the course of his duty.  He knew that death by crucifixion followed a certain pattern.  But Christ’s death was different.  In His last moments, Jesus cried out, “It is finished.”  It was like a shout of triumph.  Then quietly He prayed again, “Father, into thy hands I commit My Spirit.” 

He died as though He was the one in charge.  He died with a quiet trust in God. The evidence was just too much for the Roman.  He knew in his heart that this Man was more than a man.  So he exclaimed, “Truly, this was the Son of God.”  The centurion, I believe, became a saved man. At the foot of the cross he looked up and saw that something unusual was taking place, and he could glorify God.  He saw that Christ was a righteous man. 

I realize that the centurion’s confession of faith was not enough to join the average Bible church, but let’s go back in time to that day.  He is at the crucifixion.  He knew nothing about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He had never read any books on theology.  This poor fellow was in the dark, but he couldn’t have said anything that revealed his faith more than this: “Truly, this was the Son of God.” 

We have more evidence than the centurion, because we know of the glorious resurrection and continued work of Jesus.  Look at the evidence carefully and it will lead you to have faith. 

Now we are ready to look at the evidence of faith that can be seen in the centurion.

We have two separate accounts of the centurion’s confession.  According to Luke the centurion declared, “Certainly this man was a righteous man.”  And Matthew reports that he confessed Jesus to be the Son of God.  No doubt both accounts are accurate. 

The evidence of this man’s faith becomes apparent in two ways. 

First, there is his act of confession and then there is the substance of the confession.  Let’s look first at the act of confession. 

The centurion’s confession itself reveals faith.  His voice is the only voice we hear at the cross commending Jesus.  It is one thing to have some impressions in your heart but another thing to verbalize those impressions. 

True faith leads to confession.  Any born again child of God will want to tell others about the Savior.  It’s important that we tell others about Jesus.  Jesus said that if we don’t confess Him before men, he will not confess us before His Father.  If you have never confessed your faith in Jesus Christ, your faith is in question.

The next thing to see is the substance of the confession.   What the centurion confessed is the real evidence.  He confessed the righteous character of Jesus, contradicting the judgment of the world.  The Jews accused Jesus of blasphemy against God, and Pilate sentenced Him to death by crucifixion, but the centurion saw the truth, and he confessed, “Certainly this man was a righteous man.” 

The centurion also confessed the uniqueness of Christ: “Truly this was the Son of God.” Scholars will debate how much the centurion actually understood, and whether or not he meant to acknowledge the deity of Christ.  

Surely Matthew included this account because he saw it as being the logical end of Christ’s life and death.  Both Matthew and Luke put it at the climax of the Gospel story. 

Without trying to make a theologian out of the centurion, let’s accept this confession for what it says.  He had come to believe in the uniqueness of Christ.  He had come to believe that Christ was the Son of God.

Conclusion

There is the story about an old English farmer who went to London and visited one of the great art galleries in the city.  There he was attracted by a painting of the crucifixion.  He sat before it, studying each detail with intense interest.  At last, forgetful of his surroundings, he cried out, “Bless Him!  I love Him!”  Others nearby, startled by his words, came to see what was wrong with the old man.  From different parts of the gallery they gathered around him.  They saw the tears flowing down his bronzed cheeks.  They too looked at the painting of the crucifixion.  After a while, one man in the group with tearful eyes, reached for the farmers hand and said, “And I love Him too!”  Then another and another and still another took the old man’s hand until there was a sizable group of sobbing believers rejoicing in front of the painting of Christ’s crucifixion and declaring, “We love Him too!”

Will you join the centurion in his confession, “Truly this Man is the Son of God?”  The Bible says that we are saved when we believe in our heart and confess with our mouth that Jesus is God’s Son.  If we believe that, we must also believe that He came to earth where He died on a cross for our sins.  That He rose from the dead three days later.  That He is in heaven today for us and that He is going to return someday.  That is the Gospel!

If you believe the gospel, then perhaps you can say as the old man did, “Bless Him!  I love Him!”  May Jesus bless all of you for Christ’s sake.

Amen.

 

 

 


 

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