Summary: How the centurion and the soldiers said, "surely he was the Son of God," after Jesus had died.

April 9, 2004 Matthew 27:45-54

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. 46 About 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?”

47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” 48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. 52 The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

Those who watched the Passion of the Christ and some of the critics complained about how graphically violent it was. It was violent, I will give it that. Ironically, at the same time it was being released, another movie called “the Dawn of the Dead” came out as well. I did not see this movie. But some friends of mine who went to it said that the movie overstepped the boundaries of decency in the death of infants and children that it portrayed. Yet we never heard an outcry by the movie critics about the violence of this movie. It only came from the Passion. They said, “Mel Gibson was trying to achieve shock value from his movie.” It made me kind of laugh. I mean honestly, what is shock value anymore? By the time our kids reach graduation from high school they will have already seen thousands of deaths and murders. After seeing so much, what can shock them anymore?

Imagine, then, being the centurion and the soldiers on duty at Jesus’ crucifixion. These men had not only witnessed but also performed crucifixions on a regular basis. They pounded the nails in the hands and feet. They broke the legs. They saw the birds eat the decaying bodies. After witnessing that week after week, what could shock them? It would have to take an awful lot. Yet what were they about to see in the death of Christ - the death of God - would be enough to open their eyes to something they had never seen before and would never see again. It shocked them so much that we will hear these hardened death machines -

Speaking the Sure Truth

I. Because of what we see at the cross

What was it that was so different about Jesus crucifixion than other crucifixions? Several things come to my mind. I would doubt that many had such a following as this procession did. I would doubt that the Jews - and the religious leaders no less - were ever so involved in the crucifixion of common criminals. But that was the not what impressed the soldiers and struck them - not by looking out from the cross - but looking at the cross. What was different were the words and actions of the Person on the cross. This was not the place for nice people - models of society. This was the place that hardened criminal hung - men full of anger, bitterness, and derision. I would not doubt that they usually heard the men they were crucifying cussing them, spitting on them, and doing everything they could to escape. Some despaired - gave up and cried about how they were being unfairly treated. Others responded with anger. But what did Jesus do? He prayed for the forgiveness of those who were crucifying him. He made sure that his mother would be taken care of. Instead of caring about himself, he was more concerned about them. And instead of being overcome by death - he decided when He would die - declaring, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.” These were not words of despair. These were not the actions of a man who was full of anger or out of control. They were the actions and words of a criminal and an insurrectionist - as they were led to believe. These were the words and actions of a king.

Yet in the middle of the crucifixion - in spite of the way Jesus was acting and speaking - many still refused to believe. When Jesus cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” . . . some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” The Jews would have been able to understand what Jesus was saying - it was a direct quote of Psalm 22. But it was a popular opinion of the Jews that Elijah would rise from the dead in preparation for the Messiah to lead a rebellion. So those standing there - either the Jews or the soldiers - mockingly or mistakenly twisted Jesus’ words - acting like Jesus was calling on Elijah to come to his aid. They weren’t ready to see Jesus for who He was - even though He was obviously not your common criminal. They were in denial.

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