Summary: Something happened the day Jesus was crucified that turned a callous Roman Centurion into a worshipper at the cross. It was something he "saw" and something he "heard." But what?
OPEN: Years ago when I was in Bible college, a movie premiered in the movie theatres that some friends of mine and I wanted to attend. What struck me as I watched, were the powerful images of Christianity in the movie.
The movie? It was called "The Poseidon Adventure." How many of you have seen it? (about 2/3’s raised their hands).
For those of you that have not seen it, "The Poseidon Adventure" was the fictional story of a group of passengers aboard a cruise ship which had turned upside down in a terrible storm. The movie followed the efforts of a handful of those passengers seeking to find their way to safety through the bottom of the boat.
Like I said the Christian symbolism was powerful and unmistakable:
– Their world was upside down
– They were led to salvation by a clergyman who, in turn, was listening to the advice of young 12 year old (or so) boy who said he knew the way out
– But, no one would listen to them (especially offended that a child of that age would know anything) preferring instead the expertise of professionals who actually were as lost as they were.
– Their way to safety was the exact opposite of what was accepted by all of the other passengers
– They clambered to safety by climbing out of a ballroom up (of all things) a Christmas tree - the eternal symbol of the season celebrating Christ’s birth.
– And ULTIMATELY their adult leader (Gene Hackman) who was the “man of God” in the movie, died toward the end of the movie giving his life (just like Christ did) to save the lives of his followers.
As I said, the Christian symbolism was phenomenal.
However, I have since rented this movie and been embarrassed by all the profanity that the characters used. In fact, the clergyman (Gene Hackman) died cursing God.
But I didn’t see that the 1st time I visited the theatre. All I saw was Christ. In fact, after the movie, I went into the bathroom and overheard a couple of men talking about the movie. One of them said to the other: "I need to change my life!"
APPLY: Now, if men could be effected for God by an imperfect movie, filled with cursing and self-righteousness and blasphemy of God, how much more do you think a soldier who stood at the foot of the cross, seeing all that took place that day have been effected.
The Centurion is so moved by what takes place, that he utters the powerful words: "Surely, this was the Son of God."
A question: what had this Centurion observed this day that changed his heart?
I. To understand what took place that day, we need to revisit the scene:
Jesus has been nailed to cross 6 hours earlier by this centurion and his soldiers. It has been this Centurion’s job to crucify Jesus. And over the hours, he has watched as Jesus has been abused and mistreated
* by the crowds passing by
* by the chief priests & teachers of the law
* by the thieves on either side
* by his own soldiers
* And … perhaps he, himself, has joined in on the ridicule
More than likely this Centurion has heard of Jesus before. Judea is not a large country, and the Roman soldiers were not totally isolated from what took place in the nation they were to watch over.
The practice of Rome seems to have been to station a legion of troops in any country they had under their control. Roman Legions normally consisted of about 5000 men. Amongst those 5000 soldiers there were commanders called centurions - leaders of a hundred men. So, in this legion there would have been about 50 Centurions. That would be a very choice and exclusive club. These 50 men would know each other and probably share many of their stories with each other.
One of these Centurions has seen Jesus before and encountered the power God had displayed not more than a couple of years earlier. Matthew 8 tells us his story:
"When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. ’Lord,’ he said, ’my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.’
Jesus said to him, ’I will go and heal him.’
The centurion replied, ’Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.’
When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, ’I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’