Summary: Part 6 in Easter series, focusing on the personal encounter of the centurion at the cross with the crucified Christ and its lessons and parallels for each of us.
SURPRISING ’STARS’ OF THE PASSION
Part 6: The Centurion
Rev. Todd G. Leupold, Perth Bible Church, Easter Sunday AM 3/23/2008
As I certainly hope everyone has realized by now, today is Easter – Resurrection Sunday! It is the day in which we commemorate that day of days when Jesus the Christ, son of God and Savior of the world, resurrected Himself from physical death! It is truly an amazing and miraculous event.
But is it genuinely unique? Does Jesus’ bodily resurrection really warrant the 2000+ years of ’hoopla’ and honor that has been credited to Him? The Bible tells us of others – Lazarus, a young girl, a young boy, many at the time of Jesus’ death – who were brought back from life, but we don’t have a special day to commemorate their resurrections. The Bible even tells us of a prophet named Elijah who God took up to heaven without ever experiencing physical death. In our advanced, technological world today, it has become almost expected to hear the occasional account of someone who had been declared medically dead but then lived.
So, even accepting the truth of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, what really makes His so much more special and different from all others? As we examine God’s Word this morning, it is my prayer that we will all greater see and understand that His resurrection and it’s meaning is so infinitely wonderful and unique, because Jesus Himself is so infinitely wonderful and unique! The key to discovering this, however, is not in the empty tomb but about the cursed tree. Through the eyes, heart and spirit of our next “Surprising Star of the Passion” we too may observe and experience this life-changing truth here this morning!
SCRIPTURE: Luke 23:33-49 (emphasis on vv. 44-48)
To better understand this we will, as I already mentioned, try to examine it anew through the Centurion whose life was so profoundly affected at the cross.
First, WHO WAS “THE CENTURION”?
We are not told his name, because his name is unimportant. What is important is the kind of person he was and this made him a particularly interesting and important witness.
A “centurion” is an experienced Roman soldier who has been placed in command over 100 of the world’s best-trained and most feared soldiers.
The ancient historian, Polybius, recorded that centurions were chosen for their command based on proven merit over years of military service and were known not only for their courage and prowess in battle, but also for their cunning, intelligence, and strength of both body and mind.
He was obviously, then, a man much accustomed to violence, death, and political assassinations.
He himself was a professional killer who had likely long ago learned to numb himself to the sufferings and deaths of others – no matter who they were, why or how they died.
The fact that this Roman Centurion was at the Place of the Skull tells us that, at least for a time, his unit of soldiers were assigned to ’crucifixion duty’ in Jerusalem. He then was the captain or commanding officer in charge of keeping political order in Jerusalem, and handling the prisoners right down to their execution. This Centurion and his soldiers, then, were not only veterans of war, but veterans of crucifixion!
It was likely these same soldiers under the command of this same Centurion who earlier mockingly dressed Jesus as a farcical king, beat Him, teased Him, whipped Him to the very edge of death, spat upon Him, nailed Him to that rugged cross, mocked Him there, gambled for his garments and challenged His person.
Finally, the Centurion would have been a Gentile. In other words, he was not trained or learned in the ways or words of the One True God.
Second, WHAT DID HE EXPERIENCE?
For all of the experience this soldier of soldiers had with war, violence, and crucifixion, as routine and boring as these events likely became, this Roman Centurion soon discovered that THIS one was profoundly different from and more important than any other!
In his book, No Wonder They Call Him The Savior, Max Lucado writes:
“If is true that a picture paints a thousand words, then there was a Roman centurion who got a dictionary full. All he did was see Jesus suffer. He never heard him preach or saw him heal or followed him through the crowds. He never witnessed him still the wind; he only witnessed the way he died. But that was all it took to cause this weather-worn soldier to take a giant step in faith. That says a lot, doesn’t it?” (pg. 77).
In another of his books, Six Hours One Friday, Lucado describes what he believes it must have been like for this Centurion (read excerpt as presented in Nelson’s “The Cross: An Anthology”, pp. 222-223).