Summary: This is a unique first-person narrative sermon from the viewpoint of the Centurion at the cross who exclaimed "Truly this is the Son of God!"
"WHAT HAPPENED TO ME LAST FRIDAY"
Last Friday was a day I’ll never forget. I had to oversee three crucifixions. In and of itself, there was nothing unusual about that. I’ve had a lot more than that on one day - I’ve spent longer days at Golgotha. But last Friday I clocked six hours there for three of them. We got up there at 9:00 in the morning, and it was business as usual: nail them down and lift them up. I don’t even blink anymore when the nails are pounded in. I’ll never forget seeing my first crucifixion as a young soldier and how hard pounding those nails was, but now, after thousands of them, I don’t even blink. It’s just a job. I hate even saying this, but you get used to it. You get calloused. I don’t even get the nightmares anymore. It should have been business as usual that day. That’s how it began. But by the time the One in the middle died, something changed inside of me last Friday!
You see, as soon as those nails were pounded in to this guy in the middle, this "Jesus of Nazareth," this crucifixion stopped being normal. At this point, I normally get cursed, spit on, and death threats. I hear things about my mother. And I hear that everyone is innocent and it is always someone else’s fault. Not last Friday! What does this guy say? He asks his Father to forgive us! Can you believe that?! We usually give the guys some wine and vinegar to dull the pain a little, but not this guy - he would have none of that! Then he said something really strange to the other thief that asked to be remembered in his kingdom! Some promise about being in paradise today! What an amazing thing for one dying man to say to another! Instead of worrying about himself, He makes sure his poor mother, who I couldn’t look in the eye, was taken care of. Toward the end, he shouts out "It is finished!" as if He was some sort of victor! And finally, right before he dies, he says with this calm peace, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." It sounded like "mission complete; coming home." None of this was ordinary!
But it hardly compares to what I saw! Right while we were eating lunch, it became completely dark! There were no storms in the forecast. But the minute this guy bowed his head, bam! The lights were back on! There was an earthquake, and rocks were splitting open! It was mayhem up there on Golgotha. I heard later that big curtain in the temple had torn right in half! Something had happened! The sun, now returned was casting an eerie glow on this surreal scene. Well, a light was dawning in me, too. Something had clicked on.
I felt a weight lift, a strange sense of relief. Peace. Joy. Somehow I realized something good had just happened on this Friday, that this Jesus had been put on that cross for me. And you. Everybody. It certainly wasn’t for himself! I praised God for what had just happened! I can’t explain it; this wasn’t logical; it didn’t come from me! The Spirit of God has convinced me that this innocent man I put to death isn’t just a man; I know that He is the Son of God! And I couldn’t help but confessing that loud and clear for everyone there to hear that day.
Yes, this was no ordinary man. Looking back to Pilate’s courtroom earlier that morning, it makes sense now. I was standing there when he told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world. I heard the Jews accuse him of saying he was the "Son of God." And when my soldiers mocked him for this by dressing him up, he didn’t complain. But you see, that morning wasn’t the first I had heard of Jesus of Nazareth. Pilate pays me to keep informed of what is going on among the Jews, and Jesus had been on our radar screen for some time. A week earlier, he had come into Jerusalem on a donkey, with the whole city hailing him as their divine king! Believe me, we had all the troops on duty that day. So I knew there was something special about this guy, but never dreamed it would ever affect me or my life! And now, I can’t think about anything else!
Yeah, I am dealing with some guilt over this. Sure, for driving those nails in. But something haunts me more than that. Could it have been my sins, my fault, that he was sent to the cross in the first place? Looking back now, I know that it was. Even though my soldiers and I pounded the nails in, it was my sins that nailed him there. My sins and yours, too.