The Centurion

From "Facing Jesus," A Lenton Sermon

by Dwight Nelson

And when the Centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!" Mark 15:39

... let's take a moment to consider Mark's perspective. It is generally believed that Mark's main source for writing the gospel is Peter and it is very interesting to consider Peter as the one who controls the reader's point of view. We are told the story as if we are seeing it from a distance, where Peter would have been. We feel we are at a distance from the cross because Mark does not record all that Jesus said on the cross — only the loud cries. We do not hear the private conversation between Jesus and the thief who repents. We hear only the loud clamor of the crowd and the cries of Jesus. It is as if we are watching, with Peter, at a distance.

But we are brought in close for the words of the Centurion, the one who stood closest to Jesus. We hear him say, "Surely this man was the son of God," which is the confession of Peter, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God." Peter who said, "I will go with you to the death" was supposed to be there in the place of the Centurion; but he is at a distance, so the Centurion says his words for him. We see that for Mark, the heart of the story of the cross is the confession of faith of the Centurion.

Who was the Centurion? A centurion was a non-commissioned officer in the Roman army, who had charge of 100 men. This centurion had pulled bad duty, because he got sent to Palestine and one of his jobs there was to carry out crucifixions. He was to keep order, see that crucifixions got done, and, especially, determine when the criminal was dead and bring that pronouncement to his superior. His job this day was to stand by the cross until he knew that Jesus was dead and then go to Pilate himself with the news. That meant that, since Jesus was probably lifted no more than a few inches off the ground, this man stared face-to-face at Jesus. He looked intently in the growing darkness to discover when Jesus died so he could go home for the day. It was bad work and you had to be pretty rough and hard to do it. I am sure he did not join the army to become an executioner, a crucifier.

What did this man see and hear that day that brought him to belief? He saw the mockery of Jesus, especially from his own soldiers. .. . The Centurion may have even joined in the beating and mocking. But when the darkness came, it got very quiet. He heard in the silence something very deep in his heart. He realized they were implicated in something beyond what they had thought.

The Silence of God cracked open the soul of this tough man. In the darkness and quiet he listened and watched intently. As he looked into Jesus' eyes, he heard the cry "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?" He heard it in a language he may not have understood, but the meaning was clear. He felt and > saw what Jesus was saying. It was the cry of the son to the father, a son left with the sins of world upon him.

.. . The power of God was speaking on the cross for, in the death of Jesus, the one who was nearest, the executioner — the prime example of the pagan world, tough and hard and irreligious — was won over. He simply saw and believed. And so, from the moment of the death of Jesus, the power of redemption began to touch people and has continued to touch people, one at a time, until today.

Who do you say he is? Is he the son of God? Will you follow him, listen to him, believe in him? Life is found in Jesus. It is not found in church, or in friends or in ideas or teachings. Life is found in Jesus. What is your response to Jesus as you survey the wondrous cross today?

Dwight Nelson is a retired Covenant pastor. He lives in Mount Vernon, Wash.

See all articles by Dwight Nelson