The Centurion

Matthew 27:45-54

Picture the scene. Jesus is on the cross. He is one of three condemned men facing execution at the hands of the Roman empire. A centurion is overseeing the process. Being assigned to such a duty was not unusual. It was just part of the job. Another day at the office.

And yet, this was no ordinary execution. So much so that having witnessed the events that took place during the few hours that Jesus was on the cross, this seasoned soldier could say, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’. What would it take for an executioner to come to the conclusion that the man he had killed was God’s son?

The centurion would have been familiar with the claims of Jesus, as there had been a conversation about them between the two other crucified men, and some onlookers shouted abuse and mockery at Jesus on the basis of them. With these claims as the background, a series of unusual occurrences happened that combined to form the conclusion in his mind that those claims were true.

The first of those unusual occurrences is that the land went dark from the sixth hour (around noon) to the ninth hour (around 3pm). In the Old Testament, darkness is often associated with God’s judgment. Jesus’s own cry of ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me’ reinforces this point that Jesus was dying under God’s judgement. It is as though the sun itself was turning away as God’s son gave his life and took the divine wrath upon sin onto himself.

The second strange occurrence was in the temple nearby. The curtain which had served as a barrier blocking the way to the place of God’s presence was torn in two from top to bottom. The way had now been opened, and had been opened by God himself following the death of his son.

Thirdly, there was an earthquake. It is as though the weightiness of what has occurred had shaken the very land, and fourthly many tombs opened and saints were raised to life and appeared to many.

And so we can say it again; this was no ordinary execution. As Jesus died, the events surrounding his death gave testimony to his identity and preached the gospel to those looking on, including the centurion who had overseen his crucifixion. For this man, Jesus’ death was the encounter that changed his life. He would never be the same again.

Some Key Points:

  • The death of Jesus was like no other execution. Signs surrounded it that testified of what was happening:
    • The land went dark, signifying God’s judgement.
    • The temple curtain was torn in two, signifying access to God’s presence.
    • There was an earthquake, signifying the weightiness of what was happening.
    • The dead were raised, signifying death been defeated.
  • These signs were too much for the centurion to ignore. They confirmed Jesus’ claims to be God’s son.

Potential Applications:

  • Respond to the Gospel – The events of Jesus’ death spell out the importance of what his death has done for us. This is a great opportunity to invite people to put their faith in Jesus and receive all that his death has accomplished for them.
  • Invitation to Awe – On seeing what had happened, the centurion was filled with awe. Do we respond to these events in a similar way, or have they become over-familiar to us? This an invitation to respond in awe once again to the truth that the Son of God has died for us.