Truly the Son of God

Luke 16:19-31

The Centurion is a great example of one who was changed by the cross.


One of the dirtiest jobs that you wouldn’t wish on anyone would be to prepare a condemned criminal for execution, and then carrying out the execution. Traditionally, the executioner's identity has been shrouded in anonymity. An axeman, for example, is always depicted in a black hood. 


The Roman guards are the ones who led Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem, up to Calvary's hill, nailed him to the cross, and thrust the sword into his side. Their purpose there was simply to obey orders. Whomever the ones being crucified on that day, either the Son of God or a wicked criminal, meant nothing to them. These soldiers could be expected to be coarse and vulgar, having no sympathy for Jesus.


The soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe. They mocked him saying, “Hail, King of the Jews,” they offered him sour wine, and struck him with their hands."


The centurion was the commander of the crucifixion guard, normally a group of hundred troops. He would be delegated to make sure that the crucifixion was carried out properly without any complications. He was similarly expected to be cold and efficient, carrying out his orders.


As was the custom, the crucifixion guard would divide among themselves the meager possessions of the condemned criminals. They cast lots for Christ’s seamless coat that was used to cover his body.


Like the centurion that Jesus had met earlier who asked that one of his servants be healed (Mt8:8), this Centurion was different. Somewhere along the way, he became impressed with Jesus. It could have been the way he held up under the anguish of the cross. It could have been the way he lovingly made allowance for his mother's care. It could have been how Jesus prayed for their, and specifically his, forgiveness. He had almost certainly never heard such a prayer from a cross. It was also, no doubt, because of the signs that took place during the crucifixion.


As Matthew tells us, “then behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after his resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.


So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they were shook, and were compelled to say, "Truly this was the Son of God!"


He went on to express a belief in Jesus' innocence. In Luke we hear, "So when the centurion saw what had happened, he glorified God, saying, "Certainly this was a righteous Man!"


It appears that this centurion was like the centurion earlier, and the centurion Cornelius in Acts chapter 10, in that he was a believer in the one true God. Notice that he "glorified God." One can't but wonder about how coming in contact with Jesus affected the soldier's lives. Did they become Christians? Well, we can be sure that their lives would never be the same after seeing Jesus hang on that cross. 


So a take away could be: Some may never really get it. Even the most holy and spiritual activity can appear carnal to those who are not spiritual.  As in Titus we hear, "To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but in works they deny him, being disobedient, and disqualified for every good work."


Here was a man, Jesus, giving his life without complaint, without pleading for mercy, and yet the Roman soldiers were casting lots for his meager possessions. We shouldn’t be surprised when those who are not Christians do not see, they are blind to, the great spiritual significance of the Lord's Supper, baptism, and other spiritually moving events.


But our bigger take away is this: The cross of Jesus has the power to change the individual. The centurion began as an officer overseeing a crucifixion, but ended the day acknowledging that Jesus was the Son of God. First Corinthians: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God." Because of his love for us, the cross compels us to change.


If a cold-hearted centurion can change, we can change too, no matter the scars that we carry or the setbacks we’ve endured. As I heard in a montage of Billy Graham sermons this week, “God sent his son from heaven to this earth for you. Jesus Christ came to this earth to take your sins upon a cross, and he would have died even if you were the only person in this whole world.” And so we pray, dear Lord take us with you from death to life, from chaos to order, and from darkness to light. We believe in your love and may we proclaim it in all we do! Amen!


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