5. The Roman Centurion


A woman went to the beach with her children. Her four-year-old son ran up to her, grabbed her hand, and led her to the shore where a dead seagull lay in the sand.

‘Mommy, what happened to him?’ the little boy asked. ‘He died and went to heaven,’ she replied. The child thought for a moment and said, ‘Did God throw him back down?’

In this series so far, we’ve looked at those who were absent from the cross of Christ. We’ve looked at those beautiful women who were at the cross and we’ve looked at the men who were at the cross. Last time we examined the two thieves who hung on either side of Jesus on their crosses and we looked at Jesus Himself.

In this study, we’re going to finish the series by looking at the faith of the centurion.

‘And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:39

Now let’s think about this man for a moment, how did he conclude who Jesus was?

Here is a Gentile, who probably spent more time with Jesus than anyone else during the last few hours of His life.

‘The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again, they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.’ Mark 15:16-20

He may have participated or at least been present when Jesus was being mocked and ridiculed. He may have been the very soldier to spat on Jesus and slapped Him.

He may have participated or at least been with Jesus when He was scourged. He may have participated or at least been with Jesus when his men dressed Jesus in a robe and pressed a crown of thorns onto His head.

And I’m pretty sure he would have been one of the soldiers who actually carried out the crucifixion of Jesus.

But think about this, out of everyone we’ve looked at in this series, he’s the only one who didn’t choose to be there. He didn’t choose to be there because it was his job and his duty to be there.

I’m sure after Jesus was securely nailed to the cross, the centurion would have relaxed as he waited for Jesus to die.

‘Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” John 19:28

And as he’s waiting, he hears Jesus calling out for something to drink.

‘Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

A little later he hears Jesus speak to one of the thieves about paradise.

‘About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’)’ Matthew 27:46

Later still, he hears Jesus saying something about being forsaken by His God. And in between everything he hears, he notices that Jesus isn’t acting like any other criminal he’s crucified before. Not once does he hear Jesus mock anyone, he doesn’t hear Jesus blame anyone else for Him being on the cross.

‘Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

He doesn’t hear Jesus condemn anyone but hears Jesus praying for those who condemned Him.

‘When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.’ John 19:26-27

He also hears Jesus speaking about those close to Him, when He asks John to look after His mother.

‘Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last.’ Luke 23:46

‘When he had received the drink, Jesus said, It is finished. With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.’ John 19:30

He hears Jesus submitting His spirit to His Father and hears the final cry, ‘it is finished.’

‘When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”.’ Matthew 27:54

About noon, when the darkness came, the centurion heard Jesus’ words, saw the darkness, and felt the earthquake but he knew this wasn’t an ordinary death.

The centurion had probably crucified and witnessed hundreds of people dying over the years. Having seen so many crucifixions, the Roman Centurion knew what to expect from his prisoners.

Most of them who were sentenced to be crucified were criminals, thieves, and murderers. He’s probably heard countless men scream out in agony while pleading for their lives. And while they were on their crosses, he’s probably heard them shout curses to men below and blasphemies to God above.

‘In the same way, the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.’ Matthew 27:44

The behaviour of the thieves on either side of Jesus was all too familiar, as they mocked and ridiculed Jesus as He hung between them.

This Roman Centurion was the commander of over 100 soldiers in the Roman army. This war-hardened, Gentile soldier, heard and saw something which he had never witnessed before. There was something different about this guy named Jesus.

But his confession didn’t stop there, he went to declare something else about Jesus.

‘The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” Luke 23:47

Not only did he go on to praise God, but he also publicly confesses that Jesus was a righteous man.

‘We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Luke 23:41

He declares the very same thing, the thief of the cross declared just before Jesus died. Jesus had done nothing wrong, Jesus was a righteous man. And remember he makes this very public confession right in front of Jesus’ enemies.

I’m sure the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem would have been embarrassed by the centurion’s acknowledgement. They illegally arrested Jesus and illegally had him put to death but here is a Gentile soldier publicly acknowledging that the guy they murdered is the Son of God.

‘Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Matthew 14:43

When Jesus walked upon the waters of the Sea of Galilee the disciples proclaim to each other, ‘truly you are the Son of God’.

‘Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:16

A little later, when Jesus asked Peter who He was, Peter proudly declared privately that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

‘When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”.’ Matthew 27:54

But here, no one asks the centurion any question about who Jesus is, he simply concludes that Jesus was the Son of God based on everything he’s witnessed and heard.

‘Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.’ Matthew 8:13

He may have heard about what Jesus did for his fellow centurion’s son.

‘When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.’ Luke 7:9-10

He may have heard about what Jesus had done for one of his fellow centurion’s servants.

‘Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’ John 20:30-31

Remember what John said about the reason for writing his Gospel. He wrote it so that what he wrote might bring about faith that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, so that by your faith you may have life.

Now what about you, do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God?

‘Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.’ Matthew 10:32-33

We don’t know what happened to the centurion after this event but he’s certainly starting his journey toward God in the right way. Because he acknowledged who Jesus was, then Jesus would acknowledge him before the Father.

Are you willing to acknowledge Jesus before others?

Now you might be thinking, ‘well, I confessed Jesus as my Lord and Saviour many years ago when I first became a Christian.’ Well, that’s great, but I don’t think Jesus is speaking about a one-off confession of faith in Him.

He’s speaking about a continuous acknowledgement of Who Jesus is in our lives. He’s speaking about confessing every day to the world, that we’re Christians and Jesus is our Saviour.

When you’re at work and you hear someone blaspheming God’s Name and you say nothing, didn’t you just disown Christ?

When you’re with your friends and they share a racist or sexist or crude joke and you laugh along with them, didn’t you just disown Christ?

When you’re with your family and they encourage you to miss worship just one time and you don’t go, didn’t you just disown Christ?

Jesus says if you’re not willing to acknowledge who you are and who He is in any situation in life, then He will disown you before the Father.

What about those who aren’t Christians, who do you say Jesus is?

You see, it’s not enough to acknowledge that Jesus was a good man who lived a couple of thousand years ago. It’s not enough to acknowledge that He was just a great teacher or a wise man.

The centurion examined the evidence for himself, and after examining all the evidence, he had no doubts that Jesus was God’s Son.

‘Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.’ Acts 17:11

If you’re a not Christian today, let me encourage you to be like the Bereans.

Let me encourage you to examine the evidence for yourself, read the Bible and allow God to reveal who Jesus is to you.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ John 3:16

The centurion understood that Jesus was God’s only Son and He died in his place, to pay the debt that he couldn’t pay.

And if you acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, then you’re acknowledging that He died in your place and paid the debt that you could never pay.

D.M. Stearns was preaching in Philadelphia. At the close of the service, a stranger came up to him and said, ‘I don’t like the way you spoke about the cross. I think that instead of emphasizing the death of Christ, it would be far better to preach Jesus, the teacher and example.’

Stearns replied, ‘If I presented Christ in that way, would you be willing to follow Him?’ ‘I certainly would,’ said the stranger without hesitation. ‘All right then,’ said the preacher, ‘let’s take the first step. He did no sin. Can you claim that for yourself?’

The man looked confused and somewhat surprised. ‘Why, no,’ he said. ‘I acknowledge that I do sin.’ Stearns replied, ‘Then your greatest need is to have a Saviour, not an example!’

We’re all sinners and our greatest need is salvation and our Saviour’s Name is Jesus.

In this study series, we’ve looked at the two thieves on either side of Jesus.

We’ve seen the incredible love and care of the women who were at the cross.

We’ve seen the hatred and malice of some of the men who were at the cross.

And we began by looking at those who should have been or could have been at the cross of Christ but were absent.

And I would be heartbroken if anyone who’s listening to this finds themselves in hell when they had the opportunity to be in heaven.