From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over the whole land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Elí, Elí, lemá sabachtháni?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling for Elijah!” Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, fixed it on a reed, and offered Him a drink. But the rest said, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to save Him!”
Jesus shouted again with a loud voice and gave up His spirit. Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom; the earth quaked and the rocks were split. The tombs were also opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And they came out of the tombs after His resurrection, entered the holy city, and appeared to many.
When the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they were terrified and said, “This man really was God’s Son!”
– Matthew 27:45-54
The Roman centurion in charge of Jesus’s execution saw everything that day. He was there to do a job, and he was good at it.
He was likely there overseeing the flogging of Jesus and his soldiers cruelly piercing the crown of thorns into His skull. He led Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem like a lamb headed to slaughter, and gave the nod to force someone in the crowd to carry this man’s cross because Jesus could barely walk. He saw Jesus being stretched out across the wooden cross-beam, and the nails piercing His wrists and ankles as they prepared to lift Him up to hang. He heard those grieving and those jeering. He smirked at his underlings gambling for Jesus’s clothes.
Much of this was commonplace. The centurion had overseen many political dissidents and disturbers of the peace, criminals even. But, as Jesus hung dying, he also saw what he couldn’t understand. Never did a man call out on the cross for God to forgive those crucifying him. When did the sky go dark for three hours everywhere while he was on duty? When this man cried out “It is finished,” at that moment the earth trembled and an earthquake shook them all to their core. There were screams coming from the direction of the Temple, people raised from the dead. It terrified him, and all those under his orders.
All he could do was cry out, “This man really was the Son of God!”
Though we do not know if this Roman Centurion surrendered his life to God, he did recognize and confess Jesus for who He really was: The Son of God.
As we stand with the centurion and witness Jesus’s death on the cross, will we call Him the Son of God? Will we take the next step and call Him Lord and accept His death as our atonement? Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
This particular day is one the Roman centurion would likely never forget. And I pray, as we look to the cross on Good Friday, we will never take it for granted.