Eyes on the Cross: The Centurion

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.

Eyes on the Cross: The Criminal Hanging Next to Jesus

Then they crucified Him and divided His clothes, casting lots for them to decide what each would get. Now it was nine in the morning when they crucified Him. The inscription of the charge written against Him was:  THE KING OF THE JEWS.

They crucified two criminals with Him, one on His right and one on His left. [So the Scripture was fulfilled that says: And He was counted among outlaws.]  Those who passed by were yelling insults at Him, shaking their heads,and saying, “Ha! The One who would demolish the sanctuary and build it in three days, save Yourself by coming down from the cross!” In the same way, the chief priests with the scribes were mocking Him to one another and saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself! Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, so that we may see and believe.” Even those who were crucified with Him were taunting Him.

– Mark 15:24-32

Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at Him: “Aren’t You the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!”But the other answered, rebuking him: “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!”

And He said to him, “I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.”

– Luke 23:39-43

As Jesus is crucified and now hanging on the cross between two criminals, everyone begins to mock Him. Everyone joins in cursing Him. They throw Jesus’ words in His face. Even one of the criminals crucified beside Jesus taunts Him.

Only one person is recorded close by the cross who speaks up for Jesus, one of the people hanging beside Him. Through his own excruciating pain, he sees Jesus suffering, too. From his vantage point, he views the hate surrounding them, zeroed in on Jesus. The sign above Jesus declares His royalty, yet He is now exposed and rejected by the world. Then the criminal also hears Jesus call out to God, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” While struggling to breathe on the cross, the man sees hope.

All of the people around Jesus were guilty (whether they were on a cross or not), but it was the one crucified and actively paying for his sins who realizes that he ultimately needs God’s forgiveness. This criminal turns to God’s Son and admits that he deserves what is happening to him, but Jesus does not. This dying man admits his guilt, and asks Jesus to remember him.

1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

This criminal facing death is made new, right there. Jesus forgives this broken man as He pays for his sin. Jesus assures him that very day he will be with Jesus in heaven.

The criminal’s salvation doesn’t stop his pain or crucifixion, the earthly consequences of his sin. He still has to suffer and die. But, he will go through his darkest hours, and into eternity, with Jesus literally by his side.