The Centurion near the Cross
- John 19:23-24
- Matthew 27:50-54
- Mark 15:39: When the centurion, who stood facing Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “This man was certainly God’s Son.”
The presence of Roman soldiers around the crucifixion of Jesus Christ indicates that this was a state-sponsored crucifixion ordered by the Jewish leaders opposed to Jesus' message. (Incidentally, the Jews were treated as slaves and oppressed.)** The opponents claimed that Jesus had deceived the Jews and that He was opposed to them paying their contributions to the empire, and that, in addition, He claimed to be the Messiah, King of the Jews and stirred up the people with His teachings.
But the Roman Empire didn't care. In fact, Pontius Pilate could not find a reason to crucify him, all he could think of was the coming uproar against the empire. In his own words, "Pilate then said to the chief priests, and to the people, "I find no crime in this man," and he said to them, "You brought this man before me as one who was misleading the people. I have questioned him in your presence and found nothing in this man’s conduct that provides a legal basis for the charges you have brought against him. 15 Neither did Herod, because Herod returned him to us. He’s done nothing that deserves death." As Pilate wanted to release Jesus, he again addressed the people; (Luke 23;1-24, VV. 4,14,15,20).
Meanwhile the crowds continued to shout, "crucify Him, crucify Him" (vv21) and the priests encouraged them to ask that Barabbas be set free. They wanted a revolutionary who had been in prison for murder to go free. At the same time, the Jews could not execute anyone. So, from the legal and judicial point of view Jesus' sentence was unjust and tainted with false accusations. It is the effective result of false narratives promoting political manipulations orchestrated by religious fanatics who could not accept the message of Jesus' kingdom.
However, from the perspective of what God intended for humanity, and what Jesus' sacrifice would mean for the world, Jesus bore our sin, therefore, bore our guilt, our crimes, and on the cross, as Paul wrote: "God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God."
At the foot of the cross are the Roman soldiers who nailed Jesus to the cross, mocked Him, tore His clothes, and were asked to watch over Him. Finally, He died and when He expired there was among the soldiers a centurion, a prominent officer, in charge of at least 100 soldiers. We do not know if he was comfortable and in agreement with the crucifixion of Jesus, if he knew about Jesus, or if he was interested in Judaism. Surely, he saw the sign above the cross that said "King of the Jews", and he must have heard the thief standing next to Jesus who said to him: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Lk.23:42). and the assurance with which Jesus said: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do". The centurion saw and heard everything that was happening and saw when Jesus gave His last breath and died. What came out of this man's mouth was to praise God and say, "Truly this man was righteous."
As a result of his new conviction, the centurion turned against the government he served. He had a transformation of mind and heart, even though he was one of those who wounded Jesus' side, and executed him. Now he could see that this Jesus was truly sent by God, that he was truly who he said he was. Let us ask ourselves: Who is Jesus for me? Should we strive for people in positions of power who are guilty of committing injustice on the innocent to change in the face of an encounter with the gospel?
God who loved us so much that You did not mind sending Your only Son to come to save us, to save humanity, help us to recognize that great love that You have for us and that we can live as Jesus lived, who, in the midst of pain had compassion and asked you to forgive us. Thank You that we can feel Your forgiveness, Your love, and Your grace. Amen.