The Centurion Believed – Why Can’t We?

Given that this past weekend was Easter weekend, the subject matter of many church sermons (including the one at my own church) centered on both the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. While many people surely know the events of the crucifixion, and there have been in recent years plenty of accounts of what exactly Jesus endured leading up to His death on the cross, it was a verse after the actual death of Jesus that caught my eye this weekend.

Matthew 27 tells the account of Jesus death. The verse in question is Matthew 27:54, which says, “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!'”

I’m sure the timing of the earthquake had something to do with the terror felt by the Roman guards, but in thinking about it, it probably wouldn’t have meant anything if not for what triggered it. Verse 50 says, “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.”

For those of us who know a bit about crucifixion, we are aware that most of those who died on the crosses did so of asphyxiation. Those nailed finally lacked the strength to pull themselves up on their nailed hands to get breath, and the pleura would fill their lungs and cause them to suffocate and die. This is a long process and at the end the crucified was probably exhausted and extremely weak.

Yet not so with Jesus! No, He “cried out again in a loud voice.” If Jesus had mumbled His final cry (which we know from other gospels to be “It is finished!”) and then the earthquake happened, it would have been easy for those around to call it a coincidence or make up an excuse. But that Jesus was not suffocating was surely a powerful thing for a centurion, who had likely been to many crucifixions, to see. He was still full of energy, and with His loud cry and the subsequent earthquake, the centurion had to believe that the timing of the two was not coincidental, but divine.

Note also that in verse 50 it doesn’t say, “And then Jesus died.” No, it is, “He gave up his spirit.” Jesus had full power, even in death. Death did not overcome Him; He gave His spirit to death to fulfill the promise of His sacrifice. These powerful occurrences were easily enough to sway those who so recently had been mocking Jesus. I wonder where the centurion went after this. Perhaps he went to see Jesus’ buried to pay homage to the man he now believed to be the Son of God. No doubt this centurion was less surprised (and more in awe) when he found out that Jesus was no longer in the tomb three days later; He already knew firsthand that Jesus was capable of more than the average man.

So I guess my question for you as the reader is what it will take for you to change your heart in the way that this Roman centurion and his soldiers were changed. How loud does Jesus need to cry for you to listen to Him? And what is evident in the world today that you would attribute to coincidence instead of the power of the Lord working mightily?

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