Friday, February 28, 2014

A WITNESS TO CALVARY (Mark Chapter 15)

Amidst the mob scene that attended the crucifixion of Jesus, the Centurion was there apart from any particular motivation.  Some were there because of their hatred for Jesus (i.e. the religious leaders), some were there because of their love for Him (i.e. His mother and some of His followers), some were there because they had no choice (i.e. the robbers), but the Centurion was there simply to do his job.

As a centurion he was a non-commissioned officer of the Roman army, a man of authority having charge nominally of 100 men (Cf. Matthew 8:9).  He was tasked with overseeing the execution of Jesus.  He was a soldier and was used to doing what he was told.  That was what he was there to do.  One might suppose that he’d witnessed his share of the horror of human brutality, but nothing could compare with what he saw and heard that day.

He was a part of a larger contingent of soldiers that were there.  An entire cohort (usually about 600 men) had been called together (Mark 15:16).  And soldiers from that cohort had much to do in crucifying Jesus.  Of the specific activities of the Centurion we are given no account, but we know that he was there and that he saw what happened.

What happened?  It was a chaotic and macabre scene.  The three cursed crosses towered over the crowd that was gathered below.  Amongst the ordinary sounds accompanying such a large gathering were the poisonous taunts of the mocking.  And in glorious contrast, Jesus spoke words of forgiveness, salvation, and victory. 

It was no ordinary day, and God would mark the occasion in special ways.  Luke’s account speaks of the darkness that beset the scene from about Noon for three hours.  Then as Jesus’ breathed His last, a number of things happened all at once.  “The Life of Christ in Stereo” (A harmony of the gospels) gives the following interwoven account (1-Matthew; 2-Mark; 3-Luke; 4-John): “Then 4Jesus therefore on receiving the wine 1cried out again with a loud voice, 4’It is finished!’  And he bowed his head, 3and said, ‘Father into Thy hands I commit my spirit.”  And having said these things, 4he yielded up his spirit.  3Now the centurion 2who stood confronting him nearby, when he saw that he (cried out) thus (and) expired, 3glorified God by saying, ‘Truly this was a righteous man!’  1And behold, the veil of the temple was wrenched in two from top to bottom.  And the earth was shaken, and the rocks were rent and the tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep arose; and they came forth out of the tombs after his resurrection, entering into the holy city and appearing to many.  And the centurion and those who were with him standing guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that took place, were struck with fear and said, 2 ‘Surely this was the son of God!’”  (Matthew 27:51-56; Mark 15:38-41; Luke 23:45b, 47-49; John 19:31-37).

What did the Centurion see?  He saw the manner in which Jesus died.  One would suppose that he had witnessed other deaths and typically a person dies because their time is up and they cannot help it.  But Jesus didn’t die like that—He yielded up His Spirit.  No one took His life from Him, He laid it down of His own initiative (Cf. John 10:10:18).  The Centurion’s response?  “Truly this was a righteous man!”  Then he saw the veil of the temple torn from top to bottom, and then the earthquake, and then the tombs opened and people coming forth from the tombs!  His response?  “Surely this was the son of God!” 

He had gone as ordered that day to do his job, but it was no ordinary day and the man on the cross was no ordinary man.  We have no information about what happened afterwards in the life of the Centurion, but seeds of truth were planted and it’s quite possible that they bore fruit unto salvation.  He proclaimed important truths regarding Jesus’ identity and was a firsthand witness to Jesus’ saving work.  His impartial witness to the events of that day lives on.

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