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“Surely He Was the Son of God”

a Good Friday a
Matthew 27:54

Of all the sermons of Christ’s enemies that we have examined and meditated upon thus far during our
journey to Calvary, this one, this brief sermon of the Roman Centurion at the cross, to me, is the most compelling.
What a strange thing to say at an execution site! One has to wonder how in the world the Roman centurion, who
had performed thousands of crucifixions and had been trained by the blood-thirsty Romans to be as cruel and
unusual as possible in their corporal punishment practices in order to strike fear into the hearts of the stubborn Jews,
how he would be brought to this conclusion about the Jewish man who died that day, on that instrument of fear,
pain, torture and death. What made this execution different from all the rest?
That’s exactly what we are going to spend time discovering today, on this day when we commemorate the
fulfillment of the ages, the fulfillment of ancient prophecy, the fulfillment of divine promises passed down from
generation to generation from the Garden of Eden all the way to Golgotha and beyond. “Surely he was the Son of
God!” Such an ironic and strange statement coming from the mouth of an equally unlikely source, a Gentile
executioner, who very well may have put the nails in Jesus hands and feet, if not simply acting as overseer of his
crucifixion - and yet a statement that serves on this Friday labeled “Good” as the very foundation of the Christian
confession for eternal ages to come. Today, we will not only discover the reasons for this very strange confession
and confessor, but we will be motivated by gracious love to join him in his sentiment at the cross of our Lord Jesus
Christ, that he whose blameless hands and feet were pierced with nails, he whose sacred head was crowned with
thorns, he whose soul endured the terrors of hell on Calvary did so in order to free us from sin’s shame and hell’s
torment so that we may live forever with him in Paradise!
What was it that prompted the Roman centurion to make this confession of faith? How in the world does
the Roman centurion go from heartless scoffer and ruthless executioner to someone who looks upon the beaten,
bloodied and expired body of Jesus, declaring him to be the Son of God? Because to simply look at Jesus wouldn’t
have driven him to that conclusion. I suppose on the surface this crucifixion wasn’t much different than many
others. Jesus was beaten mercilessly, both to quicken the dying process on the cross and to prevent him from
struggling when they got to the execution site. His was weak and frail, perhaps even in shock from the whipping,
and was completely at the mercy of the Roman soldiers who were in charge of him, Roman soldiers who despised
the Jews and especially anyone who claimed to be the King of the Jews. And when the nails were driven into the
hands and feet of Jesus, he bled freely just like every other wretched condemned criminal they had fastened to
crosses before.
So what was different about this one? What was so unique about this man, Jesus of Nazareth, that during
his time on the cross, during his last hours one of the thieves next to him and one of his executioners express, even
in a simple way, that he was divine in the flesh, because every visible indication would point anyone to the complete
opposite conclusion.
So, what’s so different? The answer: it was the manner of Christ’s death that was so different, so impressive,
so extraordinary. It was the complete control over death that Jesus exhibited that had such an effect on the
centurion, a control over the cross that he had never seen before and would never seen again. Do you remember
what Jesus said when they drove the nails into his wrists and feet? He didn’t curse them the way that others had and
would. He didn’t curse God that way that others had. He didn’t shout for them to stop, shout for them to have
mercy, or to spare their lives. He didn’t cry out how sorry he was for crimes he had committed, thinking in
delusion that he could somehow bring this terrible torture to an end if he just presents the right argument in the
right way. No, Jesus had no crimes to repent of. He remained silent until he broke his silence with words of mercy
for them, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing!” No mercy for Jesus, but divine mercy
for the executioners. Extraordinary!
The other words of the cross followed in like manner, each one now touching the ears of the centurion who
stood for hours under the cross of Jesus. Each word from the cross a sermon unto itself, ripe for reflection, ripe for
consideration, giving to the Roman centurion and those around more cause to seriously consider the statement that
was nailed above Jesus head, his charge for this terrible and strange death, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”
With each passing hour, with each utterance of the Savior, the sign written in Aramaic, Greek and Latin above him
sank in. “Truly, you will be with me in Paradise.” Who could or even would make such a promise to a dying thief?
“Woman, behold your Son...(John) behold your mother.” Which condemned and crucified criminal is ever
concerned about anything except the agony and pain of the cross, let alone family, and the continued care of their
mother? Which crucified person would not use his fleeting breath to wish for death? Not Jesus! Every last word
that he spoke was purposeful, loving, compassionate and in perfect conformity with Holy Scripture.
Every word that fell from our Savior’s lips on that holy hill served as compounding evidence that the claim
above him was more than just a claim, it was the truth! He was the King of the Jews. He truly was the Son of God,
a truth that the centurion came to when Jesus gave death permission to come, “Father into your hands I commit my
spirit.” He spoke, he gave permission for death, and then he died, right there, right then, fulfilling his own words
spoken to the disciples: “14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father
knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of
my own accord.” Never before had the centurion seen someone have such control of death itself. Never before and
never again would this Roman centurion see someone control and conquer the cross the way that Jesus had. His
death was extraordinary, unique, different from all the rest. Instead of waiting and waiting for death’s cold grasp to
take hold of and conquer him, Jesus gave death its marching orders to come for him because he was ready and had
completed all that was needed to reconcile the world to the Father. No more suffering was needed. No more
blood. The full cup of the Father’s wrath over the sins of the world had been devoured, every last drop, by his one
and only Son, and it was time to rest, the Sabbath rest before the great victory celebration of Easter, the victory
proclamation in the prison-house of hell and the appearance of his glorified body on Easter Sunday.
How extraordinary! Couple Jesus’ words with the accompanying natural phenomena, the darkness, the
earthquake, the tearing of the temple curtain from top to bottom, which many would have seen because,
interestingly enough, it was the hour of the evening sacrifice at the temple, and the question is no longer: “How in
the world did the centurion come to this conclusion?” Rather the question becomes, “How in the world could he
not come to the conclusion that Jesus was beyond human, that he was divine?”
“Surely he was the Son of God!” What extraordinary words from an unusual source. At the beginning of
the day, Jesus was just a source of entertainment for this centurion and the Roman soldiers, another poor pitiful soul
who would hang as an example of what happens to people that cross the Romans. He was just another criminal,
another threat to Rome that had to be done away with. By the end of the day, the claim above him on the cross had
become engrained in the mind of the centurion, a claim substantiated by Jesus’ own words and the manifestations of
God’s power over nature, all of which caused him to publicly vent what he and the thief on the cross had become
convinced of: that Jesus was the Son of God.
Dear friends, tonight as we gather together to commemorate the crucifixion and death of Jesus, let us not
hold our convictions back, for we have more than just a few hours of evidence and testimony regarding Jesus. We
have the whole of God’s counsel in his Word, and the testimony of the prophets, apostles and evangelists. We have
the prophecies of old which showed to us how God would reconcile the world to himself: not by placing on sinners
unbearable requirements which they would never be able to meet, but by placing the responsibility for our sin on his
one and only Son, that innocent Paschal Lamb. Be sure tonight that the blood he shed on Calvary’s holy hill is the
blood that was accepted as payment for your sins. Be sure that the life he lived and the death he died, he lived and
died in your place, as your innocent substitute, and that the sacrifice he made on that awful altar has given you
access to the Father’s holiness, so that you may live in the peace of forgiveness all your days.
Throughout this series this Lenten season, we have noted how each one of the sermons of Christ’s enemies is
a bit ironic in a way. The sermon of the Roman centurion this Good Friday follows that same pattern. How ironic
that the one that oversaw and approved of Jesus’ crucifixion, and perhaps even helped hold Jesus down and nail
Jesus to the cross, sees in him what the Pharisees and chief priests refused to see in their unbelief, and gives voice to
his convictions brought on by everything that took place that day. Join the centurion’s voice this evening. See with
the clarity of faith not only the high cost of sin, but the one who was willing to pay for it all with his holy and
precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. “Surely he was the Son of God.” “Surely he IS the Son of
God!” Amen.