A Centurion's ConfessionSeries: Cross
A Centurion’s Confession
Listen to the voices at the cross in Mark’s account of the crucifixion. Besides Jesus himself, there is one word of faith spoken.
[Read Mark 15]
Isn’t it fascinating who the one statement of faith in this whole chapter comes from? A centurion, a Gentile, and one of the people directly involved in the crucifixion of Jesus.
Just let that set in.
Today I want to think about this Centurions’ confession of faith.
II. Independent Thinker
First, notice how this Centurion thinks for himself. That is the primary lesson I hope to emphasize today. This trait is probably related to how he became a Centurion in the first place.
Centurions had a great deal of authority in the Roman empire. They were like federal officers, scattered around the empire to keep the peace and impose Roman rule. They pop up in quite a few stories in the NT, and they are almost always presented to us as fair and impartial.
And think about it. If you’re going to put someone in command of a hundred or so soldiers and send him out to keep things under control in some faraway province, you’d want someone with a good head on his shoulders.
Sometimes, it seems clear that the centurions were able to evaluate the evidence and arrive at an independent conclusion quicker than others around them.
Luke 7:1-10 After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. 3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5 for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” 6 And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. 7 Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 9 When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.
We are only told that the centurion “heard about Jesus.” But based on what he heard, he came to a very reasonable conclusion: Jesus has authority over diseases. That seems rather obvious, and yet Jesus says “not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
Sadly, the Jews, who should have been first to believe in Jesus, often wavered, not being fully convinced. No matter how many miracles he did, they wanted to see more signs. And even then, they couldn't decide what to think about him.
John 11:45-47 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs.
The centurion in Luke 7 didn’t struggle with what to do. He believed in Jesus and sent to him for help. That showed faith.
III. He believed in spite of…
Back to our centurion. As we have seen, he had a mind of his own. He came to the conclusion that Jesus was the Son of God. And this in spite of:
A. The authorities
The local Roman governor, Pilate, had delivered Jesus to be crucified. It’s worth noting that Pilate himself also could see through the fake charges against Jesus:
Mark 15:8-10 And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. 9 And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up.
Mark 15:14 And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.”
Pilate did not find Jesus guilty of any of the charges against him. But he didn’t have the courage to stand up for what he knew was right. And also, he didn’t allow himself to come to the belief that the centurion expressed.
John 18:33-38 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
Pilate did not have the courage of the centurion to think for himself and come to the obvious conclusion about Jesus. But the centurion didn’t let Pilate’s weakness prevent him from making up his own mind.
B. The crowd
Pilate was mainly influenced to give into the pressure from the crowd. That’s what many people do. They may have their own thoughts, but when the crowd goes a different way, they do, too. Psychologists have studied this (link). In one study, on a series of tests, 37/50 test subjects chose an obviously wrong answer at least once to conform with others.
For the centurion that day, watching over Jesus, the voices in the crowd were united. His own men, the soldiers, were making fun of Jesus, as did those passing by:
Mark 15:29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!”
C. The religious experts
And not just the crowd, the religious leaders and experts:
Mark 15:31-32 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.
Some put a lot of stock in what the religious authorities think.
John 7:45-49 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” 46 The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” 47 The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? 48 Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? 49 But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.”
The centurion didn't let the unbelief of the religious authorities keep him from confessing the truth.
D. His own actions
Finally, consider this: for the centurion to confess that Jesus was the Son of God, what would that mean about him? He had just participated in killing the Son of God. For many people, that conclusion would be unthinkable.
Some are unwilling to face the truth if it brings uncomfortable consequences. “If that were true, then what about ….?” All the sermons I’ve preached differently? My family who believes differently? How this will make me look? The guilt I will feel?
So some just bury their head in the sand of willful ignorance rather than face a painful truth.
Not this centurion.
IV. The basis of his belief
So, what brought him to this confession of faith? What was his conviction based on?
Three things are mentioned.
Mark 15:39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
A. He stood facing Jesus
First, he had been watching Jesus. Paying attention to him. Some people are unwilling to even consider the evidence. Or they are too busy focusing on other things to lift up their head and take note.
Think of what all he would have seen that day as Jesus hung there. The way he spoke to those around him, even the thief on the cross. We aren’t told what the centurion thought about these things, but I can’t help but think he would have taken note of them.
B. The way Jesus died
There was something specific about the way Jesus “breathed his last.” I’m not sure what it was. But it pushed him toward the inescapable conclusion: This was the Son of God!
C. Eternal evidence
Finally, Matthew mentions in his account that the centurion also took note of some of the supernatural events that accompanied Jesus’ death.
Matt. 27:54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
So to summarize, he looked at Jesus, he saw how Jesus died, and he saw the external, miraculous evidence, and his mind was made up.
What about for you and me? Must we not also think for ourselves? Examine the evidence and come to our own conclusion.
“What will you do with Jesus? The question comes to you, and you must give an answer.”
Don’t be swayed by what the authorities say. Or the crowds. Or the religious experts. And don’t let the consequences shade your view of the truth.
Look to Jesus. Listen to him. Examine his life and death for yourself. Consider the evidence surrounding him. The miraculous things like his resurrection from the dead.
If you examine these things with open eyes and an open heart, I believe you will come to the same conclusion as the centurion. “Truly this was the Son of God!”