Every Wednesday, we’ll tackle a story from Scripture that illustrates the idea of faith. I’ve asked several talented writers to take some time and write about the stories that matter to them. This week, Scott Wright, one of my roommates from college and the Associate Minister at the Rogersville (AL) Church of Christ writes about the centurion at the cross.
Faith is not intended to be understood in concrete terms. It is not developed or made in a laboratory and it cannot be bought at a store. However, it is increasingly vital to the survival of morally conscious people. Faith is what creates a sense of belonging, worth, and love. Faith is what steps into the gap left behind by the past and fills its host with a purpose. Faith not only separates mankind from other things, it is what elevates mankind to a position that only God can award. Therefore, when someone opens the Word of God and sees faith on display, they should be brought to a point of awe. It should grab their attention and it should force them to be overwhelmingly grateful for the innocence provided in the depths of guilt.
One such account is found in three of the four Gospels and speaks to the impact Jesus had on those outside of God’s chosen people and their knowledge of Him. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke we are given insight into one particular individual who stood at the cross as Jesus was crucified, mocked, beaten, insulted, and ultimately, as He died. This man was not ordinary himself as he served in a position that would have made him the envy of many in the crowd that day. The position of the centurion is not something to take lightly as they were respected and honored by many due to their power within the Roman Empire.
Specifically speaking, the centurion’s quote is referenced three times albeit with slight variations each time. These variations open the door for the reader to glean something with each reading that might not have been noticed otherwise.
(1) Matthew 27:54 says, “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!” In this statement, we find the centurion sees Jesus as someone who’s awe-inspiring. In Hebrews 11:1, the definition of faith is “…the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction (or certainly) of things not seen.” The reader sees in this account a willingness to believe in the amazing and a willingness to trust the extraordinary. Faith cannot be measured in inches or ounces, but rather by the depths one is willing to go to as they believe in something they cannot explain.
(2) Mark 15:39 says, “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!'” In the Gospel of Mark, the reader cannot ignore that Mark reveals the centurion stood facing Jesus. There is an apparent closeness that this centurion commits that will not allow him to look away. The centurion’s attention is locked on what is happening right in front of him. As a matter of application, in Hebrews 12:2, we’re told to “…look to Jesus, the founder, and perfecter of our faith.” The person who claims to believe in Jesus, who claims to have faith, must be unwavering in their focus on the only one who can save them. In this particular encounter, the centurion cannot look away and cannot help but express an appreciation for the greatness of the life (and death) of Jesus.
(3) In Luke 23:47, it says, “Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, ‘Certainly, this man was innocent!'” The acknowledgment of the innocence of Christ by a man who had no earthly reason to believe is truly faith-shaking. For the observer then and the readers now, this cry is a shocking turn of events that will test even the most solid of faiths. Romans 5:1-11 reminds us that an innocent man died on behalf of the guilty. That is driven home with the four words used there to describe humanity – weak, ungodly, sinners, enemies. 1 Peter 3:18 describes it as the “righteous for the unrighteous,” that was done so that Jesus might bring us to God.
In the end, faith is not intended to be understood in simple terms and measurements, but it can be understood. The centurion at the cross revealed a faith (that may or may not have existed prior to his encounter with Christ), with an exclamation simple and powerful. Jesus is truly the Son of God!