William J. Stewart | Faces Surrounding Calvary
“Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And when Jesus had cried our with a loud voice, He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Having said this, He breathed His last. So when the centurion saw what had happened, he glorified God saying, “Certainly this man was a righteous man!”
Matthew, Mark and Luke all introduce us to this centurion. None of them attribute a name to him. None of them tell us of his character. We know nothing about the life that he lived, about his family, about his past. We don’t know what his aims and desires were. We are told nothing about him, with the exception of one thing – he recognized the Son of God.
Think about the Jewish people. They were brought up to serve the most high God, and yet they did not know who Jesus was. They had seen His miracles, heard His teachings. They had been witness to the testimony given by John the Baptist. Their dead were given life again. Their lame walked straight, their blind received sight, their deaf heard, their mute spoke. Yet, they failed to recognize Jesus as the Son of the most high God. How awful that the people of God would miss seeing God. The Messiah walked amidst them, a stranger to them, for their hearts were darkened, their eyes were heavy, their understanding was gone.
This centurion, having no knowledge of the Scriptures, not knowing anything about the Son of God cries forth the very statement that every Jews within eyesight should have cried, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” He was a Roman. He served no God, he served Caesar. But amidst the excitement of that day, the most unlikely of people saw Jesus for who He really was, the Redeemer of man.
It is interesting to note the reaction of the people surrounding the cross at Jesus’ death. Luke tells us, “So when the centurion saw what had happened, he glorified God saying, ‘Certainly this was a righteous Man!’ And the whole crowd who came together to that sight, seeing what had been done, beat their breasts and returned. But all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”
The people who were close to Jesus stood at a distance. They stood back in disbelief. They were filled with horror, fear and terror. They were again sheep without a shepherd. They again had become a people without hope. Not knowing what to do, or where to go, all they could do was stand there and stare as the events of that day unfolded.
The Jewish priests, and the crowd which supported them, as they saw the Saviour die, beat upon their breasts. Their reaction was that of animals. They were brute beasts who had just killed their prey. They were filled with celebration and pride. Their task was complete. The wickedest task anyone could dare to attempt. They had killed the Son of God.
And then we see this centurion. He was an outsider as far as the events concerning Jesus. It was merely his job to be there that day as security. He had no love for Jesus, he knew not who He was. He also had no hatred for Him, he had no reason to. No doubt he watched carefully the goings on of the day. And all things that he observed caused him to do something unlikely for a Roman. Luke says that he glorified God. He did not know who God was, but it would seem that he was quickly finding out. He realized that this was God who hung before him on the cross. He realized that this Man, as he raised His head toward heaven was speaking with another, who was God.
This man had no formal religious education. He didn’t own a volume of the Scriptures. He never cared for the Jewish religion, nor their Messiah. That is until he saw the Messiah. Then, he was concerned. Then, he was amazed. No one who has truly seen the Saviour can turn away from Him, but rather is caused to stand in wonder and amazement.
May we ever have the reaction of this centurion. May the very appearance of Jesus, as we see Him through the Scriptures cause us to stand in amazement and wonder, and give glory and praise to God. As the song writer has so rightly penned:
“I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me
A sinner condemned unclean.”