Key Verse: When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:54
We don’t know the name of the Roman Centurion who crucified Jesus, but we do know a lot about the man. He was a tough, experienced warrior in the Roman Army. He had been active in many of Rome’s wars as they expanded their empire around the known world. He had likely seen and killed many, both on the battlefield and in his role of executioner in Israel under the rule of Pontius Pilate.
He was a man used to death and used to killing. He probably didn’t even flinch as he drove the nails into hands of Jesus which previously had blessed the little children, healed the sick, multiplied the bread and raised the dead. As he nailed his feet, which had walked the earth and upon the water, the centurion was ‘just doing his job.’ As the cross was put in place, and Jesus cried out in agony, the centurion was ‘just following his orders.’ He felt no shame in what he was doing.
We must recognise that while the centurion may have hammered the nails into Jesus’ hands, it was our sin and Jesus love for us that kept him there. Each one of us is responsible for the crucifixion of Christ. You may remember that in Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of Christ” he made a cameo appearance by using his hand to drive in the nails as “symbolic of the fact that he [Gibson] holds himself accountable first and foremost for Christ’s death.” The writer of the Hebrews also warns us that those “who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss, they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” Hebrews 6:4-6
For the centurion, this was just another crucifixion until he recognised who Jesus was. Matthew 27:54 says, “When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Have you recognised Jesus for who He is?
I imagine the centurion had never heard anyone pray before for them “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34.) Most people probably only threw insults and hatred to the men who were torturing and executing them, but Jesus showed them love and compassion.
Romans 5:10 teaches, “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” Each one of has a time in our lives that we were God’s enemies. When we think back on the things we’ve done and the decisions we’ve made, it is easy to conclude that God would never choose anyone like us. We may not have picked up the hammer to drive the nails into Jesus’ hands, but Isaiah 53:5 reminds us, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
The centurion’s eyes were open to his own failings, but moreover, Jesus power and grace and he exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” The gospel writers took his words inspired by the Holy Spirit and embedding them into Scripture as a living testimony of who Jesus is. Jesus transformed the hardened executioner into a witness of his deity for all of time. Regardless of what we have said or done to Jesus, his grace is powerful enough to transform our lives, so that we too become a testimony of his love.