Midweek Lent - 6: Testimonies about Jesus from Unlikely Witnesses

Preached: March 12, 2008

The Centurion Testifies about Divinity
Mark 15:39

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Savior. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit comes to stir our hearts is Mark 15:39

When the centurion who was stationed before him saw that he cried out so and breathed his last, he said, “Truly, this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow pilgrims to the cross:

The Romans had many gods. Chief among them was Jupiter, the father of the gods. Powerful and mighty, he wielded the thunderbolt and lightening. Another god held high by the Romans was Jupiter's son, Mars, the god of war. In fact, the Romans claimed that their legendary founder, Romulus, was a son of Mars. The Romans honored power and might in their deities.

No doubt, the centurion at the foot of the cross knew the Roman religion. As a centurion, he was a non-commissioned officer in charge of about a hundred soldiers. He knew the power of Rome with its legions, trampling and conquering all in its way. What would Rome need with a weak god, a god that is beaten and whipped, mocked and ridiculed, bloodied and nailed to a cross? What would he need with such a god? He had Rome and its power. Why should he look for God in such a place as a shameful, bloody cross?

How often we look for God in the wrong places! We might not call it looking for God, when we do it. But where do you look for happiness, comfort, strength, or hope? That's what becomes your god. The ancient Romans looked to their Caesar and their legions. Today some look to success or self-fulfillment or a good family life or your health. If you have those they say, then you have happiness, and that's all the god you need. Others run after the thrills and chills that modern entertainment or sports or electronics or even drugs and alcohol offer, looking for happiness in the excitement of the moment. Still others look to what they have and what they can do. So many other things look powerful and wise, exciting and fun. Examine your heart. What tempts you to trust in it for happiness and strength? That's where you're looking for God.

But God will not be found where we or anyone else in the world would think of looking. He is not found in what appears powerful and wise, exciting and fun. He is found in the least likely place. Think about it. At Christmas he was found as a helpless baby in a manger where animals had fed. Now during Lent he is found dying on a shameful cross, like a condemned criminal.

But what happened on that cross changed the centurions thinking, and it has changed you and me as well. The centurion heard the words Jesus spoke. “Father, forgive them for the do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NIV). How many times hadn't he heard a criminal curse and damn his captors! But this one prays for their forgiveness, and yet is so bold as to address God as his Father. It didn't make sense.

Perhaps he overheard the words between one of the criminals and Jesus. “‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’ . . . ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:43 NIV).

Then look at what happened at noon. Darkness covered all; the sun shut in its light. Then after about three hours this man, or is he more than a man, calls out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 NIV). Was there ever grief like his?

And yet having suffered the god-forsakenness and abandonment of hell itself echoed in that cry, this one again addresses God as Father. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46 NIV). He was no mere man. Innocent and righteous, yet forsaken by God. And now having suffered the very depths of hell, he's welcomed again by God, his Father.

Jesus' words were not some dying hallucination or vain dream of a crazy person. For at his death the earth itself quaked and rocks broke apart. That was the Father's testimony. This man who died was not only a man but also God. “Truly, this man was the Son of God,” the centurion testifies.

How much the centurion knew and comprehended in the moments of Jesus' death, we don't fully know. Perhaps Jesus' words kindled faith in his heart. We're not told.

But you do know who this man on the center cross is. You do know why he hung there. And faith is burning in your hearts. Don't abandon that flame by running after other things that appear powerful and wise, exciting and fun. Don't look to them for happiness, comfort, strength, or hope. Rather keep looking in this most unlikely place, this place of weakness, blood, and death. For here is your God. Hear the centurion testimony: “Truly, this man was the Son of God.”

And truly Jesus still is. He is your God, crucified for you and risen from the dead. He has carried your sorrows, your burdens, your sins, your death. So look to the cross and see all the evils and guilt within you laid on Jesus and crucified with him. Look to the cross and see the how great love of God for you is. The Son has died for you. Is there any greater love than this? Look to the cross and see the power and wisdom of God. There you find your true happiness, comfort, strength, and hope. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313