The Centurion at the Cross


Matthew 27:51-54
51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. 54 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!”   NIV

The centurions stationed at the cross on Golgotha’s hill were not there to bring comfort to Jesus.  Centurions were battle-hardened veterans who, over the course of many years, climbed the ranks of the enlisted to become a centurion.  A centurion had the charge over a hundred men; that’s where the name came from.  The centurions and their soldiers were there at the cross to carry out a death sentence against Jesus.  Rough men…men who would rather not be in Judea.  Soldiers who were sure to carry out their orders, and centurions to oversee those orders.  They were there to do a job and inflict pain.  And they did it well.  Jesus was beaten, flogged, mocked, humiliated, terrorized, and, finally, nailed to the cross where He would die.

As a soldier that has grown calloused to human suffering, this was as much sport as it was execution.  Why else cast lots for the garment of the one being executed?  These soldiers shed no tears over the brutality shown to a prisoner.  This is the job.  If “machismo” was a word back then, it most certainly would have been used to describe them.  You dare not show any emotion.  No sympathy here.  As a centurion you would lose the respect of your soldiers.  And that just cannot happen.

But with what he saw that day…what he saw in how this particular prisoner carried Himself…this centurion could not deny the events that he witnessed.  “Surely he was the Son of God.”  His confession went cross-grain to everything that he was.  When confronted with truth, he did not hide behind a soldier’s façade, but declared his newfound belief for all to hear, regardless of how his soldiers would view him.

Church tradition says this centurion’s name was Longinus, and that he was the one who pierced the side of Christ with a spear.  Longinus was also the one, along with his soldiers, to guard the tomb of Christ after the crucifixion.  After the resurrection he refused to keep quiet, but rather gave voice to the miracle of Jesus being raised from the dead.  As a result of his faith, he left the army and became a monk.  Also because of his faith, his teeth were beaten out and his tongue cut off.  Longinus was eventually martyred through beheading, his head being given to Pontius Pilate.

The culture we live in is not exactly one that is friendly to believers in Jesus.  As a Christian man, there is a real temptation to put our “light under a bushel,” with reasons that may sound like this, “I keep my faith personal” or, “I don’t want to offend anyone.”  When in reality (for many men) those reasons are code for, “I’m a man, and I want others to think I am self-sufficient.”

If anyone had good reason to hide their newfound-beliefs, it was Longinus.  As a centurion his confession of faith in Christ was political suicide.  In fact, it eventually became a literal death sentence for him.  But he could not and would not deny the truth and reality of Christ in his life, regardless from whom it would separate him.

May our encounter with Jesus have the same profound effect on our lives as well.

Blessings and Happy New Year!
Gene Pietrini

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