What We Learn from the Witness of a Centurion

Luke 23:44-49

I want to say that I would have been there, that in my Lord’s darkest hour I would be right by his side…but I cannot. How presumptuous it is of me to think I would have stayed when all his disciples fled for their lives? The only disciple remotely close to Jesus during this time is John, and that is because, perhaps, he experienced Jesus love more profoundly than the other disciples. That however, does not characterize me; in fact, I would say that today there are a million other things I experience more profoundly than the love of Jesus. So why would I be there? Why would I not save my own skin?

We tend to talk big about how much we would give up or sacrifice for Jesus, like Peter we are all about asserting our faithfulness…and all a long we do not realize it is about his faithfulness not ours. So, who can stand on that holy hill as The Lord of all the earth slowly, agonizingly dies of asphyxiation? Who dares to acknowledge his terrible majesty in the midst of what seems to be his crushing defeat?

Two people, or should I say a person and a group, draw near to the cross: a Gentile Centurion and a group of wealthy, but ill-reputed, women. Why is this important? The religious Jews rejected him, his own disciples whom he entrusted forsook him, and now all he has is the testimony of a Gentile Centurion and a group of women, neither which were admissible testimony in a Jewish court. Luke however is concerned about the Gospel moving from Jerusalem with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, to Rome the center of Gentile power and authority. Here Luke is showing how Jewish cast offs and a Gentile will be the kind of people who both hail the Messiah and speak on his behalf (eventually the disciples and a few religious leaders will also draw near, but it takes some humbling and reflection on their part and grace on God’s part).

The Gentile Centurion is the focus here, and his admission that Jesus was innocent is very important in combatting the naysayers who will label Jesus as no more than a common criminal. During Luke’s lifetime, he would be seeing some of the skepticism as Rome went from being disinterested in Christianity to being entirely opposed to its spread. What place is there in the glorious Roman Empire for a king who was convicted as a criminal, crucified, and was left to rot? The Gospel was indeed as much foolishness to the Romans as it was foolishness to the Greeks. Yet, this Centurion is the first Gospel witness of Jesus’ death; he is the first person to say that Jesus was innocent and righteous in his death…and starting with that testimony, Jesus would be vindicated and the Gospel would spread to the ends of the earth.

So how often do you talk about all the great things you do for God? How often do you boast of how much you would give up? Perhaps, it would do you some good to back down from your assurance and realize that only those whom God empowers can truly make those sacrifices. It is the grace of God, not your own faithfulness that makes such a bold witness possible. Perhaps you should learn from those at your school, who though atheist or Hindu, are always witnessing to, in a corrupted fashion, the Gospel of Christ. They may not realize it, but they are still speaking his name! Maybe it would do for you to realize your own spirituality and faithfulness a little less. Do not think less of yourself, just don’t think of yourself.

What would happen if we stopped beating our spiritual chests about how much we love Jesus? Perhaps we would rely more on God demonstrating his own love toward us? The reason we are so faithful and that we love God is that he loved us first and is constantly faithful to us. If you and I would have been by Jesus’ side as he died it would not have been because we are such amazing disciples; it would be because we have such an amazing God. Then the people would see the goodness of God in us rather than having to try to see God vaguely through our bravado.

Do you think you would have stayed with Jesus? Why do you think so?

Have you ever heard a non-Christian friend be a witness to the Gospel without them realizing it? What does that teach about God’s sovereignty in making his name known?

What are some ways that you can show faithfulness and love for Chris without being aware of it? How could this help your witness at home, school, or work?