“He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:3-5 NKJV
My fellow soldiers, the execution of Jesus may have seemed routine at the time to those accustomed to death by crucifixion. However, as the events of this day unfolded, it proved to be the most unusual crucifixion in all of history. Notice that a Roman centurion was in charge of his soldiers carrying out the order of Governor Pilate. Accounts in all four of the gospels give us insight into what this centurion saw, heard, and said. (Matthew 27:24-54; Mark 15:15-39; Luke 23:23-47; John 19:16-37) Here is a brief list:
- He heard Pilate say that Jesus was innocent and that He was a “just man.”
- He watched his soldiers abuse Jesus by stripping Him, dressing Him in a royal robe and mocking Him as the Jew’s “king.” They mercilessly beat Him with their fists and a rod, spat on Him, and pressed a painful crown of thorns into His head.
- He supervised Jesus’ crucifixion to follow the governor’s orders exactly. The soldiers made sure that they firmly nailed Jesus hands and feet to the wooden cross so He would stay there until He died.
- The centurion may have personally written the inscription over Jesus’ head in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Did he even know who Jesus was? Did he know what this inscription meant?
- He waited with his men near the cross and would have heard words that Jesus spoke before He died. The sky turned strangely dark at midday for three hours. These words stood out:
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” This was astonishing! Never had the centurion heard a dying man ask forgiveness for his executioners. It must have caused him to wonder, ‘What kind of man is this?’
“Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” This was another unusual statement! Crucified criminals normally took all day to died a slow, painful death. Jesus was yielding His life willingly for the sins of the word.
“It is finished!” The moment Jesus said this, there was an earthquake and the coincidence struck the centurion like a thunderbolt!. Soldiers normally do not fear much, but to see Jesus die in the darkness of midday and feel the earth tremble at the moment of His death must have been terrifying.
The unusual events of the day finally came together for the centurion: the rigged trial and death sentence, the brutality of his soldiers, the written accusation that Jesus was King of the Jews, His words of forgiveness while He awaited death, the miraculous mid-day darkness, and the earthquake coinciding with His death. The officer concluded, “Certainly this was a righteous Man!” using a term normally reserved for the Roman Emperor, whom most Romans considered a deity. He then stated, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
It was customary for the soldiers to break the convicted’s legs to hasten death at the end of the day. Jesus was already dead late in the early afternoon , which the soldier found surprising. Instead of breaking His legs, a soldier punctured Jesus’ side with his lance. Blood and water came out, confirming His death. The centurion could report back to Pilate that the convicted criminals were dead. The soldiers would return to their barracks after a day that they would not soon forget. Some would return shortly thereafter to guard Jesus tomb.
Did the centurion who witnessed the events of this day confess Jesus of Nazareth to be the Son of God for his eternal salvation? I John 4:15