And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” – Mark 15:39
The events leading up to the centurion’s profession played a major role in helping him come to this realization. As a member of the Roman army, he had no doubt heard the stories of Jesus bar Joseph, the treasonous rebel who had amassed a following that denied allegiance to Caesar and professed loyalty to a new king. He had heard that this uprising was gaining steam and was a threat to the rule and reign of the Emperor.
Even though the Centurion had probably been aware of Jesus and had heard talk about Him, he had probably never actually encountered Him until the day of His crucifixion. Jesus’ encounter with the Roman and Jewish officials began the night before in the Garden of Gethsemane. Here’s what the guard would have heard/witnessed:
- Luke 22:47-53. – Jesus heals the ear of the soldier come to arrest him, and forbids any violence towards His enemies.
- Luke 23:1-5 – Jesus did not retaliate against those who brought false charges against Him, even after Pilate had declared Him innocent.
- Luke 23:26-31 – Despite being flogged and beaten and during the carrying His own cross, Jesus loves the people enough to warn them of what is to come.
- Luke 23:32-34 – After being flogged, beaten, stripped naked, and nailed to a cross, Jesus pleads with the Father to forgive His enemies.
- Luke 23:39-43 – Despite being in immense pain, Jesus extends love and forgiveness to the thief next to him on the cross, who had previously rejected him.
Jesus said that if we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, then we will be sons of the Father (Matthew 5:44-45). By loving our enemies, we are emulating the character of God. It is easy to see from just these few examples how the Roman Centurion came to the conclusion that Jesus was the Son of God. Jesus was different precisely because of the way that He loved. In a world that says, “I’ll do unto you what you do unto me”, Jesus’ “Golden Rule” ethic stands in stark contrast (Matthew 7:12). He stood out from the rest of humanity and caused people to take notice of Him. In just half a day, the centurion would have seen several instances of Jesus’ love being expressed toward those who hated Him, proving He was a son of the Father (cf. John 13:35). It’s this kind of distinctiveness that Jesus calls us to.
“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” – Matthew 5:46-47
Here, Jesus is making the point that a failure to love our enemies makes us exactly like everyone else. In Jesus’ day, the entire known world was controlled by the Romans. The way the Romans maintained peace throughout their kingdom was to maintain a very large standing army. This army was brutal in the way that they treated civilians. To pay this army, the Roman government asked for volunteers to collect taxes from all the Roman citizens, but to avoid conflicts of interest, Roman soldiers weren’t allowed to do the collecting themselves. This meant that many of the tax collectors in Jesus’ day were Jewish volunteers who agreed to do the work. The only way the tax collectors got paid was to collect an amount above their quota and then keep the remainder. So in essence, tax collectors were viewed as thieving traitors who exploited their own kinsman to support a brutal occupying force that ransacked their villages, raped their women, and plundered their property. But Jesus says that even these people know how to love their own.
Failing to love those who do us harm is worldly, ungodly, status-quo behavior. And when there is nothing distinct about our love then the world will assume that there is nothing distinct about our message. Refusing to love our enemies blurs the line between authenticity and hypocrisy and tax collectors and Gentiles get their own version of selfish love confused with God’s display of selfless love. This is why it is so important for us to grasp this; the Gospel is at stake. If anything has been made clear, it is that this world will have nothing to do with a loving God if His people are nothing like Him. In a world that rejects the Gospel and is striving so hard to poke holes in our message, a people that love lavishly and unconditionally is an argument they can’t refute.
The Centurion’s profession was based upon the short slice of Jesus’ life that he witnessed. The kindness of the Lord led Him to repentance (Romans 2:4). For most of the people in our lives, we have the benefit of living an entire life before them. What message will our lives convey?
And for those who noticed, the title of this post is not a typo, nor have I converted to Mormonism. It is my hope and goal, that on the day I die, what will be said of me is, “Truly this man was a son of God.”