The Centurion At The Cross Of Jesus

The daily routine for some of the Roman soldiers included crucifying those sentenced to death. A centurion would oversee the soldiers hang a criminal on a cross and then raise it up.

These soldiers completed their task by securing the cross in the ground. At that point, they waited until the person hanging above them died. So they usually found something to do.

When Jesus hung on the cross, the centurion probably watched as his men cast lots for His clothes. But when Jesus breathed His last this centurion noticed something different about Him.

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When the Roman officer overseeing the execution saw what had happened, he worshiped God and said, “Surely this man was innocent.” Luke 23:47

In the movie, The Greatest Story Ever Told, John Wayne played the centurion at the cross. He uttered in his western style voice, “Aw, truly this man was the Son of God.” 

What did the centurion see that was different from others who died on an old wooden cross? Along with other things, Jesus didn’t curse anyone and He granted salvation to a dying criminal.

  • And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
  • By this time it was about noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock.
  • The light from the sun was gone…
  • Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!”
  • And with those words he breathed his last. Luke 23:43-46

A Roman Soldier Sought Out Jesus

In light of this, Jesus and a Roman centurion did cross paths one day. In fact, the soldier sought the Lord out for a personal favor.

When Jesus returned to Capernaum, a Roman officer came and pleaded with him, “Lord, my young servant lies in bed, paralyzed and in terrible pain.” Matthew 8:5-6

Jesus responded by saying something like, “I’ll be right over.” The officer replied, “Oh no, I am not worthy to have you come into my home.” He explained that he knew how authority worked.

Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.” Matthew 8:8-9

This Roman soldier could have easily replaced his servant without giving it another thought. But because of his compassion, he humbly went to Jesus. And the Lord marveled at the faith.

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to those who were following him, he said, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel! Matthew 8:10

Jesus made a comparison between the Jews and the Gentiles. He had come to minister to the Jewish people but many rejected Him. Then Jesus revealed that He will welcome the Gentiles.

And I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven. Matthew 8:11

Had Jesus Met the Centurion at the Cross Before?

Was the centurion at the cross the same man who sought out Jesus to heal his servant? We don’t know. Even if this man wasn’t he probably knew the one who did visit Jesus.

Possibly the story about this young servant’s healing circulated among the soldiers. Other centurions surely heard about what Jesus did for their fellow comrade.

So let’s entertain this question. If it was he or one who knew about the healing, how could he have put Jesus to death? Well, when a superior officer gave an order, it had to be carried out.

It didn’t matter who had crucifixion duty that morning. The ranking centurion needed to make sure that each criminal under his charge hung on a cross that day. He had to follow orders.

Even today military personnel must without question follow orders from their superiors. So how much more should we follow without question the orders of our Divine Leader?

The centurion who sought out Jesus gave a lesson on authority. The centurion at the foot of the cross gave us a practical lesson on obeying authority. We must also obey the authority of Jesus.

Obeying Orders

He bases His authority on furthering His kingdom. He doesn’t ask us to do anything that we can’t do in love. And when we live in obedience to His author we exhibit our love for Him.

Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. John 14:23

The Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus are often portrayed by their enjoyment in torturing and killing Him. But we know of at least one soldier who didn’t.

That day, at the foot of the cross the Lord revealed to a centurion that Jesus surely was the Son of God.

Lord, your orders or commands are always given with love and purpose. Help us that we would no longer question them but follow them to the tee.

Check out these related posts on Holy Week. 

Check out these post on why the Cross is so important.

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