Surely This Man Was the Son of God!

Title: Surely This Man Was The Son of God!

Text: Matthew 27:12-14, 27-31, 54

Time: April 22nd, 2011

Today is Good Friday 2011, the day we remember Christ on the cross dying for our sins. As I’ve said before during previous Easter seasons in past years, we only call it Good Friday because we know what happens on Easter morning. Without that knowledge it would be impossible to call what takes place on the day Christ died good. Of course the first Christians didn’t know that Sunday would become Easter, because they didn’t believe that there would be any resurrection; they didn’t expect to see Jesus again in this life after his crucifixion. They probably thought that they’d see Jesus in the next life, as they hoped to see all their loved ones who died in the faith. But as for believing that Jesus would raise to life after three days, that was the furthest thing from their minds. Even though Jesus had prophesied over and over again that he would be tortured, crucified and rise again, these things didn’t register with the disciples because it was just too fantastic to imagine. Maybe there was an element of denial in it as well, the way we all react when presented with unbelievable topics. It was just too overwhelming for them to receive and believe, even though, again, Jesus had warned them of his coming crucifixion and resurrection. It’s clear from the biblical accounts found in the Gospels that the disciples were not optimistic about any resurrection from the dead by Jesus. Nothing in any of the historical accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John gives any hint that the disciples were entertaining the thought that Jesus might conquer death through a powerful resurrection. In other words, we hear none of them saying, “Guys, it’s not so bad after all because Jesus promised to raise to life again in three days. So let’s stop grieving. Jesus will be back, just like he said, just you wait and see.” No. Nothing is the kind. They were thinking the very opposite and saying amongst themselves, “We had hoped for so much from Jesus, but now look at things – everything has fallen apart. Jesus is dead and his vision for God’s kingdom has perished as well.” They were filled with discouragement not optimism. But rather than talk about the disciples’ reaction, today I’d like to focus on the reaction of the Roman soldiers who were responsible for crucifying Christ. Matthew 27:54 says, “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!’” It wasn’t just one of the soldiers but really a number of them, possibly all of them. The very men who had crucified Christ on the cross, the Roman guards, now were beginning to think they had made a big mistake, and voiced their concerns aloud. Let’s think about what might have brought about their change of heart and mind, because remember, these were probably the same men who had tortured Jesus cruelly and led him to be crucified to begin with. Something happened that convinced them that Jesus really was who he claimed to be.

First, the way Jesus acted convinced them he really was the Son of God. Matthew 27:27-31, “Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off his robe and put his own clothes on him. They led him away to crucify him.” Now it doesn’t say for certain, but it only makes sense that these same soldiers were the ones at Golgotha who eventually came to the conclusion that Jesus truly was the Son of God. That’s a reasonable deduction. Now these Roman soldiers were used to crucifying criminals because Rome was famous for executing people who stood in the way of their rule. You’ve all heard of the famous slave Spartacus who led a slave revolt against the Roman rulers before the time of Christ? He gathered thousands of slaves throughout the Roman Empire and revolted against their masters. For a while they were winning their freedom, but eventually the power of Rome crushed the rebellion and executed thousands of the rebellious slaves. It’s said that the streets were lined with crucified bodies after Rome put down the rebellion. And this is only the most famous instance of mass crucifixions. The usual method was to crucify a few criminals here and there. But the practice was very common, so the Roman soldiers were entirely used to putting enemies of the state to death in this way. The crucifixion of Jesus and the men who died on both sides of him was all in a typical day’s work for these soldiers. They had probably seen hundreds, maybe thousands die by crucifixion, and they would probably see many more before they retired from active military service. So they probably started the day with no special thoughts in mind about Jesus. But by the time Jesus died on the cross, with all the circumstances of the death of Christ, they were convinced that he was more than a common criminal, indeed, that he was something special, even the very Son of God. What convinced them? The way Jesus acted, the way he conducted himself through the whole process. He didn’t strike back in anger and frustration like other condemned men. He didn’t try to escape his fate. I’m sure some criminals try to escape somehow. Others probably resist and fight the whole process, their wills being unbroken, their heads unbowed. The soldiers might have even enjoyed this resistance, because it provided them a challenge, something different. But in the case of Jesus, he didn’t resist or try to strike back their violence; he didn’t try to escape from their torture. That must have been rather strange in itself, but probably not enough to convince them that Jesus really was the Son of God. It would take more. How would you react if people were beating up on you and striking you and abusing you with violence? You’d probably try to defend yourself; that’s human nature. But Jesus didn’t. He just took the pain and suffering without raising a hand. That’s strange, but there’s more.

Second, the way Jesus was silent convinced them he really was the Son of God. Matthew 27:12-14, “When he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, ‘Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?’ But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single change – to the great amazement of the governor.” Now we don’t know if any of the soldiers were privy to this encounter between Pilate and Jesus, or if they heard about it from others, but they must have experienced the same thing in their dealings with Jesus – he just didn’t respond to their verbal or physical abuse of him. In other words, he didn’t argue or trade insult for insult. He didn’t try to defend himself either physically or verbally. He didn’t get into a big argument with the soldiers. He didn’t get loud or vocal at all either before Pilate or the Roman soldiers afterwards. He wasn’t trying to convince anyone of his innocence or plead his case. We can imagine that these soldiers had probably heard all kinds of condemned men try to get out of their troubles by different means. Some probably tried to appeal to the sympathy of the soldiers by pleading, “Please don’t do that, don’t make it worse for me. I’m going to my death, so please have a heart, please let me go to my death without extra pain.” I’m sure some tried that approach to get the solders to stop with the abuse. But I’m sure that probably didn’t work anyway because these hardened soldiers simply didn’t care. If you saw the movie The Passion of Christ a few years back you’ll remember how cruel the solders were. They really didn’t care about these victims. Now other prisoners probably retaliated by resisting verbally and physically. They probably struggled and tried to resist and wiggle around and out of their bonds. They may have tried to push or kick their captors. But again, that would probably be futile or even hurt their situation – if that were possible – because the soldiers might just get more mean about things and punish more for resisting or putting up opposition. But in any case, I’m sure the soldiers had seen all kinds of reactions from the men condemned to die. But evidently they had never seen a man like Jesus go to his death. We don’t have a complete record of what all took place between these Roman soldiers and Jesus, but whatever took place, the way Jesus went through it must have made an impression of these men. It must have been radically different from the typical human reaction to suffering, pain and death. That might have gotten them thinking that maybe Jesus was special. How would you react if you were being tortured and led to your execution? It’s hard to say how we would react because it’s so different than what most of us have experienced in life so far. Maybe some veterans, some prisoner’s of war, POWs might be able to know a little how they would react in Jesus’ situation, but most of us haven’t a clue. But I’m sure that most of us would cry out or try to appeal to or argue with our torturers; but not Jesus. As Isaiah 53:7 says, “ He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” That must have made a huge impression on these Roman soldiers. But there’s more.

Third, the circumstances of the crucifixion convinced them he really was the Son of God. Matthew 27:54, “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!’” From the Roman soldiers’ perspective nothing about Christ’s crucifixion was typical. From him being totally silent during the physical torture, to him not trying to retaliate in any way with violence or anger, to the manner in which he accepted the suffering, to the way he spoke when he spoke on the cross, to the way he cried out “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” to the very strange natural phenomenon that occurred while the crucifixion was happening – all of these convinced the Roman soldiers that Jesus must have been the Son of God. We know it got dark all of a sudden, that the wind picked up, that it might have gotten chilly, and so forth – all strange things. Then there was an earthquake to top it all off. That was probably the final thing that pushed these soldiers over the top enough to say, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” They had seen just too much to ignore the fact that Jesus was special. And if they came to that conclusion in the end, they must have also finally seen the error of their ways in torturing and crucifying him. So they were convicted of their sins as well. It took all these things for the Roman soldiers to repent and confess Jesus as Son of God. And just as it took different things to finally convince them that Jesus was the real deal, so too that’s what usually happens when a person today converts and becomes a Christian. There are usually different things, not just one thing, but usually a number of things that lead one to profess faith in Jesus today. What convinced you that Jesus was trustworthy enough for you to put your full trust in him as Lord and Savior? For these Roman soldiers, it probably took a number of things, although we don’t know, because it could have been different in each individual soldier. In other words, some of the soldiers might have started getting the idea that Jesus really was the Son of God early on, while others weren’t convinced until the final end when the earthquake and the unusual weather came. But others might have been convinced in the way Jesus remained composed throughout his torture. Still others might have been convinced that Jesus was the Messiah or Savior as he hung on the cross, as he showed care and concern for his mother Mary, as he granted salvation to the one thief on the cross beside him. It could have been just one single thing, or a combination of things, but in any event, these soldiers were convinced that Jesus really was the Son of God. Let me ask you all today – have you been convinced yet that Jesus is Lord? It’s not enough to simply go along with the crowd, even the Christian crowd. No. You need to make the decision yourself that Jesus is Savior and Lord. You must make the choice to follow him in your heart because nobody else can make that decision for you. Have you surrendered to Jesus yet? If not why not make this Easter season the time you give yourself completely to Christ. If you need to rededicate yourself back to Jesus because you’ve fallen away or slid backwards in your faith, why not make this Easter season the time you recommit yourself to him. No matter what your sins are God can forgive you. If he could forgive these soldiers, the very ones who nailed to the cross, he can forgive you. We don’t know anything more about these solders because the Bible doesn’t say any more about them. But what we do know is that these hardened executioners came to confess that Jesus was the Son of God. Have you made that confession yet from your heart? I pray you have, let us pray.

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