Mark 15:39, "And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God."
This morning, evidence is often deceiving. When sportscasters talk about upcoming games or sporting events, they many times will predict with near absolute certainty what the outcome will be. Oftentimes, they have data to support their claim, which quite often proves correct. Yet, they suffer from the same handicap that meteorologists have. Since they can only analyze data and not control all the varying factors, they are hampered by the "chance" factor. Why is it that weaker teams sometimes beat stronger teams, slower people win races, or a storm perhaps goes in the direction not expected? Solomon attributes "time and chance" to events such as these. (Ecclesiastes 9:11) Now, since man's sight is limited, we cannot see – and by simple inference control – all factors in any given situation. That is why teams play the game, and why spectators of such events must await in anticipation to see what the actual outcome will be.
Considering the evidence concerning the man Christ Jesus, we today would seem to have a slight handicap of not being actually there present to see Him, talk with Him, and witness all the wonderful things that He did. While we are blessed – though having not seen and yet believe – to have the faithful record of the Scriptures to learn from and trust in as a source of truth, what would it be like to see the evidence before your very eyes? Our study verse records just such a first-hand account by one who did see and hear. An unlikely witness, but nonetheless a witness of certain things.
The centurion doubtless saw many of the afflictions laid upon Christ. He either watched, participated, or ordered the brutal beatings that were laid upon the back of Christ by the cruel whip. As the reed beat the crown of thorns deeply into His brow, men slapped and berated a bound and blindfolded man, and then this marred body was nailed to the cross and laid bare, he bore testimony that a man's visage was marred more than any other man. (Isaiah 52:14) Later, he observed the scene (since our verse said he was the one that stood by Christ at Calvary) as men and even those crucified with Him verbally berated Him. Then, the darkening shroud of darkness descended during the middle of the day, and finally after all these events had transpired, he observed this man die.
Consider the evidence before this man. He has observed Christ endure what many common criminals had experienced. As the Romans were notorious for crucifying criminals and other conquered foes, the centurion had probably seen crucifixions take place before. Most people – after being crucified – would hang suspended for days and perhaps even a week or two depending on their physical condition. As the body began to starve and the muscles pulled away from the bones in what is truly excruciating pain, this centurion had quite possibly observed men endure long-term devastating effects before finally expiring on the cross.
Taking his probable past experience with crucifixions, look at the case evidence before him. This man hung there for 6 hours before death occurred. To the natural perception of the evidence, Christ was a weak natural specimen that could not endure long-term physical distress. Christ never opened His blessed mouth at any of His persecutors. As they whipped Him, beat Him, entreated Him with blasphemy, and even equal criminals verbally spat in His teeth, He never opened His mouth against any of them. Natural man would think that He was either too beat down to make a defense or had no defense to quiet the gainsayers.
Yet, from the centurion's blessed declaration, he obviously considered something other than natural man's evidence. To say that a man who has just died is the Son of God takes observation that natural sense cannot discern. (I Corinthians 2:14) Furthermore, to say that a now dead person is Deity is laughable to the natural man. So, what did the centruion perceive? He perceived the same evidence that is faithfully laid down for us about this scene in Scripture.
As one that stood by, he observed Christ lovingly and faithfully take care of His natural mother by commanding John to care for her as a mother and her to look to him as a son. (John 19:25-27) Perhaps he even saw Christ's loving exchange with the repentant thief. Seeing a hardened and bitter criminal "change his tune" and be met with loving compassion from Jesus, something different was definitely occurring. (Luke 23:39-43) He watched Christ refuse the vinegar and wine mixed with myrrh to relieve any suffering He would feel. Yet, watched as Christ willingly partook of the vinegar at the end when it did Him no natural good but was requested by Him. (John 19:28-29) He saw Christ positively declare the completion of His work by uttering the blessed refrain, "It is finished" and then willingly declare "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." (John 19:30, Luke 23:46) By Christ's actions on the cross, coupled with the mighty natural signs that took place: darkness, earthquake, etc., the centurion observed something out of the ordinary at this crucifixion.
Most soldiers are pragmatic individuals, and the centurion – given such a charge to stand by these crucified reprobates – would have been quite practical about his assignment and task: keep people away, do not let anyone try to save them, and keep things under control. As the final moments of Christ's life began to transpire, this pragmatic soldier observed a mighty and loud declaration from a dying man. Scripture records that Christ's final verbal utterances were not done lightly, gingerly, or in weakness. By sounding out loudly, we have evidence today – as the centurion did then – that this "early crucified death" was not some physical defect in Christ but a willing sacrifice of laying down His life for the sheep. Man killed the Saviour and stood guilty of the murder of the Son of God, but no man actually took His life as He laid it down willingly and joyfully for His sheep. (John 10:17-18)
So, how did the centurion take this evidence and turn it into the declaration of Christ's Deity? He ignored the natural sense, and rather said according to the Spirit of God that Jesus is Lord. (I Corinthians 12:3) His understanding of the evidence was that something more grand and more glorious transpired than what the tongue waggers would admit. What should be the point for us today?
There are tongue waggers today just as that day at Calvary. Many today doubt His work, His person, and even make claims just as they did then. On that day, they claimed, "We will believe if you do this." Today, they claim, "We will believe if we can see that." Regardless of the evidence that they require now, it is just as foolish as the evidence that they spitefully demanded then. The evidence was upon the scene on that day, and as the Holy Scriptures are before us now, we have evidence today. However, it takes a quickened heart and regenerated spirit to see these things, but even regenerated folks can sometimes doubt the evidence before them. Christ's disciples did not stand there and utter this grand declaration. Those that heard Him preach and witnessed Him heal did not make this glorious statement. The one that made it observed and likely participated in His torment leading up to the cross.
Natural sense sees the failure at Calvary. Natural sense sees a man cut down early in life and dying early on the cross. Natural sense sees a man that was beaten to submission, not even able to offer a defense and fight back against His oppressors. Spiritual sense sees victory at Calvary as no other victory has ever been won. While hard to comprehend, spiritual sense sees Life Himself willingly laying His life down (allowing death through the door) to deliver us from death and ransom a multitude to God. Spiritual sense does not see an "early crucified death," but rather, it sees a completed fulfillment of suffering ending in noble sacrifice of the highest order. Spiritual sense sees a loving Saviour and Redeemer that endured silently at the hands of created beings far inferior and subordinate to Him.
Considering the magnitude of that day some 2,000 years ago, it is truly amazing that the most faithful declaration of this righteous man came from a Gentile soldier. He admitted that the difference he saw made all the difference in the world. When we see Jesus work in our lives or read of His work upon the page, it ought to make all the difference in the world. Quite often, people charge free grace and limited atonement as "do nothing" doctrines. Does what you just read about Christ's work for you – free to you but costing Him everything – make you want to do nothing or willingly own His name and as this centurion faithfully declare Him to be the Son of God?