Truly this Man was the Son of God.
Never did reason obtain a more complete victory over prejudice. Death is the touchstone of the soul. Even in the most favourable circumstances it tries a man severely. But in this instance there were many aggravating circumstances to weigh clown and overwhelm the soul.
1. The treason of Judas. Jesus had been delivered up to His enemies by one who had been admitted to His friendship and close intercourse with Him.
2. Christ's utter abandonment by His disciples. Not a voice had been uttered in Ills defence, or to comfort Him; not one was found to come forward courageously and acknowledge Him.
3. The injustice of His sentence. Even His judge was convinced of His innocence; yet He was condemned to the most cruel death ever devised.
4. The ignominy accompanying His punishment. The death of Jesus, "expiring in the midst of tortures, abused, insulted, cursed by a whole nation, is the most horrible that could be feared."
5. His knowledge of all that was to come upon Him. His passion and death commenced in Gethsemane. There He resigned Himself unreservedly to all the anguish He afterwards underwent. Nor did He for one moment draw back from the awful sufferings that followed. Was not the centurion justified in the conclusion forced upon him by such a spectacle as this — that He who could thus die must be of a truth not Man only, but the very Son of God?
What was Jesus Christ to this heavy-bearded, battle-scarred soldier? He had heard of Him, doubtless, for the hot talk and the excited crowds in the streets of Jerusalem could not have escaped the notice of one of the officers appointed to preserve order in the city. But in his opinion Christ was nothing but a Jewish fanatic, in regard to whom he was profoundly indifferent. He had received the order to superintend the execution of this disturber of the peace without any emotion. After an impassive fashion he had directed the details of the execution, supposing that it would be only the repetition of a scene familiar to him. The fact was far otherwise. As has been said, he "halted as he passed the cross when Jesus uttered His loud death cry." He was within a few feet of Him, and must have involuntarily fixed his gaze on Him at such a sound. He saw the change pass over His features; the light of life leaving them, and the head suddenly sink. As it did so, the earthquake shook the ground, and made the three crosses tremble. But the tremor of the earth affected the Roman less than the piercing cry and sudden death. He had likely attended many crucifixions, but had never seen or heard of a man dying within a few hours on a cross. He had never heard a crucified man, strong to the last, utter a shriek that showed, as that of Jesus did, the full vigour of the vital organs to the last. He felt that there was something mysterious in it, and joining with it all he had seen and heard of the sufferer, he broke involuntarily into this confession." The triumphs of the kingdom of the cross were beginning. The Jewish thief had already asked and received Messiah's salvation, and now the Gentile centurion bowed in loyalty to the Divine Sufferer. The confession of the centurion wag a sort of first fruits of the crucifixion. Tradition has it that years afterwards, unable to shake off the influence, he became a preacher of the gospel; and certainly that cross testified, as nothing else could, to the divinity of Him who endured its pains.
The Roman centurion is not one you would have expected to be impressed. He was there but casually; had probably only been in Jerusalem a few days, Caesarea being his station. His deities were those whose chief characteristic was power. Meekness and lowliness were, by his people, considered failings, not virtues. He had probably everything about religion to learn; and yet be follows the dying thief in the path of faith and of salvation. He would not mean, perhaps, by his exclamation, all that St. Paul would have meant; but he meant that Christ was more than mere man; that God was in Him; that whatever claims He made we should reverently admit them. Such a converting power is there in the mere sight of Christ. We have but to fix our honest gaze on Him and we begin to believe upon Him and to become like Him.
If in dying the Roman officer became convinced that Jesus was Divine, how much more should we be convinced of the Divinity of a risen and exalted Christ.
A well-known learned man of Saxony, after having all his life long attacked Jesus and His gospel with all the weapons of sophistry he could command, was in his old age partially deprived of his reason, chiefly through the fear of death, and frequently fell into religious paroxysms of a peculiar nature. He was almost daily observed conversing with himself, while pacing to and fro in his chamber, on one of the walls of which, between other pictures, hung one of the Saviour. Repeatedly he halted before the latter, and said, in a horrifying tone of voice, "After all, Thou wast only a Man." Then, after a short pause, he would continue, "What wast Thou more than a Man? Ought I to worship Thee? No, I will not worship Thee, for Thou art only Rabbi Jesus, Joseph's son, of Nazareth." Uttering these words, he would return with a deeply affected countenance, and exclaim, "What dost Thou
say? That Thou camest from above! How terribly Thou eyest me! Oh, Thou art dreadful! But Thou art only a Man, after all!" Then he would again rush away, but soon return with faltering step, crying out, "What! Art Thou in reality the Son of God?" The same scenes were daily renewed, till the unhappy man, struck by paralysis, dropped down dead; and then really stood before his Judge, who, even in His picture, had so strikingly and overpoweringly judged him.I.
That the religion of the gospel is the only one which has ever yet appeared among mankind which is adequate to all the instinctive desires and expectations of the human mind.
II. There is a second view of it which arises from its relation to the welfare of society, or the prosperity of the world. III, That the religion of the gospel is the only one which has ever appeared among mankind which is commensurate to the future hopes or expectations of the human soul.
He had been condemned as a blasphemer by the ecclesiastical authorities, because He had said that He was the Son of God. It was proper, it was needful, that His claims should be vindicated. This was done, indeed, effectually by His resurrection from the dead: He was then declared to be the Son of God with power — with the most powerful weight of evidence. But it was not necessary to wait till the third day; it was fitting rather that something should be done to vindicate His claims while He yet suffered, so that His enemies should not completely triumph. The prodigies which attended the crucifixion of our Lord seemed necessary also, in order to bring His death into harmony with His life. As in the person so also in the history of Jesus, there was a strange combination of humiliation and dignity, of power and weakness. The centurion was convinced by the scenes which he witnessed of the innocence of Jesus. "When the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man." His enemies had said all manner of evil of Him. They had said that He was a sinner, a Sabbath breaker, a profane person, a leader of sedition, a Samaritan who had a devil and was mad. But to the centurion all nature became animated, vocal, and refuted these foul calumnies. The centurion was convinced by the scenes which he witnessed, not only of the innocence of our Lord, but also of His Messiahship; he not only exclaimed, "Certainly this was a righteous man," but he said again, "Truly this was the Son of God." Some have supposed that we should interpret this as the language of a heathen; and that it means simply this was "a son of a god;" He was a hero; there was something Divine in Him. But in reading the new Testament we are struck with the fact that many of the Roman soldiers, those especially of any rank, who were stationed in Judea, appear to have derived much religious knowledge from their intercourse with the Jews. It is necessary only to refer to the centurion at Capernaum. This centurion appears to have known that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, the promised deliverer of mankind, but that the Jews denied the claims of Jesus, that they rejected Him, that they pronounced Him guilty of blasphemy, and worthy of death; and now the centurion felt that God had decided the controversy — that He had decided it against the Jews and in favour of Jesus. He and those with him felt that those prodigies were expressions of the Divine displeasure; they said therefore, "What have we done? We have been partakers with the Jews in this great sin; we have contributed to the murder of this righteous man; we have crucified the Son of God. And what will God do? He will surely be avenged on such a people; He will punish such a deed as this!" Here it is worthy of remark, that they were soldiers, Roman soldiers who were thus impressed by the prodigies which attended the death of our Lord; they were Gentile soldiers who were convinced by those signs and wonders of the innocence of Jesus, and of the justice of His claims; the Jews were not impressed, were not convinced by them; nothing could convince them; nothing could remove their prejudices and unbelief; especially of the chief priests and rulers. So it often is; we frequently find most where we expect least; we often find publicans and sinners, soldiers and Gentiles, more open to conviction, and more susceptible of impression, than religious professors and self-righteous Pharisees. Of all men these indeed are generally the most hardened and the most hopeless. We should remark further: the centurion and those that were with him watching Jesus, that is to say, those who were the least guilty of all the parties concerned in the melancholy transactions of that day, feared greatly when they saw in the wonders which attended the death of our Lord the proofs of His Messiahship, and of the Divine displeasure against His enemies; but those who were most guilty had no fear. Luke tells us indeed that all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things that were done, smote their breasts and returned. But Annas and Caiaphas, the chief priests and rulers, were not amongst them. Their consciences were seared, their minds were reprobate; they were given up to judicial blindness and obduracy.
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