Dear radio friends,
Shortly before His cross, our Lord Jesus Christ prophesied in John 12:32 , “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” The cross is God’s divine magnet. It is the power of God to bring to Himself His people out of darkness and bondage. It is the real Red Sea, the real Jordan River.
The power of that cross was to be seen in one repentant thief — a young man who was born of believing parents within the covenant of God, and fallen back. But he was redeemed and drawn back out of the fires of hell by the power of the cross of Jesus Christ.
But the power of the cross of Jesus Christ to draw to Him all of His own is also seen in a centurion. This centurion was born in darkness. His parents were pagan, and for his whole life he had been under the thinking of a depraved world. But the power of the cross drew the centurion to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
It is that same power of the cross that is at work in your salvation and in mine. Do you confess with the centurion: “Truly this man is the Son of God, truly He is my Savior; He is God in the flesh; He is given to bear my guilt, to be my Moses, to bring me out of the bondage of my Egypt of sin”? Do you say, “Truly I know the Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me”? That is your confession because of the glorious power of the cross to draw you to Jesus. It is not the result of some decision that you made out of your own will. It was not simply because you were born and you had the right chromosomes, the right genetic makeup, to be a believer. It is due to God’s sovereign, gracious, irresistible power — the power of the cross to draw to Jesus Christ all of His own.
That is the power we are shown in the amazing confession that the centurion made as he stood before the dead Christ upon the cross.
The centurion’s amazing confession is the believing response to the word that God had been speaking about His dying Son. In the last weeks we have seen that no sooner did Jesus Christ yield up His life upon the cross and shout out with triumph, “It is finished,” than God came down to Golgotha to speak — not in words and sentences, but in a language of miracle, a language clear, eloquent, and unmistakable. He spoke three times. The rending of the veil declaring that the way to the Holiest, to the presence of God, is open through the blood of His Son. In the earthquake and the rending of the rocks He spoke of the great power of Jesus Christ to redeem and to judge. He spoke when the graves were opened and the saints arose and went out and appeared unto many of the glorious power of Christ’s death to overcome our death and the grave.
Many heard God speak. That is, what God was saying in the death of His Son was unavoidably put before the consciousness of men. The priests in the temple could not have missed the tearing of the veil in the temple. When the earth trembles under men’s feet and the rocks break open, that gets people’s attention. When the tombs are opened and the bodies come out, an impression is made.
But all did not believe. All did not confess. All did not experience the joy and the power of the cross — because Jesus must, by His irresistible grace, draw one to Himself for one to believe. And one of those who believed was the centurion who made an amazing confession. We read in 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.”
Who was the centurion? He was a soldier. He was a captain in the Roman army, placed over one hundred men. Most centurions in Rome’s army had risen from the ranks. They were not from the privileged. They were promoted on the basis of ability and character. So this man had proven himself in the ranks. We read that he stood over against Christ. That is, his assignment from Pilate, his post, was to supervise the crucifixions on Golgotha. He was there to administer the execution of Christ and the thieves in the authority of Rome. Perhaps his involvement began already at the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Perhaps he had stood watch over the proceedings in Pilate’s courtyard when Christ was condemned to death. But this we do know: he was there to see that nothing interfered and that the sentence of crucifixion was carried out and that no one would come to take the condemned ones down. We know nothing else. We do not know his name, his background, his nationality, or the events of his life. We only know this: God’s marvelous providence brought him to that moment where he stood before the cross.
He had witnessed many things — all the things that you have to witness concerning Jesus Christ of Nazareth who was crucified. Mark emphasizes what he saw and heard. “And when,” we read, “the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost.” The last moments of the cross had a profound effect upon this man. That is, the manner in which Jesus died. He heard Him cry out, “It is finished.” He saw Him dismiss His spirit into the Father’s hand, to commend His soul to God, and then deliberately die.
Matthew and Luke tell us that there were other things that he saw that powerfully influenced him. Luke makes a general statement, including all that was done. We read in Luke 23:47 , “Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man.” Matthew tells us that he saw the miracles that God did at the moment that Christ died. Matthew 27:54 : “Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.” He had witnessed many things.
It is quite probable that he saw most, if not all, that had transpired in the arrest and the death of Jesus Christ. As we said, he may well have been involved in the arrest in Gethsemane. No doubt he had seen Jesus stand in silence before the hatred of the Jews and before Pilate. He had heard the Jews clamor for the death of Jesus Christ. He had witnessed the scourging and the crucifixion. He had observed the Christ under all of these things. He had witnessed the darkness of three hours and the returning of the light. Most probably he could bear witness to all of these things. But, indisputably, he had stood before the cross and seen Jesus die. He had heard His last words. He had felt under his feet the earth quake. He had seen the rocks rend, and the tombs open, and those who were in them come out.
He witnessed what we have witnessed. For all of these things are recorded for us upon the pages of God’s Word. And God’s Word is more sure than anything else. It is the word that penetrates deeper into the eye and into the ear. It is the power to write upon the conscience with indelible ink. Behold the cross of Jesus Christ. You have heard and you have seen all of those things.
And the centurion, by God’s grace, confessed “this was God’s righteous Son — this was my Savior.”
The centurion was an elect child of God. He was being drawn by that irresistible, powerful, wonderful grace of God to confess Jesus. He had heard, he saw. And now, by grace, he believed unto the saving of his soul. And all of this, because the sovereign love of God drew him to Jesus.
We read in the Scriptures (I Cor. 12:3), “No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” We read again in I John 4:2 , “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.” There were many others who saw what the centurion saw and heard what he heard. And today, many millions have heard the living word of Christ crucified, the truth of the Holy Scriptures. In the centurion’s day, there were many who were shaken. But they were not changed. For salvation is not simply to be shaken, but it is to be changed. Salvation is the arrow that the Holy Spirit aims and shoots, piercing the heart.
The power of the cross is necessary to pull anyone out of darkness. The grace of God is indispensable. It is the only power to bring us out of spiritual darkness.
So the power of the cross pulled the centurion out of his darkness. The grace of God brought him through years of mental obstacles, supressing the lust that once controlled him, the ignorance that blinded him, and the rebellion that chained him down. The word of the cross goes forth to conquer him. Jesus said, “If I be lifted up, I, even I, will draw all men unto me.”
Do you today confess that this is God’s righteous Son upon the cross dying in your place? Do you see the divine, amazing, glorious, free love of God? That is the result of the invisible, irresistible, mysterious, wonderful, free grace of God through the cross of Jesus Christ. Give God the glory. By grace we are drawn to Christ.
The centurion confessed, first of all, that Jesus Christ crucified was a righteous man. We read in Luke 23:47 , “Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God saying, Certainly this was a righteous man.” As a centurion, he knew that crucifixion was reserved for the vilest criminals. Two malefactors had been crucified with Jesus. They were muggers, killers, heartless, ruthless. Now he has watched Jesus upon the cross. And he has heard His words when crucified: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He had heard His cry rending the air around Calvary: “It is finished.” He had felt the earth quake under his feet. And the centurion’s conviction is that this man is righteous.
What is saving faith that God works in our heart? It is this. It is the knowledge that I am the sinner and Christ is the righteous One. This was the same confession that the thief, the penitent thief, gave. Remember, he spoke to the other thief these words, “That we, indeed, are justly condemned. But this man hath done nothing amiss.”
The centurion glorified God, saying, “Truly this was a righteous man.” It does not mean that he cried out, “Glory to God.” No, it means that in saying that Jesus was a righteous man he glorified God. He spoke the truth about Christ. He spoke the truth about himself. And that glorifies God. He agreed with God. He gave glory to God. How did he give glory to God? By grace he confessed, “I’m the sinner and Jesus is the righteous one.” And remember, the centurion made that confession before men. That took courage. The chief priest and the scribes and the Pharisees are milling around the cross. They have cried out for His death. The centurion exposes them. His words say to them, “You stirred up fury against an innocent man.” No, he said more: “This is the Righteous Man — God’s Righteous Man.”
Word could well get back to Pilate and to his superiors. The soldiers were not supposed to express their opinions. They were told to do what they had to do and to keep their mouth shut. This centurion now confesses publicly: “A righteous man has been crucified.”
But he confessed more. He confessed that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh. He confessed, truly this man was the Son of God.
Now immediately an objection is brought. How could he know the miracle that this was God’s eternal Son in the flesh — the truth of the divinity of Jesus Christ — that Jesus Christ was the second person of the sacred Trinity? Beloved, maybe he could not articulate it in all of its wonder and beauty as we are now given to do. But this is Scripture. And this is grace. Put away those questions about how he could know and bow before the Scriptures. He knew that the man on the cross was the Son of God — that He was God of God, who had died to secure his salvation. That is salvation. And that is the knowledge that irresistible grace brings to the heart. Salvation is to know: God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. How did he know that? Did not the very words of the Jews who hated Jesus sow the seed of this knowledge? Did not the scribes cry out before the cross: “He maketh himself to be the Son of God”? Did he not silently witness Jesus confess before the interrogation of Caiaphas, when Caiaphas said, “I adjure thee, tell us whether you are the Son of the living God,” could he not have heard Jesus say, “Thou hast said”?
I do not know exactly the means that God used to enlighten his mind and to bring him to this saving knowledge. But I know this. It was grace. What else could it be? Do you truly believe that the One upon the cross is the eternal Son of God in the flesh, God of God, given of grace in the flesh to bear the eternity of punishment for your soul? That is possible only by the wondrous, mysterious, real experiential grace of God. No, that is experienced, that is known when Jesus Christ, the living Lord, is drawing you by His love personally.
That work of grace continues the same today. Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to me.” So a thief only a few hours from death, some mother’s covenant son receiving the consequences of his willfulness, is brought to faith in Jesus Christ.
Now a centurion. There was nothing there to cause you to pick him out as the one who would be the one to make this confession. But God’s grace had picked him out — by grace, from all eternity, alone.
So it continues. We will read still of an honorable counselor, a rich man, called Joseph of Arimathaea. Then we will read of a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Later on we will read of a hundred and twenty disciples and then three thousand at Pentecost. And then we will read in the Scriptures of a man who was consumed by hate against Jesus Christ — Saul of Tarsus — and he will be brought to faith. Then we will read of two tentmakers in Rome. Then we will read of a woman praying by a river in Philippi. Always it is the same. There is one invincible power on the earth. There is one cause that must have its way among men and women. That irresistible, invincible power that will have its way is not sin. It is not the devil. It is not the world. It is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The power of the cross prevails. The cross accomplishes the purpose for which God has sent it. The cross will draw to Jesus Christ and bring to the Good Shepherd all His own. That power is the invincible power on the earth. Nothing can prevent it. By that power the church shall be built and established. And by that power the church will serve the Lord God throughout all ages in eternity. Jesus Christ, crucified, draws you to Himself — draws you as a sinner, one who is given to know his sinfulness and his powerlessness — and pulls you to Him in the wonder of His grace.
The work of grace gives us to confess Jesus as Savior and Lord. Savior: He died for me upon that cross — for the unrighteous who were given to Him by His Father. For my foul sins He died, and He washed them all away. And He is Lord: for truly this man is the Son of God! He stands now over us with royal authority, with divine majesty, and in awesome beauty. He holds sway in the principle, in the center of our being, so that our thoughts, our desires, our goals, our aspirations now are all unto Him! Unto Him who is Lord! Son of God, my Lord! And as Lord He works by grace in us obedience, repentance, love, and devotion to Jesus Christ.
Let us take our place with the centurion before the cross. And let us confess: Jesus is all the righteousness that I need. Let us confess before God His grace at work in our hearts: The crucified Jesus is my Savior, my Lord, and my God!
Let us pray.
Father, we again thank Thee for Thy Word. And we pray that it may enter into our hearts in this day. We praise Thy name for irresistible grace. And we glorify Thee, knowing that salvation is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God who shows mercy. We thank Thee that that power of the cross will bring to Jesus all of His own. And we glorify Thy name that it has brought us, by faith, to Him. Forbid, Lord, that we should glory in ourselves, but may we boast only in Thee. In Jesus’ name, Amen.