May God’s love for you rest on your hearts. And may the undeserved mercy of Christ fill you with peace. Amen.
This Lent our theme has been, “Lenten Shadow and Light”. In this series of messages we’ve compared and contrasted different characters who played a part in Jesus’ crucifixion.
We’ve seen great darkness, and brilliant light. We’ve seen evil and goodness. Tonight we examine two more players in this drama. Two Romans: Pontius Pilate and the Centurion who stood guard at Jesus’ cross.
Luke 23:22-23, Matthew 27:54 (NIV)▬
22Then [Pontius Pilate] said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has He done? I have found no reason for death in Him. I will therefore chastise Him and let Him go.”
23But they were insistent, demanding with loud voices that He be crucified. And the voices of these men and of the chief priests prevailed.
54When 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!”
Now, at first glance, we might identify Pilate as the shadow here, and the Centurion as the light. But that’s not quite right. Both of these were lights on that dark Friday. Both proclaimed that Jesus was a righteous man.
Let’s look at Pilate first.
Pilate was a high ranking Roman official. As the Governor of this part of Rome’s great empire, Pilate was very powerful. As he himself said, Pilate had the power to crucify Jesus or to let Him go.
Pilate saw a lot of darkness on that day. He saw the DARK HATRED of Jesus’ accusers. Pilate understood that the religions leaders wanted Jesus dead out of envy, not out of any sense of justice. Pilate heard many accusations made against Jesus. And he recognized them as lies.
Against this background of darkness, Pilate also saw Jesus. He was silent in the face off all accusations. When questioned by Pilate, Jesus radiated innocence.
Pilate didn’t have to depend on Jesus’ testimony alone. He also had the testimony of his wife, who was convinced that Jesus was innocent.
Pilate even had God’s testimony. For who else would have sent that strange dream to his wife? That dream that moved her to stand up for Jesus?
It was a dark day. But Jesus stood out in bright, white innocence.
And some of this innocence was reflected off of Pilate. For Pilate himself proclaimed Jesus innocent numerous times. He told the angry crowd below that he had examined this Man and had found no reason for death in Him.
Yet, Pilate’s testimony, though it was correct, didn’t go far enough. He grasped Jesus’ innocence and proclaimed it, but, Pilate didn’t believe that Jesus was God’s Son. If he had, he would have feared God more than that angry crowd, and would have let Jesus go.
Pilate was like kindling arranged in a fireplace, that never quite catches fire. He smoldered there in the presence of Jesus’ light, but ultimately, Pilate remained cold and dead towards God.
I’d guess that some of you have been to Mt. Rushmore. You COULD describe Mt. Rushmore by saying, “There’s a place in the Black Hills of South Dakota where a man carved some faces in some rocks.” That statement is true enough, but it doesn’t tell the whole truth.
That’s what Pilate’s confession about Jesus was like. For our Savior was much more than an innocent man condemned.
Let’s turn to our second Roman now. We don’t actually know this man’s name. What we do know is that he was a Centurion in the Roman army. He was a relatively low ranking officer, commanding somewhere around a hundred men. He was certainly nowhere near Pilate in authority.
Yet, he also proclaimed the truth about Jesus on that Good Friday. The Centurion saw a different kind of testimony than Pilate had. He saw the testimony of earth shaking events as well as the testimony of words.
The Centurion was in charge of carrying out Jesus’ crucifixion. We’re not sure about everything that the Centurion saw and heard, but since he was there he would have seen how Jesus suffered in silence. Perhaps he heard Jesus pray to God on behalf of the people who crucified Him. Maybe he even heard the exchange between Jesus and the criminal crucified beside Him. This criminal confessed himself a sinner and appealed to Jesus. Jesus assured him that he would be in paradise before the day was over.
While we assume that the Centurion heard these things. We know for CERTAIN that he saw the supernatural darkness that fell over the land from twelve to three. We know for SURE that the Centurion heard Jesus’ final words as He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.” We KNOW that the Centurion felt the earthquake that shuddered through the ground when the Son of God gave up His life and died in the place of every sinner who ever walked the face of the earth.
In the darkness of all these things, Jesus’ last triumphant cry must have shone out like a bright light, burning it’s testimony into this man’s memory forever.
Crucifixion was meant to slowly extinguish a man’s strength until his light went out. But this Jesus had burned more brightly in the darkness of His crucifixion exploding with His last words like a star going supernova.
It was THEN that the Centurion, filled with fear, shone out with light himself. Seeing it all, taking it in and weighing it in his heart, the Centurion opened his mouth and declared to all who would hear that this Man surely was a righteous man - just as Pilate had declared Him to be. But the Centurion went further. He also declared that it was true, Jesus surely was the Son of God.
The Centurion recognized both Jesus’ INNOCENCE AND His IDENTITY as the divine Savior. With his words he praised God.
While Pilate’s fire never ignited, we have reason to believe the Centurion’s did. And we look forward to seeing Him in heaven when WE finally reach that glorious place.
Now, it must be said that BOTH of these men were in darkness before Christ blazed out in glory before them. Any light that sinners come to possess comes first from God as a gift. Jesus is the light of the world, our only Savior. He alone gets the credit for illuminating our dark, unbelieving hearts and making them hearts filled with His forgiveness, love and joy and peace.
We’ve examined our two Romans now, but I’d like to share one more bit of shadow and light with you tonight. One that is of great importance.
Turn to Mark 15, verse 42-46. This takes place after Jesus died on that Friday afternoon.
“42It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph” (Mark 15:42-45 NIV).This final testimony from the Centurion colors the background utterly dark, so that the full light of Jesus’ resurrection might be comprehended.
Because Jesus truly died and was raised from the dead days later, our faith is sure. From this fact, we know that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior who He said He was. We know that our sins have truly been paid for. We know that we too shall be raised from the dead to eternal life. And, we know that the Bible is true, for the prophesy has been fulfilled. The Savior who was cut off from the land of the living has been brought back to see the light of life.
We close our meditations tonight with Isaiah’s prophecy that was fulfilled in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Turn to Isaiah 53:8-11.
“8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.AMEN.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the LORD’S will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
11 After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:8-11 NIV).
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.