This week our thoughts turn to the anticipation of Holy Week and the Easter holiday. This coming Sunday marks what is traditionally known as Palm Sunday with the week following being the commemoration of the high point in the Christian year. Easter is one of those traditional holidays that have produced many other traditions and customs that we celebrate every year.
We see families and groups celebrating Easter egg hunts and white cross buns, and that Easter ham for dinner. Then there are Easter bunnies and rabbits (which do not lay the Easter eggs, by the way) and all sorts of other individual family traditions to keep our attention and capture our imagination. And somewhere in the middle of al that we celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
The traditions are outflanked, if you will, by the unprecedented and as yet unequaled feat of Jesus leaving his tomb voluntarily and vertically. His body was not stolen. His tomb was not mistaken. His life was not over.
When I think of Easter, I cannot help but think of the empty tomb. But my thoughts also go to the hill outside the city walls of Jerusalem where the cross was erected and Jesus was nailed to it. I am reminded of that wonderful Easter psalm, Psalm 66, where we read about the impact of His death on mankind. In verse 5, the psalmist calls us to, “come and see the works of God!” Then in verse 12, we are challenged to “come and hear” the testimony of God’s faithfulness and His marvelous provision.
Every year in revisiting the events of that first Good Friday afternoon, I never cease to be impressed by the testimony of one who stood watching and observing the events and the process of painfully killing One who did not deserve at all such treatment. In Mark 15:39 we read: “ When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!”
My one thought here is that Jesus, while He did not seek it, made the most of His opportunities. No matter where He was, no matter what He was doing, He was a witness, if by no other means than by His life to the power and the grace of God. His witness was so strong that, even without saying a word, even in His very death, people were making professions of faith in their lives and turning from their wicked ways to follow Him.
Here, we see an anonymous individual who becomes a Christ-follower during the hours Jesus hung on the cross. This unnamed Roman soldier, while simply doing his job, was so impressed with the way in which Jesus died that he made the statement which will go down in history as one of the most profound ever. His observations of Jesus during the trials and the crucifixion pointed him to make that weighty observation. He is so moved by Jesus’ humility and by His strength, even when things went against Him, that he was simply saying that this Man is who He says He is.
No doubt he had watched other criminals die. This legion of soldiers was specially trained to perform this task, the task of crucifixion. They understood what was at stake, and had observed many of these criminals breathe their last.
But this one was different. He did not protest against his accusers. He did not object when they called Him names. He did not resist when the soldiers humiliated Him. He went through all that without one word of resistance or rebuke, without one epithet or cursing. He almost seemed to be more concerned about the soldiers and the people who were accusing Him than anything.
The other thing that is worthy of note here is that this Roman centurion, the leader of the troops there, obviously said this loud enough that someone else heard his comments (and then wrote them down). And his comments could have been show-stoppers. This one simple comment would have and could have gotten him in trouble with both the Jewish leaders and the Romans. He could have lost his job as a result of this simple comment. We do not know what happened to him, but we do know that his observation of the way in which Jesus died is significant.
So what about you and me? How should we be transformed by reading about this Roman soldier? Well, watching the way that Jesus died is significant. And it is a life-change. Many people will observe His death and turn and walk away, rejecting Him and His death as simply not relevant. Many others will somehow try to rationalize His death and write it off as insignificant. But only those who are truly observant, watching Him in life and death, will be changed forever.
This Easter, my prayer for each of us is that God will help us to observe Him in both life and death, that we will see how He lived, how He died, and how He wants to live anew in our very own lives and observe the miraculous way in which He changes everything he touches. May we not only “come and see” and “come and hear”, but may we be so transformed that we, as a result of our encounter with the true Son of God, like the Roman centurion, will “go and do.” May each of us make the most of these Easter opportunities this year.
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor. He can be reached at [email protected]mail.com.