The soldier’s famous words of faith

Published 4:53 pm Saturday, March 30, 2024

By R.A. Mathews

He was not a young soldier. Not a private, first class. He’d risen through the ranks, the equivalent of a captain or major today. Scripture identifies him only as “the centurion,” obviously a strong, brave man and apparently in charge of Christ’s crucifixion. He was both a disciplined soldier and one capable of great cruelty. The Roman army demanded such abilities. 

When he awoke that Friday morning, the centurion could not have known what the day would bring. Romans were heathens, worshiping gods and goddesses, but this soldier would soon speak one of the most famous statements of faith ever recorded in history. 

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Remember, Jesus was tried in the early morning hours by the Jews and then taken to Pilate, who sent Him to Herod. Jesus was sent back to Pilate, condemned, and turned over to the soldiers for execution. 

The soldiers gathered the whole Roman cohort, a battalion of men. Perhaps 400. Two gospels describe almost word for word what happened next. It’s remarkable. Apparently, those writers had a source among the soldiers—maybe the man who came to Christ that day. 

Jesus was dressed in a fine robe. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and placed it on His head. They took a reed and put it in His right hand. The soldiers knelt and bowed before Him, shouting, “Hail King of the Jews!” They spit on Him, beating His head and face with that reed.

Jesus was also scourged. Beaten. The Roman whip had pieces of metal knotted into it, so as to tear open a man’s flesh. 

Jesus then walked to Golgotha where soldiers nailed Him to the cross. The religious leaders had won, yet they came to the execution, jeering at our Lord, unable to let it go. Those passing also hurled abuse at Jesus. Even the soldiers made fun of Him: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them…” 

When our Lord spoke those words, was it just for the Jews? Or did Jesus look also at the Roman soldiers—at the centurion? Did Jesus move that hardened soldier? 

Scripture states the centurion came and stood at the foot of the cross, right in front of our Lord. A soldier of rank, there’s little doubt he’d driven his sword through many men—from the coward fleeing battle to the opponent within arm’s reach, who took a final breath to curse the centurion to his face. This commander wasn’t prepared for a completely different Man. For Jesus. 

“It is finished,” Jesus said. “Father into Your Hands I commit My Spirit.” 

And He breathed His last. 

Scripture says the centurion began praising God.  And at that moment he spoke his famous statement of faith. I’ll let the Bible tell you: 

“When the centurion, who was standing right in front of [Jesus], saw the way He breathed His last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” 

The centurion saw Jesus seek forgiveness for those who had bitterly abused Him. 

It changed the man. 

The ability to truly forgive is a great divider of men and women. Ministers will tell you it’s a troubling problem within their congregations. 

The matter can cut even deeper. 

I am reminded of a small church I attended years ago. Our new minister—the most gifted speaker I had ever heard—seemed destined to become a world-renowned evangelist. When he preached, you could hear a pin drop. 

Yet something seemed amiss. He was nearly forty and hadn’t been assigned a larger church. 

Soon enough, those beautifully delivered sermons became a problem, and church attendance dwindled. 

One Sunday, a deacon approached me, frowning. “The things he says.” 

“Have you talked to him?” I asked.

He nodded and scowled, even more upset.

“What happens now?” I asked.

“We’re stuck with him.”

So what was the minister’s problem? Here’s an example. During Bible study, the minister mentioned a man who had wronged him. 

“That jerk!” he said. 

See what I mean? The minister hadn’t learned to forgive. 

He isn’t alone. We live in a world that teaches fairness, and forgiveness is the epitome of unfairness—the wrongdoer doesn’t deserve to be forgiven. 

Every day, remember the crushing death of our Lord. Know that you are His witness to the world. Remember also the centurion standing before that cross, and how forgiveness changed his life. 

The greater the ordeal, the greater the impact of forgiveness on another. 

Hold dear this Bible verse. Memorize it and keep it close: “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:3)

Do as Jesus did. Forgive. 


The Rev. Mathews (BA, MDiv, JD) is a syndicated newspaper faith columnist and the author of “Emerald Coast: The Vendetta.” Write to her at (Just one t in Mathews) Copyright © 2024 R.A. Mathews. All rights reserved.