The First Gentile Convert

This study was given as part of our verse-by-verse study of the Gospel of Mark on 9th December 2018. The full audio teaching and powerpoint slides are available for free download:

The First Gentile Convert

9 Events that made a Christ-follower out of a Roman Centurion

  • 1. One of the first events is the fact that Pilate declares Jesus Christ to be innocent.
  • In Luke’s gospel, in an unprecedented move, Pilate says to the mob, . . . “I have found in Him no guilt . . .” (Luke 23:22)
  • As Pilate hands Jesus over to the centurion, instead of hearing the crimes committed against the state that justify the death sentence, he and his soldiers watch, according to Matthew’s account, Pilate wash his hands in a ceremonial manner and say, . . . “I am innocent of this Man’s blood . . .” (Matt 27:24)
  • Without a doubt, this got the centurion’s attention. He was a soldier who had given his life to protect and uphold the law of the land, and his leader just announced that this criminal had never broken the law.
  • 2. The second event is an unusual exchange between Christ and a group of women.
  • As they made their way through the streets of Jerusalem toward Calvary, the centurion and his soldiers would hear Christ make an unusual statement to the daughters of Jerusalem. Luke, in chapter 23, records that women from the city were following Jesus and weeping because of His imminent death.
  • They were weeping not as much because of their faith in Him as because of their remorse over a Jewish man being executed in this manner by the Romans.
  • Instead of feeding off their kindness and their sympathy, the centurion hears Christ say to them, . . . “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me . . . weep for yourselves and for your own children.” (Luke 23:28) In other words, “Don’t be concerned about Me, be concerned about your own families.” Even in this hour, the compassion of our Lord causes Him to stop and tell these women that they and their nation are in grave danger.
  • Jesus, beaten beyond recognition, is on His way to die, and yet He shows compassion for other people who are also going to die.
  • This would certainly have seemed odd to soldiers well worn by the crying of the condemned for mercy. Had they ever seen a condemned man care about anyone else on his way to an excruciating death? These soldiers would be struck by the fact that Christ did not care about Himself at all!
  • 3. The third event that would have mystified the soldiers is Christ’s refusal to drink the wine mixed with myrrh.
  • History records the custom of the Daughters of Jerusalem to, out of compassion for the condemned, provide wine mixed with myrrh – a narcotic drink intended to ease the pain of the crucified victim.
  • Mark informs us that when Christ reached Calvary, He was offered this drink but . . . He did not take it. (Mark 15:23)
  • Why did He not take this drink? Christ had work to do on the cross; He had things to say and would not be in a stupor. He would face death without an anaesthetic so that every word could be trusted; so that every final act could be recorded and freighted with divine meaning.
  • 4. The fourth event is that Christ offers the soldiers forgiveness as they nail Him to the cross.
  • Luke writes further in chapter 23, When they came to Calvary there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left.
  • But Jesus said [kept saying], “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. (Luke 23:33b-34)
  • The context clearly points to the often overlooked fact that Christ was not offering this prayer for the religious leaders who had come to mock Him. Jesus was praying for the soldiers. The Sanhedrin knew what they were doing, but these soldiers did not – they were simply on duty this fateful day.
    • Can you imagine this scene? The Savior’s body was twisting in pain with each blow of the hammerand being jolted as it was raised upon the saddle, followed by further hammering through His feet, yet

      all the while He kept praying aloud, “Father, forgive them . . . forgive them . . . forgive them . . . they do

      not know what they are doing.” I cannot imagine any criminal these men had ever

      executed looking at them and offering prayers of forgiveness. Do not miss the fact that Jesus keeps praying to

      the “Father”. Even the Romans would have known enough to know that no Jew ever called God his

      “Father”. The centurion had listened as Pilate declared this Man innocent. He had heard Christ warn a group of

      women that He was not in danger with God, but they were. He had watched Christ refuse to drink the

      narcotic. He then heard this Man offer forgiveness to his soldiers for what they were doing.

      By now, I believe, the centurion is deeply wondering, “Just who is this Man?”

  • 5. The fifth event is the pleading of one of the criminals to be given entrance into Christ’s kingdom.
  • Luke’s gospel account records the dramatic conversion of one of the criminals hanging next to Jesus. His eyes had been opened by the grace of God to the truth of Christ. He says, . . . “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!” (Luke 23:42)
  • There is no doubt the centurion had already mulled over the meaning of the words on the placard behind Jesus’ head that declared Christ’s only crime, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” (Matthew 27:37)
  • Now, this soldier hears one of the condemned cry out to Jesus in faith, asking that Jesus allow him to enter His kingdom.
  • Surely this man on the centre cross will tell the criminal he has been misled and that this is all a myth. Surely He will say something like, “Do I look like a King?! Do I look like there’s a kingdom waiting for me?!”
  • Instead, the centurion and his soldiers are more than likely shocked to hear Jesus reply. . . “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
  • In other words, “I am the King of the Jews. I am the Messiah. There is a kingdom belonging to Me. I will give you entrance!”
  • After these words, nature, in the grip of Creator God, lends its voice to this scene on Calvary.
  • 6. The sixth event is total darkness that sweeps in and covers the land.
  • Luke tells us that darkness blankets the earth at the sixth hour and that it lasts until the ninth hour (Luke 23:44).
  • The sixth hour happens to be noon! When the sun is at its zenith, it suddenly gets turned off like a light bulb.
  • Matthew tells us,. . . darkness fell upon all the land … (Matthew 27:45)
  • The word that is translated “land” is the Greek word “ge” (), which can refer to a region or to the entire world.
  • Sources outside the Bible indicate that the darkness was actually global.
  • One of these sources is a letter from Pilate to the Roman Emperor Tiberius in which he referred to the darkness he knew Tiberius had also experienced, even though Tiberius was not in the land of Israel at the time.
  • Pilate even mentioned that the darkness lasted from twelve to three o’clock in the afternoon
  • There is no doubt that the soldiers quickly started a fire in order to keep watch and that torches were lit as this supernatural darkness blotted out the sky for three hours.
  • From this point forward, I believe, the tone of everything changes.
  • The rabbis had taught for centuries that the darkening of the sun was a judgment from God
  • There is no more mocking or jeering. Everyone senses that God’s hand is somehow involved. Undoubtedly the religious leaders slip away.
  • In fact, Luke’s gospel tells us that after Jesus dies, the crowd that is still at this scene will return to Jerusalem weeping and in deep contrition (Luke 23:48).

–Commentators suggest that this crowd were among those who respond to Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost and become members of the newly created church.

  • During these three hours of darkness, Jesus makes more statements.
  • 7. The seventh event occurs when the centurion hears the cry of agony and abandonment of Christ.
  • Suddenly, out of the darkness, Jesus cries, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mathew 27:46)
  • The centurion would have noticed that Jesus is not referring to God as His Father. For the first time in scripture, Jesus does not address God as His Father.
  • There is no intimate communion at this point,

–as Jesus takes upon Himself our transgressions (Isaiah 53:5);

–as Jesus who knew no sin becomes sin on our behalf (II Corinthians 5:21)

–as Jesus becomes a curse for us (Galatians 3:13);

–as Jesus is delivered up because of our transgressions (Romans 4:25) and as Jesus bears our sins in His body on the cross (I Pet 2:24).

  • Jesus Christ is expressing the agony of separation from His Father, but He is expressing it in a way that connects the specifics of death by crucifixion with the words of scripture.
  • This is one more piece of evidence that announced His deity.
  • 8. The eighth event occurs when the centurion hears Christ deliver a shout of completion.
  • When the darkness is about to lift, John’s gospel records that Jesus cries out, . . . “It is finished!” . . . (John 19:30)
  • This statement is one word in the Greek language, “tetelestai,” which literally means, “paid in full”.The gospel was being delivered in a word. Jesus did not cry out, “I am finished,” but “It is finished!”
  • The perfect tense of this verb that He shouted means
  • “It is finished and it always will be finished.”
  • What a strange word this is for a dying man to cry. However, this is not strange for the Christian; this is the cry of the believer’s deliverance, the shout of their forgiveness, the declaration of their eternal justification.
  • This is not the end of story; it is merely picking up speed!
  • Luke then includes this final word as Jesus says,
  • “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” . . . (Luke 23:46)
  • The centurion hears Jesus reverting back to calling God “Father”.
  • Why did Jesus do this? Because it was finished!
  • In the darkness, on the cross Christ had paid the eternal sacrifice for our sins and now, no longer abandoned, Christ offers up His spirit to the care of His Father.
  • 9. One of the final events that the centurion will literally feel is an earthquake.
  • As Christ bows His head in death, Mathew records that the earth began to shudder and shake so violently that rocks split apart (Matthew 27:51).
  • Throughout the course of Jewish history, an earthquake was a sign of the presence of God. This was true even to a Gentile Roman soldier – he had seen enough.
  • It is no wonder that the centurion stood at the
  • cross and said, Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matt 27:54)
  • It all makes sense – the compassion, the dignity, the promise of a kingdom, the communication with God His Father, the darkness, the earthquake . . .
  • A Roman soldier is the first Gentile convert after the death of Christ – a conversion at Calvary.
  • From Luke’s account, this centurion was not quiet about his conversion either. The text says, he began praising God . . . (Luke 23:47)
  • The “Hallelujahs of the Cross” came first from the lips of a redeemed centurion. Imagine that! He came to faith beneath the dead Savior’s cross. He believed that this dead Man was indeed the King with a coming kingdom – the Son of God.
  • We place our faith in Him because He rose again – and surely He had to in order to validate His claim.
  • We place our faith in Him because He is alive.

–The centurion placed his faith in Him even though He had just died.

  • This soldier was the first to begin singing praises to God for the sacrifice and sufficiency of Christ. And rightly so! The “Hallelujahs” can begin at Calvary…because at Calvary:
  • the deal was done
  • forgiveness was finalized;
  • the sacrifice was offered;
  • Christ’s own lips declared, “It is and always will be finished.”


With grateful acknowledgement to Pastor Stephen Davey


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