A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Frankfort, Ky., on June 3, 2012.
“And when the centurion who stood in front of Jesus saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God’ ” Mark 15:39.
I wonder if the centurion whispered these words or said them so others could hear. Did he speak quickly or deliberately? Where he did he put the emphasis, on the word, surely, or the verb, was, or the last part, the Son of God?
Why do you think he said this? After all, he was a seasoned soldier who had watched many people die on a cross. Maybe this is the reason he said it, though. While he had witnessed many persecutions, he had never seen anyone die like Jesus did, with compassion, courage and grace.
I don’t think the centurion was not expecting this. He thought their worst behavior would bring out Jesus’ worst, just as it had done for so many others.
After watching the soldiers beat Jesus, the religious leaders taunt him, and the bystanders mock him, he was confident Jesus would turn ugly and retaliate with hateful, condemning words, but he did not. It appeared to this centurion their worst behavior brought out Jesus’ best, which led him to say, “Surely, this man was the Son of God.”
What is the lesson Mark wants us to take away from this Roman soldier’s shocking testimony? Perhaps it is this. How we respond to adversity, even as a victim, is important as followers of Jesus. Others’ worst behavior should bring out our best, just as it did for Jesus.
Don’t overlook the fact that for Mark, the behavior of those around the cross and Jesus’ response to them was more important than the gory details of the crucifixion. In Mark, everyone rejects Jesus while he was dying, even those merely walking by, and only one changes his mind, the centurion. This, however, did not break Jesus and cause him to turn on them. In Luke’s passion account, Jesus even asked God to forgive those who crucified him.
Why is it important that others’ worst behavior should bring out our best? Like the centurion, it will catch people’s attention.
It has been a little over four years since a lone gunman by the name of Charles Carl Roberts IV stepped into a one-room Amish school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and opened fire. He killed five little girls and injured five more.
As you would expect, the attention of the entire country was focused upon this tragedy at the Nickel Mines School and these quiet, humble folk in Bart Township of Lancaster County. These good-hearted people taught us a lot that week about the radical nature of Christian love. On the evening of the shooting, family members of the slain children visited Carl Roberts’ parents and told them they had forgiven their son. They knew that the Roberts family was grieving, too, and offered to help them with their grief.
People are still writing four years later about the gracious response of the Amish to this disaster. Again, I am not surprised. This kind of response captures people’s attention.
Responding to others’ worst behavior with our best will compel people to ask how this is even possible, which can lead them to the very heart of God. People know how hard this is to do. It’s our nature to hurt those who hurt us, not forgive them. “How is this even possible?” many will ask. “Only by God’s grace,” we can respond.
Responding to others’ worst behavior with our best can change lives. It can show people another way to live and respond to adversity, even as a victim. It can inspire people to overcome their tendency to retaliate. It can lead people to ask God for the wisdom and strength to be at their best even when others are at their worst.
What are you struggling with at this time in your life? Has your response been any different from those who are not believers or concerned about their influence upon others? Would you like to offer an alternative voice and vision?
I encourage you to ask God for help this morning. You cannot do this on your own, and I am confident God will help you. Make this a matter of prayer as we remember the one who died on our behalf with compassion, courage and grace.