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Good Friday Message at Newchurch Methodist Church

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Reading: Mark 15: 33 - 41Mark

"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God..." (Mark 1: 1) –

That's how Mark's gospel begins – and it concludes (well almost) with the words:

"Surely this man was the Son of God!" (Mark 15:39)

What a striking confession of faith from the centurion – an unlikely source, indeed.

And what circumstances under which to make the proclamation! Watching some-one die; being there as they struggle for life and take their final breath.

The soldier is the one who breaks the silence...

"Surely this man was the Son of God!"

When you are about to leave this world the most important thing for you will be what you have done (early or late) in your lifetime with Jesus of Nazareth.

By that time you and I will need to have settled the question of the identity of Jesus Christ; if you (whoever you are) want to see this Jesus and be with him after death - then you too will need to have made the soldier's confession, "Surely this man was the Son of God!"

Whoever you are! We don't know who the soldier was, his name or any details. We know as a centurion he would have been a career captain with 100 men under his command. He is there that day as the officer-in-charge of the execution squad; he's likely in his mid-30s, a hardened man, not squeamish or sentimental. And he had seen it all before, or so he thought – until that day...

He was a Roman so he had seen all the gods; gods/idols for every occasion and superstition – he has seen them all, or so he thought. Until that day, when, where...

He stood guard, right in front of the cross of Jesus, for 6 hours or more. At close quarters, hearing every word, every prayer; every offer of love and compassion; there, seeing every sight which we cannot imagine, even in our most horrific nightmares...

He's up close. He's not with the baying mob. He's not one of the soldiers who are gambling (indifferently) over the Nazarene's belongings. He isn't in the party of wailers and mourners.

No, he is on his own, right next to Jesus Christ of the cross. He surveyed the cross. He reflected on all that was happened in that place, at that time – and at the end of all of that the conclusion is, based on all the evidence before him,

"Surely this man was the Son of God!"

We don't know what this man knew of all the lead-up to this day, the politics, the religion, and the storm that Jesus had caused or, if he did, whether he cared – probably not.

The chances are that he had never seen Jesus teach, or preach or heal, or feed multitudes with next to nothing. He had seen the power of the Empire but he had never seen anything like this – no power quite like this! The way this man was, the way he died.

One soldier acknowledged the courage of another.

The way he died was different – dignified & peaceful – amidst the agony and the crowd baying like wolves,

There was no face full of venomous spit, no stream of abuse, no questioning of the soldier's 'parentage'; no claim of innocence, no cries for mercy from the one in the middle.

He'd never heard anyone say "Father, forgive them...!" as the torture began. He recalled the preacher refusing the wine – unheard of! Even the tough ones took a sip to ease the pain.

He watched the one on the left asking this Jesus to remember him when he entered his kingdom! Dying men in this place don't say such things....surely not!

Who is this man who cares for another; who provides for the security of his stricken mother and hands her over to a friend?

What would he make of that shout, "It is finished?" How could a cursed man losing his life-blood sound so much like the winner, so much like a king? Like a soldier, mission accomplished!

No dying in vain here! He had seen many a man die, but not like this!

Dying to order!

Dying on time....

"Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit."

"Surely this man was the Son of God!"

Luke's gospel puts it this way, "The centurion, seeing (surveying) what had happened, praised God – surely this was a righteous man!"

This is a real confession of faith. "Surely this man was the Son of God!"

It wasn't a theological statement; it wasn't a debate about "Chalcedonian Christology" – just a statement of fact, voiced by an unlikely pagan. Only the reality of a living, loving God could possibly begin to come near to explaining what he had seen that day – only the power of divine love...

I like to think that the centurion became a disciple that day. Like all good disciples he would never, from that day til his last day, have been ashamed to own Jesus of Nazareth - as Son-of-God in power.

In the mysterious providence of God the centurion points us to the Christ of the cross; he bids us stay there awhile and see our sins forgiven there, and see our salvation, our resurrection and our future, won from there...

The centurion would have us (with him) break the silence of our vigil with the joyful proclamation,

"Surely (truly, without doubt or equivocation, "this man was the Son of God!"