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THE CENTURION’S TESTIMONY

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.,
Pastor Emeritus

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Afternoon, April 12, 2020


Scripture Read Before the Sermon: Matthew 27:33-54.

“Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54; p. 1042 Scofield).

The centurion, and those with him, were Romans. These few Roman soldiers were the only ones who “feared greatly,” and were “filled with awe” (ESV) when they looked at the crucified Christ on the Cross!

I well remember what I felt as a teenager when I was told of the crucifixion the first time in a Baptist church. Tears filled my eyes and I was “filled with awe” and wonder. The other young people were completely unmoved by Christ dying on the Cross.

What was the difference between me and the other young people that day? It was new and real to me. It was just another service to them! The difference was that I knew I was lost. The other kids thought they were saved because they said a prayer and were baptized. Dr. A. W. Tozer said, “The man who cannot find an object worthy of his true devotion is lost, and it is part of our lostness that we do not know how lost we are” (“Man: The Dwelling Place of God,” p. 93).

I thought that I was strange, and that the other kids were normal. The other kids were sure they were OK, and so, the crucified Jesus had nothing more for them. I feared greatly, in awe of Jesus on the Cross. They let the words of the preacher drone on without listening! “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17; p. 1204).

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The Jewish people thought they were already saved. So they felt nothing when they saw the earthquake, and saw Jesus dying for their sin. Listen to Dr. Tozer as he speaks of Dante’s Inferno:

“Dante, in his imaginary journey through Hell, came upon a group of lost souls who sighed and mourned continuously as they whirled about aimlessly in the dusky air. Virgil, his guide, explained that these were the ‘wretched people,’ ‘the nearly soulless,’ who while they lived on earth had not moral energy enough to be either good or evil. They earned neither praise nor blame. And with them and sharing in their punishment were those angels who would not take sides either with God or Satan. The doom of all this weak and irresolute crew was to be suspended between a Hell that despised them and a Heaven that would not receive their defiled presence. Not even their names were to be mentioned again in Heaven or earth or Hell. ‘Look,’ said the guide, ‘and pass on.’

Was Dante simply saying in his own way what our Lord had said long before to the church at Laodicea, ‘I would that thou were cold or hot. So then because thou art neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth’?

The low level of moral enthusiasm among us may have a significance far deeper than we are willing to believe” (“Of God and Men”).

Think of those people at the Cross. They saw the earthquake. They saw the sun blotted out, until 3:00 PM. They heard the people yelling blasphemy at Jesus. But none of that moved the crowd at all.

But the pagan Roman centurion was moved deeply in his heart. He was filled with awe when he heard and saw the same things that the “religious” people saw and heard.

Adam sinned and, in his panic, tried to hide from the presence of God. Dr. Tozer said, “Nothing can take the place of the touch of God in the soul” (“The Divine Conquest,” p. 25).

God “touched” my soul that day and I was awestruck. I was not saved yet, but I was deeply moved. And that is what moved me beyond mere religion – to finally trust Jesus and be truly saved!

Someone may say that I am one of the “elect.” But that is a way to hide from the fact that I simply saw, by the grace of God, that I needed Jesus Christ – more than anything else this dead world offers! If you have seen that, you too may be one of the “elect!” Tradition tells us that this centurion went on to be a real Christian. And I believe that tradition with all my heart! Strong tradition tells us that this man went on to become a martyr for Christ! And that is the highest honor any Christian can have!

It should not surprise us to learn that most of the “religious” people who ridiculed Christ on the Cross, never saw Him when he was raised from the dead, three days later!

What about the coronavirus? Dead souls tell us to stay away from church. The mayor of New York wants us to stay away from church. He is an unconverted man! Even a team of wild horses could not keep me out of church – on Easter Sunday!

Now listen to the Apostle Paul,

“But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:7-14; pp. 1259-1260).

Let that be our goal too! God bless you on this Easter Sunday and always! Amen.

Please stand and sing “O For a Thousand Tongues” by Charles Wesley, number 1 on your song sheet!

O for a thousand tongues to sing My great Redeemer's praise,
The glories of my God and King, The triumphs of His grace.

My gracious Master and my God, Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad The honors of Thy name.

Jesus! the name that charms our fears, That bids our sorrows cease;
'Tis music in the sinner's ears, 'Tis life, and health, and peace.

He breaks the power of cancelled sin, He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean; His blood availed for me.
(“O For a Thousand Tongues” by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).

Now sing, “The Strife Is O’er.”

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
The strife is o’er, the battle done,
The victory of life is won.
The song of triumph has begun, Alleluia!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

The powers of death have done their worst,
But Christ their legions hath dispersed;
Let shouts of holy joy outburst, Alleluia!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

The three sad days have quickly sped;
He rises glorious from the dead;
All glory to our risen Head! Alleluia!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

He closed the yawning gates of Hell;
The bars from Heaven’s high portals fell:
Let hymns of praise His triumphs tell, Alleluia!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Lord, by the stripes that wounded Thee,
From death’s dread sting Thy servant free,
That we may live and sing to Thee. Alleluia!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
(“The Strife Is O’er,” translated by Francis Pott, 1832-1909).