When the Roman officer overseeing the execution saw what had happened, he worshiped God and said, “Surely this man was innocent.”Luke 23:47
In the last Gem I walked you through the options we have for interpreting what it was he saw. I didn’t remember to include in Gem 1281 the depth of the word “saw”. These Gem happen “ live” and so my frailties are exposed. But that’s ok with me if it’s ok with you. Luke’s use of the word “saw” is interesting. It’s the Greek word εἴδω [eidō] which is a verb used in the perfect tense only and has a wider meaning than just simply to see: it means to know, be aware, behold, to look (on), perceive, see, be sure, tell, understand. You can see it is full range of “seeing” not just with the eyes. It was a deeper perception of this One before him. Interestingly with the verb being in the perfect tense it was a perception that lasted long beyond the first glance. What he saw went deep.
Now I wish to address the matter of the Roman soldier worshipping. Ask yourself: why would a hardened Roman soldier worship when he saw what had happened? It is just not a normal thing for him to do. Be amazed – yes. Be awestruck – yes. Be convinced – definitely. Be pondering or wondering about these things – certainly. But to worship, that is a quantum leap forward. It means he has to have taken in the significance of all these things he has seen and heard and then pondered them in his heart and consciously made a decision to worship God. Luke’s use of the word δοξάζω [doxazō] worship means to render (or esteem) glorious: – (make) glorify (-ious), full of glory, have glory, to honour, magnify. Δοξά is the standard word for glory in the Greek New Testament. It relates to the shekinah glory of God. [Doxa] is the word from which we get the English word doxology. This man has had a glimpse of the glory of God in what he has seen and hence gives glory to God. This is a standard response of people confronted with God’s power and mercy in the gospel of Luke.
You will note I have given you the comparison of both the verb to praise or glorify and the words spoken by the Captain of the Guard. The reason for that will become clear as you read on.
For this Roman to suddenly praise God indicates that he recognised God’s hand behind it all. Or at the very least recognised Christ for who He is/was. Now don’t you think that is curious to say the least? To praise and worship indicates this man has made significant steps along the road of salvation. In the context of John 20:31 he has believed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and has appropriated life in His Name. Or at least on the way toward the consummation of it. Note the three groups of witnesses Luke chose to include in this summary. Take note of the parallelism in these statements.
The Roman soldier is the one who praises and worships after seeing the things that happened. The crowd which came to see the crucifixion was a mixed bag. There were Jews among them, there were no doubt onlookers from all walks of life and origins. There were those who were opposed to Jesus and seeking His death, there were others there who were only mildly interested to rubber neck and no more. Then there were those who had followed since Galilee as well as the wider circles of disciples. Yet when it came to the crunch they had no idea of the nature of Jesus and who He really was. They too ought to have been rejoicing and praising God. Especially the Jews among them, after all, this is what their Holy Book predicted would happen. They should be greatly rejoicing. They were by the side of the road praising Him when Jesus entered Jerusalem. But that was only a momentary response. It didn’t last. They seem to have lost sight of Who this One hanging before them on the cross really was. Those who should have recognised the moment were oblivious to what was going on, despite earthquakes, rocks splitting, graves opening, darkness descending and the curtain being torn from above they were still in dark. But the one who was least likely to know the significance is the one who worships. Can you see how this all hangs together? This band of wider disciples among others, go home in deep sorrow. But they too have seen all that the centurion saw. Note Luke’s refrain – “saw what had happened”. Oh admittedly they may not have been close enough to hear the cries from the cross. But I don’t think that would matter. They had still seen enough to praise and glorify God. Why did they go home in deep sorrow? I think I know why. Do you? Answer in the next Gem. In the meantime ponder it for yourself.
Following that, note the response of the friends and women who have followed Him since Galilee. These friends and disciples stand at a distance. Now what does that mean to stand at a distance. At the very least they were not praising like the Centurion but they ought to have been because they were privy to more understanding than the centurion had been. Nor were they friends and followers, those representative of the inner circle of people connected with Jesus but also they had followed since Galilee. At the most the centurion had only been privileged to observer since the Roman trial before Pilate began. These people have followed Jesus since Galilee yet they don’t praise God for what He has just done nor have they fallen to their knees in awe and wonder at that which has just happened. No, they are standing aloof and at a distance. Oh I suspect I know why that is too. I will add that answer in the next Gem as well. Suffice to say at the moment their reaction is typical of many of us. Yes us followers. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. The Roman centurion has sprinted past them it seems.
Now to the next matter at hand despite that fact that this Gem has grown to be longer than I intended. How do we account for the differences in the reported words of the centurion?
Luke’s version – “Surely this man is innocent” cf Matthew and Mark’s – “This man truly was the Son of God.”
What did the man actually say? “Surely this man is innocent” or “This man truly was the Son of God” ?
Notice the variation among the versions for the soldier’s statement: this Man was upright, just, innocent, righteous, good. The variation stems from the original word in the Greek text. Luke uses the word δίκαιος [dikaios] which has the meaning innocent, holy, just, right or righteous. If this word is being used in a judicial sense then it means innocent. If it is being used in a moral sense it means good, just, to be in the right. If however it being used in a spiritual sense, it means righteous, holy or more correctly “acceptable to God“.
It is highly likely the meaning of dikaios here is very close to the meaning of Son of God in a general sense in which the word can be used. The term son of God as applied to Christ is Messianic and indicates His Divinity. Christ is fully God and fully man, hence the terms Son of God and Son of Man. He is man as God intended man to be. Thus in the terms in which the Roman soldier refers to Christ if it is to be thought to be spiritual then it is more likely to mean he recognised the fact that this Man must be from the gods and if so being, righteous or filled with divinity. Rather it is this perspective that the term is used if it is meant biblically. The idea being that This One is a child of God. Or if it was meant judicially then it means innocent or free of any wrong doing, wholly just and blameless.
Notice the similarity to the thief on the cross
And we indeed are suffering justly [dikaios] for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”Luke 23:41-43
What was said by the soldier is similar to what happened with the thief when these words were uttered. It appears this centurion also came to faith in Christ. The two expressions “Son of God” and “innocent” are actually closer together than we may first think. It all depends from which perspective one is looking. What was actually recorded by the gospel writers is very different in form but actually rather closer in meaning. I would think that not only did the soldier conclude Jesus was dikiaios in a judicial sense but he also concluded Jesus to be dikaios from a spiritual or Biblical perspective. But these concepts are summed up in the same word and so the meaning is closer than first appears. Whatever the case this soldier had a revelation of just who this One on the cross was after he had observed all the things happening at the time and so worshipped or gave the glory to God. This contrasts markedly with the reactions of the other witnesses.
Worship changes the worshipper into the image of the One worshipped.Anon
Never let disappointment be louder than your worship… Lord teach my heart.Darlene Zschech
It’s not what you know that shapes your life, but what you worship.Anon
Don’t let what’s wrong with you keep you from worshiping what’s right with God.Mark Batterson
Isn’t it a comfort to worship a God we cannot exaggerate?Francis Chan