God can transform the hardest of hearts. I know. I have watched him do this.
Roman centurions were a tough lot. These career officers were in charge of 100 men. They worked their forces with tenacity. At times they conducted mock battles, soldiers wielding swords and shields weighing twice that of ordinary weapons. Strength and stamina were at a premium!
Soldiers under a centurion’s command gave their all. Pity the troops that did not. Inferior fighting, inadequate courage, or mutiny could result in decimation. In decimation soldiers would “draw straws.” Their officers would club to death every tenth man while the other foot soldiers stood by or even participated.
Centurions were not Boy Scouts. These were tough and heartless men. It was no big deal to them to nail a criminal to a cross and watch him die –- that was “kids play!” This is why we have to take notice when we hear what the centurion said as he watched Jesus die.
And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was the Son of God!" Mark 15:33-34; 37-39 ESV
When people see Jesus—really see him—something happens.
This week I am reading, The Everlasting Man, by G.K. Chesterton. Chesterton's chapter, "The Strangest Story In The World," has helped me see Christ in ways I never have. I am writing, "So good!" and "Get this!" in the margins. I am praying, "Thank you, Lord, for helping me see afresh the wonder of Jesus and the power of the cross."
But the soldier on Golgotha saw more than ideas transferred from pages to person. The soldier witnessed THE person. The soldier saw the living Word. And God transformed him!
God turned a cold-hearted centurion into a tenderhearted follower of Christ.
- Governments cannot legislate this kind of change.
- Schools cannot teach it.
- Twelve-step groups, for all their invaluable help, cannot guarantee it.
The centurion’s response gives me great hope for "the tough guy." You know the type: smug, self-sufficient, hard-hearted, sometimes arrogant, but mostly just indifferent about Jesus.
I look at the "tough guys" and the "tough girls" and say, “They will never change!” But God proves me wrong. He can transform the hardest hearts, the toughest of men and women. He did, after all, change me. Was my heart any more stubborn than theirs?
This is the wonder of Jesus, the power of his work on the cross and the good news of the gospel.
Today, thank God for the life-transforming power of Christ. Take time to pray for "the tough guy" in your life.
JOIN US TONIGHT for our Good Friday service at Spanish River Church. We begin at 7:00 p.m. Child care (birth - 5 years old) is available. This is a SRC highlight.
TODAY: Let me encourage you to listen to today's episode from my podcast, ON MY WALK. I will be discussing Chesterton's chapter, "The Strangest Story In The World." That episode should be available by noon.