It is just one line. It’s uttered by a pagan, a Roman soldier. But as an eyewitness to the crucifixion, he is indelibly captured for all of history: “Truly, this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15.39)
What caused the Roman soldier to utter this line? Surely, this was a man who’d witnessed all kinds of horrific death. In fact, he was probably the perpetrator of the deaths of others. This was not likely his first crucifixion.
So why the amazement? Scripture gives us some clue. It says the Roman soldier “stood facing him [Jesus] [and] saw that in this way he breathed his last…” What was the way that Jesus died?
By all accounts, the Roman soldier would’ve heard the news: Jesus was dying because he was at the center of religious controversy. By all accounts, he was innocent, but the Jewish religious leaders wanted him dead. Pilate obliged. There, on the cross, in his final moments, when all his oxygen was waning, Jesus cries out, “It is finished!”
Why did he not defend himself? Why did he not speak out? Why did he not perform some miracle as he was reported to have done many times?
Why would an innocent man give up his life? And there, in that question, it dawns upon this Roman soldier. It is in the power of the gift that this man Jesus demonstrates his divinity. The power of the gift leads Him to proclaim: “Truly this man was the Son of God.”
William High is the President and General Counsel of the Servant Christian Community Foundation (www.servantchristian.com). Their mission is to inspire, teach and facilitate revolutionary biblical generosity. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.