4th Sunday of Lent
Matthew 27:54, Luke 24:47
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus, God’s Son and our Savior, dear friends in Christ, have you ever been “in the right place at the right time”? It’s somewhat astounding to take a look back at your life and imagine all the different scenarios that could have taken place had you not been in the right place at the right time. It was the beginning of my Junior year in college and my roommate and some friends were going to go to the swimming pond at the local state park. They invited me to come along too, but I didn’t really feel like going, wasn’t that interested, so they left. But a little later on, for whatever reason, I decided to go and at that point I had to go by myself. But, wouldn’t you know, that it just so happened that a girl was there that I’d been interested in and we ended up talking for like over an hour and it was really after that that we started dating and that was the girl who would later become my wife. What if I didn’t go to the park that afternoon? Would school have become too crazy that we wouldn’t have ever connected? What if she hadn’t gone to the park that day? We were both in the right place at the right time. When has that happened to you?
Our text this evening tells us about at least one person who happened to be in the right place at the right time and it didn’t just impact his life, but his eternal life. Exactor mortis was the title of the one who was in command of the carrying out the crucifixion orders given to a criminal. Here we know that he was a Roman centurion (a commander of 100) and that he had a group of at least 4 soldiers with him because we are told that they divided Jesus’ clothes into four parts, one for each of them.
But try to think about what this Roman soldier has seen and heard up till now. The Roman governors made it their business to know what the people under their rule were talking about. It’s very clear from Scripture that Jesus was the topic of discussion buzzing around Jerusalem at the time of the Passover. There were tons of people talking about Jesus’ astounding miracles and his powerful preaching. There was the vehement opposition mounting from the religious rulers. There was Jesus’ fanfare and crowds singing his praises on Palm Sunday. Even the Emmaus disciples say that even a stranger in Jerusalem would know about Jesus.
It also seems likely that this Roman would have known why the Jews had brought Jesus to Pilate in the first place, because he claims to be “Christ, a king.” Did he also hear Jesus tell Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world and that he had come into this world? The Jews demanded that Jesus should die because he “claimed to be the Son of God.” Then the soldiers even caught on when they mocked Jesus for being the “Christ of God.”
Then, of all the Roman soldiers on duty, HE had to be the one to work on Friday afternoon. Was he complaining? Was he thinking he was in the wrong place at the wrong time? But then think about what he had witnessed from Jesus: No cursing, no resistance, no spitting at his mockers, instead? Amazing patience in excruciating pain. Instead of anger and rage, while they were nailing him to the cross, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” Then there’s this man dying on the cross caring for his mother and making sure she’s taken care of. Then he’s watching as this dying thief says, “Jesus, (which means Savior), remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Then he would have heard Jesus say in a loud voice, “It is finished,” that is, “Paid in full.” And then Jesus say, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Every other death that this soldier had seen death came and overtook the person, but here, death came and it was overtaken by Jesus. Then there was an earthquake, rocks splitting, the darkness that had covered the earth for 3 hours.
But then came a beautiful confession of faith, perhaps weak, perhaps small, but none-the-less beautiful: Surely this was the Son of God! Surely this was a righteous man! And he praised God! What an amazing thing! This Roman soldier had become convinced that this Jesus, who was crucified as a criminal, was the innocent, righteous Son of God! He was in the right place at the right time and his life would never be the same. What did he talk about on the way home? What was going through his mind? Was he one of the 500 hundred who witnessed Jesus alive after his resurrection? Could be. Tradition says that he later was not only a Christian but actually became a bishop in the early church. But regardless, the fact is: He was in the right place at the right time – God made sure of it.
Perhaps there’s many times in our lives when we feel like we are in the exact wrong place at the wrong time. Things are going like we want them to. We never seem to be quite as fortunate as other people, other people seem to get all the luck, all the breaks. We feel like we just struggle on. Perhaps it makes us frustrated, upset, cynical, woe is me, etc. And why is that? Is it because we doubt that God’s power and ability to use us in our current situation? Is it because we doubt God’s love and care for us, for if he really loved us wouldn’t it feel like we were in the right place at the right time?
But think about this. Jesus was dying on the cross, yet he was in exactly the right place at the right time. Why? Because he was right where God the Father wanted God the Son to be. He was on that cross doing exactly what He came to do: pay for your sins, my sins, the sins of the world. Pay for every time we’ve been upset or cynical about life.
And think about this, just like He did for this Centurion, God further made sure that you were in the right place at the right time so that you were brought to faith in Jesus, the Son of God. And God further made sure that nothing prevented you from being here tonight in the right place at the right time to hear about your Savior once again.
And one more thing, through this unlikely messenger we’re once again assured of this comforting truth: this Jesus wasn’t just another man or another human, this is THE Son of God. And that’s vitally important for us to know. Why? Because only God himself, tearing open the heavens and coming down, stepping onto our planet and into our lives, becoming our Brother, can save us. Who but God alone could bear the weight of the world’s guilt in our place and still come out on the other side alive? Who but God alone could make his death count for every human being from Adam until the Last trumpet sounds? It is because Jesus’ death is at the same time the death of God himself that you need never doubt that the payment for sins was enough. It is because Jesus is the Son of God that the grave could not hold him. It is because Jesus is God that the grave won’t hold you or me either. It is because Jesus is the Son of God that a soldier’s heart melted into faith and it is because Jesus as the Son of God was in the right place at the right time that you too confess with your heart, “Surely he is the Son of God!” And since that’s true, since Jesus is the very Son of God, you have a right relationship with God and so no matter where you are in life or what time it is, with God as your Savior you are constantly in the right place at the right time. Amen.