“Seeing is believing!”
This is a creedal statement for the skeptic. We are all familiar with this statement, for in some ways we are all skeptics. We are skeptical of some people because they have been dishonest with us. We are skeptical of cars, appliances, and what not, because they did not perform well. There is even some skepticism in our Christian faith. So we pray, “Lord, I believe. Please help my unbelief.”
The priests, who were part of the crowd standing beneath Jesus’ cross, revealed their skepticism when they said, “Let him come down from the cross, and we will believe in him” (Matthew 27:42). Those were also the feelings of the Roman centurion who guarded Jesus, until he had second thoughts.
This army officer was a sergeant major who had seen many people die, but had never seen a person die as Jesus did. He had been in charge of Jesus, the prisoner, since the priests turned Him over to the Roman authorities. By his demeanor in the dying hours, Jesus witnessed to His righteousness. Rather than curse His enemies, Jesus prayed for them. He showed mercy to a fellow prisoner and promised him a heavenly home.
The centurion also witnessed God speaking in nature. The Bible tells us, “From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion, and those with him who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ÔSurely he was the Son of God'” (Matthew 27:45, 51-54).
Enough was enough. These skeptics had second thoughts and concluded that Jesus was, as He had said, the Son of God. Do you remember what Jesus said, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself?” This was happening. You can be sure there were many who went home that night convinced Jesus was the Christ.
To a greater or lesser degree, all of us can identify with this centurion, who finally confessed that Jesus was the Son of God. No one hated Jesus more than Saul of Tarsus. He was not only thankful that Jesus had been crucified, but wanted all of his serious followers killed too. To accomplish this, Saul was making a full-time job out of bringing the scattered disciples back to Jerusalem to be persecuted and killed. But God intervened. While on his journey from Jerusalem to Damascus to bring back Christians to be persecuted, Christ confronted Saul. You can read the story of his conversion in Acts 9. Saul of Tarsus, better known to us as the Apostle Paul, became a new man and gave his life to Christ.
The same goes on today. There are millions of skeptics who were taught that Jesus is the Son of God, but walked away from Him. Who could believe that Jesus, dying on the cross and being raised from the dead, paid the price for my sin? the skeptic asked. Prove to me that He is God, and I will believe. Then the day came when the truths learned as a youth got your attention. You remember the peace that dwelt in the lives of your parents and grandparents, and how unsettled your own life was. Gradually you found your way back to the church, and began reading God’s Word. You were no longer 19 when you seemed to know it all. You were in your 40s, and you had experienced a good taste of life. You saw your weaknesses and need for help. You asked, What does this verse, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” mean?
This is not a fictitious story. The pews of our church are filled with such people who walked away from Christ, but came back when they saw their need for a Savior. Here we see the importance of sowing the seed in our children’s minds and hearts. The Sunday school and confirmation classes are more important today than ever as we see fewer and fewer homes assuming responsibility in introducing their children to Jesus Christ. If the homes are failing to introduce their sons and daughters to Jesus, the congregation has an even greater responsibility. We need not fear they will be bored in the classroom and become bitter with the church. Most of us would rather have been out on the playground than in the confirmation classroom learning the basic truths of Christian faith. Teach the children these Biblical truths through which the Holy Spirit works to give them second thoughts in the years to come! Let them walk with Christ in their subconscious minds, and see what will happen when they are spiritually destitute.
For those of you who have never heard the basic teachings of the Christian faith, let me summarize it for you.
1. You are created in the image of God. Among other things, this means you have a mind with which you can think, a will with which you can make a decision, and a soul that is eternal. In God’s eyes, you are a precious and important person, not because of your accomplishments, but because of who you are.
2. You are a rebel, a sinner. You used your mind and will to choose to live a life contrary to God’s will. This means that, by nature, you are out of a relationship with God. Unforgiven sin has separated you from your Creator.
3. God did not give up on you, but sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to suffer, die, and be raised again as a payment for your sins. Full payment has been made for your sins.
4. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, if you will receive Christ as your Savior, He will take away all of your sins and restore you into a personal relationship with God. In this relationship with God, you seek to live according to His will, which is revealed in the Bible Ð your only authority in matters of faith and life.
You might react and say, I am thankful to have this summary of the Christian faith, but it does not make sense to me. May I suggest that you pray and invite Jesus into your life, and then begin to read His Word. I would suggest you get a Bible and turn to the Gospel of John. Find a Christian friend to help you understand its meaning. Attend a church where God’s Word is faithfully taught. Then see what happens to your life! Maybe you will come to the same conclusion the centurion did: Jesus is God’s Son, your Savior and Lord.
To those of us who are Christians, let me repeat what I said at the beginning of this sermon Ð that, to a greater or lesser degree, we can all identify with the skeptic. We have our questions.
Here are a few:
Why did my loved one die prematurely?
Why must I suffer?
Why does God permit all of this unrighteousness in the world?
Why do all of these earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes happen?
Why are there famines and terrible diseases in the underprivileged parts of the world?
By asking these questions, are we not asking, God, how do you explain your teaching that you love all people in the world, and still these difficult times come to all of us? Is this not a form of skepticism showing through? It does not mean that we are unbelievers. We trust and love Christ, but we continue to wonder what the explanation is for these apparent discrepancies. St. Paul helps us when he says, “Now I know in part. Some day I will fully understand.”
This centurion, who had second thoughts about Jesus, brings us great joy! Any skepticism about Christ, be it great or small, can be overcome when the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives through God’s Word. Remember that the centurion received his second thoughts about Christ at the foot of the cross. That’s where most of these second thoughts come to us.
Let Christ be lifted up in our own lives, in our churches, and in our communities, and there will be many second thoughts which lead to spiritual awakenings.