Listening to an online sermon many years ago, I heard a song about the seven sayings of Jesus from the cross (you'll get a chance to hear the song below, but first consider what the centurion saw, heard and thought). The words of the song are from the perspective of the centurion who stood at the foot of the cross and saw all that happened on the day Jesus was crucified. The centurion heard every word that Jesus spoke and, when Jesus took His last breath, the centurion gave glory to God (Luke 23:47). He looked upon Jesus hanging lifeless on the cross and accurately summed up all that he had seen with a proclamation of, "surely this was a righteous man."
What changed the centurion? Did his heart begin to change when he heard the first thing Jesus spoke?
"Father forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
Did those words cause the centurion to begin to wonder, who is this man? Did the centurion stand in awe of Jesus, upon whom so much pain had been inflicted and who now faced imminent death, and wonder how He could ask His God to forgive the people who brought this about? How could anyone experiencing such excruciating pain think of anyone other than Himself. And how could He possibly ask that they be forgiven? What kind of man was this who thought more of others than of Himself? Did this cause confusion in the mind of the centurion… and did it provoke him to wonder?
Or was it Jesus' interaction with one of the two thieves who were also being crucified? Did that cause a change in the centurion? The thief hung on the cross next to Jesus and he admitted his guilt and then called out to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom" (Luke 23:42). Jesus responded with mercy and grace, and a promise of eternal life with Him: "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43).
Did Jesus' love, mercy and grace cause the centurion to pause and ponder what was happening before his eyes?
Or was it the love Jesus expressed for His mother and His friend? (John 19:26-27) Or the unexplained darkness upon the land for three hours? (Matthew 26:45, Mark 15:33)
Was the centurion astonished that Jesus, having been scourged to the point of near-death, could still be alive and still be able to think and speak?
Was the centurion amazed when he heard Jesus declare His moment of death with a loud cry, proclaiming "it is finished?" (John 19:30)