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The Miraculous Faith of the Roman Soldiers April 1, 2020

† MIDWEEK LENTEN SERVICE SIX †


The Miraculous Faith of the Roman Soldiers April 1, 2020


Matthew 27:54

When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”


INVOCATION

In the name of the Father, and of the 🕇 Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen


PSALMODY Psalm 67

May God be gracious to us and bless us

and make his face to shine upon us,


that Your way may be known on earth,

Your saving power among all nations.


Let the peoples praise You, O God;

let all the peoples praise You!


Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,

for You judge the peoples with equity

and guide the nations upon the earth.


Let the peoples praise You, O God;

let all the peoples praise You!


The earth has yielded its increase; God,

our God, shall bless us.


God shall bless us;

let all the ends of the earth fear him!


Glory be to the Father and | to the Son

and to the Holy | Spirit;

as it was in the beginning,*

is now, and will be forever. Amen.



EPISTLE READING Romans 15:8-13

For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,


“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,

and sing to your name.”

And again it is said,


“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”

And again,


“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,

and let all the peoples extol him.”

And again Isaiah says,


“The root of Jesse will come,

even he who arises to rule the Gentiles;

in him will the Gentiles hope.”

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.


L O Lord, have mercy on us.

C Thanks be to God.



HOLY GOSPEL READING Matthew 27:27-31

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.


O Lord, have mercy on us.

Thanks be to God.



SERMON

The Miraculous Faith of the Roman Soldiers Matthew 27:54


During the Lenten season we have been turning our attention to the Miracles of the Passion to:

the darkness from 12 noon to 3 o’clock on that first Good Friday,

the tearing of the temple curtain,

the earthquake,

the splitting rocks,

the raising of many of the saints from death.

There is one more miracle of the Passion. It is recorded in these words:

When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” ” (Matthew 27:54)


Today, I would like to direct your attention to the miraculous faith of the Roman soldiers.

Who were these Roman soldiers? What were they like? Their officer in charge was the centurion. A centurion would normally lead and oversee a company of one hundred soldiers, but for the task of crucifying Jesus and the two thieves, he probably used no more than twelve soldiers. Religiously, the soldiers were Roman pagans; probably very coarse, very seasoned, very callous; probably very detached, unemotional, very uninvolved. To be a soldier, this what they did—and what they did, they did well.


The soldiers probably had been assigned to watch Jesus when He first appeared before Pilate. They, or at least the centurion, had some understanding of the issues. They had heard the charges of the Jewish leaders against Jesus and probably had some personal contact with both Jesus and Pilate. They knew that Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God as well as a king.


I’m sure, though, that Jesus didn’t look anything like a king. Scripture tells us that the soldiers mocked Him, put a purple robe on Him, put a crown of thorns on His head, and said, “Hail, King of the Jews.” After they were through having their “fun,” they took Him out to Calvary to crucify Him.


There was a possibility that the soldiers had heard about Jesus before His arrest. They were stationed in Caesarea, a port town 60 miles to the North of Jerusalem. The soldiers had been witnesses to several of the miracles of the Passion. They had experienced the three hours of darkness. They had heard the words that Jesus had spoken from the cross. Probably the words that stood out in their minds were, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). More than likely, they had never heard words like those before.


Then Jesus died. The soldiers probably were not aware of the tearing of the temple curtain. However, they were, no doubt, very much aware of the earthquake, the splitting of the rocks, and the opening of the graves. We are told that these soldiers were filled with “awe,” a word that means reverential fear, wonder, or dread. Perhaps this awe drove home to them the idea that they had been on the wrong side: that what Jesus had been charged with was true; that He was no ordinary person but was indeed the Son of God, a term that implied deity.


Some believe that all of this drove home some understanding that the soldiers had personally done wrong: that they had sinned, something they probably had not been concerned about before—and with the conviction of sin came the feeling of guilt. Jesus had expressed the Gospel shortly after He had been crucified. He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” After what the soldiers had witnessed and experienced, they said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” Was this faith? In the simplest form, we trust that it was.


We trust that the Holy Spirit had been at work, through the words spoken by the Savior from the cross. But who knows—there may have been other words involved. The soldiers may have heard Jesus preach or teach. The Holy Spirit may even have taken the negative words of the Jewish leaders about Jesus and turned them around in such a way that the soldiers perceived them as positives.


We must keep in mind that saving faith is not something that we do. It is rather what the Holy Spirit does through the Word to convert or change the sinful, unbelieving heart of a person. Conversion is a miracle in any case. We more often think of the miracle of conversion that changed Saul from a persecutor of the Church into an apostle proclaiming the Good News of Jesus. Certainly, the words of these soldiers indicate that some change had taken place. Can we not say that the Holy Spirit changed the hardened, callous, heartless Roman soldiers to have even a small faith placed in Jesus as Savior?


Some, or perhaps many, view faith as their own work. We need, as I have already stated, to remember that faith is not our work but God’s work. St. Paul wrote:

You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11)


We . . . were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:3–5)


For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3–7)


As Lutherans, as baptized members of the family of God, we would certainly see the Sacrament of Holy Baptism as a part of the “washing” of which St. Paul spoke. Perhaps the soldiers were eventually baptized. We hope so, but they were not baptized at this time. Here, the Holy Spirit used the Word as the means for bringing about a change in the hearts of these Roman soldiers.


Dr. Martin Luther gave witness to the Word in his Explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed in his Small Catechism. He wrote:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.


We can’t bring another person to faith in Jesus Christ. We can’t even bring ourselves to faith in Jesus Christ. We are totally unable to do that. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.


To the soldiers, the Holy Spirit both convicted them of their sins and brought them to faith through the Gospel, part of which was conveyed by the words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Saving faith is a miracle. It was in their life as it is in ours. Amen.



THE APOSTLES’ CREED

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.


And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.


I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.



COLLECT PRAYERS OF THE DAY

Merciful God, Your Son, Jesus Christ, was lifted high upon the cross that He might bear the sins of the world and draw all people to Himself. Grant that we who glory in His death for our redemption may faithfully heed His call to bear the cross and follow Him; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Lord God, from whom come all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works, give to us, Your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be set to obey Your commandments and also that we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may live in peace and quietness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


Merciful Father, though we deserve nothing of Your kindness, You have shown Yourself to be the strength of the weak, the healer of the sick and the hope of those who mourn. Hear us on behalf of those who are troubled in mind or body, the dying and those who grieve. We pray especially for those who are suffering from COVID-19, the friends and family of those who have died. We humbly ask that You extend Your mighty hand to protect those who care for the sick. Give them the protective equipment they need to continue their work. Sustain and heal them according to Your gracious will. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.


LORD’S PRAYER

Lord, remember me in Your kingdom, and teach me to pray:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen


BENEDICTION

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ

and the love of God

and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with me. Amen


#Lent #BSLC #PastorElkins

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