In Awe

Matthew 27:54
When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!

When I think about being “in awe” of something it’s usually in reference to something like a crazy complex dominos video, an impressive Dude Perfect trick shot, a feat that makes you instinctively say to your neighbor “you have to see this!” Mostly these are personifications of hard work, creativity, accomplishment, and perseverance (some of these trick shots take months to perfect).

This scripture passage (Matthew 27:54) is an illustration of standing “in awe” at someone’s death. Is that possible? The Amplified Bible says “Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, they were terribly frightened and filled with AWE, and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” We don’t usually think about the act of dying as an awe-inspiring thing except under one circumstance. “Let’s roll” were the last words spoken by Todd Beamer on 9/11 before he led a group of people to take over and crash their plane, sacrificing his life for others. We do stand in awe at self-sacrifice. We stood in awe as a Ukrainian mother protected her baby with her body from the shrapnel of a bomb blast. We stood in awe as seniors dying from Covid gave up their privilege to use much needed ventilators to allow others to have access to the life-sustaining treatment. Self-sacrifice in death is an awe-inspiring thing.

So then what about Jesus’ death caused the centurion (and the other soldiers) to exclaim in awe when they had likely witnessed hundreds of people dying by this same means of torture? How would the centurion recognize Jesus’ death as a self-sacrifice as we do now? Something had to be different and I’m not sure that it’s well captured in the Bible.

We know that Jesus endured beatings and what seems like an unprecedented amount of mockery, all without retaliation. We also know that Jesus refused the traditional medication (gall, verse 34) offered to prisoners to dull the pain. Overall, scripture feels fairly silent about Jesus’ actions or demeanor until he cries out His forsakenness to God. Then after Jesus dies, the soldiers experienced an earthquake, which scripture does say caused some terror. Did the earthquake lead to the awe and declaration of truth?

The account of the centurion is also documented in Mark 15:39 “And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw HOW he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” Again this centurion was most likely very familiar with watching people die by crucifixion. He spent just 6 hours with Jesus on the cross, one shift of work (Mark 15:25), guarding at Golgotha with other soldiers. So there had to have been something truly unique about HOW Jesus died. How did the act of dying communicate self-sacrifice? How did it illustrate perseverance? How did dying declare the true nature and essence of Jesus? Watching people die was just another day in the life of a centurion, but Jesus was so different that they were compelled to say to their neighbor “you have to see this,” “it was amazing,” “surely this was the Son of God!” Fascinating to think about and stand in awe with them.
-Kristi Johnson
David penned a number of lament prayers. As a spiritual practice we invite you to use his words to cry out in grief, sadness, and pain to the All Mighty LORD.
Praying Psalm 23
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Songs of lament. Music does connect to our souls.
This song "Wake Up Jesus" is a plea. A begging of Jesus to wake up and to RISE UP acknowledging that with "just one word from the Maker and all the waves will be made still."
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