The Centurion’s Confession

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

Now when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” MAR. 15:39

It is usual on Easter morning to focus on a text that speaks of the joy of discovery when the disciples and others came to the tomb and found that the Lord was not there as He said He would not be. We might think of this as the fully developed dawn of the Christian church: that beautiful moment when the truth of His ministry first dawned in the minds of His disciples. But today, instead of the full dawn, we would instead focus on the “morning star” of the Christian church (TCR 379:e), the most fundamental and basic thing that the Lord taught while in the world, that idea first recognized and expressed by the Centurion who witnessed the crucifixion, that Jesus Christ was not a man, but He was the Son of God. Without this most fundamental and basic doctrine there is no Christian faith.

Each of the gospels tells the story of the Lord’s life on earth in a slightly different way, in much the same manner as several witnesses to an event will each remember the things that particularly stood out for them, but not necessarily exactly the same things as the others saw. However, we must also remember that the authors of the gospels were inspired to choose to write the way they did so that each gospel contains in its internal sense the story of the Lord’s life for a different spiritual state, or from a different spiritual point of view. Let us then briefly review the main historical events as recorded in Mark.

After His trial, Jesus was brought to Golgatha, or the place of the skull, a hill outside the gates of Jerusalem. There He was offered wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He refused it. He did this, we are told, because wine mixed with myrrh represented the truth from the Word mixed with falsities of evil. This represented the spiritual state of the Jewish Church and was not acceptable to Him, and He represented His rejection of the Jewish Church by not drinking it. They stripped Him, crucified Him, and cast lots for His garments. A sign was placed over Him, saying, “The King of the Jews.” Each gospel reports that two robbers were crucified with Him. John says nothing more about them. Luke says that one robber reviled Him, while the other spoke well of Him, and the Lord promised that he would be with Him in paradise that same day. Both Matthew and Mark report that both the robbers reviled Him.

All the gospels record that there was darkness over the earth from the 6th hour to the 9th. In Mark, it is reported that at about the 9th hour of the day, He cried out, saying, “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34) Obviously, the end was near, and someone filled a sponge with vinegar, lifted it up to Him with a hyssop reed, and He drank from it. We are told that He accepted this drink because it represented the falsity of the Gentiles, in which there is something useful and good, that is, false ideas from ignorance held for the sake of good to the neighbor. This kind of falsity can be accepted by the Lord because it looks to the good of others as an end. The hyssop represents that the false idease are cleansed by good intentions. The Lord is able to replace such falsity with genuine truth from the Word without difficulty. This is why the Lord accepted the vinegar on the sponge.

After this final symbolic act, the Lord cried with a loud voice and breathed His last. The gospels record that at that moment the veil of the temple in Jerusalem split from top to bottom, and that there were earthquakes. It was at this point that the Centurion is recorded in Luke as saying that there was no doubt that this was a “righteous man”, while in both Matthew and Mark he is recorded as proclaiming Jesus Christ as “the Son of God”. And although there was darkness over the land, the gentile centurion saw the “morning star.”

The first principle of faith in the Lord is the acknowledgment that He is the Son of God. We know this because it is repeatedly taught by Him in the Word of the New Testament, and it was repeatedly taught because unless men had first acknowledged that He was the Son of God, and thus God from God, the work that He and His disciples set out to do would have been in vain. (See TCR 342)

The Heavenly Doctrines define the Son of God by saying that “there is no Son from eternity; but that the Lord is from eternity…. The Human conceived of God, and born of the virgin Mary, is what is called the Son of God” (Lord 19). They further explain that Jehovah Himself “put on the Divine Human, from which He called Himself the ‘Son of Man,’ and also the ‘Son of God’; and by the ‘Son of Man’ He signified the truth itself, and by the ‘Son of God’ the good itself which belonged to His Human essence when made Divine” (AC 2159:2)

Here reference has been made to both the “Son of Man” and the “Son of God.” Jesus used both terms to describe Himself many times in the Word. Names signify qualities, and these names were used to describe the different qualities of the Lord that were dominant at various times and in various states.

The Lord referred to Himself as the Son of God when the main subject was of Good; when He was teaching, healing, or leading the disciples; thus when He was feeling the power of Jehovah within Him. He referred to Himself as the Son of God when He was in a state of Glorification, or unity with the Divine. When He was in this state He was expressing the Divine Love of God towards the human race, and since the Divine Love is pure and above any fault, the Lord was never tempted or tested as the Son of God. He could never be tempted as to His love, for His ruling love is the salvation, that is bringing into heaven, of the universal human race.

On the other hand, when He refers to Himself as the Son of Man, it reflects those states where truth was dominant, where falsity and indecision in the human from Mary could enter in, where He could be tempted as to how He must go about expressing His love for the human race. The love itself could not be tempted, but there were options, different paths that could have been taken, and the Lord agonized over these. These were the times when He prayed to the Father as if to another, when He felt the burden He had taken upon Himself, when He felt unequal to the task of saving the human race while at the same time preserving their freedom of choice in spiritual things.

When the Lord allowed the Human from Mary to die, when He refused to come down off the cross, as the hells, His enemies, His friends and even the angels of heaven all implored Him to do, when He let go of the human body, He won. His love of the Human race was conjoined with His Divine plan for their salvation. The hells were forced back into order. He could no longer be tempted or tested in any way for His victory was complete. He was no longer the Son of Man, because truly he was fully the Son of God, one with Jehovah.

We might ask ourselves why, at the moment of the Lord’s final victory, it was a gentile, a Roman soldier who proclaimed the truth that the Lord had in fact won the battle, who expressed the fundamental truth for all Christianity, that Jesus Christ was not a man, not the Son of Man any longer, but that He was truly the Son of God?

For our answer, we must look to the internal sense of the Word for only in the Word will we find the answer this question. First, consider the other place where a centurion is mentioned in the Word, the centurion who asked the Lord to cure his sick child, but who told the Lord that it was not necessary for Him to travel to his home, that it was enough for Him to merely say the word, and it would be done. That centurion was used to giving orders to those in his command, and having them done immediately. It was his simple belief that the Lord commanded the spiritual world in the same way, that His physical presence was not needed to heal the boy: all He need do was say the word. The officer’s faith was well founded, and the boy was healed.

Centurions, being Roman officers, were not Jews, and therefore by definition they were gentiles. We are taught that except for a small faithful remnant from the former church, the Lord always raises up a new church among the gentiles; those who have not been blinded by the false doctrines and corrupted by evils. And so, the centurion of our text then stands for all those people who want to believe in the Lord, but for one reason or another have not yet found Him.

A centurion has this representation in the Word because he is a commander over a hundred men, and the Latin root of “centurion” means “one hundred.” If we look at the Abraham series in the Old Testament, we can see that many important things happened to Abraham in his 100th year. These things represent in the internal sense the “unition of the Human of the Lord with the Divine and of the Divine with the Human” (AC 2213). In other places, one hundred represents “a full state of unition” (AC 2636). And finally, one hundred is ten times ten, and since ten represent remains, or those affectional states that remain with everyone from earliest infancy to eternity, one hundred represents a fullness of remains.

This further teaches us that all gentiles, all those who seek to do good no matter what their doctrinal background, can reach out and accept the doctrine of the Lord’s Divine Humanity, that in fact the Lord has provided each one of us from birth with the ability to receive this doctrine with joy.

It was often said by the Lord, when the sick were healed, that they should “have faith,” and it would be done unto them “according to their faith”. The reason for this is that the most important thing of all is to acknowledge that the Lord is the Savior of the world. Without this basic, fundamental idea, no one can receive anything of good and truth from heaven. The reason why you cannot receive any good and truth from the Lord if you don’t believe He is the Savior of the world, is that you won’t ask for it. Why would you ask Him for help if you did not believe that He could help? This is why, when the Lord came into the world and healed the sick that He questioned them about their faith before He healed them. Only those were healed who believed that He was the Son of God who was to come into the world, and that He had the power to heal and save. This “acknowledgment of the Lord is the first of all things of spiritual life, and the most essential thing of the church, because without it no one can receive from heaven anything of the truth of faith and the good of love” (AC 10083:5).

The Centurion, a gentile, not blinded by the falsities of the Jewish church, was the first to understand the true meaning of the Lord’s crucifixion. He knew that Jesus had healed the sick. He knew that Jesus had cast out demons. He had heard of all the signs and miracles that He had performed in the course of His ministry. He, like many others had suspected that Jesus would have miraculously saved Himself–perhaps he and many others had come to the crucifixion hoping to see just such a miracle. But when Jesus passively allowed these things to be done to Him and awaited death, it caused the Centurion to wonder, to think to himself, “What man would let this happen to Himself?” And by asking that question he opened himself up to the truth that this was not a man. Jesus Christ was willing to die because it was true that His kingdom was not of this world. Like a morning star, that bright beacon of light on the horizon that foretells the coming dawn, the Centurion gave voice to the first characteristic mark of faith: that the Lord is the Son of the Living God, and on this faith all else of heaven and the church rests. So on this Easter morning, as we think of the joyful discovery of the empty tomb, as we think of the Lord in His Glorified Human ruling as King of the heavens today, let us not let our faith be distracted by complicated doctrines, but remember this simple truth that was first seen by the Roman Centurion: “truly, this Man was the Son of God” (text).

Lessons: PSA 22; MAR 15:33-39, 16:1-8; AC 2405e

a3 2405e. As in the proper sense the “morning” signifies the Lord, His advent, and thus the approach of His kingdom, it is evident what it signifies besides, namely, the rise of a new church (for this is the Lord’s kingdom on earth), and this both in general and in particular, and even in the least particular; in general, when any church on the globe is being raised up anew; in particular, when a man is being regenerated, and being made new (for then the Lord’s kingdom is arising in him, and he is becoming a church); and in the least particular, whenever the good of love and faith is working in him; for in this consists the advent of the Lord. Hence the Lord’s resurrection on the third day in the morning involves all these things (even in the particular and the least particular) in regard to His rising again in the minds of the regenerate every day, and even every moment.



A Sermon by Rev. Donald L. Rose

Preached in Bryn Athyn June 25, 1995

“Settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist” (Luke 21:14,15).

The Lord said these things to followers who were later persecuted and brought before councils. Their accusers thought by confronting them they could weaken the cause of Christianity. But it turned out differently. Those confrontations became opportunities for the strengthening and growth of Christianity.

The boldness and eloquence of the disciples, although they were just fishermen, was nothing short of astonishing. Of one outspoken disciple it is said, “And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke” (Acts 6: 10). In the 4th chapter of Acts we read of two disciples who were confronted: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marvelled” (Acts 4:13). (King James Version says “unlearned and ignorant men.”) They had a boldness and assurance, and their answers were powerful.

They were somehow triumphant even when they were beaten and imprisoned, and in some cases put to death (see Luke 21:16). We will mention one example of that in a moment.

The text applies of course to us and, we might say, in a much less dramatic fashion. We will not likely be brought before courts and kings nor openly challenged and assailed by enemies.

But we do stand to be attacked by the enemies of our spiritual life. And the more we learn about the assaults of evil spirits on followers of the Lord, the more do we see that it too is dramatic and momentous. Falsities from hell itself assail the person who is being tempted, and the Writings say that to every falsity the hells inject, there is an answer from the Divine.

What we experience in temptation is anxiety, discouragement even to despair. We do not know that evil spirits from hell are fighting against us, nor do we know that the Lord is fighting for us, and the answers from the Divine to the false accusations and undermining thoughts do not come clearly to our consciousness. Here is what the Writings say: “As regards temptations … the hells fight against man, and the Lord for man; to every falsity the hells inject, there is an answer from the Divine …. The answer from the Divine flows into the internal or spiritual man … and in such a manner that it scarcely comes to the perception otherwise than as hope and consequent consolation, in which there are nevertheless innumerable things of which the man is ignorant” (AC 8159:3). (In that answer which we feel only as hope and comfort there are countless blessings that the person has no knowledge of” – new translation.)

Here is the context of the words of the text: “… they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake. But it will turn out for you an occasion for testimony. Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist. … [N]ot a hair of your head shall be lost. In your patience possess your souls” (Luke 21:12-19).

The very first Christian to die for his beliefs found that the confrontation was indeed an occasion for testimony. He was falsely accused and brought before a council to answer. His eloquent speech takes up the whole of the 7th chapter of the book of Acts. It is said, “When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. … [T]hey cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord and they cast them out of the city and stoned him” (Acts 7:54,57).

That speech which so affected them had begun thus: “… brethren … listen: the God of glory appeared to our father Abraham” and he told the story through Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Solomon, and when he was finished he gazed up into heaven and saw the glory of God. And as they rained stones on him he said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’ and ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this he fell asleep” (Acts 7:2,59,60). It is said that those who looked at him “saw his face as the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).

A radiant peace surrounded him. The Lord had promised that nothing would harm them. They were at peace even in death.

“Settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer.” Think deliberately about the future, and think of how not to think of the future. In one of the Lord’s parables a man is called foolish because he did not think ahead intelligently. “Foolish one, tonight your soul will be required of you, and then whose will those things be which you have provided?”

Oh, he had thought and meditated within himself about the future. But what was the level of his thinking? To quote the Gospel: “And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do? … I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater … And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years …” (Luke 12:17-21).

He could look down the road years ahead. He could figure out what he was going to do, and what he was going to say, and God called him a fool. How does our future look to us? How much strength and endurance do you have for what lies in store for you? Can you handle what is yet to come? Do you have the wit? Will you have the wit to respond to what may come to pass?

We live in the illusion that our strength, our intelligence, our very life is from ourselves. How big is our reservoir of energy or endurance or prudence? Since it seems that life is our own, we think in terms of calling on our reserves. Once the disciples set off in a boat on a journey with the Lord. And it had slipped their mind that they should have stored some provision. To quote from the Gospel of Mark, “Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat” (8:14). That was what was on their mind, and the Lord said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? … do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up? How is it that you do not understand?”

He got them to answer the question, and He could ask them on a much later occasion, “When I sent you without money bag, sack and sandals, did you lack anything? So they answered, Nothing” (Luke 22:35). Think of the uncertain times of youth that you have passed through. You made it through your teens. Has the Lord kept you safe thus far? Has He provided?

It is too bad that some people have concluded that it is virtuous not to make provision for the future. It’s understandable. The Lord has given us the message that He will provide. Seek the kingdom of God, and these things will be added to you. But the Writings say this does not mean we should not provide ourselves with food, clothing, “and even resources for the time to come; for it is not contrary to order for anyone to be provident for himself and his own.” The new translation speaks of “resources for the future; for it is not contrary to order to make provision for oneself and one’s dependents” (J. Elliott’s translation).

But there is the matter of putting trust in the Divine. Notice the verb tribuo, something you do. It is translated to “attribute” or to “ascribe.” See how it is used in this teaching about charity in a person engaged in business. “He thinks of the morrow, and yet does not think of it. He thinks of what should be done on the morrow, and how it should be done; and yet does not think of the morrow, because he ascribes the future to the Divine Providence and not to his own prudence.” And then it adds, “Even his prudence he ascribes to the Divine Providence” (Charity 167).

Does that fortunate person who ascribes the future to the Divine just do this at one point in life? Or is it not something to be done deliberately through the progressing stages of life?

Settle it in your hearts. Deliberately ascribe the future to the Lord’s Providence, and do so, if you can, until you can feel a sense of relief as if someone had removed a false burden from you.

Do not think of this merely as “either/or,” as if to say, either you trust in Divine Providence or you do not. It can be a quantitative thing. Some attribute a little bit to the Divine Providence and a lot to themselves (see AC 2694:2). The Writings use the phrase “the more”: the more they ascribe, the stronger or wiser they are (see AC 4932). In our lives we gradually come to ascribe more to the Lord and less to ourselves (see TCR 610 and 105).

The disciples were to learn that peace, the wonderful prize of peace, is to be found in the Lord Himself. He said, “These things I have spoken to you that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world” (Luke 16e). En to cosmo thlipsin exete alla tharsete – In the world you will have affliction, trouble, but take heart. Have courage. I have defeated. I have conquered. I have overcome the world.

Our picture of the future can become less a matter of speculation and worry and more and more a picture of the Lord as one in whom to confide and one who grants peace. Peace has in it confidence in the Lord that He will provide, and that He leads to a good end. “When someone is in this faith, he is in peace, for he then fears nothing and no solicitude about future things disquiets him” (AC 8455).

We sometimes say that the future looks dark. And the unknown is a kind of darkness. But when we ascribe the future to the Lord, we may say at any time in history or at any stage of our life, that the future has light in it, being in the hands of Him who is the light of the world.

Settle it in your hearts anew today. Ascribe the future to the Lord. And He will give you what to think and do, and He will give you peace. Amen.

Lessons: Matt. 10:16-31, DP 179, AC 2493

Divine Providence 179

As a foreknowledge of future events destroys the human itself, which is to act from freedom according to reason, therefore it is not granted to anyone to know the future; but everyone is permitted to form conclusions concerning future events from the reason; hence reason with all that pertains to it enters into man’s life. It is on this account that a man does not know his lot after death, or know of any event before he is involved in it. For if he knew this, he would no longer think from his interior self how he should act or how he should live in order to meet the event, but he would only think from his exterior self that he was meeting it. Now this state closes the interiors of his mind in which the two faculties of his life, liberty and rationality, especially reside. A longing to know the future is innate with most people, but this longing derives its origin from the love of evil. It is therefore taken away from those who believe in the Divine Providence, and there is given them a trust that the Lord is disposing their lot. Consequently they do not desire to know it beforehand lest they should in any way set themselves against the Divine Providence. This the Lord teaches by many passages in Luke (12:14-48).

That this is a law of the Divine Providence may be confirmed by many things from the spiritual world. Most persons when they enter that world after death desire to know their lot. They are told that if they have lived well their lot is in heaven, and if they have lived wickedly it is in hell. But as all, even the wicked, fear hell, they ask what they should do and what they should believe to enter heaven. They are told that they may do and believe as they will, but that they should know that in hell, good is not done and truth is not believed, but only in heaven. To each one the answer is: “Seek out what is good and what is true; then think the truth and do the good, if you are able.” So in the spiritual world as in the natural world all are left to act from freedom according to reason; but as they have acted in this world so do they act in the spiritual world. His own life awaits everyone and consequently his own lot, for the lot pertains to the life.

Arcana Coelestia 2493

1 have spoken with the angels concerning the memory of things past, and the consequent anxiety regarding things to come; and I have been instructed that the more interior and perfect the angels are, the less do they care for past things, and the less do they think of things to come; and also that from this comes their happiness. They say that the Lord gives them every moment what to think, and this with blessedness and happiness; and that they are thus free from cares and anxieties. Also, that this was meant in the internal sense by the manna being received daily from heaven; and by the daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer; and likewise by the instruction not to be solicitous about what they should eat and drink, and wherewithal they should be clothed. But although the angels do not care for past things, and are not solicitous about things to come, they nevertheless have the most perfect recollection of past things, and the most perfect mental view of things to come; because in all their present there are both the past and the future. Thus they have a more perfect memory than can ever be thought of or expressed.