Today’s Reading: Luke 23
Today we come to the last solemn minutes of Jesus’ life on the cross. It is His final comment from the cross that catches my attention. It is a prayer but goes further than up. That prayer goes wide.
Let’s read Jesus’ final words before He breathed His last breath:
Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” (Luke 23:46-47, NIV)
What a scene! Jesus was dying and this was His final sentence on earth before He was the resurrected Lord. He said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Then He simply breathed His last.
Here is the incredible part—that when the centurion saw what had happened, he began praising God and saying that Jesus was a righteous man. A centurion who beat and dragged the Son of God to calvary, witnessed Jesus’ cry and final breath and, with praise, declared who Jesus was!
Søren Kierkegaard said something remarkable: “The gospel is seldom heard but it is overheard.” Jesus wasn’t even talking to the centurion; He was talking to His Father. Yet this man overheard and something changed in him.
It gets crazier in Mark’s account. I think it is the same centurion, but Mark adds a bit of a twist: “When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” (Mark 15:39).
What? Breathing. Just His breathing. Just the way He breathed. And the man’s response to breathing was, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”
St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” Jesus didn’t use words in Mark’s account. He just breathed. What was happening? Did the centurion get saved by simply observing Jesus’ breath? I don’t think so. Let me explain.
Breathing is what we do every day and in every moment. And people watch the way we do life every day and in every moment. The simple things we do, such as breathing, we do them without thought. But there are other things we do that people watch: the way we raise our children, the way we speak to them; the way we treat people in retail; how we handle our finances; how we have a good work ethic; how we don’t get an attitude when we drive or when we work behind a counter or desk; when we come to work on time and don’t leave till the job is done; how we finish tasks.
I call that breathing. The stuff we do—that we do the right way.
The centurion did not get saved from Jesus’ one breath but by watching Jesus until the moment He died. It was the way Jesus responded to the abuse. Listen to how Peter described those moments on the cross, which gave breathing power:
If you endure suffering even when you have done right, God will bless you for it. It was to this that God called you, for Christ himself suffered for you and left you an example, so that you would follow in his steps. He committed no sin, and no one ever heard a lie come from his lips. When he was insulted, he did not answer back with an insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but placed his hopes in God, the righteous judge. (1 Peter 2:20-23, GNT)
The centurion did not just see breathing, he saw more—he saw no lies coming from Him. When Jesus was insulted, He did not answer back. When He was beaten, He did not threaten back. He placed His hope in God.
Everything added up to the centurion’s realization that “truly this man was the Son of God.” After seeing Him breathe during the pain, the suffering, and the false accusations, watching Him breathe that final breath was the icing on the cake.
When you live the way Jesus lived, then the simplest thing—like breathing—can change someone’s life.
We think it is a gospel-preaching moment or a church service or a powerful verse that draws people to get saved. We forget that if that happens, it was because they saw a lot of breathing before that.
Keep inviting people to church, keep sharing life with them, keep telling them about the love of Jesus. But don’t forget that when someone responds to Jesus, it wasn’t the breathing of one moment but the breathing that took place every day.
That’s what the famous African missionary, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, remembered when he stepped off a train in Chicago during the height of racial discrimination. He’d attained some renown and had won a Nobel Peace Prize, so, the story goes, when he arrived at the station, the city officials greeted him with handshakes and the key to the city and reporters questioned him about his long trip from Africa. As he took it all in, he finally noticed something over his shoulder and excused himself from the crowd.
Everyone watched as he maneuvered back to the train to help an older black woman who was struggling with her luggage. When he got back to the group, one of the reporters said, “That’s the first time I ever saw a walking sermon.”
Albert Schweitzer was just breathing. Doing what he did every day.
May we have the same said about you and me.