The initial chapters of the New Testament remind us that God’s incarnate Son is a Savior. Mary worshipfully cries, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47). An angel declares to Joseph that his Son will “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). The shepherds are struck with this message: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). The Greek word translated “Savior” means “one who preserves or rescues from natural dangers and afflictions.” “Savior” carries the idea of deliverance from harm to preserve while picturing both a rescuer and protector.
In Mark 15:33–41, the apex of Jesus’ work as our Savior is on horrific, glorious display. Horrific because of the immense suffering, shame, and mocking that our Lord has endured, but glorious because it’s at this place of suffering that sinners are rescued. After Jesus “breathed his last” (v. 37) and gave up His life, a centurion who has been an eyewitness to these ghastly events declares, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (v. 39). Here is a tough soldier who has been tasked with overseeing Jesus’ crucifixion. He was possibly present at Jesus’ arrest, accompanied Him to His trials, may have joined his comrades in hurling abuse, and now hears Jesus cry out in death as He freely laid down His life.
The centurion heard Jesus forgive His accusers, save the thief on the cross, and place His mother in the charge of John, and through all this has concluded, “This is no ordinary man.” How does this Roman centurion reach this conclusion? The parallel accounts of Matthew 27 and Luke 23 reveal that after Jesus gives up His spirit, the veil in the temple is torn in two, a great earthquake occurs, and many people are resurrected. These events shake this battle-hardened soldier to his core. “When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and saying, ‘Certainly this man was innocent!’ ” (Luke 23:47). Others in the crowd join the centurion in his confession. There’s something extraordinary and otherworldly about Jesus. He’s a righteous Savior who is dying not for Himself but in the place of others.
The cross becomes the epicenter of cleansing for sinners, a place of refuge and rescue. As our Savior, Jesus rescues us from our sin, from God’s wrath upon our sin, and from death, which is a consequence of our sin. Isaiah said, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you” (Isa. 59:2). Paul laments: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24). He answers his question in 1 Thessalonians 1:10: “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Step into the boots of this centurion and behold the Lamb of God who is our Savior, who graciously gives His life in our place so that we who were once enemies are now sons and daughters of God.