When the mob sentenced the accused man to death by crucifixion, Pontius Pilate washed his hands of the whole Jesus Christ trial. As a centurion, it was my responsibility to oversee the whole affair.
My soldiers were especially cruel, as they were prone to be in treason/blasphemy cases. After they flogged him with a lead-tip whip, they dressed Christ in a purple robe and completed the outfit with a crown of thorns to mock and humiliate him.
“Hail! King of the Jews!” they taunted, bowing before him as they laughed and ridiculed him.
I watched his silent acceptance, and a heavy weight settled in my gut. Something wasn’t right here. He did not defend himself or argue. He didn’t even struggle against their abuse.
His silence only incited the men to more torturous methods. They struck him on the head with a reed stick, spit on him, and rained down profanities of the lowest kind. I cringed in embarrassment. I’d never seen them so amped up.
I gave the orders for a standard crucifixion for the three accused. Christ would be flanked on either side by two known criminals.
The others were raised long before the middle cross. There was a flurry of activity as the soldiers continued their abuse. I shook my head as I realized they had divided his clothes and were throwing dice to decide who would get each item. Had he not suffered enough humiliation at their hands?
My eyes widened when the cross was finally raised. A sign affixed to the top read, “The King of the Jews.” Much later, I learned Pilate had commissioned this sign with the words written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek.
Still, despite his pain and debasement, Jesus Christ remained silent and accepted his fate without argument. I can’t say the same for the two miscreants on either side of him.
As the hours passed, my men weren’t the only ones to throw insults at Jesus. Passersby mocked him. Despite his reputation as a religious man, the leading priests and teachers of religious law mocked Jesus. Even his fellow cross-mates joined in the jeering.
Only a small group of observers quietly sobbed as they witnessed his torture. Likely family members, I thought.
At noon, after the third hour of execution, suddenly, the sky went dark as if the sun had been deleted from the sky. Fear washed over the faces of all who drew near.
It remained dark as midnight until three o’clock. At that moment, Jesus broke his silence and called out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
A chill ran down my spine. Some in the crowd misunderstood Christ’s message, thinking he called out to Elijah. But I knew better. He spoke the language of my ancestors, and he beseeched God like he was family.
I watched one of the bystanders run and fill a sponge with sour wine, and I gestured to my men to allow the compassion. He held it up on a reed stick so Jesus could drink.
Then, as if he saw the Angel of Death coming, Jesus shouted, “It is finished!” and he released his spirit. His head fell as the life energy departed.
Suddenly, the earth shook, and I saw huge rocks split apart. I took off my helmet and held it to my chest. My heart hammered against the chainmail as I bowed my head.
“This man truly was the Son of God!” I whispered.
One of my men within earshot looked at me with wide eyes. It was too late for remorse. Not many had witnessed the conversation between Jesus and the repentant criminal next to him when Christ assured him that he would join him in paradise that very day. But I did.
I raised an eyebrow at the soldier and nodded my silent reprimand. We had killed an innocent man: quite likely the son of God.
My heart silently repeated the criminal’s request: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
What became of that centurion? Did he seek Jesus’ disciples to find out more about him? Did he witness the resurrection or wonder as he heard about it?
We don’t know. However, we have the advantage of reading the full story in the four gospels in our Bibles and celebrating as we learn of God’s plan of salvation.
What is your response to this story? Is it just a familiar story told from another point of view, or does it affect you more deeply?
This weekend is a time for reflection. Jesus died. He rose again. He invites us to accept His atonement for sin and welcome Him into our lives.
The rest is up to us.
Father, thank You for Your grace and love, enabling You to watch Your son die on the cross for us. Thank You, Jesus, for going through the suffering and humiliation of the crucifixion. I accept Your invitation to live in my heart and lead my life. Thank You for the assurance of eternal life with You when my time on earth is done. Take my hand, Lord. I look forward to all You have in store for me. Amen.
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