His was a dead-end job and he knew it. When he signed up with this outfit decades ago, he brought to it no illusions he could rise any higher than where he was today. Only a few had what it took to make it this far.
With a balled fist he banged his cuirass twice and set the silver medals shaking. Everybody knew what they meant: He didn’t back down from anything or anyone. Fierce dedication, fearless courage, bloody endurance, and killing skill got him noticed until now, astride his magnificent black stallion, he looked down on a hundred foot soldiers.
They hated him. So what? He wasn’t here to win a popularity contest.
Obedience was what he demanded, and he had beaten that into them with his trusty grapewood stick. Like him, they were disciplined to never question a command from a higher-up. But his legionaries would do or die assured he did not play favorites. They were keenly reminded of that on days like today.
His no-exception instructions had put the frontline execution guard on a rotating basis. No one got special treatment. Every man knew he would get his turn and when.
This morning’s prepared twelve-man detail expertly swinging hammers behind him knew they would soon be rewarded with the booty. He never kept any of it for himself or ordered it to be given to someone else. Yes, he was iron-clad fair. No soldier of his would ever say he preferred one over another. By jove, if nothing else, they would respect him!
The sleek steed deftly skirted the spectators as his master’s steely-eyed gaze appraised the logistics situation. His hand-picked optio had dispersed the remaining soldiers strategically; so he didn’t expect any complications. Confident this would be an uneventful, perfect crucifixion, the centurion dismounted close–but not friendly close–to the four-man center unit, now huddled together as they gambled for the naked criminal’s clothing.
Any plan the centurion had for slipping into a reverie of his bygone winnings was captured by the plea: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NIV).
His eyes snapping upward, they fixated on the blood-framed pair looking down at him–rather, looking through him. It was as if those eyes were saying, I know all about you and I accept you just as you are. Suddenly, he wanted to rip the self-aggrandizing medals from his cuirass. Instead, he raised his crooked swagger stick to beat the soldiers and religious rabble-rousers hurling insults at this man with the penetrating eyes. But midway his arm froze.
Strangely, he sensed he couldn’t stop this sham. More to the point, he somehow knew he shouldn’t stop it. Whatever was going to happen had to take place–all of it.
This otherworldly belief lingered for six hours. Halfway through, he was relieved when the three hours of unexplainable darkness began at noon. He needed to process, and he didn’t want his soldiers–anyone–to see him crossed up. Nor did he want to look any longer at the twisted-thorn crown bearing down on his head. There was something going on too sacred for human eyes to perceive.
In the midst of the midday midnight, a light pierced his heart’s darkened core, and the centurion began seeing life afresh. A new purpose was forming. Maybe this unusual person would answer a question. An hour before the blanket of darkness, he had conversed with the robber hanging next to him.
Before he could implement his idea, however, he heard the stranger’s voice call out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46 NIV). Immediately, he took his last breath, leaving the centurion bewildered. What kind of man can command his death?
At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead (Matthew 27:51-52 NIV).
Now, as if a mask had been lifted from his eyes, the Roman officer saw clearly: “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!” (Mark 15:39 NIV).
We settle the matter when we recognize God.
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