The day began like any other and the centurion had no reason to suspect it would end any differently than the previous days. He double checked his uniform making sure that everything was in order, taking pride in his appearance. He was after all a representative of Rome, a representative of Caesar and he had to look the part. He spit shined the chest ornaments on his breastplate every night, made certain there was nothing out of place on the crest of his helmet, sheathed his sword, stuck it in his baldric, and he knew that he was ready.
He was centurion, the leader of one hundred men, and though he would have preferred a different assignment, duty was duty, and Rome needed him here. Today was just another day in a long line of days wherein he and his men would have to guard the criminals being put to death. There were better assignments to be had, but there were also worse. At first the cries of the men hanging on crosses ate at his nerves but with time he learned to tune out the screams. It was a job; nothing more. As far as he was concerned everyone who had to endure the cross had done something to deserve it. Justice was justice, and sometimes justice was messy.
Today there were three men scheduled for crucifixion; two criminals and one whom the priests had taken an interest in. The crowd had already swelled to a size he had not seen before, and this was worrisome. He gave orders to his men to be vigilant, and waited for the three men to make their way up to the hilltop. Once they got there, everything was mechanical; they’d done it so many times before, that by now they’d fallen into a rhythm of sorts. The centurion gave the orders, his men obeyed, and with the practiced ease of a repetitive movement their task was done. Three men hanging on three crosses, the hardest part of the job behind them, and now all that remained was the wait.
To pass the time his men cast lots for the garments of the condemned, but he was centurion and he could not be seen associating with his men in such a manner. He went off to the side leaned on his spear for a more comfortable position, and waited. They would be here for some time; it took days for the crucified to expire, and sometimes the soldiers would just break the legs of the condemned to aid them in a quicker death. It was not yet time for this however, you could not make their death too quick, they had sins and crimes to pay for and the only accepted currency for payment was pain and suffering.
The centurion gazed at the three men, men who would never again see another sunrise, men who would never again taste the salt air on their lips, and the One in the middle caught his eye. He was in far worse shape than the other two, bloodied and bruised. One could see he had not had an easy life, and what he had endured recently stirred compassion in the heart of the centurion. There was something different about this man, he couldn’t place it, or define it, but there was definitely something different about Him. He’d noticed it even back when his soldiers were hammering in the nails. He did not cry out like the others, He did not whimper, He did not proclaim his innocence, even bloodied and bruised and hanging on a cross there was dignity and nobility there.
Why couldn’t the others see this? Why so much hatred for this man? They passed by His cross, the elders the scribes and the chief priests, the centurion knew them by their garments, and they wagged their fingers at Him, and mocked Him and bade Him to come down off the cross.
The centurion stood straighter, and fixed his gaze upon the Man in the middle, he wanted to see his reaction to the hatred of those standing below. To his surprise the Man said nothing, He simply looked over the passing crowd and there was forgiveness in His eyes.
This too stunned the Centurion because most often those hanging upon the crosses would spit at those passing by, they would swear at them, or sometimes beg them for water. None since he had been stationed here, none since he had been detailed to oversee and guard the condemned had ever had forgiveness in their eyes.
The sixth hour came and suddenly there was darkness. The centurion was not a superstitious man, but one didn’t have to be superstitious to see the oddity in this. For three hours there was darkness over the whole land, yet those who mocked Him didn’t seem to notice. They continued to shout out there venomous insults, they continued to mock Him, and all the while the Man in the middle emanated forgiveness.
The more he stared at this man, the more the centurion wanted to be closer to Him. Suddenly He shouted something in Hebrew, and those who stood by started to whisper among themselves. The centurion did not know what he had said, but judging by the reaction of the people it must have been something important. He drew closer, and the centurion now stood opposite the Man in the middle, hanging on the cross, His blood mingling with the earth below.
Mark 15:37-39, “And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last. Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 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!”
No one knows what became of the centurion, his name, his life, have been lost to time. What is known however by his declaration is that he was never the same again. When we bear witness to the sufferings of Christ, we are convinced of His divinity, when we are convinced of His divinity we begin to confess with our mouths that truly He is the Son of God, and whenever we confess with our mouths that Jesus is the Son of God, we will be heard. Even though you don’t realize it at the time, someone will always hear our confession of faith. The centurion did not speak these words so he might be heard; he spoke them in wonder and reverence, and even though his name is lost to us, his words remain. ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’
With Love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.