For the Roman soldiers it was another day at work. Standing guard. Keeping peace. Carrying out orders. And executing criminals.
The Roman army was composed of 25 legions of soldiers with 6,000 men in each legion. These were broken down into cohorts, maniples and centuries. This Bible says he was a centurion, a commander of a 100 man division.
For this Roman soldier his assignment on this Friday began like any other. But ended like no other. Either in his life. Or in history. He had the responsibility of guarding Jesus. Most likely he was given charge of overseeing and executing the crucifixion.
He and his men were eye witnesses to all the events that unfolded since Jesus had been arrested and taken to the Praetorium. They heard the accusations hurled at him. They saw his calm and peaceful demeanor. His silence in spite of the false charges.
This centurion ordered his men to strap Jesus to the post for scourging. . They mercilessly and brutally beat him almost to the point of death. His men mashed the crown of thorns into his scalp. They spit on him. He watched while Jesus was taunted. Mocked. Ridiculed.
I wonder what he thought when Pilate proclaimed Jesus’ innocence? And tried to get him released? He must have been amazed at Jesus’ grace. Humility. Dignity. He was not the typical criminal this Centurion was used to seeing.
The Centurion and his men were professional soldiers. Taught to follow orders. Trained to meet out punishment. They were hardened men who showed no mercy. And so they compliantly went about their business. Taking Jesus to Golgotha. Nailing his hands and feet to the cross. And dropping it into the hole they had dug. Then they watched while he died.
But this crucifixion was different. They heard Jesus forgive his murderers. Help a fellow sufferer. Talk to the heavenly father. And all the while the crowd jeered and sneered, as the soldiers gambled for Jesus’ garments. Yet there he hung. Hurting. Suffering. Dying. But with a serenity like none other they had ever witnessed.
Then it happened. After three hours of supernatural darkness, the earth quaked. Rocks were split into. Graves were opened. Dead people were made alive. At that point, he’d seen enough.
Matthew records that Centurion and the other soldiers were filled with awe and he exclaimed, “Truly, this was the Son of God.”
As far we know, this weather-worn soldier had never before seen Jesus. Or heard him preach. Or witnessed a miracle. The events of those six hours were enough to stir his heart.
And that was just Friday. He didn’t even know Sunday was coming!
We don’t know what happened to the Centurion following the resurrection. We do know the Centurion, Cornelius, was the first Gentile convert. Could this man have been next? Could the seed of his faith that day germinated in forgiveness? Could a calloused soldier scarred by society’s inhumanity find purpose through the One he nailed to the cross? Could that Friday of Jesus’ death begun his road to spiritual deliverance? It could have.
What about you? What does that Friday mean to you? How does it impact you? Where does it lead you?
From this, I learn two valuable lessons.
(1) My grace in suffering, my acceptance of hardship, and my peace in pain reveals more about my character than a dynamic sermon. When I endure with dignity, misfortune, mistreatment, and misery, I serve as a stirring testimony of faith to unbelievers.
(2) Never prejudge the possibility of a person changing. Of a hardened heart being touched by the story of the cross. Of a crusty sinner confessing Christ. It happened on that Friday. It can happen again.
Yes, Sunday’s coming. But let’s learn from and live Friday’s lessons. Today.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman