When he awoke on Friday morning, the man could not have known what the day would bring.
We’re certain he was a strong, disciplined soldier; he’d joined one of the most powerful armies in the world and had risen to the rank of captain or major by today’s standards. We also know he was capable of great cruelty – his army demanded such ability.
This day may have been like many for him – charged with the brutal execution of filthy criminals. Scripture identifies him only as “the centurion.”
Romans were heathens worshipping gods and goddesses, but this soldier will soon speak one of the most famous statements of faith ever recorded in history.
Remember, Jesus is tried in the early morning hours by the Jews, then taken to Pilate who sends Him to Herod. Jesus is sent back to Pilate, condemned, and turned over to the military for execution.
The soldiers gather the whole Roman cohort, a battalion of men—perhaps 400. Two Gospels describe almost word for word what happens next. It’s remarkable; apparently, the gospel writers had a source among the soldiers. Most likely the centurion, as we’ll see.
Jesus is dressed in a fine robe. The soldiers twist together a crown of thorns, placing it on His head. They take a reed and put it in His right hand. The soldiers kneel and bow before Him, shouting, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Then they spit on Him, beating His head and face with that reed. Mt. 27:27-30, Mark 15:16-19
Jesus is also beaten with a Roman whip. Such whips had pieces of metal knotted into them which tore open a man’s flesh.
He’s then led away, and Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry the cross.
At Golgotha, He’s crucified.
The religious leaders had won. Even so, they come to the execution, jeering at Jesus, unable to let it go. Those passing by hurl abuse at Jesus. Even the soldiers mock Him: “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!”
Jesus responds, “Father, forgive them…”
When our Lord speaks these words, was it just to the Jews or did He look to the soldiers? Did Jesus’ gaze fall on the centurion?
Scripture states that this soldier came to the foot of cross, right in front of Jesus. Remember, the centurion was a seasoned soldier of rank who’d driven his sword through many men—from the coward fleeing battle to the opponent within arm’s reach, taking a final breath to curse the centurion to his face.
But the commander wasn’t prepared for a completely different Man. For Jesus.
Our Lord calls out, “It is finished. Father, into Your Hands I commit My Spirit.” And then He breathes His last. John 19:30, Luke 23:46
Scripture says, “When the centurion, who was standing right in front of [Jesus], saw the way He breathed His last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” Mark 15:39 NAS
The centurion saw Jesus forgive those who’d abused Him, and it changed the man.
The ability to forgive is a great divider of men and women. Ministers will tell you it’s a troubling problem within their congregations. But the matter can cut even deeper.
I’m reminded of a small church I attended years ago. Our new minister—the most gifted speaker I’ve ever heard—seemed destined to become a world-renowned evangelist. When he preached, you could hear a pin drop.
Yet something seemed amiss. He was 40 and hadn’t been assigned a larger church. Soon enough, his sermons became the problem, and church attendance dwindled.
One Sunday, a disgusted deacon approached me. “The things he says.”
“Have you talked to him?” I asked.
“Yes.” He scowled, even more upset.
“What happens now?”
“We’re stuck with him.”
What was the minister’s problem? Here’s an example. During Bible study he mentioned a man who’d wronged him.
“That jerk!” he said.
The minister hadn’t learned to forgive.
He’s not alone – we live in a world that teaches fairness, and forgiveness isn’t fair. The wrongdoer doesn’t deserve forgiveness.
Remember the Crucifixion and the centurion, how forgiveness changed that soldier’s life. The greater the ordeal, the greater the impact of forgiveness upon another.
Hold dear this verse: “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 2:3
You are the Lord’s witness to the world. Do as Jesus did: Forgive.
Reprinted with permission from “Reaching to God” by R.A. Mathews. You may contact her at letters@RAMathews.com. Copyright © 2017, 2020 R.A. Mathews All rights reserved.