Summary: What was it like to watch Jesus die? It would be great to hear from someone who was there. Let's hear from the centurion in charge of that crucifixion.
AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS
[Monologue – Centurion]
The old spiritual asks the question, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Of course, physically, that is impossible since Jesus died on the cross nearly 2,000 years ago. Yet you do understand that He voluntarily went there to die for the sins in your life, don’t you? So in a mysterious way you and I were there, weren’t we – because His death was paying the penalty [death] for our sins? His 33 year visit to this earth and His death on that cross were brought about by His tremendous love for you and His desire to relieve you of having to pay sin’s penalty.
No, you and I didn’t see with our physical eyes Jesus being crucified. But there is one here today who was there. Someone who was at the foot of the cross. Someone who took it all in. Maybe we can see Jesus death more clearly through our guest’s eyes. His name is not important, but you can be assured that what you are about to hear is worth you getting up early on this Resurrection morning. Our guest is such an unlikely witness to step forward and proclaim his faith in Jesus. Certainly you wouldn’t expect that from a first century Roman soldier would you?
Listen to Mark’s account - And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard His cry and saw how He died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God” [Mark 15:39]
“Another crucifixion – Yuk! I hope this darn thing doesn’t last into the night. I’ve got things to do and people to see and sleep to catch up on” Those were my thoughts as we herded the three prisoners toward the crucifixion site.
I am a career man in the Roman army. I am called a centurion because I’m responsible for 100 soldiers. I lead one of Rome’s local police forces in the occupied territory of Jerusalem. One of my responsibilities is to oversee punishment for crimes, especially capital punishment. I am responsible for the scourging and crucifixion. Over the years, I have become calloused and hardened by seeing so many men dying on crosses. I know a lot about men. I have observed enough to know what a man is made of, not only by the way he lives but especially by the way he dies.
Several days ago my life was changed when I watched a particular man die on a cross. His name was Jesus.
I was there for the last 11 hours of His life. I saw what He endured. I heard what He said. And His last 6 hours of life made a life-changing impact on me.
My orders were to have the three prisoners, Jesus and two others, up on their perspective crosses by the third hour –I guess that would be about 9 o’clock in the morning your time. So we started them in that direction over an hour before. All three were badly beaten and had to carry their own cross beam through the streets of Jerusalem and up Calvary’s hill. Some of the people looked sorry for them. Others enjoyed the cross carrying as much as they enjoyed a parade. The One named Jesus was certainly a sight – beaten more severely than the other two – by Pilate’s orders – and wearing a thorn crown which added to His blood stained face. The other two exchanged jeers with the people in the crowd who threw harsh words and jagged stones at them. Not so, with the third man. Not a word did He speak.
I remember when the last man fell. He didn’t look like a sissy or a weakling. He was thin, but seemed to possess a kind of wiry strength. The whippings and lack of sleep must have been too much for Him. Yet,
after falling, he still reached for His cross, as if He wanted to carry it – as if He wanted to be crucified. But His strength had left Him. So we drafted an onlooker to carry His cross.
“He is more willing to be crucified than any other criminal I’ve ever seen”, said my second in command. “He looks like a lamb going to slaughter”. We laughed at the idea. “A lamb going to slaughter”, now that was funny.
Finally we reached Calvary, the common people call it “Golgotha” meaning “the place of the skull”. I do have to admit from certain angles as you approach the hill it does resemble a human skull. Anyway, I had the prisoners stripped. The cross beams were laid on the ground and one by one, the criminals were stretched out on them. Spikes were driven into their hands to attach them to the cross beam. The first criminal broke one hand free and hit the one with the mallet in his desperate struggle for life. The second spat in the face of the soldier driving the spikes in.