Summary: This is part V in the series - 24. It is a first person narrative account from the perspective of the centurion at the cross. WARNING: It is graphic! The preaching idea: the evidence has been presented. What will you do with it?
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
Ultimately, that’s what the final 24 hours in Jesus’ life are about – God’s plan to redeem us to buy us back.
We’ve heard from four characters who experienced those events. We’ve heard their accounts in the form of stories. We have two stories yet to hear.
The account we will hear today is taken both from scriptures and from research on Roman persecution accompanied by traditions that exist around these events in the life of Christ.
If you have young children with you who may be sensitive to graphic vocabulary I would encourage you to remove them for this portion of the service.
Will you turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew 27. I will read verses 26-31, 35-36, 45-46, 50-54…
Let us pray…
Who Was a Centurion?
Mine was the only independent eyewitness account of the conduct of Jesus up to the moment of his death. I was there when Jesus was tried; I watched his flogging; I saw him fall beneath the weight of the cross; I gave the order that the nails be driven through his hands and feet; I stood with my soldiers throughout that dark afternoon waiting for the end; and I was there when he took his final excruciating breath - as I had been for so many others before.
You might say that if anyone could be blamed for the carrying out of the death of the Son of God, it was me. I was the final front.
I was a commanding officer of one hundred foot soldiers in the Roman Army, a centurion. The rank of centurion was not easily achieved. It was in fact, the highest rank to which an ordinary soldier could aspire. Unlike other posts, the rank of centurion was a career, one that paid well. We were the backbone of the entire army.
As highly respected of a position as I held, the post to which I was appointed was anything but desirable.
I was responsible for the oversight of executions. I was to ensure that capital punishment was carried out. And while early in my appointment, the punishments that we were to enforce were difficult to observe, I had become somewhat desensitized to the violence and gore that were a part of my every day life.
We were after all dealing with criminals – with lowlifes of society who deserved the discipline they received. They had been convicted of a crime and my job wasn’t to determine their guilt or innocence it was to assume their guilt and carry out their sentence. Whenever those gory details would start to bother me, I would just remind myself of their crime. It served as a way for me to shut off my emotional reactions and not get involved. I never would have lasted in my position if I had allowed myself to get involved the way I did that fateful day.
The morning began as any other had begun. The commotion outside the Antonia alerted us to a situation. My men had assembled quickly when the Jewish leaders appeared with a prisoner, one they claimed was dangerous to the Roman empire and was guilty of treason. When they were finally cornered about an exact charge they said they had a law and because he had claimed to be the “Son of God” he must die. Pilate was apprehensive, to say the least, about the entire situation and tried to convince the members of the Sanhedrin of Jesus’ innocence. But they wouldn’t have it. They insisted he be crucified. Finally it became obvious to Pilate that this was not a battle that was worth fighting, he conceded and much to his dissent handed this innocent looking prisoner over to me to be flogged and crucified.
In the contemporary, civilized culture of which you are a part, it’s hard to understand the severity of what I’m about to describe to you. It may even make you queasy. But from what I’ve been told your culture has somehow romanticized this part of Jesus’ life to the degree that you’re no longer moved by what happened. Well, hold on to your seats, because I’m going to tell you what he went through.
The means of punishment known as flogging was accomplished by repeated lashes or blows, usually with a rod or a whip. In Jesus’ case he was stripped naked and tied to a pillar about 18” in diameter with iron rings about 9’ from the ground. The soldiers then hung him by the hands from those rings so that he couldn’t touch the ground. This made it impossible for him to escape the lashes that he was about to receive.