Summary: Part of an Easter series, this sermon looks at the Centurion and his response to his encounter with Christ.
Just Doing My Job
Illus. One of the things I loved as a paramedic was that it was anything but routine.
•We were trained to expect the unexpected, to be ready for anything.
And yet, there were some drawbacks.
Every time the call went out, someone was facing a crisis that would change their lives.
•As paramedics, however, we were trained to get used to crisis – to not let it affect us.
•As a result, what was critical for our patients was just another day at the office for us.
•I believe that’s similar to what it was like for the person we’re looking at today.
Please turn with me to Mt. 27:27-54. Our series is called Easter Encounters.
•People whose lives were changed as a result of their encounter with Christ.
Last week, we looked at Peter and how his denial changed his life.
•Today, we look at a relatively unknown character.
•Rather than exegete and share facts with you, I’d like to simply share his story as truthfully as I can.
It was still early in the morning - too early for the morning light, in fact. Yet duty called and Petronius, out of force of habit, woke from his sleep, and methodically, unconsciously began dressing into his government issue armor. It was just another ordinary day for a man in his position. And yet, his job was anything but ordinary.
He was a Roman centurion, in charge of 100 soldiers. More than that, because of his proven skill and faithfulness to the Emperor, he had been assigned to guard and enforce the rule of Pontius Pilate, the governor and procurator of Judea and Samaria.
This was an unstable area in the Roman Empire and the best way to maintain the peace was to enforce the law in such a way that the people knew who was in charge and knew the consequences of insurrection. As a result, he and his squadron frequently were called upon to carry out what the Romans believed was the most convincing form of punishment – crucifixion.
The plan was simple – devise the most excruciating form of death and promote it as a public spectacle and deterrent to anyone else thinking of rebelling against the Empire. Death came by slow asphyxiation, often taking days of unimaginable suffering. To get it just right, the criminal had to be nailed with arms fully stretched, but legs slightly bent - otherwise he might not suffer enough or he might die too quickly.
Petronius and his men had witnessed and performed so many crucifixions, they had become quite skilled and quite numb to the whole process. Ironically, they had become such a routine, the soldiers had to find new ways to keep their battle-hardened edge and their insatiable thirst for more blood and gore. As a result, like wild pack dogs circling their prey, they would often take pleasure in mocking and torturing their victims before they crucified them.
Petronius’ job was to keep his men thirsty for more, yet control their frenzy enough that they could still perform their duties as needed. In the process, he had long ago lost any feelings of remorse or revulsion that might come with such a job description.
His first order of business came at first light. Some of the Jewish leaders had brought a prisoner to Pilate with the charge of claiming to be their king. How ironic, he thought, that knowing how much the Jews would love to overthrow the Romans, here they were trying to condemn someone who might try to do just that.
He had heard bits and pieces of this man – Jesus, as He was called. Rumors had been circulating about incredible miracles and such. In fact, all the soldiers in and around Jerusalem had been put on heightened alert because the people were stirred up over him. And here he was – certainly not the picture of an insurrectionist that he had seen before. The man who stood before him was nothing to look at. In fact, it was obvious that the Jewish leaders had already had their way with him. His face was badly bruised. Pieces of beard were missing. Petronius made a mental bet as to how long Pilate would take before sentencing him and moving on.
Pilate began with a simple question, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Without hesitation or bravado, Jesus replied, “Yes, it is as you say.” And then he said nothing. Not even when the Jewish leaders began to bombard the court with accusations. That was strange. Didn’t he realize his probable fate? Petronius’ curiosity began to rise. Who was this man? Was he really the great miracle worker he had heard about or was he simply another deranged and delusional wannabe?