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?
It was apparent Pilate began to wonder the same thing. In fact, contrary to his norm, Pilate tried to release him. Even his wife came and warned him about this man.
He gave the people a choice: he could release Barabbas, a notorious criminal, or Jesus, who was called Christ. “Interesting,” Petronius thought, “that Jesus was not only accused of being a King, but some even considered Him their Messiah/Christ.” Surprisingly, the people cried out for Barabbas’ release. Reluctantly, Pilate gave in and pronounced sentence on Jesus. Petronius immediately stepped into action. After all, his soldiers were looking for some fresh meat to satisfy their gory desire.
They pounced on him like vultures, mocking him, feigning homage to him. They stripped him and put on a scarlet robe. They smashed a crown of thorns on his head. They spit on him and beat him again and again, laughing and jeering all the time. Then they brought out the whip with the metal ends, strapped him to a pole, and flogged him to within an inch of his life. Petronius then raised his hand. “He needs to die on the cross, not here.” The soldiers laughed and dragged him back to Pilate, who sent him to be crucified.
Listen to Max Lucado’s description of what happened next.(Max Lucado, Six Hours One Friday, italics mine) It was bad enough to be in Judea, but it was hell to spend hot afternoons on a rocky hill supervising the death of pickpockets and rabble-rousers. Half the crowd taunted, half cried. The soldiers griped. The priests bossed. It was a thankless job in a strange land…
As they arrived on the hill, for just a moment Jesus looked at the centurion—for a second the Roman looked into the purest eyes he’d ever seen. He didn’t know what the look meant. But the look made him swallow and his stomach feel empty. As he watched the soldier grab the Nazarene and yank him to the ground, something told him this was not going to be a normal day.
As the hours wore on, the centurion found himself looking more and more at the one on the center cross. The leaders continued to mock. “YOU WHO ARE GOING TO DESTROY THE TEMPLE AND BUILD IT IN THREE DAYS, SAVE YOURSELF! COME DOWN FROM THE CROSS, IF YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD!” 42“HE SAVED OTHERS,” THEY SAID, “BUT HE CAN’T SAVE HIMSELF! HE’S THE KING OF ISRAEL! LET HIM COME DOWN NOW FROM THE CROSS, AND WE WILL BELIEVE IN HIM. 43HE TRUSTS IN GOD. LET GOD RESCUE HIM NOW IF HE WANTS HIM, FOR HE SAID, ‘I AM THE SON OF GOD.’”
He didn’t know what to do with the Nazarene’s silence. He didn’t know what to do with his kindness. But most of all, he was perplexed by the darkness. He didn’t know what to do with the black sky in midafternoon. No one could explain it.… No one even tried. One minute the sun, the next the darkness. One minute the heat, the next a chilly breeze. Even the priests were silenced…
Suddenly the center head ceased to bob. It yanked itself erect. Its eyes opened in a flash of white. A roar sliced the silence. “It is finished.” It wasn’t a yell. It wasn’t a scream. It was a roar … a lion’s roar. From what world that roar came the centurion didn’t know, but he knew it wasn’t this one.
He stood up from the rock and took a few paces toward the Nazarene. As he got closer, he could tell that Jesus was staring into the sky. There was something in his eyes that the soldier had to see. But after only a few steps, he fell. He stood and fell again. The ground was shaking, gently at first and now violently. He tried once more to walk and was able to take a few steps and then fall … at the foot of the cross.
He looked up into the face of this one near death. The King looked down at the crusty old centurion. Jesus’ hands were fastened; they couldn’t reach out. His feet were nailed to timber; they couldn’t walk toward him. His head was heavy with pain; he could scarcely move it. But his eyes … they were afire. They were unquenchable. They were the eyes of God.
Perhaps that is what made the centurion say what he said. He saw the eyes of God, …the same eyes that had been seen by a near-naked adulteress in Jerusalem, a friendless divorcée in Samaria, and a four-day-dead Lazarus in a cemetery…
The centurion’s convictions began to flow together like rivers. “This was no carpenter,” he spoke under his breath. “This was no peasant. This was no normal man.”
He stood and looked around at the rocks that had fallen and the sky that had blackened. He turned and stared at the soldiers as they stared at Jesus with frozen faces. He turned and watched as the eyes of Jesus lifted and looked toward home. He listened as the parched lips parted and the swollen tongue spoke for the last time.
“Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.”
Had the centurion not said it, the soldiers would have. Had the centurion not said it, the rocks would have—as would have the angels, the stars, even the demons. But he did say it. It fell to a nameless foreigner to state what they all knew. “Surely this man was the Son of God.”
What started out as another ordinary day in the life of a Roman centurion became an extraordinary event as he encountered the one true Son of God. As if an unknown force was compelling him, he dropped to his knees and began praising this new-found God. In one moment, his life was forever changed. This battle hardened, merciless, callous soldier was suddenly on his knees in worship.
Floods of emotion began to come over him. Not only had he witnessed the death of the Son of God, he was the one who carried out the execution. He stood by and watched with satisfaction as his men flogged and beat and mocked this innocent man. He directed the soldiers to hammer the nails. He stood guard to ensure this man would die. He had just killed the Son of God!
We don’t know for sure what happened next, but I believe that this man’s life was forever changed as a result of that brief encounter with Jesus Christ. I believe that in his sudden fear and guilt, he experienced mercy and grace and love – something that he had never experienced before.
(Max Lucado, No Wonder They Call Him the Savior) “He never heard him preach or saw him heal or followed him through the crowds. He never witnessed him still the wind; he only witnessed the way he died. But that was all it took to cause this weather-worn soldier to take a giant step in faith.
So what can we learn from this encounter? What can we take home with us today?
Lessons Learned from the Centurion’s Encounter:
1. Experience the Passion of Christ.
The desertion, suffering, mock trial, the rejection, the pain, the torture, the mocking.
We’ve heard this countless times, so it’s easy to become as calloused as the centurion.
We must never treat those events as just another day.
The truth is, it wasn’t just the centurion who crucified Jesus. It was us.
He died because of our sin. We nailed him to the cross. We killed the Son of God.
As horrible as that day was, we must continually remember and experience the lengths God went to for our sake.
2. Expect the Unexpected.
We never know when God might “show up” in our lives.
Many of you could share experiences of unexpected encounters with Jesus.
•Unplanned opportunities to share Christ, finding peace/comfort in unexpected places, finding just the right Scripture/hearing just what you needed for the moment.
Any moment, any situation we find ourselves in is a potential encounter with Jesus.
We need to be ready, not only to experience His presence, but to respond according to His plan and will.
3. Accept His invitation.
It wasn’t enough for him to witness those events and acknowledge the Son of God.
•He needed to accept the invitation that God offered him – eternal life in Christ.
(MacArthur) The crucifixion dramatically proclaimed that His grace extends to every sinner, even to those who put him to death.
Maybe Jesus has been tugging at your heart.
•Maybe He’s been revealing Himself to you so that you would invite Him into your life.
•Maybe He’s telling you that you need to give Him every part of your life.
•Maybe He’s brought you here today for this very moment.
You didn’t expect it. You weren’t ready for it.
•But Jesus is inviting you to come and grow closer as His child.
•He’s already paid your price of admission with His blood.
4. Answer in worship.
The centurion couldn’t help but bow his knee and acknowledge Jesus is God.
In Lk. 23:47, it says he praised God.
We may never know when God surprises us with His powerful presence.
•But when He does, we need to be ready to respond in worship.
There have been times when I’ve sensed the powerful presence of God that it drove me to the floor in worship.
Let me ask you again – have you truly encountered and experienced Jesus Christ?
•Have you accepted His invitation?
•Have you experienced His powerful presence in your life?
•If not, you need to. You need to be ready. He could “show up” at any moment.
He may be trying to reveal Himself to you right now. How will you respond?
The Bottom Line: Expect to Experience Christ. Make every day an experience with Him!
Hymn 591 Have Thine Own Way, Lord
Sermon Outline and Power Point are available by emailing the author.