Summary: This sermon was preached on Easter 2002 as I was dressed in a Roman Centurion Soldier costume. I preached the sermon as the soldier that was an eyewitness to the events of the first Easter.
Easter Sunday 2002; Sermon delivered in Roman Centurion Costume
What a strange religion these followers of Jesus Christ profess. Giving their money to the poor, helping the rejected, believing a virgin can have a son, and that a man raised from the dead. That’s the impression we all have when we hear this story of Jesus.
I was born in a small village in Ittalia. I enjoyed all the benefits of Roman citizenship during my youth. As most young men, I joined the great Roman army after completing my studies under my schoolmaster.
I trained under the strictest military captains and traveled abroad enforcing the great “Pax Romana”. Rome has spread its strength, government, peace and prosperity throughout the Meditteranean world.
After a short tour of duty throughout the beautiful Greek Isles, I was assigned to the tumultuous troubled area of Palestine. I would command a band of 100 soldiers to bring order to this region. This group had resisted Roman rule, despite the temple that had been built for them. This assignment was rumored to be filled with violent uprisings and continual resistence and resentment from the Israelites.
The religion of this region was its most eccentric peculiarity. They believe in only one God, have no religious icons, and worship with strange ceremonies and rituals. The political power of this whole region is controlled by the religious leaders.
Just a few months earlier, the Jewish priests sent a group of our officers to arrest a “heretical treasonist”. I remember standing there for hours that seemed like minutes hearing this itinerant preacher say, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” I stood captivated by His words as I had before no caesar, philosopher, or orator before. He had long left while me and my soldiers remained dumbfounded. When we reported back to the priests, all we could say was “Never before have we heard a man speak like this.”
The religious leaders grew even more frustrated and jealous. It was past midnight and I was summoned to accompany the chief priest to arrest this poor Galilean preacher out in a dark, lonely garden. He was betrayed by one of his followers, and another of his followers cut off the ear of someone with the priests. Strange thing happened though. We asked which one was Jesus of Nazareth and when He said “I AM,” we trembled in horror and fell prostrate on our backs. Penned to the ground by His mighty words, I feared to rise and face this prophet. Was He God, or was He man? My soul was thrust in the crucible of convicting power and I did not know what to do. I pulled on every ounce of strength and courage within my being and rose to my feet. With fear I approached Him, and graciously He allowed me to take Him into custody.
The trial was held quickly and secretly. The leaders demanded his execution, but neither Pilate nor Herod wanted to be responsible. Finally, to appease the priests before their holiday, Pilate washed his hands of the whole matter and turned this innocent, kind, loving man over to be crucified. I oversaw the events that began to transpire.
First, Jesus was ridiculed. Because He was accused of treason, He was crowned with a thorny diadem. He was blindfolded, beaten, spat upon and His beard plucked from His face. Then He was beaten with the deadly, torturous whip called the “cat of nine tails.” The stripes from this whip lashed across His back and separated sinew from flesh, muscle from bone.
He was led up the hill to be crucified. And there worldly justice unraveled, this innocent man, wrongly accused, was being executed. How could this be? I had witnessed and partaken of many crucifixions. I remember my first, nearly a decade earlier. I executed a traitor to Rome who had attempted to poison his governor. It was difficult to drive spikes through a man’s wrist as he screamed in pain and writhed like a serpent. The horror of those nightmare had long grown cold. I had now moved up in rank and crucifixions were not usually done by my hands.
The roar of the crowd, its wild jeering and mockery, the shuffling on the cobblestone streets of Jerusalem, the weeping ladies, the midnight blackness during the noonday hour, and the splattered blood all along the road are all vivid memories that I cannot shake.
Gambling. I must confess that I have become quite engrossed in gaming to pass the time. Whatever few possessions from the criminal we could take, became to the loot for us to gamble over during the hours of execution. That day, there was only one purple robe from the Galilean. And through the luck of the dice, I inherited an ever-haunting memory of that day.