Rigid and silent, the centurion endured the merciless sun which bore down on the crowd and the crosses at Golgotha. From two of the three crosses, screams of pain, groans, curses persisted with unvarying monotony.
The centurion, after long years of duty, had become hardened to the pleas of tortured men.
Today, however, he was shaken by the silence of the Man on the middle cross.
From His lips: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
At the foot of the middle cross, the centurion listened, watched, wondered.
He had heard of this Christ, whose fame had spread throughout the regions of Galilee. He knew the stories of Jesus’ healing twisted bodies, restoring twisted minds, even raising the dead.
Surely these were not reasons to crucify Him.
But He had claimed to be the Son of God, and the Jews were outraged. He had been tried as a blasphemer.
The centurion shuddered at the trial—the mockery it had been. As a Roman soldier, he could never voice his objections. But his heart was in turmoil at the injustice of this death. He was convinced Christ had done no wrong.
The centurion inched closer to the cross. Should he speak to Him? Just a word—only to tell Him he was aware of the injustice of this treatment. Not now…the officers, rulers, even the common people would question a Roman soldier’s speaking kindly to One being crucified like a common thief. Besides, the women and a few men called out words of consolation, but their pitiful cries seemed of little comfort. And they were forced to stand so far away.
The centurion kept his eyes fixed on the Savior’s face. All he could see was love, kindness, compassion. It he could only tell Him he felt this was all so wrong. He reached out to touch the Savior’s nail-pierced feet.
He whispered, “Master.”
Nobody heard—except the One Who knew the thoughts and intents of all men’s hearts. The Savior looked down at one He was dying to redeem. In His eyes was the same look of love the centurion had wondered at.
That love was now directed to him and he knew. He knew Christ was more than a man, and the reason for His death was not what the Roman government and Jewish leaders had expounded at the trial.
The crowd, however, knew nothing of why Christ was dying. They were only eager for His death to be final so they could be on their way. As the sky grew darker, the air was heavy with the odor of bodies pressed together and the pungent smell of the vinegar kept near the crosses to offer the dying.
Suddenly, a drunken Roman pushed through the onlookers and staggered toward the cross.
“If you are the Son of God, save yourself.”
The centurion shoved him back. Other soldiers rallied to the skirmish and guided the man back to the crowd. The centurion rushed after him, eager to lash out, to shout to the crowd, ‘Can’t you see? This Jesus is Who He says He is. He is the—’
Another officer stopped him short and pulled him back to the cross. “Easy, man, the fellow was only having a little fun. The people are always rowdy. They like the bloodshed.”
The centurion shook himself loose and faced the officer. “Don’t you see it either? This man is who he says he is. He is the—”
The earth rumbled, darkness encroached, and the frightened onlookers stumbled and fell over themselves in their rush for safety.
Resolute, the centurion was still standing near the cross, when Jesus cried with a loud voice. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
And when the centurion saw that he cried out and gave up the ghost, he said:
“Truly this man was the Son of God.”
It gave me chills. I can almost see it for myself.