The Roman Centurion at the Cross: Same Job, Different Day…

A Roman centurion who saw the crucifixion at very close range was in prime position to be an eyewitness to Jesus’ final hours. So, there’s this: “Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54 NASB)

A Different Point of View

This is one of the most unsolicited and surprising eyewitness testimonies about Jesus. Take a look at the one who spoke. A typical Roman centurion 1) was not Jewish. He didn’t know about any of the ancient prophecies and certainly wasn’t looking for a deliverer from Rome. 2) He was probably accustomed to crucifixion as part of his job, so he should have been harder to impress by any run-of-the-mill Crucifixion. 3) Was a military commander based on merit, so they usually rose through the ranks and were experienced, competent men. 4) Had usually been on campaigns (and was probably here) far away from home. As a result, his level of worldly understanding was probably greater than the average villager’s.

This centurion had probably not personally seen Jesus’ miracles or heard him teach. (Why would he? He had been doing his job occupying Judea, not following Rabbis around…) In all likelihood the only exposure he ever had to the Son of God was as a battered, humiliated criminal who was facing his last hours on earth.

Not the Same Old, Same Old…

He was not steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures or looking for a Messiah, and of all the people Jesus encountered he perhaps would have known the least about Jesus’ background, reputation, and wisdom. It just wasn’t in a Centurion’s job description to know. He never sat in the temple courts and listened to this Rabbi, and he never saw him turn water into wine or calm the wind and the waves…

It’s likely, though, that while doing his job he HAD seen other crucifixions. They were messy, drawn-out, boring events with the same inevitable outcome… The soldiers were so bored with death that they whiled away the time gambling for the criminals’ meager possessions. Yet somehow THIS crucifixion was different. This crucifixion challenged the centurion’s view of the world. It made him look at Jesus differently as well. It may have been the earthquake and the upheaval surrounding Jesus’ death that changed his perspective, but I think it was more than that.

centurion

A New Beginning

Perhaps it was the dignity that Christ carried with him to the cross; perhaps it was the things Jesus said to the criminals who were being crucified alongside him. Or, maybe it was the fact that he said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Perhaps it was merely the look in Jesus’ eyes that challenged and convicted third-party observers to see him as more than a convict getting his just reward…

Whatever it was, the Roman centurion watched Jesus die. It was perhaps their only encounter. He went from seeing Jesus as a common Jewish criminal to seeing him as the Son of God. Pause and reflect on those days in Jerusalem. Think about all the different observers of the events surrounding Jesus’ death. Consider all of the different players that participated in the crucifixion. There was no way to know it was an event that signaled the end of an empire, and the beginning of a kingdom.

There were Roman leaders, soldiers, Pharisees, curiosity-seekers and followers who watched Jesus die. Surely, as they reflected later on the punishment of this rabbi from Galilee, it was something they remembered the rest of their days. It was a sea change, a significant turning point. They looked back at the cross and remembered his composure and his countenance. When you look back at the crucifixion, what do you see?

The Centurion’s Job

The Roman soldier watched the prisoners die;
This was just a job he had to do.
He listened and he heard a prisoner cry,
“Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
He turned to look at Jesus as he died,
And saw forgiveness written on his face;
He knew he’d never be the same inside,
Since he encountered Jesus face to face…

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For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Will There Be Criminals in the Kingdom?

Jesus of Nazareth was crucified between two criminals. They were two different men with different attitudes, and two different outcomes. Their story, however, leads me to one conclusion. Someday, there will be Criminals in the Kingdom of God.

criminals

Men Suffering From the Same Condition

“One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him. He said, “Are You not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God? You are under the same sentence of condemnation! And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds. But this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43, NASB)

This is another snapshot of an eyewitness report about Jesus, from another unlikely place. After he was unjustly tried and condemned, Jesus was taken to Golgotha. There he was crucified between two other men. They were both criminals who apparently had qualified for capital punishment. (Matthew calls them “robbers” but since theft did not warrant such a severe penalty, scholars say they must have been insurrectionists or repeat offenders. Luke calls them “criminals”.)

Two Criminals, Two Approaches

One of them taunted Jesus skeptically and challenged him to save them from crucifixion. The other observed his behavior and declared that Jesus was guiltless. Three crosses: one man in the middle, two opposite opinions on either side. It’s a telling reminder that two people can see the exact same thing and disagree about what it means. One criminal looked at Jesus and exercised skepticism, demanding proof and instant gratification. “Save yourself and us!” He saw opportunity to make a getaway, but that was it. He was in effect demanding that God approach him on his own terms.

The other criminal was also hanging on a cross, and was in the same condition as the skeptic. He didn’t have long to live, and here he was being crucified next to the “King of the Jews”. However, he somehow exercised faith. He saw Jesus as he truly was, able to wield authority. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!” He never read Hebrews 11:6, but he applied it anyway. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

Hmmm… I wonder where those two guys are today. Come to think of it, where are YOU are today? Are you skeptical? Do you need instant gratification? Do you sometimes look at how difficult your circumstances are and shake your fist at God? Or do you say, “Lord, remember me”? No matter how tough things get, don’t lose faith. The King established his kingdom, and he has promised us a place in it. Therefore, remember Hebrews 10:23: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” As one hopeful criminal to another, I’ll see you in the Kingdom someday!

Criminals in the Kingdom

When Christ was being crucified,
There were two thieves on either side.
One mocked him, but the other cried,
“Remember me in Paradise!”
Jesus heard his dying plea
While paying for his penalty,
And told him, “Son, you soon will be
In paradise today with me.”
If into heaven he was let–
A sinful man with much regret–
Because the King forgave his debt,
Then perhaps we’ll make it to heaven yet!
The only way to heaven is to bring
Our sin before the gracious, loving King.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread