A centurion’s perspective of the cross
I am Scipio, a centurion in the Roman army, a veteran of many wars. After all my experience, sacrifices for Rome, and rank in the army, I found myself stationed in Judea, a backward post.
I had much preferred something closer to home in the countryside near Rome. The Jewish population here hates me, or maybe I should say they hate Roman occupation. We are on constant alert to the possibility of riots and threats from Jewish insurrectionists.
It was only two weeks ago that I missed being knifed by an angry zealot named Barabbas. He was later charged in another incident with murder. It was stunning to learn that he had been released by Pilate in response to an angry Jewish mob clamoring for the death of a man named Jesus. Some said that this Jesus was Israel’s Messiah.
How ironic. I was standing guard when we were called upon to crucify Jesus instead of Barabbas. Crucifixions are always messy, but I had a job to do and I did it. This, however, became no ordinary crucifixion.
As Jesus was hanging on the cross, He uttered words that at first puzzled me. I began to understand some of the extraordinary claims He had made for Himself, that He was the Son of God, Israel’s Messiah who had come to take away the sins of the world.
I must confess I had lived for many years believing in Mithra, as did many of my fellow soldiers. Mithra is the sun-god.
We believed that Mithra had slain a sacred bull proving his strength. He then ascended to heaven where he continued to battle with evil. I vividly remember having my hands bound and passing through life-threatening flames of fire to prove my strength. It was exhilarating and gave opportunity to achieve a higher rank among the followers of Mithra. I had passed through death itself to emerge stronger in my faith and courage.
But this was all before that afternoon outside the walls of Jerusalem on a hill of execution called Golgotha. Please let me hurry to recount what changed my life.
While this Jesus was dying on the cross suddenly the sun was covered by a heavy darkness. Where was Mithra? The ground shook beneath our feet as an earthquake reverberated through Jerusalem. In all our vicious battles, we had never experienced anything like this.
Above the clamor of the crowd, I heard the one called “the King of the Jews” cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
What was this? My life flashed before my eyes. I was terrified. The God of heaven was pouring out wrath. What had we done?
In an instant the little knowledge that I had about this alleged criminal came together in my mind. I had been worshiping a god who did not exist. The man hanging on that cross was the “Son of God.”
I understood. His humility, His self-control, and the words He uttered on the cross resonated authenticity.
He had prayed that His enemies would be forgiven. With my own ears I heard Him promise one of the criminals being executed next to Him that he would be with Him in Paradise that very day.
Why, He even had given up His own spirit. It was as if He were offering up Himself as a sacrifice.
I had seen many men die, but never anyone like this. It mattered little who heard me. “This man is innocent.”
He was not dying for any wrong He had committed. He was not only Israel’s Messiah. He was dying for my sins.
I can tell you right now. I believed in Him at that moment, even as the thief beside Him had earlier done so. I had more to learn about this Jesus, but that was the turning point.
I began telling my fellow soldiers about this Savior. I realized how I had been deceived by all the ritual and beliefs about “Mythras” and the sacred bull.
We were told that the bull’s blood was life-giving. It was a lie. I had found the one true life-giving sacrifice for my sins. It was this Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, who died in my place who alone could give me the forgiveness of sin and eternal life.
Three days later it was all confirmed to me. The guard detail at the tomb of Jesus had been given filthy blood-money to spread the rumor that Jesus’ disciples had come during the night and stolen His body. I knew better. It was a flimsy cover-up, an attempt to hide the reality. The “Son of God” was risen from the dead.
I, Scipio, a centurion in the Roman army, appeal to you. “Truly this was the Son of God.” Turn from your false gods and come to the only one who can be your Savior from God’s eternal wrath.
Dr. Howard E. Dial, pastor
Berachah Bible Church (www.berachahbiblechurch.org)
[The church is at 310 Corinth Road east of Fayetteville in Fayette County.]