The crowd around the cross was filled with people of raw emotion. Some hated the man named Jesus and were thrilled to see Him dead. Others were loyal to Him and mourned the death of their Leader. However, one man who stood by the cross felt absolutely nothing for the One they called Jesus.
To him, this crucifixion was just another day on the job. As a Roman centurion, he was immune to the screams of pain, the cursing, and the wailing around a cross. After all, the people on the cross where just men. What else could be expected? However, the centurion couldn’t help but notice that this time was different. It had been different since it started early that morning.
His day started out as it normally did. He fell into ranks with the rest of the soldiers. He had a dangerous job, for the Israelites in the region hated him and the rest of his Roman soldiers. They felt they were above serving the Roman government. Uprisings and revolts where common occurrences to him. However, he and his men squelched them by force each time. The Israelites always ended up cowering to the skilled Roman army. What else could they do? They were just men.
He was looking forward to a day of peace since the Jews were busy with their religious festival. “They would be too busy to cause any trouble today”, he thought. He was wrong.
His commanders summoned him and his men to take charge of a Jewish prisoner named Jesus. The centurion had heard stories about this Man. Some believed Him to be the Savior for which the Jews were waiting. “Since the Jewish leaders are the ones placing Him under arrest, He must not be their Messiah. He will rue the day He is turned over to us. We’ll break Him. After all, He is just a man,” the Centurion thought to himself.
At that moment, his thoughts were interrupted by a question from one of his men. “Can we divide up the prisoners clothes? He won’t be needing them anymore?”
“Go ahead,” said the centurion. “You men deserve it.”
As his men began to divide up Jesus’ garments, the centurion thought back to a few hours ago when they took Jesus to Herod. Jesus had refused to answer any of Herod’s questions. Even after he and his men beat Him with their fists, He refused. He found this behavior strange. Most men would have taken the opportunity to curse Herod up and down, but Jesus didn’t utter a word.
“He’s a tough guy alright, but we’ll make Him speak when we flog Him,” thought the centurion. “After all, He is just a man.”
The centurion and his men took Jesus and tied Him to a post. They stripped his back bare and beat Him mercilessly with the scourge. Each time the whip hit Jesus’ back, the pieces of glass and bone weaved into the end would dig into His skin. When they pulled it back, the skin would tear away, causing extreme pain. The centurion thought this would make Jesus curse him and all his men. Any normal man would have. However, Jesus didn’t.
The centurion ordered Jesus to grab His cross and started walking toward the place of crucifixion. He watched as Jesus struggled to carry the heavy beam. Halfway there, Jesus’ legs buckled under the weight of the cross. He couldn’t carry it any further. The centurion grabbed a man from the crowd and ordered him to carry it. As they began to proceed forward, the centurion thought to himself, “He really is just a man. He couldn’t carry it on His own.”
His thoughts were interrupted by a commotion around the cross. His soldiers were taunting Jesus. They were joined by the Jewish religious leaders. Even the men next to Jesus on the cross began hurling insults at Him. The centurion chuckled to himself as he listened to his men. His laughter stopped as soon as Jesus said “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”
He was stunned. He had been at many crucifixions before, but he never heard anything like this. Most men curse him and his men. He never heard words of forgiveness. Who was this Man they had crucified? In the midst of His torture and pain, He spoke words of forgiveness. The centurion had never witnessed anything like this before. Who was He? Was He really just another man?
His thoughts were interrupted by more words from Jesus. “My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
“Well, He really is human. He is finally questioning His God,” he thought. However, this sentiment was short lived. He noticed Jesus talking to the thief next to Him on the cross. Jesus was comforting the man. He told him that they would live together forever. “What kind of a man cares about the guy next to Him at a time like this?” he thought. “That guy was taunting Him and cursing Him only an hour ago.”
At that moment, Jesus struggled to catch His breath. “It…is…fin..ished!” He proclaimed in a strong, powerful voice. At that moment, Jesus closed His eyes and died. The centurion looked up at Him. Seeing He was dead, he couldn’t help but think, “Was He really just a man?”
He felt it was a question he would have to always wonder. But would he?
The Roman centurion was standing below the cross. Jesus had just breathed His last breathe. He was dead. For the past few minutes he had been contemplating Who he thought Jesus really was. Was He just a man, or was there more to it?
No man had ever endured what Jesus endured in the way Jesus endured it. He never cursed them, never threatened them, and never even gave them a dirty look. Instead, He showed compassion, forgiveness, and love.
“Could a normal man really show such restraint?” He didn’t have long to think these thoughts, for as soon as Jesus died, the earth gave him his answer.
The moment Jesus screamed “It is Finished” and closed His eyes for the last time, the earth began to shake. A massive earthquake rocked the very hill on which the centurion stood. As He struggled to steady himself against the violent rocking of the earth’s crust, someone yelled, “The graves have shaken open!” He twisted his head to see the bodies of the dead walking out of their graves! He stood in fear and awe as he watched the dead come to life. He was frozen in time until screams from the temple shocked him into reality.
“The curtain between the Holy of Holies is destroyed! It ripped right down the middle!” he heard someone scream.
His eyes shot up to Jesus limp body as it hung on the cross. “What kind of a man was He?” he thought. “He forgives His attackers, He consoles those next to Him on the cross, and He never said a mean or vile word against me or my men. No one has ever screamed out with the strength and passion He had after the beating He took. Now earthquakes, thunder, and dead people coming to life! He really wasn’t a normal man. He must be Who He claimed to be!”
His thoughts were interrupted by the voice of one of his men. “What is going on? Who is this man?” he asked.
The centurion gave the answer that would ring true for all of eternity. “He was a righteous man. Truly, He is the Son of God.”
The centurion had reached the only conceivable conclusion. Jesus was not an average man. He was not a crazed lunatic or a rebellious traitor. He was the incarnate, sinless Son of God. His conclusion was proven out three days later when his men came and told him more about this Jesus.
“Sir, we were standing guard just as we were ordered. All of a sudden the earth began to shake, just like the other day. The seal on the tomb was broken and the stone rolled away. Then Jesus walked out of the tomb! He is alive! The Innocent Man we killed rose from the dead! You were right! He really is the Son of God!”
The centurion was stunned by the story. He now knew what he had come to believe was true. Jesus wasn’t just a man. He was the Son of God. He had to find out more. That is exactly what he did.
The man responsible for carrying out the beatings and murder of Jesus turned out to be the first person to become a follower of Jesus after His resurrection. He knew he could be forgiven for what He did to Jesus.
Jesus was right. He was a hardened soldier who had no clue what he was doing. He was simply following orders. However, the events of the cross softened his hard heart. He saw that the Man he nailed to the tree was not a traitor to the king. He was the King of Kings, and He alone deserved to be honored, praised and served. He accepted the forgiveness offered to him by Jesus and become the first of many people to realize that Jesus was God in the flesh. He deserves our loyalty, honor, praise, and allegiance.
Jesus is more than just a Man. For all of eternity, He is the risen Son of God. He conquered death and the grave. He demonstrated the ultimate example of love on the cross. This love not only softened the heart of a hardened Roman Centurion, but it continues to soften the hearts of people today. This can only be possible because Jesus was not just a man. Truly, He is and always will be the Son of God!