Wonder of the Cross

Roman Centurion at The Cross

One of the prime propellers of success of Roman Empire was it’s well organized and disciplined military power. Soldiers were posted in every nook and corner of the country to ensure absolute security. Legion was the highest unit of the army (Mark.5:9). It consisted of 6000 to 10,000 soldiers and was further divided into six; around thousand each. The Officer in charge of such a unit of thousand was called as chili-arch or chief Captain (Acts.21:37). A chili arch or Chief Captain was in charge of 600 to 1000 soldiers and this unit was called Cohort or Band. When Pilate delivered Jesus Christ to be crucified, the whole Band or Cohort’s soldiers came (Mat.27:27).Like wild dogs six hundred soldiers surrounded the most innocent man ever walked on the surface of the earth. That was the fulfillment of Psalm. 22:16. “For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me”. As it coincided with Jewish festival season, additional army men were probably reinforced in Jerusalem. Our Saviour stood like a lamb in the midst of wild beasts. We see him like a ram caught in a thicket by its horns.(Gen.22:13). Bands were named after a place or a person. For instance, Cornelius the centurion was belonging to Italian band (Acts.10:1). Julius was belonging to Augustus band(Act.27:1).One band or Cohort was further divided into six centuries, each comprising of around 100 soldiers. Centurion had liberty to exercise power and authority bestowed upon him by the Roman Government. (Mat.8:8-9;Lk.7:1:-10). One century was further divided into ten sub units each comprising of eight to ten soldiers.

Centurions mentioned in New Testament

Generally centurions were supposed to be tough and arrogant, but most of the centurions mentioned in the New Testament have been generous and God fearing. The centurion in the city of Capernaum was a God fearing man. He loved the Jewish people and constructed a synagogue for them (Luke.7:5). He was concerned for the health of his servant and sought healing from the Lord (Mat.8:1-10). Cornelius of Italian band was another God fearing centurion mentioned in the New Testament (Acts 10:1-4). It was under the custody of Julius, a centurion of Augustus’ band Paul was taken to Rome. It is mentioned that Julius courteously treated Paul and gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself. (Acts.27:3). The chief Captain and the centurions who arrested Paul at Jerusalem were also courteous to him (Acts 22:24-29; 23:17-24).

Soldiers and John the Baptist

John the Baptist the fore runner of Christ was a fiery preacher and a revivalist. His messages about Messiah and the Kingdom of God caused great impact on all strata of society. Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, tax collectors even soldiers were moved by his sermons. He exhorted them, “kingdom of God is at hand and bring forth fruits befitting repentance” (Mat.3:7-8). When soldiers likewise came to John the Baptist seeking his counsel and asking, “what shall we do?”. John the Baptist instructed them three things

  1. Do violence to no man
  2. Do not make any false accusation and
  3. Be content with your wages.

They violated all these three things And they never really repented. When Messiah came they treated him violently; he was the most innocent victim (Mat.27:27). They made false accusation against the disciples. “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we slept””this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day” (Mat.28:13,15). Even after two thousand years, Jews believe this concocted lie spoken by soldiers(of course tutored by chief priests). Biggest lie in the human history in return for the bribe they received! (Mat.28:12-15). Moreover, they parted his raiment among them, and for his vesture they did cast lots. “These things, therefore the soldiers did.” (John.19:24). They were not satisfied with their salary.

Roman Crucifixion

Available information indicates that Roman crucifixion was a form of punishment carried out as a deterrent to criminals. Authorities generally chose places close to highways/crossroads for crucifixion so that all travelling by can see and receive shocks that remain as lasting warnings and send shivers down the spine. The name of the condemned got posted for all passers by to read. A board covered in gypsum and inscribed with black letters called “titilus” was posted above the cross. In the case of our Lord ‘titilus’ was written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. (Mat.27:37,39; John.19:19-20) Crucifixion was a Roman form of capital punishment, reserved for criminals. And it served as a ghastly warning to all those who did not have the Roman citizenship. The entire process of crucifixion was executed under the supervision of a well trained centurion. The centurion orders his soldiers to clear a semi- circle near the place where the cross had to be planted. Soldiers would then bind and nail the victim on to the cross and carry out everything with precision. Finally at the centurion’s orders the cross was lowered into deep hole already dug in the rock.

The execution on the cross was a symbol of Roman sun worship. They considered the victim on the cross as a sacrifice to sun god. They carried out the crucifixion before noon. At the noon time when sun shines with its full strength they prayed somewhat like this, ” we cannot have mercy on this criminal, oh sun god we commit his soul to you”.

Centurion at the Cross

All three synoptic Gospel writers mention reaction of the centurion after crucifixion of Lord (Mat. 27:54; Mk. 15:39;
Lk. 23:47). John refers to what soldiers did to Jesus. Matthew summarizes centurion’s reaction as” the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.” Mark noted that the centurion was standing face to face with Jesus. “The centurion…. stood facing him”; he heard him committing his spirit to the father and an eye witness to his death.

Following are the highlights of his actions and utterance.

  1. Centurion saw his death, it was unusual. He saw him giving up His spirit willingly. Mk.15:39
  2. As a Centurion he need not fear anything, but the events associated with the death of Christ brought fear in him; the fear of God. He saw in the noontime sun became darkened, followed by earthquake and rocks started cracking. He was musing on the utterances of Christ. First and the last utterances challenged him most.
  3. He acknowledged His innocence. “Certainly this was a righteous man” Luke 23:47. It was a reminiscence of Pilate’s judgment; “I find no fault in this man” and repeated three times (Lk.23:4,14,22).
  4. He recognized him as the son of God and did not hide this fact in his heart but declared publicly. As a person under Roman authority, he knew the consequences of such a public statement. This shows his real conviction.
  5. “When the centurion saw what was done, he Glorified God” Luke 23:47. This Roman centurion was the first one to glorify God by looking at the cross. What made him to glorify God? Probably the first utterance of Christ on the cross might have caused him to glorify God. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”. He realised that he too was included in that prayer as the one who did it ignorantly.
  6. As it was a festival day Jewish authorities sought special permission from Pilate to break the legs in order to hasten the death. They have to dispose of the bodies before that evening. In all probability, it was this centurion who prevented the breaking of legs of Jesus Christ. He heard his last prayer, “father, unto thy hands I commend my spirit” Luke23:46. Yet one of the soldiers in his arrogance pierced His side with a spear. Blood and water came out from his side; further confirming His death. (John.19:31-34)
  7. Joseph of Arimathae sought permission to get the body of Christ, in order to bury Him. Pilate received the news of the death of Christ with a great astonishment and so he got it ascertained with the centurion. It was this centurion who issued the death certificate of Jesus Christ.(John.19:38; Mk.15:44-45)

In the last three series of articles we could see how the cross impacts the whole humanity. Words of Christ fulfilled on the day of crucifixion. ” if I be lifted up from earth, will draw all men unto me” (John.12:32). A poor man, Simon of Cyrene a descendent of Ham got saved on that day. A perverted man(thief), descendent of Shem got touched by the love of Christ. Finally a powerful man, a descendent of Japheth was moved by the prayers of the dying Savior and acknowledged Him as the son of God and an innocent man.

Dear reader, what about you? Are you touched by the Love of Christ? God so loved the world and sent His only begotten son so that you might be saved. Look at Him and listen as He calls you softly and tenderly.

Look , Look , Look and Live
There is life for a look
At the crucified one
There is life at this moment for you!

WONDER OF THE CROSS – 3
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