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Christ and the Cross
From A Centurion's Perspective
Arrival In Jerusalem
Were you there? I was there. I'm a Roman centurion, a military officer
in charge of 100 soldiers. I have more pride than a pilot of an F-16,
A-10, and U2 combined. I'm a soldier's soldier. You talk about your men
and women of the ASOG or the "Jolly Greens" of the Rescue Squadron. Mmph!
I'm a soldier's soldier. Deployed for one week in the Middle East, in
Jerusalem. I didn't want to be. But the Jews were having a special
holiday, Passover, and Rome thought there might be trouble because of
the crowds and because of a certain man and His followers, one Jesus of
Nazareth. I had heard of this man. A friend of mine, another centurion,
told me how his servant was miraculously healed by Him. I was curious.
But I was also in no mood for these people's religion. I didn't want to
be there, and I didn't want trouble. We were peacekeepers. I arrived on
Saturday, the Sabbath. Everything was quiet. I went to bed with the
pleasant thought that one more week and I would be gone.
The Triumphal Entry
Sunday morning came quickly. I decided to explore the town, talk to
people, see if there was any trouble floating around. Sitting in a
downtown Jerusalem café, all of the sudden I noticed people running down
the street. Then someone came in and yelled, "He's coming. He's coming."
Everyone ran out, and so I followed. We ran to the east side of
Jerusalem, toward the Mount of Olives, which rose 200 feet higher than
the city. And there, coming down the path was a man on a donkey, a
symbol of humility, peace, and royalty. The people were throwing their
cloaks on the road, an act of royal homage. The man even sat on some
cloaks. And the crowds were yelling, "Hosanna! Hosanna!" which means,
"Save now, O Lord." The people were waving palm branches, used in
celebrations of victory.
I asked, "Who is that man? What is His name?" and some little boy next
to me cried out, "Why it's Jesus! It is Jesus!" And as he said that
name, I looked up again to the Mount, the name still ringing in my ears,
and I could have sworn, in that brief moment, this man whom I had heard
so much about was looking right at me, as if He looked straight into my
heart, as if He had known me since all of eternity, as if He knew that
over the next few days, my life would be changed forever.
I noticed the Jewish leaders were upset at this triumphal entrance.
"Rebuke your disciples!" they commanded Jesus, because the people were
calling Him king and lord. And Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, if
they keep quiet, these very stones will cry out."
But then something strange occurred. This man, this king, started
weeping. I was curious. What type of man enters as a king and yet is
found to be weeping? I moved closer toward Him. He was looking over the
city of Jerusalem when I heard Him say, "If only you had known this day
what would bring you peace." My heart lunged toward Him. "I want peace.
Can you give me peace?" I wondered silently.
The Cleansing Of The Temple
Monday morning came quickly. I awoke to a shout. "Centurion, wake up!
We have trouble in the temple!" I ran. And there He was, the weeping
King, overturning tables of buyers and sellers in the Court of the
Gentiles. "My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations!"
He cried as he drove the merchants out. I wasn't much of a praying man,
but it did make me angry that the Jews made the only place we Gentiles
were allowed into a noisy, smelly marketplace. People were driving their
flocks through because it was a shortcut to the Mount of Olives. I would
have stopped Him, but I agreed with Him. In the commotion, as I was
trying to prevent a riot, I turned back toward Him, and He looked right
at me, as if to say, "I cleared this for you." This Jesus was winning my
People brought the blind and the lame to Him, and He healed them.
Before I thought He was just a man, but now, as I watched people who
never walked, walk, and who couldn't see, see, I knew there was
something more to Him.
The children in the temple were praising Him as He did these miracles.
"Hosanna to the Son of David." The priests and scribes rebuked Him, and
Jesus replied, "Haven't you heard, from out of the mouths of babes and
infants, You have ordained praise." I asked someone next to me why that
saying so upset the Jewish leaders, and someone said, "He is quoting
Psalm 8 where God ordains worship for Himself from the lips of children,
and now Jesus is claiming that prerogative, that He is God."
"He is God!? He is God!?"
And then I heard the chief priests and teachers whispering, "We have to
That got my attention. Now I had a reason for being here in Jerusalem.
Tuesday passed quickly and peaceable. I kept an eye on the Jewish
leaders and on Jesus. They questioned His authority as He taught in the
temple. One of His teachings caught my ear because it involved my boss,
Caesar. The Pharisees asked Him, "Teacher, is it right to pay taxes to
Caesar or not?" If He said yes, He upset the people. If He said no, He
upset me. I would have to act. What would He do? What would He say? He
took a coin and asked whose inscription was upon it. Someone answered,
"Caesar's." "Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is
God's." Everyone was amazed, including myself. He taught with such
authority and truth. He taught about loving God and loving neighbor. I
wanted to stay and listen all day, but I had a job to do.
On Wednesday, my job paid off. I saw one of His own disciples, one
named Judas Iscariot, going to the chief priests and officers of the
temple guard. I moved in close enough to hear their conversation. Judas
was discussing ways how he might be able to betray Jesus, how he might
hand Jesus over to them, perhaps when Jesus was alone and the people
were not around so as not to cause a riot. They gave him thirty silver
coins. I wrote on my scroll, "Keep an eye on Judas."
Thursday evening came. I heard Jesus and His disciples were eating in
an upper room of a certain house, so I posted guard. Late into the
evening, I saw the one called Judas running out of the house, looking
half crazed, almost demon possessed. I followed him. He went to the
chief priests and the elders. I overheard him saying, "Jesus will be in
the Garden of Gethsemane this evening praying. No one will be around
except for His disciples, and they will probably be sleeping. Now is the
perfect time to capture Him."
They began working on forming a lynch mob. I used the time to run
ahead, to warn Him, not so much because I liked Him, that I had bought
wholeheartedly into His message, but because I had a duty to uphold the
peace. If something happened to Him now, the people, the city, might
riot. But deep in my heart I knew the latter reason was not the real
reason. I ran to the Garden because I did like Him, because something
was pulling my heart toward Him.
And there He was, kneeling, by Himself, in prayer. He couldn't see me.
I was behind some bushes, watching. As I moved closer, I could have
sworn, but no, it must have been the lighting, but I could have sworn,
He was sweating blood. I was awestruck, paralyzed by the sight. And
then, I knew I shouldn't have had that second glass of wine, but I
thought I saw an angel. I had heard about them, but never believed in
them, but there it was, strengthening this man who was in so much pain,
anguish, agony. Moving closer, I stepped on a twig. It snapped. I looked
down and cursed. Looking back up, the angel had disappeared. And now,
eye to eye, Jesus was looking at me. I wanted to run out to Him, to help
Him, to tell Him what was about to happen. But I couldn't move. It
seemed as if eternity had passed, as if we were staring at each other
forever, as if He were looking right into my soul, knowing everything
about me. The grief on His face, the sorrow, and yet love, mixed into
one face, and then the words within my head, "Stay where you are. Don't
worry. I'm in control. This is something I must do!" I was mesmerized.
And then I heard voices, a mob. I snapped to as I saw Judas approaching
with a detachment of soldiers and a large crowd, including officials,
carrying torches, lanterns, swords, and clubs. They stayed their
distance as Judas went ahead into the Garden, right up to Jesus, and
kissed Him. And then they moved.
Jesus approached them and asked, "Who is it that you want?" And they
answered, "Jesus of Nazareth." "I am He," Jesus replied and with such
authority and power that the mob drew back and fell to the ground. I
thought, "What fools. They are playing right into His hands. Jesus was
in full control of the situation." What was His game?" I wondered.
One of Jesus' disciples, a rash sort of man, cut off one of the men's
ears. And what happened next astounded me. "Put your sword back in its
place," Jesus stated, "for all who draw the sword will die by the
sword." Those words pierced my heart. For I lived by the sword. And then
Jesus took the ear, put it back in place, and healed him.
They took Jesus to Annas, who used to be the high priest in Jerusalem.
We Romans deposed him in AD 15, but the Jews still looked to him for
spiritual guidance. Annas questioned Jesus, and Jesus replied, "I was
always in the temple or synagogues. Ask the Jews your questions about
me." At which point one of the officials struck Him in the face. "Is
this how you answer the high priest." And then they took Him, still
bound, to Caiaphas, the high priest at the time.
Caiaphas commanded Jesus, "I charge you under the oath of the living
God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." Jesus replied, "I
am." And then it got crazy. Caiaphas yelled, "Blasphemy!" and tore his
clothes. They began spitting on Jesus and struck Him with their fists.
The soldiers guarding Him blindfolded Him and slapped Him, mocking,
"Prophecy to us Christ. Who hit you?" And they beat Him.
Thursday night was quickly becoming Friday morning. The dawn was
beginning to break. They were taking Jesus from Caiaphas' to a meeting
of the Sadducees and Pharisees and teachers of the law called the
Sanhedrin. As they were crossing the courtyard, Jesus being shoved and
spat upon, a rooster crowed. And time stopped for that moment as Jesus
turned His head and stared at one of His disciples, the same one who had
cut off the man's ear in the Garden, and I didn't understand, but there
was such sorrow and disappointment and yet love in Jesus' eyes as He
looked straight into His disciple's eyes. "What happened?" I wondered.
The disciple ran out quickly, weeping.
To The Sanhedrin
The Jewish high priest and the leaders, called the Sanhedrin, on Friday
morning, all assembled, asked Jesus one more time, "Are you the Son of
God?" and He replied, "You rightly say that I am." And they sent Him off
to Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea.
You see, the Jews had no power to put anyone to death. Only the Roman
government could do that. So they sent Him to Pilate hoping for such a
sentencing. What a sight. This innocent man, being led by all the Jewish
religious leaders, right up to Pilate's front door.
It was chaos. The Jews were yelling. Pilate was trying to figure out
what was the problem. I was there to protect Pilate, a Roman government
official. I heard Pilate ask, "Are you the king of the Jews?" Jesus
replied, "It is as you say." "I find no charge against this man," Pilate
later said, which drove the Jews crazy. "He stirs up trouble by His
teaching, from Galilee all the way to here." On hearing Jesus was from
Galilee, he sent Him down the street to Herod Antipas who was the Jewish
governor of Galilee at the time, visiting Jerusalem for the Passover
feast. "Better to pass this one off," Pilate reasoned. "TGIF."
On the way to Herod's, I heard people talking. "The one name Judas has
hung himself." The situation was beginning to get out of hand. When we
arrived at Herod's, he asked Jesus lots of questions. Jesus answered
none of them. Completely silent. I thought to myself, "Say something.
Defend yourself." The Jewish leaders were there mocking Him. Herod and
his men of war ridiculed and mocked Him, dressing Him with a purple robe
and then sent Him back to Pilate, hoping for a death penalty.
Back To Pilate
Pilate told them, "I can find no charge against Him and neither could
Herod." He asked the crowds, "What do you want me to do with Him?" and
they replied, "Crucify Him!" "For what crime? I'll have Him flogged and
then release Him," he said. Pilate handed Him over to the soldiers, to
my soldiers, to be flogged.
The Flogging And Mocking
Roman floggings were brutal, so much so that sometimes the victims died
before the crucifixion. The flogging was done with a multi-stranded
leather whip. On the ends of the whip were tied bits of bone and lead.
The whip would be struck against the bare back of the accused. The Jews
had a limit of 40 lashes and so would only count to 39 lest they made a
mistake. We Romans had no limit.
I thought to myself, "Surely now He'll make His move." But He didn't.
There was no rescue party. I could do nothing now but my job. All I
could do was watch as my man scourged Him something fierce. His flesh
was ripped apart.
Afterwards, weakened by the blows, Jesus was further mocked by the
soldiers. They stripped Him of His clothing and put the purple robe back
on Him. They put a crown of thorns upon His head and a staff in His
right hand and mocked Him, "Hail, King of the Jews! Hail, King of the
And then I watched as one of the soldiers took the staff from Him and
struck Him again and again upon the head, pressing the thorns further
into His scalp, the blood trickling down His face. They spit on Him.
They struck Him in the face. And then they took Him back to Pilate.
Pilate brought Him out before the people, "Behold the man! Behold your
king!" hoping that the flogging would appease them. Then he asked whom
he should release, for he was allowed during the Passover to release a
prisoner to the crowd. "Who should I release, Barabbas, a murderer, or
Christ?" and with one voice the people answered, "Release Barabbas!"
"And what about Jesus, what should I do with Him?" and the crowds went
crazy, yelling, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"
They pulled the robe off of Jesus and put His own clothes back on Him.
When they pulled the robe off, the wounds were reopened as the robe had
stuck to the already dried blood. They led Him away to be crucified,
down the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Suffering and Sorrow.
The time was the third hour, about 9 a.m., on Friday morning.
The Crucifixion And Death Of
Jesus was weakened by the flogging. He couldn't carry the crossbeam
which weighed about thirty to forty pounds for the cross He would be
crucified upon. A man named Simon was conscripted to carry it. The
crowds were crazy. Women were following, wailing, mourning. We took Him
to Golgotha, the place of the skull. Golgotha is Aramaic for skull. The
Latin word for skull is Calvaria, thus the name of the place,
We Romans crucified the basest of criminals, slaves, and enemies of
Rome. Crucifixions were cruel. We would take heavy, wrought, iron nails
and drive them through the victim's wrists onto the crossbeam and the
feet onto the vertical beam. And then we would lift the victim up so
that the weight caused difficulty breathing. To ease the pain, the
victims would lift with their feet, easing breathing but bringing great
agony to the feet. Sometimes the pain would prolong for days.
I was amazed as I heard Jesus say as they drove the nails into His
wrists and heels, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they
The people, the chief priests and rulers, and the teachers of the law
mocked Him. They heaped insults upon Him and spat upon Him. Two rebels,
insurrectionists, charged with treason against Rome, were also crucified
with Him, one on each side, and they heaped insults upon Him. "Save
yourself if you are the Son of God," the crowds mocked. One of the
criminals later repented. "This man has done nothing wrong." And I
thought as I sat under the cross, "Yes, he is right!" "Jesus, remember
me when You come into Your kingdom," the criminal said. And Jesus
answered, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."
And then Jesus looked at me, and I thought as I stared at Him, "I want
to be in paradise too."
The women were wailing. There were four of them nearby, one of them
being His mother, Mary. And next to her was a disciple whom Jesus seemed
to have loved very much. And when He saw them both, He said, "Woman,
behold your son!" And then to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!"
And I thought to myself, "Incredible! Even in the midst of dying on the
cross, in a time of intense physical pain and mental anguish, this Jesus
was thinking of others." And the words came back to my mind, "Father,
forgive them, they know not what they do." Still in control. Still
strong. Still ministering and thinking of others.
Three hours had passed. It was noon on that Friday. For the next three
hours, it was completely dark. "What was happening?"
At the ninth hour, about 3 p.m., after hanging on that cross for six
hours, He cried, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani," – "My God, my
God, why have You forsaken Me?" Such agony, such pain, as if He were
experiencing Hell, as if all the sins of the world were placed upon Him.
I later learned that at this moment His Father's face was turned away
from Him, this Jesus who from all eternity knew nothing but perfect,
infinite, joyful bliss and communion with His Father, and now His Father
had turned His face away from His Son. He who knew no sin had become sin
in our place. I tried to close my ears. I tried to close my eyes. And
then it stopped.
I looked at Him. He seemed tired, exhausted.
"I am thirsty," He said. They gave Him wine mixed with gall, a bitter,
sour vinegar, to mock Him and to keep Him revived to prolong the
Afterwards, Jesus said, "It is finished." "What is finished?" I
wondered. He seemed to be speaking about something more than His life.
And then in a loud voice, He cried out, "Father, into Your hands I
commit My spirit." He didn't go out weak. As was apparent by His voice,
He was still strong. And He was still in control, as if He were waiting
for all things to be fulfilled before He gave up His life, not anybody
taking it from Him.
He breathed His last.
The curtain in the temple, which separated the Holy Place from the most
Holy Place, was torn in two from top to bottom. There was a big
earthquake. Rocks split open. Tombs were broken open. Later, bodies of
many holy people who had died would rise to life and walk through the
I was terrified. I thought the end of the world had come. And I looked
up at this man who days before was entering the city with palm branches
waving, a man now at peace, as if He had a smile upon His lips, such
beauty, such love, and I praised God and then exclaimed, "Surely this
was a righteous man, surely He was the Son of God!"
The Sabbath was quickly approaching that Friday afternoon. The Jews
didn't want the bodies left on the crosses. Pilate gave them permission
to remove them. Before taking Jesus down, one of my men took a spear
before I could stop him and pierced it through Jesus' side. To the end,
even while He was dead, brutality and cruelty were shown Him. The blood
flowed like crazy, some splattering upon my forehead. Lots of water
flowed as well. I was tired. Exhausted. I wiped the blood with my hand
and looked at it, shaking my head as I walked away to let my men do
their job, thinking to myself, "Here was one, fully man and fully God,
who loved the world so much as to die on an old rugged cross."
My name is Shannon Philio. Some 2000 years ago . . .
- God the Father so loved the world that He sent His
only begotten Son that whosoever should believe in Him shall not perish
but have everlasting life.
Romans 3:23 – For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of
Romans 6:23 – For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is
eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 10:9 – If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and
believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be
Acts 4:12 – Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no
other name under Heaven given to men by which we must be saved than the
name Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
Let us pray.
This sermon may
be used in any way that is useful to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus
Christ. To ask about the sermon or to seek further resources,
Contact Chaplain Philio.
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