When our battalion was called together, I wondered if it had something to do with the rumors that the Jews were on the verge of rioting. Pilate just released a rebel leader to them to calm them down, but maybe extra precautions were being taken.
When we arrived in the governor’s headquarters, there was a man there badly scourged. Some of the soldiers stripped him and made him wear a royal scarlet garment. Then, they twisted together a crown of thorns, placed it on his head, and gave him a reed for a scepter. As blood tricked down the prisoner’s head, they began kneeling and saying, “Hail, King of the Jews.” We laughed uproariously and then spit on him, as most of us were miserable with the predicament at this posting. One soldier took the reed and struck the prisoner on the head repeatedly.
When we were done venting our frustration, the other soldiers replaced the prisoner’s original clothes. I was assigned the duty, along with several others, to escort this prisoner to his execution. This wasn’t anything new as I’d assisted with many crucifixions since I’d been assigned to this garrison.
As we made our way towards Golgotha, the prisoner was barely able to carry his own cross. Yet, as beaten and bloody as he was, he seemed determined to make the journey.
“So what’d this guy do?” I asked one of my fellow soldiers.
“Claimed he was the Son of God, so his own people want him dead. They even stated that he was a threat to Caesar by his claims.” he replied.
Okay, I suppose that makes sense, especially since the Caesars claim to be sons of god. Do they really execute people for that though? Sure, lock him up for being crazy maybe, but this seems a bit extreme. Perceiving my thoughts, the other soldier just shrugged. I guess if it’s our duty to execute, we execute.
It seems most of the crowd hated this Jesus fellow, so I guess we didn’t have to worry too much about the zealots today. Though, there were a handful of people weeping as they followed us on to Golgotha—probably some close friends and family members. Suddenly, the prisoner turned and made a statement that sounded like Jerusalem was going to be destroyed. He spoke with such conviction, yet he still had such compassion in his voice, as though he was sorrowful if such a thing were to happen to the very people condemning him.
Not much longer after that, the prisoner collapsed. Some of the soldiers tried to get him back on his feet while the rest of us watched the crowd. Suddenly a man stepped out and looked directly at me. I quickly readied my spear, but then noticed his composure. He had tears running down his face and his hands were together upright in front of him. I believe this symbolized that he had no weapons or intent of violence. As I relaxed my defensive posture, still unsure of what the man wanted, he looked over to the prisoner on the ground.
This man’s actions caused a slight ache in my heart. This must have been a good friend of his for him to risk his very life by interfering in an execution. For a moment, I didn’t know what to do. If the centurion saw him, he might run him through or arrest him. I suppose I can do something to help him out. At first I thought to push him back into the crowd before the others noticed, but they might think a fight was about to break out.
After a moment’s thought, I stated loudly “You, help this man carry his cross.” I glanced over towards the centurion and he seemed to be okay with this solution.
After a long trudge, we finally reached the top of the hill. The assistant laid the cross down, then gently rested the prisoner beside it. While the other soldiers were beginning to prepare the crucifixion, I stepped aside to talk to the man who had assisted.
“Who are you…and why’d you do that?” I asked, “Why would you risk your life for a man who’s already dead anyway?”
“I’m Simon, and…” he stated as he struggled to restrain his tears, “he showed me mercy when I didn’t deserve it….He really is the Son of God…and he’s doing this for all of us….including you.” With that, my heart stopped mid-beat. There was something in this man’s words, as though he had been through an unfathomable experience. Could there be something more to this Jesus? Could he really be divinity?
“Hey,” the centurion bellowed from behind me in the midst of my thoughts, “I’ll hold him, you hammer in the spikes.” Oh no, anything but that. The centurion shook the hammer slightly suggesting that I hurry up and take it. Reluctantly, I did. Then he handed me three long spikes.
As I aligned the first spike to Jesus’ hand, I hesitantly raised the hammer. I looked over to Jesus who had quite a peaceful expression considering the ordeal he had been through. My eyes began to fill with tears as thoughts invaded my head again. If he really is the Son of God….if I do this. “Oh God….please forgive me,” I repeated over and over in my head, still trying to make my trembling arm take the first swing.
“I…” a voice weakly murmured. I looked around a bit confused until my eyes settled on Jesus’. “I forgive you,” he said with the glimmer of a smile on his face. I felt a shiver go through my whole body. Had he read my thoughts? Why would he forgive me? Did he want to be crucified? Why…Why was he doing this?
The centurion didn’t seem to take any notice of Jesus’ comment. Jesus’ eyes stayed fixed on me as I saw a resolute expression come across his face. A peace began to fill me, and I felt that bringing down the hammer was what I was destined to do. I struck the first blow and he grunted. Then he opened his eyes and nodded for me to continue. With that, I struck another blow and another as tears started streaming down my face.
As I completed fastening the second hand, the centurion took notice of my tears. “Are you alright? What happened?” he asked bluntly.
“I’m fine. I just..hit my thumb on that last swing and it really hurts,” I replied.
“Do you want me to finish?” he retorted.
“No! I got it!” I exclaimed a little more forcibly than intended. I didn’t want to place anyone else is such a horrible position.
I finished driving the spike through his feet, then we affixed the notice that Pilate had ordered be attached. “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”A shiver again traveled through my body as I read the sign.
The next few hours seemed like an eternity. I would rather have been on the front lines of a war than watching this man die. Many hurled insults as they passed. Some of the other soldiers joined in as well while Jesus’ cloths were being divided up just below him. Even the two robbers on each side mocked him. I hung my head in shame, remembering my actions in the governor’s quarters not even a few hours earlier.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus stated remorsefully as he tilted his head slightly upward. He then looked down directly at me and a bolt of lightning shot through my body. Here he was….crucified….and he’s forgiving the ones persecuting him. There’s definitely something more to him.
When one of the thieves heard Jesus’ forgiveness, he too became remorseful, and even started defending him. He then asked to be remembered when Jesus came into his kingdom. Jesus responded kindly—that they would be feasting in Paradise that very day! This Jesus fellow seemed, even in his bleakest hour, to be filled with more compassion than anyone I had ever known.
Then, a darkness began to encroach. At first, I thought the sun was just going behind the clouds, but this became a much thicker darkness than I’d ever seen during daylight hours. I became more aware of the surroundings as I took note of each person still there. Most were familiar except a young man standing out in the edge of the darkness. He too looked to be weeping. One of the other soldiers suggested it was probably a disciple of Jesus’, too afraid to come close in case he was recognized.
Suddenly, Jesus cried out. Simon quickly prepared a drink while some others passing by thought he was calling a prophet from their history. They lingered around for the moment to see if perhaps this prophet would show up. A few moments later, a woman came frantically running out of the darkness. Her pace slowed as she got close enough to recognize the figure on the center cross. I could see the horror on her face as she stood there in shock. Then, tears began streaming down her face as she fell to her knees. I looked over to the soldier next to me, and he seemed just as perplexed as I was, though Simon had more of a shocked expression, as though he knew her.
“This isn’t right!” she screamed unexpectedly. I felt the tears welling up in me as she rocked back and forth and repeated the statement over and over.
As the woman quieted to a sob, we heard a resolute “It is finished” from above us and we all looked up to see an immensely passionate look on Jesus’ face. Tears began streaming from my eyes again as he exhaled one last time, then hung lifeless.
Simon approached the crying woman cautiously and attempted to console her. At first, she seemed startled that Simon was there, but to his surprise, she jumped to her feet and threw her arms around him. They both wept passionately. I sat in awe wondering how they might know each other as they seemed to be from two totally different walks of life. Was this Jesus fellow bringing such diverse people together?
I stood and moved closer, compelled by the compassion still on Jesus’ face. The tears were still running down my cheeks, though I’m not sure if anyone else noticed—and at that moment, I no longer cared.
Just then we got an order from Pilate. We were to remove the body from the cross and give it to a Joseph of Arimathea.
“Okay,” the centurion remarked, “I guess it’s over.” With that, he readied his spear and looked to the body hesitantly. After a small sigh, he plunged his spear into Jesus’ side. I looked on in horror as blood and water poured out, but Jesus didn’t make a move; he was already gone. My heart sank as tears continued to roll down my face. If he really was the Son of God, why didn’t he save himself? And why was he doing this for us?
Without warning, the earth began to shake violently. The other soldiers fell to the ground and I collapsed to my knees while still focused on Jesus. Oddly, it seemed while everything else was in upheaval, I felt an indescribable peace kneeling there before him.
When the shaking finally stopped, light again filled the sky, and I quickly tried to wipe the tears from my face. The centurion, noticing my composure, began walking towards me. I prepared myself for reprimand—or worse—but instead…he gently laid his hand on my shoulder. As I braced myself on my spear and stood to my feet, all those still around drew in closer. Even the disciple that had been off in the distance dared to approach now. I looked up again to the lifeless body on the cross, and my heart was overwhelmed. I was now sure of it, more than anything else I’d ever known.
“Truly, this was the Son of God!”