Surely This Was The Son of God (<---Click to hear broadcast)
Toni’s story. Surely this man was the Son of God!
(Copyright @2009 Yonko Mali, All rights reserved.)
My Bible topic today is called, “Surely This Was The Son Of God!” It is mostly a fictitious story from my manuscript Friday Night. I hope you enjoy it and I hope it gives you new insight. (Based on Mark 15:39) I attempt to explain why and how a Roman Centurion would have uttered these words, “Surely this man was the son of God.”
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Yes, I would be glad to tell you what I was doing on that now famous Friday. I remember it all quite well and I will never forget it.
By the way, from the way you are dressed; you are not from around here, are you? No I did not think so.
Well I am not from around these parts either. You see I am / a retired Roman centurion. My name is Tony. Now you probably are surprised that a Roman citizen would retire in the land of Israel. Most Romans think this place is a terrible place.
But to be honest there is a monetary reason why I retired here. You see after one has served Rome faithfully for so long as I did (and if he is still alive as a Roman soldier); he is entitled to a plot of land in the lands that Rome has conquered.
As you can see I am growing grapes and oranges. I came to this particular area of Israel because it is more fertile than most of the other arid regions. Also the rolling hills remind me of my homeland of Tuscany. But let me get on to answering your question.
For you to understand what happened Friday and what I witness, you have to go back with me to over 33 years ago! Boy I have been here a long time in Jerusalem; a lot of years except for a couple of times, I went back home to Tuscany on furlough.
It was 33 years ago as a young Roman soldier newly assigned to Palestine that I had to investigate a rumor that some tribal kings from the Eastern regions had come to Jerusalem to find the new King of the Jews. These tribal kings were rumored to be from the region of Persia- certainly no friends of Rome, so we had to investigate. King Herod was reluctant to talk to me about the incident. He said that he could handle any troublemakers. I could tell he was afraid and paranoid. Of course, he himself did not believe in his people’s religion or their superstitions, prophesies they called them. Herod was a politician, a brutal one at that. I could spend days telling you about him.
It was hard to investigate these incidents because the Jews were notoriously uncooperative in talking with Roman officials. But we used bribery, spies and informants as well. The strange part of the story is that I found some shepherds who were quite willing to talk to me. They told me a bizarre tale about how angels appear to them and these angles told them that a new King of the Jews had been born in a stable. But I did not believe I could trust those shepherds; they are not liked even by their own people. And what a tale of a story they were telling me.
And I remember a particular young, tall and strong shepherd who without fear excitedly told me about this new King of the Jews and even was brazen enough to warn me that this new King would free his people from the bondage of Rome. Ha! I said, “You and your friends here?” I went over to that young man and stood right in his face, glaring at him, trying to intimidate him as much as possible. I wanted to scare any thoughts of rebellion out of his young mind. But I remember he did not flinch. And I was going to resort to striking him with my sword but I had no legal cause so I refrained. After all, he was just answering my questions.
“So angels appear to you filthy dogs and even sang to you”, I laughed as I walked away. “His name is Jesus!” the shepherd yelled back and “He has come to save His people!” “Well, we shall see about that.” I shouted back.
Yes I remember that Friday. You see it was I who crucified Jesus. I was the Roman Centurion on duty that day. I was the one who trussed my spear into his side to make sure he was dead. I had to finish him off. It was my duty.
But when I went home that evening, I knew I was finished as a Roman soldier. I would retire as soon as I could. Friday night I was feeling terrible. I had done many executions but this man Jesus bothered me. He was innocent. He committed no crime. You could hardly call him a dissident. He said that his kingdom was not of this world. He was causing more trouble to the Jewish authorities than it was to us. Even Pontius Pilot washed his hands of this man’s blood. That week-knee politician, Pontius Pilot! We should have hanged Barabbas. That trouble maker. It really bothered me that we were crucifying a man for the political reasons of the Jews, not for any Roman reason. Now I’m a practical man, I did not mind bending our Roman law to help preserve the Roman Empire but to bend it for the local Jewish politicians really bothered me.
Jesus was a good man. I knew a lot about Jesus. Maybe that surprises you. It was my job to know things about the local people. To keep my ear to the ground, in case of insurrections.
Now I had executed lots of men, and I could sleep well afterwards because all of them deserved to die. All had committed crimes against the Laws of Rome. They were criminals in the eyes of most descent, law-abiding folks. Even though some were only political crimes, it was best to get rid of those trouble makers. But this man Jesus was different. Everyone could tell that. Even his enemies could tell he was different.
So I felt sick in my stomach that Friday night. So I started to drink too much that night. But my Jewish servant stopped me. Hey have you met my servant. Joseph come over here and say hello to. What was your name again? Yonko Mali?
Joseph is my servant. You see that ring in his ear? It marks him as my slave. But he did it voluntarily for protection. He said he would rather be a slave for me than a free man in Israel in these turbulent days.
That Friday night, Joseph stopped me from drinking more than I should. I yelled at him. Are you disobeying me! Bring me my drink. “No”, he said. “I can kill you for such disobedience.” “Sir he said, you go back on duty tomorrow night. You need to stay sober so you can stay up all night. You know the penalty of falling asleep while on duty.”
Joseph was right. And he knew that I would not kill him. We had grown to like each other / though we would never tell each other that.
So I fell asleep until Joseph woke me the next afternoon just before I started my evening shift of duty on Saturday night.
And guess / what my duty for that night was. It was to guard the tomb of Jesus. There had been rumors that his disciples may steal his body and then claim that he had risen from the dead.
I had heard about that. It was my job, like I said to know everything I could about this people; even their superstitions. Jesus was dead alright. No-one survives a Roman crucifixion. Plus I myself put my spear into his side. No-one survives a direct plunge into the heart and lungs.
So Saturday night, I find myself in charge of guarding a tomb where they buried Jesus. I had much to think about. I had time to review everything that occurred in my life over the last 33 years in Jerusalem in service to the Roman Empire.
I had learned a lot about Jesus and about the Jewish people over last 33 years. I was very valuable to the Roman Authorities because of my local knowledge.
But I had to admit to myself, that I had begun to like Jesus and I was attracted to the Jewish religion. I never believed in the Roman religion, those silly rituals but the Jewish religion had an appeal to me. Their ancient scriptures seem to have so much wisdom and they had the ring of truth in them that I still cannot explain. And their writings claimed to explain the entire history of man from the very beginning. From the beginning when they said that God created the heavens and the earth and everything in it. That he created men and women in his own image and that he meant for this world to be a paradise but man’s sin ruined it all.
In spite of the squabbles between the Sadducees and the Pharisees and all the political ambitions and selfishness of even religious leaders, I began to appreciate the basic truth and moral code in the Jewish religion even if the people did’nt always follow that moral code.
So did I tell you what happened to me that Friday afternoon while I was carrying out the execution of Jesus and two local criminals? It’s unbelievable. I found myself listening to the taunts of the so-called teachers of the law and all the Pharisees and Sadducees. This guy Jesus really had irritated the Jewish leaders, so many of them were there to witness his crucifixion. I was amazed and as I listened to the taunts, I started to say to myself. You idiots, you got it all wrong. This man Jesus is one of you prophets. He’s a good man and look at all the wise and good things he said. And all the good deeds he had done. He did many miracles. Many of them I had investigated myself and I could find no explanation other than to believe it was some kind of magic.
And then Jesus said an amazing thing, Just before he died, he said, Father forgive them for they know not what they do! Then he talked to one of the robbers and promised him that he would be with him in Paradise and then he shouted, IT IS FINISHED and then he died. Then everyone there felt the earth shake. And then I blurted out in a loud voice. “Surely this man was the son of God!” Imagine me, a Roman Centurion, saying that. Luckily my fellow soldiers thought I was joking and only teasing this dead man and everyone around him. But I had meant what I said. It surprised me when I said it. I felt compelled to say it. Later I learnt that this was the workings of the Holy Spirit of God in my soul.
Did you know it had been strangely dark in the middle of the day for 3 hours? The guards had to light lanterns around the crucifixion site. After Jesus died and we felt the earthquake, the darkness disappeared. It seems to me that as soon as I had said those words, “Surely this was the Son of God.”, it began to become light again.
But it was late in the afternoon and we decided that it was time to break the legs of all the criminals so that they would die sooner and also take them out of their misery. Jesus was already dead. His scourging had already brought him close to death. But to be sure, I plunged my spear into his side. It was my job to make sure he was dead. I had a burst of anger for some unknown reason and I plunged my spear in deep. I wanted to make sure he was dead. I even whispered what the Jews say, Selah, Amen, So be it.
Like I said, I was finished as a Roman Soldier; this was what I was thinking about Saturday night. All of this stuff. I had a lot to think about.
I had divided up the guard into groups for their watches during the night. So I got some sleep but not much.
Now listen carefully to what happened next. I tell you the truth, early Sunday morning at dawn; there is this huge explosion of light. We were all pinned to the ground. All of us guards were trembling. I was almost blind. But I could hear the distinct sound of the huge rock covering the grave slowly being move aside. And then the light subsided and I briefly saw a ghost of an image. It was a man, fully clothed walking out of the tomb and disappearing.
There was complete panic among my guards. We all knew that we were dead men. It took all my will power to control myself and then using my years of experience commanding men, I finally was able to get my men back in line by shouting them back to reality. The best thing to do with men who panic is to get them to stand at attention. To help them focus. “Look I told them, we were not under the direct orders of the Governor. He let the Jewish authorities have us to guard this man’s tomb. Let’s go talk to the Jews first since they sent us here. They knew about these local magicians.” And so we went to see them.
They were astonished at our story but it did not seem to overly surprise them. They told us not to tell their people what had happen and in exchange for that promise, they would help us save our lives but explaining things to the Governor. So we all went to the Governor. Pontius Pilate heard what they had to say, and he was going to start asking the guards what had happened when he suddenly turned to me first which was proper since I was the senior in charge. And he said, “Tony what do you say about this?” And I said to the Governor, “Sir, I am retiring in a few days.”
The governor paused and said, I understand. You have severed the Roman Empire very well for so many years. Then he said, “All of you, tell no one about this.” Let the Jewish authorities say whatever they want to say but no one is to comment on this incident. I should never have given you to the Jewish authorities to do their bidding. You will all be reassigned to other posts. You were lucky that you were not under direct orders from me. And that was that.
A couple of years later, Pontius Pilate himself was called back to Rome and then re-assigned. But Joseph and I plan to grow old together. Growing our grapes and oranges and telling everyone about Jesus.
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For the Easter Holidays, I hope you enjoyed that mostly fictitious story about the Roman Centurion. There are apparently at least two Roman Centurions who came to believe in Jesus, one is mentioned in Matthew 8:5 where Jesus cures his servant and this one mentioned in Mark 15:39 who said, “Surely this was the son of God!”
But you know there were thousands of untold stories, thousands of stories that were not written down. You know it was not just the 12 apostles spreading the good news. There was the larger inner circle of 70 disciples and then hundreds of regular disciples and then thousands, tens of thousands, who believed in Jesus. Remember there were tens of thousands of men, women and children who were feed bread and fish by Jesus.
Yes it is estimated by some experts that there were hundreds of thousands of people whose lives were affected by Jesus and who spread the Good News during the very first year of Christianity!
We will hear all those wonderful stories when we get to heaven. Like John says in his Gospel, if all the stories about how Jesus affected people were written down there would not be enough books to hold all the stories.
What is your story? I hope one that believes in the Easter Resurrection. Next week I will be covering the resurrection story. Have a Happy and Joyful Easter!