The Centurion at the Foot of the Cross
by Max Lucado
The day began as had a hundred others—dreadfully. It was bad enough to be in Judea, but it was hell to spend hot afternoons on a rocky hill supervising the death of pickpockets and rabble-rousers. Half the crowd taunted, half cried. The soldiers griped. The priests bossed. It was a thankless job in a strange land. He was ready for the day to be over before it began.
He was curious at the attention given to the flatfooted peasant. He smiled as he read the sign that would go on the cross. The condemned looked like anything but a king. His face was lumpy and bruised. His back arched slightly and his eyes faced downward. “Some harmless hick,” mused the centurion. “What could he have done?”
Then Jesus raised his head. He wasn’t angry. He wasn’t uneasy. His eyes were strangely calm as they stared from behind the bloody mask. He looked at those who knew him—moving deliberately from face to face as if he had a word for each.
For just a moment he looked at the centurion—for a second the Roman looked into the purest eyes he’d ever seen. He didn’t know what the look meant. But the look made him swallow and his stomach feel empty. As he watched the soldier grab the Nazarene and yank him to the ground, something told him this was not going to be a normal day.
As the hours wore on, the centurion found himself looking more and more at the one on the center cross. He didn’t know what to do with the Nazarene’s silence. He didn’t know what to do with his kindness.
But most of all, he was perplexed by the darkness. He didn’t know what to do with the black sky in midafternoon. No one could explain it.… No one even tried. One minute the sun, the next the darkness. One minute the heat, the next a chilly breeze. Even the priests were silenced.
For a long while the centurion sat on a rock and stared at the three silhouetted figures. Their heads were limp, occasionally rolling from side to side. The jeering was silent … eerily silent. Those who had wept, now waited.
Suddenly the center head ceased to bob. It yanked itself erect. Its eyes opened in a flash of white. A roar sliced the silence. “It is finished.” (John 19:30 NIV) It wasn’t a yell. It wasn’t a scream. It was a roar … a lion’s roar. From what world that roar came the centurion didn’t know, but he knew it wasn’t this one.
The centurion stood up from the rock and took a few paces toward the Nazarene. As he got closer, he could tell that Jesus was staring into the sky. There was something in his eyes that the soldier had to see. But after only a few steps, he fell. He stood and fell again. The ground was shaking, gently at first and now violently. He tried once more to walk and was able to take a few steps and then fall … at the foot of the cross.
He looked up into the face of this one near death. The King looked down at the crusty old centurion. Jesus’ hands were fastened; they couldn’t reach out. His feet were nailed to timber; they couldn’t walk toward him. His head was heavy with pain; he could scarcely move it. But his eyes … they were afire.
They were unquenchable. They were the eyes of God.
Perhaps that is what made the centurion say what he said. He saw the eyes of God. He saw the same eyes that had been seen by a near-naked adulteress in Jerusalem, a friendless divorcée in Samaria, and a four-day-dead Lazarus in a cemetery. The same eyes that didn’t close upon seeing man’s futility, didn’t turn away at man’s failure, and didn’t wince upon witnessing man’s death.
“It’s all right,” God’s eyes said. “I’ve seen the storms and it’s still all right.”
The centurion’s convictions began to flow together like rivers. “This was no carpenter,” he spoke under his breath. “This was no peasant. This was no normal man.”
He stood and looked around at the rocks that had fallen and the sky that had blackened. He turned and stared at the soldiers as they stared at Jesus with frozen faces. He turned and watched as the eyes of Jesus lifted and looked toward home. He listened as the parched lips parted and the swollen tongue spoke for the last time.
“Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit” (Luke 23:46 NIV).
Had the centurion not said it, the soldiers would have. Had the centurion not said it, the rocks would have—as would have the angels, the stars, even the demons. But he did say it. It fell to a nameless foreigner to state what they all knew.
“Surely this man was the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:54 NIV)
NEW Gift Book! This story from:
This is Love - The Extraordinary Story of Jesus
Copyright (Thomas Nelson, 2011) Max Lucado