Pastor John Kerr
Theme: “An Evening with Those Who Knew Jesus: The Centurion”
Text: Luke 7:1-10 Date: March 25, 2020
Pastor John: We continue our Lenten Wednesday evening series on persons who knew Jesus. Tonight we have the Roman army commander who met Jesus on several occasions. I’ll let him tell his story now.
Thank you pastor and good evening. My name is Cornelius. I was a Roman centurion who was a soldier in charge of one hundred other soldiers. Today you probably would call me a captain.
When I first came to Palestine, I came unwillingly. Palestine or Israel was on the edge of our Roman Empire then and many miles from my home in Italy, and the people of Palestine had a reputation of being a troublesome nation to govern.
After arriving in Palestine, I learned to love the land and its people. During my years in the city of Capernaum, I had no problem with the citizens. We got along well together. I enjoyed having them as neighbors. They respected me and I respected them.
During my tour in Capernaum, the Jewish people built a new synagogue. They did most of the construction and several times I sent groups of my men to help with this building project. I even gave a little money to their building fund. They were most grateful for this help, and we lived on friendly terms.
While stationed in Capernaum, I had an unusual experience of hearing a religious hermit who lived in the wilderness preaching against greed, dishonesty, hypocrisy and evils of all kinds. People came from miles around to hear him.
One day, as a group of my men and I returned up the Jordan River valley from Jericho, we came upon this strange man who was known as John the Baptist. A crowd surrounded him, and I ordered our men to stop and rest while I got closer to the crowd to listen. He seemed stern and to know nothing of our Roman gods I was familiar with—Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Diana, Janus and others. He spoke of one coming after him who would be greater than he. He even condemned evil in high places especially King Herod for his sins. His speaking against all of these wrongs reminded me of my parents back in Italy who taught me the differences between right and wrong. It was strange that this Jewish preacher reminded me of my parents.
Sometime later I heard another Hebrew preacher. He was a man from Galilee. It was by coincidence that I first heard this man when a detachment of my troops were passing south of Capernaum and we saw this group of people intently interested in hearing this man whose name was Jesus from the town of Nazareth in Galilee. I decided that we stop since we were near our destination, and I wanted to listen to what he had to say. He had a powerful voice and was able to hold a crowd’s attention. He seemed to be talking to me. Some of his wisdom and teachings I had never heard from other great teachers. Beyond his words were his acts of kindness and healing that impressed me.
After a time in Capernaum, I was transferred to Caesarea, a beautiful seaport city along the Mediterranean Sea. Governor Pontius Pilate’s palace and headquarters were there, and the advancement made me the head of his guards as well. I regretted moving from Capernaum, but as a Roman soldier I was under orders and we went where we were sent. Obedience is a supreme virtue in the military.
While in Caesarea, I received a special assignment. My men and I were called to go with Governor Pilate to Jerusalem. At the time, the Passover festival crowds had come from everywhere to Jerusalem. We were sent there to maintain order and crowd control.
A few days following our arrival, I was called to oversee the beating of a prisoner. When I got to the prison and saw the prisoner, I was astounded and shocked. He was Jesus! How could this be? The Jesus I observed was a man of peace, love and gentleness. He was no thief, no traitor, criminal or revolutionary. Surely, he hadn’t done anything deserving a vicious beating. I couldn’t believe it.
My dilemma was how could I stand by and watch my men torture a man who wasn’t the kind of man I thought I knew and heard? But I was under orders, and it seemed I had no choice. To this day I regret what I ordered. I stood by and watched metal tipped thongs whipped across his bare back. Every lash tore flesh from his bruised and bleeding body.
Later that morning I received orders to conduct a crucifixion for three men, one of whom I discovered was Jesus. Again I obeyed the orders I was handed. I stood by and watched them strip him naked, lay him on the beams of a cross, pound nails into his hands and feet, raise the cross and drop it with a thud into the hole in the ground.
We had tried to ease his pain on the way to the execution hill when one of my men pulled a man from the crowd watching and ordered him to carry Jesus’ cross, and while he was on the cross we offered him a drug to help deaden the pain, but he refused.
I’m not trying to justify my actions and gain your sympathy. It was wrong, I know now. Executions are never pleasant, and perhaps should be outlawed. I watched as he endured those terrible whip lashings with never a curse spoken. I saw the nails driven into his hands and feet and still never a word. After the cross was lifted into place I heard him say, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” Forgive them? There was something more about this man that seemed to me to be God-like. I sensed that he was more than human.
Later that afternoon, Pilate sent for me. Some men had come to Pilate and asked for permission to take the body of Jesus and bury it. Pilate couldn’t believe he was already dead, and he wanted my to verify it. I assured him that he was dead. Pilate then ordered that I should see that Jesus’ body was delivered to a man named Joseph from Arimathea. After Jesus was buried, I sent several of my men to guard the tomb, because it was rumored that some of his disciples might come and try to take his body away.
Eventually my men and I made our way back to Caesarea. In the months that followed that experience, I was determined to learn more about his Jewish God and the man Jesus. Deep in my heart I had a sense of remorse and regret. I wished I could feel a spirit of forgiveness like that man Jesus, but it never did come completely. I wanted to be a more generous person, and more religious and possibly a man of prayer.
One day I was quietly sitting in my room alone and I must have dozed off. I had a dream and I saw an angel who said, “Cornelius, your wishes have been answered. Send some of your men to the town of Joppa where Simon Peter is living and he will come to you.” I called two of my men and sent them to Joppa and told them what to do. They found this man Peter, and he told my men that he too had s similar dream and was prepared to go back with them to Caesarea.
They arrived back at my home. I had gathered my family and some friends together. I told Peter what had happened to me, and I asked him to tell us what his God wanted him to teach and share with all of us about this rabbi. Peter told us all about Jesus of Nazareth from his baptism to his death and his resurrection and his command to his followers to go and tell his story.
Later that afternoon Peter baptized others and me in my house. For several days he lived with us and told us more good news about Jesus.
I helped take this man’s life, and still he loved me. I took his life, and he forgave me. If he can forgive and love me, he surely will forgive you. Whatever your past, whatever your failures, whatever your shortcomings and sins—he loves you and he wants to forgive you.
I’m glad I got to know him even in the way I did. I know now that he truly is the Son of God.