This is Easter week. The most holy week a follower of Christ could know. What do you think about during this week? Is it a special week for you? Is it a life-changing week? Or is it just another week with just another holiday to have to celebrate? “Well, I guess I should take the kids to an Easter Egg hunt or two and get them some Easter baskets and candy.” “Ah, don’t forget the Easter dresses and church that morning.” I know of one person in history for whom this was not a typical week. I am not talking about Jesus either. This was the week He came to Earth for. This was His destiny and He knew it was coming. I mean a guy who did not sign-up to be a part of this week yet through life circumstances he became a part of the biggest event in the history of the Christian Church or in the history of the world. I am talking about the Roman officer in charge of the crucifixion. I asked him one time what that day was like for him. Here is what he told me:
“It all started early one Veneris dies morning or what you would call Friday. It was like any other day when we had executions to do. They were becoming much more common ever since Rome became an Empire rather than a Republic. I was growing somewhat weary of all the violence and death yet at the same time I had become numb to it. Each prisoner had become just another nameless face, a chore to oversee in a day’s work. On this day however, something was different. There were three prisoners being executed this day and one of them had been given the “near death” treatment which meant he was beaten with in an inch of his life before being crucified, our most viscous and humiliating form of punishment. As an empire we had perfected torture and death to an art form. We were good at what we did and I had risen to substantial leadership on the back of this job. But on this day I noticed something different about the one prisoner. One of the other ones was loud and belligerent towards us and the crowd. I can not blame him for being angry; I mean what did he have to lose at this point? Another was begging for his life like a weakling. I guess I can not blame him either; who wants to die? The third prisoner however, never said a word and he was the one with the worst beating I had ever seen. He did not even look human! Yet he carried his cross through town and up a hill just outside the city gate with not one word of complaint nor one plea for mercy. We got to the top of the hill and did our normal thing by nailing all three of them to their crosses and raising them high in the sky. The one in the middle, the worst beaten of the three, finally spoke. I was surprised he even made it up the hill without dieing, so now surely he will curse the crowd or beg for mercy. What he said has left me stunned ever since. He called out to his god which I expected him to invoke the wrath of his god on us all yet what he did was amazing. He called out to his god and asked his god to forgive all of us who had a part in his death! Forgive us! In all my years as an executioner I had never heard a prisoner do that! The rest of the morning and midday was a huge blur to me. My men were taunting him, shoving drink in his face, gambling for his clothes and all sorts of behavior that I would not ordinarily allow. My men were soldiers of the Imperial Army of Rome, they were to be dignified, but I was so enamored by his prayer of forgiveness that I could not make myself react. It was like I was not even really there but was walking around hearing and seeing things that I could not hear or touch. I remember once looking at him and he turned and looked me straight in the eye and even though his mouth was not moving and he wasn’t speaking I could hear him talking to me! He told me that he loved me and he told me that he was doing this for me and that someday I would understand! He closed his eyes and hung his head.
Suddenly the ground began to violently shake and it got real dark even though it was midday. This shook me out of my trance I could now move and speak. My natural first reaction was to begin barking orders to make sure the prisoners were dead if a storm was moving in which was protocol for us. Also protocol was to break the legs of the prisoners as they hung on the cross to make sure they could not push up on the spikes in their feet and continue to breathe thus not die. I gave the orders, ‘Break their legs there is a storm moving in!’ …’What do you mean already dead? Which one? The one in the middle? Well, stab him with this spear to make sure!’ When he was stabbed blood and water came gushing out of him. Then just as quickly as it had come, the darkness was gone and the shaking stopped. I looked up at the middle prisoner and dropped to my knees. Then from somewhere inside me, I do not know where, I heard myself mutter, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God.’”
He definitely had a life changing experience when the reality of God and Jesus’ sacrifice became real to him. Have you ever had an experience like that? Do you still have them where the gospel continues to become more and more real in your life? Talk to me.