The Roman soldiers came from all over the vast Roman Empire. They were assigned to work for Gov. Pilate in Judea. During the Passover festival, the troops must be ready to handle the large crowds. Most Romans saw duty in Israel as an obscure assignment. They had little respect for the Jews.
Friday morning was just another day for the troops in the garrison. At some point they became aware of a growing crowd in front of the Praetorium. Gov. Pilate was trying to decide a case for a man from Galilee named Jesus. As tensions in the crowd escalated, were more troops called up? Finally Pilate pronounced judgment and sent Jesus to be scourged.
They were familiar with scourgings, but there was something very different about this prisoner. His crime was being the “King of the Jews.” Now this would be fun. They could take out all their hatred for the Jews on this man, Jesus, their king. They didn’t want anyone to miss the fun, so they called the entire garrison to come watch.
Someone decided that a king needed a crown. Did they look around and find thorns growing nearby? They quickly twisted the thorns together to make a crown. They also needed a scepter, so they used a reed. They stripped and scourged Him. After they put a purple robe on Him, they bowed before Him saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They hit Him in the head with the reed, driving the thorns deeply into His skull. They also spat on Him. Did the Praetorium echo with their taunting laughter? Beating and mocking the King of the Jews, was an event they wouldn’t forget. How many of them also heard the charge that He was the Son of God?
After Gov. Pilate sent Him away for crucifixion, the execution squad led Jesus and the two thieves away. When they got up to Calvary, they nailed Jesus’ hands and feet to the cross, just like all other criminals. But Jesus was very different.
Once He was mounted, His first gasping words were, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” Usually prisoners cursed them, but no one had ever forgiven them. They saw His widowed mother weeping, but who was His Father? If His mom is a widow, then His father was already dead. Why did Jesus speak to His Father?
One benefit of the job, was keeping the plunder. They got clothes, sandals and any personal possessions from all the convicts. Jesus had a lovely hand woven seamless tunic. The four guards decided to split the clothing into four stacks with the tunic as the big prize. Then they cast lots. No one knew they were fulfilling a prophecy written by King David over a thousand years before.
They saw Him care for His widowed mother. They heard him comfort the thief, confirming again that He was no criminal. Right before He died, they heard Him say, “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.” Again, they must have wondered about who His Father was.
From noon until 3:00, the sky turned dark. Then as Jesus died, the earth quaked, rocks split and graves were opened. The centurion and his guards watched in dread. They feared God greatly. Did they tremble as the centurion proclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God.”
How often did the centurion and his men think of nailing Jesus’ hands and feet to the cross? What other terrible things had they done to Jesus? Did dread or terror fill their minds as they remembered all the miracles affirming Jesus true identity? They had killed the Son of God. At the same time, did they remember that Jesus forgave them? Did they remember His compassion for others in the midst of His suffering?
What was the buzz in their barracks when they returned from duty? All had seen the eclipse and felt the earthquake. As long as Jesus was the King of the Jews, they could mock Him. Once they realized He was the Son of God, they were accountable to Him and His Father.
In just a few hours, four more will get tomb patrol. We already know how that will turn out.
Scripture doesn’t give us their names, but I hope to meet them one day in heaven. After all, Jesus reached out in forgiveness and they proclaimed Him, the Son of God. In the book of Acts, a Roman centurion and other Romans become Christians. Once again, we see that no sin is too great to receive forgiveness, if only we will repent.