I stand alone on that desolate hill. The crowds have left – as have my fellow soldiers. The bodies are gone – taken to be buried – but the crosses remain. My name is Antonius.
This day has passed faster than I could have imagined. Just this morning I stood in the courtyard of Pontius Pilate – next to a Man who would be King. The Pharisees brought Him to us for execution. They told us the Man was a threat to the Roman government – though why they should be upset with anything that could be a threat to us was beyond me. It seemed they should count it as a blessing, considering their prophecies of a Messiah bringing freedom to their people.
But the Man they brought to us – He was something different. He had an aura of peace and strength about Him; it was obvious that the Pharisees felt threatened by it. I saw the fear each time they looked at Him, each time He spoke – the “crimes” cited were only thin excuses. They wanted Him dead, plain and simple.
Pilate resisted at first. He had Him scourged brutally, skin shredded from His chest and back, and then brought the Man – Jesus was His name – back before the Pharisees, to see if they would be appeased.
They persisted with their accusations of traitorous intent, and blasphemy of their God, insisting that these crimes were deserving of the brutal death of crucifixion.
Finally – in the interest of keeping the peace – Pilate conceded to having Jesus crucified. Instead of begging for His life, or cowering in fear, Jesus simply stood there, bleeding from hundreds of wounds, accepting His fate.
I was assigned to guard Jesus on His climb to Golgotha, though why they thought a guard detail was needed I’m not sure. This Man had no intention of escape.
When we reached that lonely hill and laid Him out on the cross I expected resistance. I was prepared for shouts, screams, desperate struggles for survival. What I was not prepared for was the pity I saw in Jesus’ eyes. He was the one about to die a terrible death, yet He pitied His executioners – He pitied me!
As the nails were driven through His wrists and ankles He was silent, He didn’t cry out once – nor did He look away. Throughout the torment His eyes remained locked with mine, and there was no anger in them – nor pity any longer. I saw only love.
We raised up His cross, mounting it between the crosses of two men caught stealing – then stood back and waited.
This was the worst part of the execution detail – the waiting. We never knew just how long it would take for the condemned to die, or how desperately they would cry for mercy – or at least a quick end; but not this Man, not Jesus. He simply hung there, waiting for the end. He spoke once to one of the thieves – but I couldn’t make out what was said. Later, when He was offered wine mixed with myrrh, He refused it – turning His head from the soporific. He seemed to want the agony He was suffering.
Finally, several hours later He roused Himself enough to shout, “It is finished!” Then He slumped down once more – all life gone.
Since the sun was setting and the Sabbath was about to begin, we broke the legs of the two thieves to speed their passing, and my commander ordered me to ensure Jesus was dead. I picked up my spear, walked to the base of His cross, and thrust the weapon into His side.
Blood and water poured from the wound, covering me from head to toe, and in that instant I saw it all. I knew why He wasn’t fighting us, I knew why He so willingly accepted His fate, and I knew why He looked at me with such love.
I should have been on that cross. It should be my blood poured out on the ground, but He took my place. He paid my price. He died for me.
And so I stand here, alone. My spear is on the ground where it fell from my hand, and blood drips off of me still. Night is falling, and I must soon return to my quarters – but I shall never forget this day, nor the Man who paid my debt on that hill.
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