Watch men die.
That’s what the centurion did.
He inhaled the smells of deteriorating flesh daily. He listened to the sounds of gasping, choking, suffocating. Even the unrelentless cries for mercy, none of it was unfamiliar to him.
His job, after all, was to watch this place. To secure death’s dark door. Would he defend it with his life? If he had to. Like sentries of old, he would fend off aggressors seeking to advance death’s coming.
At the foot of a Roman cross, he stood.
He watched as this man’s body writhed. As flesh tore from his bone-nailed wrists. As shoulders sank under the weight of gravity alone. Blood trickled down the sufferer’s battered face. And just like all the others, it pooled in divots on the ground. Yet something was different about this death.
This man was different.
The way he lived. Stories had passed amongst the soldiers. Whispers of healings. Of blind men seeing, lame men walking. Of widows helped, the hungry fed. And the way he talked too. In peculiar parables but with authority, with humility. Yet the centurion couldn’t quite believe them. Too good to be true. Mere fables, he told himself. Clattering gossip to help men pass the time.
But the way He was dying. The centurion could not ignore this. The way the man hung before him barely breathing yet still so alive. The way his hands appeared clean even with filth and blood splattered upon every callous. The way his feet, splintered and raw, clung to the cross as if lifting up the weight of the whole world. Such unearthly resolve. This death was certainly different.
This man was different.
The centurion watched closely. The man’s face began to contort into the familiar expressions of impending death. Yet compassion still filled his eyes. This man began to surrender, his breathing slowed. Yet triumph seemed to radiate from within his very chest. His voice cried out, “Eloi! Eloi!” and its sound reverberated down into the centurion’s soul. Was he a man at all?
A final exhale came.
Silence fell over the crowd as onlookers and passersby—his witnesses—stood still in darkness. Then, one by one, they began to walk away. Away from this man. Away from the reality of death. Away from the life he had lived. But the centurion could not walk away. He could not move. Transfixed, he stood. Mesmerized, he watched.
“Surely, this man was the Son of God!”
And as the words escaped his lips, every particle inside him knew. This was no mere man.
This was God Himself in human flesh.
“And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heart his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”