Eternal Reflection – “The Witness” (Part 2) by Pastor Carl W. Mann, II
Matthew 19:25-26 (KJV) “When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”
“Were you There,” you ask? Was I There?! Yes, I was There! Why do you ask? I mean, why do you ask me? After what I witnessed, something tells me – we were ALL There!
Barabbas – he was all I could think about for approximately one week after he had killed my friend. I was at his trial when Pontius Pilate heard my friend’s soldiers bear witness against Barabbas. Of course, this was merely a formality; for, all it took for a Jew to be executed, was for a Roman citizen to state that he had committed a capital crime. That was one of the reasons that the Jews feared us!
I wanted those soldiers to give their testimonies because I desired that Pilate would hate Barabbas as much as I did. I also wanted to make sure that Barabbas would be given his death sentence that I was only so happy to be able to carry out!
Barabbas never admitted that he participated in the uprising, and he surely did not admit that he threw the spear that killed my friend. He just stood in his place as the accused and kept laughing as the soldiers gave their testimony as to how Barabbas killed my friend, and how my friend gave his life to save that child. Barabbas laughed!! If it wouldn’t have brought shame upon myself and my men, I would have given way to the tears that were pushing to flood my eyes. I did find it interesting though, I hadn’t felt the need to cry for a very long time. I looked down at my calloused, course hands and remembered my father’s challenge.
I only had approximately one week to allow my friend’s passing to consume my thoughts. The Jewish Passover was approaching, and we always had to beef up the cadre of peacekeeping squads during the “Week of Passover.” This was one Passover I would never forget!
The week leading up to “There,” began with one of the funniest parades I’d ever witnessed.
The multitude of Jewish pilgrims began to fill Jerusalem’s inns, houses, streets, and hillsides. On the first day of the week, we were summoned to what the Jews called “The Golden Gate,” because it was announced that a conquering king was about to enter Jerusalem. I quickly commanded my men to prepare for battle at the Golden Gate.
I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw what was happening. The street leading up to the Golden Gate was lined with cheering Jews who were waving palm branches and shouting out, “Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that comes in the name of the Lord!” When I heard them crying out, “Hosanna,” I grabbed one of the Jewish leaders I recognized and asked him what “Hosanna” meant. He said it meant, “Oh, Save Us!”
After hearing this, I urged my men into a run because I assumed that a military leader was entering the city with his army. When I saw what I saw, I halted my men’s charge and stood there in wonderment. I thought, “This is NOT a conquering king entering Jerusalem! This is nothing more than some “savior-want-to-be” that was enjoying his moment!
I told my soldiers to “stand down” and occupy their positions behind the multitude. I participated in parades of conquering kings and generals. I had NEVER seen a conquering king riding on the back of a donkey!! That poor colt looked hardly big enough to carry the man that was riding him, and the colt was being led by its mother! “This is NOT a conquering savior entering the city,” I thought!
I stood so I could see this “savior” more clearly. When the man approached, and passed, a group of people, they cried out more loudly. I was particularly struck by the fact that he was not waving at the people encouraging them to shout out. He kept looking at them, as if he were looking at each of them, and into them. He raised his hand much like I’ve seen Jewish leaders lift their hands when they prayed in the streets. It was if he was pronouncing a blessing upon them.
I noticed his hand – it was calloused and coarse. I wondered if he had a tender touch. His hands looked very similar to my father’s. I thought, “Hmm, I wonder if he worked with stone?”
He looked my way, and we looked at one another. Now, I’ve seen determination etched on the faces of many men before; but, there was such a deliberation upon his countenance, I was struck with an uncommon sense of awe. I’ve never been intimidated by any man in my life. BUT, there was something “otherworldly” about this “donkey-rider’s,” gaze that struck the core of my heart. I’ve faced many men in battle circumstances, and I’ve looked in their eyes as we embraced in mortal combat; but, I’ve never seen such an expression of focused strength!
While I did not fear this man, from the expression on his face, I was thankful that I was not called upon to attempt to fight him. There was no evidence of defiance in his demeanor, but it was easy to see he had entered Jerusalem with a mission and he wasn’t going to let anyone, or anything, stop him from completing it. I had the strange awareness that this man was not going to lose any battle soon. I was glad we were not enemies.
When the “donkey-rider” looked at me, I noticed something else – while his face exhibited a stern determination, his eyes projected tenderness, sorrow, love, and victory all at the same time. I was quickly struck with the awareness that this was no ordinary man. In fact, his reception was very much that of a conquering king; but his demeanor was that of a humble shepherd. I’d met many shepherds in Judea, but none of them had such a confident air.
I asked one of the men standing by me, “Who is this man?” My question was more of a command than an inquiry. Because of the recent loss of my friend, the man’s response struck a chord in my heart. The man replied, “His name is Jesus, Centurion. He is Jesus from Nazareth.”
I couldn’t believe it! I was looking on the face of my friend’s “Lord.” It made me miss my friend even more.
I stepped back to regain my advantaged position to give orders to my men. I was consumed with what my friend had told me about this Jesus. I glanced back one more time to see the parade. Jesus was about to turn a corner on the street. He looked back my way and nodded slightly as we locked eyes. Was his nod a sign of respect, a gesture of approval, a warning, or incidental? I didn’t know, but I did sense that this would not be the last time we encountered one another!