Eternal Reflection – “The Witness” (Part 3) 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!
I returned to my quarters after my encounter with Jesus as he rode his donkey into the city. While the memory of his gaze remained in my mind, it was not long before I became consumed with my desire to exact revenge on Barabbas for killing my friend. The execution was scheduled to take place in two days. I couldn’t wait!
I handpicked the soldiers who would accompany me to execute Barabbas. They were the most ruthless, ardent soldiers in my company. While they were not my friends, they were loyal soldiers of Rome, and they respected my authority as their Centurion. They would jump off a cliff if I ordered them to! I had something very special planned to avail myself of their obedience and meanness – exact revenge for a friend!
The first statement I gave to these men was this, “You are being given a great privilege to not only do a service for King Caesar and Governor Pilate, but you will gain my undying gratitude by making sure that the man who killed my friend dies the most miserable death possible. Do your job correctly, and it is all right if you enjoy it in the process!”
Knowing that my father’s challenge of giving a “tender touch” amid my strength might rise up on the day of execution, I gave them an irreversible order – “There will be three men executed. I want you to vent all you anger, all your hatred, and all the spite you hold toward the Jews on the one that will be crucified in the middle of the other two. Even if I decide to give you the order to shorten his agony or ease up on his torture, do NOT obey me. He MUST die in the most excruciating manner possible!”
I knew I had chosen the right ones to carry out my orders. I had never seen such hatred and glee projected in men’s eyes as I did in my soldiers’ eyes after they heard my command. I was eager for them to spend some time with Barabbas.
The Religious – Political climate became increasingly volatile as the day of execution approached. My quarters were located near the High Priest’s Palace and I saw the flow of visitors to Caiaphas intensified. I was particularly interested when a solitary figure entered furtively two nights before the execution. I’ve seen traitors before, and this man had every mannerism of being a traitor. But, I didn’t bother myself with this – I had my mind on Barabbas.
The day before the execution arrived, and I felt exhilarated that my friend’s murder was finally going to be avenged! Everything was going as planned. I went down to the prison and had what I thought were some of my final words with Barabbas. I looked him in the eye and told him how satisfied I was going to be to see that his crucifixion was the most horrific of all I’d ever witnessed. He was unrepentant – that only whetted my appetite for revenge!
“Execution Eve” was different than I’d anticipated. Instead of being able to enjoy a quiet meal with my men, Governor Pilate summoned me to send extra guards to the High Priest’s Palace. It seemed that there was an uprising about to take place.
I decided to accompany my men. The “Traitor!” He returned to the High Priest’s Palace! After about 15 minutes, the “Traitor” and a group of the High Priest’s guards left quickly with an apparently urgent mission. Once again, I was glad I didn’t have to entangle myself with the Jewish problems.
After approximately one hour, the group returned. There he was – Jesus of Nazareth was in the middle of the guards, and they were delivering him as a prisoner to Caiaphas. Once again, I turned my thoughts to the execution of Barabbas. It was the only comfort I had at the time.
The Day of Execution arrived! I gathered my “special squad” and reiterated my orders and sent them off to Pilate’s Palace to be ready to exact my revenge.
I went to Pilate’s Hall as well. When I got there, there was such a commotion going on that I immediately sent for reinforcements to surround the mob of Jews that had gathered outside the Hall. There he was again – Jesus of Nazareth was standing behind Pilate! What?! Pilate sent Jesus back to the prison to be scourged! I had never felt so sorry for any prisoner who was going to be scourged before, BUT it was my men who were placed to exact any “extra punishment” that Barabbas would be given. They would be the ones to “handle” Jesus!
About one hour later, Jesus was returned and stood behind Pilate as he addressed the mob. Poor guy, Jesus had the same look of determination on his face, and my men had done their job exactly as I ordered. They dressed him in a robe and a crown of thorns to make him look like a king. I had told them that Barabbas needed to “feel” the part of being a leader!
I thought Jesus was going to be released. I’d never heard Pilate say, “I find no fault in this man” before with any other prisoner. What I heard next nearly drove me to my knees. Pilate offered to release any prisoner the people chose in honor of the Passover. I just knew they would choose Jesus; for, I saw many of the same faces who welcomed him into Jerusalem the other day, standing in the mob. They began to chant, “Barabbas! Barabbas! Barabbas!”
I wanted to cry out, “NO!!!!! Don’t release Barabbas! He killed my friend. I don’t know much about Jesus, but he didn’t kill my friend! AND my friend believed he was the Son of God!”
I’ll NEVER forget what the people said when Pilate asked them what they wanted him to do with Jesus. Their chant still resounds in my spirit – “Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!”
When I first saw Jesus of Nazareth riding the donkey’s colt into Jerusalem, I didn’t dream that he would be the “Man in the Middle” on Golgotha’s Hill. AND, there was nothing I could do to alleviate his pain; for, I’d already ordered my men to dismiss any change in orders concerning the execution of the “Man in the Middle.”
While I couldn’t do anything to interfere with the torment my men were exacting on Jesus, who had taken the place of Barabbas, I did step in to help him carry his cross to Golgotha. He was having difficulty carrying the cross beam, so I ordered one of the by-standers to carry it for him. Jesus looked at me again and gave the same nod that he had done when he looked back while riding the donkey. His gaze and nod seemed to express, “Thank you for helping me accomplish this.”
When we arrived at Golgotha, I was amazed to see the large crowd of Jewish leaders that had already gathered awaiting the arrival of Jesus. I ordered my men to push the crowd back.
My men did their job exquisitely! How I wished I had not ordered them to be so harsh. Barabbas! Vengeance should have been meted out on Barabbas – NOT Jesus! I wanted to hunt Barabbas down, BUT Pilate had pardoned him. I would be the criminal if I killed him for murdering my friend! “What a twist of fate,” I thought!
I locked eyes with Jesus as my men drove the nails in his hands. Once again, I saw such great determination and tenderness. He neither cried out when they struck the nails, nor did he ask for mercy. With his arms stretched out and his hands turned outward, I could see how calloused and coarse they were, yet I sensed he had a tender touch. He evidenced it when he said, “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing!”
The two criminals who were executed with Jesus joined the crowd in taunting Jesus. After approximately one and one-half hours, one of the criminals seemed to “come to himself,” and was repentant. I heard him say to his friend, “We deserve to be here, but this man is innocent.” Some of the Jewish leaders laughed when they heard this, but I didn’t. What he said next struck me deeply in my heart. He said, “LORD, please remember me when you enter into your kingdom.” The thief called Jesus the same thing my friend did – he called him, “Lord!”
I listened closely as Jesus responded with, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” I wondered if my friend was in Paradise. My friend believed in life after death – I did NOT! While I was thinking about this, suddenly a strange darkness appeared. It was like the time of day of speeded up and nightfall had come. BUT, this was different than the night. It was as if the gods were angry and attempted to hide what was being done on Golgotha. This darkness lasted from around noon to three in the afternoon. It was so strange!
At approximately 3:00 p.m., I could tell that Jesus wasn’t going to live much longer. My men had done their job perfectly! Jesus was struggling to get his breath. He lifted himself, so he could get some air, then he spoke his last words, “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.” Jesus died immediately after saying this.
Immediately after Jesus spoke, an eerie earthquake sounded throughout the countryside! It happened so quickly that I was certain that his Father not only heard his cry, but he answered with a sign that what Jesus just did had shaken all of creation! This convinced me. My friend was correct! I heard myself say, “Surely, this is the Son of God!”
Yes!! I was “There!” When the earth shook, I was convinced that all creation was “There!” Jesus took the place of my friend’s murderer. After hearing Jesus say, “Father forgive them,” seeing the darkness, and feeling the earth convulse with the death of Jesus, I came to understand that Jesus had taken my place on the Cross as well.
I was sorrowful for three days! I assigned my men to stand guard over the tomb of Jesus. Pilate ordered me to send some men. After all, they crucified him, it was only fitting that they would keep watch. There was no way they would let anyone enter that tomb and steal the body of Jesus!!!
I heard another earthquake as the sun was rising on the third day after Jesus was placed in the tomb. What do you know?! His body was no longer in the tomb!! The Jews reported that his followers came and stole his body. I could only laugh!! There was no way my men would let that happen!!
Surely Jesus is the Son of God, and I’m going to believe in Him and follow Him! Yes, I was “There!” I still am!!