“Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11
My fellow soldiers, there is a rumor being passed around by some of our troops that a soldier is the captain of his own soul.This is a lie! Each soldier must answer this question for himself: Who is in charge of my soul? His answer will take him in two possible directions, each of which will determine where he spends eternity after he dies. How will you answer this question?
– Refuse to believe in Jesus Christ in this life and believe the lie that you are the captain of your own destiny. Do this and you will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire where you will confess forever with your lips that God is right—Jesus Christ is Lord.
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul
– Believe while you still have breath that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is Lord and that He died for your sins and arose from the dead, and God will give you eternal life. You will spend eternity joyfully praising Jesus Christ with your lips and thanking Him as the Captain of your soul.
I thank the God I know to be,
For Christ – the Conqueror of my soul.
Christ is the Master of my fate,
Christ is the Captain of my soul.
by Dorothea Day *
Out of the night that dazzles me,
Bright as the sun from pole to pole,
I thank the God I know to be
For Christ the conqueror of my soul.
Since His the sway of circumstance,
I would not wince nor cry aloud.
Under that rule which men call chance
My head with joy is humbly bowed.
Beyond this place of sin and tears
That life with Him! And His the aid,
Despite the menace of the years,
Keeps, and shall keep me, unafraid.
I have no fear, though strait the gate,
He cleared from punishment the scroll.
Christ is the Master of my fate,
Christ is the Captain of my soul.
* Dorthea Day wrote this poem originally titled “Conquered” as a line-for-line response to a poem by the humanist William Ernest Henley titled “Invictus,” meaning “Unconquered” or “Unconquerable.”
The beginning and ending lines of each poem, quoted above, could not be more different:
Arrogant, self-reliant, angry, bitter—unyielding and defiant against God.
Humble, contrite, joyous, hopeful—submissive to Jesus Christ as Captain.
“And the soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim away and escape. But the centurion, [Julius] wanting to save Paul, kept them from their purpose, and commanded that those who could swim should jump overboard first and get to land, and the rest, some on boards and some on parts of the ship. And so it was that they all escaped safely to land.” (Acts 27:43-44)
The fifth and last centurion mentioned in the New Testament is Julius with the Augustan Regiment or Cohort. (Acts 27:1) The apostle Paul and some number of other prisoners (including apparently Luke the physician, from the “we” in his narrative) were put in the custody of Centurion Julius to be taken by sea to Rome for trial. We get a sense of this officer’s good character when the boat stopped briefly in Sidon, “…Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him liberty to go to his friends and receive care.” (27:3) This is an unusually generous move by Julius. It’s possible that the centurion went easy on Paul because the apostle was not a violent offender and/or he knew the doubtful circumstances of his arrest. Two governors couldn’t figure out what crime Paul had committed, but they were obligated to send him to Rome when he appealed to Caesar.
The soldiers and their prisoners changed ships in Myra and the centurion hired an Alexandrian ship to take them to Rome. (27:6) It should be no surprise that when they ran into bad weather Centurion Julius deferred to the helmsman and owner of the ship rather than listen to Paul’s prediction of calamity. The consensus of the mariners was to continue on rather than anchor where there was little shelter. (27:10-12) Paul then predicted that if they stayed in the ship they would survive the storm. This proved true when some tried to leave the ship and perished. (27:30-32)
The shipwreck on Malta is filled with drama. Paul predicted that, “…not a hair will fall from the head of any of you.” (27:34) By now the soldiers and the crew listened to Paul even though he was not a sailor. The ship ran aground and the waves broke the ship apart. The soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners and save themselves, but Centurion Julius, much to his credit, put a stop to that. (27:43-44) Why did the soldiers want to kill the prisoners? If they let them go, they might overpower the soldiers and escape. The soldiers would be executed for not doing their job. What was the centurion’s motive for ordering the prisoners’ released? Besides a sense of responsibility and justice, it appears that Julius did this for Paul’s sake! (27:43a)
The soldiers and their prisoners survived on Malta and after three months arrived in Rome. “Now when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him.” (28:16) Centurion Julius completed his mission in Rome. It could have been Centurion Julius’ report about Paul’s conduct on the voyage that influenced his relatively mild treatment when the Roman Praetorian Guard became responsible for him. (Philippians 1:13) [More on the Praetorians in a future dispatch of the Centurion Chronicles.]
Julius was Paul’s custodian on his long voyage and one has to believe that the apostle share the gospel with him during that time. The centurion saved Paul from death at the hands of the soldiers in the hour of threatened shipwreck. Did he do this out of professional duty or did he have some special interest or regard for the most unusual prisoner he’d ever met. Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, depicts Centurion Julius as a man of honor, decision, and compassion. He is shown to be a capable and professional Roman officer.
My fellow soldiers, our strength as Christians is not in our weapons or our horses or our own abilities, but in the Lord. Too often, we waste time glorying in physical resources and riches and health. We forget that our true strength is in Jesus Christ and His ability to work in us to win the spiritual battles of life. Today will be another clash in a long string of daily battles against our foe. Don’t fall for the enemy’s trick and believe that your battle armor is what will save you from the fiery darts aimed your way. Please God by trusting in His lovingkindness, judgment, mercy, and righteousness and He will win the day!
Centurions are prominent in the Book of Acts in the apostle Paul’s arrest (Acts 21:32), attempted whipping (22:24-29), custody (23:16-24), and transfer to the governor of Judea. (23:23-24)
Paul was seized and beaten by a crowd who had mistaken him for a another man (so they claimed). Tribune Claudius Lysias, the cohort commander, arrived with centurions and their troops and whisked Paul away by force, but not before he allowed Paul to speak final words to the angry mob. When Paul gave his testimony and concluded with his charge by God to go to the Gentiles, the crowd spun out of control. (21:31-22:23)
Back in the soldiers’ barracks, Lysias ordered Paul tortured to determine the circumstances of the riot which the soldiers believed to be Paul’s fault. A curious thing happened just as Paul was about to be scourged: “And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, ‘Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?’” Paul addressed the centurion in charge of the whipping in what almost seems from the text like a casual comment. Why did Paul wait until the last second to raise the subject of his Roman citizenship? He could have said something as soon as the tribune arrested him. After a brief discussion about the source of their respective Roman citizenships, the information is taken to Lysias who was afraid that his men had almost violated the cardinal right of a Roman citizen to a trial. (22:24-29) [A future episode of The Centurion Chronicles will explain Roman citizenship and how it played an important part in the Apostle Paul’s ministry.]
While Paul was in the soldier’s barracks for protective custody he learned from his nephew of a secret plot on his life by Jewish zealots. Another interaction with a centurion (possibly the same officer who halted his whipping a few days earlier) seems unusual. “Then Paul called one of the centurions to him and said, ‘Take this young man to the commander, for he has something to tell him.’” (23:17) Here is the Apostle Paul ordering a centurion to do his bidding! He orders this high-ranking officer as if he is a common soldier, and the centurion dutifully does what “Paul the prisoner…” told him to do! (23:18)
Tribune Lysias was now responsible for protecting the citizen Paul from harm. He ordered two centurions and their troop to take Paul to the governor who would decide how to handle what could be an explosive political situation. The two centuries of soldiers deliver Paul to the fortress of Antipatris built by Herod the Great where Governor Felix will decide what to do with him. (24:23-24, 31-35)
My fellow soldiers, we are in our formation preparing for another battle. We go into combat against our foe with confidence that our cause is right and our victory is sure. What happened in the past is behind us now – our defeats, missed opportunities, regrets. We know that our Lord will bring us to a final victory when we finish our last battle.
“…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6
Our attack today is at a double-time march because our enemy is on the run! Remember those comrades of battles past who have gone on before. They gave their lives in the fight and are now gathered around us to urge us onward!
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2
Grab your weapons! Line up! March forward to victory!
My fellow warriors, I have the pleasure of introducing you to the most well-known centurion in the New Testament. His name is Cornelius, of the Italian Cohort (Regiment), who came to faith in Jesus Christ in a most unusual way.
Our comrade was a God-fearing soldier—just and devout—who converted to Judaism along with others in his household. Even as a Gentile (non-Jew) he had a good reputation among Jews in Israel and was particularly known for his generous giving to the poor.
day, he was praying and fasting in his house when an angel appeared to him with
a strange message: send for a man in Joppa named Simon (Peter) staying at the
home of a tanner in that city. Ask Peter to come to your house with a message
from God. Having himself just seen a vision from God on the rooftop of the
tanner’s house, Peter went to this Gentile’s house–something which he normally
would not have done if it hadn’t been for the vision.
When Peter arrive at the officer’s home he found the household waiting eagerly to hear what he had to say. Cornelius even bowed in worship at Peter’s feet because it was obvious that Petr was there as a messenger from God. Peter rebuked Cornelius’ worship and, almost overwhelmed by the supernatural circumstances of the call and the eager reception by these Gentiles, Peter proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ beginning with His anointing by God’s Holy Spirit as Israel’s Messiah. Peter finished his proclamation of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection with these words: “To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.” Cornelius and those in his house believed on Jesus and were out of darkness and into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.
Soon after, Peter met with other apostles and brethren in Jerusalem to explain how God saved Cornelius and other Gentiles in his house in exactly the same way that God saved thousands of Jews earlier at Pentecost.. (Acts 2) “…the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. “
“Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” Acts 11:16-17
The Jewish believers’ reaction to salvation of Gentiles, accompanied by the miraculous signs they had witnessed at Pentecost, was joy at what God had done. “When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.’”
My friends, Centurion Cornelius is a model for us all. What a wonderful thing God did when He broke down the wall of animosity between Jews and Gentiles in Jesus Christ! Even Roman soldiers are welcomed into God’s family by faith!
“There is neither Jew nor Greek (Gentile), there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
“I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” Romans 7:21-25
My fellow soldiers, this battle hymn and others in our series may be misunderstood by some. I will talk more in a future dispatch about the subject of military metaphores in the Bible, but here let it be understood for now that the language of battle hymns is figurative and not literal. Of course, we cannot literally fight against Satan and his kingdom of darkness and our battle is not with the forces of evil or injustice in the world even though we stand against all that they represent. (Ephesians 6:12-13)
Our battle is an inner one. In Romans chapter seven quoted above, the Apostle Paul speaks of the battlefield that takes place inside every Christian soldier’s mind. We face a daily war between that old part of us that wants to sin and the new part of us that wants to please God. How to win that battle iss the issue of living the Christian life. I point you back to chapter six in the book of Romans to our crucified-resurrected life in Christ. Paul encourages, “…Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16) This mention about fighting the spiritual battle is too brief, but only to show that the battles are largely quiet, inner struggles. We need the Holy Spirit to guide us through the Word of God so we know God’s battle plan for living our lives to honor our Great Commander – Jesus Christ.
The Fight is On!
by Lelia Morris *
* Lelia (Mrs. C.H.) Morris (1862-1929) was born in Pennsville, Morgan County, Ohio. When her family moved to Malta on the Muskingum River she and her sister and mother had a millinery shop in McConnelsville. She and her husband Charles H. Morris were active in the Methodist Episcopal Church and at the camp meetings in Sebring and Mt. Vernon. She wrote hymns as she did her housework. Although she became blind at age 52 she continued to write hymns on a 28-foot long blackboard that her family had built for her. She is said to have written 1000 texts and many tunes including “Sweeter as the years go by.”
“He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:3-5 NKJV
My fellow soldiers, the execution of Jesus may have seemed routine at the time to those accustomed to death by crucifixion. However, as the events of this day unfolded, it proved to be the most unusual crucifixion in all of history. Notice that a Roman centurion was in charge of his soldiers carrying out the order of Governor Pilate. Accounts in all four of the gospels give us insight into what this centurion saw, heard, and said. (Matthew 27:24-54; Mark 15:15-39; Luke 23:23-47; John 19:16-37) Here is a brief list:
He heard Pilate say that Jesus was innocent and that He was a “just man.”
He watched his soldiers abuse Jesus by stripping Him, dressing Him in a royal robe and mocking Him as the Jew’s “king.” They mercilessly beat Him with their fists and a rod, spat on Him, and pressed a painful crown of thorns into His head.
He supervised Jesus’ crucifixion to follow the governor’s orders exactly. The soldiers made sure that they firmly nailed Jesus hands and feet to the wooden cross so He would stay there until He died.
The centurion may have personally written the inscription over Jesus’ head in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Did he even know who Jesus was? Did he know what this inscription meant?
He waited with his men near the cross and would have heard words that Jesus spoke before He died. The sky turned strangely dark at midday for three hours. These words stood out:
them, for they do not know what they do.” This was astonishing! Never had the centurion
heard a dying man ask forgiveness for his executioners. It must have caused him
to wonder, ‘What kind of man is this?’
“Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” This was another unusual statement! Crucified criminals normally took all day to died a slow, painful death. Jesus was yielding His life willingly for the sins of the word.
“It is finished!” The moment Jesus said this, there was an earthquake and the coincidence struck the centurion like a thunderbolt!. Soldiers normally do not fear much, but to see Jesus die in the darkness of midday and feel the earth tremble at the moment of His death must have been terrifying.
The unusual events of the day finally came together for the centurion: the rigged trial and death sentence, the brutality of his soldiers, the written accusation that Jesus was King of the Jews, His words of forgiveness while He awaited death, the miraculous mid-day darkness, and the earthquake coinciding with His death. The officer concluded, “Certainly this was a righteous Man!” using a term normally reserved for the Roman Emperor, whom most Romans considered a deity. He then stated, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
It was customary for the soldiers to break the convicted’s legs to hasten death at the end of the day. Jesus was already dead late in the early afternoon , which the soldier found surprising. Instead of breaking His legs, a soldier punctured Jesus’ side with his lance. Blood and water came out, confirming His death. The centurion could report back to Pilate that the convicted criminals were dead. The soldiers would return to their barracks after a day that they would not soon forget. Some would return shortly thereafter to guard Jesus tomb.
Did the centurion who witnessed the events of this day confess Jesus of Nazareth to be the Son of God for his eternal salvation? I John 4:15
Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.Philippians 3:13-14
My fellow soldiers! Last time I exhorted us to stand at our post in faith without wavering. Yes, there are times to stand firm, without budging and without fear. Then there are times to press forward.
The night watch is over and it’s a new day. It’s time to march forward into battle! Secure your armor – belt buckled and breastplate tight. Check that your sandals are fit for the long march ahead. Gather your shield, sword, and helmet. Before we begin our march, pause and remember that today is a new day to serve our Lord and Master. As servant-soldiers, we know that our life can be taken on the battlefield at any moment. So keep your eyes on the reward that awaits all God’s soldiers when the battle is finally over: “Well done!”
Marching on! Marching on!
By Robert Lowry # and William B. Bradbury **
# Robert Lowry (1826 –1899) was an American preacher who became a popular writer of gospel music in the mid- to late-19th century. His best-known hymns include “Shall We Gather at the River“, “Christ Arose!“, “How Can I Keep from Singing?” and “Nothing But The Blood Of Jesus“.
** William B. Bradbury (1816 –1868) was born in York Maine and grew up in Boston. He was a musician who composed the tune to “Jesus Loves Me” and many other popular hymns.