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.
Fellow soldiers: This centurion in the Gospel of Luke is an example to us all. This is a Roman soldier with great faith! Here is a man in charge of troops who set aside his pride and humbled himself before the Lord Jesus, begging Him to heal his sick servant.
1Now when He [Jesus] concluded all His sayings in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum. 2 And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear to him, was sick and ready to die. 3 So when he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Him, pleading with Him to come and heal his servant. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly, saying that the one for whom He should do this was deserving, 5 “for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.”Luke 7:1-5
was no ordinary centurion commander! He was a God-fearing proselyte to Judaism
as evidenced by the elders of his synagogue going to Jesus on his behalf. Even
though this man was a converted Gentile, his friends testified of his love for
Israel and participation in building a synagogue in in the city of Capernaum,
Jesus’ own base of ministry in Galilee. Jesus had taught in this very synagogue
(Luke 4:31; Mark 1:21) and this is where the centurion likely first heard Jesus
teach and when he recognized Him as the Messiah.
6 Then Jesus went with them. And when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. 7 ThereforeI did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”Luke 7:6-8
was a soldier who confessed his sinfulness in the presence of the Son of God,
the Savior of the world. He was unworthy to have Jesus enter his house and he
readily admitted this in spite of his high rank as a commander of other
soldiers. He believed that the Creator of Heaven and Earth stood before him and
He could speak and heal the centurion’s servant. Jesus was amazed at this man’s
9 When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” 10 And those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well who had been sick. Luke 7:9-10
guidance to all soldiers is to heed this centurion’s example – confess your
sins to God, trust in Jesus the Messiah to forgive your sins and save you from
eternal condemnation. If you believe in this Savior of all mankind, trust that
He died on the cross for you, rose again, and is in Heaven now, He will accept
you like He did this centurion. One day, all Gentile believers – Romans,
Greeks, Samaritans, all nations – will worship the King, the LORD of hosts, in
His glorious Kingdom.
And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles. Zechariah 14:16
Fellow soldiers, this is a reminder about something you already know: There is a time to move and a time to stand still. Sometimes, God calls us to action and sometimes our duty is to stand fast at our post and trust Him! Even when our labor is hard, which it often is, we stay at our post and do our duty to our commander. The Gospel is worth standing for no matter the opposition. We will not budge from the faith: truth, sound doctrine, and righteousness. Jesus Christ is our Fortress, High Tower, Stronghold – our Cornerstone!
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast,
immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,
knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:58
Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.
1 Corinthians 16:13
…continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast
…not moved away from the hope of the gospel
which you heard… Colossians 1:23
Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren,
my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.
At Our Post
by J. Jackson *
At our post, as valiant soldiers,
Bearing each our sword and shield;
This our watchword now and ever:
We will die, but never yield.
At our post, no step must falter,
Let us stand with one accord,
Beating back the wary tempter,
In the name of Christ the Lord.
At our post, no step must falter,
At our post, no time to sleep;
We must guard the royal standard,
Every eye a watch must keep. (Refrain)
At our post in active duty
Whensoe’er the Lord shall call;
At our post and faithful servants
May He find us one and all. (Refrain)
* J. Jackson’s songs were first published in New York City and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the 1880s. His last known work was his music for Am I a Soldier of the Cross?, composed December 20, 1933.
What was a Roman centurion? The name tells us that a centurion was an officer in charge of a “century” of 100 soldiers. More important, centurion is not a rank but a class of soldier within the Roman military structure. One historian noted that centurions were, “…formidable men who combined the functions and prestige of a modern company commander and sergeant-major or top sergeant.” Centurions were also chosen from the best of the best and their pay was seventeen times that of foot soldiers.
It is surprising that so many Roman centurions are mentioned in the New Testament. Two centurions are actually named in the New Testament! There are at least five and possibly seven if minor mentions refer to different centurions. Four centurions are described in a positive light and we have enough detail about some of them from multiple writers to get a glimpse into their character. We will discuss each of these men in future notices to the troops.
The Centurion and his Sick Servant – A centurion in Capernaum seeks Jesus’ healing power; note his standing with the local leaders—Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10
The Centurion at the Cross – At the cross, a centurion says of Jesus, “Truly this was the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39) and declares Him “righteous” (Luke 23:47), a term used by pagan Romans for their Emperor.
Centurion Cornelius – Cornelius, “a centurion of the Italian Cohort”—Acts 11:12, 17-18
Centurions at Paul’s Arrest and Protection – Centurions are mentioned prominently in the arrest (Acts 21:32), attempted whipping (22:22-29), custody (23:16-24), and escort of Paul to Rome (Acts 27).
CenturionJulius – Finally, we come to the last, Julius, (Acts 27:1) who was Paul’s custodian on his voyage, and who became interested in Paul, so much so that he saved him from death at the hands of the soldiers in the hour of threatened shipwreck.
Fellow soldiers: this is not the time to be discouraged. No matter how the battle rages and no matter how it looks like the enemy is winning, nothing can separate us from the love of our Savior!
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Romans 8:35-39 (NKJV)
You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
II Timothy 2:3
Almost every military unit in the Roman Army, from the largest to the smallest, is referenced in some way in New Testament writings. This shows how pervasive the military was in the province of Judea and in the rest of the Roman Empire. Military terms and references form an important part of New Testament vocabulary.
Legions – The legionis was the largest unit of soldiers in the Roman Army. It consisted of 5,000 to 7,000 men depending on how many were Romans and how many were auxiliaries or conscripts from the local province. The legionary soldiers encountered in Jerusalem during the time of the Gospels were with Legio X Fretensis (headquartered in Caesarea Maritima). Legio III Gallica was garrisoned in Decapolis and Legio VI Ferrata in Galilee. Around 66 AD, during the Jewish-Roman War, Legio XII Fulminata and two other legions from Syria joined the siege of Jerusalem. A total of six legions (30,000-35,000 soldiers) participated in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
The term legion was used as a hyperbole when large numbers were meant. A demon was named Legion, “for we are many” in Mark 5:9 and Luke 8:30.
Jesus could have called “twelve legions of angels” (60,000-70,000 angels) to His defense when He was arrested. (Matthew 26:53)
Cohort – An army cohort consisted of about one tenth of a legion, or 600-700 men. A cohort would contain about six centuries or centurea. The King James translation calls a cohort a “band.” The term cohort could also mean a unit of more than 100 soldiers.
Modern translations use the term cohort or regiment in such passages as:
A cohort was involved in Jesus’ arrest, trial, torture, and crucifixion. (John 18:3, 12;
Matthew 27:27; Mark 15:16)
Centurion Cornelius was assigned to the Italian Cohort. (Acts 10:1)
A cohort commander took charge of Paul’s protective custody in Jerusalem when Jews tried to kill him. (Acts 21:31)
Centurion Julius from the Augustus’ Regiment accompanied Paul from Caesarea to Rome. (Acts 27:1)
Century – A Roman centuria consisted of 80-100 soldiers. There could be as many as 60 centuries in a legion. Although a century of soldiers is not mentioned by name in the Bible, there are numerous references of its commander called a centurion. (More in a future chronicle about centurions!)
Guard – Called a “watch” in Matthew 27:65-66; 28:11. This was a squad of 4-16 soldiers sent to guard Jesus tomb. They were ineffective against the power of Almighty God in raising Jesus from the dead!
Squad of Four – Called a “quaternion” in Acts 12:4 where four quaternions (16 soldiers) were assigned to guard Peter in prison. Four quaternions were not enough! An angel miraculously freed Peter during the night where he was chained between two soldiers, took him past two guard posts, and set him free in the street of Jerusalem. (Acts 12:5-10)