Looking In His Eyes

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Religion and Spirituality  |  House: Booksie Classic
He was a battle scarred Roman soldier. His past lived in his nightmares, unspoken memories haunting his thoughts, his dreams, his every moment... until... Until he looked into His eyes.

Submitted: April 02, 2019

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Submitted: April 02, 2019



A Letter by a Roman Soldier:


Dear Markus;

By now, you know I am gone.  Allow me to explain before you jump to conclusions. 

You know me well.  We were cadets in the Roman Army, beginning our charge side by side.  We are brothers in arms, yet we are more than brothers.  Our blood ran together in many a heated battle.  The desert sun drank of our sweat in many campaigns.  You know I am not an Emansor, a deserter of the Roman Army.  No, my friend, you know better.  My allegiance is pure, yet there have always been doubts. 

Of course, we would never question our orders out loud.  As you, I would never put a voice to my doubts.  Even when I would wake in the early hours of dawn, covered in sweat and my heart pounding fiercely in my chest as if it were the heart of a beast and not my own.  I would be so startled, my scream choking me lest I put sound to the very horror of my dreams. 

There are some who can live with their orders, thinking not of their actions and not feeling the misery we inflict.  They sleep well through the night.  But their peace is not mine and I would wager their peace is not your own.  I consider the soil of their hearts as hard as the soil they walk upon.

Do you remember our first orders?  I do not mean the orders of guarding the aquila or keeping the children from the aquaducts.  I do not mean the orders of protection we all started out with as discens – the orders of a cadet.  I mean our first order of battle.  Do you remember Bethlehem? 

We rode out in the hours before dawn.  Most of the little ones were still in their cradles until they heard our stampede into town.  I remember just receiving a new breastplate and it was chafing my chest.  The chafing hurt all the while we were riding and I barely heard the orders as we regrouped beyond the town. 

Then we charged on. 

My stag was a strong one, running like the waters in the aquaducts after a hard rain.  We stormed into Bethlehem with the orders to kill every male infant, two years old and under.  I think it was my chafing slowing me down.  I could not strike and leave as some were doing, pushing their thoughts aside and following their orders.  I saw other soldiers ripping young boys from their mother’s arms, mere infants I tell you, and bring their swords down.  Their brutality made me cringe. 

I followed one soldier into a house; he was an emeritus – a veteran soldier.  I thought I would learn from him, yet he disgusted me with his savageness.  He was a barbarian!  He was not the image of a Roman soldier taught to us in the schools, but the image of an evil beast.  I followed him into a house so small and with furnishings so bare.  I saw the infant being fed at the mother’s breast.  She cried some foreign words, but as a cadet, I was not familiar with the dialect.  He knew what she was saying and still he pulled the baby from her arms.

The mother fell to her knees as she watched him squeeze the last of the life from her baby.  I stopped the father when he came storming into the room.  I saw my thoughts mirrored in his expression.  The fear.  The terror.  The hatred and the helplessness.  What could he do against two Roman soldiers?  He stood there with his mouth hanging open for a few minutes, not even breathing.  Then he said two words in a language I clearly understood…

My daughter. 

I left immediately.  I had no meal in the morning, yet my stomach was sour.  I saw what he had done.  I know he understood the words of the woman.  He knew the infant was a girl, but killed the child anyway.  My anguish could not muffle the death cries of the mother and father as he slaughtered the whole family.

The butchering of the infants continued throughout the morning.  I must confess… I did my share.  I had my orders and I am a Roman soldier.  But I tell you, Markus, there was no glory for Rome on that day.  All of the schooling we went through… all they told us about honor… glory… and the heritage of our army…  not on that day in Bethlehem.  Yet, I am sure you remember your own horrors from Bethlehem.

Tetelestai.  Do you know this word?  I will tell you about it.  After we left Bethlehem, tetelestai would have been all they could say as the dust from our horses settled on the blood of their infants. 


We were only teens.  Do you remember?  What was it, thirty-one, thirty-two years ago?  How old do you think this Jesus was who died on the cross this past week?  Do you know He was born in Bethlehem?  Do you know when?

You were not there for the man baptizing people in the river.  We found John the Baptist at the River Jordan.  He lived in the desert with no home whatsoever, eating bugs and locust.  We actually found some in his beard caught in something sticky and disgusting.  His very existence was appalling, yet we found ourselves listening to him before his death.  He was not intelligent, nor appealing in his appearance, but for some reason I wanted to listen to him. 

He told me about this Jesus.

We threw this nomad against a rock before I followed my orders.  The death my blade has brought upon this land is beyond my count, Markus.  You know my beliefs, my oath, and my deeds.  As it is with your sword, mine has been cleaned of blood many times, but not my memory.  Those images linger, drenching my dreams in a crimson bath. 

I am a Roman soldier and I followed my orders, though I did not deliver his head.  I could not bear to touch it after it fell.  I can still hear the sound of the blade as it came down, a sound haunting me in my sleep.  A sound Herodias will never have to hear, but one echoing in my memories.  Now I know the sound was telling me something.  Yes, I am sure it was telling me something.  Just one word… 

Tetelestai.  Yes, this word does say it all.

I am not the only one, Markus.  Others are questioning what has happened over the past few weeks.  I know of a Centurion whom asked Jesus to heal his servant.  Now you might think this is just a rumor, but I talked to the servant and the Centurion.  I spoke with others around the Centurion’s house.  This Jewish Messiah did not even go to the house to see the servant.  He spoke the words and ordered his healing.

Yet, did He lift one finger to defend Himself last week?  I am confident you heard what the guards did to Him.  You surely know of the beatings, the mocking, the shoving, and how they ridiculed this Man.  I actually saw them pull His beard out in clumps!  Plucking off patches of His skin with His beard, yet never did He defend Himself. 

They spit in His face!  They beat Him on His back, which was already scourged!  They beat Him where the wounds bleed the most.  There was so much blood on the floor, several guards slipped and fell to the ground. 

I watched His beating from the shadows.  I was fascinated and afraid at the same time.  Here I am, a Roman Soldier – a Centurion – afraid of a few lowly temple guards.  I was afraid of being known as a man whom walks with a warm heart beating in my chest, instead of a cold heart pushing frigid death through the veins of those heathen guards.  And I was fascinated this Jesus did not once defend Himself or raise His voice against them.  I tell you by what I know now, those guards are extremely fortunate Jesus did not curse them.  Those guards could have been wiped from the face of the Roman Empire, their memory obliterated from our thoughts, yet He allowed the beatings to continue.  Of all the powers this Jesus could yield, yet He allowed the beatings to continue. 

I wonder if the servants knew the value of the blood they cleaned from the floors the next day.  When the guards went home to their families, I wonder if they realized the value of the blood drying on their garments. 

My fascination eventually gave way to fatigue and I left the guards to the beatings.  I am ashamed now, but honor forces my hand no longer.  Would it be up to me, I would take His place in death, but I am getting ahead of myself.

I do not know of the person who fashioned the thorns wrapped around His head.  I am too familiar with those thorns.  There is something about them, something about the juice in the thorn or the dust resting upon their points.  A minor scrap will leave a painful irritation.  It burns, my friend, and even I, a Roman Soldier, am very aware of the burning their points may cause.  I do not want to consider the pain He endured to wear the crown of points over His head.  His scalp had to feel as if it were on fire, His forehead ablaze with the sensation these thorns cause.

And I believe the pain of the thorns was minor to what I saw the day of His crucifixion. 

Were you there for the procession, Markus?  I thought you were, although you could have stood right by my side and I would not have known you were there.  What I saw enthralled me as if it were my first crucifixion!  Oh, the other two crucified with this Jesus were of the normal lot, one screaming curses at the crowd and the crown, spitting at our feet and daring to hold our stares, the other crying out for mercy, almost sobbing.

Then this Jesus came into view, struggling to carry His cross.  His appearance silenced the jeering crowd.  Was it the blood or did they notice a difference in this Man?  This Jesus was different in His sheer determination.  There were no guards coaxing Him and He was not being prodded.  He was not being coerced into going to His death, He went there of His own volition.  He was as determined to get to the crucifixion as you or I might be determined to take our next breath – it is something we must do.  Nothing would stop Him from His mission.  He was determined, beyond any determination I have ever experienced or witnessed. 

A few in the crowd got the shouting to begin again.  I think Pilot or Herod may have planted them there.  I stood there guarding the path for the prisoners and something inside told me this Jesus was not a Man of the crimes He was accused.  We are trained not to consider such thoughts and to be disciplined in our thinking, yet the sight of this Man struggling with the weight of the cross… the rough, jagged wood digging splinters into the flesh of His savaged back! 

Did you see the strips where the scourging had ripped the flesh from His back?  In some places it just hung, dangling like some cruel decoration.  I never before saw anyone beat in such a way and still be able to walk. 

And when He looked in my direction…  I can describe much to you about this Man though I could not come close to telling you about His eyes.  His eyes were… His eyes were… well, I can only tell you I felt as if I stared into His eyes for hours.  A moment in time, a fraction of an eye blink, stretching out in time for me.  In the eternity of that moment, I saw every life I ended as a Roman Soldier.  I saw three lives taken in a moment of anger – murder for anyone else, but for a Roman Soldier it was justified as enforcement of the Roman Rule.  I saw my looting after our campaigns, stealing the goods of the dead, and I saw the passions of the flesh I have tasted.  The weight of a lifetime of hidden deeds and curses, lifted in a moment as I looked into His eyes. 

When the moment ended, He stumbled under the weight of the cross.  I tell you Markus, I felt the weight of all those past crimes lifted from my heart and I have to wonder if they were put upon Him?  Why else would He stumble at that very moment?  Could it be he carried more than just a cross? 

He stumbled and I pushed a man standing next to me forward and told him to carry the cross.  This man turned to me, hesitating until I reached for my sword.  There was something in his eyes telling me he had held the stare of this man they call Jesus.  There was something telling me I was not alone in my freedom.  Jesus stepped in front of the cross and I walked behind, my first steps in following Him.

They laid Him down upon the cross.  He was calm.  He was at peace.  I wanted to shout at Him, “What are you doing?  Do you not know the horrible death you face?  Do you not realize the torment you will go through?  Even the beatings of the guards are nothing compared to this!  Do something!” 

I may have found it easier if He would have pleaded for His life.  Things would have been normal.  This would have been just another crucifixion.  I would not have witnessed something unnatural or something unusual.  I would have been able to walk away, I think, because He would have just been another person.  The whole event would have just been another event, another execution.

Were you there by then, Markus?  I saw two guards sparring over which would drive the spikes through Him.  I stole another quick look into his eyes in the confusion.  I cannot tell you what I felt, for again time seemed to stand still.  I was lost in the compassion this man held for me.  He regarded me with compassion and a feeling of love.  There was nothing shameful.  He regarded me in a way I have never felt before and a new nurturing began to stir deep within my heart.  His eyes suddenly winced shut when the first spike pierced His arm and my trance with him was broken.  I felt crippled as I stood there watching the second spike drive agony further into Him. 

The guards lifted the posts high and sank them into the ground with a thud.  Those guards must have ice in their veins the way they slam the beam to the bottom of the hole to cause the entire cross to jerk.  Truly, crucifixion is the most horrendous execution we can put upon the flesh of man.

I looked up to Him, wanting to avoid His eyes but at the same time wanting to see into them one more time before they would shut forever.  He stunned the crowd into silence.  He asked for forgiveness for us.  One guard started to grumble and was struck down for his words.  I can still feel the blow on the back of my hand. 

Some of the planted crowd raisers were nearby and started to whip the crowd into hysteria until He spoke again.  He looked up to the sky this time and screamed out, “Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani.”

The translation was, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  There was such agony in His voice.  You and I know well of the agony the crucifixions bring upon the crucified, but His was deeper than a physical agony.  His cry rang out from His heart, breaking under the weight of the world pressing upon it, the sheer evil forces of man and beast.  His was a cry I heard not so much with my ears as I heard with my heart. 

Tetelestai.  Yes… I promised to tell you the meaning of this word. 

This was His final word.  I have heard this word in my heart over and over again.  This is the word awakening me in my sleep now, instead of the horrors of my youth.  This is the word that finishes and begins, a word that should cause the forces of evil to cringe, for it is the word binding them by He who spoke it!  This is the word to stop it all!  This single word, Markus, has changed my life.  What does it mean, you wonder? 


These words in themselves would describe the scene, for He died after speaking them.  But as I said, Tetelestai means so much more for all of us.  It is finished means it is done.  Nothing else needs to be done.  Nothing else needs to be added to what He has done. 

All I could do was stand there, staring up to His closed eyes, and wondering about His last word.  The soldiers broke the legs of the other two prisoners, and even their shrieks of pain could not break my somber thoughts.  I saw you, Markus, step to the cross and stop the soldiers from breaking His legs.  Did you know what would run from Him after you pierced His side?  Some have said it to be the tears of His heart. 

Even from the distance, I heard your words.  "Surely this man was the Son of God!"  So, I know you know what I am talking about.  Did you look into His eyes?

For the next few hours, I knew not my place.  I went with some of His followers who asked for the body under the premise of protecting them from the crowds.  They placed His body in a fresh tomb carved in the hillside. 

I actually helped them, you know.  I wanted to help them.  This Jesus… there was something about Him and I wanted to know more, but I had to wait because of their customs and their festivals.  I waited until later on Sunday and walked the road to the tomb, hoping to find His followers there.  I chose to walk, enjoying the peace of the day and wondering what I would find out about this Jesus.

My very own heart almost stopped when I saw Him.  I was thinking about this Man dying on the cross and I saw Him walking toward me.  I rubbed my eyes and still He was walking toward me.  I slapped my cheeks and this time He laughed at me.  He actually laughed at me, His face full of life and excitement!  I was amazed.  He reached out and grabbed my hands, holding them in His and smiled at me.  I saw the jagged scars from the spikes, yet these scars looked as if they were years old – they were healed!  I looked up in wonderment, and He said, “I AM HE.”

I bowed down before Him.  Yes, I know, a Roman Soldier bowing before someone other than Caesar or the Auspicia, let alone a Jew who died three days earlier! 

And then He said, “Tetelestai.  What is finished is I have paid the debt for your sins.  There is nothing more you need do.  Go, and sin no more, for you are now a new creation.  Know it was by my love for you that I paid the price.  You are resurrected with me, as I am standing before you now.” 

I will never forget those words.  I will never forget the embrace we shared afterward. 

Now I hear the word Tetelestai everywhere I go.  I believe it to be God’s way of reminding me I am no longer a slave to sin and evil is no longer a master over me.  Nothing else needs to be done for my freedom.  I am truly free!  I am free from the horrors speaking to me in my dreams at night.  I am no longer a slave to the nightmares and the thoughts plaguing my waking hours.  I am free in Jesus Christ.

This is why I am writing to you, my friend.  I want you to know why I retire my post as a Roman Soldier.  My allegiance to Caesar is strong and my allegiance to Rome is strong, yet my allegiance to Jesus is stronger.  I must go and learn more about this Man.  I must go and talk with His followers.  I want to know more about Him. 

Tetelestai.  I told you I still hear the word.  I hear it in the wind, in the murmuring of the crowds when I am in the city.  I hear it in the quiet hours of the morning when I am just waking up.  I hear it as the last word before I sleep.  I hear His words He spoke to me on the road.  Tetelestai.  Go and sin no more, for you are a new creation! 

It is finished.  Realize, my friend, Jesus could have done no more to reconcile us to God, nor can we. 



And so now, I leave you with that one word;

Your Brother in Arms.



- The End

© Copyright 2019 Glenn Sasscer. All rights reserved.

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