The Cyrenian Cycle: Lucius the Centurion

His name was Lucius, second son
By birth, and second to be done
With his Cyrenian home. And he
Was violent, and of the three,
The neighbor children feared him most.
He dreamed that on the northern coast
Of Africa someday, his name
Would be remembered like the fame
Of Alexander in the East
And Julius in the West. The least
Annoyance pricked his pride
And set him raging, as if tide
And wind and waves should heed
His beck and call. It wasn't greed,
Like Simon's lust, that drove him out
Of Africa. It was the clout
And sway of military might.
It was a burning appetite
For all the pleasures of command.
"Someday," he said, "I'll lift my hand,
And servants will appear. I'll say,
‘Come here,' and they will come. Or, "Stay!"
And they will stay. Or, "Go!" And by
My warrant they will go, or die."

Rufina tried to reason with
The boy, but everything was myth
And make-believe as far as he
Could see. Her faith, her piety,
Her hope that someday soon the King
Of Glory would appear, and bring
The boast and arrogance of man
Down from its fragile throne, would fan
In Lucius all the fires of rage,
And neither kindred, love, nor age,
Could soften his contempt for her
Belief. And so she prayed, "Bestir
Yourself, O God of might and all
Authority, and show how small
Is all the right and mastery
Of military life. My plea,
O Lord of hosts, is that my son,
Before it is too late, will shun
Conceit, and see that there is One
Whose word, when all is said and done,
Will nullify what rulers meant,
Or make it serve his own intent."

But even praying seemed in vain,
And nothing checked his proud disdain
For God. He left his mother and
His brother Malchus in the land
Of Libya, and set his face
For Rome, the center and the base
Of all the power on the earth,
He thought.

The one who gave him birth
Held on, and prayed for twenty years,
That God would look upon her tears,
And bring the Christ in time. And so
She pled, "O God of might, please go,
And find my boys where they are lost,
And make their paths by his be crossed."

With single-minded zeal, the boy
Became a fighting man. "Destroy
The enemy," he used to say,
"Before they have a chance to pray,
Or if they expedite their pleas,
Destroy them while they're on their knees."
And so from rank to rank he rose,
And moved from place to place where foes
Of Rome were restless and required
A fighting force. All he desired
Was coming true. At thirty-four
He ruled a hundred men, and swore
That he would have a legion in
His own command before he'd been
In Galilee another year. But then
A change began, that no one can
Explain except for God.

He had
A servant boy, a simple lad,
That he had rescued from a raid
Of Goth's in Phrygia, and made
His own attendant. After years,
And, as a blood-bond child endears
Himself into a father's heart,
So now this boy was like a part
Of Lucius' soul, and like a son
From his own seed. And there was none,
Of all his friends, albeit few,
Whom he could love or carry through
The fire, except for him. And he
Was sick. For years, the rest could see
That it was getting worse. He dropped
His cup, and needed to be propped
Up at the table like a toy.
And slowly Lucius' favored boy
Was dying. Nor could all the clout
Or military might, drive out
The deadly enemy. And so,
By small degrees, the show
And pride of Lucius' life gave way,
In search of One whose word could sway
The tide and wind, and sickness in
His child. And, even though his skin
And roots estranged the Jews, he built
A synagogue for them, if guilt
Might somehow be assuaged, and he
Be favored with some remedy
That he had never known. In spite
Of twenty years spent in the night
Of pomp and arrogance, conceit
Was broken now, when Jesus feet
Brought him to Galilee.

The meek
Commander thought, "If I could speak
To him, perhaps, from what I've heard,
The man could simply speak a word
And make my servant well. But what
If he should see my skin, and shut
His heart against an African?"
And so the black Centurion
Sent elders from the Jews
Whom he had helped, and said, "Please choose
Your words with care, and tell him I
Myself am present there, and by
Your bidding make request that he
Might heal my child." And so outside
Capernaum the elders tried
To win a blessing from the Lord
With praise, in hopes he would award
Their benefactor with his plea.
"I'll come," said he. "And I will see
The child, and make him well." But when
They neared the house, he sent again
A go-between to be his voice,
And said, "O Lord, I would rejoice
With all my heart if you would heal
My precious child, but I appeal
That you should simply speak the deed
From where you stand, you do not need
To come, nor am I worthy. Say
The word, and I believe today
My servant will be whole. For though
I've tasted much of might and show,
And known the pleasures of command,
And move a hundred with my hand,
And watch them go, when I say, ‘Go,'
And come, when I say, ‘Come,' I know
That I am now beneath the One
Who rules the world. It will be done,
If you will simply speak the deed.
And Jesus said, "The child is freed.
Such faith I have not found in all
Of Israel. My Father's call
Will bring from west and east,
And every color, to the feast
Of Abraham. And they will eat
With Isaac, Jacob in the seat
Of kingdom-sons, who will not come.
Tell Lucius, not a single crumb
Of his plate will be lost."

That night,
For once, the soldier didn't fight
His tears. He knelt alone beside
The Sea of Galilee and cried,
Until it seemed that twenty years
Of pride poured out through tears
Upon the sand. "O God, is there,
I pray, a way I can declare
What I have seen, so that it would
Be heard around the world? And could
It be, that even Simon and
My brother Malchus, by some grand
Design, together sit with me,
And with our mother, if it be
That she is still alive, and feast
With Abraham? I am the least
Of all, but O there burns a fire
In me, and this is my desire."

Behind him on the beach, the voice
Of Jesus startled him, "Rejoice,
O dark Centurion, and heed
My word. Tomorrow you will read
The orders down from Lycias,
Your high command. Do not discuss,
Obey. The Lord has heard your prayer
Tonight, but what you must do there,
Will sting. Remember, there is One
Whose word, when all is said and done,
Will nullify what rulers meant,
Or make it serve his own intent."

And on the morrow Lucius read
His orders from above. They said,
"The tension in Jerusalem
Is mounting high, and seems to stem
From talk of a Messiah on
His way. The governor has drawn
His guard in tight, and would complete
His reinforcements on the street.
Report at once, and take your force,
And camp along the water course
Beside Gethsemane by night,
And make your presence felt by light
Along the streets."

And so it came
To pass that Lucius was the same
Centurion who led the bruised
And bloody Lamb of God, accused,
Between the court and Calvary,
Where Jesus died. And it was he,
Who on the way, gave him relief,
And put his heavy cross and grief
Upon an African; and when
He crushed his hand, allowed again,
Another man to lift the weight.
And it was he who dared to state
For everyone to hear: "This man
Is innocent, and if you can,
Hear this: Though he has felt the rod
And spear, he is the Son of God."

And now another candle burns,
And there are three, and each concerns
A wayward son, a long despair,
A sovereign God, a mother's prayer.
But still they do not burn as one,
Nor does Rufina know each son
Has met the King. Or is she yet
Alive? And have they only met
To go their way, or is there still
Some plan perhaps for them to fill
Together for the Lord in life,
Or possibly in death? Is there
More light ? Is there another prayer?
There is, if you will pray for me, one more:
The answer lies in candle four.

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org