The old man softly stroked his beard and leaned against the wall by his pallet. His grandsons, four and six, snuggled up to his side. He smiled at them and tousled their hair. They had asked him to repeat a story they had heard many times, a story he himself loved and never ceased to wonder at.
As a young man, he had been a Roman soldier, stationed in Jerusalem. Like many of his fellows, he had hated it, hated the country, hated the people with their strange belief in one god, their refusal to blend in with other people. And they had hated him. He wanted to be in Rome, where the Emperor was, not in this backwater of civilization, with its strife, controversy and unrest.
Beside all that, now there had been an uproar in the city during Passover, always a difficult time with the influx of Jews from all over. Silly people, to believe that killing an animal could somehow take away their sins. Even sillier, to believe that their god was really interested in them and would, or could, help them. After all, look at their country now – occupied by Roman soldiers. And how often he had prayed to his own god, and nothing had happened.
And yet, here he was, on a clear Judean night, with only the stars, the crickets and several of his fellow soldiers, guarding, of all things, a tomb! The tomb of a criminal, at that! The orders had been clear: guard this tomb! It was said that this criminal – this Jesus – had promised to come back from the dead. Everyone knew that was impossible. But the authorities had been afraid that His disciples would come and steal the body! Stupid authorities!
He looked at the stone which sealed the tomb’s entrance and smiled at the thought of a bunch of ragtag Jews moving it, especially after having to overcome the Roman guard first. He smiled again. So ridiculous! He and the other men, veteran Roman soldiers, would have had a hard time moving the stone themselves, nestled as it was in a shallow, inclined trough. Besides, the stone had been sealed. It was a death sentence to tamper with a Roman seal.
He began to muse about what he had heard of this Jesus. Strange things about what He had done and said. Something about giving His life for His sheep, giving them an abundance of life. Who cared about sheep?! Whether they lived or died? What could He do now? And all this talk of forgiving sins. What was that all about? Everyone knew you did your best, and hoped that that was good enough.
The old man roused himself, and looked at the half-asleep boys by his side, thankful that his questions had been answered. That Jesus had indeed come as the sacrifice for sins, that He had paid the penalty for sin, and that those who repented and believed in Him would be saved from their sins. That Jesus had cared enough for an ignorant young soldier to take his place under the wrath of God and suffer what he, the soldier, should have suffered. That He had done the same for many others, as well. The old man looked at the boys again. “May you both,” he whispered, “come to know the Good Shepherd, Who gave His life a ransom for many, the One Who died that His sheep might live.”
He thought again of that long-ago night, that watershed night in his own life….
Because, you see, it had been a quiet night, …and then the stone moved.