To Death’s Great Surprise

I took a long drag on my cigarette – Marlboro unfiltered if you must know – then tossed it to the ground. I know it’s bad habit, and with a pack of smokes running six bucks, it’s going to bankrupt me, but I figure I’m entitled to at least one vice. If you had my job you’d smoke too. I ground the cigarette into the ground with my black boot then surveyed the scene.

Aaah yes, this was nice. A good old fashioned crucifixion. I pulled out another cigarette, lit it with my black Zippo, and took a long, unhurried pull. There was no rush with a crucifixion. Those poor saps would be hanging on those wooden crosses for hours before I was required to pull the plug. I miss the days of the crucifixions. These days it’s all gunshots and stab wounds. I usually arrive on the scene and have to pull the plug before I can even catch my breath. I have to move quickly to ensure that I get the job done before the paramedics arrive on the scene. In my hurry I occasionally make mistakes. Then I have to go into the ambulance and brawl with the paramedics as they try to revive the victim. I miss the long, slow, unhurried death of crucifixion.

This job would be simple. Three men, slowly bleeding out on three slabs of wood. I would let nature and the soldiers do most of the work, then move in for the final act. I admit, I really admired those soldiers. They really knew how to work a guy over, what with their beatings, and floggings, and jaw bustings. By the time I moved in, the victims were usually nothing more than quivering pulp. And nature, who was usually unreliable at best, did a fine job when it came to crucifixions. She would slowly suffocate the victims as they hung by their dislocated shoulders.

I moved in for a closer look at my victims. The man on the left had the typical look of one being crucified. A hard face, a jagged scar running from his right eye to the bottom of his jaw, like a man who wasn’t afraid to put a shank between your ribs. The one on the right had a similar look. Criminal left and criminal right were giving the man in the middle a verbal beating, mocking him, calling him a coward, telling him to “save himself”, whatever that meant. I liked these guys. We would have made good poker buddies.

But there was something odd about the man in the middle. He didn’t scream back at his fellow criminals, didn’t spit at the onlookers below him. He hung there in silence, his breath running ragged, his eyes glazed with pain. A sign above his head said, “Jesus, King of the Jews”. I smirked. I had killed a lot of kings in my career, and this was no king.

As I studied this Jesus fellow, strange things began happening. The sky went oppressively black, and the air felt heavy and full of judgment. As the blackness engulfed us, Jesus screamed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The criminal on the right, who just a few minutes prior had been cussing Jesus up and down, suddenly asked Jesus to remember him.?Sorry buddy, I thought. No one’s going to remember any of you. You’re going to fade into history with the rest of my victims.?

Then it was time. I decided to start with the wonder boy in the middle. He intrigued me. I moved close to him, then gently touched him on the shoulder. That’s usually all it took from me – a simple touch of death. When I touched Jesus it was as if I had touched a live electrical wire. Pain and fire ripped up my arm and into my shoulder, causing me to gasp. There was something different about this man. Every other person I had encountered received life from outside of them. This man, Jesus, had life pulsing from within him.

Jesus was still alive, his chest heaving as he tried to refresh his oxygen depleted body. I touched him again. More fire and electricity up my arm. Jesus would not submit. It was clear that he was going to die on his terms, not mine. He would die when he wanted to die, and only when he wanted to die. He was clearly in charge.

Finally, with a loud voice Jesus said, “It is finished! Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Then it was done. He allowed me to pull the plug on him. And that should have been the end of it.

But it wasn’t done. Even though Jesus was “dead”, I still felt him. Somehow, I knew my victory was only temporary. For three days I fought, and cursed, and strained to keep Jesus in the tomb. I didn’t sleep, didn’t eat, didn’t even have time to smoke. Every minute was devoted to keeping Jesus in a chokehold. But I knew I couldn’t keep him there. I knew that the Author of Life would not be restrained, even by me, the one who has taken down kings and emperors. After three days, Jesus decided that the jig was up. Without asking a word of permission from me, he busted his way out of the tomb, life bursting out of every pore on his body.

As for me, I’m just a shell of the man I used to be. Jesus broke me. He busted my teeth out and broke all my fingers. He shattered my self-confidence. Yeah, I still get to take those who refuse to believe, but these days I lose just as many as I get to take. As soon as someone believes in Jesus, they’re gone beyond my reach. All my power, all of my ability to intimidate, gone. These believers now stare me straight in the eye without blinking.

And the fact is, my days are numbered. It’s not going to be long before me, Death, gets put into the grave.

Stephen Altrogge

I'm a husband, dad, writer. I drink too much coffee and know too much about Star Wars. I created The Blazing Center. I've also written some books which people seem to like. You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook