Often in scripture I encounter people I wish I could have met in real life. One of those, Julius the centurion, is a player in Paul’s story at the ends of Acts. A centurion was a man who commanded 100 soldiers (hence “centurion”). To me, that makes him a company commander – I immediately relate, because I was one once. There’s a lot of responsibility with that job, and some power. He would have been one of 5 to 10 men of his rank in a Roman regiment.
Julius was given a mission that happens to Army officers sometimes – prisoner transport. Honestly, it’s really a sucky job. Nobody wants it, but it’s given only to trusted, humane officers because there’s too much potential for abuse. That tells me Julius was a stand-up guy.
And he proved it already in the first three verses of Acts 27: “When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us.”
“The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs.”
Through the drama of Acts 27, Julius rolls the dice on a judgment call, choosing to set sail in clear weather but during a risky time of year. That decision didn’t pan out, and Julius, his soldiers, the sailors and prisoners would all be shipwrecked. Even in that, Julius heeded Paul and protected him. Like I said, a stand-up guy.
Julius makes me think of all the non-believers I’ve worked with and served with and rubbed up against over the years. Most are decent people. Most helped me more than hindered. Most were doing the best they could. And all had one thing in common: most of what they know about Jesus they learned from watching me and other Christians.
Paul’s life was a powerful witness to the gospel, and I’d like to think Julius met Jesus through him. Maybe one day Julius and I can discuss prisoner transport missions in heaven. But maybe not – odds are Julius didn’t convert.
Still, there will be more Juliuses in my life. Maybe I can work a little harder to make sure they get to meet Jesus.