Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others – one on each side and Jesus in the middle. (John 19:17–18 NIV)
For some interesting material in the first part of what follows, I am indebted to Kathie Lee Gifford’s book The Rock, the Road, and the Rabbi.
We are accustomed to thinking of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as being a tremendous demonstration of the power of God over the power of the enemy:
And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it [that is, in His Cross]. (Colossians 2:15)
That is a wonderful picture of something like a Roman triumph. But what this book drew my attention to is how much that last day in the life of Christ mirrors a Roman triumph, particularly in the time of the emperors. A Roman emperor’s triumph was a bit like his coronation. Let me describe to you first of all what that was like. For the Roman emperor, the soldiers at the Praetorium (the government building that tended to have soldiers and his guard there) – placed their purple robe on the emperor, put a wreath on his head, and shouted: ‘Hail, Caesar!’ There was then a procession along the Via Sacra (The Sacred Way, in Rome) to the Capitoline Hill, on which stood the temple of Jupiter. There a bull was sacrificed by someone who had been carrying the means of putting that bull to death. The emperor would then be offered wine, which he would refuse. Then he would go up the steps of the Capitoline Hill, with one person on each side of him. The people would hail him as their saviour, and they would say: ‘Hail, Caesar! Lord and God!’ And then they looked for a sign from heaven to confirm his deity.
If you read Matthew’s gospel you will see the parallel, which would be very obvious to the people in Christ’s day, more so than perhaps it has been to us:
Some of the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and called out the entire regiment. They stripped him and put a scarlet [or purple] robe on him. They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, ‘Hail! King of the Jews!’ And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified. Along the way, they came across a man named Simon … and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. And they went out to a place called Golgotha. (Matthew 27:27–33 NLT)
They nailed Him to the cross, as we know, with a thief on each side of Him. And we know also the signs that came as Christ died. They had done all this in mockery, pretending they were acknowledging that He was a King. A fearful tragedy – hard for us to read it and to think of that being done to Christ, and to know that in their drunkenness they would be enjoying themselves and would get more confident the more they mocked Him. It is just a mirror sometimes of society and of the way that Christ and Christianity are still treated. But there He is in His lonely, shaming death on Mount Calvary. He has not come down from the cross, and there is no voice sounded to save Him; no legion of angels has appeared. It seems that He is dying in failure and in darkness.
They looked for a sign to confirm to them that their emperor was divine, and the worship of the emperor became a cult. But there as Christ is dying, the darkness has come over the land from the sixth to the ninth hour. There comes an earthquake – the veil of the Temple is rent in two. We read that the graves in Jerusalem were opened, and the righteous dead came out of these and were seen walking around the streets of Jerusalem. When the people saw ‘those things that were done, they feared greatly’, and the centurion said: ‘Truly this was the Son of God.’ We can feel something of the atmosphere of that there: just at the moment when they would expect their emperor to get a sign, there really are signs, fearful signs, that strike awe into the heart of even the centurion: ‘Truly – surely – this was the Son of God!’
And we see beyond the outward. We see through the veil, and we see what really was happening in the spiritual world. We know that the Lord Jesus Christ went down into Hades; we know that He led captivity captive; we know that He came back and ascended into heaven, bringing many sons to glory. We know, beyond the mockery of Him, that in actual fact it really was His coronation, that it really was and is His triumph, and that He appeared in heaven before God and lives there to make intercession for His own.
There comes into our lives also just that same reversal of a situation, and what seems for ill, when Satan seems to be having the upper hand and can be causing mayhem in your life as you are seeking to follow Christ, in actual fact will turn to good. As Joseph said to his brothers in Egypt:
‘You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.'
When we turn again to look at Him, we see the incredible depth of the triumph that is Christ’s as He goes into the eternal realm. And surely there comes to us a whisper, or a command, from Him: ‘Courage! Be not afraid.’ Our journey is into that eternal glory also. The Jews reckoned time from sundown to the next day: they were marching from evening to morning. And so are we. We are coming from sundown. We are coming through the church’s time of tribulation, but we are going towards the eternal morning, the eternal glory, when we shall see Him, and we will be amongst that number who crown Him Lord of all. We will taste there of His victory. We will see Him whom they pierced. We will see Him who is crowned, not now in mockery, but ‘with the crown wherewith His mother crowned Him in the day of His espousals’. ‘Go forth, ye daughters of Jerusalem, and behold Him.’ Shall we be amongst that number? To see Him crowned, to be one of those who crown Him now not with thorns, but with our love, with our obedience, with our gratitude. And oh, the crown that God gives Him! The crown of honour: ‘This is My beloved Son: hear ye Him.’ We shall awaken one day in the eternal morning; the darkness will be all behind, and it will be forever Light there in the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. His triumph is complete, and the enemy is routed. We have no need to fear, but to believe in Him with all our hearts and share something of His triumph.
Blessed be His Name.
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