Taking up the cross (3)
I need to say again that when Jesus called his disciples to take up their crosses it was only another way of saying that they must make his cross theirs! That is, they must take the death of Jesus as one of those profound truths that defines him, his purpose and his method in the world. The disciples could not have Jesus as their Lord and Saviour if they weren't prepared to accept the truth that suffering and death were essential to his doing the will of the Father. His call for them to take up their crosses is a call for them to identify and unite with him in light of the meaning of the cross.
Rome was a cross-littered World
In his tribute to his father-in-law, Cnaeus Julius Agricola, the Roman historian Tacitus tells us that Galgacus, a Caledonian warlord stirred up his allies against the coming Romans with this description of their brutality and lust for power.
"Romans, from whose oppression escape is vainly sought by obedience and submission. Robbers of the world, having by their universal plunder exhausted the land, they rifle the deep. If the enemy be rich, they are rapacious; if he be poor, they lust for dominion; neither the east nor the west has been able to satisfy them. Alone among men they covet with equal eagerness poverty and riches. To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a desert and call it peace."
"They make a desolation and call it peace." You need only glance at their "saving" the earth's nations from themselves to see the true picture and Richard Horsley's Jesus and Empire and Paul and Empire help us to see it. This was a ruthless empire that saved crucifixion mainly for those that questioned or opposed their authority. The story would have swept across the Mediterranean world what Crassus did to 6,000 followers of Spartacus on the main road leading to Rome, sixty years before Jesus was born. Nearer home, in Galilee in fact, the story would have been well known and remembered among Jews how Varus the Roman general captured and slew thousands, crucifying 2,000 Jewish nationalists not far from Magdala, the home town of Mary Magdalene. A bit earlier than that there was Alexander Jannaeus, of the Hasmonean line, no less, who crucified several hundred Pharisees who withstood his apostate ways. And since Jesus was crucified between two bandits by the Roman authorities thiscross business continued to flourish. A bit later Felix and Festus, Roman governors mentioned in the book of Acts, crucified Jews without number. And later still, leading up to the fall of Jerusalem, Josephus says that between them both, Vespasian and his son Titus crucified so many Jewish revolutionaries that they ran out of trees to kill them on.
In a world like that, when Jesus told his followers to take up their crosses they knew exactly what it meant.
Take up your pen and you're going to write. Take up your spade and you're going to dig. Take up your musical instrument and you're going to play. Take up your cross and there's only one thing you're going to do. You're going to lay down your life!
Historically and theologically, Jesus took up his cross to oppose Rome and save the world.
Rome wasn't just another military/political kingdom. Like Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece before her, Rome was the embodiment of the world-spirit that was anti-God, anti-holiness and and anti-life! Romans 7 presents these world powers as bestial, as beasts rising out of the stormy seas (nations in conflict). These are not the kingdom of heaven, they are principalities run amok and opposed the redemptive and liberating work of God who would come in the person of "a Son of Man" on clouds of heaven (as distinct from warring nations of the earth—see Daniel 7:2, 13-14, 17 and John 18:36) who represents and exercises the authority of heaven.
But the scandalous truth was that at the heart of the victory of the Son of Man over all such "beasts" that expressed powers run wild was the cross. Be sure to see Colossians 1:20 and 2:14.
Peter would have none of it! He wanted a kingdom of the world (John 18:36 again) in which success was measured the way Rome measured its success—how many of the enemy killed? how many cities taken? how many battles won and how many captives forcibly taken?
The reconciliation of the world to God and the will of God done on earth as it is in heaven cannot be gained by the Roman method (used by Jews—John 11:49-53 and Acts 2:23 and 4:27).
If we wish for less than Jesus came to bring and aims to complete in a coming day—if we wish for less than he aimed for, then war might do; but as long as his followers (his "body") embrace him and his agenda they have to embrace his method.
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com.