Yesterday, we talked about how Christ came to earth, and chose to not wield his power over humanity. He instead chose to come, and give up his rights to power.
This is in stark contrast to the Roman understanding of power.
Emperors used their divine status to gain power, popularity and prestige.
They claimed divine ancestry, asked for people to make sacrifices for their forgiveness of sins. Roman Caesars would claim to be the “son of god.”
And they ensured that this divine status remained through brute force and demands of complete unity of focus and worship.
The masses often proclaiming, “Caesar is lord.”
Two deities square off.
Let think about something together; what happens, in our culture, when two men or women of power come into conflict – be it ideological, theological, politically, or economically with one another?
The puff their chests. They remind people of their status, accomplishments. They ask or demand for people to see the letters before their name, the their alma-mater, and their what they’ve accomplished at work.
They take a power-over approach. And we, as a culture, celebrate it, don’t we?
We celebrate the alpha male.
Western culture celebrates the powerful.
To Liam Neeson…
And when we’re not celebrating the power-over, violent heroes, we’re electing the square (read: strong) jawed men for president…
Slate Magazine once wrote:
Working with subjects rating photos of hundreds of faces, [Princeton University Psychologists] Todorov and colleagues have developed computer models of how faces can suggest character traits like trustworthiness and likability. The competent face shape is masculine but approachable, with a square jaw, high cheekbones, and large eyes. When people say Romney just looks presidential, this is the image they’re summoning.
Even down to our facial structure, power- be it real or assumed- matters to us.
Our culture celebrates the self promoter.
Our culture celebrates the boot-strap grabber.
But we followed a man who voluntarily gave up every stitch of power that he possessed.
He was there when the Earth, stars, and universe were created. In fact, we’re told that all that exists was created through him.
Christ possessed all power, under heave and on earth, and he gave it away. He confronted a system of oppression, both politically (in Rome) and religiously (in the Pharisees and religious leaders the time) by being the least among them.
He gave of himself. Over and over and over again.
Paul tells us that Christ…
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
A slaves death. A disgraceful death.
A Roman citizen (a person of human worth in the eyes of Rome), if executed would have been beheaded. It was a civil death. A death worthy of a Roman son or daughter.
A non-Roman citizen, though, would suffer a different fate.
The Romans were creative with the ways they killed their criminals.
For non-Roman citizens sentenced to death, they could be sentenced to die any number of ways:
▪Being burnt alive
▪Being bound by the feet to the tails of wild horses and dragged to death
▪Being torn to pieces by wild beasts
▪Beaten to death
▪Burned with plates of red-hot iron
But for a slave, a person of zero cultural worth or importance, Rome reserved the most painful and humiliating death of them all. The cross.
The Beacon Bible Commentary talks about this cross this way:
“The Roman writer Cicero called it “the most cruel and abominable form of punishment” (Verrine Orations 5.64; cited by Bruce 1983, 54). “The very word ‘cross,’ ” he cautioned, “should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen, but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears” (Rab. Perd. 16; cited by Hengel 1977, 42). In other words, cross was an obscenity not to be mentioned in polite Roman society.
What made crucifixion so appalling in Paul’s world was that it combined excruciating torture with total humiliation (Hooker 1994, 8).Victims were paraded through the streets publicly, open to ridicule from bystanders, crucified naked, left to hang sometimes for several days, with even their bodily excretions in full view.
The victims’ bodies were usually left exposed to be eaten by birds or wild animals, with the remnants tossed into a common pit (the Gospels note that Jesus’ burial was an exception to this practice; see Matt 27:57–59). The absence of a proper burial heaped further humiliation on the victims and their families (see Osiek 2000, 63). (BBC)
The social stigma attached to crucifixion was further extended by its close identification with slavery. In fact, it was so common for slaves to be crucified in the Roman world that crucifixion came to be known as the “slaves’ punishment” (Hellerman 2005, 146–47). No one would have had to alert the Philippians to the connection between Jesus “taking the form of a slave” (NRSV) and his death on a cross. Everyone knew that crucifixion was the penalty for slaves” (BBC)
The death of the people’s king
The greek philosopher Plato, once said that if a truly righteous man ever existed, humanity would crucify him.
In him, humanity would see everything that it wasn’t.
In Christ, the religious elite witnessed something they desperately wanted: respect.
They lived their lives- be it through fasting, following rules, or using the law to condemn- in an attempt to prove their greatness.
Jesus lived his life to show his love.
He refused to participate in the system as it was designed.
He didn’t seek the approval of the powerful. He conversed with prostitutes.
He didn’t proclaim monetary righteousness. He invited the rich to give all they had away.
He was radical. He didn’t see himself as a deity able to control others. Rather, he chose to take a downward path towards humility and humiliation.
That’s hard for us to understand, isn’t it?
What this means for you and me
How do we use our voice, our power, our influence and our economic system to advance our own causes?
Are we, as christians, using the gospel to bully people into believing like you and me? Or are we using choosing the way of sacrifice to show people what Christ is offering?
The truth is that, when Christ refused to wield the power of his Divine Nature to bring about the Kingdom, that took from us any ability to use our own power to bring about the Kingdom.
When it’s our weight being thrown, it’s not longer a Christ-centered movement. It becomes my own personal vendetta.
When we create a fiction around our lives, tailor our story so others will think more of us, and when acclamation of power matters more than genuine honesty, we can know that we’re not living like the King we’ve been called to emulate.
It’s difficult work, being part of this kingdom. It costs us everything, and requires we hold on to nothing.
But in the holding on to nothing, we will find that we gain everything…but more on that next week.