“God’s anonymous: the Roman soldiers”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
Originally, the term “idiot” wasn’t meant to be unkind at all. That wouldn’t happen till much later on.
You see, at first, in ancient Greece, the word “idiot” literally meant a “private person,” or “someone who lived on their own.” People used it to refer to anyone who refused to take part in the affairs of the state.
In his article on politics, Greek philosopher Aristotle once said that the most basic structure of all society is the state. And the only way a democratic society could exist is if every member took part in it. If they refused, he said, then the democracy would eventually collapse into ruin.
The ancient Athenians took all this so seriously, that whenever there was a meeting of the Assembly, they threatened to fine any adult male citizen who didn’t attend. And to be sure they did attend, they sent out slaves with ropes dipped in red paint, whose duty it was to find them and mark them with their red rope.
So you see, if you refused to take part in the affairs of the state, and chose instead to live “on your own,” that made you an “idiot.”
In time, that word began to take on a life of its own, for after passing from Greek to Latin to French to Middle English, that word “idiot” began to mean something entirely different. No longer did it mean someone who chose to live “on their own.” Instead, it came to mean one who was “uneducated” or “ignorant” or who was incapable of ordinary reasoning or learning.
Finally in 1907, in his play Major Barbara, Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw took it one step farther. But instead of simply saying “idiot,” he used the term “village idiot”--someone who was well known in his or her entire community who exhibited idiotic behavior.
Unfortunately, the name has stuck ever since.
Imbecile, halfwit, lunatic, moron, ”village idiot.” Whatever the synonym, that’s exactly what the soldiers once thought of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I’ll read the words of Mark chapter 15: “And the soldiers led Him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. And they clothed Him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on Him. And they began to salute Him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they were striking His head with a reed and spitting on Him and kneeling down in homage to Him. And when they had mocked Him, they stripped Him of the purple cloak and put His own clothes on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him” (Mark 16:16-20).
It’s been said that, when the four gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, described Jesus’ physical suffering and death, they restrained themselves. They used simple words and phrases, with only a few adverbs and adjectives. And neither did they offer lengthy, detailed descriptions of His scourging and crucifixion.
But while they didn’t focus so much on His physical suffering, they did spend time talking about His ridicule. They used words like “scorn,” “mockery” and “disdain.”
It was now early Friday morning in Jerusalem, and the Jews were finished with Jesus. They had their kangaroo court with their trumped up charges and false witnesses. Annas had his round with Jesus, and so did Caiaphas. And their verdict was clear--He was a blasphemer who deserved to die. So they took Him, still bound, to the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate. He was the only one who could order that Jesus be put to death.
But Pilate didn’t know what to do with Him. Time after time, he said, “This Man has done nothing wrong.” Then when the crowd still wasn’t satisfied, he sent Him to Herod. But Herod didn’t know what to do with Him either.
Finally, trapped between a rock and hard place, he gave the people what they wanted. Washing his hands in a bowl, he said, “Let Him be crucified” (Matthew 27:26).
It didn’t take long for word to get around. “The Prisoner is here,” they said. And this was no ordinary prisoner. This was the King of the Jews!
It seems that making fun of people is one of our national pastimes. There are comedians and television shows that are devoted to just that.
And if you were to watch carefully, you’d see that, to their credit, they take on only the strong among us, the powerful. You won’t ever hear them mock the poor or the weak.
But the Romans weren’t that way at all. In fact, they loved to insult the weak.
How do we know it? Crucifixion. Death by a Roman cross was always and only reserved for the lowest and most defenseless members of society, people like slaves and political rebels and prisoners of war. They enjoyed making fun of the poorest and the weakest.
And now, who should stand before them, completely at their disposal? Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. He was, after all, nothing more than a peasant, a manual laborer turned itinerant teacher from up north, in Galilee. He was poor. He was uneducated. He said outlandish things.
Even more, He was a convicted criminal, sentenced to death by the governor, Pontius Pilate himself.
Can you picture the scene? Mark wrote, “And the soldiers led Him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion” (Mark 15:16).
“The whole battalion,” Mark wrote. Other translations read, “the whole garrison,” “the entire regiment” and “the whole company.”
How many soldiers were there? It’s anybody’s guess. But it’s safe to say that there were as many as six hundred men.
As one author put it, “Now imagine being taken into a private place surrounded by six hundred men, whose sole job is to kill you.”
And think, for a moment, just how the soldiers felt that day. The Jews hated the Romans and the Romans hated the Jews. And this Man, of all people, was on trial for claiming to be their king.
“So where’s His army?” “Where are His horses and chariots and weapons of war? Didn’t He just ride a donkey into His capital city just a few days before?”
So if that’s the way He wants it, let’s play the comedy out. First, He must have a crown. All kings wear crowns. So they found some thorny brambles nearby, wound them together, then pressed them down hard on His head.
And what’s a king without a robe? One took a purple cape and threw it over His shoulders.
And one more thing--a king must have a scepter! So they shoved a walking stick into His hand. He must have been a pathetic sight.
And if that wasn’t enough, each then took their turn to honor the King of the Jews. And bowing down to the ground before Him, they cried, “Hail, O King of the Jews!” And to be sure He understood just how much they loved Him and honored Him, they beat Him, spit on Him, and slapped Him in the face.
As the prophet Isaiah wrote hundreds of years before: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed Him not” (Isaiah 53:3).
Twelve years ago, back in February of 2010, CBS premiered a new reality television show they called, Undercover Boss. Since then, there have been eleven seasons, with more than a hundred different bosses, including Katrina Cole of Cinnabon, Mike Bloom of Family Dollar, Sharon Price John of Build-a-Bear Workshop, Sam Taylor of Oriental Trading and Karen Freeman-Wilson, the mayor of Gary, Indiana. Maybe you’ve seen an episode or two before.
The idea is simple. Each episode features an owner or a high-level executive who takes on an alias, a disguise and a made-up backstory, then goes undercover as an entry-level employee in his or her own company. When the week is finally over, the boss returns to his or her own identity, then calls in certain employees to corporate headquarters. And in every case, the good employees are rewarded, while the not-so-good employees are given a second chance.
Much like an “Undercover Boss,” the Ruler of all things disguised Himself as a lowly servant, even allowing Himself to be falsely accused and convicted as a criminal Now soldiers mock Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews.”
If only they had known.
But they had no idea who He was. That’s what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth: “None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (I Corinthians 2:8).
Later in life, Paul acknowledged his sinful past and was sorry for all he had done. He wrote: “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, but I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief…Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life.”
You may not know or remember all the things you’ve said and done against Jesus. Still, Jesus endured the most bitter and ignorant abuse from the Romans and the Jews. And He did it all for you.
Strangely enough, when the soldiers shouted, “Hail, King of the Jews!” they were right in more ways than they knew, for Jesus was the King of the Jews. He was what the Old Testament had promised thousands of years before. He was the reason God chose and blessed the nation of Israel. That’s what old Simeon sang in the Temple as he held the infant Jesus in his arms: “Now let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word, for mine eyes have seen Your salvation...a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-30, 32).
But when Jesus came to be their king, they turned Him away. He came for them. He came to fulfill their law and to be their Savior. But as John wrote in his account of the gospel: “He came to that which was His own, but His own received Him not” (John 1:11).
One more thing. John Wooden was once a loved and revered coach and basketball player. Known as the “Wizard of Westwood,” he was even named national coach of the year seven times!
But not only was he a legend in basketball, he was also a Christian. And once, when a reporter asked him how he could be so composed in such pressure situations, he said, “Well, I carry in my pocket a small cross. And when I get too involved and the pressure mounts, I reach in that pocket and I hold that cross. And though I know that there’s nothing magical in it, somehow holding that cross in my hands reminds me that there’s something more important than basketball.”
Hymn writer Henry Lyte once put it like this: “Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes, Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies. Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee. In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.”
We thank You Father, for the gift of Your Son. Grant that we may honor Him not only with our lips, but also with our lives, for He is King of all. This we ask in His name. Amen