A New Kind of Commander-in-Chief

Yesterday was our 2nd week in our Jesus for President series and we covered the theme: A New Kind of Commander-in-Chief. Below is the text of the message and the discussion questions we used after the message.

So today we continue our series entitled “Jesus for President”. Last week our theme was Before there were Kings and Presidents. And this week we are looking at “A New Kind of Commander-in-Chief.

As I was watching the Presidential Debate (this is the only reference to current politics that I am going to make) this past week a thought struck me. These men are talking as if they are the Messiah of America. They have a Messianic Complex. Now they wouldn’t come right out and tell you that, but when you listen to them they come off as “I can fix that. I can do this. I can do that.” Blah Blah Blah.

But that is nowhere near what the political scene was like in Jesus day. Let me read to you an inscription that was found on stone from the 1st century. “The birth date of our God has signaled the beginning of good news for the world.” Now this sounds like it was written about Jesus, but in actuality it was written announcing the birth of Caesar Augustine. In fact many of the titles and words we find in the Scriptures are directly confronting the Roman Empire. You see the title Son of God wasn’t just in reference to Jesus, but was a popular title for Kings and Emperors. Savior was a title also given to Caesar as was Lord and Emmanuel. Caesar if you will was the original Commander-in-Chief and ruled over the Roman Empire in such a way that he was definitely viewed as the messiah. So you want to talk about a messianic complex, this guy would have one huge one.

This morning we are going to do some looking at what kind of Commander-in-Chief Caesar was. We are going to look at the Coronation and Procession of Caesar. We are going to then contrast Caesar, the Commander-in-Chief of the Roman Empire, with Jesus, a new kind of Commander-in-Chief. We are going to also look at the Coronation and Procession of King Jesus and realize that this King and the Kingdom he rules over is an upside-down Kingdom and differs greatly than the Kingdom of the Roman Empire and by definition every other empire that has ever been on the face of the earth, including the Empire of the United States. And we’ll look at what it means to each one of us to live for commander-in-chief Jesus instead of ourselves and for his Kingdom and not the kingdom of our own making.

We all know, if we have done any study of history, that the Caesar’s were known for their insane, violent and power-hungry egos. As I mentioned before, the Caesar’s and Roman emperors were worshipped as gods on earth. So the emperor gained the title Son of God. Inaugurations of Caesars were ornate, public and meant to impress. The ceremony originated with the Greeks and was called a thriambas. Then the Romans adopted this ceremony. At the center of these ceremonies was the triumphant person to be deified- the triumphator. Both the Greek and Roman ceremonies were affiliated with gods that died and rose again. Dionysus and Jupiter.

The Christians in the Roman Empire recognized the power and devotion of the imperial cult. They also recognized that you could not serve the god of the empire and the God of Jesus. This is why they did not choose small language to communicate about Jesus, language such as ‘it’s just a personal spiritual conviction, not political.” No, they chose language and imagery with the weight of the empire behind their words. But probably the most poignant language in the Gospels that contrast Jesus with the power of his day is the crucifixion story in Mark (which we’ll turn to shortly). Ray Vander Laan notes the following 8 steps in the inauguration of a Caesar. Listen carefully to them, and then note the powerful and satirical method Mark uses to paint what he sees as the true inauguration of Jesus, the suffering and loving triumphator- or anti-triumphator.

So we’ll look at each of the 8 steps one by one of the coronation and procession of Caesar then we’ll look at the account of Jesus coronation and procession. Hopefully we’ll see clearly that this Kingdom that is the Kingdom of God is upside down, radical, and subversive and that it calls us to be upside down, radical and subversive as well.

The first step in the coronation and procession of Caesar was that the Praetorian Guard gathered in the Praetorium. The would-be Caesar was brought into the middle of the gathering. Now let’s look at Mark 15:16, which is the beginning of the Coronation and Procession of Jesus, which says, “The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers.”

The next step in the Coronation of Caesar was that guards went to the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, got a purple robe, and placed it on the candidate. The candidate was also given an olive-leaf wreath made of gold and a scepter for the authority of Rome. In Jesus coronation we see this in Mark 15:17, “They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him.” We see the soldiers bringing Jesus a wreath of thrones, a scepter (which they use as a weapon on him) and a purple robe.

Next in Caesar’s coronation was that he was loudly acclaimed as triumphant by the Praetorian Guard. Jesus however was sarcastically acclaimed, mocked, and paid homage to by the soldiers. Mark 15:18-19, “And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him.”

After loudly acclaiming Caesar as triumphant, the procession would begin through the streets of Rome, led by soldiers. In the middle was Caesar. Walking behind him was a sacrificial bull, whose death and blood would mark Caesar’s entrance into the divine pantheon. Walking next to the bull was a slave, who carried an axe to kill the bull. Some accounts note that some people would spread sweet-smelling incense around the procession. Looking at verses 20-21 is the start of Jesus’ procession, “And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.” Instead of a bull, the would-be king and god became the sacrifice, the bull. But he could not carry the instrument of death and be the sacrifice. So they stopped Simon and gave him the cross.

Caesars’ procession then moved to the highest hill in Rome, the Capitolene hill (head hill). On this hill is the Capitoleum temple. The account in Mark has Jesus also ascending a hill, “They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). In Aramaic, Golgotha is not precisely ‘skull hill’- that’s Calvary. To split hairs, Golgotha means ‘head hill,’ like the Roman Capitolene. Next, the candidate stood before the temple altar and was offered, by the slave, a bowl of wine mixed with myrrh. He took it as if to accept, and then gave it back. The slave also refused, and then the wine was poured out either onto the altar or onto the bull. Right after the wine was poured, the bull was killed.” Jesus, was offered wine as well, and he refused. Mark 15:23-24a says, “Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him.” The seventh step in the coronation process of Caesar was that the Caesar-to-be would gather his second in command on his right hand and his third in command on his left. Then they would ascend to the throne of the Capitoleum. In Mark 15:27 we read the words, “They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left.” Lastly, the crowd would acclaim the inaugurated emperor. And for the divine seal of approval, the gods would send signs, such as a flock of doves or a solar eclipse. In the last step of Jesus coronation and procession we see Jesus again being acclaimed (mocked) and a divine sign confirming God’s presence (the temple curtain ripped in two.) Mark 15:29-38 bears this out, “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him. At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” Other accounts have the whole sky becoming darkened, tombs bursting open, and the dead coning back to life.” So is it any wonder than that at the end of this story of Jesus crucifixion we read these words, “And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” After all he had probably seen a coronation and procession of “the son of God/Caesar” before, but here was the true Son of God and he pledged his allegiance to Jesus.

So now you might be saying, that is all very interesting, or not, what does it have to do with my life. But let me finish up with a few thoughts that hopefully will guide our discussion time. The commander-in-chief, the King Jesus, the true Son of God, comes to the throne not from power, violence, killing his enemy, etc..but from living a life of peace, justice, forgiveness and compassion. You see Caesar achieved the peace of Rome (Pax Romana) through violence (can Peace reached through violence and war ever be true peace??). The pax Christi (peace of Christ) is not a peace of conquest bur rather the peace of true reconciliation. The King achieves peace not by shedding blood, but by shedding his own blood. What does this say how we respond to violence? What does this say about how we (as a country or a society or individuals) respond to our enemies? Jesus lived out the upside down Kingdom of God. He calls us to the same thing. This upside down Kingdom says love your enemy, pray for those who persecute you, deny yourself, die to yourself, put others first, bless don’t curse, serve others, etc….. Let’s spend time talking and unpacking more implications of how this new commander-in-chief lived the upside down kingdom of God and how we can apply it to our own lives.

1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, pushback, etc… do you have regarding the message and the Scripture? 2. What stood out to you regarding the coronation and process of Caesar vs. the coronation and procession of Jesus? 3. For you what are some of the implications of the upside down Kingdom of God are you currently wrestling with? 4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what are we going to do about it?