Matthew 16:24 (NKJV)
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
Anyone living under Roman rule knew exactly what Jesus meant by, “take up his cross.” He meant, “suffer martyrdom.” Crucifixion was a familiar practice in the Roman world. They wanted it to be familiar.
The Roman Empire wasn’t just a conquered empire; it was a built empire. That’s why we have clichés like, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” and, “All roads lead to Rome.” Crucifixion was their way of making that built empire run smoothly. To borrow a different Italian cliché, “It made the trains run on time.”
Crucifixion was designed to intimidate. They wanted the roads to be safe, so they would often crucify robbers they caught right where they committed their crime—beside the road. Back then robbers weren’t petty criminals, they were thugs.
Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.” — Luke 10:30 (NKJV)
Crucifixion was effective at making the roads safe. You can’t unsee the image of someone being crucified on the side of the road. The Romans would even leave the stipes (the vertical part of a cross) there permanently to remind potential thieves, “you could be here.”
Thus, crucifixion played a role in Christianity that we don’t often talk about. Mary and Joseph needed safe roads to get to Bethlehem. In fact, without crucifixion to make the roads safe, Caesar Augustus would have been nuts to call for a census that required everyone to travel to their hometown.
The robbers feasting on easy pickings would’ve been like grizzly bears at a salmon run.
It’d be creepy to say something like, “Thank God for crucifixion,” but many things seem to have been perfectly orchestrated in how the gospel story played out.
But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. — Galatians 4:4–5 (NKJV)
Part of the fullness of time is the structure of the Roman Empire, particularly the Roman practice of crucifixion.
Caesar Augustus needed crucifixion to make the roads safe so that he could call for a census. We need crucifixion so that Jesus could be sacrificed for our sins.
In the fullness of time, everything came together in perfect harmony.
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