“How does a cross roar?” That’s the question I was asking asking myself as I prepared for Good Friday. I had been listening to the song, No Wonder (Roar of the Rugged Cross) by River Valley Worship. I loved it. Our team was going to sing it. But there was a line in it that bothered me:
See the light tearing through the darkness
Hear the roar of the rugged cross
Jesus Christ You alone have saved us
We worship You now
“How does a cross roar?” I asked myself.
I searched the Scriptures. The word, “cross” appears eleven times in the gospel accounts of the crucifixion — and always as an instrument of Roman execution. No roar there, unless it is the agonizing groan of the one suffering on that cross.
Crucifixion was a tortuous way to die:
The most common modes of killing a condemned man in the Roman Empire were hanging, burning him alive, beheading, placing him inside a bag of scorpions then drowning him, and crucifixion. As terrible as the four might be, the last is considered the worst by far.
I know the song writers were not thinking of that. So I asked the question again, “How does a cross roar?” This was bugging me . . . until I saw the cross through the eyes of the centurion.
In a twist of divine irony (and the gospel accounts are full of God’s ironic work), God turns the instrument of death into his instrument for life. We see this in the life of the Centurion.
Read Matthew 27:11-54. You will hear the roar of that rugged cross. But to appreciate just how loud the cross roared we need to understand the soldiers, who they were and how hard-hearted they could be:
“Most Romans troops in Jerusalem were not Romans but Samaritans and Syrians,” writes Stephen Mansfield in Killing Jesus. “They are mercenaries. They care little about Rome or the honor of Caesar. What they do care about is their hatred for Jews. This means that Jesus is being scourged by men who despise him for his race, who want him to suffer horribly just for being a Jew.” R.T. France adds:
To have a supposedly self-proclaimed king in their power offered unusually good sport, and for non-Jewish soldiers to have such an opportunity of abusing a Jewish dignitary with impunity was a chance not to be missed.
Yes, the centurion and soldiers were hardened men, many were part of the Roman death squads, trained in “the art” of execution. We see their cruelty in their scourging, mocking, and crucifying of Christ.
Scourging: Matthew 27:26
Scourging is called the “halfway death” by the Romans. The condemned will be stripped, forced to their knees, hands bound to the metal ring of the whipping post in front of them. The “lictor” will use a flagellum to inflict his pain. “The key to the executioners’ art is not how hard they whip a man but the effort with which they yank the whip’s metal-and bone-fleckeled tendrils away form the flesh after each blow.”
Mocking: Matthew 27:27-31
Adding insult to injury takes on a new meaning when those inflicting physical pain do their best to destroy a man’s psyche as well as his body. Picture the scene. The soldiers yank off the scarlet robe (placed by the guards after the scourging — and now matted with drying blood). They press a crown of thorns into into his skull, inflicting torturous pain and drawing blood that trickles down his face and pools in his eyes. They put a reed in his hand (his scepter!), then take it and repeatedly beat him over the head with it while mockingly crying out, “Hail, King of the Jews!.
Crucifixion: Matthew 27:32-44
We’ve become so familiar with the word that we might miss the torment and terror it inflicted. Mansfield writes:
The Romans have, over time, developed precision in their approach. They know just how high to make the stipes crucis, the upright beam that rises from the ground, so that a ladder is not required to mount the victim. They know just how long to make the patibulum, the crossbeam, so that the condemned can carry it and soldiers do not find it too heavy to lift once a human body is impaled . . . . They are efficient. A hundred years ago when Spartacus led his rebellion of slaves, the empire crucified six thousand men in a single day. . . . They gamble for the victims few possessions and mock the dying to entertain the crowds.
The soldiers — and the centurion — were there for all of this, taking fiendish delight in the demise of the divine. But . . . they also noticed:
Jesus endured valiantly.
Jesus never cursed them.
Jesus was always in control — in the face of Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate, the soldiers.
Jesus took care of his mother from that cross.
Jesus even asked the Father to forgive them, his executioners.
Who was this man?
Then the sky went dark. Then he breathed his last . . . but not before a triumphant, “IT IS FINISHED!” Not before he gave up his spirit. Then the temple curtain was torn. Then the earth shook. Then graves opened up. Then dead people started walking. Then . . .
What happened to this centurion, this battled-hardened tough guy? God opened his eyes! Then God opened his ears! And then he heard the cross roar! How about you, have you heard the cross roar?
The cross roars, “It is finished.” Colossians 2:13-14
God took that centurion’s sins — every one of them — the hatred, the cruelty, the pure evil, and he nailed them to the cross of Jesus, canceling the record of debt that stood against him. He did it for the centurion. He does it for you too! No sin is too great. No canyon of evil to broad. Jesus paid your debt!
The cross roars, “Jesus loves you.” Hebrews 12:2
Jesus went to the cross, “for the joy set before him,” says the writer of Hebrews. It was the joy of bringing his lost sheep home, the joy of welcoming the prodigal, the joy over that one sinner who repents.
Such love coming from one who endured the agony of the cross is unfathomable. Don Carson notes, "
It was not the nails that held Jesus to that wretched cross; it was his unqualified resolution, out of love for his Father, to do his Father’s will—and, within that framework, it was his love for sinners like me.
If you ever wonder how much God loves you, if you ever need confirmation that Jesus cares about you — just look at the cross and listen to it roar, “Jesus love you!”
The cross roars, “Jesus reconciles you.” Colossians 1:20
This is amazing! God reorients my standing before him. He brings me back. He changes me. Paul writes:
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:11-13 ESV
If there ever were an outlaw in God’s eyes it was the centurion — and he knew it. But the cross roared, “Jesus reconciles you.” Not only does Jesus reconcile us to God, but to each other, and one day he will reconcile everything in earth and heaven!
The cross roars, “Look to Jesus!” 2 Corinthians 3:18
C.J. Mahaney asks, “Do you often find that you’re more aware of your sin than of what Jesus accomplished at the cross?” And I said, “Oh yeah. All the time!” Then your confidence, he writes, “is no longer in the gospel; it’s in [your] own performance.
That really hit home. How many times, having been saved by grace, do I try to earn God’s pleasure through my works? Focusing on the cross helps me remember what makes me “okay,” “accepted,” “loved” — is not my work, but Jesus’ work for me. Relax!
Martin Luther said,
The cross roars, “Look to Jesus!” Transformation begins there. Transformation continues there. it is in “beholding the glory of the Lord,” writes Paul, that we are “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” 2 Corinthians 3:18
No wonder they call you, Savior!
Now I encourage you to listen to that song that got me thinking and digging and praising God for the roar of the rugged cross. A roar that will only grow louder Easter Sunday!
Join us for Easter at Spanish River Church: 7:30 (on the lawn), 9:00 (full SRC Kids), 10:30 (full SRC Kids), 12:00
“The most common modes of killing a condemned man…” from Killing Jesus: A History, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. New York: Henry Holt and Company. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC. 2013. Page 84.
“Most Romans troops in Jerusalem are not Romans . . .” from Killing Jesus: The Unknown Conspiracy Behind The World’s Most Famous Execution, by Stephen Mansfield. Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing. 2013. Page 137.
“To have a supposedly self-proclaimed king . . .” from The Gospel of MATTHEW, by R. T. France, in The New International Commentary On The New Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 2007. Page 1061.
“The key to the executioners’ art . . . “ from O’Riley and Dugard, Killing Jesus, page 234.
“Do you often find that you are more aware . . .” from C.J. Mahaney, The Cross Centered Life. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books. 2002. Page 29.
[The righteousness of Christ” is entirely outside and above us.” Quote in C.J. Mahaney, The Cross Centered Life. Original source: Martin Luther, edited by Jarsolav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther’s Works, vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John (St. Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1961), chapters 14-16.