4th Sunday in Lent Sounds of the Passion, Part 4 “Tramping Feet”
March 19, 2023 John 18:1-6
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ, [ READ text ]
Many of our ‘church-words’ have historic Latin roots. That’s how it is with the word ‘passion’. When we refer to ‘the Passion of Christ’, the Latin word ‘passus sum’ means: to suffer, bear-up-under, to endure.’ During our Lord’s Passion, especially during that week leading up to the cross, there were particular sounds heard marking important events.
Such as: ‘ripping cloth’, ‘clinking coins’, and ‘ crying tears.’ There was also this sound heard at a few particular times: (sound)
I hope that sounds like what it is: the marching boots of soldiers; heavy footfalls in uniform precision; the rhythm of feet marching in proper cadence as the army comes upon the scene. The stomp of a small group of Roman soldier feet is heard as Jesus is taken /to Caiaphas, /then to Pilate, /then over to Herod, /and back to Pilate, /and back & forth to whatever holding area there was inbetween times, /and finally thru the streets out to Golgatha.
Tramping feet. The sound is meant to be intimidating; it’s a sound of power, the sound of unity & strength & movement forward with a purpose, so you’d better get out of the way or else they may tramp over you! There were various guards, cohorts, & sentries; when we hear that a ‘centurion’ is present, there may have been present the full company of 100 soldiers. And in the discipline of any army, soldiers do not move from one place to another haphazardly; they march. So, when the Roman governor scheduled a crucifixion, there would be the sound of ‘tramping feet.’
We first hear the sound of armed men marching on Thursday night at the Garden of Gethsemane. This group came from the Temple Guard; it was a unit of Roman soldiers assigned for use by the Jewish Sanhedrin, to make sure the Jewish leaders had some muscle
to keep control over the people; & especially during the crowded festival times = like the Passover. Jesus had just finished his agonizing time in prayer; it was so intense that his sweat was falling as drops of blood. He woke up His sleeping disciples saying that His ‘betrayer was at hand.’ As the disciples were still shaking themselves awake, they would’ve heard the tramping feet coming up the pathway to the Garden. (sound)
Jesus went out to meet them, putting a little distance between himself and his disciples to protect them. In the front of the marching troupe was Judas, so that he could positively identify which of these bearded Jewish men was the right one = they all looked the same to the Romans. The presence of soldiers would make sure there was no resistance when the arrest was made.
With a calm courage, Jesus faced the armed crowd and said, “Am I leading a rebellion that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me.” (Mk 14:48–49a).
Then Jesus makes two very important statements for what is happening. First He said:
“But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” (Mk 14:49b). This little arresting group may have been thrown together quickly to get the job done; but this was no random event. This was happening at the timing & will of the Almighty for a historic purpose. Another group was waiting elsewhere for Jesus to arrive, what we call a ‘kangaroo court’ – that would find Him guilty = no matter what the evidence said.
A guilty verdict with the Sanhedrin would mean Jesus would then appear before Pontius Pilate for official sentencing; and they knew they could pressure him to ensure a crucifixion. Now, this was not the Jewish leaders trying to fulfill the Scripture; God was. The Son of God would be dying for our sin; by that, we would be delivered from the eternal penalty of our guilt. God’s covenant-promise of forgiveness must be fulfilled, and it would happen by tramping feet making sure the Anointed One made it to the cross.
The Scriptures must be fulfilled.
The second thing Jesus said was: “..This is your hour, when darkness reigns.” (Lk 22:53b). What looked like a small army sent out on a little mission, Jesus saw it for what it really stood for: it was the army of darkness arrayed against the Son of God in the ultimate spiritual battle. In his own evil desire, Judas had opened himself up for Satan & his dark power to guide this armed group. We might wonder: How did Judas ever think that the sin of betrayal would result in any good thing for himself or for God’s kingdom?
We should ask that question of ourselves. Why do we sometimes think that our disobedience against God’s ways, or bending His rules, or ignoring His teachings will result in some life-blessing for us?
How can our sin ever bring us God’s good? When we allow darkness to reign in what we say or what we do, it brings the opposite of God’s good kingdom in our life.
Satan had been waiting in the shadows for about 6,000 yrs since tempting Adam & Eve.
Finally, in the wee hours of Thursday night, like a gathering storm, it was time for a showdown with the promised ‘Seed of the Woman’ of Genesis 3. Jesus was that Promised One, and now Satan would knock Him out. Actually, God would allow the power of darkness to be poured out upon Jesus as He was nailed to the cross, once & for all.
Now, since Jesus was not leading an earthly rebellion, & He would never set up an earthly kingdom with soldiers & weapons, so He calmly went with them. (sound) With the authority of the law they marched down the hillside, swords clinking in their holders in time with their feet. Hup-two-three-four = /down the Mount of Olives, /across the ravine, /into the city of Jerusalem, /up the temple mount, /onto the outer Court. ‘Company, halt!’ The Roman soldiers were likely dismissed to their barracks at the Fortress Antonia on the north side of the temple, while the Jewish temple guard escorted Jesus into the council chambers.
The overlords of the trial were waiting & ready to begin immediately. They had lined things up; and even tho there were some missteps from some of the weak witnesses, they pressed forward toward the preordained verdict of guilty. They even got Jesus to speak up, and admit His blasphemy, because anyone claiming to be ‘the Son of the Most High God’ must be lying. Guilty! Now Jesus was liable for death; and that was the only thing that the leaders really cared about.
Then the guards took Jesus back outside. Once again, Jesus marched along with the soldiers: across the court, down the steps, thru the city, to the fortress, stopping at Pilate’s judgment hall, where they transferred Jesus back to the control of the Roman army.
The soldiers remained outside as Jesus was tried before Pilate. Pilate seemed to put on a little show to find out what the problem was, but he would not let a riot erupt. The governor washed his hands as a the sign that the Jews could have their way: Jesus would die by crucifixion.
Jesus was marched back to the barracks for holding, since some time would be needed to prepare for a triple crucifixion. That’s when the soldiers could break ranks & mill about.
Now the strict discipline of their job relaxed, and they did what they normally did to condemned criminals; they would have a little rough ‘fun.’
They blindfolded Jesus & punched him in the face, challenging him to identify who hit him. They dressed Jesus in an fancy robe, stuck a crown of thorns onto his scalp, and gave him a baton to use as a scepter. Bowing down, they laughed & shouted, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
Then they took the baton from his hand and hit him in the face & on the head. They slapped him, pulled out his beard, & knocked him to the ground. No doubt those heavy boots that made that tramping sound were used in kicking this worthless man whose life now was not worth a plug nickel. They thought they were doing him a favor, really. Better to be near death now than have to hang even longer on a cross.
Then the command came. “March the the prisoner out to Skull Hill.” Now they help Jesus up, because they don’t want to have to carry him. They put the cross bar on his back and lead him down the last street he’ll ever walk: the Via Dolorosa, ‘the way of sorrows.’ Hup-two-three-four. (sound) Hup-two-three-four. Halt! What now? The prisoner had fallen. The lack of sleep, the loss of blood, the weight of the cross & the weight of the world was too much for any man. He wasn’t going to have the strength to make it all the way to the hill.
The centurion in charge is irritated, but it’s happened before. So, he elbows the gawkers aside, & goes back to where Jesus & his cross bar are laying on the ground. Scanning the crowd he’s looking for a ‘volunteer’, & sees a man who looks strong, & points his finger. A soldier takes Simon from Cyrene by the elbow and pulls him into the street. The centurion motions to the wooden beam. Simon picks it up & becomes part of the formation. Ready!March! And once again the crucifixion detail is on the move. They go out of the city gate; and in just another hundred yards or so they reach their goal. The 3 criminals are now prepared for their cursed end.
As they nail Jesus to the tree, He speaks something that surprises all who hear it. There’s no cry for vengeance, & not the usual Jewish hatred for the godless Romans. Simply a word of grace: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34a).
Words can be powerful. He could’ve called down legions of marching angels to destroy all who mocked, hurt, or even ignored the Holy Son of God; instead, Jesus prays, & calls down a word of forgiveness. And who is ‘them’? …well, All of ‘them’! Jesus earns forgiveness /for his betrayer, /for his scattered disciples, /for the lying witnesses & corrupt teachers of the law, /and even for the soldiers – whose tramping feet had taken him to face this death & our hell. Once, and for all. But would anyone believe that? Do WE believe that?
I mean, I know you & I believe that Jesus died for US; but do we believe that Jesus died for others too = all others? Do we treat all others like we truly believe that = including those that mistreat us? That’s a ‘Lent question’ of self examination.
‘Forgiveness’ is the Scripture that must be fulfilled; it’s the promise that goes all the way back to mankind’s first parents in the Garden. Jesus was the One who would come and end the power of darkness, the power of sin & our death. That promise has marched all the way thru the generations of man until the Son of Man could grow human feet in His mother’s womb, and fulfill the Scripture by marching from Bethlehem to Jerusalem; marching with purpose
all the way to the cross. His blood, sweat, tears, skin & bone were offered up, so that all souls might receive God’s grace and forgiveness.
The misguided discipline of the soldiers tramping feet remind us that we are often listening to the commands of the world, & our own selfish desires. We are born with the unholy desire to be our own captain, & tempted to follow our own orders because we imagine this is our life; ‘my body – my choice.’ People excuse their sinful ways by saying: ‘I march to the beat of a different drummer’. The Bible says that we all want to be our own drummer; and yet, we’re all pretty uniform in following all the same sinful ways. Sins are contageous, too.
We see someone sin, we want to too; it must be okay, everyone’s doing it! Or, you hurt me, I’ll hurt you back. But all sin makes us do an ‘about face’ away from our Creator; and from there, it’s: ‘Forward! March – right along with the army of darkness!’ (sound)
Until God’s Law and His Gospel come & say, ‘Halt!’ That is a gracious call. As the book of Hebrews cites from Psalm 95: “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” His voice? We’ve heard it from the cross; He said, “Father, forgive them.”
And because of His cross, the Father forgives.
YOU are forgiven for marching away from Him; and He has turned you back to himself. Christ Jesus is your Captain, and He gives new orders for your tramping feet. By His grace, thru the Spirit’s work, and by faith, He has join you & me in His Church, His company of saints. Now freed from the threats of sin & death, He calls out, “If anyone would come after Me, he must take up his cross and follow Me.” (Mt 16:24).
St.Paul says that since we have been washed in Christ, and have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, we strive to walk in step with the Spirit in the commands of our Lord.
Our new life in Christ is now our identity. Our uniform shows whose side we’re on; we have His armor to wear in our daily living, says Eph.6. Jesus equips us to make our stand against the powers of darkness. We have /the belt of His truth; /the shield of this faith, /the helmet of salvation, /the sword of the Spirit, /and we have -as shoes for our feet- the ready gospel of peace.
In Jesus’ time of Passion, the sound of tramping feet was heard; a sound meant to intimidate & frighten. But to us, it was the sound of the Scripture being fulfilled, & the sound of the army of darkness being defeated. Thanks be to God in Christ! And now, tramping feet is the sound of our lives moving around with the gospel of peace, and the sound of us walking together, united in Christ & His teaching, until He comes again.