Crassus and The Appian Way

Marcus Licinius Crassus

I promise you a new Rome.
I promise you a new Empire.
-Marcus Licinius Crassus

Went down the road to Damascus,
The road to Mandalay
Met the ghost of Caesar
On the Appian Way
He said, It’s hard to stop this binging
Once you get a taste
But the road to empire
Is a bloody, stupid waste
And it’s a long road out of Eden
-The Eagles

My kingdom is not of this world.

An Ides of March and Palm Sunday Blog

The Appian Way.
The Great Road to Rome.
The Road of the Roman Triumphs.
“All roads lead to Rome.”
I hope not.
I believe there is another way.
A better way than the Appian Way.
The King’s Highway.

In 73 b.c. a former slave and gladiator, the famous Spartacus, led a rebellion of escaped slaves against the Roman Republic. A prominent senator, Marcus Licinius Crassus, raised an army at his own expense, became their general and two years later led them into battle and crushed Spartacus and his slave rebellion. Crassus was the wealthiest man in the Roman Empire. Fabulously wealthy. Last month Forbes magazine published a list of the wealthiest people in history—Crassus was in the top ten, wealthier than any of the Roman emperors, Egyptian pharaohs or European kings. Forbes estimated Crassus’s wealth in terms of 2008 dollars at $170 billion! Of course Crassus’s wealth was built on the backs of slaves, and thus his motivation to crush Spartacus and the slave rebellion.

After Crassus defeated Spartacus, Crassus was given a triumph on the Appian Way — the Roman victory parade. The road was lined with 6,000 crosses! Upon each cross was a crucified slave. The message was clear: This was how Rome dealt with threats to their interests. This event as much as any established crucifixion as the symbol of Roman ruthlessness when it came to suppressing their enemies.. Later Crassus would finance the rise to power of an impoverished young man with political aspirations by the name of Julius Caesar. Goodbye Republic, Hello Empire.

A hundred years roll by.

It’s a Sunday in Jerusalem at festival time.

No one knew it at the time but this Sunday would be remembered throughout the ages. It would come to be known as Palm Sunday.

On that Sunday a ragged band of Galileans who had come to believe that a carpenter turned prophet from the backwater village of Nazareth was the anointed Savior-King of Israel. They were coming with him to the festival in Jerusalem in the hope of crowning him king and launching the revolution that would overthrow the Roman occupiers and their Herodian collaborators.

Their attempt at giving Jesus a kind of triumphal entry into Jerusalem was comical by Roman standards. No imperial banners, only palm branches. No assembling of the elite, just rural peasants from Galilee. No white stallion, but a donkey. A donkey! Surely this was a farce and a parody and not real triumph!

I like to imagine myself with a time machine.

I go back to Jerusalem for the Triumphal Entry of Jesus.

I find a Roman soldier watching this comedy from the walls of the Antonio Fortress. I tell him this:

2,000 years from now billions of people will commemorate this event and it will be known to the whole world as Palm Sunday.

He falls over laughing.

But it’s true.

Beginning with Palm Sunday, the events of Holy Week are in reality a week long coronation of Jesus as King of Israel…King of Kings…King of the world. But in the mystery of God it is an ironic coronation, even a macabre coronation.

Think about it.

Consider the macabre coronation of Christ:

His acclamation is a mockery, his scepter is a reed, his crown is made of thorns, the purple robe is placed upon a scourged back, the cry of his subjects is not, long live the king!, but, crucify him!, his royal procession is the road to his execution, and his final coronation is by crucifixion.

This is how the Kingdom of God comes…in a way no one could have imagined.

Not the Appian Way.
But the Via Dolorosa.
Not the way of a king crucifying his enemies.
But the way that leads to a king being crucified…
And winning the battle.

The crazy wisdom of God!

None of the rulers of this age understood this wisdom, if they had they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. -1 Corinthians 2:8

The crazy ways of God!

There’s a lone soldier on the cross
Smoke pouring out of a boxcar door
You didn’t believe it, you didn’t think it could be done
But in the final end he won the war
After losing every battle
-Bob Dylan

The Roman Way, the Imperial Way, The Appian Way…
Of establishing a kingdom is to exalt yourself and crucify your enemies.
This is what the Roman Empire did.

And it’s exactly what the people of Israel wanted their Messiah to do — they wanted their Savior-King to take up the sword, exalt himself and crucify Israel’s enemies. But that wouldn’t change the world…that would only change the name of the empire.

Jesus didn’t come to simply give the same old empires of oppression a new name.

That wouldn’t change anything…and Jesus came to change the world.

Jesus came to start the revolution of love and grace.

Jesus came to bring in the liberating and saving empire of God.

It wouldn’t come down the Appian Way.

It would come down the Via Dolorosa.

It didn’t come by self-exaltation, hating your enemies and destroying all who get in your path.

It came by Jesus humbling himself, loving his enemies, choosing the cross, and trusting God for resurrection, vindication and the breaking in of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jason Upton is right, this is the true King’s Way.

There is a road
That lead to peace
That leads to life
But few will follow
We’re at the crossroad
Which way will we go?
There is not today a more holy way
Than the steps that lead me to the cross
Where my will can’t be the priority
And these crowns I’ve gained I count as loss
When I hear the Spirit say
That this is the true King’s way
-Jason Upton



An additional thought:

Holy Week is the church calendar commemoration of the events central to the gospel.

(Remember, we are saved by events, not ideas.)

The purpose of Holy Week is to become sympathetic with Jesus.

sympathy: Latin sympathia: syn (together) + pathos (passion)

Sympathy is shared passion.

If we will fellowship with Jesus in his suffering we will share his passion.

During Holy Week step into the Scriptures and fellowship with Jesus in his suffering.

Share his distress when he says, How great is my distress until it is finished.

Share his sorrow when he says, My soul is exceedingly sorrowful unto death.

Share his agony when he pleads, Abba, Father, let this cup pass from me.

Share his loneliness when he says, Could you not watch with me one hour?

Share his disappointment when he says, Do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?

Share his confusion when he cries, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

If we can enter into fellowship with the human sufferings of Jesus, we can have authentic passion. We won’t have to resort to cheap gimmicks and appeal to the so-called “felt-needs” of human self-centeredness to generate excitement. If we will fellowship with the sufferings of Jesus we will have the passion of a shared pathos. The fire that Jesus came to bring to the earth will be kindled in our hearts.

If we will walk with Jesus on the Via Dolorosa Road of Sorrow…
We will walk with Jesus on the Emmaus Road of the Resurrection Surprise.
And our hearts will burn within us…burn with holy passion.