MARK 15 – Time Travel
Wandering through the Muslim quarter in Jerusalem with my brother and sister-in-law, was just like travelling back in time. It was September of 2012 and, the maze of cool, dark alleyways lined with endless market stalls seemed to go on forever. My brother had read a book on the old city and pointed out the assumed locations of different sites.
As we came toward the last set of steps leading up to the Damascus Gate, he pointed to the right and told me that the street led to the Roman Praetorium [v16] – where the Roman barracks would have been on the Friday morning that Jesus was arrested, convicted and killed without a proper trial. Then, pointing back down through the market he said, “Some believe that they took Jesus that way. The route through the city is called the Stations of the Cross.”
I could imagine that the market in that direction would have been just as busy in Jesus’ day. Looking back down through the modern market made wondered how Jesus could get through the narrow alleyways thronging with Passover visitors. Although it might make sense that they should parade Him through the streets before killing Him, Jesus had only just survived a Roman flogging! So I wondered how hard it would be to drag a heavy cross through a now hysterical crowd, screaming and baying for His blood. Not being able to control the wishes of the mob long enough to conduct a proper trial, it seemed more realistic that the Roman Governor would get Jesus out of the city using the closest possible gate.
As I turned to follow my brother and sister-in-law up the steps towards the Damascus Gate, I immediately stepped into the strangest experience: I seemed to “teeter” and momentarily fall through time. All this takes time to explain but it was there before me and gone again within seconds. This is how I’ve come to describe it…
I “faltered in my spirit” i.e. it was as if a stumbled, but I didn’t kick my toe. I swooned and put out my hand to stop myself from going down but I wasn’t going down. With this physical reaction, came an unexpected wash of realisation. As soon as it happened, it was as if my eyes were seeing everything as normal – the Damascus Gate towering above me and a handful of tourists browsing the rows of market stalls that lined both sides of the steep stone steps. But my mind was swimming with a scene crowded with people.
Within seconds, the almost deserted stairway was filled with jostling chaos and screaming faces. Jesus had just stumbled under the weight of the cross and lay beneath me somewhere out of sight. Armed soldiers were pushing the crowd out of the way and one grabbed Simon of Cyrene who was coming down the steps towards me. [v21]
The scene vanished and my stomach swirled to the standstill. The pictures that had washed over me in those fleeting seconds, left me tingling from head to foot – as if I was returning back to the current time zone.
I was fixed to the step and I somehow instinctively knew I was to lay face down on the spot. I have no proof that those steps leading up to the Damascus Gate was the spot where Jesus stumbled under the weight of the cross as He was led from the Roman Praetorium [v16], directly to the nearest gate to be crucified outside the city walls. [v22] But that fleeting yet powerful experience made me want to drop to my knees and hug the pavement. From somewhere deep within me, I was compelled to kiss the step and lay face-down, with my arms out stretched in worship.
I couldn’t do it. My brother and sister-in-law were ahead of me but too far to hear my restrained call.
With this sudden urge to worship on the spot, I quickly looked around and saw that there was no one in the immediate vicinity. Only a Muslim vendor in the closest stall seemed to be watching me and his intent gaze made me uneasy. I was embarrassed. After all, westerners don’t drop to the floor in the middle of a market place. Because I was a woman, and right in the middle of the Muslim quarter, I had visions of a riot breaking out – just as it did for Jesus.
Embarrassed in front of the oncoming crowd, and fearful of “offending” or causing a scene, I chose discretion instead. I moved on and the moment seemed to dissolve into the air. I was unable to return back to that spot again and, to this day, I’m forever sorry that I didn’t stop to give Him public praise.
If time travel were possible, I would hope that I’d be different to all the others – if I were part of Jesus’ crucifixion story. But when the moment arrived, a simple 30-second public acknowledgement of Him[a] on the steps of a busy street, was outweighed by my embarrassment and my fear over what could happen if I honoured Him there.
So what stands out for me in today’s chapter is how Jesus never honoured Himself even to the end. Asked by Pilate if He was “King of the Jews” and He simply said; “It is as you say” or “You have said it.” [v2] Even after harsh accusations, Jesus remained silent. [v3-5] This was to fulfil the ancient prophecy:
“But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; And I did not know that they had devised plots against me, saying, ‘Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, And let us cut him off from the land of the living, That his name be remembered no more.’”[a]
Even with everything said against Him and all that could be pinned on Him, nothing could be found to be a fault causing death. No “sin” could be found to blacken His name. The written charge in Roman Law and reason for the Death Penalty – read “King of the Jews”. [v26] He was found to be without sin and died simply for being Himself.
Even on the cross they hurled insults at Him, not for what He’d done wrong but to prove His identity. [v29-32] They didn’t understand that, had He come down off the cross, as they suggested, humanity’s eternal future would be lost. This was the permanent junction point in the fabric of the created order. Only by going through what He went through, has my salvation and the hope of humankind been secured.
In a legal agreement (the New Covenant) between the Creator and those He created, Father God crossed over time and space to provide the sacrifice that He had promised since ancient times.[b] He did it not just for one man or one nation, but for the whole world. To do what He said He’d do (bridging the promises through time in His epic storyline so far), Father God was forced to turn His back on Jesus [v34], making Him pay sin’s penalty in one perfect sacrifice.
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[a] Jeremiah 11:19
[b] Genesis 22 (referencing v14)