The Triumph of the Cross

Col. 2:15.---' Having spoiled principalities and powers, he made as shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.'

There are words that travel from age to age and from language to language, gathering romance round them as they go. One of these is the word 'triumph,' which has come to us with but little change from the Greek thiambos through the Latin triumphus. At its Greek stage the word meant a hymn of praise to Dionysus. Dionysus was the wine god, the god of strong excitement or elation and of inspiration, who banished care and brought delight to the hearts of men. In the festivals among the mountains, youth and beauty were crowned with flowers.

Under the shadow of the Roman temperament the word took to itself a sterner note. Yet it was still a note of joy. It was a word that now belonged not to Dionysus, the god of wine, but to Mars, the god of war,and it came to be set apart for a special use---or the public honor that was given to a conqueror after his victory. The streets were adorned with garlands and the temples opened. The procession was headed by the great officials of the State and the Senate, followed in order by the trumpeters, the captured spoils and trophies of the fight, the white sacrificial bulls, the prisoners spared to grace the triumph prior to imprisonment or execution, the musicians, and finally the general himself. "Io triumphe." shouted the spectators, as the splendid pageant moved slowly up the Forum to the temple of Capitoline Jupiter.

Not very long ago Rome was reminding herself of some of her ancient triumphs when she gave a tumultuous welcome to Mussolini, the dictator of Italy, after an electoral victory. The Times correspondent said: "The military element was supreme and gave a touch of discipline and order to the roaring multitudes, so that there were lacking only the prisoners, the plunder, and the victorious general for the real triumph to be reconstructed.

The originality and daring of St Paul startle us again and again, unless we read him with eyes that are blinded by sheer familiarity. But surely his daring was never greater than when he depicts the Savior as celebrating His triumph on His Cross. Triumph---that word of exultation! The Cross---that tree of shame! The thoughts of Christendom turn often to the Via Dolorosa and imaginatively reconstruct the tremendous scene when Pilate had given sentence that it should be as the Jews required, and Jesus, bearing His Cross, went forth to Calvary. It is easy for us to sing now, with the faith of the ages to teach us, but in that hour of darkness the Cross looked like anything but a royal banner, and it had no mystic glow at all to any watching eye. It was but the instrument of death. It was but the token of shame. It was the instrument of torture so terrible that the daughters of Jerusalem had good reason for their weeping. It was a badge of disgrace so infamous that a civilization skilled in the ingenuity of vengeance could devise none darker or deeper. In this Jerusalem street we are at the opposite pole of religious experience from the merry dances among the hills of Greece. We are at the opposite side of the world's social system from the conqueror's pageant winding through scenes of splendor. Yet by a miracle of God these words were written but a few short years after, He triumphed in the Cross. So as often as we take our stand in the Via Dolorosa, the swaying Cross is caught by the rays of the rising sun, and is transformed and beautified. The mocking crowd is swept away as by some irresistible wind of God, and a new multitude comes pouring in with songs of love and joy, to be the captives of the Crucified, the subjects of the Christ, till time shall be no more.

To exhaust the meaning of this would be to analyze the whole of the teaching of the New Testament concerning the death or our Lord, and different aspects of this great reality flash upon us from almost every page. When Nelson, after the Battle of the Nile, landed at Naples he was hailed as the savior of Italy, and received a welcome almost equal to a Roman triumph in the days of old. The King of Naples came out to meet him on the royal barge. The crowd in the streets hailed him as deliverer and preserver, and, so Southey records, " the lazzaroni displayed their joy by holding up bird cages and giving them their liberty as he passed." So, in this passage and in many another part of the New Testament, whole companies of singing birds are released, and many voices blended in one song of deliverance. Now it is the forgiveness of sins. Again it is the quickening of new life. Once more it is the lifting of the curse. Yet again it is the defeat of principalities and powers. All these things go together to make this stupendous triumph, the victory that rose out of defeat, the glory that burst from the darkness.

Yet the fullness of the meaning is realized only as our adoring thought travels on from the hour and power of darkness to the morning when iron bars were broken and captivity was taken captive. Central as the Cross is in New Testament thought, it never stands alone. it was the dark entrance gate to the victory of the Resurrection. It was the falling into the ground and dying of the seed which was to grow into a renewed humanity quickened together with Christ. Thus the triumph of the Cross moves its pageant onwards into the unending vistas of Christian experience.

We see, in the experience of the people of Christ, the triumph of the Cross before our very eyes. The thing is justified by its fruits. It may be ugly and hateful as a malefactor's gibbet, but what shall we say if the tree of shame blossoms into the tree of life with leaves for the healing of the nations.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha