By Bob Morrison
Family Research Council Senior Fellow
Use the word pioneer with an American audience and our minds will usually turn to images of Conestoga wagons pulled by sturdy oxen. They are wending their way Westward. It's an arduous trek of families--fathers, mothers, and their children--across forested mountains and out onto the Great Plains. It would be years before these pioneers could bring the land under cultivation and see those amber waves of grain.
Scripture uses the word pioneer to describe Jesus. He is the author and perfecter of our faith, but He is also the pioneer, the One who goes before us, the One who bids us follow Him. Oftentimes that first pioneer and all pioneers who came after Him faced danger.
Sometimes, they even followed in His footsteps to a violent death.
Jesus knew not only betrayal, He knew shame. He took upon Himself the sins of the world, our sins, everyone's. As God and Man, He knew no sin, but he endured all that sin can bring for our sake. He hid not his face from shame and spitting. Yes, spitting. He was scourged. We hardly use the word scourge today. It means to be whipped. Romans used a scourge that was a wooden handled whip strung with long leather strips. These strips were studded with lead and pieces of sheep bone. These scourges survived from Bible times until barely a century ago. In Britain's Royal Navy, the lash was called "the cat 'o nine tails," for the nine strips of leather. Letting the cat out of the bag was not only the telling of a forbidden secret, it was the prelude to something awful. Whole ships' companies were ordered to witness as the flesh of a man's bare back was lacerated. Men who were scourged often died of that punishment. The loss of blood and the inevitable infection scourging caused were enough to kill.
Jesus endured all this before he went to the cross. He scorned its shame. In the space of five days, He went from being cheered in Jerusalem, from being hailed as the Son of David to suffering the humiliation of being betrayed, arrested, and treated as the lowest of criminals. Why did He do it? For the joy set before Him, Hebrews tells us. He could see beyond Calvary, beyond the Place of the Skull. He knew what joy lay before Him. He also knew what it would take to arrive at that place.
This is hard for us as mere humans to comprehend. Knowing the future always seems like a good idea for us. But can we bear it? Can we endure what may come to us, what our portion of sorrow and suffering will be?
Jesus knew what was over that horizon. He knew He had to remain faithful to the end. This can be, this must be, a source of great strength to us today. Crowds who once hailed what we hail are turning away from Truth. We are daily witnessing betrayals. Many of the mighty view us with scorn, if not yet with spitting, if not yet with scourging. Why is this? They hated Him. They will hate us. The servants are not greater than their master. Expect it. Be prepared. Don't lose hope. Stand together.
Before He entered Jerusalem that Palm Sunday morning and before that long ago Holy Week, Jesus gave us a glimpse over the horizon. He gave us a foretaste of the Resurrection when he came upon the tomb of his beloved friend, Lazarus, in Bethany. Dead and buried for four days when Jesus arrived, Lazarus arose at the command of his Lord. Lazarus came back from the dead because, as Jesus told them:
"I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
Yes, Lord, we believe.