Do you see the image? The Roman Triumphal Procession was a lavish spectacle. Think St. Patricks Day Parade in Chicago -.rich fabrics, polished horses and chariots, music, dancers, incense, ceremony. The conquering general is out in front surrounded by his first lieutenants. Behind him are wagon loads of plunder from the land he has conquered, and then long lines of the soldiers and leaders that he has defeated.
Do you see all those tall, strong, muscled warriors walking behind the chariot of the general? They once led armies. Now, they’re defeated. They had always survived by courage, strength and cunning. Now they were captives. Can you hear all the insults, scorn and contempt that is being heaped upon them by the Roman citizens? “You thought you were so tough, and now look at you!.”
But out in front, leading it all, is the Victor, the General who had triumphed. That’s what this whole procession is all about – his glory.
And where does Paul place himself in this triumphal procession? NOT out front with the Victor, but as one of the captives being led to his death later that day as a sacrifice to the Roman gods. Calvin could not conceive of such a defeatist image and so his translation has carried the day for over 300 years: “leads us in triumph”. But this imagery that Paul borrows from the Roman culture is not about OUR triumph, it’s about Christ’s. The NIV gets it right: “leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession” (2:14). Paul was the enemy of the Church and King Jesus took him captive on the road to Damascus.
Paul was “always being given over to death for Jesus sake (4:11). He faced death every day (1 Cor. 15:31) SO: In Paul’s life: “death” is shorthand for all his SUFFERINGs (cf. Ch. 6 & 11) which are the vehicle the gospel traveled on. Message, method and minister are all one in the life of this apostle (see Phil. 1:12 ). The Fragrance of Christ is released (vs. 15) when we are led to take up our Cross and follow Him – “living sacrifices” (Rom. 12:1):
So long as our lives are in our own hands we will never give up the very things we need above all to give up if we are to be changed, whether that thing is the love of money, our house, our good opinion of ourselves, our good name, our health or our very life. What we do not want to give up is precisely the thing that is necessary for us to give up if we are to grow up. And we usually never do this until the sovereign hand of God thrust into it of necessity. – Donald Nicholl
TAKING IT FURTHER:
When so much ministry today is technique and technology, personality and performance, entertainment and excitement – where do we see in our ministers what it looks like to take up our cross and follow Christ?