Sunday, March 31, 2019
THE DEATH OF THE PASSOVER-KING
(or, “Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures…”)
Introduction: James Kennedy told the story from the days of the Great Depression, when a Missouri man, named John Griffith, was the controller of a great drawbridge across the Mississippi river. One day in the summer of 1937 he decided to take his eight-year-old son, Greg, with him to work…
…At noon, John Griffith put the bridge up to allow ships to pass and sat on the observation deck with his son to eat lunch. Time passed quickly… Suddenly he was startled to hear the shrieking of a train whistle in the distance. He quickly looked at his watch, and noticed that it was 1:07—the Memphis express, with four hundred passengers on board was roaring toward the raised bridge! He leapt from the observation deck and ran back to the control tower. Just before throwing the lever he glanced down for any ships below. There a sight caught his eye that caused his pounding heart to leap into his throat. [His son] Greg had slipped from the observation deck and had fallen into the massive gears that operate the bridge! His left leg was caught between the two main gears. Desperately his mind whirled to devise a rescue plan. But as soon as he thought of a possibility he knew there was no way it could be done—there was not time!
Again, and with alarming closeness, the train whistle shrieked in the air. He could [already] hear the clicking of the locomotive wheels over the tracks. That was his son down there—yet there were four hundred passengers on the train. John knew what he had to do, so he buried his head in his left arm and pushed the master switch forward. That great massive bridge lowered into place just as the Memphis Express began to roar across the river…
Any analogy of the redemptive work of Christ falls short, but as Paul said, “…He spared not the Son, but delivered Him up for us all…” God’s plan to save us reached its climax in these verses… The disciples had been scattered, Peter has denied him, the leaders had violated their own traditions with a mock trial at night, Pilate gave in to their requests and ordered him flogged in the morning, and then after releasing Barabbas at their insistence, he sends the Son to be crucified. In all of this Jesus has been silent, except in affirming that yes, He is in fact the King of the Jews. Their rejection of Him, and His cruel treatment at the hands of the Romans, actually fulfills Scripture, particularly Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22, ironically proving Him to the promised Messiah. The brings us to...
The Maine* Idea: The Cross was the place of divine judgement against sin, and the death of the Son, as our substitute, is the only way to forgiveness and reconciliation with God.
I. Darkness: Jesus endured the darkness of judgment, so we could see the light of life (33).
33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.
The first word of God recorded in the Bible is spoken in the context of creation: “Let there be light!” God shined light over the universe, and it was good. Throughout the Bible light and darkness are used to describe life and blessing and the presence of God on the one hand, and separation, judgement, and death on the other. This imagery is so ingrained in Scripture that John could describe the coming of Jesus into the world as the coming of light:
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him… (John 1:9-10).
Later John describes believing in Jesus as “coming to the light” and unbelief in terms of loving the darkness (3:18-21). But remember that the context is the Passover. And remember that this is Passover week. The people are hearing and reciting the story of the Exodus from Egypt, including the ten plagues which culminated in the Passover, and the death of the firstborn in the homes of the Egyptians. Before that final plague there were nine others. The ninth is described in Exodus 10:21-23,
…the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt." 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. 23 They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived.
Pharaoh’s unbelief and refusal to obey the Lord had brought a series of devastating plagues on Egypt, but until the final plague, this was perhaps the most terrifying. Pitch dark, a darkness to be felt. And it occurred in all the land except where the Jews were! That darkness continued for three days, and Mark tells us that darkness came upon the whole land for three hours, from noon to 3.
The prophets also spoke of the coming judgement in terms of “darkness.” Joel chapter 2 begins and ends with a reference to the coming Day of the Lord…
Joel 2:1-2 …for the day of the LORD is coming; it is near, 2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people; their like has never been before, nor will be again...
Then in a passage, quoted in part by Peter on the day of Pentecost, we read in Joel 2:31, “The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” Darkness and judgment together! In fact hell is described as “outer darkness” as in the parable of the wicked servant.
Joel also describes the coming “Day of the Lord” as darkness in 5:18-20, and then we read an intriguing statement in Amos 8:9, "And on that day," declares the Lord GOD, "I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.” That is pretty specific! And here in Mark 15, at the height of day, the 6th hour—noon—until the ninth hour (3 PM) there is darkness. The Light of the World, shrouded in the darkness, the complete absence of light! John Calvin said, “Our Lord Jesus… was denied the light of the sun, when He was in His sufferings, to signify the withdrawing of the light of God’s countenance…” Derek Thomas alluded to this when he called this moment the opposite of the Aaronic benediction that we have in Numbers 6:24-26. In that blessing it says,
“The LORD bless you and keep you; 25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; 26 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”
Instead of the described blessing, Christ, though holy, became a curse for us… It is as though God said, “May the Lord curse you and reject you, and hide His face from you, and give you His wrath!” Darkness came on the whole land as the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all, He bore our sins, He was made a curse for us!
The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “For God, who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts…” He endured the darkness that we deserved, so that we could receive the light of life. The Cross was the place of divine judgement against sin, and the death of the Son, as our substitute, is the only way to forgiveness and reconciliation with God. Yes, Jesus endured the darkness of judgment, so that we could see the light … He also experienced…
II. Desertion: He was forsaken, so that we never would be (34-36).
34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, "Behold, he is calling Elijah." 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down."
Mark tells us that Jesus cried out, citing Psalm 22:1 in its Aramaic form, and then Mark gives us the translation, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We need to preface our struggle to understand how this could be and what it means, by acknowledging that there is mystery in the Godhead, one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. There is also mystery in the incarnation, the Eternal Son taking on a human nature, so that He now has two natures, human and divine, without mixture, but also without division, in the One Person, the God-Man, Jesus Christ. Theologians call this the hypostatic union. Somehow, during this time on the Cross, after three hours of darkness, Jesus cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” R.C. Sproul says that,
“At the climax of that period of darkness, Jesus cried in agony—not the agony of the scourging or the agony of the thorns and nails, but the agony of forsakenness.”
The giving of some sour wine on a sponge itself fulfills Scripture – “They gave me vinegar [sour wine] for my drink…” (Psalm 69:21). But, why did the bystanders not understand Jesus’ words? It could be that though they are still thinking in Messianic categories, so that even in their rejection of Jesus’ messianic claim, what they hear is different than what Jesus said. They spoke Aramaic and would have understood biblical Hebrew, at least the Jews who were present surely would have. And most would have known the Psalms well, especially the first verse of the psalms would have been recognizable. But it seems they catch part of what Jesus said, and “fill in” what made sense to them. Elijah was to come and usher in the Messianic kingdom after all, so if Jesus is expecting the kingdom to start, “let’s see what happens.” That fit their messianic understanding better than reading Psalm 22 as referring to the Messiah. Their minds just wouldn’t go there, that picture didn’t make sense, it didn’t fit. A suffering Messiah? A Messiah was a Rescuer, a Savior, not someone who would suffer such an ignoble death!
So, they may have misunderstood, or misheard what was said. But some, like John MacArthur, think that they understood perfectly well what Jesus said, and they intentionally twist His words to be a reference to “Elijah.” It was a way of further mocking His messianic claim. “My God? No, he’s calling Elijah! Ha!” It could be there was mixture, some who heard wrongly, and some who continued to mock Him. They didn’t understand that this was God’s plan, and that Jesus, the Son, experienced separation from the Father, so that we would not have to. Tim Keller said that when Jesus asked, “Why have you forsaken me?” that
“…It wasn’t a rhetorical question. [Why?] ...the answer is: For you, for me, for us. Jesus was forsaken by God so that we would never have to be. The judgment that should have fallen on us fell instead on Jesus.”
And so, because of what He did for us, after the resurrection He would say “…I will never leave you or forsake you…” (Heb 13:5) and “..Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age…” (Mt 28:20). We will never be forsaken!
The Cross was the place of divine judgement, wrath against sin, and the death of the Son as our substitute is the only way to forgiveness and reconciliation with God. Jesus endured the darkness of God’s wrath against sin so that we could see the light of life, He was forsaken, so that we never would be, and finally came…
III. Death: He laid down His life, so that we could live eternally (37). When the Apostle Paul summarized the Gospel message, he said, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…” This scene expresses that moment.
Notice how Mark tells the story: “And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.” To “cry out in a loud voice” [we get the word megaphone from this phrase] would have been physically impossible after scourging and six hours on the cross, yet here we see Him do it twice. The only word of Christ from the Cross that Mark gives us is that in v.34, the quotation of Psalm 22:1. But now, a second time, in a “great voice” he cries out before He breathes his last. We know from the other Gospels that among His last words on the Cross He said, “It is finished” and “Into your hands I commit my spirit…” Whichever Mark refers to, His work was done, and the implication is, that He willfully and willingly laid down His life. The suffering He endured, as horrific as it must have been, was not enough. He had to die. The wages of sin is death... (Rom 6:23a). And so, “Christ died for our sins, according the Scriptures…”
All of human history, since the time of the Fall, awaited this moment. Since Adam disobeyed and brought the curse on humanity and all creation, creation was “groaning,” waiting for the Redeemer, the only one who, by his obedience, could make it possible for sinners to be reconciled to a holy God. Listen to the “before and after” as Paul describes it in Ephesians 2:1-7…
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind [We were all deserving of wrath, without hope and without God]. 4 But God, [Thank God for that contrast!] being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved- 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe! It happened here, in this scene, on the Cross.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Do you see that the Cross was the place of divine judgement against sin, and that the death of the Son, as our substitute, is the only way to forgiveness and reconciliation with God? Jesus endured the darkness of God’s wrath against sin so that we could see the light of life, He was forsaken, so that we never would be, and finally He died, He laid down His life, so that we could live eternally.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? The cross helps us to know God better, it displays both His holiness and justice on the one hand; and His love, expressed in the amazing grace He extended toward us, on the other. Holiness, and love. Justice, and mercy. No conflict, it is His nature. We’ve already spent several weeks looking at the passion of Christ. Remember, it was the plan of God to accomplish the redemption of all who would believe—this is how God could be just, and still justify sinners. If you know Him, you can be assured of forgiveness, because he bore your sins in His body on the tree. He took your sin, so that you could receive His righteousness. He died, so that you could live. That is how He showed us His love. Has that truth touched your heart? Are you still astonished by the Cross? God so loved you, that He gave His only Son…
After John Griffith threw the lever to lower the bridge, knowing that he had just sacrificed his son, Dr. Kennedy tells us the bridge closed, just as the train reached the span…
When John Griffith lifted his head with his face smeared with tears, he looked into the passing windows of the train. There were businessmen casually reading their afternoon papers, finely dressed ladies in the dining car sipping coffee, and children pushing long spoons into their dishes of ice cream. No one looked at the control house, and no one looked at the great gear box. With wrenching agony, John Griffith cried out at the steel train: “I sacrificed my son for you people! Don’t you care?” The train rushed by, but nobody heard the father’s words…
The Father gave the Son, but think of this: Jesus willingly gave himself for us. In light of what He has done for you, will you follow Him? AMEN.
Saturday, March 23, 2019
THE KING ON THE CROSS: What more could He have done?
Introduction:Brennan Manning, the author of The Ragamuffin Gospel, enlisted in the army with his childhood friend Ray. They had grown up together and stayed best friends…
Together they went to Boot Camp, and then served on the front lines during the Korean war. One night while sitting in a foxhole, Brennan was reminiscing about the old days in Brooklyn while Ray listened and ate a chocolate bar. Suddenly a live grenade came into the trench. Ray dropped his chocolate bar, looked at Brennan, smiled, and then threw himself on the live grenade. It exploded, killing Ray instantly, but Brennan was saved. Years later, Brennan was visiting Ray’s mother in Brooklyn. They sat up late one night having tea when Brennan asked her, “Do you think Ray loved me?” Mrs. Brennan got up off the couch, shook her finger in front of Brennan’s face and shouted, “What more could he have done for you?”
Brennan said that moment was an epiphany for him, thinking of times when he asked himself, “Does God really love me?” Have you asked that question? Maybe when life was hard, or things didn’t work out the way you had hoped? What more could He have done for you? He endured the shame and agony, He drank the cup of wrath so that we could one day drink the cup of blessing. Life in this fallen world can be tough. Mark seems to be writing his gospel to believers who are suffering for their faith. He wanted his readers to know, and God wants us to know, “This is how God showed His love among us, He sent His one and only Son into the world, that we might live through Him…” (I John 4:9). Does He love you? Look at the Cross. What more could He have done for you? Augustine said, “The Cross is the pulpit from which God preached His love to the world.” That is…
The Maine* Idea: Every detail of the crucifixion, according to God’s plan, fulfilled Scripture, proving that Jesus is the promised Messiah. His willingness to endure the Cross, proved His love for us.
I. Who is this Man? The “Lifting Up” of the King on the Cross (15:21-26). The word “king” only appears 11 times in Mark’s Gospel. It appears 5 times in chapter 6, referring to king Herod, when he made his foolish vow to the daughter of Herodias, and then, to save face, had John the Baptist killed. Kingship at its worst. In contrast, it then appears seven times in this chapter, three times Pilate uses the full title, “King of the Jews” (vv.3,9,12), in the passage we looked at last week it is used by the mocking soldiers (v.16), and in our text today it appears again in the title written on the placard nailed to the cross as the charge for which Jesus is being executed (v.26). We’ll see the phrase modified only slightly by the leaders who are there at the crucifixion as they mock Jesus, taunting him as “the King of Israel” (32). The irony is that rather than a defeat, disproving His messianic identity, step-by-step, His rejection vindicates His identity as the true King, the Son of God and Messiah predicted in the Scriptures. Read 15:21-24,
21 And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. 22 And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take.
We looked last week at v.21, as a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, is compelled to carry the cross of Christ. This testifies to the weakened, human, state of Jesus. Just prior He had endured the scourging, and then the mocking abuse of the soldiers, including the crown of thorns pushed down onto his head. Tim B. made a great observation at our mid-week Bible study on Wednesday night, noting that “thorns” first appeared in the context of the curse, following the Fall, in Genesis chapter three. The thorns remind us that He took the curse for us, He took the judgment that we deserved, so that we could receive blessing and reconciliation with God. He came to undo the Fall and in Christ we are already part of the New Creation (2 Cor 5:17). The trauma that Christ endured at the hands of the Roman soldiers was so intense, He was seemingly unable to carry His cross to the execution site. The soldiers conscripted Simon, compelling him to pick up the cross, and follow them to the hill. That reminds us of the call to every disciple in 8:34, to deny self, and to “…pick up the cross, and follow Him.” Are we willing?
There is a place today that is identified with Golgotha, the place of the Skull. As with many geographical locations, it is uncertain if the exact spot pointed out by tour guides is correct. What matters is that it would have been near there, just outside the city gate, near the main road, just a few hundred yards perhaps from the Temple. There they offered wine mixed with myrrh, probably as a sedative, but Jesus refused it. He would endure the Cross, and drink the cup set before Him to the dregs. And before He died, he had a few more words to utter from the cross – to His mother, and to the beloved disciple; “Behold your son… behold your mother…”; He also said, “tetelestai,” i.e. “It is finished… the debt is paid”; “I thirst!”; “Into your hands I commit my spirit…”; “Father forgive them, they know not what they are doing…” None of the gospels include all of these sayings, but together they paint a picture of purposeful fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan. But here in Mark, we have only one, the opening line from Psalm 22 (we’ll look at that next week). Already, however, the events themselves would cause someone familiar with Psalm 22 to think about the parallels between the lament of the psalmist, and the passion of Christ.
Humiliating, agonizing death, by crucifixion, prophesied a thousand years earlier, before crucifixion was known (22-24; Ps 22:18). They strip Him of His clothes, apparently as a further act of humiliation, but it would also add to his suffering as the sun rose higher in the sky. The soldiers divided His clothes among them, but then, they cast lots rather than tearing one. Just by chance? A thousand years earlier, David wrote in Psalm 22…
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; 15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. 16 For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet- 17 I can count all my bones- they stare and gloat over me; 18 they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots… (Ps 22:14-18).
How descriptive of the crucifixion, his suffering, the mockers around Him, the piercing of His hands and His feet, even dividing His garments. Mark doesn’t draw attention to the fulfillment, there is no quotation formula to highlight it like, “To fulfill what was written by the prophet…” or some such thing. He just describes the scene, allowing us to hear the echoes of the Old Testament Scriptures and come to our own realization: Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures…
Crucified with sinners, one on His right, one on his left (25-27; Isa 53:12; cf. Mark 10:37). Throughout the Passion Narrative in Mark we’ve heard echoes not only of Psalm 22, but also of Isaiah 53. Isaiah wrote of the Suffering Servant that He would be, “…numbered with the transgressors…” (Isa 53:12). Here He is crucified between two thieves. The word translated “thief” could also mean “insurrectionist.” That fits the idea of capital punishment better, and also the earlier reference to Barabbas, who had “killed someone in the rebellion.”
In the context of Mark’s Gospel, it is hard not to think back a few pages when, after Jesus taught for the third time about his coming suffering and death, that two of His followers abruptly asked a favor of Him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory…" (Mk 10:38). Now, as the Son of Man is lifted up, where are they? They didn’t yet understand the idea of a Crucified Messiah, a rejected and suffering King! Nor did they understand the cost of being a disciple! By the way, was the third cross that day supposed to be for Barabbas? Jesus, though innocent, was crucified in his place.
25 And it was the third hour when they crucified him. 26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, "The King of the Jews." 27 And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left.
The practice of the Romans was to write the charge for which a prisoner was being executed on a placard, and then to nail it to the cross, over the head of the condemned. The issue in the trial before Pilate focused on only one thing: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate had asked in 15:12, “What shall I do with the one you call king of the Jews?” That was the charge for which He was crucified. John tells us that the leaders objected, asking Pilate to write instead, “He claimed to be King of the Jews.” But Pilate wouldn’t budge, and replied “What I have written, I have written.” The charge would stand. And not the plans of Pilate, or of the Jewish leaders, but the plan of God, determined in eternity past, would be accomplished. You see, every detail of the crucifixion, unfolded according to God’s plan, fulfilling the Scriptures which had been written centuries before, and so proving that Jesus is the promised Messiah. His willingness to endure the Cross, proved His love for us.
II. Why did He come? He would not save Himself because He came to save others by the sacrifice of Himself (29-32). As the cross was approaching, we read in John’s Gospel that Jesus said to His disciples, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name...” (Jn 12:27-28a). In John, the glorification of the Son happens as He is “lifted up” on the Cross (Jn 3:14). It seems to me that Mark has this same perspective – the Cross is vindication and victory, while also revealing the spiritual blindness of the leaders of the people—they could not see.
29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!" 31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.
He was ridiculed by passers-by (29-30). The reference to the mockers of Christ “wagging their heads” also evokes Psalm 22,
7 All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; 8 "He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!" (Ps 22:7-8).
Now read Mark 15:29-30…
29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!"
The leaders join in with the passers-by, mocking the King on the Cross (31-32a),
31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe."
Not only was Jesus mocked by passers-by and the leaders, but even “Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.” He was even taunted by the condemned men at his side! By the way, we know later, one repents, we read about that in Luke 23:38-43,
…There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews." 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." 42 And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 43 And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
This man was surely a hard case… he was deriding Christ along with the other condemned man in the beginning. But something (or someone!) changed his heart and he cries out to Jesus for salvation. And he was heard! Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved! That should encourage us as we witness to the people in our sphere of influence. Even the hard cases. Is there one you interact with on a regular basis, someone who is part of your oikos, your extended household, who has resisted spiritual things? We might think it will never happen… but stay faithful, and prayerful, with gentleness and respect look for openings to give a reason for the hope that you have in Jesus. The thief on the cross had to be a hard case! Come to think of it, so was I, and maybe you were too. So stay faithful, and prayerful!
What is God saying to me in this passage? Remember that Mark is writing to believers in Rome who are under persecution, suffering for their faith. Could it be that He wants to think not only of the suffering King in Psalm 22, but also to reflect on the hope of which the psalm speaks? We read in Psalm 22:26-28,
26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD! May your hearts live forever! 27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. 28 For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations (see also Psalm 2:8).
He was crucified as the King of the Jews, but that is not the end of the story! It is Friday, but Sunday is coming! Every detail of the crucifixion fulfilled Scripture, proving that Jesus is the Messiah, the One prophesied in the Law, the prophets, and the writings. His willingness to endure the Cross, proved His love for us.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Sometimes, when we are passing through difficult times, it is easy to question, “What did I do to deserve this? How can God be good, and all powerful, and love me, if he allows such things in my life?” I don’t know what you might be going through, and I don’t want to minimize the suffering that can come into our lives in this fallen world. Does God love you? Look at the Cross! WHAT MORE COULD HE HAVE DONE FOR YOU? God commends His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world, that we might live through Him (I John 4:9). Greater love has no man than this: that He lay down His life for His friends… (John 15:13). You get the idea!
Does God love you? Look at the Cross, and then answer that question. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Yes, as Augustine said, “The Cross is the pulpit from which God preached His love to the world.” Have you trusted Him as your only hope of salvation? Jesus paid it all. In view of what He has done for you, will you share the message of His grace with the people in your sphere of influence? Are you willing to love them enough to point them to Him? We have three more weeks focusing on the Cross, before celebrating the Resurrection! Is there a friend you might invite to hear the Good News? Take some of our invitation cards, and ask. It may be that they are waiting for an invitation! AMEN.
Sunday, March 17, 2019
DESPISED AND REJECTED OF MEN
Introduction: In the film Saving Private Ryan soldiers are sent out to find Private Ryan and to bring him home because his brothers had been killed in the war. It was an act of mercy for his mother’s sake. Several of the soldiers who seek for him are killed – and one whispers his dying words to Private Ryan, “Earn this.” The final scene of the film is of an old Private Ryan in the cemetery of the war dead asking himself the question, “Did I earn it? Was I worthy?” There are parallels to the gospel message in the sacrifice of his rescuers, but Jesus did not say from his cross as he died for us, “Earn this.” He cried out, “It is finished.” We can’t earn our salvation. His sacrifice was sufficient to save us completely. We can’t add anything—it is finished. This is why He came. Through His blood, His supreme sacrifice for our sins—all who believe will be saved. The Cross was God’s plan.
In addressing the troubled community of faith in Corinth, Paul said in his first letter to them,
…but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men… (I Cor 1:23-25).
A crucified Messiah was a stumbling block, a scandal, to the Jews. Why would God allow the One who is to be their deliverer to be nailed to a Cross? Adding to the offense was the scriptural idea that “…one who hangs from a tree is cursed by God…” (Dt 21:23; cf. Gal 3:13). A crucified messiah was a contradiction, an oxymoron, from the Jewish perspective. Likewise, it was foolishness to the gentiles. The soldiers’ reaction in this context illustrates that thinking: This is your king? Look at him! Bloodied, humiliated, beaten, powerless, at their mercy (or so they thought!). They thought it ludicrous that such a one should be hailed as a king! Soon, at least one soldier, by the end of this chapter, seemingly has his eyes opened to the truth (15:39). So, as the Jewish leaders had mocked Him (14:55) so now the Roman soldiers amplify the cruelty, ridiculing His supposed sovereignty. A stumbling block to the Jews, and now, foolishness to the gentiles.
Ironically, the words that passed the lips of the soldiers were literally true. Though they were intended as mockery, they said more than they knew. Jesus is in fact the King, worthy of worship. They didn’t understand His nature as the Passover-King, who willingly submitted himself to torture and the taunts of men… to save us. The Scriptures predicted it would be so, we read in Isaiah 50:6 “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting…” Ironically, the cruelty of men toward Jesus, by both the Jewish leaders and the gentile authorities, their ridicule and abuse all served to confirm and vindicate His messianic claim, and it was all laying the foundation for Him to complete the work He came to do: to redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons!
The Maine* Idea: The depth of human depravity was revealed in the brutal mockery of the King, another aspect of the torture which Jesus willingly endured, to save those who believe.
I. The Wisdom of God: The Depths of the Wisdom of God (15b-16).
…and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. 16 And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor's headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion.
Jesus had predicted: “He will be delivered into pagan hands” (10:33) and that is exactly what has happened. As John tells us in his prologue to the Fourth Gospel, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not…” (Jn 1:11). The religious leaders of His own people, who had been chosen, rescued, protected in the wilderness, disciplined in exile, and regathered in the return, did not recognize the Deliverer of whom their own Scriptures spoke. They had determined they would not have this man to be their king. And so, not having authority to carry out a public execution, they have manipulated Pilate into doing it for them.
“After having Jesus flogged, he delivered Him over to be crucified.” As the prophet Isaiah wrote in Isa 50:6, he “gave his back” to those who strike. He silently took their abuse. The scourging was torturous, but the Cross, and the Cup, lay still ahead. The language in v.15b is straightforward, he had Jesus flogged, and he delivered Him to be crucified. Slow, excruciating, and humiliating death.
- The Praetorium was the courtyard of Pilate’s headquarters. The governor’s residence and the seat of Roman government was on the coast in Caesarea on the Sea at that time (Strauss, Mark, p.673). During the feasts however, Pilate would have resided in Jerusalem. Visitors to Jerusalem today are usually pointed to the ancient foundation of the Fortress of Antonia, overlooking the northwest corner of the Temple Mount, as the location of these events. Scholars are divided as to whether Pilate would have stayed at that rustic barracks or in Herod’s Palace on the southwestern part of the city (Ibid). (Josephus mentions another governor residing there). The contrast I want to focus on is that Rome was not in control. The One the soldiers are mocking as king, is guiding this story according to the predetermined purpose and foreknowledge of God. He is not a king like Caesar or like the nations around them. His Kingdom is not of this world. He is the Passover-King, a Servant-King, and He will set free those who the Father has given Him.
- “The whole cohort…” – possibly a tenth of a Roman Legion, gathered! In the full sense that would be 600 men. It may have included that sub-group that was on duty, but still likely would have been close to 200 men. Why did they need so many? Were they afraid the crowds would suddenly have a change of heart and try to set Him free? Had they heard that there were some zealots among His followers, and did they fear they would rise up and try by force to rescue Him? It could be, but the impression I get from Mark’s account is that those who were guarding Jesus called together all they could, to join in the fun of mocking this pathetic excuse of a king. Think about that, roughly the seating of our sanctuary upstairs, packed full? All circling and taunting Jesus. He submitted to their hostility – He could have called a legion of angels – he could have walked through their midst and left – He could have said “I AM,” and flattened the whole lot. But the plan was determined, and He would complete the work He came to do.
These soldiers, however, did not simply carry out their duties. Like a mob of bullies, they insulted and humiliated the One who came to offer salvation to all who would believe. The depths to which humans can fall! The Psalmist says in…
Psalm 36:1, “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.” We read in the prophet…
Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
The mob mentality, brutalizing one that they view as helpless… oh the depth of human depravity is revealed here in the brutal mockery of the King. He willingly endured it, and much more, to save those who believe!
II. The Foolishness of Men: The Rulers of Israel had rejected Him, now the Roman soldiers join in ridiculing the King (17-20a).
17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. 18 And they began to salute him, "Hail, King of the Jews!" 19 And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him.
These men had no idea – the One they were ridiculing as King of the Jews, and treating so brutally, is in fact the King of the Universe! All things were made by Him and for Him, without Him nothing was made that has been made. And He holds it all together by His power. One day, every human will stand before Him and give an account. It was Passover, the time when the Jews remembered their deliverance from Egypt, and how God had spared the firstborn in the homes of the Jews because of the blood that was over the door and on the doorposts. The One they mocked as the King of the Jews, is the Passover-King, the Servant King, the Lamb on the Throne. Their only hope in that day--and ours—will be if we are covered by the blood of the Crucified One, if by grace we are in Christ. Nothing else will matter. Do you know Christ, have your trusted Him as your only hope of salvation? These soldiers are only looking at Jesus as a source of entertainment.
First, as he is brought in, naked and bleeding they mock him as they put a “Purple robe” over Him. The color of royalty, this is the first step in ridiculing the idea that this man is the King of the Jews! As Isaiah had written (Isa 53:3), “He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…” and then, “…He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth” (53:7). Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself!
They weren’t done yet, someone must have gotten the idea that a king needed a crown, so they wove together, out of thorns, a mock crown, a crown of the thorns, and pushed it down on His head. And then, having dressing Him in their royal attire, they continued their mockery, crying out, “Hail, King of the Jews!” The reed they stuck Him with was probably the mock scepter they put in His hand as we read in Matthew’s parallel,
Matthew 27:29-30 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head.
No resistance, no words of rebuke, He remains silent, like a lamb led to the slaughter (Isa 53:7). He gives them his back, as the servant in Isaiah 50:6. He took it all because He came, as the Last Adam, the Son of Man and Son of God, to undo the Fall, and to make it possible for humans to be reconciled to God. In fact, it was not because of our love for Him, but because of lostness as depraved humans—like we see here—that He chose to give himself for the ransom of many. God showed His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Finally, they stripped him of the purple robe, and put his own clothes back on him. This was probably a concession to Jewish sensibilities, especially during the Feast. As a further act of humiliation, the Romans would usually leave prisoners naked as they carried their cross to the place of execution. They had had their fun humiliating the King of the Jews. They wanted to appease the rulers of the Jews, not have them turn against them. They were content to carry out their orders, marching Jesus outside the city to the Place of the Skull, Calvary. The depth of human depravity was revealed in the brutal mockery of the King, another aspect of the torture which He willingly endured, to save those who believe.
III. The Path of Discipleship (20b-21). We are reading between the lines here, but note some details and draw your own conclusions…
…and they led him out to crucify him. 21 And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.
The action here was probably not so unusual. Condemned criminals were required to carry their own cross (probably the crossbeam from which they was hung) to their place of execution. However, in cases in which someone would be scourged beforehand, the trauma of that torture and the physical damage that would be inflicted would be so devastating, that it would be unlikely they would be able to carry a cross very far. More than likely, Jesus began to do so, but then faltered on the way, and a foreigner, Simon of Cyrene, probably coming into the city for the feast, was conscripted and forced to carry the Cross… In your outline I put the question: The beginning of African Christianity? (Acts 11:20). That is pure speculation. As far as I can tell, Simon of Cyrene is not directly mentioned elsewhere in Scripture. Here Mark does include a couple of details that pique our interest, 1) a place, Cyrene, and 2) his sons, Alexander and Rufus.
Why is Cyrene significant? First, it is interesting that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all identified Simon as being “of Cyrene.” When all three synoptic gospels include an apparently incidental detail like that, it draws our attention. We know that Luke reports in Acts 2 that among the pilgrims in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost were Jews and proselytes from all over the world, including those “…from the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome…” (Acts 2:10b). We get the idea that some Cyreneans were converted to faith in Christ because after the scattering that resulted after Stephen’s death, while others were preaching Christ only to Jews, “…some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus…” (Acts 11:20). The church in Antioch that was planted became the missionary sending church of the second part of the book of Acts. It was the church that sent Paul and Barnabas and then Paul and Silas on the first and second (and third) missionary journeys. But was Simon eventually converted? Was he perhaps there on Pentecost when Peter preached the Gospel of Christ and called the hearers to repent and trust in Him? It is certainly a possibility. We don’t know for sure, but…
He is called, “…the father of Alexander and Rufus…” Why is he identified in this way? It seems pretty clear that these men, Alexander and Rufus, were known to Mark’s readers. Mark is saying this man from Cyrene, you don’t know him, but you know his sons, Alexander and Rufus, this is the guy that carried Jesus’ cross! We’ve seen some clues, and tradition tells us, that Mark was writing to a group of believers in Rome who are suffering for their faith. There are a few Alexanders mentioned in the NT, none in Rome as far as I can see. Rufus, however, is only mentioned twice in the entire New Testament. Here, and in Romans 16:13. In the middle of a series of greetings Paul says, “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, also his mother, who been a mother to me as well…” Same Rufus? We don’t know for sure, but it could be. Simon isn’t mentioned in Romans. Was he unknown to the Roman believers to whom Mark was writing, perhaps having returned to Cyrene or elsewhere with the message of Christ? Had he by then, twenty years or so after the Cross, either passed, or been martyred? All we know for sure is this scene…
“they compelled him to take up his cross…” (15:21; cf. Mk 8:34). Maybe here I am crossing from sanctified imagination to pure speculation, but I couldn’t help wonder if Mark wants us to hear a kind of historical parable here. Jesus had said, back in Mark 8:34, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Here, as Jesus is on His way to Calvary, the Roman guards compel Simon to take up his Cross. The same verb is used. I think Mark wants us to think about the cost of discipleship. We see the world’s hatred of Jesus, we see what He endured. We are not promised that everything is going to be easy if we follow him. In fact, don’t be surprised if the world hates you… He said, “…it hated me first…” There is a cost to following Jesus. There is a sense in which we will share in the sufferings of Christ (2 Tim 1:8). We don’t earn salvation, Jesus paid it all. But if we follow Him, we must surrender all. As we live and carry out His mission in a fallen world, a world that lies in the power of the evil one, we will encounter resistance, we will face persecution. In view of what He has done for us, will we take up our cross and follow Him?
What is God saying to me in this passage? The depth of human depravity was revealed in the brutal mockery of the King, another aspect of the torture which He endured, to save us. Jesus didn’t come because we were good… He came to call sinners to repentance, and to save those who believe.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? This is a difficult passage to read and to hear… to imagine that the holy and righteous, good and gracious, Creator and Sustainer of the universe, would not only condescend to take a human nature and to live for a while among us, but that He would do so knowing that He would be rejected and tortured and treated with such cruelty. In allowing this story to unfold as it did, divine justice was satisfied, and God’s love was demonstrated. In view of what He has done for us, for you, are you moved to love Him with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength? Unlike the dying soldier’s words to Private Ryan, we can’t earn our salvation. To try to do so is the diminish the fact that His sacrifice was sufficient, HE paid our debt—it is finished. However, surely our response to his cross is to trust Him, and to honor God in the way we live our lives – not to “earn this” but because He is worthy to be praised—Because of who He is and what He has done, as Paul said, I urge you… to walk worthy of the calling with which you are called (Eph 4:1). Think about that. AMEN.
Sunday, March 10, 2019
The Silence of the Lamb
Introduction.: Dr. Buck Parsons edits TableTalk magazine, a daily devotional guide from Ligonier ministries. In the introduction to the upcoming April issue, he writes,
One of my greatest fears for the church today is that we will become bored with the Cross of Christ. I am concerned that any mention of Christ and Him crucified is leading many professing Christians to say to themselves: “Yeah, I know all about Jesus dying on the cross for my sins—let’s move on to something else. Let’s get past the basics and let’s deal with bigger theological issues.” I firmly believe that Satan is set on trying to destroy us, but he’ll settle with just getting us to lose our astonishment of Christ and Him crucified.
The Cross is at the heart of the message of Mark, and he too wants us to be astonished with Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. During these six weeks leading up to Resurrection Sunday, we are going to work deliberately through Mark’s account of the crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus. God forgive me if I present the Cross in such a way that it starts to get boring! Then, God willing, on Easter, we’ll celebrate the resurrection as we look at Mark’s account of the empty tomb. This is the heart of the Gospel message, according to the apostle Paul, as “…Christ died for our sins according the Scriptures, was buried, and was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” (I Cor 15:3,4). Though Jesus had told them precisely what would happen, the disciples, it seems, begin to lose hope as their teacher is arrested and tortured and crucified. What does it all mean?
As Chapter 15 opens, it is already Friday morning in Mark’s account, but Sunday is coming! As the story unfolds Jesus is revealed as sovereign and sacrifice… The irony in the story is intense. Jesus is standing before men who would judge Him – The Sovereign King of the Universe! But who is really on trial here? One day, every one of them must stand, or better, kneel, before Him, one day “…every knee will bow, and every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord…” The key issue on that day will be, what did you do with Jesus?
Chapter 14 began, telling us that Passover was approaching, and “…the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, 2 for they said, "Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people." There intentions were clear, but the time wasn’t right from their perspective. But they were not in control. Christ, our Passover, would be sacrificed for us—during the Feast, as God had ordained. He came, after all, as the Passover-King, His sovereignty extended even to over-rule the evil intentions of men. That brings us to…
The Maine* Idea: Jesus did not defend himself before men, but affirmed His kingship, and, as the Passover-King, He continued on the path to carry out His plan to lay down His life for us.
I. The Silent Sovereign: The Passover-King was rejected by the leaders… (1-5). Who was really on trial here, Jesus, or Pilate and the leaders?
And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole Council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate. 2 And Pilate asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" And he answered him, "You have said so." 3 And the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 And Pilate again asked him, "Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you." 5 But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.
“…as soon as it was morning…” the leaders bring Jesus, bound, and deliver Him to Pilate. Jesus had used that same word, “deliver” earlier in this Gospel, predicting what would happen in Jerusalem. He said in…
Mark 9:31 - "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise." And again, twice in…
Mark 10:33 - "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles.”
Phase one of that prediction happened in Gethsemane when, as we read in 14:41, “…behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.” The same word [paradidomi] is used here, translated “betrayed,” that was rendered “deliver” in the earlier verses. The second use of “deliver” in 10:33 refers to Jesus being handed over to the gentiles. That is what is happening here in Mark 15. The leaders were determined to see Jesus put to death, but the crowds were too big and the possible repercussions too serious for them to risk going against the Roman restrictions and putting Jesus to death themselves. They no doubt felt confident that they could manipulate Pilate to carry out their dirty work.
Notice Pilate’s first question, which Jesus answers: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Why does he ask that? The other gospels give us more details about how the leaders of the Jews tried to twist that charge into a threat to the Roman authorities. They were essentially trying to make a case that Jesus was a threat to Roman rule, that in claiming to be a King, He was fomenting rebellion against Caesar, and besides, he taught the people not to pay taxes! Both charges of course were untrue. John reports a lengthier dialog between Jesus and Pilate over the nature and source of His claim to be King, and Pilate sees no threat... Jesus may be deluded, but he is not dangerous in Pilate’s view. He also had the discernment to recognize the jealousy of the leaders as their motive (see 15:10). Unfortunately, as we’ll see, he didn’t have the character to stand up to them!
…the chief priests accused Him of many things… - More false charges! And so, Pilate says to Jesus in v.4, “Have you not answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you…” In this “civil” trial before Pilate, we are told that there were other charges brought against Jesus, but we are not given any details. The only charge that is specifically mentioned, the one that is at the center of the whole story, and Mark want us to see that ultimately it is the charge for which Jesus is condemned, that is even written and nailed to the Cross: that Jesus is, “The King of the Jews.” The story is unfolding on two levels. We are struck by the injustice of the whole thing. A legal fiasco: trumped up charges, false accusations, lies and treachery directed against Jesus by fallen, sinful humans. One the other hand, God has a plan, and He is in control, guiding this story. The Apostle John tells us Jesus had said,
…I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again… (John 10:17-18).
Jesus would indeed suffer, the Just for the unjust, so that we could be reconciled to God. That is why He came. Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:19 and 21,
…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them... 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
He drank the Cup of God’s wrath so that we could drink the cup of blessing. So, according to plan, the Passover-King is handed over during the feast. But He is no victim. He is guiding the story according to God’s predetermined purpose and foreknowledge. As a sheep led to the slaughter, He did not open His mouth. Jesus didn’t defend himself before men, but did affirm His kingship, and, as the Passover-King, He continued on the path to carry out His plan to lay down His life for us.
II. The Suffering Servant-King: As the Passover-King, Jesus would not be released, but would willingly suffer, the Just for the unjust (6-11).
6 Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. 7 And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. 8 And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. 9 And he answered them, saying, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" 10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead.
In verse 5 we read that Pilate was amazed, it seems, because Jesus wasn’t doing everything possible to save himself. He probably thought that though Jesus might be delusional, thinking of himself as a king, He was not threat to Rome and had done nothing worthy of death. A custom had developed that, at the Passover season, Pilate would release one prisoner at the request of the people. This was probably a public relations move to curry the favor of the people. I haven’t found any information on how or when that tradition started. Pilate no doubt viewed this as a way for him to end this matter, and to avoid offending the many who had just been praising Jesus during the week before. But it was Passover, and the Passover-King would not be released. God was guiding the story to its necessary conclusion.
Mark sets the stage for us in verse 7, “…among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas…” Think about the contrast between Barabbas and Jesus. The former, whose name meant “son of the father,” was a murderer and insurrectionist. He was involved in rebellion against Rome and had killed in the process. What irony! The leaders were charging Jesus with inciting rebellion against Rome, Barabbas had in fact done that. Jesus was innocent. He only spoke the truth. So, since He was not the kind of messiah the people anticipated, they handed Him over, charging Him with inciting rebellion, and ask instead that an actual insurrectionist, a murderer, be set free!
Pilate recognized that the leaders were driven by jealousy, and so he asks the crowd that is beginning to grow, and that had begun to ask about the traditional release of a prisoner (8), "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" (9). That would resolve Pilate’s dilemma! But the reader knows better! The predictions by Jesus, the Passover feast, the transformation of the Passover table as Jesus gave new significance to the bread and the cup… the Passover-King, the Lamb on the Throne of heaven! He had come for this very purpose!
He was the eternal Son of the Father, God, incarnate. His kingship and His kingdom were not of this world. He was a King, but His kingdom was not of this world—it was not a reign like that of the nations around them. And so, God the Son, the King of kings, did not defend himself before men, but He did affirm His kingship, and, as the Passover-King, He continued on the path to carry out His plan to lay down His life for us.
III. The Sovereign who would be our Substitute: The Passover King, The Righteous-Sufferer, would lay down His life to set sinners free (12-15a).
12 And Pilate again said to them, "Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?" 13 And they cried out again, "Crucify him." 14 And Pilate said to them, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify him." 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas…
I find it interesting that Peter had just denied three times that he knew Jesus. Now in these fifteen verses, Pilate calls Jesus “King of the Jews” three times! Of course, Mark is only giving us a part of the interaction between Jesus and Pilate, but as he tells the story a few things become clear: 1) Pilate knows the leaders have no case against Jesus; 2) The leaders, without evidence of a capital crime, are still pushing for Jesus to be executed; and 3) Jesus ultimately is executed because He is the King of the Jews, in accordance with the Scriptures.
Notice Pilates objection, “What evil has He done?” (14). The answer is clear—NONE! That is the point. He was without sin. And now as He is “tried” before the Roman authorities, once again, the Jews could produce no evidence and no witnesses that Jesus had done anything worthy of death. They had not made their case, they had no answer to Pilate’s questions, yet they cried, “Crucify Him!” That is the point, the One who was without sin was condemned, so that sinners could be set free. The Father (God) spared not the Son (of God)… and Barabbas, literally “son of the father,” is set free. Know this: we are Barabbas. Sinners, condemned, worthy of judgement, set free because of Jesus. And so, we see that Jesus did not defend himself before men, but affirmed His kingship, and, as the Passover-King, He continued on the path to carry out His plan to lay down His life for us.
IV. The Sovereign who would be Sacrifice: The hour was at hand (15b)!
…and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
If you saw the movie called “The Passion of Christ,” you have an idea of the brutality of the Roman torture called scourging and the agonizing form of execution called crucifixion. The Bible does not go into any of the detail that you often will hear in sermons and teaching on the gospels, why is that? For one thing, in a world under the authority of Rome in which the New Testament was written, no explanations were necessary. People knew well what scourging and crucifixion were – no details needed! Their minds would immediately go to scenes that they had seen, at least in part, when men were so brutally whipped with a devise that was designed to rip into the flesh, that some would die as the result of it. And crucifixion was a shameful and tortuous form of capital punishment.
Few details, no gory description… “Let the reader understand.” But I also think there is another motive. As God inspired the biblical writers to record this story, He does not want to give the impression that the physical torture Jesus endured was the worst part of the passion. Far worse was the spiritual weight that began crushing Him in the Garden, and which would culminate when He cried out on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” God’s holiness, his perfect justice, had to be satisfied. He could not, in accordance with His nature, be just and simply pardon sinners (see Rom 3:21-26). He took the wrath that justice required.
“…having scourged Jesus…” The picture of what that was would immediately crystalize in the minds of Mark’s readers. The prisoner was stripped and tied to a post, and beat with the scourge, a whip with leather straps with bits of bone and metal imbedded in it, which would rip open the flesh of the victim. This was so brutal that the flesh would sometimes be torn open to the bone, and reportedly, those being scourged would sometimes die from blood loss and shock. It was horrible torture in itself, but Pilate had condescended to the request of the leaders, and so that was not the end. Again, Mark reports it simply…
“…He delivered Him over to be crucified…” Humiliating, excruciating, tortuous death. The bleeding victims, spikes through their hands and feet, would struggle for each breath. Exhaustion, shock, loss of blood, suffocation, would all combine to bring death. And if the victims lingered, their legs would be broken. All who lived under the rule of Rome knew too well what crucifixion meant. He endured it for us.
What is God sating to me in this passage? I hope you are not getting bored with the message of the Cross. Without it, we would have no Gospel! Jesus did not defend himself before men, but affirmed His kingship, and, as the Passover-King, He continued on the path to carry out His plan to lay down His life for us.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? That is who He is, that is why He came. What does it mean to follow Him? We have seen the negative example of Peter who, the night before, had three times denied knowing Christ. We saw the unbelief of the leaders, and the people-pleasing expediency of Pilate. And I need to remember that I am Barabbas, and so are you, if you know Him. He took our place. Guilty and condemned, without hope, no basis for expecting deliverance from the executioner’s hand, guilty, unclean. And through no merit of my own, Jesus silently, willingly, became our substitute, and took the punishment we deserved.
Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends… God commends His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us… He spared not the Son, but delivered Him up for us all… Sinclair Ferguson wrote that,
Without knowing it, the religious leaders and Pilate and Barabbas were all part of a tapestry of grace which God was weaving for sinners. Their actions spoke louder than their words, louder than the cries of the crowd for Jesus’ blood. Jesus was not dying for His own crimes, but for the crimes of others; not for His own sins, but for the sins of others. He did not die for Himself, He died for us!” (Mark, p.257).
Jesus did that, for me and you. Are you still astonished by the message of the Cross? Do you believe it? Have you put your trust in Him alone? In view of the love He has shown you, how then, must you live? The apostle John wrote in 1 John 3:23, “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” We love Him because He first loved us. What does love look like? An Old, Rugged Cross. And because He so loved us, we ought also to love one another. People will notice that. AMEN.