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We’re in Mark 15 this morning. In Mark 15, the book of Mark is reaching its climax. Jesus has been betrayed by Judas and abandoned by his disciples. He’s been arrested and beaten and condemned by the religious leaders. And now he’s in his last hours. He’s about to face his death – and it’s all happening just as he said it would. Today we’re going to watch Jesus deliver on the most important mission ever conducted – the mission to save us. Let’s pray…
What do you think true strength looks like? Is it the bloke on the cover of the real estate or business magazine? Big house, big car, big bank account? Or is it something else? Mark is going to show us what true strength looks like, and if we understand this, it’s going to turn our church and our lives upside-down. Read 1-5…
JESUS BEFORE PILATE (1-15)
The Jewish leadership are committed, they want Jesus dead. They’re far more committed to Jesus than his disciples are, they’ve abandoned him. But the Chief Priests won’t until he’s dead. Sadly for them they can’t kill Jesus, they don’t have the authority, remember, the Romans rule in Jerusalem and so Pontius Pilate, the Roman Prefect, has to sign off on their desire to kill Jesus. And that’s why Jesus is dragged down to Pilate’s palace.
When we meet Pilate we meet the one who seems to have all of the power – he’s got the Palace, he’s got the army, he’s got the wealth, he’s got the political power behind him and ultimately he’s got the power to sentence Jesus to death. From this world’s perspective he’s got everything that’s important, everything that our world wants. But appearances can be deceiving.
When Pilate meets Jesus he gets straight to the heart of the matter, “Are you the king of the Jews?” And Jesus answers immediately with, “You have said so.” What was the question the high priest asked Jesus in 14:61? “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” It wasn’t, “are you the king of the Jews?”
What’s happened here is that the Chief Priests have twisted the charge against Jesus to make it sound worse to Pilate. Pilate doesn’t want another revolt from the Jewish people; he doesn’t want someone trying to lead the Jews against the Romans. He doesn’t care if Jesus claims to be the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One. But he does care if there’s another King, other than Caesar, in Jerusalem. So the Jewish leaders have twisted the truth to try and make it sound like Jesus is against Rome. Pilate will kill him for treason, but not for being the Messiah. Pilate may have worldly strength, but he’s concerned about the wrong things.
That’s not the only accusation against Jesus, and in verse 4 Pilate puts them all to Jesus and says to him, “Look at all of these things they’re accusing you of, aren’t you going to answer, aren’t you going to defend yourself?” And of course, he doesn’t, remember Isaiah 53:7, “like a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth”. Every step Jesus takes here is fulfilling prophecy and in accordance with God’s plan. And so he doesn’t speak, because if he does, he’ll prove he’s innocent and be forced to go. And so he refuses to defend himself, and in doing so accepts the punishment of the judge.
But let me ask you a question – which Judge? Pilate the Judge, or God the judge? Who’s actually in charge here? Pilate has no real authority over Jesus, Jesus created him, Jesus could snuff him out in a second. Jesus is in charge, he has the real strength and he isn’t concerned with the earthly situation here, he’s concerned with the bigger picture. He’s concerned about fulfilling God’s plan of salvation – He’s going to accept the punishment of God the Judge so that we don’t have to.
Isaiah 53:5-6, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Jesus will die here not because he’s guilty of anything, but because we’re guilty of sin. Jesus is shutting his mouth here for us, so that we don’t have to face God’s punishment for our sin.
The ultimate picture of what Jesus is doing here is seen when the crowd are given a choice, they can let Barabbas the murderer go, or they can let Jesus, the Messiah go. Barabbas is guilty, he’s a murderer, he deserves death. Jesus is innocent, he’s committed no sin in his entire life, and he doesn’t deserve to die.
But who do they choose? Barabbas. Unthinkably, the convicted murderer goes free, and the innocent Son of God is condemned. Barabbas deserves to die, but Jesus dies in his place. And that’s exactly what Jesus does for you and I: he dies in our place, while we who are guilty go free. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Mark is showing us two types of strength. One type of strength, is how we normally live. It’s about getting ahead and serving yourself and not others. But it ultimately leads to selfishness and a life lived without God. And that ends in weakness – look at Pilate, not standing up for Jesus, but giving in and denying him.
But Mark shows us another type of strength. It’s a strength that willingly lays aside its rights, it’s the strength of a Saviour who’s condemned for our sins so that we can go free. True strength is seen in sacrificial service. What kind of strength do you have? Let’s read verses 16-20…
THE CRUCIFIXION OF THE SHAME (16-32)
Jesus didn’t just die; he was humiliated and shamed wasn’t he? This is the most gruesome and shameful incident you’ll ever witness – the Son of God and Saviour of the world being treated and killed like a despised animal.
It begins with a scourging, he’s whipped with a brutal device that pulls the skin from you each time it hits you, and by the end of this scourging Jesus is well on his way to dying. The soldiers then beat him some more and mock him, dressing him up and bowing down to him like he’s an idiot. They want him to know he’s wasted his life; they want to shame him utterly and completely, they want him to know that he’s a loser, not the King. They’re showing Jesus they have the real strength.
But in the midst of all of this hatred and shaming and brutality he remains dignified in silence. He doesn’t utter a word – and he does that to remind us that he’s there to fulfil prophecy, to fulfil God’s plan to save us. Everything’s happening according to plan.
Then after they’ve had their fun, they lead him out to be crucified where the shaming continues. In verse 24 we read that Jesus was crucified naked, the soldiers had taken his clothes and cast lots to see who would get what. But here’s the interesting thing, Psalm 22:18 prophecies that this will happen. So again we’re reminded, just when the forces of evil seem to be in charge, they’re not, God is.
But of course the shaming continues – Jesus is forced to carry his cross, it’s like forcing a dead man to dig his own grave. But now because he’s already been beaten half to death, he can’t carry it and so Simon, from north Africa, is forced to.
As he’s crucified a nail is also driven into a sign that reads, “The King of the Jews”, it’s another chance to mock Jesus and expose his weakness. At the site of this sign the crowd and the criminals with him go nuts, “So, you who are going to destroy the temple and build it in 3 days, come down from the Cross and save yourself…He saved others but he can’t save himself. Let this Messiah, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”
What’s interesting here is that he’ll do everything they say. As the Messiah he’ll destroy the Temple, by Sunday he’ll replace it, he’ll be the one you go to in order to worship God, he’ll be the final sacrifice that brings you forgiveness. As the Messiah he will come down from that cross on Sunday. The question is – will they see and believe?
There’s one thing I want to say as I finish this 2nd point – Jesus here is shamed so that you and I don’t have to be. Romans 10:11 says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” Here’s the point, you don’t have anything to prove to us or the world. You have nothing to be embarrassed about. The shame that your sin brings has been dealt with by Jesus, so live free from that sin. The work is finished on the Cross, so keep your focus there, that’s where Jesus took all the shame. Let’s read verses 33-39…
THE DEATH (33-41)
Jesus had been hanging upon the cross for about three hours when darkness hit Jerusalem and it lasted until 3pm. This freaked everybody out because in the OT darkness like this is a sign of God’s judgment. And it wasn’t just judgment on those killing Jesus.
At the cross, Jesus bears the full weight of God’s judgment for our sins. So instead of judging those who had done wrong, Jesus bears the judgment himself for all that we had done. Christianity is the only faith system where God both makes the demands and meets them. That’s what happened at the cross.
And in verses 34-35, we see how God’s judgment takes its toll on Jesus. “And at 3 in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In that moment, Jesus was forsaken by the Father. Jesus became cursed (Galatians 3:13). He became sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). And as he bears our sin Jesus has to do what he has never done before, be forsaken in judgment by his Father. But not for ever.
In verse 37, Jesus’ humiliation and suffering was over, but Israel’s tragedy was just beginning. At the very moment Jesus died, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” The “Holy of holies”–that place where the high priest alone could enter once a year on the Day of Atonement–was exposed for anyone to enter into.
Why? The final, once for all sacrifice for sin had been made. Everything to which the entire Old Testament sacrificial system pointed was now fulfilled. The earthly temple had served its purpose, and with the death of Jesus’ its day was over.
Just picture it for a moment, the 3 hour black out, the curtain in the Temple torn in 2, Jesus hanging on a Cross – The death of Jesus must have set off shock-waves throughout all of Jerusalem. The reactions were incredible – the Roman Centurion who was in charge of the death of Jesus, immediately understood who Jesus was, verse 39, “when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, `Surely this man was the Son of God!’” That’s the ultimate tough guy of the ancient world seeing and understanding who Jesus is. That takes true strength doesn’t it, in an environment like that.
Listen. You and I will spend our lives chasing everything that Pilate had. Many of us are doing this right now. We want the money, the leisure, the respect, and the power. But this passage shows us the futility of this kind of strength. These things are idols that promise the world but that ultimately never deliver. Mark contrasts the strength of Pilate with the weakness of Jesus, which ultimately turns out to be the greatest strength that ever existed.
There’s no greater picture of weakness than in this passage. Yet it’s a chosen weakness. Jesus had a kingdom that far exceeded Pilate’s kingdom. Rome could not compare to the riches or the power or the acclaim that Christ enjoyed. Yet he laid it all aside and chose to become weak for our sakes. He chose weakness.
Jesus says, in essence, that he is a king. But he’s not the kind of king that Pilate is. He doesn’t hold to his rights or his privileges. He’s the king who willingly leaves his throne to come to earth unrecognized, to give his life for people who don’t deserve his grace or return his love. Jesus is the kind of king who offers his life. He’s the king who lays aside his strength and comes in weakness.
If that’s the kind of king we have, what does that mean for those of us who are in his kingdom? It means that we too will lay aside our privileges so that we can serve others. We’ll choose to be weak in this world’s eyes, but strong in God’s eyes.
The son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.