Jesus has been tried by the Jewish leaders who have convened in the middle of the night and condemned Jesus to death because he is the Messiah, the Son of God. Peter has denied the Lord three times in a matter of hours during this night. The other disciples have run away for their lives. From a human perspective it looks as if everything is going completely wrong. Nothing seems to be going right in this story. But everything is going exactly to God’s foreknowledge and plan. Nothing is going wrong at all. The great irony of this historical account is that everything that we are reading and will continue to read today is what God wanted to happen. Let us not forget what God said through the prophet Isaiah regarding his servant, “It was the will of the Lord to crush him” (Isaiah 53:10).
Pilate’s Trial (15:1-20)
The Jewish leaders now take Jesus to Pilate for execution. So Pilate asks Jesus if he is the king of the Jews. Jesus says, “You have said so.” It is a qualified affirmation, not a complete affirmation. This is really not who he is exactly. In one sense, yes, but in many other senses, no, he is not merely the king of the Jews. So the chief priests accuse Jesus of many things. Remember that we learned from the last paragraph that they do not have any charges against Jesus. They do not have anything that is worthy of death. So they are going to say whatever they can say to try to get something to stick. If they can name enough bad things, then Pilate might go ahead and put Jesus to death. With the accusations flying, Pilate asks Jesus if he has any response or defense. Yet again, Jesus says nothing.
Now verse 6 is interesting. During the Passover feast it appears that Pilate would set a prisoner free. This mirrored the actually imagery of the Passover feast where Israel, as prisoners of Egypt, were set free by the power of God. Isaiah 61:1 predicted a new exodus would come when the prisoners would be set free. Imprisoned at this time were a bunch of rebels, people who were worthy of death. In particular, there is a man named Barabbas who had committed murder during a rebellious uprising. This is not a good guy. He is not someone who should be released. So Pilate uses this as an opportunity to free Jesus. “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” (15:9). The reason why Pilate tries to do this is because he knows that there are no charges against Jesus. The leaders have delivered Jesus to Pilate out of envy and self-interest (15:10). But the chief priests stir up the crowds to get Barabbas released instead. Pilate then questions the crowd regarding Jesus. What is he supposed to do with him? Obviously execution is not on his mind. But the people shout, “Crucify him!” Pilate responds by asking what the crime Jesus has committed. The crowd does not have an answer. They just shout louder and louder, “Crucify him!” So wishing to satisfy the crowd rather than deliver justice, Pilate releases Barabbas, has Jesus scourged and delivers Jesus to be crucified.
The soldiers take Jesus away and a company of soldiers is called together. They put a purple robe on Jesus and place a crown of thorns on his head. This is mockery of his kingship. Jesus claims to be king so the soldiers mock this claim by making him look like a brutally beaten king. He’s been scourged. Now this beaten individual stands before them with a purple robe and a crown of thorns. So they fall on their knees and pay homage to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!,” while hitting Jesus in the head with a stick. Once they are done with their mockery, they take the purple robe off of him and put his own clothes back on him. Now they lead Jesus on the path to the place of his crucifixion.
Jesus Crucified (15:21-32)
Someone who was walking by named Simon was compelled to carry Jesus’ cross. Clearly Jesus is unable to carry it any longer after the scourging he had endured. Now there is something surprising about verse 21. Mark records the children of Simon as Alexander and Rufus. Why would this be recorded? It would only be recorded because these men were or became Christians so that the audience would know who they were. Otherwise there is no point in giving their names. If Simon was a disciple or became a disciple after this event, or if the children became disciples because of what happened to their father, we do not know the timeline. But Mark is presenting a picture that he has been developing throughout the whole book: a disciple must carry the king’s cross. To be a disciple of Jesus we must carry the cross. Now this very moment happens. This is what discipleship looks like: following Jesus on the road of shame and mockery because he is the king.
Then they arrive at the place of crucifixion in Jerusalem called “The Place of the Skull.” Then the soldiers offer Jesus wine. Wine was sometimes given as an act of mercy to condemned prisoners to dull the pain. We do not know if this is the reason behind the soldiers doing this. There is no reason they would be merciful here. It may be that the soldiers are furthering the mockery, providing “the king” with the “finest of wines,” if you will. But Jesus refuses to play their games but will face death with dignity.
Next we read the chilling words that simply cannot be understood with the gravity and depth today because we have never seen this happen: “And they crucified him.” Jesus is nailed to the cross beam and the cross beam was placed on the post and then his feet are nailed to the post. The soldiers divide up his clothes, casting lots for them. The charge worthy of death was now proclaimed to all those standing around: “The King of the Jews.” Two other criminals were also crucified at the same time with Jesus, one on each side of him.
The mockery continues as those who pass by hurl insults at him, telling him to come down the cross if he was so powerful. “You have the power to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days! How about you just save yourself!” Just come down from the cross if you are so powerful. Even the religious leaders engaged in the mockery. “He saved others but he cannot save himself.” Then they say, “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe” (15:32). Think about all the things Jesus could have done at this moment. Jesus could have come down from cross. Jesus could have worked a miracle to dazzle the minds of the crowd. But Jesus accepts the insults. I hope that we are seeing that the big issue with the cross is the shame. It is a death filled with shame. Most criminals were crucified naked and people are just raining down insults upon him. The insults become unbelievable in verse 32. Even those crucified with Jesus also heaped insults on him. The glorious Lord and Savior is just having shame upon shame poured over him. Mockery is not the path of heroes. To the whole world, the cross is declaration that God cannot be working through this shameful suffering person. Yet we know that this is exactly what God is doing. The cross looks like one thing, rejection and shame, it is actually God’s salvation. Keep this in mind because we are going to see what Jesus says next.
Jesus’ Death (15:33-39)
At noon, darkness covers the land which is symbol of God’s judgment. We have seen that idea in the prophets repeatedly. For three hours in the middle of the day there is complete darkness. Eclipses do not last three hours, as we know recently when we had an eclipse last year. An eclipse lasts minutes. This is the supernatural judgment of God being displayed on Israel. Then Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These are the only words that Mark records of Jesus speaking from the cross, indicating their great significance. Why does Mark want us to key into these words?
Should we take these words at face value and declare that the Father abandoned the Son at this moment on the cross and Jesus feels that, crying out his Father who is now not listening? We need a compelling reason to not read the text this way since this is what the text sounds like. But I believe a closer examination of the scriptures will show us that we need to look at the text differently. First, Jesus said that the Father would not forsake him.
Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. (John 16:32 ESV)
So Jesus says that the disciples would abandon him but that his Father would not. Further, Isaiah’s prophecy did not declare that God would forsake the suffering servant but that this is how the people would see him.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:3–4 ESV)
We considered Jesus afflicted, smitten, and struck down by God. Not only this, the gospel tells us that it is the ninth hour which was the hour of prayer. These words were penned by David in a psalm about the prayer of a righteous sufferer. The first sentence of Psalm 22 is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This psalm is perfect to proclaim to those who are passing by, mocking, and watching him because Psalm 22 predicted everything that these people were doing.
But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” (Psalm 22:6–8 ESV)
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; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. (Psalm 22:14–18 ESV)
They are doing everything in this psalm. Jesus is quoting the psalm to have them realize that this is all happening according to the will and foreknowledge of the Father. The psalmist shows that the enemies are bringing about his death and this is the prayer of the righteous sufferer. Listen to what the psalmist says next.
But you, O LORD, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion! (Psalm 22:19–21 ESV)
After asking why he is forsaken, David is noting that the Lord is listening and will come to his aid. He is praying for salvation and vindication. But then God does answer him and vindicate him in the rest of the psalm.
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen! I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him. (Psalm 22:21–24 ESV)
Notice that the message is that what looks like abandonment was not. What looks like shame and rejection is actually proof of the sufferer’s righteousness. The acceptance of God and the rejection of the world is the path of godliness. One scholar rightly notes, “Jesus therefore did not simply let out an anguished wail of pain but deliberately quoted this lament, which moves from an expression of pain to confidence in God’s deliverance. Why would Jesus cry out to an absent God unless he believed that God was indeed there to hear and able to deliver him? … Jews in Jesus’ day were immersed in the Scripture the way moderns are immersed in television and movies, and they would know that Psalm 22 begins with despair but ends on a triumphant note.” Jesus is identifying himself as a righteous sufferer.
Notice after uttering these words the vindication begins as God answers him. The darkness ends and the curtain of the temple is torn in two from top to bottom. It is a picture as if God is tearing the curtain since it is torn from the top to the bottom. The gospel began with God tearing open the sky at the baptism of Jesus and declaring Jesus to be the Son of God. Now God tears the curtain to the temple (same Greek word) and notice what happens next: the centurion confesses Jesus to be the Son of God. The gospel has come full circle. The new way to the Father has been opened through Jesus. Jesus’ divine sonship and glory are confirmed through his suffering on the cross. The temple is forsaken, not Jesus. Jesus will be raised but the temple will be destroyed.
The message of the crucifixion of Jesus in Mark’s gospel jumps off of the page. There are so many pictures of us in this account. First, the innocent is crucified so that the guilty rebels can be set free. The releasing of Barabbas represents all of us being released from our sins because Jesus was crucified. The mockery of God is what we do. We mock God for what he is doing.
Second, everyone is mocking that God clearly cannot be working through this suffering person because he cannot save himself. Yet this is exactly what God is doing. In Jesus we are learning a critical message: God does work through suffering, difficulty, and weakness. Jesus is the proof. God can and is absolutely present with those who suffer for him. It can absolutely look like we have been abandoned by God. People can say to us that we have been abandoned by God. But we learn through Jesus that things in life are not what they seem. Just because something looks terrible does not mean God is not there nor does it mean that this is not God’s plan. God works through suffering, difficulty, and weakness.
Third, we are Simon who are to carry the cross of Jesus, allowing ourselves to accept the shame of the cross to follow him. Knowing the above point, we are willing to carry the cross because we understand that this is how God works through us. We need to deny ourselves and carry the cross. We need to follow him to the cross.
Fourth, we are the centurion who are to confess to the world that Jesus is the Son of God who has been vindicated by his Father. What we see Jesus going through is not something to be ashamed of, but to rejoice and praise. We are not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). Salvation is through suffering. Rescue is through forfeiting our lives. Help and hope come from denying ourselves and following Jesus to the cross.