Listen: Simon Manchester’s sermon on Jesus, our suffering king. Photo by Mark Fletcher-Brown
Prayer: We thank you, our gracious God, for our rock and our redeemer, and we pray in the name of the Lord Jesus that in your mercy and goodness you would help us as we look into your word to see wonderful, significant, challenging, comforting truths. And we ask it in Jesus name, Amen.
We’re getting to the end of the Gospel of Mark and we’re in Chapter 15 this morning. This is the section of the gospel where Jesus is facing lots of trouble and suffering before the crucifixion. And today, the theme is very much the subject of mockery. In other words, it’s the insults, and the jokes, and the lies, and the dishonor which is aimed at him. The irony of all this is that the truth remains the truth. And if you just fall asleep now and you don’t hear anything else that I say, and I see one of you, two of you are looking like you could, let me say to you, that the truth of Christ stands firm like the sign on the cross, unchanged, true, wonderful, despite all the words that are heaped on him. That’s the point of this section, a huge amount of derision but the wonderful truth of Christ stands firm.
Now, as Mark describes this closing phase of Jesus’ life, he could easily have talked to us all about all the damage that was done to Jesus’ body. We could have a long description of the bleeding, and the wounds, and the torn flesh, and the pain, and the agony if Mark wanted to do it. But he concentrates very much on the hostility of what he said. In other words, false things spoken while the truth remains the truth. Some of the false words come from the soldiers who are clueless and don’t know what they’re talking about and some of them come from the religious leaders who are careless and should know what they’re talking about. And the reason that the words are so difficult aimed at the Lord Jesus is not just that they are unkind, but they’re so mistaken. So, the people are firing these angry comments, but they just don’t understand, or they don’t want to.
The Pain of Mockery
I don’t know if you’ve ever been mocked. I suspect most people here have at some stage been mocked. Whether it was when you were a child or a teenager, or whether it was as an adult. And my understanding of mockery is that it normally is done best when you are in a position of safety or apparent safety. And you can throw things with a group around you to support you – or you’ve got no way of a comeback. One of the weirdest experiences I have is going for the occasional walk at night and having a car go pass and a whole lot of blokes yell out the window at me as they go past. And I think to myself, “Let’s talk about this”. But they’ve just shot past in perfect safety. I don’t know what it is about lopey, tall men walking at night, but I attract more of these abuse calls from the cars than most people. And of course, it’s exceptionally painful when it comes from people who you are trusting.
So when Jesus is led off by the soldiers, I mean, they’re professionals, they’re meant to be doing their job, you can’t expect them to do anything less than crucify him but, obviously, they do a lot more than crucify him. The little word in Chapter 15:16, the company of soldiers, I’m told indicates about 600 men, 600 men looking after Jesus, so to speak. And he becomes a target which you can understand. When Jesus hangs on the cross in front of the people he’s been kind to and loved and looked after, he was probably expecting a little better than he gets. And in front of the religious leaders who’ve got Bibles and promises and covenant understanding, he may be expecting a little more than he gets, that he again is a target for abuse. I think it’s very important to understand this, Mark is not writing this randomly. He’s not just filling in space because he’s got nothing to do. He’s writing not to target your heartstrings so that you’ll see something sort of bleeding and suffering, and it will all just be emotional.
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He’s primarily wanting to help you to understand that the weakness of Christ was mocked but purposeful. And the loneliness of Christ was mocked but purposeful. And when the world thinks it’s very powerful, and it does, and when the church looks very stupid, and it does, you have to get ready for mocking and abuse, whether it’s deserved or not. If you don’t think this is relevant, let me tell you that the more hostility comes at Christ, and at the church, and at faithful, Bible-believing Christians, the more hostility comes, the more it will affect you. You’ll feel more uncertain about your faith because it will be done well, it will be done cleverly, it will be done strongly, and you’ll feel more uncertain. You will feel a little more like an alien in the world, strange person, a very much the minority. It will affect your friendships at work, it will rattle you as you raise your children, and wonder whether you should be saying all the things you’re saying. And it will unsettle you as you seek to serve Christ because you’ll be saying to yourself, “I’m not as sure about this as I used to be.”
He Remains the King
But you also need to know that behind all the abuse that is coming, the facts of Christ stand firm, just like the sign on the cross. He remains the king and the savior, whatever is said. He remains powerful, he remains gracious, he remains wonderful, whatever is said. And therefore the message of Jesus Christ, whatever the world says is a little bit like oxygen. It may be unappreciated, it may be that it’s been around for a long time but it’s crucial, and it’s wonderful, and it’s necessary. So, we’re going to think about this under two brief headings, the first is the king in his weakness, verses 16 to 23, and then the king in his loneliness, verses 24 to 32. So, look at 15-16 and you’ll see that the soldiers lead Jesus away in order to crucify him, verse 24, but before they crucify him, they play some games with him, verses 17-20. Now, I asked myself the question, why do they do this? Why don’t they just get on with the job of crucifying him? Do they do this with every one of their prisoners, play games? Probable answer is no. But these soldiers have heard that Jesus is the king, and he doesn’t look like the king and there’s a lot of them and there’s only one of him and so it’s a good time to play a game.
They think the idea that he’s the king is rubbish, and they do a fair amount of damage to him. They also do this because it is in the script to do it. Back in the Old Testament, in Psalm 22, the servant is told that he will be mocked, that his clothes will be divided up exactly as it happens. In Isaiah 53, we’re told that the servant of God will be despised and afflicted and tears. And Jesus himself warned the disciples in Mark 10, “When we get to Jerusalem, and I’m arrested, don’t be shocked. I will be arrested, they will mock me, they will spit on me, they will flog me, they will crucify me, and I will rise on the third day,” he warned them completely. And so, the soldiers are doing what God said they would do. And as Jesus prepared his disciples for Jerusalem, Mark is preparing you and me who are readers for living in the world, because this book is not just a record of the truth of Christ, this book is to equip the readers to live for Christ. It’s not just an interesting narrative, it’s a book to equip us. Now Jesus, of course, does look very ordinary. You remember Pilate in Chapter 15:2 looks at him and said, “You, you, the king?” And the answer, of course, is that he is looking very ordinary because he’s humbled himself.
He’s taken on human flesh and that flesh has been beaten up. He’s walked off his own accord to the place where he will be crucified, and he will take the punishment for the sins that the Jew, that we ourselves have committed. He could easily have escaped the whole thing with just one word, one word could have caused all the enemies to fall in their face in terror, but he has humbled himself. And therefore the point is this, dear friends, if you mock his humility, you missed the point of his humility. You’re just mocking the very person who loves you. I mean, if a man runs towards your house for 20Ks and brings you an urgent message, and you laugh at him because he is sweaty, is it not possible that the problem is your problem? If a man is covered in blood because he has defended you from many attackers and you laugh at him because he’s covered in blood, is it not possible the problem is you? And the very weakness that Jesus is being mocked for is the very weakness that he’s voluntarily adopted in order that he might save people like you and me. And I think that’s why Mark piles up the pictures of weakness so that we might really understand this.
The Weakness of Jesus
You see, verse 21, they grab a passerby and they say you need to carry Jesus’ cross, there’s no explanation given. At no point does Mark say this is because Jesus kept falling over. But we assume the weakness of Jesus demanded that somebody carry it for him. Or look at verse 23, when they get to the place, they offer him wine in order to deal with the pain. And this is offered to Jesus by the soldiers who are pretty heartless, but even they know that Jesus deserves this Panadol. And then verse 24, they take his robe and they gambled for it as the Old Testament said they would, and this is the last possession and protection gone. And then verse 27, they put a criminal each side of him, which is a message to Jesus, you could not go much lower than you’ve gone, you’re weak, you’re weak, you’re weak, you’re weak. And the answer from Jesus is, yes, it’s deliberate, it’s purposeful.
Incidentally, you remember James and John asked if they could have the places on the right and the left, when Jesus got to his position of glory. And in a remarkable way, he has got to his position of glory at the cross. It’s a very glorious position because that’s where the love of God is going to be seen, and the power of God will be seen, and the justice of God, and the wisdom of God. And as he dies in really apparent weakness and cursing, it is the most glorious moment. And on each side of him is a criminal, which is not what James and John were planning. So, the most important thing to realize is that everything which is being called out and done to Jesus, which is a joke, is actually hiding the truth. The purple cloak is a joke, the crown of thorns is a joke, the language hell king of Jews is a joke, the bowing down is a joke. And yet the fact remains that he’s the king of kings, full of grace and power. So, they mean it as abuse, it is true. Up on the top of the cross is a sign of king, it’s fixed, you can’t change it with all the abuse in the world. My Old Testament lecturer Bill Dumbrill [SP] says in his little commentary that at the cross in a true sense, Jesus was enthroned. But you’d never pick it, would you? But he was. And by Sunday, of course, he’d be more alive than all the soldiers in the cohort.
The Righteous Died for the Unrighteous
So, what does the New Testament tell us to do in the face of this weakness? Well, first of all, we must understand the cross properly. It’s not primarily a symbol for our sympathy as if we’re just meant to be emotionally moved or try and model our life on Jesus. The primary message of the cross is that the righteous died for the unrighteous to bring you to God. And so, you say to yourself, “Oh, Heavenly Father, I’m so thankful that at the cross, Good Friday, 3 p.m. Jesus Christ paid everything. And that the past is taken care of, and the future is taken care of.” That’s the point of the cross. And then the second thing, of course, is that when you become a grateful disciple, you take up your cross of discipleship and you don’t retaliate as Jesus didn’t retaliate. And you seek to entrust yourself to the Father as he entrusted himself to the Father. So, you may get the mockery, but you hold on to the truth because it remains the truth, as surely as the sign fixed on the cross was true.
Remember that, also, the crucifixion was followed by resurrection. And so, if you’re a disciple today and you follow the cross of Christ, you will one day wear the crown. It’s for all who look forward to seeing Jesus, the Savior who was mocked and beaten, is the risen judge today. So, get your sequence right, cross today, crown tomorrow, and get your role clear, weakness through which God’s strength is at work. So, we this morning, we see the cross as the secret of salvation and we also see that discipleship means that we are on joyful business. And if anybody says to us, “You know, I think Jesus looks pathetic,” we say to them, “That’s the point. It’s for you, that you might be anything but lost, and judged, and condemned.” So that’s the king in his weakness.
Christ, The Lonely King
Second, the king in his loneliness. I hope you’re following what I’m trying to say this morning. I think I’m trying to work with this section of Mark’s gospel as you are. And I think that Mark is telling us that it’s not an accident that Jesus was weak, he came to serve. And it’s not an accident that he was lonely, he was lonely so that you would not be. He was lonely so that you’d get a welcome.
I was reading recently that in the American Civil War, the war started on a man’s farm in Virginia. And the man who owned the farm, his name was Wilmer McLean, and he was so affected by this, he was so traumatized he moved his family 120 miles away. The war lasted for four years and when it was finished, the two generals met in a normal Street and decided to walk into the nearest house and sign the papers on the kitchen table, and they walked into the house of Wilmer McLean. Is that not astonishing? And Wilmer McLean said as he spoke of the Civil War, “It began in my garden and it finished in my kitchen.” How wonderful that the battle and the peace could come together under the roof, so to speak, of one man. And what we see here in the death of Jesus is that the battle and the peace are brought together by one savior.
Crucifixion was a very degrading and excruciating business. It was so terrible that no Roman citizen was to be crucified. Men and even women were crucified, and I was shocked to realize that they were often crucified with their feet just a full above the ground. So that if you walked some of the streets, you will literally face to face with somebody on a cross. Sometimes, if they wanted a much more public display, they would put the person on a much higher cross. And that seems to be the case with Jesus because they offer the sponge on a very long stick to him. And they call on him to come down, come down, which possibly indicates that he was raised higher than most in order to be more publicly displayed. But you’ll notice that Mark doesn’t really go into these details. He just says in verse 24, three words, “They crucified him.” And then he reports on how lonely it was and that’s what I wanna finish with this morning, I just want you to see a little glimpse into how lonely it was. And this loneliness is nothing to what we’ll see on Good Friday. It’s one thing to be cut off from your friends, it’s another thing to be cut off from your father.
Jesus is Deserted
So, you’ll see in verse 29, that first of all, the people desert him. You see chapter 15:29, they call out to him, if I might read the quote, “So, you who are going to destroy the temple, come down from the cross and save yourself.” They misquote him, of course. He never said that he would destroy the temple and rebuild it. He said to them, “If you destroy this temple of me, it will be raised, I will raise it in three days,” and he spoke the truth. But they misquote him, and there’s nothing like misquoting in order to make your case. I was noticing that the four…the four men who are called the four men of the Apocalypse, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and somebody Dennett, who are the four great sort of atheist leaders only got together once, and they recorded the conversation as the four men talked. And they’ve published the conversation and I read the conversation. And in the middle of the conversation, Sam Harris says, just as an example, he says, “In the parable of Thomas, Jesus wanted his disciples to believe without evidence.”
And I thought to myself as I read that, first of all, the incident with Thomas is not a parable. It’s a piece of history. And the second thing Jesus said to Thomas, “You had 10, friends, eyewitnesses who saw me alive, that’s what you should have believed.” In other words, I wanted you to believe with the evidence. But why get in the way of a good quote, misquote? And that’s what the people do here at the cross. Then they tell Jesus to come down and save himself, which it wouldn’t be difficult for Jesus to do. I imagine he could do that in a second, but it would be the end of their salvation. And so, the very people who tell him that he should come down are going to need him to stay up if they had to be saved. The people desert him and the priests, verse 31, they desert him as well. Of course, they were never really with him, but you see, their mocking is especially pointed. And this is the joke that they make at Jesus’ expense, he saved others, he cannot save himself. What a joke? He saved others, he cannot save himself. But that is the very point, isn’t it?
If others are to be saved, he is not to be saved. Somebody is gonna have to pay for the sin. Jesus decides that it will be him. And there was a variation on the comedown, they say, “Come down, and we’ll believe.” And that, of course, is a lie as well, isn’t it? They haven’t believed anything he’s done so far. They’ve seen the miracles and heard the preaching, they’ve not believed anything so far. And now they say, “Look, just do this one thing and we will believe,” that won’t happen. And it’s because he goes through with the cross and the judgment that there is a possibility that somebody could be a believer. So, the people and the priests, they desert him and leave him in his loneliness. And finally, the other two prisoners, verse 32, they joined the mocking as well. I presume this is before one of them changed his tune, according to Luke 23, and began to speak more humbly and more respectfully, and even asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. Can you imagine anything worse than to have two men with whom you’re dying who decide to take a superior position to you? That’s just the ultimate desertion, isn’t it?
Made Lonely So That You Would Not be Lonely
Well, I want us to notice therefore that Mark is putting the camera on to what Jesus went through in terms of weakness and loneliness. And this is gonna continue to be the verdict of scoffers and abusers that Jesus was hopeless and helpless, that he is hopeless and helpless, that he is forgettable, and he’s rejectable. And I hope that you will realize that in the very middle of this, he remains the king of kings, and the savior of the world, nothing changes. It doesn’t matter what he said, it doesn’t matter what jokes are made, what abuse is given, nothing changes. Foolish things will continue to be said, angry half-truths will continue to be said. But if anybody says to you, “Gee, he seems to be so weak, I wonder whether he’s helpless, and hopeless, and a waste of space.” I hope you will say, “His weakness is the very point.” Weak for you. And if somebody says, “He’s so alone, he seems to be rejected by everybody, maybe that is proof positive that nobody should go with him.” I hope you will say, “That’s the point. He was lonely so that you would not be lonely, he was kicked out so that you would be brought in.”
And the Apostle Paul takes up this whole theme of apparent weakness in his Corinthian letter. And he says, “You know, the message is always going to be weak, apparently, but it will be powerful. And the messenger is gonna be weak, and yet he’ll be in God’s providence useful. And the church is going to be weak, and yet the church is going to be God’s beloved instrument.” And so we go on, you see, holding the truth, holding the word, even while a whole lot of foolish words fly around us.
Let’s pray for the Lord to help us. Our gracious God, we thank you for this very wonderful person of your son, for your love for us in sending him and his love for us in staying and going through with the work to bring eternal life. And we pray that in the midst of a world that is blind and foolish, you in your mercy would open many, many eyes. And we pray that there might be many people who see through to the truth in this Easter week. That over Good Friday and Easter Sunday around the world, there might be many people who begin to see that the truth stands, whatever is said, and your gospel invitation stands, whatever has been done. We ask it in Jesus name, Amen.