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Jesus has come to be humiliated, though he is the saving King (Mark 15:16–32) — September 11, 2011

Jesus has come to be humiliated, though he is the saving King (Mark 15:16–32)

When Jesus comes to claim his throne, a coronation ceremony is held. But it’s not meant to honour him. It’s meant to disgrace him.

Jesus has been betrayed by the leaders of his own people; now their Roman overlords have sentenced him to death. He has been identified as “King of the Jews” by the Romans. This would be their way of calling him the Messiah, God’s anointed king. The Gentile soldiers bring him into the palace and gather the whole battalion around him. Before this assembly, they dress him in a royal robe of expensive purple dye, place a crown on his head, salute him as they would their Caesar, and kneel down in homage to him.

The catch is that his crown is a wreath of twisted thorns whose spikes are pressed into his skull. Their salutation, “Hail, King of the Jews!” is a sarcastic barb. When they kneel, it’s meant as nothing more than a charade. They strike him on the head with a reed and spit on him. Even the lowliest conscript in the Roman army can slap him around without consequence. They can defy the man who claims to be God, just as the serpent in Eden promised, “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4).

They strip Jesus of the royal garments and lead him away to an ominous hill—Golgotha, or Skull Place. He is so weakened by the scourgings that another man is forced to carry his cross for him. But when Jesus arrives at Golgotha, he refuses to drink any wine. Whatever he is about to face, he will do so without an anesthetic.

Mark records simply, “They crucified him.” They hoist him on a wooden cross and nail his hands and feet to it. Mark doesn’t need to write any more, because crucifixion is a horrible and shameful death, practically taboo in polite company. The empire of Rome means it to be a public spectacle. It demonstrates that this man, once a rebel against the empire, has now been crushed under the boot of Caesar. When Jesus is crucified, Rome is saying that he is nothing more than a man, a subject of the empire. He has no property to call his own, not even his clothes—the soldiers gamble over who will get to keep them. His crime is posted for all to see: “The King of the Jews.”

Make no mistake: Jesus is not being crucified for being a good moral teacher. No one gets crucified for telling people to love each other. Jesus’ message runs much deeper than that. Mark summarizes it with these words: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). When asked by the Jewish leaders whether he was the Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus has replied, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). Jesus is crucified for claiming to be God’s anointed King over all the earth, and a divine King at that—the Son of God himself.

His disciples, James and John, once asked their King, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (Mark 10:37). But now they are nowhere to be found. Instead, Rome crucifies two criminals with Jesus, “one on his right and one on his left.”  These are the royal members of his court. His audience passes by and ridicules him by shouting, “Ha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” The religious leaders join them: “He saved others; he cannot save himself!” This man is no Saviour. He is no King.

Look at this horrible spectacle of a bleeding, dying criminal! To think that anyone had faith in this man! “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down from the cross that we may see and believe,” they taunt him. And then, even the criminals who are crucified with him begin to revile him. Jesus is humiliated and condemned by everyone—Jew and Gentile, ruler and criminal, priest and sinner.

Why does his coronation look like this? Why the shame without even a trace of honour? It is because Jesus must be validated as King through shame, suffering, and death. Here in God’s world, “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43–44). By becoming the lowest man in the world, Jesus has established that he is the greatest. And by refusing to save himself, he is able “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Perhaps today Jesus is well-liked and popular and a good teacher. But he remained on the cross, bleeding and dying, to save a people for his own kingdom. That is why he is Lord.

Jesus has come to be rejected as King and condemned in place of rebels (Mark 15:1–15) — August 8, 2011

Jesus has come to be rejected as King and condemned in place of rebels (Mark 15:1–15)

Authority figures like to hold on to power. Politicians in the USA campaign constantly in order to hold onto their elected offices. Dictators such as Bashar al-Assad of Syria kill anyone who questions their rule. When you’re king of the hill, you fight to stay on top.

So what in the world does Jesus think he’s doing?

“Are you the King of the Jews?” That’s the only question Pontius Pilate cares about. If Jesus is simply a maverick religious leader, then Pilate isn’t interested in the case. He is the Roman governor, and he has no interest in getting entangled with Jewish religious matters.

However, if this Jesus is claiming to be a Jewish king, as the Jewish religious leaders insist, then Rome has no choice but to act. There can be no king but Caesar.

But when Pilate asks his question, Jesus simply responds, “You have said so.” It’s a terse way of telling Pilate, that yes, he is King of the Jews, but he’s not the kind of king that Pilate is thinking of. Beyond these words, Jesus says nothing to defend himself against his accusers. Pilate is shocked. Doesn’t Jesus realize that his life is at stake here? Why won’t he say a word to defend himself?

Pilate instinctively suspects that the only thing Jesus is guilty of is being the object of the chief priests’ envy. They are afraid of his growing influence in Israel. So he looks for a way to escape this awkward situation. He doesn’t want to enrage the chief priests; the last thing he needs is an uprising. His opportunity comes when a crowd gathers in his courtyard to ask him to pardon a prisoner, which is his custom during the Passover. So he appeals to the crowd, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”

What Pilate hasn’t foreseen is that the chief priests have already gotten to the crowd. They demand that Pilate release a murderer named Barabbas. Mark comments that this man “committed murder in the insurrection”—a recent revolt against Roman rule. So instead of calling for Jesus, their rightful king, the mob cries out for Barabbas, a rebel and a murderer.

Pilate is at a loss. “What shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” he asks. “Crucify him!” the crowd shouts.

“Why? What evil has he done?” Pilate is a cruel governor, but even his conscience is bothered by this injustice. Without giving any reason, the mob roars, “Crucify him!”

Pilate gives in. He wants to spare Jesus, but if sacrificing an innocent man is what it takes “to satisfy the crowd,” he’s willing to dispense with this obscure Galilean rabbi. He orders Jesus to be crucified, after being viciously scourged by his soldiers.

Up to this point, it has been the Jewish leaders who have rejected Jesus. Now, Pilate rejects him as well. Both Jew and Gentile conspire to crucify the Son of God. They stand in judgment over him and condemn him as unworthy of life.

Our English translations say that Jesus was crucified between two “robbers.” In fact, the word translated robber was used by the Jewish historian Josephus to describe insurrectionists who opposed the Roman government. Rome had no interest in crucifying common thieves; crucifixion was a public spectacle meant for rebels against Rome. This Passover, three crosses have been prepared for three rebels. But on the central cross will hang a King in place of a rebel. Jesus will die so that Barabbas may live.

The crucifixion is horrible and beautiful. The rightful King is put to death by his own people, the Jews, and by the Gentiles to whom he offers hope. He is a threat to their power, so they attempt to eliminate him. But all this is part of his plan to die as a substitute for rebels who oppose the kingdom of God.

Nobody escapes guilt here. You and I fight every day to maintain control over our lives, to try to manipulate God and other people to give us the security and power and approval that we want. Each of us wants to be king. So we are the chief Priests, we are Pilate, and we are the hostile mob. And we are Barabbas, alive and free because our King was crucified in our place.

May we praise our King and give him the honour he deserves, because he came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Jesus has come to claim his throne, so praise him! (Mark 11:1–11) — November 17, 2010

Jesus has come to claim his throne, so praise him! (Mark 11:1–11)

As far as coronation ceremonies go, this wouldn’t make anyone’s top ten list.

The “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem is a scene that’s found in all four biblical accounts of Jesus’ life, and each author brings out different aspects of the event. If you’ve been following along with this Four Minutes in Mark series, the main themes of his story won’t surprise you too much.

First, we see Jesus exercising divine authority to appropriate a donkey for his entrance into the political and religious capital of the Jewish nation. If he knows its owner ahead of time, we aren’t told. Instead, Mark emphasizes the fact that Jesus gives specific directions to his disciples, foreseeing everything that will take place when they take the donkey. There’s something a little eerie about it—a supernatural knowledge of what’s about to take place. This isn’t the first time that Jesus has predicted his future, and we’re beginning to see that his predictions are accurate to the last detail.

Now, maybe you’re wondering why Jesus chooses a donkey! Wouldn’t a hulking stallion be more fitting for a king entering his capital to claim his throne? Well, not according to scripture. Jesus is going out of his way to fulfill the words of Zechariah the prophet:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)

Zechariah, speaking words inspired by the Holy Spirit, sees a coming king who will enter Jerusalem to shouts of joy. He is a righteous man, coming to save his people. Mark records that all of these things are taking place. He also emphasizes that Jesus is riding on a young donkey. Why? Zechariah says that it’s an expression of humility. Jesus isn’t entering as a glorious, conquering hero. No, he’s claiming his throne as a weaponless peacemaker:

I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth. (Zechariah 9:10)

This is bad news for the Pharisees, the religious authorities who want Jesus to advance their political and religious cause by driving out the Romans and their ungodly influence on the Jewish nation. That may be their agenda, but it’s not Jesus’ agenda. He hasn’t come to make war on the surrounding nations but to speak peace to them. He has come to save them, not destroy them.

So what is Jesus doing in Jerusalem? Well, whatever it is, it involves the temple. He walks into the temple court, looks around for a while at everything…and leaves. It’s a bit of an anticlimactic ending. Once again, Jesus remains incognito. But rest assured, the cloak’s coming off soon. And it won’t be long before his humble yet audacious claim to the Jewish throne stirs up a hornet’s nest of controversy.

So what’s our response to this? Well, we need to consider what this tells us about Jesus. It’s so consistent with what we know about him from the rest of Mark’s gospel. Jesus is absolutely unwilling to cede any of his authority. He is the God-man, the Messiah, the King, and he is not afraid to lay claim to that position. Yet he is humble about it; rather than trumpeting his high position, he chooses to use his power in subtle ways, revealing himself only to those who “have ears to hear” (Mark 4:9). He is careful to reveal himself as a suffering servant rather than a magnificent conqueror.

Our response must be the same as his fellow pilgrims to Jerusalem. As he enters the city, they sing phrases from the Psalms that are rich in their expectation of God’s promised Messiah. “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” Praise the Lord our God because at long last our Savior has come. Praise him because he is uncompromising in his authority. Praise him because he is “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). There is no one who embodies this paradox like Jesus.

Now, perhaps you don’t like this kind of Jesus. Perhaps you want a Jesus who’s just a good man, who doesn’t insist that he is the exclusive Lord over all the earth. Or perhaps you want a Jesus who offers a victorious life, free from suffering—who promises health, wealth, and a positive attitude. Or perhaps you want a Jesus who’s a culture warrior, who will champion your favorite political or social cause. If so, let me offer you this word of warning: what Jesus does over the next week of his ministry is really going to cheese you off, because he’s about to expose and condemn false disciples like you. Just a heads up, you know.

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