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 is the Christ, but there’s more to the story (Mark 8:22–33)

Today we’re going to reach what commentator James Edwards calls the “continental divide” in the book of Mark. For the first time, a human being identifies Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah. And shortly thereafter, Jesus chews him out.

What’s interesting is that Mark introduces this story with another healing account. Jesus shows up at the town of Bethsaida, where a blind man is brought to him. He leads the blind man out of the village, spits in his eyes (!), and lays his hands on him. Then, instead of pronouncing a word of healing, Jesus asks him a question: “Do you see anything?”

Now, coming where it does in Mark’s account of Jesus’ life, this question is not just posed to the blind man. Jesus has rebuked his disciples for their spiritual dullness, asking them, “Having eyes do you not see?…Do you not yet understand?” (Mark 8:18, 21). This time, he’s questioning a physically blind man about his sight.

The man looks around and replies, “I see men, but they look like trees, walking.” His sight has only been partially restored. Now, this is a surprise! Jesus has cast out demons, calmed a windstorm, walked on water, and raised a girl from the dead; yet here, the blind man’s sight hasn’t been fully restored. Why not? Why does Jesus choose to give the man partial, distorted eyesight before he finishes healing him?

Our answers come at once. The scene shifts to the road leading to the Roman colony of Caesarea Philippi. Jesus has begun quizzing his disciples. “Who do people say that I am?” he asks. They report the speculation that has been swirling around Galilee: “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” In the popular opinion, Jesus is a great man, perhaps even one of the great prophets. He could even be the second coming of Elijah, a forerunner to the Messiah, God’s anointed king who is to reign over Israel.

Even today, people from all religions and ethnic backgrounds seem to respect Jesus. They agree that he’s a great teacher, a righteous man, possibly even a prophet. But is Jesus satisfied with this response?

The next question Jesus asks his disciples is a lot more personal. He isn’t interested so much in what other people think of him. He wants to know what each of his disciples is thinking. Jesus demands a response from each and every person. “But who do you say that I am?” he asks them, and you and I must consider this question as well and give him our answer.

In his customary manner, Peter blurts out, “You are the Christ!” And at once, everything changes. Now the veil has been removed. Peter and the other disciples have been observing Jesus’ divine and exclusive authority, and they’ve followed the bread crumbs to the only reasonable conclusion: this man is the long-awaited Messiah, sent from God. Like the blind man from Bethsaida, they’re finally able to see the truth. Jesus is more than just a great man, and he won’t settle for that label.

What’s funny is that Jesus strictly orders his disciples to keep his identity a secret. Remember that he asked the blind man to stay out of the village as well, rather than reporting the news of his healing. This has been a consistent pattern throughout the gospel of Mark. Why doesn’t Jesus want the general public to know he is the Christ? Well, again our answers come at once.

In a shocking turn of events, Jesus finally reveals to his disciples what he, the Messiah, has come to do. He hasn’t come to overthrow the Roman government and set up an independent Jewish state. He hasn’t come to reestablish the law of Moses or to bring social justice to the beleaguered people of Israel. Instead, he has come to suffer, to be rejected by the Jewish leaders, and then to be killed. And though Jesus also predicts that he will be raised to life again, Peter is so shocked by the idea of a suffering and dying Messiah that he doesn’t seem to notice this final prophecy. He takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him. Jesus has it all wrong! The Messiah is a conquering hero, not a suffering wretch! How are they supposed to follow a man who offers only these gloomy delusions? What about the victorious life all the televangelists are promising? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one.)

Jesus looks over at the rest of his disciples. They’re watching to see what he will say; no doubt Peter is speaking for all of them. So when Jesus chews out Peter, he’s speaking to them as well. “Get behind me, Satan!” he orders him. “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” In trying to derail Jesus’ mission, Peter is sounding an awful lot like Satan. He has his own plan for how Jesus should be glorified, but it isn’t God’s plan.

Like the blind man at Bethsaida, Peter and his fellow disciples aren’t seeing clearly. They do at least recognize that Jesus is the Christ, but they are confused about what that means. They don’t understand that he is to be a suffering Messiah, who will give his life “as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). As Edwards puts it, they’ve moved from non-understanding to misunderstanding. That’s why Jesus wants them to keep quiet about who he is. Lies circulating about him are bad enough; half-truths are even worse.

The story of the blind man helps us understand what the Holy Spirit is teaching us through this passage. Jesus doesn’t want us to misunderstand who he is. Yes, he is the Christ, and you and I can’t really know him unless we believe that. But neither can we know Jesus unless we understand what his mission is. And that’s what Mark will be explaining as he continues his story.