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 a threat to those in power (Mark 6:7–30)

We’re now going to travel from the small, backwater village where Jesus was born to the heart of political power in his homeland—the palace of Herod Antipas, governor of Galilee. This has been a tough journey for me, though. The passage we’re looking at today is difficult: the storyline is easy to understand, but the way Mark structures it makes it a real challenge to figure out the meaning of these events. I’ll share what I believe is happening, and if you have any other ideas or questions or suggestions, feel free to leave a comment!

What makes this a challenge is that it’s yet another “sandwich story.” Mark records that Jesus has begun commissioning the Twelve, his “inner circle” among his disciples, to act as his emissaries throughout the region. They set out on their various journeys, but before they return, Mark decides to relate the story of how Herod had put John the Baptist to death. This is very odd! Mark is not the kind of guy who likes to waste words. Why does he go into such great detail about an event that doesn’t seem to be relevant? (This is one of the most detailed stories in Mark’s gospel so far!) How does this inner story in the “sandwich” help us interpret what’s going on in the outer story?

The first key is to understand what Jesus is sending his disciples to do. He calls them to himself and sends them out in pairs, giving them “authority over the unclean spirits.” We find out a few verses down that they’re also healing the sick and preaching that people should repent of their sins. But the focus is on exorcism. Since Mark likes to focus on the fact that preaching was Jesus’ top priority, it should surprise us that he is commissioning the disciples for war against the unclean spirits. Even more surprising, he’s not equipping them very well! They are to travel light, depending on the generosity of people who are receptive to what they have to say. They are utterly dependent on the Lord to take care of them. At the same time, Jesus gives them authority to condemn anyone who rejects them, telling them, “Shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” This is what Jews did when leaving unclean Gentile territory. In effect, the disciples would be saying, “God does not have any people here for his kingdom.”

The disciples’ dependence accentuates their authority. They are weak, but they are accomplishing great things as emissaries of Jesus. So word quickly spreads, and rumors begin to fly about who this Jesus fellow is. He could be a prophet, or even Elijah come back. But Herod, the governor, is fixated on another explanation. He thinks that Jesus is John the Baptist, and he speaks as a guilty man when he says, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

Of all the possible ideas of who Jesus could be, why does Herod obsess over this unlikely one? Well, Mark goes into a lot of detail to explain why. John had criticized Herod for marrying his brother’s wife, Herodias (who had divorced her husband to marry Herod). This was illegal according to the law of Moses (Leviticus 18:16), and John called them out on it. So Herod imprisoned him, though he didn’t want to kill him. Herodias and her daughter, however, trapped Herod and forced his hand. So John was put to death. Now, notice how many times Mark talks about Herod’s psychological state! He tells us, “Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.” When Herodias’ daughter did a little dirty dancing for his birthday party, she “pleased Herod.” In a rash and presumably drunken euphoria, Herod swore to her that he would give her whatever she asked. When she demanded the head of John the Baptist as a gift, Herod “was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her.” So he had John executed. Happy freaking birthday, Herod.

Now, Mark’s a guy, so he doesn’t like talking about people’s feelings. Yet here, he practically has Herod lying on a couch to be psychoanalyzed! Why? Because he wants you and me to understand what Herod is feeling. Herod knows he is guilty of John’s death; he knows that he had killed a “righteous and holy man” because of his own foolishness and pride, and ultimately because of his own sexual sin. He is ashamed because of his guilt. So when he hears about a man traveling throughout Galilee with disciples in tow, performing great miracles and preaching about a new “kingdom,” his thoughts immediately go to John the Baptist. He becomes irrationally fixated on this idea that John has come back from the dead. (And, in a sense, he’s right—a lot of what happened to John in this story is a close parallel to what’s going to happen to Jesus.)

The thought of John’s resurrection must fill him with fear. Herod knows that he is guilty of adultery and murder. God’s kingdom and its emissaries are a threat, because he will come under the judgment of the Lord’s anointed king. To people who are in power, Jesus is a threat. He insists on his own authority over men and demons, wind and waves, disease and death. A petty tyrant like Herod doesn’t stand a chance.

So which side will you be on? Will you join Herod in trying to cling to your own authority, your own way of doing life? Will you keep running your business your way, or leading your family your way, or handling your money your way? Or will you become dependent on Jesus, trusting him, obeying him, and clothing yourself in his authority? I’d suggest that you pick the side whose King came back from the dead.

The Broken Rose

~ ~ ~

The Broken Rose

Who would love the blossomed rose—
Luster her alluring pow’r,
Fragrance of arousal crowned?
Lovers all ablaze surround—
Bloom and root and stem devour.

Who would want the broken rose?
Seared in sin, in ashes grown;
Tortured pale, her petals torn;
Leaves are lost and left the thorn
Naked on the stem, alone.

Jesus wants the broken rose
While her twisted shape is thrown,
Shriveled, to the wilting scorn:
“Leave, oh, leave her not forlorn,”
Wept and whispered for his own.

Jesus loves the broken rose,
Waters with a bleeding show’r;
Root has gripped the sanguine ground;
Drops of blood, their riches found,
Rise through stem and red the flow’r.

~ ~ ~

Dead rose

Photo by David Garzon