Over the past weeks, we have seen the words of Jesus fulfilled. Jesus told his disciples three times that the Son of man came to suffer. We have noted that every piece has been falling into place. This week is no different. Before we get to this passage, we need to be reminded that sometimes when we hear something frequently, we can become numb to the emotion. I know people with emotionally draining jobs that see the effect of that over time in others. It must be hard to be the doctor who must tell the loved one that, “there was nothing else they could do.” For that person standing in front of them, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event, but for the doctor, this is a part of their job. Christians need to be cautious that we do not stop to ponder the things we read in the word of God. This is one aspect that we are to come with child-like faith, that we stand in wonder and amazement at the work of God. Especially this chapter in the gospel of Mark. We read over it and continue to read but what I hope that we will see today is that as people mock Jesus, he is dying to save his people from those sins. As people are sinning against Jesus, he is saving them.
Soldiers mocked Jesus
Jesus has been abandoned, denied by Peter, faced the mock trial before the Chief priests then faced Pontius Pilate who in the end was more afraid of the crowd before him than the God above him. He did not heed the great warning found in Luke 12:8, “And I tell you, everyone, who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God.” Jesus had been mistreated, not only through the corrupt justice system but also through the strong handling of the Roman guards. As the crowd yelled, “Crucify him,” Jesus was silent. Pilate ordered that Jesus was to be scourged or flogged. Now we need to pause for this time and understand that this is a form of corporal punishment which would often leave people dead. They would have a long whip with pieces of bone and metal tied to the end of this whip they would. Cast it down onto the back of the criminal. Often it would take chunks of skin in the process. I explain this not to make you feel queasy but that we often will just glace over that word and not understand what Christ means when he says, “the Son of Man must suffer many things…”
Then following this scourging, they took him to the palace in which a whole battalion of soldiers was. A battalion was about 600 men. These men stand before the Author of Life, the one who sustains all things by the power of his word and they begin to mock him, with their words. They mocked him by giving him a purple cloak (clothing of royalty), and a crown of thorns was placed upon his head. They continued to mock him by saying, “Hail king of the Jews.” The mocking did not stop there. They began striking him with a reed, spitting on him, mocking him by pretending to pay homage to him. Like a group of middle school students who stand over a helpless child mocking and taunting them. These men treat Jesus Christ, worse than we would treat a dog. Isaiah puts it this way, “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” (Isaiah 53:3). They continued to mock Jesus and take him to the place where they crucified the criminals. Jesus was unable to carry this cross due to his physical condition, so they select a man from the crowd. Simon of Cyrene, Luke explains they seize him (Luke 23:26).
Now in this dark and destitute chapter, we see a glimmer of light, and that is this man here, Simon. Who was from a town called Cyrene, which is located in North Africa? The city was established in 630 BC by Greek settlers. We do not know why Simon of Cyrene was here in Jerusalem, maybe he was a Jew coming to celebrate the Passover, maybe a merchant coming to make a profit from selling his merchandise. We do not know. However, the glimmer of light in this chapter is that we can assume with a great bit of confidence that his life changed at this point. For we are told, only in the Gospel of Mark that he is the father of Alexander and Rufus. Now, this is an important comment, mainly because we have no other piece of information about them. So Mark has decided to include them in his Gospel account because the readers should know who he is talking about. Church tradition explains, and I have no reason to doubt, that Alexander and Rufus are believers who live in Rome, which is the audience of Mark’s Gospel. We don’t know all the details, but wouldn’t you like to know? Maybe one day when we get to heaven we can see if we can find Simon, Alexander, and Rufus and ask them.
It was about 9:00 AM that morning when they pierced the hands of those being crucified that day, they nailed them to a tree and rose them up. As they had mocked them previously, they now mock him with the sign that they placed over his head. Each criminal would have the reason they are being crucified. Jesus’ sign read, “King of the Jews.” Jesus the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. Hung on a tree he created. Was mocked by his creatures, that was made through him and for him. As we read this story we must not think we are merely reading history that is distant and disconnected. We must if we believe the Bible see that this is personal. That the man of sorrows carried our sorrows. As Isaiah continues in chapter 53:4-6,
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
The wounds which we read about in the Gospel of Mark are the wounds that we are healed by. This is the punishment for us. If we do not understand that we will never fall on our knees when we think of our sin, and also stay on our knees as we worship the one who was pierced for our transgressions.
Crowd mocked Jesus
The soldiers had mocked him, but the mocking had not stopped. Now the crowd continues to mock Jesus. As he hung on a cross, surrounded by criminals who were there as a form of humiliation and execution through the slow and painful asphyxiation. As Jesus and the others hung there those walking by derided him and wagged their heads. The word derides, does not even capture what that is saying, the better word I think more literally translated is blaspheming him. As they mock him by saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” The truth of the matter, Jesus didn’t need to be saved. He was the sinless, spotless lamb of God. He had come to save them. And in their mocking, they tell him to come down from the cross. They thought saving himself would be coming down off the cross, but it is the opposite. It was staying on the cross that saved those who believe in him. Out of all the people watching this mass hanging of these criminals and Jesus, the one person who did not deserve any punishment was Jesus himself.
Chief Priests mocked Jesus
It is not only the Roman soldiers who would have denied the existence of one true and living God. The crowd mocked and blasphemed Jesus. But the chief priests and scribes. The ones who had studied the scriptures. Who would have made sacrifice after sacrifice of these shadows pointing to Christ? They would of reading about the bulls and goats, the blood spilled for the forgiveness of sins. Yet, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is bleeding before their eyes, and they do not rejoice for their forgiveness. They mock and laugh. “He saved others, yet he cannot save himself.” Now there is a great danger, they acknowledge that he saved others. Yet, they cannot answer the question of how he has such power to do so. But they do not stop here. They utter something profound on two different levels. “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” The first is that they call him the Christ. The last time this term was used in the Gospel of Mark was back at the end of chapter 14 when they were at Caiaphas’, the chief priest’s courtyard, and he was asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy” (Mark 14:61–64). Now, they call him the Christ, which they said was blasphemy. But secondly, they also call him the King of Israel. Now, this is very interesting because every other time he is called the King of the Jews. Not just connected to a people group or nation but all of the promises of God. The ones who knew the scriptures did not want the promised messiah of the scriptures. They did not want a man who was going to be struck on the heel by the serpent. John Calvin puts it this way,
“For they ought not to embrace as King any one who did not answer to the description given by the prophets. But Isaiah (52:14; 53:2) and Zechariah (13:7) expressly represent Christ as devoid of comeliness, afflicted, condemned, and accursed, half-dead, poor, and despised, before he ascends the royal throne. It is therefore foolish in the Jews to desire one of an opposite character, whom they may acknowledge as King; for, by so doing, they declare that they have no good-will to the King whom the Lord had promised to give. But let us, on the contrary, that our faith may firmly rely on Christ, seek a foundation in his cross; for in no other way could he be acknowledged to be the lawful King of Israel than by fufilling what belonged to the Redeemer.”
They mocked and ridiculed him. They asked for a sign that they might see and believe. However, Jesus had done many signs during his earthly ministry. He had taught them in the temple. As we have seen in the Gospel of Mark the contrast is that many people do not see or have faith. They are blind. It is Blind Bartimaeus who cries out, Son of David have mercy on me.” “And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way” (Mark 10:51–52). It is not him being able to see that gives him faith, but his faith is what makes him able to see. The rich man and Lazarus, Abraham explains, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
Criminal mocked Jesus
Mark even explains that those who were crucified around him mocked him. Even this shows the depravity of the situation. These men are hanging on a cross struggling to breathe and at this moment, we see they use their last breaths on this earth mocking another going through this pain and anguish.
Mocking the Lord of Glory
Paul explains the secret of what is happening at this time. They all mock Jesus and seek for him to come down or save himself, laughing at his pain and suffering. But it is just the opposite, in this humiliation he is accomplishing what God had foreordained to come to pass. Paul puts it this way,
“But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:7–9).
We cannot even begin to imagine what is happening at this point. As they mock Jesus to save himself, he is saving his people from their sins. As they mock Jesus to come down, they do not know that he will come up from the grave. As they mock Jesus for pain and suffering, he is taking the pain and suffering of death. To think the Lord of Glory, was silent as they mocked him. With their voices they should of being worshiping the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. But instead, they use their mouths to mock and blaspheme him. But it is for these sins, Christ is dying. “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
save in the death of Christ, my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them through his blood.