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The Crucified King

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Mark 15:16-41

Remembering ‘good’ Friday…?

Recently I’ve been working through my digital library of photos, trying to reduce it down from 50,000+ photos to something a little more reasonable. I got into photography about 12 years ago, with my first digital SLR. And each year the number of photos kept increasing, especially with the birth of our children, till they peaked in 2015 with more than 8000 photos – and they’re just the one’s I’ve kept up till now! After that, they halve, down to 4000 and get less. You know why? Third child was born. Something had to give. And so there’s a lot less photographic evidence of Benji, as cute as he is… things were just a bit too crazy.

Anyway, as I’ve started to work through the library of photos, it’s been great to look back at family gatherings, kids doing cute things, holidays and moments with friends.

And that’s why we take photos isn’t it? To capture a good moment. Maybe it’s something beautiful, or maybe it’s a moment that feels good because of who we’re with and what we’re doing. We take photos of good moments and look back on them to remember good times.

We make photo books of holidays – with lots of smiling group hugs on mountain tops or at the beach; or maybe of a child’s first year – full of all the cute and happy moments. We don’t make photo books filled with photos of screaming babies and sleepless nights. We don’t fill photo albums with shots of family members yelling at each other because they’re spending too much time cramped in small holiday houses. We don’t make photo books about the time you had to cancel your trip and stay home because of COVID…

We want to remember the good times, not the bad.

And that’s what makes ‘good Friday’ quite strange on the surface. We are remembering – celebrating even! – a day of tragedy and injustice and brutality.

Each year, we read these accounts of this innocent man, Jesus, being whipped and tortured and mocked and beaten and crucified – nailed to a wooden cross and left to suffocate and die. It is truly awful.

Each year we remember it, we ‘look over it’, reading the account, talking about it, like a family looking over an old photo album. And we call it ‘good’… We remember it as ‘good Friday’ – we give thanks to God for it!

Why? What is so good about what we read just a few minutes ago in chapter 15 of Mark’s gospel?

Well we’re going to take a closer look at this account now – this description of the humiliation and crucifixion of Jesus – and see why this Friday was and is indeed a very good day, despite the horror of what happened. We’re going to reflect on the passage by considering a few different layers, or points of focus, to the account, which come together to form the overall message.

 

The eyewitness account of Jesus being crucified

From the first layer – the surface meaning of the passage – it’s hard to see how the passage gives us any ‘good news’. What Mark shares with us here is first and foremost the eyewitness account of a tragic and awful execution.

It’s an account of Jesus being humiliated by soldiers, then led away to be crucified. It tells of Jesus being mocked by people as he hung on the cross, and then a great darkness coming over the whole land for 3 hours before Jesus cries out in anguish to God and then dies.

And it’s almost certainly based on the testimony of Jesus’ most faithful followers – we meet them down at the end of the passage. Mark tells us, from verse 40, Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.’

These women had followed Jesus and cared for his needs. They’d been there all along the way, witnessing the incredible things God was doing through him. Listening to his teaching, hearts full of hope. And now, while the men are nowhere to be seen, they stand watching. Watching their Lord get nailed to a cross and die.

They were there. They saw and heard what happened. That’s why we get all the details in this passage. Details like the name of the man – even the names of his sons! – who was forced to carry the cross for Jesus. Details like Jesus being offered wine mixed with myrrh, but Jesus refusing it. The soldiers casting lots over Jesus’ clothing; what people said as Jesus hung on the cross. The fact that it was 9am when Jesus was crucified, 12noon when darkness came over the land, and 3pm when Jesus cried out to God in anguish and died. The original Aramaic of what Jesus said – ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’– is even passed on to us.

What we read here in Mark 15 is the eyewitness testimony of people who had followed Jesus – who had been devoted to him and put their hope in him – and who now watched with indescribable grief as he is crucified before them. This basic meaning of the passage is clear, and it hardly comes across as good news. But the second layer – or focus of the passage – is even worse…

 

The mocking of Jesus, the ‘crucified king’

You see, as we read through this eyewitness account, I think the clear focus – the layer that jumps out – is the way that Jesus was mocked as a ‘crucified king’. Mark reports different people, again and again, humiliating Jesus and taunting him through the whole event, essentially saying how ridiculous it is that this pathetic man could have thought or claimed that he was God’s Messiah.

You see, it’s striking that Mark reports the major events in extremely brief detail – you almost miss them. In verse 24, in the midst of describing details about the journey, carrying the cross to the hill and the soldiers dividing up his clothes afterwards… in the midst of this, Mark simply reports – “And they crucified him.” No great elaboration on the horror of what that involved. He didn’t need to – his readers knew very well what it meant for someone to be crucified. And the physical torture in and of itself is not the focus for Mark. Being flogged and crucified were both horrible, drawn out forms of physical torture designed to cause maximum pain and humiliation on the way to certain death. But Mark simply reports the fact that these things happened. He was flogged, and then they led him away and crucified him. What Mark focuses on instead is the mockery of Jesus as ‘king of the Jews’ along the way.

 

The Mocking Homage of the Soldiers

First, it’s the soldiers, in verses 16-20. Having just whipped Jesus brutally, the soldiers lead him away to the barracks of the royal guard and call ‘the whole company of soldiers’ to gather around and join in some fun. These men put a purple robe on his bleeding body as a joke. Purple die was extremely rare and expensive, and reserved for royalty. They are making fun of the idea that this man could possibly be the true king of the Jews. And they underline the mockery by placing a crown of thorns on his head. And then they alternate between pretending to pay homage to him and outright ridicule and abuse. They call out, ‘hail king of the jews’ in mocking voices, and bow down in worship. And then all of sudden, they are rising up and striking him in the head – hitting him again and again with a wooden staff and spitting on him. It’s an awful picture of brutal mockery and hatred. The idea that this man could be a king is a joke to them…

 

The Taunting of the Bystanders

Then after the soldiers crucify Jesus, Mark describes the taunting of the bystanders as Jesus hangs on the cross.

From verse 29…

‘Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.’

The enemies of Jesus are having a field day! For a long time they have felt threatened by this man. He didn’t fit their expectations and rules. He threatened their own authority and way of life. The crowds have been amazed at the miraculous signs he has performed and the wisdom and authority of his teaching. They have tried to trip him up and accuse him, but nothing has gone their way… till now. Suddenly they have him ­– hanging helpless and humiliated on a cross before them. And the relief fuels their gleeful mocking…

All that they were afraid of seems so silly now. What were they worried about? This man – the messiah!? As if… come on Jesus, if you’re the Messiah, if you’re supposed to be the saviour of God’s people, then come on down off that cross and start by saving yourself! What’s the problem?? Can’t seem to do it?

 

The humiliation of Aslan

If you’ve read C.S. Lewis’ classic novel, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, you’ll know he represents this scene powerfully in the binding and killing of Aslan, the great Lion. The Witch’s minions have tied his feet, shrieking with delight once they realise Aslan was not going to fight back. After that, the Witch commanded that his great mane be shaved off, and then we read…

“Why, he’s only a great cat after all!” cried one.

“Is that what we were afraid of?” said another.

And they surged round Aslan, jeering at him.

Finally they put a muzzle on him, even though Aslan never once moves. And Lewis describes, “Everyone was at him now. Those who had been afraid to come near him even after he was bound began to find their courage… the whole crowd of creatures kick him, hitting him, spitting on him, jeering at him.’ [p165, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe]

The humiliation of Jesus in the eyes of the people as a failed ‘wanna-be’ Messiah is so great that even the criminals crucified around him heap insults on him. The ‘bad news’ of Mark 15 comes across as truly terrible news…

 

The fulfilment of Scripture

But then we start to see how there’s more going on – how underneath the bad news, there is in fact some very good news. As Mark reports the crucifixion and the mocking of Jesus, he also points out how this was all in fulfilment of Scripture. In fact, Jesus himself continued, right up until the very end, to see everything that was happening to him as the necessary fulfilment of God’s plans as revealed in the Holy Scriptures.

Mark doesn’t actually say things like ‘this happened so that Scripture might be fulfilled’, but there’s a couple of things that draw the connection for us.

The thing that would have been most noticeable to all those watching was the mysterious darkness that comes over the land as Jesus hangs on the cross. I think we are meant to see this as a fulfilment of Amos 8:9, where God is speaking of the great day of judgement and he declares:

“And on that day,” declares the Lord GOD, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.’

What is happening to Jesus is part of something big; something cosmic. And it’s part of God’s plans.

 

And alongside this, a few of the details of what happened on the day closely match descriptions in OT Psalms that speak of the suffering and rejection of God’s faithful servant. The point is that we’re meant to read the whole account of the mocking and rejection of Jesus as fulfilment of these Psalms…

In Psalm 69, the Psalmist is lamenting to God…

I am weary with my crying out;

                        my throat is parched.

             My eyes grow dim

                        with waiting for my God.

            More in number than the hairs of my head

                        are those who hate me without cause;

             mighty are those who would destroy me,

                        those who attack me with lies.’

And then as part of this lament, he explains:

21        They gave me poison for food,

                        and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.’

 By pointing out twice that Jesus was offered sour wine to drink, Mark wants us to see how Jesus is ultimately the one this Psalm is talking about…

In a similar way, the mocking, the torture, and even the soldiers casting lots for Jesus’ clothing all connect the crucifixion of Jesus with Psalm 22. In this Psalm, David, God’s anointed one, describes the anguish of being harassed and abused by others…

‘All who see me mock me;

they hurl insults, shaking their heads.

“He trusts in the LORD,” they say,

“let the LORD rescue him.

Let him deliver him,

since he delights in him…

 

Dogs surround me,

a pack of villains encircles me;

they pierce my hands and my feet.

All my bones are on display;

people stare and gloat over me.

They divide my clothes among them

and cast lots for my garment.’ (Ps 22:7-18)

The connections with what happens to Jesus are really quite striking aren’t they?

 

And Jesus can see it himself. As he draws near to the end, after hanging on the cross for 6 hours, Jesus cries out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

Those words are taken from the opening line of Psalm 22 – word for word, exactly the same.

‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me,

so far from my cries of anguish?’

They express the reality of Jesus’ pain and suffering – his anguish at being abandoned by God, his loving Father, to die unjustly on the cross. Jesus is identifying, very genuinely, with the anguish of the psalmist.

But in doing so, Jesus is also expressing his faith – his conviction that his suffering is not meaningless and beyond the plans and power of God. He cries out in the words of Psalm 22 because he knows he is mocked and beaten and crucified as the suffering servant of God – the Messiah who would save through sacrifice rather than through power and retaliation. They express pain, but also hope and what is to follow. Psalm 22 moves through terrible anguish and despair, through to hope for the future. Towards the end, we read:

‘You who fear the LORD, praise him!

All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!

Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!

24         For he has not despised or scorned

the suffering of the afflicted one;

he has not hidden his face from him

but has listened to his cry for help…

27         All the ends of the earth

will remember and turn to the LORD

and all the families of the nations

will bow down before him.’

Even in the midst of his anguish, Jesus can see that his death, the mockery and humiliation he is enduring, is part of God’s great plan to redeem his people – people from all nations of the earth. Jesus is suffering as God’s promised King, and he will be vindicated.

 

This IS God’s King in all his glory

And that brings us to what I think is really the key theme of this account – the crowning of Jesus as God’s Messiah in the very midst of his humiliation and death.

You see there’s a double irony in this passage. Mark wants us to see the irony of the sarcastic, ironic worship of Jesus. The Romans think it’s funny, ironically bowing down in homage to this man they have just beaten and placing a crown of thorns on his head to match his purple robe. They think they’re clever putting a sign above a crucified man that says ‘the king of the Jews’ – they can make fun of Jesus and the Jews in one go! And the Jews themselves use titles like ‘Messiah’ and ‘King of Israel’ in scorn. How ridiculous! How could he be the Messiah when he’s there, hanging on the cross?

But the joke is on them. These people speak more truly than they realise. Jesus is the king. He is Lord of all nations. He is about to bring an end to the temple and raise up his own body in three days as a new, eternal meeting place of God and man. The man hanging on the cross has and will save others, and yes, it’s true – to do so, he cannot save himself. Not because he can’t, but because he can’t save others if he chooses to save himself.

And it’s not just that Jesus is the true King despite everything that’s happening to him. He is crowned and exalted because of it – he is the King who saves and rules through his sacrifice. His crown truly is a crown of thorns. He is the promised king of the Jews, not despite hanging on the cross, but because he hangs there, laying down his life for the many. Jesus is the crucified Christ.

And the final irony in the passage is that as Jesus dies, as he breathes his last, the centurion, the Roman commander of soldiers, who has just supervised the crucifixion of Jesus… this man suddenly sees it all. He looks upon Jesus, beaten, mocked, dead… and he exclaims, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

From the beginning of the gospel, Mark has introduced Jesus to us as the Messiah, the Son of God. At a couple of points God has declared from heaven that Jesus is his Son – at his baptism and at his transfiguration on the mountain. Even the unclean spirits have declared the truth. But no human being has called Jesus the Son of God. And now, as Jesus dies on the cross, this roman centurion puts the pieces together for us. It’s not just that Jesus is the Christ – the Messiah – Peter has already come to that conclusion, back in Chapter 8. No, it’s that Jesus Crucified is the Messiah – the promised ‘Son of God’. Jesus is the suffering Son of God.

The enemies of Jesus think they are crushing a pathetic failure. The followers of Jesus, at the time, thought they were witnessing all their hopes coming to nothing. What Mark wants us to see is the Suffering Son of God, crowned as King as he hangs on the cross – fulfilling God’s great plan of salvation.

 

The final outcome of Jesus’ death – a new way is opened up

And that’s the final thing to point out from this account of Jesus’ crucifixion. The final ‘layer’ of the passage is what Jesus’ death achieves for us. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, a new way is opened up for you and me to God. God’s promise of salvation from sin and guilt and suffering and even death itself is realised. We are welcomed back into the presence of God through the death of Jesus.

You might have noticed in the Bible reading that Mark tells us in verse 38, just after Jesus cries out and breathes his last, ‘the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.’

Mark doesn’t tell us why this is important. And it’s not something the people watching Jesus die would have noticed or even understood at the time if they had seen it happen. It certainly would have seemed random and terrifying to those who witnessed it in the temple.

But Mark tells us it happened for a reason. Afterwards – after Jesus himself helped his disciples understand how the Scriptures did in fact testify all along to the necessity of his death and resurrection, after they put the pieces together and began to see God’s saving plan, after they heard the reports that the curtain had been torn at the exact same time that Jesus died… it all made sense. Through the death of Jesus, the barrier between us and God had been done away with. A new and living way had been opened up for us to be in God’s presence again.

 

The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross

Some of you might remember a Children’s book I read in church on Good Friday exactly 5 years ago called ‘the garden, the curtain and the cross.’ It’s a beautiful book, not just because of the amazing illustrations, but because of how it helps us understand what Jesus achieved for us on the cross.

You see, as the book explains, back when Adam and Eve first rebelled against God and unleased the consequences of their sin into the world, they were banished from the garden and angels (cherubim to be precise) stood with flaming swords, blocking the way back to God’s garden and the tree of life. The angels with the swords were a clear message from God: because of your sin, you can’t come in. Sinful people can’t be in the presence of a holy God.

And then when God reached out and rescued the nation of Israel from slavery to belong to him and live as his people, the reality of human sin still preventing them from being in God’s presence. The temple was meant to represent God’s presence, and the possibility of a relationship with God through the sacrifices and offerings. At the heart of the temple, at the very centre, was the holy of holies, where the ark of the covenant was kept, and God’s glory was manifest. But this holy place was covered over with a large curtain, covered in pictures of cherubim with flaming swords. God was saying, because of your sin, you can’t come it.

And that’s what Jesus has dealt with on the cross. Through his death on the cross, Jesus took on our sin – he bore the judgement of God for our sin and wiped away our guilt and our corruption. And so as Jesus died, and our sin was laid on him, the curtain tore from top to bottom – as if God himself was tearing it open – opening the way for us to come into the holy presence of God.

One of Jesus’ followers explains to us later in the letter to the Hebrews, “brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body… let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings.” (Heb. 10:19-22) God has opened the way for us, through the sacrifice of Jesus, so we can draw near to him.

This is, of course, why ‘Good Friday’ is so good. The suffering and abandonment of Jesus was not good in and of itself. It was terrible. But Jesus knew what he was doing. He knew that through his abandonment, we would be brought home. That’s why we remember this day and celebrate it year after year

 

As the followers of Jesus witnessed Jesus being humiliated and crucified – beaten and mocked, they were witnessing Jesus being crowned as God’s King – they were witnessing him triumph over the powers of sin and death by laying down his own life in our place. They were witnessing a new and living way being opened up to each and every one of us who will draw near to God, trusting in the sacrifice of Jesus. . That’s why ‘Good Friday’ is so good.