We continue our Lenten Journey through Mark 14 and 15 with this fourth sermon starting with Mark 15:1. Preached in the North Peace March 14, 2021.
15 Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.
Luke’s version of this plan-making is much more detailed, it includes the official show trial which could take place now that the sun is in the sky. The real trial, as we discussed last week was conducted illegally through the night, first before Annas and second before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. The theocratic establishment of Judah could not carry out capital punishment, this was part of Rome’s subjugation of them, that Rome got to decide in matters of life and death. All of the stories of stonings, the woman caught in adultery and St Stephen, that’s illegal mob justice. As the new Roman Governor was in the city they could not risk mob justice by going around him. And so they bring Jesus before Pontius Pilate.
2 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate. “You have said so,” Jesus replied. 3 The chief priests accused him of many things. 4 So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.” 5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.
Remember the crime they found him guilty of was blasphemy, claiming that he was the Messiah the Son of the Blessed One. Pilate does not seem to care about this in conducting his trial. His first question is whether Jesus represents a challenge to the Roman authority he represents. So he asks Jesus if he is the King of the Jews. Jesus answered the Sadducees questions about who he was and they condemned their own Messiah. Jesus came to save Israel first, not Rome. God would enlist Israel for this task soon. But for now, before Pilate, Jesus is silent. Many claims were made against Jesus and the chief priests yammer on and on. Pilate wants to hear from Jesus, Pilate asks him to answer the accusations. But the Word of God in the face of Roman power was silent. Pilate was in a precarious political situation. His friends in Rome had fallen out of favour and power, there was no legate in Syria to fall back on, so much depended on his ability to keep order in Jerusalem. This may have been part of how careful and indecisive he was in this situation. Some have called this trial Pilate before Jesus rather than Jesus before Pilate. I think we get more of that in John’s Gospel but there is a truth to this characterization. Pilate beholding the true king of the universe, seeing him silent and submissive, was stunned.
6 Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.
9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, 10 knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him.
There is a tendency in liberation theology to characterize what was happening to Jesus as white European oppressors subjugating people of colour and God taking on that subjugation himself and siding with the oppressed by speaking truth to power and dying because of that power’s inability to hear truth. See how truth is mingled with clear nonsense in this? Jesus is silent when interrogated by Rome and the Roman representative, seeing the injustice of what is being done to him by the chief priests washes his hands of the matter and turns it over to the crowds. Surely the crowds will have mercy on him, they sang Hosannah in the Highest as he entered the town, right?
11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them. 13 “Crucify him!” they shouted. 14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” 15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
It was the Sadduccees, those responsible for the worship of God, for the teaching of righteousness, for the leading of Israel as a people set apart from the world and for God who wanted Jesus dead. God chose them, God elected them from among all the peoples’ of the world to be his inheritance, and he came to them. Rome was willing to let him go to his people, but their hearts were stirred as our hearts are so easily stirred against him. They chose a murderous troublemaker over the spotless lamb. They cried out for Jesus’s death, desperately, in the face of mercy, they cried for his blood. This had nothing to do with justice, it had to do with the madness of crowds, to the dissolution of the one into the senseless lust of the many. Be careful of crowds and hysteria that you may not lose yourself in one and be stirred to evil. But even over this turn, God reigned, even over this turn God was preparing a home for his chosen people.
16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
Pilate did not live in the governor’s home in Jerusalem, so this home was more of a military fort in the midst of Jerusalem. There Jesus was dressed by the soldiers as a king in purple. There a painful crown was placed on his head. There he was mockingly called the King of the Jews. Little did they know that this is the image of a King of the Jews. God chose David a shepherd to protect and serve his sheep. God proclaimed in Isaiah and Jeremiah the coming suffering servant who would fulfill God’s promise to reign over Israel forever, one who would suffer and serve. This little show the soldiers cruelly did to entertain themselves. Yet they proclaimed who God came to be. One of the main reasons that Christians emphasize the fact that all of this happened under Pontius Pilate is because it is a fact. It is evident to our natural reason. This was a public event as part of a public ministry evident to many. When the gospels were written they brought together stories and writings from many independent witnesses. God intervened in hisory and Pilate is a well known historical individual that we can point to and learn about from sources outside of the gospels. What’s more it gives us a when, a moment, upon which all history and all eternity pivot.
21 A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.
Here we see the weakness of Jesus, who took upon the frailness of our flesh. This is the part that liberation theology gets right, though they err in the ways they marry it to neo-marxism and racial identity, they miss that it is Israel the people who Jesus came for that reject him and call for his death out of religious piety. Jesus takes on our weakness, knows our powerlessness, suffers our suffering and bears it with us. We are not alone in our suffering and our fate is in the hands of one who knows what suffering is. Simon is needed to carry the cross, Cyrene is far away from Jerusalem in modern Lybia. Some think he became part of the church later in life which is why his name is remembered, or perhaps he was just another witness to what took place. But we do know that Jesus was too weak to carry the cross for himself, for he bore our weakness in his body. This is the image of God. Behold the weak, exhausted, bleeding, mocked, silent lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
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