Mockery and Crucifixion

 The soldiers led him away into the palace (that is, the governor’s residence) and called the whole company together. They dressed him in a purple robe, twisted together a crown of thorns, and put it on him. And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They were hitting him on the head with a stick and spitting on him. Getting down on their knees, they were paying him homage.

 After they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple robe and put his clothes on him. They led him out to crucify him. (Mark 15:16–20 CSB17)

  • Dressed in purple robes
  • A crown of thorns
  • “Hail, King of the Jews!”
  • Struck on the head
  • Spit upon
  • Paid facetious homage
  • Mocked
  • Crucified

I can barely read through this description of Jesus’ path to crucifixion, so intense is it both in its physical description and emotional and spiritual mockery.  Has ever in history mockery been so mistaken and foolish?

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And he [Pilate] answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. (Mark 15:9–10 ESV)

Mark paints an interesting picture of the interaction between Christ and Pilate as the governor of the province interrogates Jesus.  What is Mark’s purpose here as we see the interaction between the pair?  Was Mark’s concern merely to recount the facts as he understood them?  Yes…and no.

Mark’s clear purpose as he writes about Jesus before Pilate is to make sure his readers (us!) understand that Jesus was innocent of all charges.  We can be sure of this because Mark inserts a comment into his narrative so that we do not miss it. His comment is in vs. 10: For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. 

The charges against him, as Pilate understood, and as his accusers understood, and as we clearly understand when we read Mark’s version of the encounter, were false and brought only because of envy.

One person defines envy as an emotion that “occurs when a person lacks another’s superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it.” This was certainly true in the case of Jesus and the Jewish authorities, but the envy went even deeper than that because they understood that not only did his faithful ministry expose their own self-interest, but he was implying, indeed even stating that they were the exact opposite of what they claimed to be! In addition, because of their spiritual blindness, they could not see nor comprehend, that he was the Messiah.

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“And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”” (Mark 14:27–28 ESV)

Surely the disciples must have been shocked at Jesus’ words to them.  They had been with him for three years, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  He was their rabbi.  They had imbibed his teaching, believed that he was the Son of God, and given their lives to him.  They were committed!

You will all fall away. Ouch!  Did Jesus not see their commitment, their sacrifice?  Did he not see their devotion to him? Hadn’t they left all and followed him? And they were all going to fall away?  And this was prophesied beforehand?  Surely not!

But then, in the space of just a few hours and before a mob of soldiers this: “And they all left him and fled.” (Mark 14:50 ESV) Five words in the Greek, and everything Jesus had told them came true.  They had all fallen away.

What must they have felt like in the aftermath of running away?  Discouragement?  Depression?  Failure? Surely they remembered their vows to stick with him no matter what, and then…

What was it Jesus had said after he claimed they would all fall away?  There was something else, something about Galilee.  After I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee. With the recollection of these words: hope!

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“And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.””  (Mark 14:41–42 ESV)

It’s tempting to read through Mark’s account of the betrayal and arrest of Jesus in Mark as Mark’s best understanding of the events that came to pass in the order in which they happened, in other words, Mark’s only goal is to write down what happened.  This would be a mistake, because this isn’t his only goal.  Mark (along with the other gospel authors) is trying to shape our understanding of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest in order to communicate and teach us something.

The NIV Application Commentary for Mark [if memory serves] lists three things that Mark is communicating in this passage from Gethsemane:


  1. We see the sovereignty of God in the betrayal and arrest of Jesus, indeed we see Scripture fulfilled. Mark’s purpose was not just to recount events, but to set them down in such a way, that the reader understands that Jesus’ betrayal and arrest had been prophesied before in the Scriptures and this was what God had planned all along.
  2. We see the frailty and weakness of even the best of human intentions! Isn’t this the truth, and it is one good reason that we believe in the inspiration and veracity of the biblical books.  If you were writing about these events and you fell asleep repeatedly on Jesus, would you tell everyone you did?  The only way Mark would know what happened to Peter, James, and John, was if one of them (or one of the other apostles) told him.  Indeed, church tradition tells us that Mark wrote his gospel at the behest of Peter himself, so in all likelihood, he got this event straight from Peter!

    These guys were committed followers of Jesus, but they were human and fatigued and literally could not stay awake.  Let him who is without sin here cast the first stone.  Which one of us has served Jesus perfectly without failure?  Who hasn’t let their own unbiblical actions and attitudes affect their walk with Jesus?  Who has failed to live up to what they say the believe?  Me, for starters, dear readers, me.

  3. We begin to see the physical and spiritual cost of God laying on Jesus his wrath at our sins. Can anyone read through the accounts of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion without cringing at the sheer horror of the physical torture?  Any in-depth description of the Roman customs here is barely readable and shocking. Jesus went through this…for us. God’s wrath.  On His Son.  In our place.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Those Sleeping Sheep

“Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will fall away, because it is written:   I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” (Mark 14:27 CSB17)

I’m working on Mark 14.27-52, and we see Mark describe the events surrounding Jesus’ betrayal and arrest.  As I worked on this passage, I gradually settled on a structure like this:

A Betrayal in Three Acts:

  1. Peter (and the others) Promise not to Abandon Jesus
  2. In Gethsemane
  3. Betrayal and Arrest

It’s not a bad structure, right?  It gets the point across, but does lack a little zest and verve. Then I came across the following structure from St. Helen’s Bishopsgate, in London [Dick Lucas, an A-1 biblical expositor used to be the pastor there]:

1.The shepherd will be struck and the sheep will be scattered
2. The shepherd prays and the sheep sleep
3. The shepherd begins to be struck and the sheep begin to scatter

It has a little more zing, then my structure has, don’t you think?  I once attended a preaching class by the late Stephen Olford, and someone asked him, “is it okay to use someone else’s structure in your sermon?”

I thought Mr. Olford’s answer was quite wise.  He said something like: If you find a structure that someone uses for a passage and you don’t think you can improve upon it, then sure, why not use that structure [he was not advocating using someone else’s sermon, just the way the sermon was organized].

So following Mr. Oldford’s wise advice, if I was preaching on this passage, I would definitely use St. Helens Bishopsgate’s structure.  It is excellent!


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An Evident Fact

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ (Mark 14:26–27, ESV)

Mark recounts the next act in Jesus’ inevitable path towards the cross: the events in Gethsemane.

I find it helpful sometimes to look up the meaning of conjunctions because they shed light on the text that it’s easy to miss.  In this case the little adverbial conjunction which the ESV translates for.  Jesus declares that all of his disciples will fall away for it is written… That little word for is the greek word ὅτι and the Louw-Nida dictionary defines ὅτι as a marker of cause or reason, based on an evident fact.

Think about that for a minute because it is very important.  Jesus points out that all of his disciples would abandon him at the very moment of his greatest need based on the evident fact that it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ He quotes from Zechariah 13.7 here. [don’t miss the fact that Jesus had Zechariah at the tip of his tongue to quote without any help from a manuscript!  He KNEW the scriptures.] The disciples would fall away because the scriptures had prophesied that they would fall away and that is an evident fact. The scriptures [which to Jesus meant the Old Testament] when they spoke, spoke truthfully.

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary comments here: “The quotation is from Zechariah 13:7 and clearly indicates that the death of Jesus is the result of the action of God and that it results in the scattering of the sheep. The prediction was fulfilled.” 

We have a choice here when it comes to the scriptures. We can either believe with Jesus that when the scriptures speak, they are speaking truly, or we can choose something else.  I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I’ll side with how Jesus handled the scriptures.

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The Anointing of Jesus

While He was in Bethany at the house of Simon who had a serious skin disease, as He was reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of pure and expensive fragrant oil of nard. She broke the jar and poured it on His head. (Mark 14:3, HCSB)

Mark doesn’t name this woman, but John tells us that it was Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, the man whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  She took a very expensive perfume—worth almost a year’s wages to a working man—broke the bottle it was in and poured it over his head and body.  It was such a volume of perfume that it reached all the way to his feet, and Mary wiped his feet with her hair.  It was an extraordinary moment.

Judas the betrayer [we know from the passage in John] is NOT HAPPY with this waste of money! “Why didn’t she sell that expensive perfume and give it to the poor?” He asks. Now, if we didn’t know any better we would think at this moment that Judas Iscariot is the chief disciple.  He has been listening to Jesus; Jesus’ teaching has entered his heart and he has compassion for the poor.  What a great guy!

John explains for us: “He didn’t say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the money-bag and would steal part of what was put in it.” (John 12:6, HCSB) Ouch.  Chief disciple award, revoked!

Back to Mary because I want to think about her for a moment.  Why did she anoint Jesus?  None of the gospel accounts tells us why she anointed him.  We do know that anointing was a common cultural habit.  The NIV Application Commentary on Mark says: “Anointing was common at feasts in the ancient world. Is she extending to him customary courtesy with uncustomary extravagance?” We obviously cannot know for sure, because no one explains.  However, Richard Lenski raises an interesting possibility.  He comments: “Jesus had again and again announced his death by violence, by crucifixion at the hands of the Gentiles. What if the disciples failed to grasp just what Jesus meant? Why should not one heart at least realize that Jesus meant exactly what he said? The character of this woman is such that it ought not to surprise us so much that, where dull-witted men failed, she saw that Jesus was now going straight to his death-by crucifixion as he had said.”

Perhaps when Jesus replied to the disciples who were indignant at the perceived waste of money and said she has anointed my body in advance for burial (vs. 8), he meant that Mary was the only one who actually took to heart what he had said repeatedly about having to die.  We cannot know for sure, but it is an intriguing possibility.

What we do know from the accounts of this incident is that Mary did not defend her actions to the disciples. Lenski writes: “Mary herself is silent and offers no defense. We learn from her that it is not always necessary to defend ourselves-our good actions speak for themselves, and the only thing essential is that Jesus approves them.”

It’s also amazing to me that Jesus makes this weird comment at that moment: “I assure you: Wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her.”” (Mark 14:9, HCSB) Huh?  What?

Amazingly, here I am at Clairmont Coffee in St. John’s, Michigan, fulfilling that exact prophecy as I drink excellent coffee and eat donuts from Cops and Donuts [Side note:  Great coffee shop.  Highest Recommendation.  Great people.] I’m not the only one either.  We’ve been talking about what Mary did since almost the moment that she did it 2000 years ago.  Chrysostom, who died in 407 AD, writes: “The Persians, the Indians, Scythians, Thracians, Samaratians, the race of the Moors and the inhabitants of the British isles celebrate a deed, performed in a private family in Judea by a woman who had been a sinner.”

Indeed, Mr. Chrysostom, they certainly do.  And they do in St. Johns, Michigan also.

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