“What a baby!” “You are such a klutz!” “You’re a loser!” More than likely we have been the recipient of such mocking taunts at one point or another. I remember being mocked for the size of my feet when I was a young. We have all been mocked to a certain degree and so in one sense we can empathize with Jesus when he is mocked. Moreover, because Jesus was mocked, he now can empathize with us because he understands what it is like to be mocked.
However, there is the flip side that I would like us to consider this morning: the ones who mock. We read the brutal words and actions of the soldiers and we think they are horrible. And yet we too can probably think of times when we were the ones who mocked. I remember the time when I was in grade school when I joined a group of kids surrounding an unpopular girl who had the misfortune of dropping her books and we mocked her horribly. I remember that now to my shame. More than likely we too know what it is like to mock.
But we would never mock our Lord as these soldiers are doing! Or would we? We want to look at the mocking this morning and ask ourselves some hard questions. Do we mock the triumphant King Jesus today on Palm Sunday? Let’s read Mark 15:16-20.
I. Now before the grisly death sentence is carried out, Jesus is mocked by the soldiers.
These mercenary soldiers were likely from the regions of Palestine and had come with Pilate from Caesarea to Jerusalem to help maintain order during the celebration of the Passover. There had been skirmishes before between these soldiers and Jewish Zealots. These soldiers had no sympathy for the Jews’ independence movement. They may have resented having to be in this tense festival setting. Thus they would have no sympathy with one said to be the King of these Jews. Moreover, since they were from this region, it is possible that they had a long history with the Jews and had come to hate the Jewish people. It may have been a hatred that they had nourished for a long time.
A man lay on his deathbed, afraid to die because he still harbored hatred against another man. He sent for the individual with whom he had had a huge disagreement years before and proposed that they now make peace. The two of them shook hands in friendship. But as the visitor left the room, the sick man roused himself and said, "But remember, if I get over this, the old quarrel stands."
The grudges these soldiers had were more than just petty differences and rivalries regarding the Jews; these hard feelings had lingered for years. Now was their chance for revenge for they had in their hands the “King of the Jews.” They had some time to pass before the execution could be carried out and chose to pass it by mocking Jesus.
After all, a king needs to have a robe, a crown and a scepter.
The robe may have been an old discarded robe that a Roman soldier would wear. It was supposed to be purple for royalty but it was a faded mockery of royalty. The crown they gave Jesus was woven out of a nearby thorn bush. Caesar wore a wreath for a crown which was a symbol of divinity. Although not likely intended to inflict torture, it still must have hurt as the thorns dug into Jesus’ head. The other gospels tell us that they also gave Jesus a staff because a King needs to have a scepter as well. It would be the stick they would use to beat him with.
And so here is Jesus, the Son of God, dressed as a shabby and beaten king. The soldiers must have loved making fun of this “Jewish king.” This “king” is merely a buffoon and not to be taken seriously.
But the fact is that Jesus is indeed King! The robe, while faded, reflects the truth: Jesus is King! It reflects the fact that the Son of God as King set aside the glories of heaven due him in order to take on the sins of the world. And that is portrayed graphically in the crown of thorns. In Genesis 3:18 we read that as part of the curse, the ground is said to produce thorns and thistles as a result of Adam’s fall. The soldiers didn’t know that but in wearing the crown, Jesus was showing how he was about to bear the curse for sin. And the thing we must always remember is that we were the cause of that curse.
In his painting Raising the Cross, Rembrandt inserts himself in the historical event of raising the cross of Jesus as one who helped crucify Jesus. One figure stands there royally dressed apparently giving approval of the soldiers’ actions as the cross is being raised. Even more gripping is the portrayal of himself as actually lifting the cross himself, thus crucifying Jesus himself. In those two characters, Rembrandt portrays very vividly that he was there as well and was responsible for putting Jesus on the cross. Jesus indeed took the curse for all the sins of the world, ours included, on him.
III. Once Jesus is appropriately clothed, the mocking begins in earnest.
And they greeted him as they would greet a king: “Hail, king of the Jews!” This was a variation of the greeting given to Caesar: “Hail Caesar, victor!” This is how you greet a king and Jesus is a king right? They then hit him with his scepter. Up to this point, their aim had been mockery, but the beating is sheer brutality. They wanted to hurt him as well as humiliate him. The spitting may have been a parody on the kiss of homage common in the East. Only instead of kissing his cheek, they spit on his face. They bow before him in mock adoration.
Behind this brutal mockery are some important truths. First all this fulfills the Scriptures about the coming Messiah. Psalm 22:6-7: “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.”
Again, Isaiah 53 shows the suffering of the Messiah. Verse 3 - “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Verse 5 - “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Verse 8 - “By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.”
Knowing that he was the Messiah gave Jesus the endurance to press on in his mission. He did all this because he knew he was accomplishing the work the Father had given him to do. Moreover, while we may shudder at what these soldiers are doing, they are in fact ignorant of what they are doing. Jesus said it himself when he asked God the Father to forgive them for they didn’t know what they were doing. They were mocking God himself and they didn’t even realize it.
IV. Finally, after they have had their time of fun, they went on with their grisly job.
They took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Normally at this point, the man would have to carry the cross naked and would have been whipped as he struggled along. But because Jesus had been flogged already, this was not done to him. Moreover, if Jesus had been beaten again, he may well have died from the blows. Now he is given over to the execution squad which consisted of 4 soldiers under the command of a centurion and led out to be crucified.
As we picture Jesus mocked and beaten, let’s ask if we too mock Jesus today. Certainly we wouldn’t do it as blatantly as these soldiers did. We understand fully who Jesus is and all that he did. And yet we also can mock our Lord even though we know him. The soldiers mocked Jesus because they didn’t take him seriously. We too often mock Jesus as well by not taking him seriously.
We say, “Yes, Jesus, you are Lord of my life! But I’ll do what I want to do with my life.” We do what is good for us first and foremost because we think we are first.
We say, “Jesus, you are King as long as your kingship over me is limited to Sundays.” As long as I’m free to pursue whatever I want the rest of the week. “Yes, Lord, you are king, but my money is mine and I’ll do with it what I want.”
We say, “Yes, Jesus, I am one of your disciples; I am a Christian!” Yet the way we live sometimes makes a mockery of the name we bear as Christians. We lose our temper; we argue or hurt others by gossiping about them.
We say, “Yes, Jesus you are my Lord and Savior, but I don’t have time for you. I don’t have time to learn more of what you want by reading the Bible. I don’t pray enough to have a meaningful relationship with you.”
We mock Jesus as well because we often don’t take him seriously in our lives. So what do we do? How can we take Jesus seriously in our lives? First, let’s never forget that Jesus died for you and for me. As one song says, Jesus’ death “demands my soul, my life, my all.” Second, let’s confess that we don’t take Jesus seriously enough in our lives. Third, let’s change whatever needs to be changed in order to take Christ as King seriously.
After applying for a marriage license, a man in Detroit, Michigan, failed to reappear at the county clerk's office until 11 years later to claim the important document. When asked why he and his fiancée had waited so long to get married, he explained, "We had a few disagreements about details." Think of it! Letting years pass by just because of an unwillingness to yield on small points of difference! Foolish? Of course, but how many believers waste precious time by refusing to let the Lord Jesus arrange and govern the details of their lives!
If we aren’t taking Jesus seriously, then we had better change things so we start taking him seriously again! We don’t do that with more learning, although learning more is a good thing. We do it by changing our spiritual discipline habits day by day so that gradually we are thinking of our Lord more and more.
You see, the story of Jesus doesn’t end here. It ends up at the resurrection where Jesus is crowned Lord and King. It will eventually end up at the second coming when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord! It is that Lord and king that we worship and live for today. Are we taking our King seriously?