Several years ago, I was asked to serve as a character witness in a trial. So I put on a tie and sports jacket and went to the Metro court house. As I waited in the lobby, I felt very uncomfortable. I was surrounded by lawyers and criminals. Some criminals tried to look cleaned up; some of them looking like they’d just been arrested. I didn’t feel like I fit in with them. I had brought my briefcase with me with some work I could do as I waited for our turn. And as I sat there waiting, several people approached me and asked me, “Are you a lawyer?” Evidently I must have appeared to be a lawyer and not a criminal but I still clearly felt out of my element.
Jesus has now been crucified. In this section Mark, talks about the people who are now surrounding Jesus: thieves, common folk and the Jewish leaders. Jesus is out of his element. And the people around him are mocking him, but what I hope we can see today is that within their mocking words are some profound truths for us. Let’s read Mark 15:27-32.
I. Mark describes the thieves in verses 27-28.
The term “rebel” likely refers to those guilty of insurrection. More than likely these men were accused of high treason against the Roman Empire. It may well be that they were seized in the insurrection mentioned in Mark 15:7, were tried and sentenced at the same time as Barabbas. That would explain why there were three crosses prepared. In fact, it may well be that Jesus’ cross was intended for Barabbas. The sinner Barabbas goes free and Jesus ends up paying the price for the sinner’s crime.
The point for Mark is that Jesus is counted as just another sinner. However, Jesus was exactly where he was supposed to be; in the middle of sinners! Jesus had said that he had come to seek and save the lost. He often spent time with sinners during his life. Now as he dies, he is in the midst of them; literally in the center of them.
Once again other Scriptures help us understand more of what is happening. Isaiah 53:12 says that the Messiah would be numbered with sinners. 1 Peter 3:18 says, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” The point for us is that Jesus was counted as a sinner for us. We should have been there and instead Jesus took our place.
Years ago, during the darkness of winter in an Alaskan Eskimo village, a courageous young man might go out into the cold in search of food for his people. Armed only with a spear and his compassion for his starving village, he would wander out, anticipating the attack of a polar bear. A polar bear, having no natural fear of humans, will stalk and eat a person.
II. First there are the casual insults by the passers-by in verses 29-30.
The first ones to mock were those who were there at the Jewish trial the night before. They are referring to the charge against Jesus which stated that he would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. They may have been the court attendants who were there observing the trial. Or perhaps they were people who at least had heard about the trial. Their shaking of heads is a custom that is reflected in Scripture. Psalm 22:7, again in describing the suffering Messiah says, “All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.” In Psalm 109:25, David says, “I am an object of scorn to my accusers; when they see me, they shake their heads.”
They begin by saying, “so,” an exclamation of scornful victory. The challenge for Jesus to rescue himself makes sense in light of a teaching found in the Midrash, a Jewish commentary on the Old Testament and other writings. “Before a man puts his trust in flesh and blood and asks others to save him, let him save himself from death first.” They take their religious teaching and throw it in Jesus’ face. Jesus’ words about the temple must have seemed incredible to them. It took years and years to build the temple. And he would do it in three days!? Impossible! If he is so strong and powerful, he should be able to come down and save himself. If he can save himself, then he will be the one he claims to be. If he stays up on the cross, he is clearly a nobody.
However, by staying on the cross, Jesus shows himself to be the one who can indeed save. The one who seems so helpless now is indeed their Savior Messiah. He is far greater than what the mockers limited sight can see. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, an invention so vital for our lives today; yet he was hard pressed to find a major backer. In 1876, the year he patented the telephone, Bell approached Western Union, then the largest communications company in America, and offered it exclusive rights to the invention for $100,000.
The Jewish leaders had long sought to destroy Jesus and now, having accomplished it in their thinking, they also mock Jesus. The leaders talk about Jesus and not to him; that is how much they hated him. Luke says that they sneered and scoffed at Jesus, but it is very short-sighted. George Bernard Shaw wrote: “We crucified him on a stick, but we have always had a curious feeling that He somehow managed to get hold of the right end of it.”
If Jesus is really who he claimed he is, he could save himself as he had saved others. He claimed to be the Christ, the king of Israel, the precise term for the Messiah. This isn’t a political figure, but the promised Messiah that they are referring to. Obviously Jesus isn’t the Messiah or else he wouldn’t be hanging there. And then they add their final taunt toward Jesus: “Let this Messiah, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” If Jesus would only do this miracle, then they claim that would believe in him. Yet they had seen Jesus heal the sick and the blind; he had even raised the dead! If they will not believe from those, they won’t believe if Jesus came off the cross. This mocking was added to by the others hanging there with Jesus. They viewed him as a poor excuse for a rebel and they mocked him. Still one of them repents later after watching how Jesus handled his suffering.
The truth in these words is once again profound. The mockers say that Jesus had saved others. Mark intends his readers to think of the word “save” in the full Christian sense. These scornful words express a profound truth. If Jesus was to fulfill his mission, he could not save himself. Because Christ desired to save others, he cannot come down from the cross. If he did come down, he would cease to be God’s Messiah. But Jesus did not save himself and as a result we are saved.
IV. So how are we to be serving our King today?
Once again, let’s reflect on the mockery of Jesus. How many people today mock Jesus in the way he was mocked while on the cross? Some, who are passers-by and don’t really understand Christ, mock him. They poke fun at the stories, the miracles and teachings because they don’t really understand it and can’t be bothered with really learning it. This is the type of mockery we often see in television and social media.
Some who do understand mock Jesus as well. Some don’t like the way Jesus demands obedience and commitment and so ignore him so that they can have what they want in their lives. Even some Christians mock Jesus by trying to use him for what they want or to gain more power or wealth for themselves. While Jesus is not mocked directly, he is still mocked by their actions.
And let’s not forget, as we saw a few weeks ago, that we too mock our Lord. We say we will follow and then we go off and do whatever we want. We expect Jesus to fix us, make us feel good and then leave us alone. Let’s hear a call again this morning to not mock Jesus by just going through the motions.
And let’s remember that in the taunting words is a key truth: Jesus did save his people. He hung there in the middle of sinners, in the middle of us. He took our place and saved us. Such amazing love and grace calls for our undivided devotion to him.
And finally, let’s consider the mocking words aimed at him because he didn’t literally destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. Yet as Jesus hangs there, he is doing precisely that for Jesus is the new temple, the new presence of God among his people. Jesus has created a whole new way of coming to the Father. Jesus is the way, truth and life; no one comes to the Father except through him. That means we can come to him with any and all of our needs.
When he arrived in Washington, after having received a furlough from the military to go and plead his case, he went to the White House, and asked to see the president. However, he was told by Lincoln’s staff, “You can’t see the president! Don’t you know there’s a war on? The president’s a very busy man. Now go away, son! Get back out there and fight!”
The boy took the soldier by the hand and led him around to the back of the White House. They went through the back door, past the guards, past all the generals and the high ranking government officials until they got to the president’s office itself. The little boy didn’t even knock on the door but just opened it and walked in.
The question is whether or not we make the most of that amazing opportunity. The temple is now Jesus and he welcomes us all into the very presence of God. Let’s gladly, but humbly, approach God’s throne of grace with all our sins, our weaknesses and our needs. And let’s thank God joyfully for what Jesus has done for us.