Handing Over & Leading Away Our King – Mark 15:1-20
Who killed Jesus? This volatile question has a harsh history behind it. Yet, when one sees what God was up to in Jesus’ death and the kind of people immediately involved, the answer is easy: I did, you did, God did.
In preaching through Mark, I recently came to 15:1-20 where we find the deals made to seal Christ’s fate - on the human level. In this section of sacred script - please stop and read it - one encounters four foolish factions that facilitate Christ’s crucifixion.
Brace yourself: an honest study and meditation of the people who plotted the killing of the King will yield at least one group that each of us would fit into nicely. The “they” becomes an ugly “we,” a damning “me.”
Let us be clear about this up front: while Jesus is handed over from group to group and lead away like a lamb to slaughter (vs. 1, 10, 15, 16, 20), He is still in control – of Himself and the situation. This is a cup poured for Him by the Father that He agrees to drink.
Before looking at each group, let us note – not appreciate - the serious, though sick teamwork in this passage. The Jewish Leaders use Pilate while he uses the people. The Crowds use Barabbas as a scapegoat, and the Roman Soldiers use and abuse Jesus. Yet over it all, God uses all of them to bring us salvation (Isaiah 53; Psalm 22).
The first group culpable in Christ’s death in which we might be at home is the jealous Jewish leaders. They jury-rig justice to get Jesus. Using the Roman State via Pilate, they file false accusations against Jesus and stir the crowd to create a lynch mob. Ugly means, but – in their minds- justifiable ends: protecting the people of God.
Paranoid of losing their places of power over God’s people, they gladly chase Christ to the cross, sacrificing Him for control. Tragically, jealous power brokers are still very prominent among God’s people; those who use the By-Laws, false charges, half-truths, slander and mean mobs (congregations) to get their way. This happens from pulpits and pews.
Power truly can – does not have to – corrupt. Threaten some people’s control and it is war. While the Jewish Leaders rendered up Christ, we split up His Body – the church – over lesser issues, in the name of God. To study jealousy’s power, read Proverbs 27:4; 6:34, 35 and Genesis 37.
Pilate, our next conspirator, is shown to be a politician who panders. Read Mark’s account and note how he only asks questions: Are you the king of the Jews? (vs. 2) Aren't you going to answer? (vs. 4) Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews? (vs. 9) What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews? (vs. 12) Why? What crime has he committed? (vs. 14).
When leaders placate or pander, someone always gets hurt. To accept leadership is to strap on a target. It is to invite criticism, second-guessing and bear the weight of tough decisions. To seek to avoid and evade such is to reject the responsibility of a leader.
Those seeking to keep peace at any price do ultimately pay one – often higher than they can imagine or control.
The final commentary on Pilate tells all: “Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them” (vs. 15 - NIV). Though he pondered, Pilate pleased the people with a political punt. Those who “go along to get along” are in close fellowship with Pilate, picking peace over the Prince of Peace.
The next group in Mark 15 sweeps in many of us. Jesus is not the only lamb being lead. How else do you explain the crazed Crowds barbarically begging for Barabbas? The Jewish leaders whip up the masses to bear down on Pilate. Both comply. “Mob think” is an oxymoron.
A few years back, someone raised Christians’ hackles by calling them mindless and easily lead. In truth, to follow Jesus takes counter-cultural courage from one with an awakened, renewed mind. Yet, alas, many of His followers too easily fall behind some leaders with little thought or discernment. Jesus demands that we test the spirits, even if they quote verses.
The last lot we might find company with is the rough and tumble Roman Guards. These base bad boys beat and blaspheme Jesus. Servants of their earthly king, even in this evil, the King of heaven fares badly in their hands. Living in the moment, this gang gives mock allegiance, while battering and spitting on the King.
Giving no thought to Who He was, no consideration for the miracles He had done, they call in the rest of the boys to have a shot at the Savior. His reputation meaningless to them, these sadistic party animals pummel Jesus with glee in game-like fashion.
Heedless hedonists, the savage Soldiers remind us of our own mindless, foolish, reckless living. Doing our own thing, heaven be damned.
Ironically, Jesus taught us to go an extra mile in helping others, even carrying a Soldier’s pack for him that second mile when pressed into service to bear it one. To be fair, these same soldiers pressed Simon into service to carry Jesus’ crossbeam when He no longer could.
Jesus would more than go a second mile in carrying their sins, our sins on His cross. “Father,” He would cry out, “forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” How often is such grievous ignorance true of us?
How we thank God for His sovereign Substitute for such serious sinners (2 Corinthians 5:21). Praise God the King – Jesus - was handed over, lead away and killed in the place of sinners like us: jealous, power hungry, people-pleasers who mindlessly follow others into folly and in our ignorance, abuse others.