Dear Radio Friends,
As we proceed today in Mark’s narrative of our Lord’s suffering, in chapter 15, we come to the mockery of Jesus at the hands of the Roman soldiers — something that can only be described as sadistic brutality and shameful mockery. If this had been done to a man like unto ourselves, it would fill our minds with horror and compassion. But when we reflect on the truth that this is the eternal Son of God, we are lost in amazement that He would subject Himself to this. Why did He do it? Because voluntarily, out of grace alone, He was given of the Father to deliver His children from hell. Then we can see the Scriptures: Ephesians 3:19, “the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge”; Romans 5:8, “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” The Lord knew that all of this would come to Him. He had predicted it. In Mark 10 He had set His face to go to Jerusalem and the disciples were amazed at the determination that oozed from every pore of our Lord. We read in verses 33 and 34 that the Lord said, “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; … and they shall mock (me), and shall scourge (me), and shall spit upon (me), and shall kill (me): and the third day (I) shall rise again (from the dead).”
Now all of these words are being fulfilled, for Pilate has delivered Him over to be crucified and has released Barabbas unto them and has had Jesus cruelly scourged. He hands Him over to the soldiers who will make cruel mockery of our Lord and will have devilish sport — for an extended period of time, until their evil is satiated.
There are two things that we must bear in mind as we enter into the soldiers’ hall, the praetorium, and see our Lord cruelly mocked by the soldiers. First of all, this passage calls for secret, private meditation and not fancy words. Ask yourself, as the details are expounded in simple words, Why is this? Why does the Son of God submit to this? And know the answer: That we, vile as we are, might have honor and eternal life.
Secondly, bear in mind that in this part of the narrative the Holy Spirit uses what is called the historic present — the tense of the verb. The Holy Spirit does not relate this as a past event but relates it in the present because the Spirit would have us place ourselves in the actual situation. There is a song that asks the question: Were you there when they crucified my Lord? — when they mocked and taunted my Lord? — when they spit upon my Lord? — when they pressed the crown of thorns upon my Lord? Sometimes it causes me to tremble! On the pages of the Holy Scriptures (not a novel, not a magazine story, not live coverage of CNN) we answer, Yes, I was there when they spat upon my Lord. I was there — when the Scriptures were opened and the Holy Spirit impressed the gospel on my heart.
In Mark 15:16 we read, “And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band.” The soldiers are specifically mentioned in this point of the narrative. Up to this point the chief priests, Pilate, the mob have been dealing with Jesus. Now He is given over to the soldiers and they become the ones who inflict suffering upon our Lord.
The soldiers, or at least a contingent of them, had been present throughout the night. They had been delegated by the chief priests to make His arrest. They had stood guard while the city was astir. They had assembled around Pilate. They had transported Jesus to Herod. And now, as Jesus has been sentenced and scourged, He is delivered over to the soldiers, to the Praetorium. This refers to the military compound of the Roman government in the city of Jerusalem — the headquarters of the Roman garrison — the buildings and the soldiers barracks — the soldiers’ hall.
These soldiers were part of the Roman legions of Julius Caesar. They were not necessarily all Romans. They were often men who had enlisted from the very regions or nations that Rome had conquered. And we read that they “call together the whole band,” or cohort, which is one tenth of a legion — 600 men, a garrison that had been stationed in Jerusalem — most likely not all of them, but as many as were on duty in Jerusalem during the feast of the Passover.
We remember that a squad of them had just scourged Jesus. Evidently they called now their buddies and they bring Him into their hall to have some fun, some sport — these pagan soldiers, hardened, cruel men, away from their wives and families and in an occupied land. And they are urged to follow their own passions.
Into the hall they lead Him. They lead Him with His back now laid open, His face swollen. Yes, they lead Him. But remember, He takes each step willingly. For earlier in the night, on Thursday evening, He had caused perhaps some of these very soldiers to fall backward as dead men by simply speaking His word. This is the Lord of glory. This is heaven’s loved One. This is the One who commands the legions of angels. This is the One who goes nowhere unless He willingly walks the path Himself. The Captain of the Lord’s host, God’s Son in the flesh, now enters into the soldiers’ hall to be ridiculed.
Why does He do this? The answer of the Scriptures is: so that we might be received into courts of glory, so that we might be made citizens of an eternal kingdom, so that we might receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away, so that all of our shame may be wiped away in His suffering and we be given life eternal.
The mockery that took place in the soldiers’ hall may be divided into a few categories.
There is, first of all, the mock coronation. You know what a coronation is — when a prince or princess is clothed in royal garments and has a crown placed upon the head and a scepter entrusted to the hand. So we read of a mock coronation that took place within the soldiers’ hall. “And they clothed him with purple.” Our Lord’s own clothes had been placed back on His body. His flesh now was torn. Instead now, they take off His clothes and they place upon Him purple, or a scarlet robe. Purple and scarlet were the colors of royalty, the kingly attire. They are placed upon Him and they begin to mock Him. We must not think that these garments, this purple robe, was some soft velvet. But we must think of that which is rough and woolen — most likely a smelly, faded garment — the outer cloak of a Roman soldier — something that would brush against His wounds and inflict yet more agony upon Him.
Then we read that they “plaited a crown of thorns, and put it about his head.” The crown is a symbol of kingship. In Rome it was often the laurel, woven olive branches. But, for Him, it was a crown of thorns. Botanists tell us that there were an unusual number of thorny plants growing in that region — long-needled barbs. The soldiers weave these thorns together and then, probably with their gauntlets (gloves), they take this crown of thorns and shove it down upon His head. Imagine, most likely He is forced to kneel, as a knight about to be honored, and one of the soldiers pushes this crown down upon His head.
Then we read in Matthew 27:29, “And a reed (they placed) in his right hand.” Mark says in chapter 15:19, “And they smote him on the head with a reed.” They put in His right hand a mock scepter, a reed, some twig, some branch — perhaps lopped off by a sword — perhaps a broken handle of a broom so that the picture is complete. He is robed, He is crowned, and He is given His mock scepter.
And they ridicule Him.
The next stage was the mock homage, or adoration. We read in verse 18, “And (they) began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews!” Salute, or the Roman greeting, the fist over the heart, the token of respect to Caesar, of one ruling the Senate. “Hail, King of the Jews!” When all of the people would line up on the streets and they would shout out, “Hail, Caesar.” Loyal subjects greeting their conqueror — now with mockery: “Hail, King of the Jews.” And notice that it was especially the kingly office of Christ that is ridiculed in contempt.
Then there is also the physical abuse: “And they smote him on the head with a reed, and did spit upon him, and bowing their knees worshipped him.” They smote with a reed. We get the picture that they have taken His pretended scepter out of His hand and smote Him on the head. And our Lord remains silent. Then they spit upon Him. Spitting in the face — a universal symbol in all lands of utter contempt. They sneer. They curl their lips, they roll their eyes in ridicule. Perhaps they come forward in mock devotion — as if they are ready to give Him a kiss upon the cheek or forehead — and instead they spit upon Him and rap Him on the head with the reed. And they bowed their knees and they worshiped Him. They prostrate themselves. With their forehead to the ground, on bended knee, they go through the whole charade of worship, raising their hands and bowing down.
We get the picture. His garments are stripped, His torn flesh exposed. He stands naked before them. He is clothed with a rough cloak of purple. He is crowned with thorns and a reed thrust into His hands and a liturgy of worship, cruel worship, each one coming forward to spit in His face, to buffet His head with the reed. And then bowing down in mock worship with all of their glee and mirth.
Then, when it is finished, when all of the abuse, when all the cruelty and all the contempt had at last spilled out of them and their sides ached with their mirth and their stomach was satiated with all of their fun, they again pull off the rough garment and put His own clothes back upon Him and lead Him out of their hall, dropping on His shoulders the cross and a noose around His neck and lead Him away to be crucified.
What is this saying to us? What response does it provoke within you?
Does it provoke anger? Do you say, “If I could somehow get my hands on these guys!” Does it provoke total disgust at the brutality? Does it provoke only human compassion that you really do not want to think about what was happening to Him?
I believe the application is first of all this. We must behold the glory of our suffering Savior. Remember, all of it He consciously, willingly endures in obedience to His heavenly Father who had willed the very path of His suffering and every detail of that suffering and had willed that suffering in love for us. Do you see His glory? He is glorious! He is glorious to those children of God who see Him as the Savior, given of God for their sins. The glory of God’s eternal grace and mercy and love. Do you see it?
He is silent. Isaiah 53:7 emphasizes His majestic silence in the midst of intense suffering. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.” The sheep is sheared, everything is taken. He is naked and exposed. Yet He is silent. This is the One who spoke worlds into being. This is the One who continues at that very moment to hold the entire world in its existence. In Him all things consist. He is before all things. And it was because of Him that not one of the stars failed to shine. This is the One who speaks and all happens. And He is the One who could have spoken one word and judgment would have fallen upon them. But He is silent. He is bound in obedience to the Father. He is bound in the chains, the wonderful chains, of eternal love for His children. Do you see Him? He is strong in faith. He knew all of these things. He did not hide His face from the spittle. He saw it coming. The human reflex was to turn aside, to save face. But He did not turn His face from the spitting.
Do you believe that you have been humiliated? Do you believe that you have been covered in shame? Behold your Lord!
Do you see His love? Having loved His own, John 13:1, He loved them even to the end. All of this abuse reflects the truth that He loved the people of God given to Him of the Father. He loved the likes of you and of me — depraved, cruel, heartless sinners. We see the glory of the suffering Savior.
But secondly, in all of this, we see His real work. For all of this is but preliminary. This is but faint scratchings of the real work of the cross when He is humbled under the deepest reproach and pains of hell. This is a picture of the fact that Jesus Christ came that He might be afflicted with our sin. The hell that our sins deserve, those cheap, filthy, self-centered sins, that awful, wretched pride that is ours, He takes upon Himself that He might bear the just wrath of God against them and make us innocent before the Father.
The thorns that are placed upon His head, that crown of thorns, is a symbol of the curse due to us for our sin. It declares to us the gospel that Christ is made accursed for us, that He will bear the penalty of a broken law, and that what our sins deserve will be brought upon Him. That robe means that He will take upon Himself our garments so that in His suffering He might weave for us robes of eternal righteousness. That scepter — oh, they do not see it, but this is the One who holds the scepter. In His kingly power He will fight all of our enemies of sin and He will rout them. And the spit — we deserve utter reproach. We deserve utter condemnation. We deserve absolute contempt. But He took all of that upon Himself.
Are you ashamed of your sin? I am not asking right now, Do you know your sin? Do you confess your sin? Do you see your sin? I am asking, Are you ashamed of your sin? He took the shame. He took the spit. The spit went into His face. He bore the shame so that you could lift up your face to God.
How do you respond? You were there. The soldiers do your work. They act out our sin. This is what you and your sin would do to Him. This is the reality of our sin, our contempt, our scorn, our ridicule, our despising of God’s Christ. How do you respond? You must. You must respond. You shall either be condemned before this Jesus or saved. By the grace of God we respond: Lord, for me, for my sin, for my shame — He came under all of that for me! He is my Savior.
Then we confess in the gospel that Jesus Christ was mocked in order that we might praise God eternally. Let that praise begin now.
Father in heaven, we pray for Thy blessing once again upon Thy Word. We love Thy Word. And we worship Thee for Thy sovereign grace. Give us, O Lord, to know the Savior Jesus Christ, to turn from our sins. And we thank Thee, O Lord, for Thy saving grace in Him. In Jesus’ name, Amen.