As we prepare to look at this passage in Mark 15, I want to emphasize two opportunities before us. The first one is the baptism service coming up in a few weeks, November 14. When we repent and believe in Jesus, one of the first calls we receive from Christ is the call to baptism. Baptism is the public picture of the private miracle that God works in our hearts in salvation. So, if you have trusted Jesus, or if today God has brought you here to repent and believe this morning … as we open the Word, you feel Christ calling you to himself, and you repent of your sin and believe in Jesus, we want to encourage you to take this important step of baptism. The first class is going on right now, so you would probably be late. The second class, which I would recommend, is next Sunday. I’m teaching a class at 6:30 in D102, and you can register for that online. And if you have questions about baptism, that class is the place to begin to take this important step and to prepare.
Second opportunity is due to COVID and the year delay, putting off our Israel trip, we are now trying to do the trip to Israel. My wife and I are going to lead a trip coming up in February. And because Israel is now requiring vaccination to get into the country, we’ve had people, because of the delay and because of the requirements, drop out. So, there are spaces, and if you want to know more about that or consider signing up for that, you can email our friend Tim Nyce. There’s his email. He runs Pilgrim Tours, and he can get you all the information. And if you have interest, you have to act quickly because the spots will fill, and we have to decide this week on an amount of people.
Two of the most important questions that any of us will ever answer are 1) “Who is Jesus?” and 2) “Why did he come?” The Gospel of Mark is basically outlined around these two questions. Mark 1-8, “Who is Jesus?” And then Mark 8-16, “Why did he come? What did he come to do?” Mark 8:31 is the hinge. We talked about this months ago.
So, as we near the end of Mark, this second question, “Why did Jesus come?” which has many answers, narrows, and we want to answer that more specifically. Why specifically did Jesus go to Jerusalem, not just come to earth, but why did he go to Jerusalem? Did he go to heal the sick? Feed the hungry? Unite the divided? Build hospitals? Get homes for the homeless? Speak truth to power? Teach a different way of living? No, no, no, no, no, no. He didn’t do any of those things. He didn’t go to Jerusalem for any of those things. All those other, hear me, all those reasons are really good, even vital things. But they all flow out of the one reason he went to Jerusalem, and that is to die. To die. And rise. So, if this was the primary purpose of going to Jerusalem, why today are we so ashamed of that?
Mark and Jim … Mark, real name. Jim, fake name, real person. Two pastors, real conversation. They were eating in a restaurant. They pastor two of the largest churches in Canada, huge churches. Jim asked Mark for some honest critique. If you know Mark, that’s a scary thing to do. Mark said this:
“I’ve been listening to your church’s sermons online for three years, and you never talk about sin, hell, or the wrath of God. You never talk about the cross or call people to repent of their sin and believe in the crucified and risen Jesus. Why is that?”
Jim laughed and said,
“Because no one wants to hear that stuff anymore — so why drive them away? At least we are talking about Jesus! We try to come at people with a fresh angle, because no one wants to hear about a bloodied guy on a cross being punished by his father like some divine cosmic child abuse. No one wants to hear about the wrath of God as if God is angry. We preach about following Jesus instead.”
And at this point, Mark was thinking about the words of Martin Lloyd-Jones, medical doctor turned pastor, who said this:
“There are many who preach about the Lord Jesus to no effect. And we can see why. They have no doctrine of sin; they never convict or convince people of sin. They always hold Christ up before men and say that that is enough. But it is not enough: for the effect of sin upon us is such that we will never fly to Christ until we realize that we are poor and helpless.”
Now, what does Lloyd-Jones, writing those words in one of the richest nations in the world, mean by “poor and helpless”? What he means is everything we try to do to fix ourselves and our world apart from the cross is futile ultimately. We are poor and helpless.
So, then Mark asked Jim to explain what he thinks the gospel is. And Jim said this:
“The gospel is his kingdom, discipleship, joining God’s program, and the redemption and renewal of creation.”
And Mark said,
“That’s not the gospel.”
Now, notice. Pretty much, except maybe one word, all of those are biblical ideas. None of them are heretical. They’re all good things that God is calling us into. But none of them gets close to answering why Jesus went to Jerusalem. Look at them again:
“The gospel is his kingdom, discipleship, joining God’s program, redemption and renewal of creation.”
Let’s just take one, the first one, for example: the gospel is his kingdom. What is gospel? Good news. So, the good news is his kingdom. Is it? Is it good news that Christ is the King of kings and Lord of a kingdom? It isn’t good news in and of itself. Why? Because the Bible says we are sinners, and we are not going to get into his kingdom.
Let me just show you a couple examples: Galatians 5:19 .. and the Bible gets real specific here in case we don’t understand what sin is. Galatians 5:19,
“Now the works of the flesh are [obvious] … they’re evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.”
So, do you see the Bible is really specific? And he includes “bar sins” and “church sins,” everything from orgies to envy, religious kinds of sins and irreligious kinds of sins. It’s all in there, and we’re all included. Ever been jealous? Ever envied? Ever been sexually impure in body or mind? Ever been an idolater, meaning you’ve loved something or someone more than the Lord Jesus? Then the Bible is clear. Look what he says next.
“I warn you, as I warned you before that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
So, the kingdom of God is not good news; it’s actually bad news for sinners. He reigns. You don’t. You’re doomed. You say, that’s just one random verse. Okay, here’s another one. I Corinthians 6:9.
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived.”
Why does he have to say that? Well, there are going to be very funny, very convincing, very popular preachers who will tell you otherwise.
“Do not be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Apart from why Jesus went to Jerusalem, the kingdom of God is not good news. It’s actually bad news for us. It’s like talking about a beautiful place that you’re not allowed to go to. That is not good news. But what if Jesus made a way for unqualified people to be qualified to enter his kingdom? Who are the unqualified people? Any hands? All of us. All of us. And look at Colossians 1:12.
“Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
That’s good news. Well, how did he do that? Did he just set us a good example that we have to follow perfectly, and if you follow it perfectly, you’ll get in? No. Keep reading Colossians 2:13.
“And you, who were dead in your trespasses…”
What does he mean “dead in your trespasses”? He’s saying the same thing there that Lloyd-Jones says: every solution you try to fix your ultimate problem is going to make it worse. You’re dead, not that you can’t do anything. You can’t do anything to save yourself is what he’s saying. You’re
“…dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him…”
God made alive. God did what you can’t do. How did he do it?
“…having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”
Notice that’s kingdom language. The cross and the empty tomb are the keys to opening up the kingdom. If you throw away the keys, you don’t expect to go in the kingdom. You could say it this way: we must proclaim the cross, not satisfy the crowd. And ironically, this is the message of Mark 15:1-15. The disciples have abandoned Jesus. He has been illegally tried in the house of Annas and then Caiaphas and then before the whole council. But Jesus is unwavering.
And this is another “shock-and-awe” moment in the Gospel of Mark: silent, sovereign, single-minded, sinless. You just get this picture of Jesus, walking toward what he knows is inevitable, almost bored by the proceedings. Can we get on with it? I know where this is going to end. He knows why he came. It’s such a vivid picture of him as lion and lamb, victor, victim. But Jesus’s humble, calm resolve stands in contrast to a tsunami of scheming and manipulating.
Let’s see seven examples of these in Mark 15:1-15. We could call this a “war of wants” because everyone is wanting something different. And you get this picture of this conflicting chorus, cacophony of wants and desires and cravings and murderous thoughts … and Jesus, just silent and single-minded through it all. Let me show you what I mean.
Number one, the council wants Pilate to execute Jesus. Verse 1,
“And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate.”
So, the Jewish leaders want Jesus executed, and they don’t have authority to kill him. So, that is why they bring him to the Roman official, Governor Pilate, because only Rome can enforce capital punishment.
Number two, Pilate wants Jesus to defend himself. Verses 2-5,
“And Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ And he answered him, ‘You have said so.’ And the chief priests accused him of many things. And Pilate again asked him, ‘Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you?’ But Jesus made no further answer so that Pilate was amazed.”
Why won’t he defend himself? Pilate wants Jesus to defend himself.
Number three, the crowd wants Pilate to release a prisoner. Verse 6,
“Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them.”
That name is so ironic — “bar” = son, means son; “abba” means what? Father, son of the father.
Number four, Pilate wants the crowd to ask for the release of Jesus. Verse 9,
“And he 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.”
So, Pilate’s no fool. He can see what’s happening. And he wants the crowd to ask for the release of Jesus.
Number five, the council wants the crowd to ask Pilate for the release of Barabbas. Verse 11,
“But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him [Pilate] release for them Barabbas instead.”
Number six, the crowd wants Pilate to crucify Jesus. Verse 12,
“And Pilate again said to them, ‘Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?’ And they cried out again, ‘Crucify him.’”
Number seven, Pilate wants the crowd to ask for Jesus’s release. So again, verse 14,
“Pilate said to them, ‘Why? What evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him.’”
And then the verdict, verse 15,
“So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.”
So, Barabbas, the guilty “son of the father,” is released. Jesus, the innocent Son of the Father, is scourged and crucified. You get a sense here that this trial of Jesus is not about, ultimately, it’s not about Jesus. It’s become a trial of Pilate. Jesus is supposed to be on trial, but he kind of knows what’s going to happen anyway. And the trial almost turns and focuses in on Pilate. He clearly doesn’t want to crucify Jesus. Luke 23:20, He wants to release Jesus. He knew Jesus was innocent. Matthew 27:19, His wife even had a dream and said, “This is a righteous man; you don’t want to do this.”
So, why did he condemn Jesus to die? Verse 15,
“…wishing to satisfy the crowd…”
He wants to release Jesus, but he wants something else more. So, why does Pilate want to satisfy the crowd? Why does a Roman governor — they called them procurators — even care what the crowd wants?
Bit of background — Roman governors had absolute authority over non-Roman persons within the empire. So, he could have ignored or massacred the crowd. Why didn’t he? Short answer — Jesus said in Mark 10:33,
“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles [to Pilate]. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days, he will rise.”
Short answer — Jesus said all this would happen.
Long answer — Pilate has painted himself into a corner. Pilate was Procurator of Judea from around A.D. 26 to around A.D. 36. He was responsible for four things: to manage construction projects, oversee the military, collect taxes, and judge matters. However, his primary responsibility, from the emperor’s perspective, is maintain law and order — Pax Romana, social stability. And this is where Pilate seemed a bit bipolar. Let me give you a couple of examples.
Historian Josephus describes a time when Pilate sent soldiers into Jerusalem, erecting military standards with the emblem of the emperor on the standards. Now, previously, Romans would not do that. They wouldn’t come into Jerusalem with these emblems on the standards. They would remove them because they knew how the Jews would react and view it as idolatry. Pilate ignored that, erected the standards with the emblems of the emperor, and the Jewish people were so upset they marched seventy miles up to Caesarea, surrounded Pilate’s home and nonviolently protested for five straight days. On the sixth day, Pilate was to address the crowd. He had his soldiers surround them, and he threatened to kill them all if they didn’t immediately leave. What do you think they did? They all bared their necks and fell to the ground and said, “Kill us.” Even Pilate knew that would not go well with Rome to slaughter hundreds of unarmed civilians. So, he backed down, and he removed the emblems.
Later, Pilate used temple money to build an aqueduct. So, temple money, money devoted to the temple, corbin, he used to build an aqueduct. The people responded, protested, and Pilate’s soldiers beat and killed unarmed civilians.
Luke 13:1 describes a time when he slaughtered a large number of Galileans. So, when I say bipolar, what I mean is there are times where he coddled, and there are times where he crushed, like an insecure …. Insecure leaders often don’t know how to respond wisely. They react in extremes.
Philo of Alexandria is not a reliable historian, but he does tell of a time when the Jewish leaders wrote to the Emperor Tiberius, filing a formal complaint against Pilate. He had set up gilded shields in Herod’s Palace in Jerusalem, and the emperor, Roman emperor, sent a strong rebuke to Pilate.
So, when you understand this historical background, you understand the corner that Pilate feels painted into. When the Jewish leaders say things like they say in John 19:12,
“From then on, Pilate sought to release [Jesus], but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.’”
And we’re not afraid to tell on you. And they weren’t.
Several years after Jesus’s trial, Pilate’s soldiers overreacted to a Samaritan gathering, killing many unarmed civilians. And the emperor, Tiberius Caesar, removed him from office and demanded that he come to Rome to stand trial. This is how strongly they viewed Roman peace; which was not peace, but their version of peace. But as Pilate headed to Rome to stand trial, Tiberius died before he was tried, and from then on, everything gets blurry. Our historical sources are not reliable. So, some legends say that Pilate took his own life. Some say that he and his wife became Christians. One legend even says he became a saint in one church (not this church).
The reason this historical background is important is because it humanizes the governor. We know what it’s like, don’t we … to feel that social pressure? To feel the squeeze between Christ and crowd or culture? Jim, the megachurch-from-Canada pastor that I mentioned … When he says things like, “No one wants to hear that stuff anymore,” what is he saying? “I’m feeling the squeeze, so I’m modifying my message to satisfy the crowds” … which is what Pilate is doing, wishing to satisfy the crowd. And for someone like Pilate — this is very difficult because, as we know from John 18:38, his sarcastic comment to Jesus, “what is truth?” — for Pilate, truth is whatever keeps me in my position. However I have to morph, liquidize, modify truth to allow me to stay in the position that I’ve earned, that’s truth. So, he thinks he’s in control. Yet he knows Jesus is innocent and has him scourged and crucified to satisfy the crowd. James Edwards summarizes this so well.
“The governor is thus strangely governed. The free sovereign [that is Pilate, who has the authority to convict or acquit … no jury; he’s sovereign in that region] … The free sovereign … loses his freedom to forces he presumes to control, whereas Jesus, the silent prisoner who in that context has no control, remains true to his divinely ordained purpose, and thus alone remains truly free.”
Now we could chew on that for a long time. Just take that one statement:
“Pilate loses his freedom to forces he presumes to control.”
This, friends, is why Jesus went to Jerusalem. Our solutions lead to slavery. Our Band-Aids bind us apart from the cross. Our remedies do not lead to any kind of ultimate freedom. They may “bondo” the problem, but they don’t get to the heart of it. And that is why Jesus went to Jerusalem.
And by the way, this is one of the dominant themes of the Bible. This isn’t secondary. I just finished Isaiah. I’m in the middle of Jeremiah, and time and time again, you see Israel afraid of Babylon. So, where do they turn? “Let’s run to Egypt. Let’s solve this problem by creating this problem.” And that’s what we do. It’s the story of human history. If we had several hours, we could walk through social examples of this, where our remedies just lead to new forms of slavery. Isaiah 50 describes this very powerfully. Isaiah 50:10,
“Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant? [That’s the servant of the Lord, pointing to Jesus.] Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God. Behold, all of you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment.”
What is he saying here? He’s saying, you who are experiencing darkness, you realize you’re in a season of uncertainty, you don’t have all the answers, you’re spiritually or relationally, emotionally going through a season of darkness. And so, rather than turning to the Lord, you’re turning on your flashlight. And that flashlight is leading you down a tunnel of torment, which you’ve created by your own hand. And God is begging us: stop turning to your own solution to solve a problem that you keep perpetuating! What is he getting at? He’s driving us to the cross. Man-made solutions cannot solve ultimate problems; they don’t go deep enough. And until we understand that, we will think statements in the New Testament are insane, like Paul, when he said in Galatians 6:14,
“But far be it from me to boast [I’m not going to boast, but if I ever boast] except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
Paul, you’re boasting in an electric chair? You’re boasting in a means of execution? That’s horrible, that’s barbaric, that’s primitive! Haven’t we got past that? People don’t want to hear that anymore! Why are you boasting in something so horrible?! It’s because Paul knew what it was like to light every flashlight he could possibly light. He was a Pharisee of Pharisees. He could keep all the rules and do everything he was convinced he needed to do. And he described it all as dung compared to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
God did what we can never do. And that is why Paul boasts in the cross because when he says … back to Galatians 6 … when he says, “by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world,” he is saying I am no longer a puppet of my own personal and cultural cravings. Because of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, I am dead to satisfying the crowd or my own cravings … “crowd” meaning “me too”! Dead to that; alive to God in Christ! And then all the beautiful things, like building homes and hospitals, and helping people, and feeding the poor, and serving your neighbors … all of that flows out of a life that is dead to pleasing people so that you can actually love them and not serve yourself when you serve them, and not try to get something, manipulating something, thinking you’re in charge. But like Pilate, the governor is being governed.
“But far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified me, and I to the world.”
Let’s pray. Jesus, this is why you went to Jerusalem. You could have gone there to do hundreds of different things, good things. You could have helped people, could have healed people, fed people, could have confronted the leaders, fixed the government. But your primary purpose for going to Jerusalem was to die. It’s no wonder, Lord, that we feel squeamish about that because that sends a clear message: we can’t fix ourselves. We are way more helpless than we realize. We need you. We need you.
And I beg you, Lord … There may be people here this morning who have heard this message all of their lives, and yet this morning, they’re done turning their own flashlight on, they’re done trying to make their own way. You’re opening their eyes to the glory, the beauty of the cross, this horrible death, this worst crime ever committed in the universe, yet resulting in true freedom, real forgiveness, getting to the core of our need.
So, Lord, as you open eyes, may we repent and believe. May we not worry about, like Pilate, worry about what people think of us, think about our position … What if people think we’re already a Christian, or what about a hundred questions I have? Lord, just focus our thinking on Jesus: why did he go to Jerusalem? And the answer’s clear. I pray right now many would be calling out to you. Father, forgive me. I believe when Jesus died, he died for me. I died with him. I rise with him. His story is my story now. I put my faith in him. I can’t make my own way. I’ve tried.
Thank you, Lord, you’re so faithful to wash us clean. The debt has been paid. We don’t have to carry it anymore. We’re free to run in love and serve without carrying the bondage of regret, fear. What if I don’t do enough? You’ve done it. This is the key, Lord, that opens up your kingdom. It transfers us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light of your dear Son. I trust right now, Lord. Heaven is rejoicing as many are moved from darkness to light. Thank you, Lord, for the way you convict us. You don’t convict us because you hate us. You convict us because you love us, and you want us to be truly free, not the kind of freedom that Pilate had, thinking he was in charge, but true freedom. And we praise you in Jesus’s name. Amen.