What Kind of King is Jesus?
Passage: Mark 15:16–15:32
What Kind of King is Jesus?
November 11th, 2007
Way of Grace Church
I. Insulting the King
A fable attributed to the ancient Greek writer Aesop tells this story about the king of the jungle:
A ferocious lion awoke one morning with bad breath and asked his friend the jackal, "Is my breath sweet or sour?" "It's quite sour, sire," said the jackal. "How dare you insult me!" roared the lion, and ate him up. Lion asked the antelope, "Is my breath sweet or sour?" Seeing what had just happened to jackal, antelope replied, "Your breath is sweet!" "Liar!" roared the lion, and ate him up. Then lion asked the rabbit, "And what do YOU think of my breath?" The rabbit saw what had happened to both jackal and antelope and decided he must be very tactful not to insult the King. "Sire," said rabbit, "as to the sweetness of your breath, if I may be so bold, I cannot tell... AHH CHOOO!
for I have a cold."
Now while the rabbit should be commended for his cleverness, what I'd like to us to think about is what this fable teaches us about the dangers of insulting a king. As we see here, the consequences of insulting a king could be quite costly.
Maybe surprisingly, that's still true today in certain parts of the world. Just recently, in Thailand, a Swiss man was sentenced to ten years in prison for defacing posters of the Thai king. Ten years for spray painting some posters!
Laws like this, whether ancient or modern, are called "lese majeste", a French translation of a Latin phrase which means, "injured majesty". In the ancient world, if one was found guilty of insulting a king or emperor, death was often the punishment.
This is especially true in those cultures where the king was seen as somehow divine. Insult was not simply treason, it was sacrilege.
I'd like you to keep that in mind as we look back to God's word this morning.
Turn with me to Mark 15:16-32 (page 852).
II. The Passage: "Hail, King of the Jews!" (15:16-32)
Now before we look together at chapter 15, I'd like to look back to very first verse of Mark's Gospel, 1:1. Listen to how describes the work he's written:
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (1:1)
So we see here that Mark describes this Jesus as both the Christ, the Greek word for the Hebrew term "messiah", and as the Son of God.
Jesus himself confirms this in the chapter just before our main chapter this morning. Only hours before what we're about to read took place, Mark describes this interaction between Jesus and the Jewish High Priest:
Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" 62 And Jesus said, "I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven."
So Jesus confirms what Mark declared at the outset of this book: Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the King of Israel who was promised to come from the family of David. And in contrast to the false claims of pagan kings and emperors, Jesus was truly divine. He was the Son of God. He was God the Son born in human flesh.
I want us to keep this truth in mind as we read, beginning in 15:16:
Last week we saw how the Jewish religious leaders brought Jesus to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who eventually gave into these leaders and a manipulated mob and sentence Jesus to death by crucifixion. That's where our passage picks up the story.
16 And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor's headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. 18 And they began to salute him, "Hail, King of the Jews!" 19 And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him. 21 And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. 22 And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. 25 And it was the third hour when they crucified him. [that's about 9am] 26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, "The King of the Jews." 27 And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. 29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!" 31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.
Now the first thing I want you to see here is that these events are firmly grounded in history. The Romans, the locations, the time of day, the practice of crucifixion, all of these things are accurately described. Mark wants to show his readers that this event was an historical reality, not some myth or fable.
One of the things that supports this fact is that the whole narrative here is told without any theological commentary. Do you know what I mean? The suffering and death of Jesus Christ are the central events of Christianity.
If we were to read ahead, if were to look at Acts, or more clearly Romans or I Corinthians or I Peter or Hebrews, or almost any book in the NT beyond the Gospels, we would learn about the incredible spiritual battle and victory that was taking place at the cross, through Jesus' death.
But here, and if were to read forward into verses 33 through 39, Mark does not add any theological interpretation to these events. They are recounted in a very straightforward manner. This was a real event involving real people and real suffering.
But there's something about this passage that is even more evident.
III. The King's Due: Scoffing and Scorn?
This passage, this account, does not merely describe the execution of Jesus, that is, that Jesus was beaten and killed. It doesn't merely record for us the extremes of his physical suffering.
What seems most clear and most consistent in this passage about the suffering of Jesus Christ is the ridicule. Do you see that?
Jesus is not simply manhandled. He is mocked. He is not simply scarred. He is scorned. He is not simply injured, he is insulted.
The death of Jesus Christ was carried out, not by cold, grim, and steel faced executioners, but by mockers and scoffers; those who directed their taunts at Jesus.
And all of the derision is connected to one theme: it is all based on the belief that Jesus is a royal imposter. Look back at 16-23. Here it is the Roman soldiers who mock the title given to Jesus, "King of the Jews". They dress him in purple, the color that Caesar wore. But instead of Caesar's crown of laurel branches, Jesus is given a crown of thorns. Instead of "Ave, Caesar", "Hail, Caesar", it is "Hail, King of the Jews". He is then mocked, beaten, and spat on.
In verses 29 and 30 we read about common people who passed by the place where Jesus was crucified. They too saw fit to mock Jesus and his supposed power. While Jesus had talked about the temple of his body being raised, they thought he was talking about destroying the Temple in Jerusalem, and that certainly was going to happen at the hands of a man crucified with criminals.
In verses 31 and 32, we read about the scribes and chief priests who were so instrumental in condemning Jesus, we read here about how they too ridiculed Jesus, how they taunted him as the supposed Messiah, the King of Israel.
As they had during his ministry, they are again demanding a sign from him.
"How could the Messiah be strung up like this?", they seem to be asking in their scoffing. "If you were truly a king sent by God, you would save yourself!"
The end of verse 32 tells us that even those who shared his fate, even the two robbers crucified with him were reviling him. Why, we don't know. It was very possible that they were part of that group of rebels that included Barabbas. The Jewish historian Josephus uses this same word "robbers", lestes, in the Greek, to describe rebels or insurrectionists.
Maybe less than a week ago, while in jail, they had heard about the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Maybe they had heard that he was hailed as the Son of David. Maybe their hopes of freedom were stirred by the rumors about this Jesus.
But now, here they were, nailed to Roman crosses. Could it be that Jesus was once again mocked as a royal imposter?
IV. The King of Love
Now, this morning, if you share the same viewpoint, the one held by the people to whom Mark was writing this Gospel, the belief that Jesus truly is the Messiah, that He is the Son of God, then the irony of these events should be so sad and disturbing.
Jesus was ridiculed as a fake, when in fact, He is the King of Kings. His claims to power were mocked, when in fact, even the winds and the waves had to obey him; even though all things were created by him. And his identification as the Messiah was laughed at, even though all the prophecies of the OT pointed to him and were fulfilled in him.
When we understand the reality of who Jesus is, when we correctly answer that question, "who do you say that I am?", we recognize how foolish and sad this treatment of Jesus was.
But what about "lese majeste"? Was there ever a case of "injured majesty" like this one? Was a king every offended to this degree, especially considering the degree of his majesty?
Surely such insults must be met with severity. Surely this ridicule is more than treasonous, it is a sacrilege, it is blasphemy. What will Jesus the Christ, the King of Israel, the Son of God do here to those who treat him with such contempt and ridicule?
He does nothing. Nothing.
What kind of king is this Jesus? The king of cowards? The king of weaklings? The king of lunatics? The king of despair?
No, he is the King of love.
Five chapters earlier, Jesus taught this to his disciples:
..."You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:42-25)
Mark doesn't need to give any kind of theological or spiritual interpretation to the suffering and death of Jesus because Jesus has already declared the purpose of his death.
The soldiers may be killing Jesus here, but in actuality, Jesus is laying down his life. It is the act of a servant. It is a sacrifice for the good of others. It is a ransom, a payment "for many".
What kind of king is Jesus? He is the king of love. Look at how that love is confirmed.
First, look at the grace demonstrated here. He does not retaliate. He does not give any of these scoffers what they deserve.
We have a hard enough time biting our tongue over the smallest accusation. But Jesus, the innocent one, the all-powerful king, submits to this scorn with silence.
What kind of grace is this?
Second, notice the commitment demonstrated here. At no point does Jesus waver. Didn't Jesus tell his disciples in Matthew 26:53, "Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?" Jesus could have been rescued. He could have gotten out of there.
In the same way, if the wine with myrrh mentioned in verse 23 was some kind of sedative to numb the pain, he could have chosen that path. But he didn't. His love kept him committed to the full experience of this horrible fate.
Finally, what we don't read here is what Mark's readers would have already known. They would have understood the purpose of Jesus' love, the prize that Jesus' love was making possible. They would have known because they themselves had probably responded to the "good news" about Jesus Christ, the gospel.
It was to people like this that the New Testament was written. And throughout its pages, we learn more and more about the unfathomable depth of the cross of Jesus Christ. Let me give you an example of what one Apostle of Jesus tells us about what we're reading here, about what was taking place beneath the surface of this gruesome event.
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13-15)
Or how about this:
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:13-16)
Or listen to this:
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die- 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life (Romans 5:6-10)
All of these are simply explanations of Mark 15. They are telling us about what was really happening in the death of Jesus. There are explaining the labor of love that was being accomplished on that bloody cross.
But I've only described the tip of the iceberg. The depth of Jesus' love is revealed, not only by the greatness of his suffering, but also by the greatness of the gift his suffering makes possible.
Brothers and sisters, friends, what kind of people should we be in light of this kind of love?
There is an old hymn that asks this question:
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.
If we are subjects of this king, shouldn't we characterized by this same kind of love?
The Apostle Paul encouraged his readers to "...live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (Ephesians 5:2)
Do you see how those first followers of Jesus were called to live, specifically in light of what we're reading this morning from Mark 15, specifically in light of the suffering and death of Jesus?
Is this the kind of love that characterizes your life? The kind of love that is "patient and kind". The kind of love that "...does not insist on its own way"...that is "not irritable or resentful"...the kind of love that "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things"?
Or do we love when it's convenient; when it doesn't cost us? Do we love as a means of controlling those around us? I guess what I'm asking is do we love with or without condition?
The only way we can is to look back to the one who suffers here in silence for us. Don't take yours eyes off Jesus. Don't exchange him for some other standard. Don't rest, content that you know who he is. Don't forget the cross.
There is in this story, a passing mention of two names that should intrigue us. In verse 21, Mark mentions, every so quickly, "Alexander and Rufus". We have to ask, "Who are these men?" Well, very clearly here they are the sons of Simone of Cyrene, a passerby, probably a pilgrim who had come to Jerusalem from North Africa for the Passover.
Because Jesus was so weak from the beatings he'd already received, this Simon was compelled by the soldiers to carry the cross of Jesus to the place of execution.
But why are the sons of Simon mentioned here? Well, the only reason they would be mentioned by just their first names is if the readers knew them personally, or at least, were familiar with them because they had gained some kind of notoriety...in the church, among the early followers of Jesus. Remember, this Gospel was probably written some twenty years after these events.
So, I think it's safe to conclude that Simon's brush with Jesus turned out to be more than just an isolated incident. I think it's safe to conclude that his life was changed. That after he carried the cross of Jesus, he took up his own cross, just as Jesus had taught. And his sons were impacted because of this not-so-chance encounter.
Has your life been changed by the reality of Jesus' suffering and death?
Though he was the King of kings, he endured this kind of scorn, this kind of death. And he did so for you.
What kind of King is Jesus? He is the king of love.