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Main Street Community Church, Frodsham

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Mark chapter 15: When a plan comes together

This talk was given by Paul Wintle on .

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Introduction

You might remember the A-Team. Four renegade people driving around in what looked like a souped-up transit van with a red stripe on its side. And Hannibal, who seemed to be the elected leader or the un-elected leader, was the man who at the end of almost every episode of the A-team would say, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

Today, I’ve called my topic, “When a plan comes together.”, and we’re going to be looking through Mark Chapter fifteen.

Our journey through Mark is drawing to a close. The two chapters left mark the climax of the Gospel and the focus of Jesus’ ministry. His time in Jerusalem is always going to lead to his death and, more importantly, to his resurrection. But this isn’t just what Jesus’ life was all about: the teachings, the parables, the miracles, the way to do life was modelled throughout his career. He showed signs of the Kingdom of God: the manifesto for why he came. Here in these last two chapters, Mark fifteen and Mark sixteen, we find a drawing together of many prophecies that Jesus spoke of previously. Things that we can often forget in our run-up to Easter when we remember the crucifixion and resurrection especially. At Easter time we often harmonize; we often put together the gospel stories of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John of the crucifixion. Looking at Mark’s account only of the crucifixion and resurrection means that we have time to look at what was important in Mark’s version of events.

Tom Wright has written a book called Simply Jesus and it’s been very helpful in my planning of these last two sermons. He explores the idea that Jesus’ trial and execution is part of the building of the Kingdom of God. Strange as this might sound he suggests that we need to look back to who the Jewish people thought the Messiah might be and then look forward to who we see Jesus as. You see, Jesus had to be clear about who he thought he was; who he knew he was. Questions about his person and personality abound in this chapter. And this is because everything he did had to be bound up in the Jewish scripture of the Old Testament and somehow be renewed in his own life and work. >And so, as we shall see today, the irony and the importance of this chapter is seeing Jesus as king. Jesus the servant king. Jesus the king of the Jews and, more importantly, most importantly, the king who ushers in the full kingdom of God.

[03' 26"] Mark 15 verses 1 to 20

May is going to read for us Mark’s Gospel chapter fifteen verses one to twenty at this stage. May.

Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, reached a decision. They bound Jesus, led him away and turned him over to Pilate.

“Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.

“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.

The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”

But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

Now it was the custom at the Feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.

“Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate to release Barabbas instead.

“What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.

“Crucify him!” they shouted.

“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

(NIV)

Verses 15 to 20 were not read during the talk

The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spat on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

(NIV)

So, Jesus, the servant king. To know that Jesus is the long-awaited saviour, the Messiah, he had to know the Old Testament and he had to know the Old Testament prophecies about himself. In this portion of Mark chapter fifteen, we see Jesus as the suffering servant. Recently he has washed his disciples feet, he has served them a meal and has gone through the ignominy of arrest. Having already been charged on a trial of blasphemy in an illegal court held at night by the High Priest, Jesus is now bound up and handed over to the Romans, the hated oppressors. The religious leaders were so bound up in their keeping of the law that they couldn’t see Jesus as the promised Messiah. They didn’t see him as the suffering servant in Isaiah 53, which we will be alluding to during our message this morning. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering.

Instead. They chose to see him as a blasphemer, one who perverted the laws of God. And for this they demanded death. Capital convictions could only be ratified during the daytime and the trial with the Sanhedrin, the Jewish leaders, the Jewish Council, is what Mark is referring to in this bit of chapter fifteen. Likely to have been a formality before sending Jesus bound and sorrowful having been blindfolded, spat at, beaten, then handed over to the Romans.

The high priests probably knew how they could get their local commander, Pontius Pilate, on their side and perhaps even influence the crowds flocking to Jerusalem at the Passover time. Just a few hours before this occurrence, as we were looking at a couple of weeks ago in Mark fourteen, Jesus prepared a passover meal for his disciples. The meal, designed to look back with gratefulness that God has saved his people from death before the Exodus from Egypt, has now been redesigned by Jesus as a meal to look forward. This meal now looks forward to the great sacrifice by which God was to rescue his people from their ultimate slavery — from death. And later these gifts of bread and wine, already heavy with symbolic meaning, becomes greater: for this is how the presence of God, the presence of Jesus, would be known amongst his followers for generations to come. As the servant king is led away so we are left with something significant in both the Passover meal and in the trial of our Jesus the servant king. Sacrifice and presence because, as Isaiah reminds us, surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows. Yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted. This is the servant king.

[08' 54"] Mark 15 verses 21 to 32

We continue through Mark chapter fifteen.

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

It was the third hour when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS. They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!”

In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

(NIV)

So here we have. Jesus the king of the Jews. Pilate’s question, “Are you the king of the Jews?” is the Roman version of the High Priests question, “Are you the Christ?” The Romans didn’t execute, they didn’t kill, people for blasphemy, for religious things, for claiming to be the Christ. But they did for high treason: that is, to be the king of the Jews. As Martin Smith pointed out a couple of weeks ago, there was only one king of the Jews. According to the Romans — it was the Emperor, Tiberius, he of the, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God to what is God’s.” fame. Any other king would have been a pretender. And, as the ruling priests saw Jesus as a threat to the status quo, to how things were, they were happy to stir up the crowds in order to get their own way. In a very snide way the Sanhedrin conviction of Jesus for blasphemy somehow converts into a charge of high treason for which the Romans could execute Jesus. Having accused him of many things the chief priests remind Pilate that Jesus has been talking about destroying the temple, opposing the payment of taxes to Caesar, and stirring up people all over the region by his teaching. Luke states more clearly and points out that Jesus has come to Jerusalem at the Passover festival so that he can do more stirring up. Of course, the irony is made even stronger when Pilate addresses the people claiming that they want the true insurrectionist Barabbas freed under the custom of the time. We see the religious leaders perverting the course of justice by doing exactly what they have accused Jesus of doing: stirring up trouble. Confused at all of this, Pilate asks the mob, “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” and he goes along with their demands to crucify even though it seems, perhaps, that Pilate himself doesn’t regard Jesus as guilty as charged. Tom Wright calls this a coming together of a three-cornered perfect storm between Jesus, representing the kingdom of God, Pilate, representing the kingdoms of the world, and the Jewish temple leaders who, according to John’s Gospel, cave in and say that they have no king except Caesar.

This king of the Jews was flogged with leather whips that had bone or metal attached to them which would have been hurled at his back drawing flesh and blood. This king of the Jews was led away to have more torture, more spitting, more hitting, more spites, more mocking. The crown of thorns on his head, purple robe around his aching, bloodied, and wounded body. What kind of king was this? At the time of crucifixion a written notice of the charges was placed above Jesus’ head, “The King of the Jews”. John’s Gospel notes that it was written in Aramaic and Latin and Greek so that all who passed by would know who this man was. To the Romans it would have been a reminder that Caesar was Lord. To the Jews it was derision, a lasting mocking. But, to those who knew Jesus really was, it was a fact that the suffering servant, the king of the Jews, had come to fulfil his destiny. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed. He was oppressed and afflicted yet he did not open his mouth. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as sheep before her shearers is silent so he did not open his mouth.

And they crucified him. Simple, perhaps unemotional, words. Yet to Mark’s original readers they would have been aware of the practice and the pain that crucifixion involved and so evoked deep emotion. They didn’t need to say any more. Somehow being impaled by iron spikes into a wooden frame, and so there hung our servant king, the king of the Jews. The mockers at the cross seem to be both Gentiles and Jews: people from across the world, perhaps. Those who knew Jesus’ prophecies about the temple, those who rejected him as the Messiah, deriding him for who he said he was. Shouted at, abuse received whilst on the cross; Jesus hangs there and takes it. The darkness which fell might be as a sign of abandonment by the Father. No wonder it is that Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It’s the last ordeal that he has with Satan before the Son of God is overcome by the host of darkness. Yet Jesus somehow absorbs this evil into himself and forever breaks his power. These days, these past days and hours, will have been like hell for this man, observed only perhaps by the centurion. He may have been there at the arrest, the trial, the mocking, and the crucifixion, so he would have known through Jesus’ reactions that surely this was the Son of God. Jesus’ vision of this kingdom of God was either coming to a dramatic end or it was coming to be fulfilled in his death, now. We all like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way. But the Lord has laid on him. The iniquity of us all.

[17' 34"] Mark 15 verses 33 to 47

And so we come to our last part of the reading from Mark chapter fifteen today.

At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” — which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”.

When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.

(NIV)

Thank you, May, for reading.

In response to the horrific death of Jesus this is how Tom Wright responds.

Jesus cannot establish the new creation without allowing the poison in the old to have its full effect. He cannot launch God’s kingdom of justice, truth and peace unless injustice, lies and violence do their worst and, like a hurricane, blow themselves out, exhausting their force on this one spot. He cannot begin the work of healing the world unless he provides the antidote to the infection that would otherwise destroy the project from within. This is the point at which we see how the early work of Jesus’ public career, the healing, the celebrations, the forgiveness, the changed hearts, all look forward to this moment. This is what it looks like when Israel’s God becomes king. This is what it looks like when Jesus is enthroned as king of the Jews.

Jesus has taken the Jewish people’s destiny upon himself, … no longer in the pillar of cloud of fire [from the Exodus], … no longer in an ornate stone-and-timber … [building], but in … a human being, the Human Being, the Image-bearer, Jesus himself. This is where the glory of God is revealed, …

From Tom Wright, Simply Jesus: Who he was, what he did, why it matters, SPCK, 2011.

How interesting it is, then, that Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Council, whom Jesus had come before at the start of the chapter, asks for the body of Jesus that evening. If his body had been left on the cross, by nightfall nothing could be done with the body until the day after that day. John’s Gospel tells us that Joseph was waiting for the Kingdom of God. He was a secret follower of Jesus. Wow! A member of the Jewish Council offering his own tomb to rest the king of the Jews following such a horrific trial and execution. Intriguing that this secret follower could perhaps no longer be a secret follower.

Put all of that next to those disciples who left him, in fear, right at his arrest. All, of course, but the women, who stayed as close as they could to Jesus at his death. There at his death and there at the borrowed tomb. And of course, the centurion, who, it seems, became the first non-Jewish believer. All showing that the Kingdom of God was for everyone. That Jesus’ love was for all — for you, for me, for those who don’t know him yet, for those that we see here on a Thursday morning at coffee, for those that we see at Friday break, for those who come along to Friendship Group and to New Horizons, and to people who come into our homes for coffee Week by week. His love is for all.

All along, all along, it’s been a different kingdom to which everybody was expecting. Whilst announcing the kingdom of God, All along the disciples thought that it was going to be to overthrow the Romans so that the Jewish people could have their land. No. It was a different kingdom to that which Pilate had heard, or imagined, in that it would be a kingdom without violence, a kingdom not from this world, but interestingly, through Jesus, it would be a kingdom for this world. It is because he was and is the Son of God, because he was and he is the king of the Jews, that Jesus must go to the cross. But he does it, not to rescue people from this world to take them to a faraway heaven, but in order that God’s Kingdom might come on Earth as it is already in Heaven. The point was never to rescue people from creation but to rescue creation itself. With the death of Jesus this work is now complete now and only now can new creation come about. As Tom Wright says, “The crucifixion was the shocking answer to the prayer that God’s Kingdom would come on earth as in heaven.”

Take the outpouring of caring concern for the sick, the weak, the vulnerable, and the sinners that Jesus came for. Wrap them up in a single bundle. Then remind yourself that this whole bundle was what it looked like when the Living God began to reign on earth as it is in heaven, when he began to roll back the sickly tide of sin and death. Then be reminded that the announcement only makes sense if it was to be backed up by the final victory, the final re-establishment of God’s presence and rule. The moment of Jesus’ death is the central point to the world because only then can we, and the world, be renewed, only then can it be under new management.

Tune in next week for the final instalment — but we know what it is anyway.

[25' 51"] Closing prayer

Shall we have a moment of quiet and prayer?

Father God, we thank you that we know that this is not the end of the story. Thank you that we know that Jesus has overcome sin and death. As we go into this week would you please remind us, where and when we need reminding, that you are head of this kingdom. Help us to celebrate that as we leave here in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Scripture quotations marked NIV on this page and within the talk are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.