THE FIRST VERSE of this chapter picks up the thread from Mark 14: 65. The Romans had taken away the power of capital punishment from the Jews and vested it wholly in Caesar's representative, hence the religious leaders knew they must present Him before Pilate and demand the death sentence upon some ground which appeared adequate to him. Verse 3 tells us that they "accused Him of many things," but we are not told by Mark what those things were. We are struck however by the way in which one phrase occurs over and over again in the earlier part of the chapter-"The King of the Jews" (verses 2, 9, 12, 18, 26). Luke tells us definitely that they said He was "forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ a King." Mark's brief account infers this, though not stating it.
Once more, before Pilate, the Lord confessed who He was. Challenged as to being the King of the Jews He simply answered, "Thou sayest it," the equivalent of "Yes." For the rest He again answered nothing, for the reason that in all the wild charges of the chief priests there was nothing to answer. It is worthy of note that Mark only records two utterances of our Lord before His judges. Before the Jewish hierarchy He confessed Himself to be the Christ, Son of God and Son of Man: before the Roman governor He confessed Himself to be the King of the Jews. No evidence prevailed against Him; He was condemned because of who He was, and He could not deny Himself.
Moreover Pilate had sufficient knowledge to discern what lay at the root of all the accusations, "he knew that the chief priests had delivered Him for envy." This led to his ineffectual attempt to divert the thoughts of the multitude to Jesus, when it was a question of the prisoner to be released. The influence of the priests with the people was too much for him however, and hence, desirous of pleasing the crowd, Pilate outraged what sense of justice he had. He released Barabbas, the rebel and murderer, and scourging Jesus, delivered Him to be crucified.
The voice of the people prevailed over the better judgment of the representative of Caesar: in other words, autocracy on that occasion abdicated in favour of democracy, and the popular vote determined it. An old Latin proverb states that the voice of the people is the voice of God. The facts of the crucifixion flatly deny that proverb. Here the voice of the people was the voice of the devil.
Verses 16-32 give us in a very graphic way the terrible circumstances surrounding the crucifixion. All classes combined against the Lord. Pilate already had scourged Him. The Roman soldiers mocked Him in ways that were cruel as well as contemptuous. The ordinary people-just passers-by-railed at Him. The priests mocked Him with sarcasm. The two crucified thieves-representatives of the criminal classes, the very scum of humanity-reviled Him. High-born and low-born, Jew and Gentile, were all involved. Yet in result they were all helping to fulfil the Scriptures, though doubtless unconsciously to themselves.
This is particularly striking if we take the case of the Roman soldiers-men who were unaware of the existence of the Scriptures. Verse 28 takes note that the crucifixion of the thieves on either side was a fulfilment of Isaiah 53: 12, but many other things they did also fulfilled the Word. For instance, His visage was to be "marred more than any man," according to Isaiah 52: 14, and there was fulfilment of this in the crown of thorns and the smitings. The Judge of Israel was to be smitten "with a rod upon the cheek," according to Micah 5: 1; this the soldiers did, as verse 19 of our chapter shows. Verse 24 records the fulfilment by them of Psalm 22: 18. "They gave Me also gall . . . and . . . vinegar," says Psalm 69: 21, and this also the soldiers did, though the fulfilment is not recorded here but in Matthew. We think we are right in saying that at least 24 prophecies were fulfilled in the 24 hour day when Jesus died.
All men in that hour were displaying themselves in their darkest hue, and in these verses we do not read of one thing that He said. It was just as the prophet had said, "As a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth." It was man's hour, and the power of darkness was at its zenith. The perfection of the holy Servant of the Lord is seen in His suffering in silence all that He endured from the hands of men.
That which the Lord Jesus suffered at the hands of men was very great, yet it falls into comparative insignificance when we turn to consider what He endured at the hands of God as the Victim, when made sin for us. Yet all this far greater matter is compressed by Mark into two verses-33 and 34; whereas his account of the lesser master covers 52 verses (Mark 14: 53-Mark 15: 32). The fact is, of course, that the lesser could be described, whilst the greater could not be. The darkness which descended at midday hid from men's eyes even the externals of that scene.
All that can be related historically is that for three hours God put the hush of night upon the land and thus blinded men's eyes, and that at the end of the hours Jesus uttered the cry of anguish, which had been written as prophecy a thousand years before, in Psalm 22: 1. The holy Sin-bearer was forsaken, for God must judge sin and irrevocably banish it from His presence. That utter and eternal banishment we deserved, and it will fall upon all who die in their sins. He endured it to the full, but since He possessed the holiness, the eternity, the infinitude of full Deity, He could emerge from it at the close of the three hours. Yet the cry, that came from His lips as He did so, showed that He felt the full horror of it. And He had a capacity to feel that was infinite.
That which He suffered at the hands of men is not to be thought of lightly. Hebrews 12: 2, says, "Who . . . endured the cross, despising the shame," but we must note the difference between shame and suffering. Many a man of great physical courage would feel the shame more than suffering. He felt the suffering but He despised the shame, inasmuch as He was infinitely above it, and He knew that He was, "glorious in the eyes of the Lord" (Isaiah 49: 5). We believe that we may say that never was He more glorious in the eyes of the Lord than when He was suffering under the judgment of God as the Sin-bearer. Such was the paradox of Divine holiness and love!
The effect of that cry upon the onlookers is given to us in verses 35 and 36. They would hardly have seen a reference to Elijah in His words if they had not been Jews: but then, how dense and ignorant not to have recognized the cry to God which lay enshrined in their own Scriptures.
The fact of His actual death is given by Mark in the briefest possible fashion. He breathed out His spirit into the hands of God directly after He had cried with a loud voice. What He said is recorded in Luke and John. Here we are simply told the way He said it. There was no gradual failing of strength so that His last words were in a feeble whisper. At one moment a loud voice and the next moment He was dead! His death was so manifestly supernatural as to greatly impress the centurion who was on duty and watching. Whatever may have been, in his own mind, the exact significance of his words, he must have at least felt that he was a witness of the supernatural. We endorse his words and say, "Truly this Man was the Son of God," in the fullest sense.
The truth of these words was also borne witness to by the rending of the veil of the temple. This great happening appears to have synchronized with His death. It was the Divine hand that rent it, for any human hand would have had to rend it from the bottom to the top. The elaborate typical system instituted in Israel, in connection with sacrifices and temple, all looked forward to the death of Christ; and, that death accomplished, the Divine hand tore the veil as a sign that the day of the type was over, and the way into the holiest was made manifest.
In every emergency God has in reserve some servant who will come forward and carry out His will. Stones would cry out, or be raised up to become men, if God needed them in an emergency; but they never do, because God is never in an emergency like that. He always has a man in reserve, and Joseph was the man on this occasion. This timid and secret disciple was suddenly filled with courage, and boldly faced Pilate. He was the man born into the world to fulfil in its season the prophetic word of Isaiah 53: 9,-"with the rich in His death." Having fulfilled it, he drops completely out of the record.
He missed the opportunity of being identified with Christ in His life, but he did identify himself with Him when He was dead. This is remarkable, for it exactly reversed the procedure of the disciples. They identified themselves with Him during His life, and failed miserably when He died. The apparent defeat of Jesus had the effect of emboldening Joseph. It stirred the smouldering embers of his faith into a sudden blaze. He "waited for the kingdom of God," and we may be sure that in the day of the kingdom the faith and the works of Joseph will not be forgotten by God. His kind of faith is just the sort we need today-the sort that blazes up when defeat seems sure.
Joseph's action had the effect incidentally of bringing before Pilate the supernatural character of Christ's death. No man could take His life from Him; He laid it down by Himself, and that at the suitable moment when all was accomplished. The two thieves, as we know, lingered on for hours after, and their death had to be hastened by cruel means. Pilate marvelled, but the fact being corroborated, he yielded to the request. Thus the will of God was done, and from that moment the sacred body was out of the hands of the unbelievers. Hands of love and faith performed the offices and laid Him in the tomb. Devoted women too had stood as witnesses when even the disciples had disappeared, and they saw where He had been laid.
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