A Royal Pain

 

            The Gospel text for today’s Palm Sunday celebration is the ‘Passion story of Jesus’.  Mark 15 is written in a straight-forward style, simple yet powerful.  And since today’s Gospel text is 39 verses long, I decided that instead of reading the text and following it with a descriptive commentary, today we will turn our energy into listening closely to the story itself. 

Frankly, there isn’t a lot of explanation needed.  Jesus and his disciples have entered Jerusalem with fanfare on what we traditionally call Palm Sunday.  But this week will see a dramatic change in events.  Disciples will flee as cowards, Jewish leaders will underhandedly suggest a death penalty out of jealousy, the crowds are easily manipulated without reason, Roman royalty will condemn a man they see as innocent in order to please the crowds, and a man named Jesus, who has never done anything wrong, will go to a humiliating death on a cross for the love and salvation of every one previously listed.

Personally, I don’t know how someone can listen to this text and not be moved.  So hear the words of Scripture that set the foundation of faith for those who call themselves Christians.

 

1“Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin (the entire hierarchy of the Temple), made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.

 

            This is the first time that Jesus is handed over, from the religious leaders to the Roman authorities.  He didn’t have much of a chance here.  The Sanhedrin made their plans (to have Jesus killed), bound him, and handed him over.

 

2 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.  “You have said so,” Jesus replied. 3 The chief priests accused him of many things. 4 So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.” 5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed. (Notice, Pilate is amazed.  Here stands a man on death row, and he makes no case for his innocence.) 6 Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. 9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, 10 knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead. (The Chief priests are stirring up the crowd.  Like mob mentality, once the energy begins, it takes on a life of it’s own.  The crowd doesn’t have a rational reason for their chants.) 12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them. 13 “Crucify him!” they shouted. 14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.  But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” 15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

 

            Here is the second time that Jesus get’s handed over, this time from Roman royalty to the Roman army.  The crowds chose a convicted murderer to be released instead of Jesus.  Why would they do that?  Maybe Barabbas was more important for the rebellion against the Romans.  But Why would they follow the stirrings of the religious leaders without asking WHY when no guilt can be found?

 

16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20 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.

 

            This is the third time that Jesus is handed over.  This time he is handed over from the torture of the Roman soldiers to be crucified.

 

21 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. 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

 

            Mark doesn’t share a lot of details concerning the journey to the cross or the act of being nailed to the cross.  He keeps it simple, but the next 10 verses speak volumes to the arrogance and hatred within humankind and the love and humility of God in Jesus Christ.

 

25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: The King of The Jews. 27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. [28] [a] 29 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 (referencing Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple), 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others (in particular, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead),” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, 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. 33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.  (Jesus has been insulted by the Chief Priests, the Roman authorities and army, the crowd, and his disciples are no where to be found.  No wonder the next verse Jesus cries out to God!)  34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[b]

 

35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” 36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. 37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died,[c] he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

 

            A Roman centurion (a Gentile) was the first in the crowd to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God.  Of all the religions created in history, none would have their gods die at the hands of men.  Isn’t it amazing that the most powerful and perfect human that has ever lived never retaliated when attacked, never hated for being hated, and died that we who killed him might live.  Amen.