Mark 15:15-20 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. 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.
A soldier is a man of war. A soldier is used to bring a people in subjection to a king. At this point in the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion we see what was in the hearts of the soldiers in how they respond to Jesus. As the Jews were a conquered people, the Roman soldiers were to do whatever was necessary to keep the nation of Israel under control of the powers of Rome. These same Roman soldiers would have been used in battle to conquer and subdue foreign nations and were the means by which the Roman Empire could be expanded or they were used to defend it against any attacking enemy. They were also used to collect taxes. If anyone refused to pay what the tax collectors in Israel had declared, the Roman soldiers were brought in to force what had been demanded. Because the Roman soldiers were trained and skilled in battle and were armed and allowed to use force, their power could be abused. They were able to extort money by threatening the Jews and would even make false accusations in order to become rich themselves. We know this was true because John the Baptist called on the soldiers to repent of such behavior as they came under conviction of sin under his preaching:
Luke 3:8, 13-14 8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance...13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
There were perhaps some soldiers that were honorable and kind to the Jews but this was probably quite uncommon. The Jews were taught to hate the Gentiles or anyone who wasn’t a Jew. They misinterpreted the Scriptures based upon the commands of God declaring that they were to be separate from the Gentiles. They had no desire to have anything to do with the Roman soldiers and so it is entirely probable that the Romans soldiers hated the Jews in return.
Joshua 23:6-8 6 Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, 7 that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, 8 but you shall cling to the LORD your God just as you have done to this day.
Adding to their motivation for why the Romans soldiers acted the way in which they did with Jesus, was the fact that Jesus had accepted the praise of the people on Palm Sunday, just a few days earlier. Pilate knew that Jesus had accepted the praise of the people as their king. Some of the soldiers may have even been watching as Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt. What kind of a king was this as compared to the leading men of Rome who would ride in a procession before the people in the back of a chariot led by a powerful horse suited in armor? What kind of power did Jesus possess? Surely He was not as powerful as the Romans. Surely He was not a great king as any great king was full of military power and physical strength. In their eyes this king must be weak and they would prove it.
So while Pilate, even as an unbeliever was amazed at Jesus, the soldiers did not care. They would use their power and authority over Jesus. They would absolutely abuse Him and shame Him. They would do all that they could to use their skills of brutality upon Jesus. But all of this was according to God’s perfect plan of salvation.
Isaiah 53:7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.
The soldiers scourged Jesus. They used a multi-lashed whip with embedded bone and metal to severely beat Jesus. They made Him wear a purple cloak that would stick to His open wounds only intensifying the pain. They put a crown of thorns on His head and then struck His head with a reed causing the blood to flow from His head. They spit upon Him and mocked Him by kneeling before Him. When they were done toying with Him they ripped off the purple cloak reopening the wounds from His beating. The soldiers had their way with Jesus and appeared to have complete authority over Jesus. But this was not the case. The crown of thorns was the exact crown that Jesus had entered into Jerusalem to wear. It was the blood stained crown of the Savior of mankind. Jesus Christ came to this earth to endure the wrath of man. The wrath of man reveals the depravity of sin. The Roman soldiers did not hide the evil nature that was within them. They would beat and mock and destroy. The chief priests and the religious leaders and Pilate and the crowd would try to hide the wickedness within their own hearts but the Roman soldiers publicly revealed what is in man. They had no shame to manifest the evil within the heart of man. This is the very heart of every man.
Isaiah 59:7 Their feet run to evil, and they are swift to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; desolation and destruction are in their highways.
Do not try to deny the wickedness of your own heart. All of us are corrupt at the very core of our being. This is our fallen condition as the Roman soldiers so clearly reveal. And yet herein lies the power of God. In spite of this truth and the apparent weakness of Jesus at the hands of the Roman soldiers, the infinite power of God was soon to be revealed. Soon Jesus would die removing the penalty for my sin and for your sin for all who believe. Soon Jesus would rise from the dead. But first, the full evil of sin had to be revealed. Everyone involved in Jesus’ crucifixion was absolutely guilty. Everyone had a hand in the crown of thorns that was placed upon His head. Do you see your hand in the brutality that Jesus suffered? Do you see your guilt in placing a crown of humiliation upon His head? None of us are innocent. Our sins caused the King of King and Lord of Lords to wear a blood stained crown of humiliation and shame.
Pastor Murray Hack
Mark 15:6-15 6 Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. 7 And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. 8 And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. 9 And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. 12 And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” 14 And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
At this point in the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion, Pilate had seen through the chief priests in their accusations against Jesus. It was obvious to the Roman Governor that they were envious of Jesus and wanted him killed (verse 10). Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent. The chief priests were only coming to Pilate because he had the keys of death. As the Romans had conquered Israel they had reserved the death penalty for themselves. Pilate knew that he was being used so he decided that he would take back control of the situation. He would show everyone that he was above the chief priests by exposing their impure motives in having an innocent man killed. In all likelihood Pilate knew that Jesus was well liked by the people. Although most of Jesus’ public ministry was away from Jerusalem in Galilee, Pilate must have heard about Jesus and the crowds that He was attracting. Even in Jerusalem, when Jesus came for the Passover in previous years, it is likely that Pilate was aware of His presence.
The Romans would try to keep the favour of the nations that they had conquered. In Jerusalem, one of the practices that Pilate kept was to release a prisoner during the Passover feast. This was a perfect opportunity for Pilate that backfired on him terribly. Instead of just having Jesus released, Pilate offered up His freedom to the people. There was a crowd watching the trial before Pilate. Surely if Pilate presented a Jew who was a murderer before the people they would choose Jesus. All of the Jews knew that murder was punishable by death by the Old Testament Law. Surely they would not choose a man who was guilty by their own law and deserving of death over a man who was innocent and whose only witnesses for a trial were the chief priests themselves whose selfish motives were to have Jesus killed.
So Pilate brings out Barabbas. There couldn’t have been a more striking contrast than Barabbas with Jesus. In all likelihood Barabbas was a strong and powerful man- a man of great strength and stature. He was likely someone intimidating and cunning and who was able to kill a Roman soldier without much difficulty. He symbolized the strength of this world that only leads to destruction as man is corrupt at the core and is in need of salvation. Then there was Jesus. Isaiah 53:2 is clear that Jesus did not appear to be special in any way. He was unassuming and did not have any form of natural majesty or beauty:
Isaiah 53:2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
The people had a choice. Would they choose the power of this world and the corruption of the human heart or the one who was not of this world? Would they choose the Savior of the world or the one who represents the destruction of this world? Would they choose the One who has unlimited spiritual blessings and the promise of eternal life or the one who represents eternal death? Who would the people choose? Who would you choose? Pilate thought that the choice was obvious. They should choose Jesus. He had presented this scenario to the people in order that he might gain more favor with the Jews. But the unexpected happened. They did not choose Jesus but Barabbas. By choosing Barabbas the people were declaring that they believed Jesus was guilty. By choosing Barabbas, Pilate lost control of the situation.
Why did the people choose Barabbas? Verse 11 states that the chief priests stirred up the crowds. The crowd can always be persuaded. How foolish is mankind that we do not want to think for ourselves. Most people want to follow the crowd. It doesn’t matter what direction the crowd is going. It is no different from anything that is popular or anything that is in the mainstream. If it is popular it must be good. If most people believe something then it must be the truth. There is no better example of why we need to think for ourselves than the crowd choosing Barabbas over Jesus. But there was a greater reason why the crowd chose Barabbas. Early on in Jesus’ ministry He did not attach Himself to the crowd that began to follow Him. They were only following Him because of the miracles that He performed. The Apostle John writes:
John 2:24-25 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
In the events leading up to the crucifixion God was revealing the condition of the hearts of men. The Holy Spirit’s restraining influence upon the unbelieving world was withdrawn and God exposed the true condition of their hearts. All of mankind tries to hide in some way the wickedness that is in their soul. Most people don’t even realize how wicked they truly are. There are many restraints in this world that prevent mankind from revealing their true condition. But God can, at any moment, remove these restraints. This is what He did at Jesus’ crucifixion. The true condition of the hearts of the people in the crowd is that they desired evil and not good. They would rather choose a murderer over the Savior. They loved their sin and didn’t want to be set free from it. The motivation of the crowd that followed Jesus at the beginning of His ministry was impure and at the crucifixion it was revealed what really was in man.
The condition of Pilate’s heart was also revealed. In spite of seeing the wickedness in all that was transpiring he was unwilling to do what was right. In verse 15 we read that he delivered Jesus to be crucified in order to satisfy the crowd. He was not a true judge but a crowd pleaser. He cared more about trying to preserve his power than to let Jesus go. He tried to claim he was innocent as he washed his hands of the situation (Matthew 27:24) but he was still guilty.
Do you choose Jesus or would you rather have Barabbas? It is only as we see the true wickedness of our own hearts that we will ever see a need for Jesus.
Pastor Murray Hack
Mark 15:1-5 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. 2 And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” 3 And the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.” 5 But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.
There are many people who think that it is always God’s will to bless the Christian. Death and sickness and struggles are against the will of God and prosperity and blessings are always His will. The Christian message must always be positive and good and we are always to be happy and rejoicing is the message that they preach and believe. But where does the cross fit into such false beliefs? While it is true that in eternity all sin and evil will be removed forever, it is unwise to think that God can never use evil and suffering to glorify His Name. In fact you could make the argument that the evil and suffering experienced by the Christian reveals the glory of God in a greater way than prosperity and blessings and even miracles. For it is always easy to praise God when times are good and when He has done the miraculous but how you respond when you are being crushed often shows more clearly whether you are born again or not. The glory of God revealed in the suffering Christian is more likely to cause amazement to the unbelieving world than any blessings that we may receive here and now. Many unbelievers are blessed with prosperity and believe that they can “buy” their salvation so any external blessings that God may give to a Christian are often of no interest to them. But they do notice the suffering saint. They are puzzled by him or her. Their behaviour is truly unexpected and foreign. This is clearly seen in Jesus Christ in the events surrounding His crucifixion and the events leading up to His crucifixion. There is no doubt that the glory of God was revealed in Jesus such that even unbelievers took notice.
The interactions between Jesus and Pilate are particularly fascinating. Here you have two great leaders. Pilate was a Roman and he ruled over Judea- the section of Israel which included Jerusalem. The Romans had appointed figurehead Jewish kings over the other regions in Israel (Herod in Galilee and Philip in Ituraea). This background is described in the book of Luke:
Luke 3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene
This encounter between Jesus and Pilate occurred after the chief priests had completed their council meeting to find some way to have Jesus killed (Judas Iscariot had betrayed Jesus and led men to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane). Jesus admitted directly in front of the chief priests that He is the Son of God and therefore He claimed to be equal with God. Based on Jesus’ own words they accused Him of blasphemy which was punishable by death (Mark 14:62-64) but as the Romans had taken away the Jewish authority related to the death penalty they had to get approval from Pilate. In this present meeting and Roman trial, Pilate would have been closely observing the behavior of both the chief priests and Jesus in order to determine guilt or innocence as well as the facts. There was no lawyer present on Jesus’ behalf (everyone had abandoned Him) and the chief priests themselves were the witnesses of what Jesus had spoken that led them to the charge of blasphemy. There was very little evidence beyond spoken testimony. Without a doubt, Pilate would have known about Jesus entering into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt just days earlier accepting the praise of the people as they worshipped the coming Christ. As Pilate questioned Jesus whether He is the king of the Jews, Jesus admits to this truth. Pilate would have thought to himself, “Was this ‘King of the Jews’ a threat to Rome and to himself?” Having the title of a king in and of itself was not an issue. After all, Herod was declared to be a king as well as his brother Philip. The issue was whether Jesus was a threat to Rome and ultimately to Pilate himself who was governor over Judea. If Rome so decided they could appoint Jesus as a king in Judea ultimately replacing Pilate’s position. The chief priests then hurled all the mud that they could against Jesus before Pilate hoping that something will stick. In all their accusations they reveal the true condition of their hearts. The chief priests were not an impartial council looking for the Law of God to be fulfilled. They had come before Pilate filled with anger and hatred to have Jesus killed and Pilate knew it. They were enemies of Jesus and would do anything to have Him killed. What would Pilate do?
It was Jesus’ behavior that was particularly shocking and amazing to Pilate. Jesus acted in complete self control. He didn’t respond in emotion or anger. In fact, in His own defense He said nothing. He was silent. In spite of all the anger and the hatred spewed against Him by the chief priests Jesus was calm and did not act against them. The chief priests would have been doing everything they could to cause Jesus to come against them and to give them grounds to convince Pilate of His guilt deserving death but Jesus could not be moved. Jesus acted in the most perfect manner against the most unwarranted evil. Any other person would have attacked the chief priests in return for their false accusations and their threatenings but not Jesus. In every way Jesus acted like a king unlike any other. Pilate had never witnessed such a leader like Jesus before. Jesus was not seeking power like your typical earthly leader. Jesus already had all power and authority so He had no reason to try and seek it. He is not only the king of the Jews but of all of mankind. He was far above Pilate and the chief priests but willingly subjected Himself to their judgment as under God as it was to lead to the salvation of mankind. He was more committed to the cross than the chief priest’s desire to have Him killed. In this trial before Pilate you can see the glory of God revealed in Jesus. He acted in a manner so different from what anyone would expect when surrounded by such evil and corruption.
Do you see the king of glory revealed in these events of history recorded almost two thousand years ago? Are you amazed at how Jesus Christ acted in every instance of His earthly life and ministry? Jesus was in complete control in every situation that He faced. Are you in awe of Him? Jesus’ actions should give us hope that if we are born again by the Spirit of God that He too will lead and guide us no matter how difficult or uncertain the situation that we may face. But they also reveal that He is far above any man. He is God in the flesh who came to this world to save us by dying upon the cross in our place to pay the penalty that we deserve. Do you worship Him? Is He your rock and your salvation? Look to Him as your only hope.
Pastor Murray Hack
Mark 14:66-72 66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
The Apostle Peter was the most externally passionate member of the disciples. He was almost always the first to speak. He was willing to act in faith in response to Jesus. When Jesus had walked across the water to the disciples in the midst of a storm Peter also walked on the water in faith to meet Jesus before he began to sink (Matthew 14:22-33). He was the first to respond that Jesus is the Christ when Jesus questioned them about His true identity (Mark 8:27-30). And He was the first to claim that He would be willing to die with Jesus as the reality of Jesus’ death had finally sunk in and the disciples all understood that He would in fact die (Mark 14:31). But here, Peter failed Jesus in dramatic fashion. In spite of the fact that Jesus had just told Peter hours earlier that he would deny Jesus three times, Peter was unable to prevent himself from doing so.
Mark 14:30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.”
Why? What was going on in Peter that made him incapable of remembering his relationship with Jesus? Did he get amnesia? Who forgets the one they claim to be fully devoted to and only hours before declared such a devotion that he would be willing to die for Jesus? Peter and the rest of the disciples had given up everything to follow Jesus and now Judas Iscariot had betrayed Jesus to death. Was everything falling apart? Were these men that Jesus had poured Himself into over three years all going to fail Him? Yes. But Jesus would yet restore them.
As Peter denied Jesus he was alone. He could not see the will of God in his situation. He was hopeless and afraid. He could not handle what was going on with Jesus and Peter was in a state of confusion because of his own actions. Jesus had just been arrested. Peter had tried to defend Jesus with a sword but only made the situation worse. Jesus had prevented the disciples from being arrested with Him but surely they would be after Peter for what he had done in cutting off the high priest’s servant’s ear (Mark 14:47). But Peter had to know what was happening with Jesus. He would follow but from a distance. He was compelled to be in the very place where Jesus was. And that place was in the presence of the high priest. Surely the high priest would hear what he had done. Surely the servant of the high priest would condemn Peter even though Jesus had healed his ear. Peter was guilty for coming against the high priest. He had no defense. But it was done in darkness. Did they recognize him?
Peter never should have drawn his sword. It is hard to know the full weight of the guilt that Peter felt in this moment because of his actions with the sword versus his abandonment of Jesus and the powers of darkness that seemed to be victorious over Jesus. But one thing is certain: any time you seek vengeance your conscience will not be clean. You will need to look over your back and your own thoughts of what could happen will consume you. Peter was already in an extremely stressful situation in seeing His Saviour be taken away in chains. But he only added to his despair by drawing the sword.
Romans 12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Peter tried the best that he could to hide his true identity. As he watched Jesus in the mock trial before the Jewish council he tried to blend in but he could not. One of the servant girls of the high priest recognized his accent. The people from Galilee in northern Israel had a different accent than those around Jerusalem. Everyone knew that Jesus’ disciples were from Galilee (except for Judas Iscariot who was from Judea). Perhaps the servant girl had seen Peter with Jesus at another time. Irregardless she correctly identified him as a follower of Jesus. Peter’s cover had been blown. He could not be found out. What to do? Peter did what he thought was the only option- to deny Jesus. When challenged three times he gave the same response- that he did not know Jesus and he was so emphatic in his response that he was willing to invoke a curse upon himself by swearing, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” (verse 71).
What was the result of all this? This passionate disciple who claimed that he was willing to die for Jesus had denied any associate with Him. As he heard the rooster crow twice he remembered Jesus’ words and broke down and wept. He had failed. In the next events leading up to the crucifixion and Jesus’ burial, Peter would not be watching closely. He would be in hiding wallowing in shame and despair. But God was not yet done with him for Jesus had declared previously: Mark 14:27-28 27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”
Jesus was pruning His disciples in a manner that He had never done before. He was removing the filth and the mire within them as they came to see their sin that they were blind to recognize before. As Jesus was going to the cross He was also purifying His disciples. Jesus would restore Peter. He would become an apostle. But at this point he was brought very low.
Do you have such a devotion to Jesus Christ? Are you willing to follow Him to the cross? No one will do so if they don’t know the love of God or if they have not tasted His redeeming work. Peter had given up everything to follow Jesus. Have you? But once you do, this is only the beginning. You are a new creation. The old must pass away. Jesus Christ will lead you to a place where he will refine you through and through. He will show you what sin remains. He will bring you low but then, when you repent, he will restore your soul. Then, He will raise you up!
Pastor Murray Hack
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