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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:Our Saviour descends yet deeper into suffering before Pilate
Text:Mark 15:1-15 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's Suffering

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 100
Psalm 130 (after the law)
Hymn 25:3-5
Hymn 26
Psalm 105:1-3

Scripture reading:  1 Timothy 6:3-16
Text:  Mark 15:1-15
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Some time ago, a vote was held in the House of Commons regarding a private-members motion to study and discuss when life begins.  As expected, the motion was voted down.  However, many prominent Conservatives voted for it, including the Honourable Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.  He was widely criticized for his stance.  However, he stood his ground because of his personal convictions closely tied to his Roman Catholic beliefs.  This was one of those rare occasions when there was an explicit overlap between religion and politics on Parliament hill.  Religion is always mixed into politics, every aspect of life is inescapably religious, but it’s not always so overt and obvious.  It doesn’t always get mentioned like it did on this occasion.

Things are a bit different in American politics.  Religion constantly gets brought up.  People wonder, for instance whether Obama is really a Muslim.  Is he any kind of Christian at all? 

Some would rather that politics and religion never meet.  They go on about separation between church and state.  However, that’s rather naïve.  Politics has always been influenced by the religious views of those involved in it, even if churches are not directly or indirectly taking political stands or undertaking political actions.  Like it or not, politics and religion are always connected.

We see that in our text this morning too.  In the days Christ lived on earth, Judea was under Roman control.  The Romans ruled most of the Mediterranean region.  Tiberius Caesar was the Roman Emperor and he ruled through a number of prefects or governors.  One of them was Pontius Pilate.  He was the prefect or governor of Judea.  In our text, he gets caught up in a deeply spiritual matter – the accusations of the Jewish religious leaders against Jesus of Nazareth.  Pilate must decide who is right and who is wrong.  A man’s life hangs in the balance.  Religion and Roman politics collide and the world has never been the same since.

This morning I preach to you God’s Word and we’ll see how our Saviour descends yet deeper into suffering before Pilate.

We’ll consider: 

1.      The confession he makes

2.      The criminal’s position he takes

3.      The blood shed for our sakes

In verse 64 of chapter 14, Mark told us that the Sanhedrin had condemned Jesus.  They decided that he was deserving of death because he had blasphemed.  He claimed to be the Christ, the Son of God who would come to judge the living and the dead.  The Jewish religious leaders found this claim to be not only preposterous, but also extremely offensive.  So offensive, in fact, that Jesus had to be put to death for saying it.  This is the decision mentioned by Mark in verse 1 of chapter 15. 

Now remember that the Romans are in control of Judea.  They allowed the Jews some freedom to govern their own affairs, especially in religious matters.  But one thing the Jews were not allowed to do was execute someone.  Decisions on the death penalty fell to the Roman authorities.  They would have to make a judgment in the matter.  For this reason, Jesus is led away bound with chains or ropes and taken to Pontius Pilate.

Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea from 26 to 36 or 37 A.D.  He is mentioned in several other sources outside of the Bible.  He’s described as being greedy, inflexible, and cruel.  He was quite heavy-handed in his rule of Judea and could at times be brutal.  He treated Jewish customs with contempt and had no heart for the people under his rule.  Moreover, he could at times be lacking in common sense.  He was not highly respected. 

Normally Pilate spent his time at his residence in the port city of Caesarea on the Mediterranean.  However, the time of Passover could be volatile for the Jews and so he was now in Jerusalem.  The Romans typically began their work day early, so he would have been up and ready for work when the Jewish leaders showed up with Jesus in custody.

Now we have to remember that Mark presents a compressed account of what happened.  He moves the action along quickly.  He right away jumps to Pilate’s question to Jesus in verse 2, “Are you the king of the Jews?”  But we have to recognize that some things have happened between verse 1 and verse 2.  Some things have been said by the Jewish leaders.  Accusations have been made against our Saviour. 

The Sanhedrin was careful in how they formulated their case against our Lord Jesus.  A Roman governor probably wouldn’t care if Jesus had said that he was the Christ, the Son of God.  He wouldn’t be interested if he had a man before him accused of blasphemy by the Jews.  To him that would be neither here nor there -- the Romans wouldn’t have a dog in that fight.  So the Jews have to come up with a charge that’s politically dangerous to the Romans.  They have to make Jesus out to be a traitor or a rebel, a type of revolutionary.  The charge is that he claims to be the King of the Jews.  In other words, he is trying to take the place of Caesar.

That accusation is what leads to the question in verse 2, “Are you the king of the Jews?”  Pilate has to make his investigation into the accusations.  So he asks Jesus directly. 

Then we hear Jesus’ last words before the cross in the gospel of Mark, “Yes, it is as you say.”  The answer is actually more complicated.    The ESV translates this, “You have said so” and that captures a little more accurately the flavour of the original.  Jesus is not enthusiastically affirming the accusation.  But he is not denying it either.  His answer is ambiguous.  I don’t normally recommend Eugene Peterson’s The Message as a Bible translation, but here I think he gets the gist of how Jesus responds.  Pilate says, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  And Jesus answered, “If you say so.”  And then Jesus says no more. 

He gets more accusations thrown at him by the chief priests.  In his parallel passage, Luke tells us what some of those accusations were.  They said that he was perverting the nation.  They accused him of teaching tax evasion to the people.  The Jews accused him of being a rabble rouser, a trouble-maker throughout the region.  They went on and on, trying to make the case that our Saviour was a dangerous revolutionary who needed to be stopped. 

After some time of this, Pilate again spoke to Christ, “Aren’t you going to answer?  See how many things they’re accusing you of!”  Pilate had surely been faced with cases like this before.  In a province like Judea, it was his job to decide cases involving non-Roman citizens.  He could decide whatever he wanted, there was no law or criminal code dictating what he needed to do.  He had all the discretionary power to decide whether people like Jesus should live or die.  In cases like this, you can well imagine that the accused usually put forward a vigorous defense for themselves.  They would argue and dispute the facts brought against them or bring forward mitigating factors.  But not Jesus.  Verse 5, “But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.”  Jesus stood accused of all kinds of things, but he stood serenely before Pilate and answered not a word. 

Later on Paul would refer to this moment in his first letter to Timothy.  He spoke in 1 Timothy 6:13 of Christ Jesus making the good confession before Pontius Pilate.  That’s a reference to his trial before Pilate.  Paul says that Jesus made the good confession.  With his words and his actions, he acknowledged his divine calling and appointment to be our Saviour.  He did not deny that he was the Messianic King and even with his silence, he demonstrated his recognition that he was fulfilling what had been said of him in passages like Isaiah 53:  “…and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”  He took his place as our Saviour, he continued on the way to the cross, suffering the indignity of these false accusations.

Paul draws attention to the good confession of our Saviour to encourage Timothy in maintaining his own confession.  Verse 12 tells us that Timothy had made a public profession of his faith.  He says, “Fight the good fight of the faith, hold on to that eternal life that you’ve got in Christ.”  You have that eternal life because Christ did not turn away from his suffering.  Because our Saviour stood fast, we have been given the gift of life and fellowship with God.  And as we continue to hold on to our confession, we can look forward to the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We can wait eagerly for Christ’s return with the clouds of heaven. 

So brothers and sisters, when we read in our text of Christ making the good confession, that’s something that gives us comfort and hope.  Our Saviour didn’t balk at the cross, but in his love for us continued on the path that would lead to his death for us.  That fact is meant to again stir up our love for him.  It’s meant to drive us to confess his Name and praise him with our lips and our lives.  Many of us have done that at one time in our lives.  Profession of our faith, making that good confession, is not a once-off thing that you get out of the way and then move on with your life.  It’s something that’s meant to follow you and impact everything from then on – because we love and trust this Saviour who suffered in our place throughout his life, but especially on the cross.  And remember too that through him we have forgiveness for every time we have failed to confess him with our lips and with our lives.  Through our Lord Jesus and his good confession, God sees us as people who are always making the good confession too.  In Christ we have everything – and that’s good news for me, and for you, and for all Christians. 

Now as we get back into our text, we read about a real criminal and how he escapes death at the same time as Jesus is heading for death.  Verse 6 tells us that a custom had developed where Pilate would let a prisoner go at the Passover feast.  This probably developed as a way to keep the tension down.  He’d throw the Jews a bone to appease them.  Some of the people the Romans had in custody were real criminals, really bad people.  But others were only bad in the eyes of the Romans.  The Jews might hold them to be heroes.  Just like the American government holds Islamic terrorists in custody because they’re a threat to the United States, whereas some Muslims would regard them as heroes.  It was the same thing in the days of our text.  Usually it would be one of those heroes who would be released at Passover by Pilate. 

Around this time there had been some kind of uprising against the Romans.  A man named Barabbas was involved, and there may have been at least two others.  Someone had been killed during this uprising.  The Romans crushed it and they arrested those involved.  Now rising up against Rome was not a light matter. The Romans took it very seriously and punished it with death by crucifixion.  Barabbas was slated to die on a cross, quite likely on that very day, that Friday.  A crowd began to gather outside of the Roman fortress in Jerusalem.  They started clamouring for Pilate to do his usual release of a prisoner.  It appears that this crowd gathered without any knowledge of what had happened with Jesus overnight.  Their agenda was simply to have someone released.

If all that’s the case, then Pilate’s question may have caught them off guard.  He asked them if they wanted him to release “the king of the Jews.”  Pilate had an agenda for asking such a question.  He knew that the leaders of the Jews were jealous of Jesus and his popularity among the people.  He knew that Jesus had a popular following and now he could pit the people against their religious leaders.  Divide and conquer, in a way.  But the strategy failed.

It failed because the chief priests got in there with the crowd and persuaded them that they should ask for Barabbas and have Jesus crucified instead.  The crowd was agreeable.  So then what to do with the king of the Jews?  What to do with Jesus?  Their answer was that he should take Barabbas’ place and be crucified.  He should hang on the cross instead of Barabbas. 

This puzzled Pilate.  For all the nasty things that are said about Pilate by his contemporaries, he still did have the clarity of mind to see that Jesus was innocent.  It wasn’t obvious to him that Jesus was any kind of revolutionary.  So he asks the people to fill him in on why Jesus needed to be put to death.  And his question is not met with an answer but by louder screams, “Crucify him!” 

In his mind, Pilate was in a tough spot.  He’d done some stupid things with the Jews in the past.  He’d provoked them at various times and his rule over them was tenuous.  He could easily be replaced and his fortunes in the Roman Empire could nose-dive.  He knew that Jesus was being framed, but self-interest and political expediency took priority.  Mark tells us that he wanted to satisfy the crowd, so he released Barabbas.  He wanted to keep the Jews happy and avoid a blow-up, so he releases the guilty man and puts the innocent man on the path to the cross.

Loved ones, later that Good Friday there were three crosses on Golgotha.  It is possible that the two men crucified beside Jesus were the co-conspirators of Barabbas.  The third cross was likely intended for Barabbas.  Even if he was not slated to die that day, Barabbas was slated to die on a cross in the near future, but now he’s been given a second chance.  When the cross is raised, Barabbas is out and about around Jerusalem celebrating his freedom and his escape from death.  Jesus is on the cross instead of Barabbas.  Here we see the gospel truth of substitution.  Our Saviour took someone’s place on the cross.  In reality, he took my place and your place.  He experienced the wrath of God in all its fiery hell in our place.  We are as guilty of treason and insurrection as Barabbas, not against the Romans, or against the Canadian government, but against the High King of Heaven.  Because God is holy and just, we deserve an eternal death sentence.  But there, look, there’s Jesus taking our place so that we can live, so that we can be free.  What happens here with Barabbas and our Saviour is a picture of that.  That’s not to say that Jesus died for Barabbas or that in God’s sight he died in the place of Barabbas, or that he bore the sins of Barabbas.  We don’t know anything about whether Barabbas believed in Christ and whether he was elect.  We know what Scripture teaches.  Scripture teaches that in the eyes of God, on the cross Christ took the place of all who believe.  He is the substitute for all the elect.  Through Christ, we can celebrate freedom and escape from eternal death.  Brothers and sisters, look to Christ again today, look at him in faith and trust in what he’s done for you.  Love him for it, long to thank him for it, to live for him because of it. 

Now we come to the end of verse 15.  Mark is brief on what happened to Jesus next, “Pilate had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.”  He doesn’t go into the details, nor did he have to.  The first readers of this gospel would have known full well what this involved.  Flogging was notoriously vicious and everyone in the Roman Empire knew about it.  You just had to say “flogging” and people would get pictures in their mind of what happened. 

People today don’t get flogged anymore, so this means less to us than it did to the first readers of Mark’s gospel.  For us, there has to be some explanation.  Flogging was a form of torture that the Romans carried out before crucifixion.  It hastened the death of those who were crucified because they would be hanging on the cross with the injuries they received from their flogging.  Two strong Roman soldiers would have stood on either side of Jesus.  He would be forced to bend over with his back exposed.  Each soldier would have a leather whip.  The whip would have several strings and at the end of these strings would be sharp pieces of metal or bone.  This is what they would use to flog our Saviour.  People who were flogged before crucifixion sometimes didn’t survive the flogging.  They would have the skin ripped off their backs and sometimes their organs would get torn to shreds too.  This was part of the physical torture our Saviour endured.  First he was beat up at the Sanhedrin and then he was flogged by the Romans. 

During this flogging, he would for sure have bled.  Perhaps he was bleeding after his beat down by the Jews, but for sure he was now bleeding after his flogging by the Romans.  His blood shed for us.  His blood poured out because of our sins.  Stop and think about this for a minute, loved ones.  Just stop.  You put Jesus in this room with these Roman soldiers.  You are the reason why his back was flayed.  My sin and your sin did this to Jesus.  Yes, it’s true. 

We can shudder at the horror of what this physical torture involved.  But don’t forget that this is just a picture of what sin really deserves.  What sin really deserves is the wrath of God and that’s what Jesus was beginning to endure here.  It wasn’t just the punishment of the Romans at the behest of the Jews.  He is taking the wrath of God against our sins.  He is suffering under the hand of the Just and Holy One in our place.  It’s important to keep that in mind, because Jesus’ physical suffering was not in any way unique.  Thousands of other people were flogged and crucified by the Romans.  But Jesus’ suffering was different because the physical aspect pointed to something far worse:  the fury of a holy God against sin and sinners.  That’s really what our sin did to Jesus.  He suffers here because of us -- and in our place. 

What awaits sinners in hell is far worse than a Roman flogging.  What awaits the unrepentant in eternal punishment is infinitely more terrible than a Roman crucifixion.  So we need to trust in Christ again or maybe even for the first time, we need to believe that he took this for us.  We need to look to him in faith – all of us, you boys and girls, you young people, men and women.  All of us today need to be resting and trusting that Jesus Christ has taken the punishment we deserve from the holy God.  We deserve hell, but in Christ God holds out the gift of eternal life.  This is what we call grace and our calling this morning is to again embrace this grace of God and believe the gospel.

Brothers and sisters, as we respond in faith, we can be sure of our confession in the Heidelberg Catechism, “Though innocent, Christ was condemned by an earthly judge, and so he freed us from the severe judgment of God that was to fall on us.”  We can be sure of what we hear every couple of months in the Form for the Lord’s Supper, “He suffered countless insults that we might never be put to shame.  Though innocent he was condemned to death that we might be acquitted at the judgment seat of God.”  What a gospel!  What a Saviour!  AMEN.


Lord Jesus, our Saviour,

Thank you for your good confession before Pontius Pilate.  We thank you for not turning away from the cross, but going down this path out of your love for us.  Thank you for taking our place on the cross.  Thank you for taking our floggings and punishment on yourself.  Lord, we’re glad that because of you and the blood you shed for us, we are freed from the sentence of death.  You are our Saviour and we love you for what you have done in our place.  Please continue to work faith in our hearts with your Spirit.  Help us to always trust you and to grow in our love for you and our commitment to you.  We pray you to hear us because of your own Great Name and your love for us.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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