Read Mark 15
His hour has come. There are several prominent personalities around Jesus on the day of his sentencing and crucifixion. In fulfillment of Scripture, nearly all revile him.
“But I am a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised by the people.” (Psalm 22:6)
The day will culminate with two thieves, one upon his right and another on his left. Both will scorn him. One will be hardened against Christ even at the door of eternity when he will need Him most. The other will have a change of mind toward Christ and be saved just before he dies.
But the text includes many others who are woven through the events of the greatest day in human history. Their attitudes toward Christ are worth considering.
See the active hatred of the Chief Priests, elders and scribes. “But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’” (John 15:25, NKJV)
See the ambivalence of Pilate a Roman Governor. Like many in the world, He is double-minded. He can take him or leave him, but in the end, leave him. “he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:8, NKJV) He has no thought of God
“The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God; God is in none of his thoughts.” (Psalm 10:4, NKJV)
See the ungratefulness Barabbas. He is the epitome of the Gospel unappreciated. Jesus’ sentence means life for him, yet he is unchanged. Though briefly spared, he is not eternally saved.
See obligated Simon the Cyrene. He looks like many who attend to religious things without a relationship to Jesus Christ. He does things because he has to—not because he wants to.
See the abusive soldiers. These were the bullies in school and now the bullies in life. The more misery they give Christ, the more amusement they enjoy. They sit and gamble, while he hangs in pain.
See the blaspheming passer byes. “And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!”” (Mark 15:29–30, NKJV)
“Save yourself” has always been the world’s cry. But “Give yourself” is the Lord’s command.
“I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate,” (1 Timothy 6:13, NKJV)
He stood, bound, before the career politician.
Pilate was the governor over Judea, an irksome region with a people who didn’t want Romans there. Now the religious elders of the locals bring him a controversy to sort out. Jesus stood silent while his accusers made slender arguments with little proof of guilt. Pilate, politically savvy, knew it was more a personal and local concern than a national one. Pilate saw that it was not his guilt, but his goodness, that they were provoked at.
“For he knew that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy.” (Mark 15:10)
David was envied by Saul and for this reason sought to take him out. They sang songs of David’s exploits. “Saul has killed his thousands, David his tens of thousands.” Not many days before, voices rang on Olivet: “Hosanna!” The Elders despised him for it and wore the envy of Saul.
Now they were looking to pin Jesus to the cross as Saul sought to pin David to the wall with his spear.
He questions Jesus who has been mostly silent, especially with Jewish leaders. “Are you he King of the Jews?” Surprisingly, Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.” John 18:33-38 opens up the dialogue a bit more.
“Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”” (John 18:36, NKJV)
I spoke with an old friend who spoke of presidential politics. I told him, “I try, whenever I can, to gently take a fellow believer by the hand and to lead him away from current political idolatries.”
Too many shame Christ by who they attach him to.
Last time I looked, He Jesus doesn’t have his face on any coin or national currency, and He isn’t tied to any earthly kingdom.
I continued with my friend, “Why are so many living for the two inches on the rope, when that rope is eternal in length?”
Jesus made the good confession before the earth-bound politician named Pontius Pilate. He declared he wasn’t from this world.
We should all make a good confession, not only before the politically driven but before a watching world. That good confession says,
“We don’t love this world. We aren’t worshipping the men of this world. We are looking for the world to come and a King who has character that is worth our affection—His name is Jesus Christ.”
Read Mark 15:6-15
Passover time was a “Pardon the Turkey” presidential moment. Except this wasn’t a light-hearted photo op. These were men’s lives in the balance. It was called the Paschal Privilege. It was an offer and gesture of good will to the subjects of Rome. Barabbas was a political populist who backed common people against the Roman elites with action and violence. He was, with his arrested entourage, a murderer.
Couldn’t Peter have fallen into such an inglorious category had he struck about six inches to the left? Yet, Jesus prevented such an outcome.
Notice, one will kill to presumably liberate. Yet Christ, God, will Himself die to genuinely redeem and eternally liberate all of mankind who will look to Him. And when given the choice, who will have men’s favor at this dark hour? With a little help from the Chief priests, they choose Barabbas. See how easily crowds are swayed.
It is quite likely they preferred Barabbas’ active methods of Roman resistance to Jesus’ way of non-resistance.
The fickle crowd chooses a new Messiah: “Release Barabbas!”
“What will you have me do with Him whom you call King of the Jews?” “Crucify Him!”
Barabbas is released. Christ is sentenced. This is the Gospel. He died a death He didn’t deserve to release us from a debt we can never repay. The just dies for the unjust, the innocent for the guilty.
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,” (1 Peter 3:18, ESV)
He is the epitome of the Gospel unappreciated. Jesus’ sentence means life for him, yet he is unchanged. Though briefly spared, he is not eternally saved.
Read Mark 15:27-27
The Gospel of Mark tells us Jesus crucified between two thieves. Isaiah saw this perfectly seven hundred years before. Messiah would be in his punishment, numbered with felons.
“And He was numbered with the transgressors.” Isaiah 53:9
How many pictures in the Old Testament do we see of Christ through types and figures: Joseph, Moses, David, Elijah, Jeremiah, Micaiah, Isaiah, Daniel? These were all considered to be numbered among the fugitives and felons.
But each of them was, like Christ, persecuted not for vice but for their virtue.
Doing good was their downfall. The criminals next to Jesus deserved to be upon their crosses. They deserved justice. But Christ was the only innocent man who has ever lived.
“But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:15–17, NKJV)
The Gospel writers insert part of the verse from Isaiah 53:12
“Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:12, ESV)
Jesus had quoted from the same verse in the upper room before they left for Gethsemane. When he spoke of dying for the many.
“And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” (Mark 14:24, ESV)
Jesus was treated and included with evil-doers by God upon the cross for our sakes.
He is right in the middle of me and you. Because he died for me and you.
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)
We have a choice to make with the man on the cross next to us. One, though hard toward Christ in the first hour, will soften and be saved before the last hour. The other will be hardened to Christ even unto death.
One minute after death, each will know the weight of what they did with Christ.
Read Luke 23:39-44
Mark’s Gospel shows us that both thieves reviled Christ. Luke’s well-investigated account adds a development that many of us can claim as our own: we once reviled him, but now we worship Him. We had a change of mind toward Christ. Paul was like man of us:
“although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” (1 Timothy 1:13, NKJV)
I cannot tell you what blasphemous man I was. I had no limits on what I would say or what I would do. If you rebuked me, I would do it all the more and in your face. But this kind of rebellion always ends in judgment.
God leaves such men to themselves before their conversion, to hang themselves by their own rebellion. He does this that the mercy of God may be more glorified in their salvation.
Paul, and this thief, ultimately buckled in humility before the one they had previously persecuted. God had plans for Paul to use him greatly, as he had plans for many of us. But for this thief, he is in his last hour.
We must not sport with the idea that we can be saved in the last minute.
I used to rehearse in my mind that I would wait until Christ came, repent then, and just not “get the mark”. I actually thought that way. What a fool! I said these things because I loved my sin and didn't want to part with it. Friends, God will not be mocked and He will not be outwitted.
Any moment, death can come, as it usually does, unannounced and as it always does: final!
Then what will you do?
The mercy to one thief tells us of God’s patience though. Matthew 20:1-6, Jesus tells us of the Hired Helpers. All were hired throughout the day and each were given the same pay. Even the ones who were hired in the last hour.
There was a redeeming factor for the latecomers in the parable: they responded in the eleventh hour.
Even though some converts have wasted their early hours and years, true repentance picks up and uses what is left to serve the Lord.
If you have breath in your lungs, it isn’t too late to beg of Christ and pray, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17, NKJV)