King on a Cross

And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!”  So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him. Mark 15:21-32

The ancient Roman philosopher and politician, Cicero, speaks regarding the practice of crucifixion as “that cruel and disgusting penalty”. He goes so far as to say that “the very word, ‘cross’ should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen, but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears.” There is no doubt that scripture tells us Jesus suffered agony on the cross. However, Mark surprisingly does not focus on the gruesome physical details, but simply says “and they crucified him” (v.24). If not the cruel and horrifying details of crucifixion, what does Mark want us to see? We should note that in all four gospels we read of an inscription placed over Jesus’ head while on the cross. Verse 26 tells us that, “…the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” Throughout chapter 15, the idea of Jesus as King is consistently mocked and ridiculed. Besides the soldiers who mocked Jesus in verses 16-20, we see Jesus being mocked by three additional groups in verses 26 through 32. The first of these groups mentioned by Mark were those who passed by the public place of his execution and “derided” him. The word means to blaspheme and is an ironic twist. “Jesus was condemned for blasphemy (cf.14.64) but is now the victim of blasphemy”. If Jesus is really King and holds such great power, he should prove it by removing himself from the cross. Their mockery is obvious. The second group includes the chief priests and the scribes. “He saved others; he cannot save himself.” They had witnessed the fact that Jesus had healed many, and if he really had that kind of power he should put on a demonstration to prove it. At no time, however, in Jesus ministry had their heart been open to Jesus’ miracles. Why should they ‘believe’ now? In reality, their mocking words were hollow jabs, meant only to ridicule. The last group Mark mentions are the two robbers crucified on each side of Jesus. They also joined in the mockery and “reviled” Jesus. Their insults revealed that they too did not believe Jesus was their King.

What is mockery? Someone has said “to mock God is to disrespect, dishonor, or ignore him. It is a serious offense committed by those who have no fear of God or who deny his existence. The most easily recognized form of mockery is disrespect typified by verbal insults or other acts of disdain. It is associated with ridicule, scoffing, and defiance. Mockery is a dishonoring attitude that shows low estimation, contempt, or even open hostility.” Today, we see that same mockery of Jesus in many places — from music artists and comedians for whom Jesus provides great “content” to poke fun at, to political and social activists who seem to revel in it. As an example, last June in the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil, two million homosexuals flooded the streets and performed a mock crucifixion of Jesus. There, a transgender actress played the part of dressing up like Jesus, being whipped until she bled, and then being crucified. One example is sufficient, though I could give many more from our darkened society.

The Bible teaches us that mockery is a characteristic of fools (Proverbs 14.9) the wicked (Psalm 1.1), the enemies of God (Psalm 74.10), the unteachable (Proverbs 13.1), the arrogant (Psalm 119.51), and those who hate correction (Proverbs 15.12). A mocker is not simply someone who has poor judgment, but one who is intent on making light of God and the things of God.

Mark’s narrative shows us that the crucifixion is not all about the physical abuse Jesus endured, although it certainly is that. But it is also and ultimately about why Jesus suffered. Though Jesus is mocked and ridiculed, despised and rejected by men, he is not about defending himself, or getting even, or preserving his pride. This is total surrender to God’s will. “The mockery at the cross fails to penetrate the vast and awful mystery that Jesus is a ransom for others (10.45)” (James Edwards). He suffers for the sins of the world, and those who mocked could not or would not see it.

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