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.
21 And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. 22 And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. 25 And it was the third hour when they crucified him. 26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. 29 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, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 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.
The amount of material in Mark’s gospel account as Jesus’ earthly ministry winds to a close makes it difficult to pick only four scenes for us to examine. So far, we have seen Messiah judge Israel’s graceless religious system, and undergo preparation as the Lamb of God at the hands of Israel’s priests. Today, we’ll look at what takes place after Jesus’ trial before Pilot and his first three hours upon the cross. Next week, we’ll examine a resurrection scene.
Mark has been writing throughout his gospel account, and particularly in the last few passages, how Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus is the Son of God come in flesh as the final prophet, priest, and king. In Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin, we saw the leaders of Israel reject his kingship, reject him as priest, and mock him as prophet (by blindfolding him, beating him and baiting him to “prophesy” who was striking him).
In his trial before Pilate, Mark wrote that Pilate not only mocked Jesus’ kingship, but also gave him the title king of the Jews as a way of insulting Israel’s leaders. In Jesus’ trial before Pilate, even the common people of Jerusalem rejected Jesus’ kingship and screamed for his crucifixion and the release of a terrorist instead. The leaders of Israel rejected Messiah. The leaders of Rome rejected Messiah. The common people, both Jew and Gentile rejected Messiah.
This passage shows us the common Roman soldiers, the people passing by, and the religious leaders all mock and revile Jesus as he hangs on the cross. Mark reports these events without embellishment. He doesn’t tell us how the flesh was ripped off Jesus’ back. He doesn’t tell us the length of the nails used to pin Jesus to the cross. He doesn’t describe the particular shape of the cross. He does not describe the pain Jesus surely felt as the thorns jammed into his forehead, as the soldiers struck him, as the nails pierced through his heels and through his wrists, the fight just to breathe as Jesus struggled suspended on a cross.
Song Stuck in Mark’s Head
What Mark does emphasize to us is the unbridled hatred poured out upon Jesus. Mark is restrained when he writes of the beatings, the scourging, and the crucifixion. His entire account of the passion of Christ centers upon the hatred and scorn and mockery heaped upon our Lord by the various groups from rulers, to soldiers, to common people. Mark has a song stuck in his head as he writes this account. He is humming a tune as he pens these lines. I can’t tell you how the music sounds; the music was lost long ago. But I can tell you the title of the tune: The Doe of the Dawn.
Doesn’t that sound like a peaceful, lovely tune? It has such hints of natural beauty: a doe grazing in a flowery meadow, nearby a babbling brook. The birds are beginning to sing as the sun peeks over the eastern horizon. But the words that accompany The Doe of the Dawn are NOT peaceful; they are dark and brooding and full of anguish – at least in the first half of the song. The words were penned by Jesus’ earthly ancestor, King David in Psalm 22.
Jesus will cry out the opening words to this song in his darkest hour of suffering but none of the mockers will truly understand what he is saying, and they will mock him all the more. He will cry out, “My God, My God, why have your forsaken me?” Psalm 22 is the song of God’s anointed king in the midst of a rebellion against his authority. That is exactly what is taking place at Calvary! Mark sees it. He wants you to see it too. Mark uses three different words to describe the hatred directed at Jesus.
The soldiers mocked Jesus (20; ἐμ-παίζω, “to mock at”; root word is from “child” and indicates cruel child-like taunting). Those passing by derided/blasphemed Jesus (29; βλασφημέω: (βλάσφημος): to drop evil or profane words, speak profanely of sacred things). The chief priest and scribes mocked him (31; same as v.20); And the rebels hanging on crosses next to him reviled Jesus (32; ὀνειδίζειν, “to upbraid,” “scold,” “revile,” “criticize someone,” “accuse a person,” “raise a complaint.”). 
What is taking place in this passage is the absolute opposite of what takes place for us in a worship service; it is a chorus of hatred in 4-part harmony for soldiers, passersby, religious leaders, and convicts. Mark’s picture is of total hatred and ridicule for King Jesus by every level of mankind. Secular and religious authorities, Jews and Gentiles, high-born and low-born, good citizens and criminals; all are mocking his identity.
The sinfulness of humanity, displayed as arrogance and contempt towards God, is a picture of how the first Adam’s rebellion has turned the entire world as spiritually putrid as curdled milk or rotting meat; the world stinks of hatred for its Creator.
King David and King Jesus (Ps. 22)
In vv. 16-20 Mark shows us the mocking of the soldiers, who dress Jesus up like a cast member in a play. They beat him and spit on him. David sings:
12Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; 13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
Mark writes in v. 23: And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. Matthew tells us Jesus tasted it first and then turned it down (Matt. 27:34). This gives us some indication of Jesus’ complete dehydration after a night and morning of torture, sweat, and blood loss. David sings:
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; 15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death (Ps. 22:14-15).
In verse 24, Mark writes, “And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take.” David sings:
I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; 18 they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots (Ps. 22:17-18).
Mark, v. 27, “And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left.” David sings:
For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet (Ps. 22:16).
In vv. 29-32 Mark writes: 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, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 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. David sings:
But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; 8 “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” (Ps. 22:6-8).
Can you see the song in Mark’s head? Mark is connecting the rejection of King David, the little “m” messiah, with the utter rejection of King Jesus, the capital “M” Messiah.
NEED TO INTERNALIZE
Information on a Page
What we don’t want to do is approach this text with detachment, as if it were just information on a page. We hear something of the crucifixion every year in this season. It can begin to be read like any other news story, or lab experiment, or company earnings report, or any other kind of information we absorb daily. But it can’t be that! It’s not written to be short-term information.
Let me ask you this: do you know what it means to mock God’s image? Have you ever joined in with the crowd when someone is being picked on? Did you laugh and jeer at the nerdy kid who was getting a thrashing from a bully school? Have you joined in the gossip with your co-workers over some unpopular person? Every person is made in the image of God, even that politician about whom you enjoy feeling smugly superior.
Or maybe you WERE the nerdy kid or the unpopular co-worker; maybe you recall what it was like to be the object of scorn and mockery. You know what it means to mock God’s image in other people because you have been mocked. Jesus is the perfect image of God. Man is mocking God even as he tortures and kills God.
Often when we read this passage, or the other gospel accounts of the crucifixion, we tend to deny, or at least downplay, Jesus’ humanity. We treat him as if he were some kind of super-human comic book hero or some kind of bullet-proof machine. We don’t stop to consider how this mocking, this unbridled hatred, must have bruised his spirit as much as the lashes of the whip ripped his flesh.
The one person who never mocked, who never joined in picking on the nerdy kid in class, who never had a hateful thought or let a nasty word tumble out of his mouth is being mocked, derided, and reviled by humanity. Jesus was fully man. How his spirit was lashed by these brutal men! “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” (vv. 29-30). “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe” (vv. 31-32). Praise God for Jesus’ obedience to stay upon that cross and drink the cup of wrath for me!
In Heaven, the angels never stopped singing praises to God the Son. They sang day and night: Lord you are “all–sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long–suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.” Day and night the Son was praised for his perfect and infinite holiness, goodness, justice, wisdom, mercy, and love.
Now, as the Lamb of God hangs upon the cross despised and rejected by men, those angels must stand by and watch in horror, plugging their ears as the sons of Adam heap insult after insult upon the One to whom all honor and praise and glory is due! AND JESUS TAKES THE SCORN, THE DIRISION, THE REVILING of the soldiers, the passersby, the religious leaders with their snotty arrogance and gloating outward righteousness; he even takes the abuse of the convicts dying around him!
With one word, the Christ of God could have set all mankind upon their own crosses, could have then mocked and tortured them, and then sent them all to hell following their excruciating deaths. Betrayed, abandoned, abused, reviled, and rejected was King Jesus. And yet he stayed upon that cross. He chose NOT to save himself so that he could save me! My name was in his heart as the lash tore across his back again and again, as the fists of mocking soldiers broke his face, as he staggered under the weight of a cross, as nails were driven into his hands and his feet.
Here is the God-Man, cut off from the perfect fellowship of the Father and the Spirit for the first time in all of eternity, paying for your mocking his image, for your rebellion, for your hatred. And from all of eternity past, before one particle of the universe was spoken into existence by him, he held your name in his heart. He loved you from before Adam took his first breath. He came into the world to live perfectly and die horribly for you!
we will spend the rest of eternity trying to fathom that kind of love. In heaven we will not stop singing hymns of praise with our perfect voices as we gain more and more understanding of the love of God.
Changed by Love
That kind of love can heal the most broken soul on earth! Isaiah sang: “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).
That totally alien kind of love can show you that your sins have been utterly forgiven! If you are trusting into Christ, you have no need to do any penance; you are free from the guilt and shame of all your sins.
That kind of love says that you can NEVER do anything to make God love you more than he does right now, and you can NEVER do anything to make God love you less! That kind of love can set YOU completely free this morning! If you are completely, freely forgiven, without any work on your part at all, then you become completely free to love and forgive others as well!
An aging John, who as a boy had been the only disciple to stand at the cross and watch the love of Jesus in action, would preach this to his congregation in Ephesus:
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is the love, not that we ourselves have been loving God but that he himself loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to be loving one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us (1 Jn. 4:9-12, trans. partly mine).
This alien love takes place in the context of man’s TOTAL hatred! From all of eternity past, God decreed that he would display his heart to man even as man was displaying his heart to God. Paul puts it this way: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). While we still mocked God, Christ died for us!
Transformed Rebel (15:27, 32)
A wonderful example of the transforming love of God comes right here in the crucifixion. Mark writes in vv. 27 and 32: “And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. …Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.” Even men dying as condemned low-life scum worthy of the torture of crucifixion were desperate for a little bit of self-righteousness. It is man’s natural, default mode to try to appear better than somebody else – even with their dying breaths.
But Luke tells us that one of those men mocking Jesus stopped mocking. Something in that bloody, beaten figure hanging next to him began to move his heart. That mocking man stopped mocking. Perhaps he was given some glimpse of the love of God displayed in Jesus toward those who were reviling him and spitting upon him. He realized that Jesus had done nothing wrong.
This man saw himself for what HE was and Jesus for who HE was. And he cried out to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk. 23:42). Luke writes, “And [Jesus] said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43). Here was a man sentenced to die for his part in Barabbas’ rebellion, an insurgent, a zealot. Who was the kind of man who, were he alive today, would be planting and setting off IEDs. David sings:
For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him (Ps. 22:24).
But he is changed from a mocker to a worshiper in the presence of the transforming love of God. That love takes a heart of stone and turns it to a heart of flesh; it turns a mocker into one who begs for mercy; it takes a rebel and makes of him a follower. It makes hiders into seekers. It makes haters into lovers. But there is another story of transformation in this passage.
The Drafted Servant (15:21)
Mark writes in verse 21: “And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.”
We know nothing of Simon but that he was from an area that is in present-day Libya and he was entering Jerusalem on this Passover Sabbath; we are told he was forced to carry the cross of the true Passover Lamb.
If you’re a student of this gospel, you know Mark almost never mentions any minor character’s name (a widow, a leper, a rich young ruler, etc.). But here he mentions not only Simon but also his two sons. The mention of their names only makes sense if Mark’s original readers knew Simon’s sons as members of the Church. David sings:
27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. 28 For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations (Ps. 22:27-28).
It’s possible that Simon is mentioned in Acts 13:1 as a member of the church at Antioch which sent out Paul and Barnabas on their missionary trips. It is also possible that Rufus is mentioned in Romans 16:13 by Paul as one of the Christian living in Rome to whom Paul sends greetings. What we can say is that Simon the African literally fulfills Jesus condition of discipleship from Mark 8:34, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Something about his experience with Jesus must have changed Simon. Perhaps he stayed there at Calvary and God gave him eyes to see what the man on the cross next to Jesus saw: the suffering servant of God. That change in Simon caused a change in his family.
Rome hung people on crosses to instill fear in men’s hearts. It was Caesar’s way of saying, “If you rebel against me, you too will die like this.” Above the dead and dying the Romans hung a sign bearing their capital crime: rebel robber, rebel murderer, king of the Jews. Jesus was hung up upon a cross as symbol of fear to offenders: rebel and die like this. God says the same: all human beings are born into Adam’s guilt and sin.
All must and shall drink from the cup of the wine of the wrath of God. Either you must trust that Christ drank God’s wrath for you, or you must and shall experience God’s wrath personally and eternally.
But for those being transformed by the love of God in Christ, there is NO FEAR.
By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the Day of Judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us (1 Jn. 4:17-19).
Where is your trust this morning? Is it in your good works? Are you like the rebel on the cross who mocks Jesus in some last desperate attempt to appear better than someone else? Or are you basking in the perfect love that casts out fear? Will you not come and repent of your dying gasps to proclaim your own goodness and cast yourself upon Christ alone? Will you not cry out “Jesus, remember me”?
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
 H.G. Liddell, A Lexicon : Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996), 151.
 vol. 5, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-), 239.
 Larger Catechism of the Westminster Confession Standards. Q&A 7.