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MARK 15:1-15
Series:  The Good News of Jesus Christ - Part Forty Six

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
April 7, 2019

We are looking at only 15 verses this morning.  Mark 15:1-15.  So, if you are able, would you stand with me and let us read together our text for this morning as we come together before God’s word.


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.  And Pilate asked Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”


And He answered him, “You have said so.”


And the chief priests accused Him of many things.  And Pilate again asked Him, “Have You no answer to make?  See how many charges they bring against You.”  But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.


Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked.  And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas.  And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them.


And he answered them saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”  For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered Him up.  But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead.

And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?”


And they cried out again, “Crucify Him.”


And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done?”


But they shouted all the more, “Crucify Him.”


So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.


What major life changing event will happen this April 26th?  The release of Avengers End Game!  Which - if you can get tickets - there’s a 6:00 showing on Thursday downtown and out at the mall.  I just happen to know that.


Doesn’t it seem like sometimes the main significance of a number of these Marvel movies is the back bio or information in the movie that sets up a subsequent movie?  The movie itself is good but everyone’s waiting for the end credit scene for a clue for what comes next.


Only here - reading through Mark - we know what comes next.  Yes?


Pop quiz from last Sunday.  In the sequence of events leading to the cross, how many trials were there?  6  


If you said 9 - thank you for paying attention last Sunday.  I know this is hard to imagine.  But I made a mistake.  Or as they say, “I misspoke.”  There were actually 6 - not 9 trials.


We know that each trial is part of a sequence that sets up the next one.  Trial #1 sets up trial #2 and so on until we get to the end of where we know all those trials are leading us.  Which is Jesus’ crucifixion and death. 


And yet, all the trials are individually important because of what they reveal to us about Jesus and how God works.  So as we’re moving through these trials - which might be way familiar for us - we need to make sure we’re not missing the significance of what God may desire to reveal to us.  We need to keep looking for what we’re being shown about Jesus and how God is at work.


Because as much as we might be tempted to think that this is about Jesus being brought before Pilate to be condemned and crucified this really is about Pilate being before Jesus according to God’s will and plan to bring Jesus to the cross for us.


Verse 1 covers Trial #3 - which is Pilate’s Prequel - what takes place on Friday morning.  Mark tells us that the chief priests, elders, and scribes came together with the whole Council - meaning the Sanhedrin - and they held a “consultation.” 


“Consultation” - the word in Greek means that they assembled together as the Council.  Which was a formal meeting together of the Sanhedrin that took place on the south end of the temple complex in what was known as the Royal Portico.


Looking at the model you can see where that Royal Portico was.  And at the east end of the Royal Portico - which is the end closest to us - there was an area called the “Chamber of Hewn Stone” which is where the Sanhedrin officially held court.  Where they assembled together as a council to set national and religious policy and rule on civil and criminal cases.


When they “consulted” - when the Sanhedrin formally assembled together in that place - which was out in the open and very public - all of their deliberations and discussion and decisions were open to the public. 


Last Sunday we looked at trial #1 - which took place right after Jesus was arrested.  Jesus is brought before Annas - the former High Priest.  Who is like the God Father of the Sanhedrin.  Who is looking for a way to take Jesus down and… out. 


Trial #1 doesn’t produce the results they’re looking for so they brought Jesus before Caiaphas - Anna’s son-in-law - the current - I got the job because of daddy - High Priest.  Which is trial #2.


Which, as much as we might have been tempted to think was a trial about the pursuit of justice was not a trial about the pursuit of justice but about the search for an accusation to take Jesus down and… out.


Trial #2 began with the foregone verdict of Jesus’ guilt and searched for an accusation that would prove it.  Which they got when Jesus affirmed that He is the Son of God - the long waited for Messiah.  To which they screamed blasphemy. 


To get that accusation the Sanhedrin broke a ton of their own laws - including holding the trial at night - in secret - and not at the Royal Portico.  But now they have an accusation that they can go public with in order to justify a guilty verdict.


So Trial #3 is in the morning - very public - seemingly legal - and all about establishing the legitimacy of the Sanhedrin’s guilty verdict and their taking Jesus down and… out.


Luke - in his gospel account - Luke fills in more details about the trial.  Jesus again affirms - this time in public - Jesus affirms that He is the Son of God and the Messiah.  And judgment is pronounced by the Sanhedrin.


Which for the casual observer in the temple courts comes across as a legit trial that established Jesus’ guilt.


Mark tells that Jesus - guilt established - Jesus was then bound and led away and handed over to the Roman Procurator Pilate.


Verses 2 to 5 help us to understand Pilate’s Perspective of what he’s confronted with.


Trial #4 takes place - most probably - at the Fortress of Antonia.  Which was a military barracks that loomed over the northwest corner of the temple mount.  A fortress that the Romans used to keep track of what was going on in the temple and to maintain order.


Normally Pilate would have been in Caesarea Maritima - which is up north on the Mediterranean coast.  Which is where his headquarters was.


If you were to go to Caesarea Maritima today you would see this stone - which has an inscription - dated to about 30 AD - that links Pilate to Caesarea Maritima.  This is a replica.  The original is in the Israeli Museum in Jerusalem.


Pilate was a real person in real time in a real place who  would have been in Caesarea Maritima except that he needed to be in Jerusalem to maintain order during the Passover.  Pilate - who as procurator is the Roman governor and the military commander - who’s responsible for maintaining order and collecting taxes.


Maintain… order.  And collect… taxes.


The Romans were brutal when it came to conquering peoples and unrelenting in their control of conquered peoples.  But they were flexible in allowing local governments - like the Sanhedrin - to administer their own policies and traditions and to worship their own local gods.  Flexible as long as uprisings were squashed and the tax money kept flowing to Rome.


Every few years a rebel would emerge.  Claim to be the Messiah.  Gather followers.  Lead an insurrection.  And then get squashed.  Rebels got dead and their crucified bodies lined the streets in and out of their towns.  The Romans were flexible… to a point.


The Sanhedrin didn’t have the right to execute someone convicted of a capital crime.  That was a right reserved for the Romans.  So they need to bring Jesus to Pilate because they need Pilate to make sure Jesus gets dead.


Pilate - who’s job is to maintain… order and collect… taxes.  And to take care of anyone who gets in the way of that.


So, bringing Jesus to Pilate - who’s in town to maintain order and to keep the tribute money flowing to Rome - their accusation has to be that Jesus threatens all that.  Mark is brief.  Luke records their accusation:


“We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is the Christ, a king.”  (Luke 23:2b)


To accuse Jesus of blaspheme would mean nothing to the Romans.  So they’re embellishing.  Straining beyond what came out in trail #2. 


He’s misleading the nation away from loyalty to Caesar.  Stirring up trouble.  He’s forbidding us to pay tribute.  No more tax money going to Rome.  He claims that He is the Christ - the Messiah.  And so you don’t miss it - we’ll translate it for you:  He says He’s a king.   


Bottom line:  His death will serve the interests of the Empire.


Pilate asks:  “Are You the King of the Jews?”


“I hear what they’re saying.  But do You consider yourself to be the King of the Jews?”


Jesus cryptic answer “You have said so.” turns the question back to Pilate.  “If you say so.”  Is not incriminating.  Which leads to desperation on the part of chief priests - who see their advantage slipping away - who start piling on the accusations.


And Pilate again asked Him, “Have You no answer to make?  See how many charges they bring against You.”


But Jesus remains silent.  No response is going to change the minds of His accusers or the outcome of where God has these trial heading.  With every accusation they’re just piling guilt on themselves.


Pilate is amazed.  The word in Greek means that Pilate was blown away in admiration for Jesus.  Jesus is not your average insurrectionist with a Messiah complex.


Jesus’ silence speaks louder to His identity than any answer He could give at this point.


Isaiah writing prophetically about the Messiah describes Jesus:  “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.”  (Isaiah 53:7)


Let’s be clear.  If Jesus answers “yes” He’s playing into Pilate’s preconceived perspective of all this.  Jesus putting Himself on the same level as all the other would be Messiahs.  Which is about rebellion against the Empire not about Jesus’ true identity as King of kings and Lord of lords - the true Messiah.  Not about His true ministry and message.


Jesus silence testifies to Who He really is.  And it’s got Pilate wondering.  Wondering at the innocence of Jesus.  Wondering at the motivations of the Sanhedrin.  Who wants the blood of an innocent man on your hands?


Which brings us to verse 6 and Pilate’s Problem.  Pilates’ dilemma.  Because Pilate needs a win.


To understand that - just how precarious Pilate’s position is and why he needs a win - we need to grab some back bio on Pilate.


The Emperor Tiberias had left the day-to-day administration of the empire in the hands of Lucius Sejanus.  Lucius Sejanus who had earned the trust of the Emperor Tiberias by transforming a small regiment of the imperial guard into the feared and very influential Praetorian Guard.


So when the Emperor Tiberias had retired to his villa on Crete - Sejanus - whom Tiberias had left in charge - Lucius Sejanus had ruthlessly eliminated his political rivals.  Including the emperor’s son Drusus.  Drusus that Sejanus had slowly poisoned over a period of time with the help of Drusus’ wife.  Poisoned so that it looked like Drusus had died of natural causes.


It was Lucius Sejanus who had appointed his friend Pontus Pilate to be the procurator of Judea.  Which was not an easy appointment.  But it had the potential for upward mobility.


So Pilate rules in Judea and has great future potential in the Empire because of Lucius Sejanus.


Pilate - who had a reputation for being ruthless and brutal and cruel and unfair - had had a number of conflicts with the Jews.  Because of their constant conflict and discontent the Jewish leaders had actually petitioned Tiberias to remove Pilate.  But, Pilate had Lucius Sejanus as a patron.


Lucius Sejanus who was the de facto ruler of the Empire until Tiberias found out that Lucius had poisoned his son Drusus and had had Lucius executed.


So as the citizens or Rome dragged the mutilated body of Lucius Sejanus around the streets of Rome Pilate found himself without a friend.  Pilate who could have easily been removed and never heard from again.  Pilate who would be a forgotten footnote in history except for his role in this drama.  Pilate who is in desperate need of a win and not more controversy.

Mark records - verse 6 - that Pilate used the Passover as an opportunity to win favor with the people.  The tradition was to release some criminal that the crowd asked to be released.  Traditionally it was someone who’d committed some minor offense.  So as good will gesture - easing Roman - Jewish relations - and helping Pilate’s precarious position - Pilate would magnanimously release a prisoner.


So the crowd arrives at the Fortress Antonia - where Pilate is because he’s in Jerusalem keeping order - not Caesarea Maritima - the crowd comes to Pilate with their traditional request.  What should have been a win for Pilate.


Only this time it’s not someone who’s committed a minor offense.  But Barabbas.


“Barabbas” means “son of a father”  Bar - abba.  Which is a non-sensical name kind of like “John Doe.”  Which he probably used to protect the identity of his family.


He’s described as someone who’s committed murder while leading a rebellion - a riot against Rome.  He’s a revolutionary who’s on death row waiting to be executed.  Probably crucified.


Pilate’s problem is how to turn all that into a win.


So Pilate comes up with a proposal [Pilate’s Proposal].


Mark tells us - verse 10 - that Pilate perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered Him [Jesus] up.” 


“Perceived” comes from the verb “ginosko” which is knowledge that comes from experience.


Because Pilate is an experienced politician he knows that the reason the chief priests have brought Jesus to him is not about their deep and abiding concern for the well being of the Roman Empire but because they “envy” Jesus.


Pilate - who is amazed by Jesus - Pilate knows that Jesus is innocent.  He can safely assume that the Sanhedrin knows Jesus is innocent.  The issue is that they’re jealous of whatever it is about Jesus that they see as threatening their power and politics and profit.


Pilate knows political maneuvering when he sees it.  He  knows that the Sanhedrin is working the crowd.  He knows that this is about power and politics and profits.  He gets it.


So Pilate sensing that there may be a win in all this for him - Pilate makes a proposal.


Verse 9:  “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”


A clear choice between a notorious convicted enemy of the empire and Jesus who is no threat and is clearly innocent.


It’s a no brainer clear choice.  Surely the Jewish leaders would never risk angering Rome by choosing to release a “real” threat to the Empire - surely they would never risk discrediting themselves by withholding justice from a known vicious convicted murderer - in order to send Jesus to the cross.


Except Pilate underestimates the Sanhedrin’s hatred of Jesus.  And, they called his bluff.  As ruthless and brutal and cunning as Pilate is - the Sanhedrin is more so.


Pilate is shrewd enough to see through them but too weak to do anything about it. 


So now Pilate has an even worse dilemma.  He’s been backed into a corner - between a rock and hard place.


If Pilate releases Jesus he risks the Jews rioting.  Which he must avoid at all costs if he’s going to hand onto power - if not his own life.  If he releases Barabbas he’ll be guilty of releasing a man Rome wanted dead.


Pilate goes back to the crowd.  “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?”


And they cried out again, “Crucify Him.”


“Why, what evil has He done?”  Meaning this doesn’t warrant crucifixion.  There’s nothing that warrants crucifying an innocent man.  But that isn’t what this is about.


The crowd doesn’t answer him because the crowd is now a blood thirsty mob full of frenzied hatred stirred up by the - maybe even paid for - by the Sanhedrin.  They shouted all the more, “Crucify Him.”


Verse 15 - [Pilate’s Punt]  Pilate - in an effort to work his way out of the no win scenario - to placate the crowd - and hold on to his own position of power and prestige and profit - and maybe even his own life - Pilate punts.  Pilate releases Barabbas and then has Jesus scourged and delivered to be crucified.


We need to make sure we don’t rush pass the significance of that.


A scourge had a short wooden handle to which several thongs were attached.  The ends of the thongs were equipped with pieces of lead or brass and with sharply pointed pieces of bone.


The stripes were laid especially on the victims bare back that was bent to expose the most flesh.


Generally two men were employed to administer the punishment.  One lashing the victim from one side, the other lashing the victim from the other side.  The result was that the flesh was lacerated to such and extent that deep seated veins and arteries and sometimes entrails and organs were exposed.


There were two purpose to scourge someone.  One was to create fear.  Scourging was horrendously brutal and it came with the risk of dying.  It was known as the halfway death.


And second - scourging was a precursor to crucifixion because it shortened the time a victim spent on the cross.  An expert scourger could scourge someone within an inch of their life.


Pilate - fearing the crowd - fearing for his life - delivers Jesus to be scourged and crucified.


Processing all that…


They’ve got the wrong guy on trial.


At this trial is Pilate who’s guilty of sin - of rebellion against God.  And the Sanhedrin that’s guilty of their own sin and rebellion against God.  The crowd who’s guilty.  The soldiers and scourgers.  All guilty - in sin - before God.


It’s out of their own self-focused motivations and fears and moral depravity - that they come to judge Jesus - to condemn Jesus - the only One Who’s innocent.  They’ve got the wrong guy on trial.


The one guy who’s innocent is the guy who gets scourged and sent off to be crucified.


And they all knew it.


They all knew Jesus was innocent.  The Sanhedrin knew Jesus was innocent.  Pilate knew Jesus was innocent.  He had the motivations of the Sanhedrin pegged.


Pilate challenged the crowd with the question:  “What evil has He done?”  And the crowd couldn’t come up with an answer.  Only more hatred. 


The one innocent person in all this is… Jesus.


They all knew Jesus was innocent and yet Jesus is the one found guilty - Jesus, Who’s led away to be scourged and crucified.


Two takeaways.


First:  Jesus isn’t on trial for Himself.  He’s on trial for you and me.


Peter explains - 1 Peter 3:18:  “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.”


Jesus is found guilty - He suffers - the innocent for the guilty - to bring us to God.  The innocent is declared guilty so the guilty can be declared innocent.


Like Barabbas - who’s guilty and yet treated as innocent because the innocent One Jesus was treated as guilty.  Jesus died in his place.  Jesus dies in our place. 


So that when we come before having agreed with Him as to our guilt and sin - in repentance - turning from it - and crying out to God for His forgiveness - surrendering our lives to God and trusting in the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf - God makes us to be right before Him - righteous - standing before God in the innocence of Jesus.

takeaway:  Jesus gets it.  He gets you and me.


Arguably there are things that come at us in life that we do not deserve.  There are also things we do deserve.  We need to be honest.


But when we’re in circumstances that are unfair and unjust - the lonely - hopeless - brutal - depressing stuff of life.  When we’re powerless and misunderstood.  When the excrement hits the fan - which it too often does.  We wonder where God is in all of that.


And yet - seeing Jesus on trial - suffering - for us - we’re brought back to the reality that God - by His grace - has stepped into all of that - for us.


Hebrews 4:15 tells us that:  “We do not have a high priest [Jesus] Who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”


Jesus gets what is unfair and unjust.  He gets the pain we feel and the hurts that we carry with us.  Jesus Who cares deeply for you and for me.  Jesus Who will one day balance the scales of injustice with His justice.


So - we might be tempted to read through these familiar accounts and to think that this is all about Jesus being brought before Pilate to be condemned and crucified according to God’s will and plan to bring Jesus to the cross for us.  Which is true.


But this is also about Jesus - Who’s innocent - coming before Pilate - who’s guilty.  Hang on to that for yourself this morning and when you head out of here to what’s waiting out there.

As brutal and unjust as life may be today.  As hopeless as things may seem.  As intolerable as life often is.  Jesus experienced all that to free us from all that and to bring us in His righteousness before God.






Series references:

Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).

Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 2:  Insights on Mark (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016).


Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®  (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.