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Mark XXVI: Jesus Condemned - Mark 14:53-15:15

When we get to Mark 15:15, Jesus has been condemned to die, and Pilate hands Him over to be crucified. But Jesus had already been condemned for a long time before Pilate grants the crowd’s bloodthirsty demand. From 14:53-15:15, Mark records two courtroom scenes sandwiched around the sad third act of the disciples’ betrayal, apostasy, and now Peter’s denial. The first scene is a hearing in search of a charge, and the second is not so much a trial as it is a verdict that stops by the courthouse for a rubber stamp on the way to Skull Hill.

At the hearing, Jesus does not open His mouth to answer a slew of false charges. What does cause Jesus to open His mouth is when the high priest asks Him directly: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Then Jesus, who had forbidden the demoniac, the deaf man, and the family of the dead girl to tell anyone about His miraculous power, Jesus, who strictly charged His disciples not to tell others that He was the Christ, Jesus, who kept silent in the face of the false witnesses, opens His mouth in v. 62 to answer the question that is asked on every page of Mark’s gospel.

“I am,” Jesus said, “and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” No more secret, no more ambiguity, no more waiting. Jesus not only claims to be God’s Messiah and Son, but He places Himself on the judgment seat at God’s right hand.

This is all the high priest needs to hear. He immediately tears his garments and charges Jesus with the capital crime of blasphemy. And in v. 65, His blasphemy is particularly tied to His prophetic words – He’s a blasphemer because He falsely claimed to speak for God. But at that very moment, Mark changes the scene back to Peter, who has thus far been the boldest of the disciples, sneaking back to be near Jesus after fleeing in the Garden. While the Sanhedrin mocks Jesus as a false prophet, His prophecy about Peter from v. 30 comes true.

Where Jesus boldly proclaims His identity before the Sanhedrin, Peter tumbles downward into a series of denials. At first he deflects the question, only to be warned by the initial crowing of the rooster, but then he explicitly denies being a follower of Jesus, and by the end he is cursing and swearing that he knows nothing of Jesus. And so when the rooster crows again, Peter’s proud bold heart breaks and he weeps over his failure to stand with the one his own mouth had proclaimed to be the Christ.

On Friday morning, the Sanhedrin hands Jesus over to Pilate for His trial. They have modified the blasphemy charge so that it sounds criminal to Roman ears: they present Jesus as a rival to Caesar, the King of the Jews. Pilate couldn’t care less about Jewish debates over prophets, temples, and blasphemy, but a king gets his attention.

And where the Jewish leaders saw a false prophet, Pilate sees a failed king, a king with no subjects, a king who refuses even to fight for himself by answering the charges. This man isn’t a violent threat to Rome. He’s simply a thorn in the side of the Sanhedrin, and even Pilate can see the green slime of envy dripping off of them. And so he tries to set Jesus free through a feast-time amnesty tradition.

Sitting in Pilate’s prison is a man called Barabbas, whose first name also seems to have been Jesus. This Jesus is a violent revolutionary, sort of a Robin Hood figure, fighting for Jewish independence. And so the choice Pilate proposes is this: which Jesus do you want? The chief priests lead the crowd to seek a pardon for the murderer and to send the innocent man to the cross.

And because we, like them, constantly prefer a Jesus made in our image to the Jesus God sent from heaven, we need Jesus to do for us what He did for Barabbas. On that day in Jerusalem, Jesus took Barabbas’ place, the innocent taking up the cross of the guilty. It is not enough to see King Jesus die for His nation, Jesus the Prophet dying for His faith. You need to see Jesus condemned to die in the place of one individual, so that when you look closely at Barabbas, you can see your own face. Jesus goes to the cross for you.

Who is Jesus? The hearing before the Sanhedrin gives us the answer: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Why does Jesus go to the cross? The trial before Pilate tells us: King Jesus dies for His people. Rabbi Jesus dies the death of all the prophets. But most of all, Christ Jesus went to the cross as a substitute for sinners. So weep with Peter, and stand amazed with Pilate as you behold the Jesus the Christ, Jesus the King, Jesus the Crucified.

Posted on Thursday, September 27, 2018 by CJ Bowen