HE IS RISEN Mark 15–16
“You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him” (Mark 16:6).The ultimate act which proves the deity of Jesus, and the efficacy of His death, is the Resurrection that Mark and each of the Gospel writers report.
Pilate ordered Jesus crucified to satisfy a rioting crowd (15:1–15). Roman soldiers mocked (vv. 16–20) and then crucified Jesus (vv. 21–32). His death was witnessed by many (vv. 33–41), and He was buried (vv. 42–47). But later when women came to further anoint the body, they discovered an angel by an empty tomb (16:1–8). Later the risen Christ appeared (vv. 9–14), and commissioned His disciples to preach “everywhere” (vv. 15–20).
Understanding the Text
“The chief priests accused Him of many things” Mark 15:1–5. In most things the Romans were content to let subject peoples govern themselves. In Judea and several other provinces, the Romans at this time reserved the power of capital punishment for themselves. This caused a problem for the chief priests. Claiming to be the Son of God might be blasphemy and a capital offense to the Jews. But not to the Romans! So while they condemned Jesus for one crime, they had to manipulate Pilate into condemning Him for some other crime! They desperately tried to invent a capital crime—and when they could not, they relied on the threat of a riot to force Pilate’s hand. History tells us Pilate had no regard for the Jews he governed. But why ask for trouble at a time when Jerusalem was filled with fanatically religious pilgrims from all over the world? Pilate’s concern was simple. Not, is it right? But, is it expedient? Will it get me off the hook now? Whenever we face any moral choice we weigh factors very much like those Pilate considered. He knew the priests were simply envious of Jesus (v. 10). But it was easier to give in to them than to have to report another bloody riot in a city he governed. If we are repelled by Pilate, the man who ordered the crucifixion of our Lord, let us abhor his way of reaching a decision just as much. Let’s commit ourselves to do what is right, whatever the cost may be. “Barabbas” Mark 15:6–9. Pilate tried to manipulate the crowd by offering them either Jesus, the Teacher and Healer, or Barabbas, an insurrectionist “who had committed murder.” Apparently Pilate was shocked when the crowds chose Barabbas. He shouldn’t have been. One section of an 800-page report on youth suicide published in January 1989 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services blames Christian churches that condemn homosexuality for the suicides of gay youth. The report says churches must “reassess homosexuality in a positive context” and must “demand” a sympathetic attitude toward homosexual behavior. As always, the world cries for the release of Barabbas, and the crucifixion of Christ. Unless Christians raise their voices for the truth as loudly as others cry out for the lie, legislators will, like Pilate, act to satisfy the crowd. And Barabbas will run rampant in our land. “The whole company of soldiers” Mark 15:16–20. The soldiers stationed in Palestine at this time were not elite Roman troops, but auxiliaries recruited in some distant province. Today you can see in Jerusalem game boards many believe were carved in the stone floor of the ancient Praetorium, perhaps by the soldiers who mocked Jesus. The soldiers meant no particular harm. They were just bored. And Jesus was to die soon, anyway. Why not have a little fun? It may be hard for us to realize now, but beating Jesus was to them nothing more than a little entertainment. Even if Jesus had not been the Son of God—even if He had not been a caring Healer and Teacher—such brutality is horrible, and was horribly wrong. Anytime any human being is brutalized in any way, the one really mocked is not that individual, but the God whose image that individual shares. I’ve just seen a letter by the chairman of the Mennen company, targeted for a boycott by a group reacting against programs that emphasize violence and vulgar sex. The chairman decrys the boycott, and suggests offended viewers “simply stop watching the offending programs.” After all, it’s just entertainment. If it doesn’t appeal to you, why deprive those who do enjoy it? I suppose a soldier in the company that mocked and beat Jesus might have said much the same thing. “That bothers you? Well, just don’t look.” Let the mocking and the beating go on. Just look the other way. But we can’t. Christ’s own suffering at the soldiers’ hands reminds us that brutality is always horribly wrong. No one who truly cares for God or man can look the other way. “A certain man from Cyrene, Simon . . . was passing by on his way” Mark 15:21–32. I suspect that at first Simon was frustrated and angry when forced to carry Jesus’ cross. What he carried was actually the patibulum, or crossbar, that weighed only 30 or 40 pounds. It was nothing for a strong man, though for Christ, weakened by loss of blood from His beatings, even that was more than He could carry. The problem for Simon was that carrying the cross, an instrument of death, might make him ritually unclean, and unable to take part in the festival he’d traveled all the way from Cyrene, in North Africa, to share. How angry we feel when our plans go awry, or something we’ve struggled hard to attain is suddenly and unexpectedly lost. Yet later how thankful Simon must have been. For the mention of his two sons, included most likely because those sons were known by the Roman church for whom Mark wrote (cf. Rom. 16:13), suggests that later Simon became a Christian, and had the privilege of knowing that he alone, of all mankind, had ministered to Christ on the way to Calvary. When our plans are interrupted, we may feel the frustration and anger that almost always come. But when these feelings do come, let’s remember Simon. And let’s look around for someone whose burden we may be able to lighten. Just for a moment for them now, perhaps. But later on, for us a source of glory. “He has risen! He is not here” Mark 16:1–20. For all of Christ’s promises, His followers did not expect the Resurrection. It was a long time before the angel’s words sunk home. Even then Jesus had to appear to many before the little company of His followers began to believe. But when at last the disciples realized that Jesus was raised from the dead—that He was Lord—they shouted out a message of Good News that not only traveled like wildfire across the ancient world, but has kept on burning brightly for nearly 2,000 years. The last verses of Mark’s Gospel (vv. 9–20) are disputed. They are not in the best manuscripts, and some are fearful of the miracle-working power Jesus promised the disciples, even though Acts testifies of many a miracle in the early church. In any case, the words ring true. Jesus did show Himself, risen, to many. And the conviction that Jesus lives has propelled His church to go out, and to preach Him confidently. Everywhere.
Why? (Mark 15:21–41)
As Jesus died, He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (v. 34) These words are undoubtedly the most mysterious in Scripture. It’s not that we can’t grasp what they mean. Some, of course, say the words reflect the pained surprise of a God-intoxicated man, who finally realized that God would not lift Him from the cross. But the New Testament gives us a better explanation. Paul said that Jesus was made “sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21). In a moment of time, the dammed-up flood of human sin was released, and cascaded with awful force upon and into the Son of God. In that moment, when the Son of God became sin for us, the Father looked away. For the first and only time in all eternity, within the matrix of the one God, Father and Son were brutally torn apart. So we do know what the words mean. What we can never understand is what the experience they represent meant to Father and to Son. We can never plumb the depths of Jesus’ anguish, or sense the waves of pain that echoed out through all eternity. We can never envision the corrosive scars that sin engraved on sinlessness. All we can do is stand at the foot of the cross, hear that cry, and realize that what Jesus did for us cost Him more than we can begin to imagine. And say, “Thank You, Lord.”
The best thanks we can give is not framed in words, but in our lives.
Thou has given so much to me, Give me one more thing—a grateful heart, Not thankful when it pleases me, As if Thy blessings had spare days, But such a heart Whose pulse may be Thy praise. -George Herbert