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Who is Jesus?

Date: May. 3, 2020

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Mark 15:1-15

Key Verse: Mark 15:2

"Are you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate."You have said so," Jesus replied.

On January 24, 1995, one of the most famous trials began. It was deemed the trial of the century, the OJ Simpson trial. I was in high school at the time of the trial, just fifteen years old, but I remember the low-speed chase in the white Bronco and the media circus surrounding the trial. Simpson was accused of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown-Simpson and her acquaintance Ron Goldman, who was just returning some sunglasses. The trial turned witnesses, judges and attorneys into celebrities. The entire trial was televised and so many in the trial were playing to the cameras. 150 witnesses were called over 133 days, but it only took the jury three hours to come to a conclusion. On October 3, 1995, the jury acquitted Simpson and he was to go free. It was a long trial that had a lot of pageantry that resulted in what some see as a questionable verdict. The prosecution bungled their case and rushed their evidence. It is a far cry from a bigger trial that existed nearly two-thousand years prior. In the past two weeks, we saw Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin and Peter’s denial of Jesus. Jesus’ trial was a sham. It was illegal for so many reasons. It was held at a private residence, at night and during a festival, all of which was against Jewish law. The witnesses couldn’t agree and at least two had to in order to convict, but they got what they wanted and pronounced him to die. Unfortunately for them, the Sanhedrin had no governmental power in the region, so in order for punishment to be dealt, Jesus needed to be handed over to the Roman authority in the region. Which is where we begin today.

Our passage begins, “Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.” (1) After the midnight trial, the Jewish religious leaders made their plan to get Jesus killed. The Romans didn’t allow the Jews to carry out executions; that was a matter only the Romans could do. So, the religious leaders crafted a plan to get the Romans to kill Jesus. Once that plan was complete, they led Jesus away and handed him over to Pilate.

In preparation for this message, I looked a little more into who Pilate was. Pontius Pilate was appointed by the Roman Emperor Tiberias as the fifth prefect, or governor, of Judea, who served in that role from AD 26-36. Most of what is known about him is what the four gospels show in regard to the event in this passage. Very little is known about his life before becoming prefect or even after he was removed from office. While he was in office, historians note three other major events Pilate was involved in. The first event was when Pilate initially arrived in the region. Against Jewish law, Pilate brought these banners that had the image of Caesar on them. The Romans were to view Caesar as a deity, but the Jews would see the banners as idol worship since they bore the image of Caesar. A large number of Jews came to Caesarea to protest by fasting for five days. Pilate didn’t like the interlopers and ordered troops to threaten them. As Pilate would learn, the Jews were more than ready to die than to accept the banners. So, Pilate relented.

The second event occurred when Pilate tried to use funds from the temple to build and aqueduct to Jerusalem. The Jews didn’t like Pilate stealing from the temple, so they protested. In response, Pilate ordered his soldiers to dress in tunics and blend in with the crowd. At his word, the soldiers used clubs to beat and kill the offenders. A lot of Jews died that day. The third event is what caused his removal. There was a false prophet who was claiming to show his followers sacred vessels hidden by Moses on Mt. Gerizim, which were supposed to hold sacred texts. Pilate sent an army to track down and kill the pilgrims. The Samaritans complained to the prefect of Syria, who then told Emperor Tiberias. The emperor then had Pilate removed from office and replaced by Marcellus.

With all this in mind, the religious leaders brought Jesus to Pilate in Jerusalem. Typically, he ruled the region from Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast, but Pilate came to Jerusalem during the festivals in order to be on site if trouble started because of the influx of thousands of people for the festivals. Given Pilate’s record with the Jews and being the Roman authority in the region, the Jews rarely, if ever, brought people to Pilate to deal with. Pilate was the enemy in Jewish minds. They wouldn’t dream of handing one of their own over. The people that the Romans usually arrested would probably be heroes to the Jews because those people were probably standing up to Roman rule like a true Jew. Yet, here, the Jewish religious leadership brought a bound Jesus to Pilate to deal with. It was highly unusual, and the main charge made it even more so.

When Pilate questioned Jesus, he showed the main charge against Jesus, “‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ asked Pilate.” (2) The main charge the religious leaders brought against Jesus was that he claimed to be the king of the Jews. This is echoed in all of the other gospels. On the surface, it looks like the religious leaders changed the charge against Jesus. During his trial before the Sanhedrin, the leaders tore their robes over what they thought was blasphemy. They thought that Jesus deserved death because of blasphemous things, but the Romans didn’t care about religious reasons. They wouldn’t want to be involved with such trivial things in their mind. So, it looks like the Jews changed the charge to a political one for the Romans. But it is not quite as duplicitous as it seems. The Jewish blasphemous charge was that Jesus was calling himself the Messiah, which has spiritual and religious connotations, but the Messiah was also considered to be the King of the Jews. The word Messiah literally means Anointed One, as kings are anointed. It is that same charge, but with different meanings for the Jews than for the Romans.

In this strange circumstance, the Jewish religious leaders brought Pilate a man who supposedly claimed to be the king of the Jews. It would be a serious charge, if true, because anyone claiming to be king would be opposing Caesar, since Caesar didn’t appoint him as king, like it was done with Herod. Trying to circumvent Caesar’s power was tantamount to treason, but why would the Jews hand over to Pilate someone trying to circumvent Caesar’s power? It was an unusual situation. So, Pilate simply asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus didn’t look kingly; he was the son of a carpenter. There was no regality behind him. He just looked like an average dude. He didn’t seem to be a rabble rouser. It looked like the religious leaders brought in a random person off the street and brought charges against him.

As strange as that was, Jesus’ answer was even more so. He replied, “You have said so.” (2) It was an ambiguous confirmation. He didn’t just say yes. He couldn’t. If he did, it would all be over at that point. But this way, the Roman trial continued, and Pilate could see that the charges were false. “The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, ‘Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.’ But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.” (3-5) The chief priest brought even more charges against Jesus. The Bible doesn’t mention what those charges were, but they were undoubtedly false, and they didn’t even produce witnesses to those charges. Pilate asked Jesus if he was going to say anything, but Jesus remained silent. It was amazing. The innocent would proclaim their innocence and the guilt would also proclaim innocence. It really gets under my skin to be accused of something that I did not do. It irritates me so much, and I try to show how my accusers are wrong. Yet, Jesus remained silent. Pilate was amazed. This was something new. Pilate could tell that Jesus was no threat to the Romans, so he was prepared to look for a way to release him.

The passage continues, “Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.” (6-8) Pilate had a custom of releasing one prisoner during the festival. This was designed to curry favor with the Jews and quell any uprisings. The people wanted to have a man named Barabbas released. Barabbas was an insurrectionist who had committed murder in an uprising. He was a hero to the Jews for standing up to the Romans, so a crowd came to request that Barabbas be released. There are a couple of interesting things about Barabbas. The first is that his name was also Jesus. He was Jesus Barabbas. Jesus was a common name. It was the Greek form of the Jewish name Joshua, and you might know a number of Joshuas, even now. I have a cousin named Joshua. The second interesting thing is that Barabbas means son of the father. Barabbas’ name was Jesus, son of the father. That sounds like the Jesus we know, but it may have led to some confusion.

When the people came to ask for Barabbas’ release, Pilate tried to use the opportunity to release Jesus instead. “‘Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?’ asked Pilate, knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him.” (9-10) He could tell that the chief priests were up to something and only handed Jesus over because they had some self-interest. It made no sense for Jews to bring a Jew to Pilate, especially for insurrection. It was almost a Jewish pastime to revolt against the Romans. Why would they all of a sudden bring someone to him who was supposedly proposing to do so? It was only out their own self-interest. Since, that was the case maybe the people would acquiesce. However, between the confusion of the names and the fact that the religious leaders had gotten to the crowd to focus on freeing Barabbas, Pilate’s attempt fell on deaf ears. The crowd wanted Barabbas, the insurrectionist and the murderer.

Pilate was at a loss, “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” (12) I’m not sure he asked this question to the crowd. Pilate at the authority to free Jesus if he wanted to. All the charges were false. There didn’t have to be any punishment, but in his frustration at the situation, he asked the crowd what he should do. Their answer was simple, “Crucify him!” (13) It must have unnerved him for a moment because he actually asks the crowd, “Why? What crime has he committed?” (14) Jesus never committed any crime, let alone a crime that deserved crucifixion, but because of the chief priests’ influence, the crowd called for his execution in the most horrendous way. Crucifixion was the most horrible way to die and it was a punishment that no one wished on their worst enemy. Usually, people had a hard time even looking at people being crucified because it was so shameful and terrible. Crucifixions weren’t entertainment, they were to make a point. It was kept for the worst of offenders and was forbidden for Roman citizens to be executed by it. Nobody ever requested for anybody to be crucified, but this crowd was calling for Jesus’ crucifixion. The strange day was getting stranger.

Pilate wanted to appease the crowd and not start something at the time of the festival. If something happened, it could easily get really bad. We’ve already seen that Pilate was fine with killing protesters, but it could get really out of hand with the amount of people visiting Jerusalem for Passover. So, Pilate gave the crowd Barabbas and handed Jesus over to be flogged and crucified. It seems like a tragedy. Jesus was completely innocent but was condemned to die in the most horrible way. He did nothing but so did Pilate, he did nothing to save him. Pilate had all authority to free Jesus at any time. He could have freed both Barabbas and Jesus, if he wanted to, but he was afraid and caved. He knew it was wrong and could have spited the religious leaders by releasing him, but instead he gave in. We can lament at the travesty of justice, but as Jesus predicted three times, this all had to happen. It was God’s plan for Jesus to innocently suffer at the hands of the Romans. It was God’s plan for Jesus to be pierced and hung on a tree. The OJ Simpson trial was a spectacle designed to wear out the people and took 133 days to reach a verdict. Jesus’ trial before Pilate was God’s will and took closer to 133 minutes. The Jews brought Jesus to Pilate at 6am, and by 9am he was being crucified.

So, who is Jesus that this would happen to him? As was mentioned three times in this passage by Pilate, Jesus is the king of the Jews. He is more than that, though; Jesus is king of everything. But he is not a king that lords his power and position over everyone. Jesus is a king who serves and covers over all of our sin. He was going to the cross to bring us salvation from our sins. He was going there to take our place. When we look at this passage, we can easily find ourselves identifying with the various people we see. Like Pilate, I am certain that we have given in to a crowd and followed along even though we knew it was wrong. Every fiber of our being can tell us that something is wrong, but for some reason or another we just give in. Like the religious leaders we can be blinded by our own self-interest and make decisions that are devastating to others. We can be a bad influence and cause horrible things to happen because we think that we can benefit. Like the crowd, we can be so focused on our objective that we lose track of everything else and cause pain and suffering because we are unwilling to see the truth. Like Barabbas, we have caused trouble that led to people being harmed. People may have hailed us as heroes, but in actuality, we are just thugs who want to cause trouble. Like the disciples, when things get tough, we are silent and are nowhere to be found. They aren’t in this passage because they abandoned Jesus and there are many times where we hung people out to dry, to take the fall for something all alone.

If we take a close look at ourselves, we can see ourselves in all these people, but there is one person in the story that we can’t identify with, Jesus. Jesus is everything that these other people are not. Pilate knew that crucifying Jesus was wrong but gave in to the crowd. Yet, Jesus stayed the path knowing what he was doing was right. He could have spoken up and pleaded his case, but he remained silent knowing the cross was coming. The religious leaders were supposed to be bringing people to God and showing others how to live with righteousness, but they were far from God demanding Jesus’ life. They were trying to kill, while Jesus was on the path to give us life everlasting. The path that Jesus was on was going to be very hard, but it would lead to salvation and redemption for humanity. The religious leaders were selfish, but Jesus was selfless. The crowd was focused on their own goal, with little thought of anything else, but Jesus was thinking about everyone as he marched closer to the cross. Barabbas was a troublemaker, an insurrectionist and a murderer. His crimes deserved death, even death on the cross. His name was son of the father, but the true Son of the Father took his place. Barabbas was freed and Jesus took Barabbas’ cross as his own. The disciples were faithless, but Jesus never stopped being faithful to them. They abandoned him in his greatest time of need, but Jesus never abandoned them. He took their punishment on the cross. He would die to give them life.

We are now approaching the end of this message and it is a time for us to think about what this means for us. It is not necessarily and easy think to take this passage and apply it to us, but in this passage, we can still see that Jesus is what we are not. We are weak, broken and unwilling to suffer. We are selfish and uncaring. We give in to pressure, just ask any parent about that one, and many times just do not do what is right regardless of the cost to ourselves. Jesus is none of that. He loves us so much that he will willing to suffer and die, even die on the cross, so that we can find life and live it anew. He wants to change us and make us better. He forgives us for all of our shortcomings, all of our sins, and he takes each and every one of those sins with him to the cross. As Jesus is nailed to the cross, our sins are nailed with him. Then we have an opportunity, a way, to be better, to grow in the likeness of Jesus himself. He is not just our savior, but our example of how to do things the right way. He shows us how to live right and helps us to get there through his blood. Jesus went to the cross for his disciples, for Barabbas, for the crowd, for the religious leaders and for Pilate. Jesus did so for us, because it was God’s will for us to receive the forgiveness of our sins. He is our proxy for salvation and the hope for us all.

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