Yesterday’s message …
- Started right with the Scripture, pointing out that Mark 15:15-20 is an OLD story with a MODERN sensibility;
- Noted that irony, sarcasm, and mockery dominate every moment of the scene;
- Gave a quick shout out to mega church pastors who cause many other pastors to ridicule what they cannot attain;
- Led to an invitation to acknowledge Jesus is King;
- Had this bottom line: We reserve our deepest mockery for our greatest need.
We are getting ready today to look at an OLD story with a very MODERN sensibility. An ancient tale that’s dominated by a current attitude. And best of, all, it’s a story that for all the times I’ve read Scripture and loved Mark’s contribution to it, I’ve never thought about much. And WOAH, have I been missing a bunch.
Now: I’ve told you all a million times that the Xn faith is an invasion of history and not an upgrade in philosophy. That’s why it matters to dig together into them – because this story & the larger story of A King’s Ransom shape us and make us today, whether you know it or not, whether you admit it or not. And the great thing is that there are such reservoirs of meaning & detail that make even the most familiar of stories never, never get old. So much for us.
Because look at Mark 15:15a:
Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them.
So: Barabbas is LITERALLY the man in whose place Jesus died. I know that many of you have said you’re a Xn because “Jesus died for me” but Barabbas takes that to a whole nutha level. And so Pilate’s next move is in 15:5b:
He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
Now: it’s one thing to read he had Jesus flogged; it is something else altogether to see it, know it, feel it. Flogging, in case you didn’t know, was whipping on steroids. They used a special whip called THE SCORPION that was lined with bone, lead, and bronze … all with sharp, jagged edges. The floggee – Jesus! – was tied to a pillar, back exposed, and it shredded so much skin and shed so much blood that it was itself often fatal. Who needs a cross when you’ve got a flog? Well, Jesus DOESN’T die after that back shredding and bloodletting & so see what’s next: The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers.
When it says “whole company,” that could be as many as 600 soldiers, though most likely this was far fewer than that. It was, however, enough to constitute a mob, a crowd, a movement in which each individual can be emboldened to atrocity & yet somehow not feel responsible. There is the unmistakable atmosphere of group think, mob mentality, in everything that follows. Because here is where the story turns thoroughly modern, completely current. Look at 15:17:
They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him.
Why purple? It’s the color of royalty. And the crown is not of gold or jewels but of thorns. He is being fitted with kingly attire; fit for a king! But think about it: in the minds of the soldiers, Jesus is just a Jew, a nobody & so they decide to make a spectacle of him. Dress him up & parade him around in the most humiliating way possible. Mockery & sarcasm hover over every word in the story & every image those words conjure up.
And more is coming. Look at 15:18:
And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!”
Do you see why this is such a modern story? Sarcasm, irony, mockery …meaning the exact opposite of what you actually say. That’s a mode of communication that defines our culture. Whether it was Seinfeld in the 90s, Modern Family more recently, or Twitter & Facebook even today, sarcasm & mockery is THE MODE of conversation today. Like my friend who years ago said, “Sarcasm is a spiritual gift and I’ve got it.” Me too! But apparently we didn’t invent it; the Romans did. From how they dressed Jesus to what they put on his head to what they said to him ….
Yeah, skip down to 15:19b:
Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him.
Wow! We’ve heard of Fake News but this is Fake Worship! In the way Mark tells it you can see the soldiers on their knees, you can feel them raise their hands, and you can hear them offer praise designed to ridicule, not redeem. The air in the room is thick & tangible with ridicule & w/ mockery.
And one last thing. Look back up at 15:19a:
Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him.
Again and again. It’s one thing to read it; another thing to hear the sickening thud of billy club on human skull. Melon on pavement stuff Mockery plus misery and you’ve got one of the bleakest, darkest scenes in Scripture. Mark is a master at creating a mood & this one is heavy with sarcasm and pain.
And then … and then … I realized just WHO the soldiers are treating this way. WHO it is they are loading up with misery and ridicule. They do it out of ignorance (possibly) or stubbornness – (more likely) or because in a mob you can get away with all kinds of stuff you never would mano a mano (most likely). But think about it: in their grasp they have not just a king, but they have in their hands, at their fingertips, one who is at the same time their greatest gift and the solution to their deepest need. In the flesh, they are manhandling their Maker. They are mocking the one, the only who offers forgiveness. Eternal life. Connection with God. Those soldiers may have BELIEVED their greatest need was their next meal or their next paycheck, but no. For them, as for us: eternity. Forgiveness. God.
They had all of this, all their needs met, and what did they do with it? Confused their needs (forgiveness / eternity) with their wants (blood / revenge). This ancient scene with a modern sensibility just goes to show you: We reserve our deepest mockery for our greatest need. Yep. We greet our best gift with our worst insults. We ridicule what we cannot attain. We are so intimidated by coming face to face with the depth of our need – and the truth of how powerless we are in the face of that need – that we get all defensive & become all sarcastic. In fact, for a lot of us, our sarcasm is our defense.
Lord, I see this in the mirror. A lot of you know that I read a lot. And yet in spite of that heavy volume of books, one genre that I hate is LEADERSHIP. It just gets all over me. And there are a million books on leadership, about half of which seem to be devoted to church leadership. And one of the most famous of those authors is well known for weeping every time he speaks in public. And that gets all over me even more. So what do we do? Eye roll. Puh-leeze. Mockery, sarcasm, WHO NEEDS THAT?
Heh, as it turns out I do. Because what area of ministry am I the weakest? (And don’t call out PREACHING now, please.) It’s leadership. Calling out & helping to grow the leader within you. It is a struggle a weakness & while our church might be stronger because I go to the hospital, it’s weaker because there’s not a strong “they helped me become a leader” mentality here. We reserve our deepest mockery for our greatest need.
Or the time when trying to help someone get some life stability, I realized that we (the church) were providing rent & groceries but not addressing any of the underlying issues. Great band aiding! So I said, “How about I set you up with a guy I know who is great at teaching interview skills. He can coach you on resume & being warm in the interview & all that.” Answer: “No! I don’t need interview skills! I need a job!” We reserve our deepest mockery for our greatest need.
Or even those ppl I know who laugh dismissively at the possibility of marriage counseling. “How do I know the counselor has a good marriage?” Classic defense; more classic deflection. No one with any problems could ever help me with mine! We reserve our deepest mockery for our greatest need.
See, I believe there is something so intimidating about coming face to face, eyeball to eyeball with your deepest need or your severest pain. And our response to that intimidation is almost always to get defensive. And these days , in this culture, we express our defensiveness with sarcasm and with insult. The Romans invented it, but we have perfected it.
Where is it with you? Where is it that you are realizing RIGHT NOW “that’s what I’ve been doing all along! I was scared to admit what I really need, so I made fun of it!” For some of you it may even be like those Roman soldiers. The need you’re mocking is Jesus himself. You’ve found yourself swayed by “smart” people like Ted Turner – AV “Christianity is a religion for losers” – or Jesse Ventura – AV : “Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers. It tells people to go out and stick their noses in other people’s business. I live by the golden rule: Treat others as you’d want them to treat you.” (Of course the irony of that one is that the Golden Rule comes from …. Jesus. Anyway.) But is that you? It’s OK. I get it. I’ve been there. I just want you to know: the stronger you deny it the more you reveal how much you need. People yelling the loudest have the most to hide.
But maybe it’s something else. Maybe you DO believe but you have a hard time getting into it. Maybe you see hand raisers or Jesus smilers around here and think, “Weak. They’re just in it for appearances.” And yet your greatest need is to let go in worship! Your #1 need is freedom to express how messed up you are without the cross and how grateful you are for it. You just realized it today, now, and you’re resolving, “I’m not mocking those folks anymore.”
Or even something else. You’re like those people who say, “I don’t need AA (or NA or DBSA). I got this.” No, it has you. You can’t remember what you did last night. REFRAIN. For a few of you here it’s friendships … you mock solidarity and fellowship and you insist you’re OK without it & deep down it’s the deepest need ya got. Lord, in my world it’s preacher jealousy as people ridicule that which they cannot attain. I’ve been both mocker and mocked. Truthfully, the deepest need of preachers mockers is some of the moxie & creativity of the ones they’re mocking. We reserve our deepest mockery for our greatest need & it’s time to stop.
See: what you need is threatening. Will require changes. Might be uncomfortable. What you want is soothing. Simple. Deadly. I just invite you to have the self-awareness to see what your need is an ultimately to admit that you’re not all that until you’re all his. Stop mocking and start admitting.
Because in all this I am stunned at what Jesus allows. He is executing the plan of his own execution. And to endure that, the maker allows himself to be chained, permits himself to be a spectacle, Endures the mockery of the very ones that he had known from the womb. Woah. What a God we serve … and what an artist Mark is to tell the story the way he does.
Because this Mark … he is so good. So good. One tin soldier is a little different from the other 600. After the flogging, after the mockery, after the faux worship, while Jesus is on the cross, ACTUALLY AT HIS MOMENT OF DEATH, look what happens in 15:39:
And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died,[c] he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
Wow. The insulter becomes the worshipper; the mocker becomes a marveler. This unnamed man realizes that he shares the same need with every other person who has ever lived: to acknowledge Christ as King. You know what? The mockery has turned into reality. May it be so.