In a collection of newspaper clippings which we have in the house, we have some on the coronation of Queen Elizabeth which Carla’s father kept. She became queen in the year that I was born but was crowned as queen on June 2, 1953 and has been queen of England and Canada ever since. It is possible that within the lifetime of most of us we will see the coronation of a king, who, if it ends up being Prince Charles who is already over 60, will not reign nearly as long as his mother.
You may wonder why I am talking about coronations on Good Friday, what could the connection possibly be? Well, in fact, we are talking about a coronation today. I suspect that we have never thought about the death of Jesus as a coronation, but when we read the account of it in Mark, this fact is impossible to escape. Admittedly it is the most unusual coronation that has ever been seen. The story is loaded with irony, but it is exactly for that reason that it becomes all the more meaningful. That is my hope this morning. As we consider the death of Jesus as a coronation of Jesus as King, we will come to appreciate deeply what happened and be brought to respond in worship to our King.
The text we are looking at today is Mark 15:16-47.
I. Jesus Is Crowned As King
The word “king” is used three times in these verses, which is why we need to think about this as a coronation. People keep calling Jesus “King.” The irony is that they mean it in jest, but are actually speaking the truth. As we unfold the story, we will see just how true it is.
A. Hail King of the Jews
The first ones to declare that Jesus is King are the soldiers. Jesus was handed over to be crucified and it was the soldiers to whom he was handed over. Before this happened, he had already been flogged, as we see in Mark 15:15, but the soldiers thought they would have a little fun with him. They found an old purple rag and put it on him in a mocking way of placing a royal robe on him. They found some thorns and wove them into a crown. Were the thorns pointing upwards to look like a crown or towards his scalp to inflict pain?
They mockingly called out to him, “King of the Jews!” Did they think he was king of the Jews? No! Was He king of the Jews? Absolutely!
B. They Worshipped Him
As they hailed him as king, we notice that they hit him, they spit on him, but they also fell on their knees before him. The language is so appropriate to who Jesus is. We read in Mark 15:19, “falling on their knees, they worshipped him.”
Falling on your knees before a sovereign is an appropriate way of recognizing the authority of the king and declaring your allegiance and obedience to that king. It is something that happens as part of the ceremony at a coronation. As they knelt down and worshipped, did their hearts bend in worship and obedience? Probably not, but was it appropriate to bow before this king? No doubt it was!
C. The King of the Jews
We might not think much of this line of thinking if it were not for the fact that it keeps happening. When they brought Jesus to Golgotha and crucified him the charge against him was posted on the cross. What was His crime? Once again we are surprised to see that it was “The King of the Jews.” Did Pilate, who ordered this sign, acknowledge the truth of this statement? Was it mocking of Jesus or mocking of the Jews that led him to post this sign? We don’t know. What kind of a king did he suppose Jesus to be? We can guess, but we don’t know. What did the man who nailed the sign to the cross understand about what it meant? We don’t know. There is a lot we don’t know, but what we do know is that Jesus was and is king of the Jews. What the sign declared was absolutely true.
D. One on His Right and One on His Left
Another indication of royalty which again is loaded with irony, but points towards kingship is the phrase “one on his right and one on his left.” In Mark 10:37, the disciples were discussing this concept wondering who would be on his right and on his left in his kingdom. Well, it seems, ironically, that it was thieves who ended up on his right and on his left at his coronation. The language once again points to the concept that this was a coronation.
E. This King of Israel
To round out the irony and the presentation of Jesus as king we see that the words of the Jewish leaders who mocked him were, “this king of Israel.”
Five times allusions are made to a coronation, each of them not intended by those who declared or enacted them. That is the irony. If this happened once or twice, we might dismiss it as just mockery, but when it happens five times, in three of which Jesus is actually declared as King, we cannot escape the fact that Mark was deliberately trying to tell us something. This was a coronation.
II. A Crown of Thorns, His Throne A Cross
But the nature of this coronation was utterly unusual and unexpected. It included a crown and a throne, but not such as we would expect and there were many other things in the coronation which do not fit a coronation.
A. He Suffered
Most kings are pampered, but Jesus suffered. If we look at the way in which the soldiers treated him, we find behavior which is opposite to a coronation. After having already been flogged, the soldiers treated Jesus with great contempt and horrible abuse. They hit him, not only with their hands, but with a stick. A while ago I was at a youth event in which part of the game was to hit people with a rolled up newspaper. The rule was, however, that you could not hit the person on the head because that hurts too much and could injure. We are told, however that the soldiers, hit him, not only on the back or shoulders, but on his head and if the thorns were turned towards his scalp we can understand how much it must have hurt. They also spit on him which, although not painful, is uncomfortable and very shameful. Geddert says, “Instead of handing him a scepter, they hit him with a reed. Instead of kissing his feet, they spit in his face.”
B. They Cast Lots for His Clothing
Another way in which what happened here was the exact opposite of a coronation was the way in which they cast lots for his clothing. Can you imagine what it would be like to hang on the cross naked and watch as those who took your clothes were casting lots for them? In an age of huge volumes of cast off clothing it is a little hard for us to understand why his clothing was valuable enough to be won in a game, but we do have to remember that it was not a day of mass produced clothing and so every scrap of cloth had some value.
What would it have been like to watch this? How would you have felt? The message I think I would have gotten from it is, “We are doing this because you don’t need it anymore.” When you die you won’t need clothes any more. Thus this action would have added to the suffering.
C. The Mocked Him
The mockery of those who stood by would also have added to the difficulty. Most who were there – those crucified with him, the Jewish leaders and those who passed by all mocked.
Most kings are hailed and honored, but Jesus was mocked and so once again we see something that looks like the opposite of a coronation.
We have already seen how the disciples had a hard time accepting that a king would be crucified. The Jewish leaders rejected the idea that a king would be on a cross and the Roman soldiers mocked king and cross. In I Corinthians 1:23, Paul says, "but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…" That stumbling block was illustrated in the mocking.
When kings are crowned, people flock around to see and want to meet him, but the suffering of Jesus is heightened when we read that Jesus was abandoned.
We have already noted the abandonment of the disciples who ran away as soon as Jesus was arrested.
In this text, we also see another image of abandonment. The people had an understanding that Elijah was the “patron saint” of hopeless causes, so when Jesus cried out “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani” they thought that he was calling for the help of Elijah. But Elijah never showed up and so they would have perceived this as abandonment.
In fact, that is not what Jesus was crying out. He was crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” which is a far worse abandonment than that of Elijah.
E. Jesus Breathed His Last
One of the common phrases we use in reference to kings is, “Long live the king” but the irony of this coronation is that Jesus died.
Since Mark 8:27, we have been on a journey to the cross and now we arrive and contrary to all expectation, contrary to what we think makes for victory, Jesus is actually crucified and actually dies on that cross. Jesus indicated acceptance of this path and when he was crucified and offered a pain killing drug in 14:25, he refused it and thus, as Geddert says, “signaling his willingness to drink God’s cup to the dregs.”
F. Placed in a Tomb
Most kings are placed in a palace, but the final part of the story shows us that Jesus was placed in a tomb. The certainty of his death was assured when Joseph came for the body and placed it in a tomb and the two Mary’s witnessed the burial. There was no mistake. He actually died and was actually buried.
III. An Unlikely Coronation
So if implications of coronation are so strongly in this passage, but the opposite of a coronation is also powerfully present, how do we look at this? Was the crucifixion a coronation or a defeat?
A. He Can’t Save Himself
The irony of this event is so wonderful, so unexpected that the greatness of Jesus’ death on the cross is propelled into the stratosphere of meaning exactly because of the contradictory nature of what happened here. He was actually crowned as a King on a cross and, because He was, He is king in a much greater sense than any other king in history has ever been.
The phrase of the mockers actually helps us understand how this works. They laughed at him when they said, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself!” They were thinking, “Although he has clearly done a lot of good and healed a lot of people, making us think that He has a lot of power, it is obvious now as He hangs on this cross that He does not. If He truly were the Son of God and the King, He would come off that cross and show His power.”
But something much greater was going on here. Yes, He had saved a lot of people. Think back on all the stories which tell of the things Jesus did. The first miracle recorded in Mark was the casting out of an evil spirit, in which he saved a man from demon possession. He saved people from the bondage of leprosy, fever and many other illnesses. He saved a girl from death and a paralytic from his sins. Why was He not able to save Himself in the end?
It was absolutely true that “He can’t save Himself” but why was it true? Was it true because he did not have the power? Was it true because they had found his weakness? If you are familiar with the superman stories you know that, although he is very great, superman can be defeated by using Kryptonite. Is that what was happening here? Was Jesus defeated because they discovered that the cross was his weakness? By no means! The reason Jesus could not save himself was that if he did, he would not be able to save others. Once again we see the irony! He had to go to the cross in order to bring about salvation. He actually saved others, by not saving Himself and so in that way the cross is indeed the means by which He was crowned as King. It was on the cross that Jesus became not only king of the Jews, but king of the universe, so the cross is not a defeat, it is a coronation.
Geddert says, “Those who pass by proclaim the gospel: Jesus has lived to save others; now he dies to do the same. To accomplish his mission, he must remain on the cross: He cannot save himself. They mock, but they speak truth.”
B. Darkness and Light
Another interesting mark of victory which we often miss also occurs in the story. Time is an important part of the story. We read that at the 6th hour, the hour at which Jesus was crucified it became dark. It remained dark for the next three hours. Then at the 9th hour, Jesus died. It is at this point that the light returned.
Darkness implies loss, defeat, judgment. So if at the point at which Jesus died, the light returned, does that not imply that the death of Jesus was not the point of defeat, but the point of victory? This was not the day of the defeat of a king, but the day of the coronation of a king!
C. The Temple Curtain Was Torn
Another implication of the victory of Jesus is the mention in the text that when he died, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”
The curtain referred to here was the curtain which separated the holy of holies from the rest of the temple. Of the 35 different interpretations of the meaning of this event, it seems to me that we can at least agree that this signals a victory not a defeat. It implies that the death of Jesus was not the end, but the beginning of a whole new range of possibilities about the way to God, about who can come to God and about accessibility into the presence of God. As the curtain was torn, a victory is signaled, revealing the coronation of a king who has made a way to God.
The death of Jesus looks like defeat. It looks like the saddest day in human history. But it is not. It is actually the day on which the king of the universe was crowned in a most unexpected way, but in such a powerful and permanent way that we still live under the victory gained in that coronation.
That is what Good Friday is all about. How do we respond to it?
In verse 32 the religious leaders declared their perspective on response to what was happening to Jesus. They suggested that if Jesus would come down from the cross, they would recognize that He was who He said and believe. They declared, “come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” They thought that in order to believe, they had to see, but it doesn’t work that way and so they walked away in unbelief.
One of the things we have been talking about as we have studied Mark is that Jesus invites hearing and seeing with ears and eyes of faith. The right way to respond to Jesus is to believe and then you will see. When the centurion “heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, ‘surely this man was the Son of God!’” In that comment, we recognize that he must have seen what he saw with eyes of faith for at that point he responded with faith. Geddert writes, “If we take up our positions facing the crucified Messiah, says Mark, then the discerning eye and the discerning ear will lead us also to affirm: This was God’s Son.”
So it must always be as we think about these things. If we see the death of Jesus with human eyes, we will always miss the point. We will see crucifixion and death and ending. But if we look at the death of Jesus with eyes of faith, we will believe and understand that this truly was a coronation.
When we see that Jesus was the “Son of God” as the centurion declared and recognize that through the cross He took His place on the throne for all eternity, we will also, like the soldiers, “fall on our knees and worship him” not in mocking, but with true worship.
As we conclude our service today, that is where I want to invite you to end up. Here is how we will conclude our service. We will observe the Lord’s Supper, but we will do so in a different way than usual, one, which I hope will allow us to express our faith in Jesus and bow in the presence of Jesus to worship Him.
We have just read about the event which we commemorate in the Lord’s Supper. As we participate in this symbolic meal, we understand that the broken bread represents the broken body of Jesus, which was broken for us in His death. Through His broken body, He was declared king of salvation. The cup represents the shed blood of Christ, which was shed in order to crown Him king of eternity.
In order to receive the bread and the cup, we want to invite you to come to the front. To facilitate traffic flow, it might be good to come down the side aisles and return down the center aisle. There will be people serving you the bread and the cup, two on this side and two on this side. As you are ready, we invite you to come forward and receive the bread and the cup. Then if you wish you can return to your seat and partake and take time to worship Jesus. Or, if you wish, you can kneel in the front of the church, before the cross and worship the King who has saved you. There will also be two others who will walk around and serve those who are not able to come to the front. If you are able to come to the front, we invite you to do so. If you are not able, just wait until they come near and raise your hand in order to receive the bread and the cup.
When you have completed your time of worship, and please take as long as you wish, you are free to leave the sanctuary silently, worshipping Jesus as you go. We would ask that silence be maintained at least until the outside doors. That way, the focus this morning will remain on Jesus. There will be no closing prayer or closing song. The service ends when you leave.
We will pray and then please allow those serving to set up and then you may begin.