The People's Court

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“The People’s Court”

Mark 15.1-20


Perhaps you’ve watched the television show, “The People’s Court” before. I must admit I haven’t watched it much since it left prime time with Judge Wapner, I think it was. From what I recall, the producers rightly noted that people are often entertaining when they vehemently demand rights and their innocence. I think that this also provided people an opportunity to have cases settled that they might not otherwise be able to afford and/or to resolve their case in a more expedient manner.

I’ve entitled this morning’s sermon, “The People’s Court” for other reasons, however. In fact, if our drama wasn’t so tragic, it could almost be comical how we come by the verdict in our case this morning. Actually, our “courtroom” is carried out in a very unorthodox and unjust way. We are going to see how the prosecution riles up an audience which persuades a judge to pardon the guilty and sentence the innocent. Yes, I said that right. It’s that bad.

Please turn to Mark 15 with me. We are nearing the end of our study in the Gospel of Mark. Mark has recorded many of the highlights of Jesus’ teaching and ministry. He has moved through these events at a quicker pace than the other Gospel writers. And then he slows down things down as we near the cross. We have seen with great vividness, the entrance of Jesus and the disciples into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, the institution of the Lord’s Supper, the astonishing foretelling of Peter’s denial, the great anguish as Jesus prays in the Garden and continues his submission to the Father’s will. And then we saw the band of soldiers who came with Judas to apprehend Jesus, the makeshift interrogation at the house of the high priest at night. And then we were dumbfounded when the prediction came true and Peter denied the Lord Jesus three times that very night. Then he broke down and wept. That’s where we left off last week.

Let’s read Mark 15.1-20 as we get under way. READ.

In the midst of this unconventional courtroom, we will observe some very significant spiritual truths. These are not just some things that we can look at and interpret and say, “wow. This is pretty good information.” This is eternal, supernatural truth that has very relevant implications for us today. This is not merely a case of a botched trial but the focus of all of history. This is the way that God’s plan of redemption will be carried out.

The first thing I would like us to look at is the “Silence of the Lamb.” The text begins with “and as soon as it was morning…” We recall from the last scene that the Sanhedrin had met at the house of Caiaphas at night. This was not standard procedure because they would normally carry out judgments during the day and in a chamber in the temple court area of Jerusalem. We also noted that the religious leaders were trying to do away with Jesus – permanently. The only problem was that they did not possess the authority to sentence Jesus to death. This had to come from the Roman authorities. And so the Jewish leaders had spent much of the night trying to accumulate evidence against Jesus. You remember, it was testimony against Jesus. But when Jesus declared himself to be divine, it was too much for the high priest to bear. He charges Jesus with blasphemy and they all condemned him as deserving of death. Only they couldn’t carry this out.

So they had to bring Jesus to the Roman authorities. And… “as soon as it was morning…” the chief priests consulted together, bound Jesus and led him to Pilate. Pontius Pilate was the procurator of Judea. Normally, he would have been stationed in Caesarea but because of the Passover festivities, Pilate would come and stay in Jerusalem in order to prevent rebellious activities. And so he would have had control over the military stationed in Caesarea and in the Antonia Fortress which was in the area of the temple. As procurator, he would also have control over the Temple and its funds. He appointed the high priests and had full powers of life and death – including overturning capital sentences passed by Sanhedrin.

Pilate’s initial arrival on the scene was not without controversy. He really upset the Jews when he introduced effigies into the city – contrary to the Jews strict standards on such images. There was a major uproar and Pilate eventually conceded. He also built an aqueduct to convey water to the city from a spring stone 40 km away. The only problem was that he used the temple monies to fund this project. So it is safe to say that he was not so popular with the Jews at this time.

And now they bring Jesus to Pilate. As we also discovered last week, the Sanhedrin were permitted to judge cases pertaining to religious matters. Pilate would be less interested in such things. So, in order for the religious leaders to accomplish their goal of capital punishment, they had to introduce other charges than the ones that they had recently acquired. “Blasphemy” would not cut it for Pilate.

Verse 2 provides with a clue to the charges. Pilate asks Jesus if he is the King of the Jews? You are forced to wonder where this came from. I thought the high priest was just distraught over Jesus referring to the fact that he claimed to be the Son of Man and would be seated next to the Father in heaven. He did not claim to be the King of the Jews here. Well, Luke tells us that they spread more false witness against Jesus. According to Luke’s gospel, “they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.’” To which Pilate asks this same question, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

This certainly would have concerned Pilate more than blasphemy. This had political ramifications. The Romans were already wary of any uprisings and rebellions. So, if the Jews had someone declaring himself to be the King, this would be relevant to the discussion – and the charges. This would have been a challenge to the rule of Caesar – and thus a capital crime in the eyes of Rome.

Jesus’ response to the question is answered in the indicative, and the affirmative. “You have said so.” You might think that he could have answered the charge more forcefully. And some have suggested that he didn’t really confirm the claim. But the context would suggest that he accepted the title and the charge that would come with it. Pilate continues to refer to him with that title. If he had denied it, he would have been referred to in another manner. And the soldiers would not have mocked him as they did in verses 16-20.

            Verse 3 tells us that beyond this charge, they accused him of many things. Based on the proceedings to this point, you would likely conclude that these charges were fabricated and false. We saw this last week as well. The religious leaders were doing everything in their power to eliminate this rebel, Jesus. After all, Jesus had repeatedly identified them as hypocrites and enemies of God. I think that these guys were getting desperate and were just throwing accusations and charges against Jesus hoping that something would stick.

            I realize that there is not an exact parallel here because Jesus is going to the cross to pay for sins. But if we are followers of his, we can expect to undergo many of the same things that he encountered. And so we are not exempt from them. Has anybody brought charges against you? The reason I ask this is because if we are attempting to obey what Jesus has commanded us, the world will also try to discredit us. A biblical worldview and a secular one are diametrically opposed. The former indicates that life revolves around an understanding of God and an attempt to honor him. The latter worldview suggests that life revolves around anything else and attempts to honor and serve ourselves. So when Christians attempt to call people to serve God, there is opposition and charges brought against us. There are attempts to discredit us and the God we serve. So it becomes real easy to look for moral failures in the lives of popular preachers and teachers. They become greater targets. Of course, if you look close enough, you will find failures in any Christian.  

            But then there are also the fabricated ones. And perhaps you have been a victim of this. The irony is, once again, the accusations came from religious leaders. These were the ones who wanted to do religion their way – to the extent that even Jesus himself didn’t fit their system. Do you see the irony? Perhaps you have been charged with doing something that religious people feel you shouldn’t be doing. If it is something not clearly articulated in Scripture, this would be considered legalism. Jesus was criticized for healing people on the Sabbath or picking heads of grain on the Sabbath. And this is religious nit-picking.

            Or perhaps you have been charged with legalism because of your attempts to obey the clear teachings of Scripture. I have found that to have theological convictions and a desire for holiness will bring charges against you. So to have biblical expectations on those in the church would be considered as judging each other, and not an expression of love. God has given us his Word so that we know how to honor him and to enjoy a closer walk with him. The Bible is not meant to be an oppressive list of rules, but a means to a more joyful life. And this comes as we better understand his nature and our relationship to him. That is freedom and not oppression!

            What is our response against such charges? Are we like most people who immediately respond with defensiveness? Our responses can lead to sinful behaviour which will only add weight to the charges. Let’s look at the response of Jesus. When asked by Pilate if Jesus had any answer, any defence to the charges, Jesus made no further answer. And Pilate was amazed. I think that he was amazed because he (like us) was so accustomed to the many who claim their innocence.

            You know what this is like. Every sentenced person will demand their innocence. And, even if they don’t, many will try to excuse their behaviour by passing blame or influence on someone else. If we are guilty of doing something it is because of the pressures of society, or something of that nature…

             For the Christian, perhaps we need to be able to withstand unjust criticism a bit more and allow the truth to speak for itself. Sometimes we only exacerbate situations by our continual defensiveness. At the same time, we are not to waver because of such criticism. We must acknowledge that these accusations will come. And we are forewarned through Scripture. We are partakers in Christ.

            For Jesus here, he knew that such things are to take place to carry out the plan of God. Isaiah 53 informs this situation, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?” This was the Silence of the Lamb.

            Next we see the Sentence of the Lamb. It is apparent from verses 6 and 8 that Pilate had instituted a custom of releasing a prisoner during the Passover season. Knowing a bit about his character, it would seem as though this was a political maneuver – something to be a means of winning favor with the masses. 

            And perhaps it is here that Pilate sees an opportunity to escape the possibility of condemning an innocent Jesus. In verse 10, Pilate suspects that maybe this Jesus is a nuisance to the chief priests and they intended to eliminate him because of their envy. And Luke tells us that Pilate desired to release Jesus. Surely the crowd would demand that this innocent man be released. And this would get Pilate off the hook.

            Well, it didn’t go according to plan apparently because verse 11 indicates that the chief priests stirred up the crowd to release someone else. This was a prisoner by the name of “Barabbas.” Verse 7 tells us that Barabbas had committed murder. The other Gospel writers fill in the picture a bit. He is a man who has committed multiple crimes including robbery, insurrection, and murder. Some have suggested that he was a member of the Zealots who were a Jewish political group that conspired against Roman rule. And he also appears to be a well-known man with a popular following. So this created a very interesting situation.

            Whereas Pilate saw this as a way of escaping an awkward situation, the crowds saw it as a chance to get Barabbas back. And the chief priests saw this as an opportunity to get a death sentence for Jesus. I don’t think Pilate anticipated this.

            In verse 9, Pilate asked “do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” And he anticipated a “yes.” He did not realize what was happening in the crowd as the chief priests had stirred up the crowd for Barabbas instead. Uh-oh. Now what? If Barabbas was an insurrectionist, this creates quite a predicament. At the same time, Pilate would have to answer to the angry mob if he didn’t release him. I think his further questions may have been a plea for them to reconsider and to think rationally. What about this man you call the King of the Jews? I think this further proves the manipulation of the chief priests. They never considered him their king. That was merely the charge they brought against him. The people did not claim this.

            Their answer suggests that they were not thinking correctly. They were caught up in the moment and they cried out, “crucify him!” What? Why? He hasn’t done anything wrong? But the crowd shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” Wow.

            Verse 15 points out with honesty and clarity the response of Pilate (and unfortunately many the politician). “Wishing to satisfy the crowd.” And so Pilate is characterized as a weak man with no moral values. He acts with expediency rather than principle. He released the Barabbas and sentenced an innocent man to crucifixion. Pilate will free a convicted rebel against Rome rather than a righteous man. And he will execute Jesus in a Roman fashion based on a Jewish verdict. And so fulfills Old Testament prophecy.

            Psalm 38, “But my foes are vigorous, they are mighty, and many are those who hate me wrongfully. Those who render me evil for good accuse me because I follow after good.” Isaiah 53, “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” And how about Peter’s stinging words in the book of Acts (3.13), “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him.”  

Let’s look at the Suffering of the Lamb. The King of Heaven came to be offered as the Lamb of God. To this point he has suffered the verbal accusations and charges that originated from the religious leaders. “Crucify him” has been called out by “his people.” And if that weren’t enough, Jesus has now been sentenced to die by the cruellest means imaginable.

But before Jesus even gets there, he is “scourged.”   “Scourging” was a Roman judicial penalty, consisting of a severe beating with a multi-lashed whip containing imbedded pieces of bone and metal. Your ESV study notes puts it this way: “Roman flogging was a horrifically cruel punishment. Those condemned to it were tied to a post and beaten with a leather whip that was interwoven with pieces of bone and metal, which tore through skin and tissue, often exposing bones and intestines. In many cases, the flogging itself was fatal. The Romans scourged Jesus nearly to death so that he would not remain alive on the cross after sundown.”

Here stands your Lord Jesus – silent before his accusers, condemned by his people, and beaten by the hands of those he created. And he has yet to get to the cross. He has to “survive” the beatings to make it to a cross – which was the most agonizing form of criminal execution known.

Along the way, Jesus is mocked. The soldiers lead him away together with the whole battalion. Now it’s the Romans’ turn. Much ink has been spilt on blaming the parties responsible for killing Jesus. The Jewish people have been persecuted for their part for sure. Here we see that there are Jews involved, Jewish leaders, Pilate, and now the Roman military – Gentiles. Do you know what is consistent with all these groups of people? Sin. Sinners are the ones who put Jesus on the cross – Jews and Gentiles. No particular nationality.

Here we have about 600 men who dress Jesus in a purple cloak and put a crown of thorns on his head and mock him as “king.” Isaiah 53.2 says “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” Jesus did not “look” like a king. He appeared to them as a common man. And they mocked the King of Kings. All the while, they struck him with reeds and spit on him.

And then there is the Substitution of the Lamb. As I had mentioned, the King of Heaven descended to earth as a human baby to live a life that was full of suffering and temptation. Jesus needed to do this for at least a couple of reasons. He needed to become a sympathetic high priest. Jesus had to endure this in order to be a sufficient sacrifice. Hebrews 2.14-17 tells us that, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

And he had to become a human being so that he could serve as one who could identify with our suffering. Hebrews 2.18, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” And in chapter 4, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Jesus has suffered everything we have and so much more. So he is able to identify when we cry out to him in the midst of temptation and suffering. Most importantly, however, is the roles he played as both the priest offering the sacrifice and the sacrifice itself. The Lamb of God was the one perfect sacrifice to be offered in our place. He is the substitute for us.

The Old Testament demonstrated the need for ongoing sacrifices to cover the sins of the people. The Bible also tells us that it is our sin that condemns us and there is a price that must be paid. Romans 3 tells us that we are all in the same boat. Religious and irreligious. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 6 tells us that the wages or payment for these sins is death. The good news is found in Romans 5 and 10. Romans 5 tells us “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 10.9ff, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all.” 

To this point, none of this has happened. Jesus has not yet gone to the cross to accomplish this great salvation. But do you see a picture of this substitution even in this account? I must admit that I had not caught this before. Barabbas is a picture of us. Barabbas was a rebel, a murderer, a robber… a sinner. And though he did not recognize this when he did so, Pilate freed the guilty man and sentenced the innocent one. This is a picture of what Jesus has done for us.

            We are the ones are born in sin and continue to sin. This sin serves as our basis for punishment and alienation from God. But God, in the person of his Son Jesus, provided the payment for our sins. We will look at the events of the cross in the coming weeks. But don’t miss the picture in Barabbas.

            If you have not yet trusted Jesus Christ or even considered him, I pray that you would seize this very unique situation and how it communicates the love of God for you. Listen for the voice of God and the call of the Holy Spirit as you consider the significance of these events that have impacted all of history.

            Christianity finds its focal point in the death and resurrection of the One who had been promised for thousands of years prior and continues to be embraced and lived out thousands of years after. Contrary to what others may tell you, the gospel (or good news) is that God has provided a substitute to pay for your sins so that you can be reconciled to God for all eternity. All other messages in the Bible are secondary to this. You cannot offer acceptable service to God until you have embraced Jesus as Savior. I would plead with you to repent of your sin and place your faith in him so that you can enjoy a life pleasing to God. Let’s pray.


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