As we studied the end of Mark 14 last week I said that in many ways it was the fulfilment of what the Lord said in earlier parts of the gospel. Hadn’t he foretold how he would suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law? And sure enough, we read how a crowd came from the chief priests and teachers of the law and the elders to arrest him. Hadn’t he foretold how he would be betrayed into the hands of the chief priests and teachers of the law who would condemn him to death? And sure enough, we read how Judas betrayed him and the chief priests and teachers of the law condemned him as being worthy of death. And hadn’t the Lord foretold in the parable of the wicked tenants how the leaders of Israel would plot together to kill God’s Beloved Son? And that too was fulfilled when the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders handed the Lord over to Pilate to crucify him. What the Lord foretold happened just as he said it would.
And, of course, we can go back even further than the gospels — can’t we? — to see how what was foretold about him was being fulfilled. We can go all the way back to Isaiah who foretold how God’s Suffering Servant would be oppressed and afflicted, and yet he would not open his mouth; as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so the Lord’s Suffering Servant will not open his mouth. That’s what Isaiah foretold; and sure enough, when false witnesses stood before the Sanhedrin and false accused him, he did not open his mouth to defend himself. And — as we’ll see in today’s passage — when he stood trial before Pontius Pilate, and again faced false accusations, he again did not open his mouth to defend himself.
And Isaiah foretold how God’s Suffering Servant would be pierced and crushed and punished and wounded. And at the end of today’s passage we read how Pilate gave the order for the Lord to be flogged before being taken away to be crucified. Once again, what the Lord foretold would happen happened just as he said it would.
And we can go back even further in time than Isaiah, can’t we? We can go all the way back to the Garden of Eden and to the time when the Lord foretold how the Saviour of the world would one day crush the head of the serpent. In other words, he would break the power of Satan and set God’s people free from Satan’s wicked tyranny. But in the process of crushing the head of the serpent, the Lord foretold that the serpent would strike the Saviour. In other words, the Saviour would suffer in order to save his people.
So, right at the beginning of the Bible, right at the beginning of history, the Lord foretold that the Saviour would suffer for his people. And what he said would happen happened just as he said it would, because here’s the Saviour of the world, who is condemned to death by Pontius Pilate; and who is taken away to be flogged and crucified by the soldiers. But by his death, he has broken the power of Satan, so that all who believe in the Saviour are delivered from Satan’s tyranny and are brought in to Christ’s kingdom, which is an everlasting kingdom where there is forgiveness and where they will be perfect peace and rest in the presence of the Lord for ever and for ever.
Verses 1 to 5
In verse 1 Mark tells us that very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, reached a decision about the Lord Jesus. They bound him and led him away and turned him over to Pilate.
Now, we need to understand that the Israelites were at that time under the authority of the Romans. Israel had been conquered and was now part of the mighty Roman Empire. And while the Romans gave Israel a certain amount of freedom so that the leaders of Israel were allowed to govern many aspects of their society, including the judicial system, nevertheless the leaders in Israel did not have the authority to carry out the death sentence. If they thought someone was guilty of a crime which deserved the death penalty, they had to take the case to the Roman governor, who alone had the power of the sword or the right to execute a criminal. So, that’s why the Sanhedrin had to bring the Lord Jesus to Pilate. He was the Roman governor at that time and they needed to convince him that the Lord was worthy of the death sentence.
As far as the Sanhedrin was concerned, the Lord Jesus was guilty of blasphemy which was a religious offence. But Pilate would not have been interested in such things. He apparently despised the Jews and the Jewish religion. He wasn’t interested in charges like blasphemy. If the Sanhedrin asked him to pass the death sentence against the Lord on that basis, he would have driven them out of his palace. And so, that’s why they brought another charge against the Lord Jesus.
What was the other charge they brought against him? Well, we can work it out from Pilate’s question in verse 2. Pilate asked the Lord:
Are you the king of the Jews?
So, the charge the Sanhedrin brought against him was that the Lord Jesus had set himself up as a rival king to the Roman Emperor. They were presenting the Lord to Pilate as being a trouble-maker and a rebel and an enemy of the Emperor.
And so, Pilate asked the Lord to answer the charge.
Is there any truth in what they are claiming? Is there any basis to the charge? Tell me, do you claim to be the king of the Jews?
And the Lord replied:
Yes, it is as you say.
The commentators make the point that while the Lord agreed to the charge, there was a hint of reservation in his reply to Pilate. He was agreeing with the charge, but with caveats. And John — in his account of the trial — fills out more of the detail which Mark has left out, because John tells us that the Lord replied to Pilate by saying:
My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.
Do you see? He was saying that yes, he’s a king, but his kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. He’s not like the Roman Emperor who ruled over an earthly empire; he’s a heavenly king who rules over a heavenly kingdom. So, yes he’s a king, but he’s not the kind of king Pilate was thinking about and worrying about, a king who would set himself up as a rival and who might lead a violent rebellion against Rome. He was not that kind of king.
Mark doesn’t tell us how Pilate responded. Instead he tells us that the chief priests began to accuse the Lord of many things. They wanted to bombard Pilate with accusations and allegations so that Pilate would give in and grant them what they wanted. And so, once again, Pilate turned to the Lord to ask him whether any of these accusations was true.
Aren’t you going to answer?
But the Lord made no reply. He didn’t say a thing. Like a sheep before her shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. Instead of defending himself, he remained silent, because, of course, he had come to lay down his life as the ransom to set us free from the condemnation we deserve. The Lord Jesus had done nothing wrong. He was not guilty of blasphemy as the Sanhedrin had said. He was innocent and entirely without sin. But we — on the other hand — stand before the Lord Almighty as guilty sinners who have broken his laws and who have disobeyed his commandments in so many different ways that they cannot all be counted. We have all fallen short of doing his will; and we all like sheep have gone astray. We are the ones who deserve to be condemned, but he is the one who took our place. And so, when the charges were brought against him, he did not speak and he did not defend himself, because he had come to lay down his life for us and for our salvation.
And the truth of this is brought out so very clearly in what happened next.
Verses 6 to 14
So, what happened next? Mark tells us about a custom which existed at that time. According to this custom, during the Passover Feast, a prisoner whom the people requested could be released. So, someone who had been tried and found guilty and who was waiting to be punished could be set free.
That was the custom. And then Mark introduces us to this man, Barabbas. And Barabbas was in prison with a group of insurrectionists. Nothing is known about this insurrection apart from what we read here. And nothing more is known about Barabbas apart from what we read here and how he was guilty of murder. And Mark tells us in the next verse that the crowd came up to Pilate and asked him to do for them what he usually did at that time of the year. They wanted him to release for them one of the prisoners according to the custom.
Now, Pilate is no fool. He’s not naive. Mark tells us that he knew that the members of the Sanhedrin had handed the Lord over to him out of envy. He knew that they wanted to get rid of the Lord Jesus; and were trying to use Pilate to get what they wanted. He wasn’t a fool. And so, he asked the crowd whether they wanted him to release the Lord. And while Pilate was no fool, he underestimated the Sanhedrin, because they had been working among the people, stirring them up and persuading them to ask Pilate to release, not the Lord Jesus, but Barabbas, the murderer.
And when Pilate then asked them what they wanted him to do with the Lord Jesus, the people shouted:
And when he appealed to them and asked, ‘Why? What crime has he committed?’, they replied by shouting again and even louder this time:
And so, wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them; and he had the Lord flogged before handing him over to be crucified. And this is where the truth of the gospel is revealed so very clearly for us, because can you see what has happened here? The one who was guilty — and Barabbas was clearly guilty and deserved to suffer the death sentence because he was guilty of murder — the one who was guilty was set free. And the one who was innocent — and the Lord Jesus was clearly innocent, because he never once in his whole life did anything wrong — the one who was innocent was condemned and punished.
I wonder: did Barabbas ever think to himself later that day, after the Lord’s death on the cross, did he ever think to himself:
That man who died took my place. I’m the guilty one. I’m the one who deserved to be condemned and crucified. But here I am, alive and free, because he took my place; and was condemned and crucified for me?
I wonder, did he think that to himself? Whether he did or not, he should have thought that, because it’s true. And it’s not just true of Barabbas, because this is the truth of the gospel, and this is true for everyone who repents and believes in the Saviour, because when the Lord Jesus was taken away to die on the cross, he was suffering the wrath of God in the place of his people; he bore in his body on that tree the punishment we deserve for our sins. Like Barabbas, you are the guilty one, the one who has disobeyed the Lord the whole of your life; the one who has disobeyed his commandments and broken his laws and fallen short of doing his will; the one who has gone astray from following his ways; the one who has offended him again and again by the things you have said and done; you’re the guilty one. But the reason the Lord Jesus came into the world was to suffer the wrath of God in the place of guilty sinners. And if you believe in him — if you trust in him as the only Saviour of the world — then God will pardon you for all that you have done wrong; and instead of suffering for your sins in the life to come, you will be set free as Barabbas was set free: set free from the guilt of your sins; set free from the penalty you deserve for your sins; set free from Satan’s tyranny too and brought into the kingdom of God’s Son.
This is the truth of the gospel and it’s revealed here so very clearly in what happened to Barabbas and in what happened to the Lord Jesus. The one who was guilty was set free; and the one who was innocent was condemned in his place. This is the truth, the glory, the wonder, of the gospel. So, will you believe in him, because who else will you believe in? Who else will you trust for forgiveness and peace with God? Who else has done this for sinners? Who else has taken the blame and the punishment for sinners? No one else has done this; and there is no other Saviour than Jesus Christ the Lord. And therefore, I say to you: Believe in him, because whoever believes in him is pardoned by God and receives the free gift of eternal life in Christ’s everlasting kingdom.
However, before we finish today, notice one more thing. Notice how Mark underlines for us the charge which the Sanhedrin brought against the Lord Jesus. It’s there in verse 2 where Pilate asked the Lord:
Are you the king of the Jews?
It’s there as well in verse 9 where Pilate said to the crowd:
Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?
And it’s there in verse 12 where Pilate asked the crowd:
What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?
The king of the Jews. The king of the Jews. The king of the Jews. The phrase ‘the king of the Jews’ is just another way of referring to the Christ, because the title ‘the Christ’ refers to the person who is God’s Anointed King.
Way back at the beginning of his gospel, Mark explained that this is the gospel about Jesus the Christ. And all through the gospel, by the things he did, the Lord Jesus revealed that he is indeed the Christ. And so, when he cast out demons by the power of his word, he revealed that he’s the Christ, God’s Anointed King, with the power and authority to destroy the Devil and all who belong to him. And when he healed the sick and when he brought the dead back to life, he revealed that he’s the Christ, God’s Anointed King, with the power and authority to raise us from the grave and to give us everlasting life in his everlasting kingdom. He revealed again and again that he’s the Christ, God’s Anointed King, and the one we should trust to save us and to give us eternal life; and the one to whom we should yield our lives.
But the chief priests and the teachers of the law and the elders did not want the Lord Jesus to rule over them. Again and again, they came to confront him and to oppose him and to argue with him. They said to him:
By what authority are you doing these things?
Who gave you this authority?
They did not want him to rule over them; and so, in the end, they plotted together how to get rid of him.
And as I’ve said before, it’s the same today, because still today people refuse to yield to Christ the King. When they hear of him, they should bow before him and acknowledge him as King. When they hear of him, they should offer to love and serve him all the days of their life. When they hear of him, they should fall down before him and confess him as their King. But instead of yielding to him, and offering to love and serve him, men and women and boys and girls object, because they will not yield their life to anyone; and especially they will not yield their life to the Lord Jesus. By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you authority over me? Why should I bow to you? I will live my life my way! I will decide myself what is right and what is wrong. I will decide myself what is good and what is evil. I will decide myself what is true and what is not. I will decide what is best for me. I will decide how to live my life; and I will not yield to you. Even though he’s the Eternal Son of God through whom all things were made, even though his is Christ the King who was sent to deliver us from our sin and misery, even though he promises everlasting life in his everlasting kingdom to all who repent and believe in him, men and women and boys and girls still refuse to submit to him.
And we do it ourselves, don’t we? Again and again, as we go through the week, we’re faced with those decisive moments, when we have the choice between doing ‘what I want’ and doing what the Lord wants. And again and again and again, we find ourselves doing ‘what I want’ instead of doing what the Lord wants. Or think of how often it happens during the week when instinctively, automatically, we put ‘me’ first; we put ‘what I want’ first; we put ‘what I think’ first. And, of course, we’re more blameworthy, aren’t we? We’re more blameworthy than those who never come to church, because we go to church; and we know what the Lord has done for us; and we know what he has said to us. But we still put ourselves first. We know that the Lord Jesus is the Christ, God’s Anointed King, the one I’m to trust and obey and to whom I should yield my life. But instead of submitting to him, we put ‘self’ on the throne.
The chief priests and the teachers of the law and the elders plotted against the Lord Jesus because they did not want him to rule over them. And we too resist his will. But the good news of the gospel is that the one who is innocent — and who perfectly yielded his life to his Father in heaven; and who obeyed his Father in everything — the one who is innocent took the place of guilty sinners; and he suffered the wrath of God in the place of guilty sinners. He gave up his life as the ransom to set guilty sinners free from condemnation. And so, even though we have said ‘no’ to him again and again and again, God promises to pardon us again and again and again if we believe in him; God promises to give us everlasting life if we believe in him; and God promises as well if we believe in Christ the King to fill us with his Spirit to help us to say ‘no’ to self and to live our lives for Christ the King.
[H]e was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.