He Changes Everything: “The Suicide King” – Mark 15:1-32

Suicide King

He Changes Everything: “The Suicide King” – Mark 15:1-32

Games have a unique and interesting history. Take for example, the playing card. They were apparently invented in Ancient China, where they have been uncovered as early as the 9th century during the Tang Dynasty (618–907).  Playing cards first entered Europe in the late 14th century, probably from Mameluk Egypt (A complete pack of Mameluke playing cards was discovered by Leo Mayer in the Topkapı Palace, Istanbul, in 1939). The first documentary evidence is a ban on their use in 1367, Bern, Switzerland. Wide use of playing cards in Europe can, with some certainty, be traced from 1377 onwards. The earliest cards were made by hand. Printed woodcut decks appeared in the 15th century and from about 1425 professional card makers in Ulm, Nuremberg, and Augsburg created printed decks. Playing cards even competed with devotional images as the most common uses for woodcut in this period.

The four suits now used in most of the world — spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs —originated in France in approximately 1480. Also in the 15th century, Europeans changed the court cards to represent European royalty and attendants. In the early years, French playing-card makers  assigned to each of the “court cards” names taken from history:

  • King of Spades: David (a biblical king)
  • King of Hearts: Charles (presumably after Charlemagne)
  • King of Diamonds: Caesar (presumably after Julius Caesar, dictator of the Roman Republic)
  • King of Clubs: Alexander (king of Macedon)

The king of hearts is oft referred to as the “suicide king” because the figure appears to be sticking his sword into his head. Closer inspection of the cards of antiquity seem to indicate a hand holding it – perhaps someone else stabbed him. His youthful death is attested in that he is the only one of the kings without a moustache.

Today I want to look into the Word and trace a close picture of a King at the point of His death. It can be understood to be a suicide theologically (Jesus gave His life for us), but it certainly was a MURDER in the text. It is the death of the King of Kings, and it is graphically depicted in Mark 15.

Key Principle: Two kinds of people met Jesus at His Cross – the pride-filled powerful and the pain-filled prisoner. One was offered rescue, the other condemned by his hardness. That is ALWAYS how it is with Jesus.

The scene was early in the morning on a Friday, after Jesus had been taken into custody. He had been up most of the night, and badly treated by the Sanhedrin. He was marched from the western Hill, today called “Mt. Zion”, and was brought to the ancient Temple Mount. Mark shares:

Mark 15:1 Early in the morning the chief priests with the elders and scribes and the whole Council, immediately held a consultation; and binding Jesus, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate.

They took Him to the place where Pilate was staying in the city…

2 Pilate questioned Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And He answered him, “It is as you say.” 3 The chief priests began to accuse Him harshly. 4 Then Pilate questioned Him again, saying, “Do You not answer? See how many charges they bring against You!” 5 But Jesus made no further answer; so Pilate was amazed.

A little while later, a crowd began to gather before Pilate…

6 Now at the feast he used to release for them any one prisoner whom they requested. 7 The man named Barabbas had been imprisoned with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the insurrection. 8 The crowd went up and began asking him to do as he had been accustomed to do for them. 9 Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he was aware that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to ask him to release Barabbas for them instead. 12 Answering again, Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” 13 They shouted back, “Crucify Him!” 14 But Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify Him!” 15 Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified.

Again, Jesus was led away, this time into the lair of a brutal band of discontented soldiers…

16 The soldiers took Him away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium), and they called together the whole Roman cohort. 17 They dressed Him up in purple, and after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on Him; 18 and they began to acclaim Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 They kept beating His head with a reed, and spitting on Him, and kneeling and bowing before Him. 20 After they had mocked Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him. 21 They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross. 22 Then they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull. 23 They tried to give Him wine mixed with myrrh; but He did not take it. 24 And they crucified Him, and divided up His garments among themselves, casting lots for them to decide what each man should take. 25 It was the third hour when they crucified Him.

The cross was placed just outside the city as a reminder of “Roman sovereignty”….

26 The inscription of the charge against Him read, “THE KING OF THE JEWS.” 27 They crucified two robbers with Him, one on His right and one on His left. 28 [And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with transgressors.”] 29 Those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, “Ha! You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save Yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes, were mocking Him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. 32 “Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!” Those who were crucified with Him were also insulting Him.

Two kinds of people met Jesus at His Cross – the pride-filled powerful and the pain-filled prisoner. Let’s walk into the scene, and meet them. You won’t have any problem identifying who is in what role MOMENTS into their description. Let’s begin with the POWERFUL.

THE FIRST KIND: THE PRIDE FILLED POWERFUL PEOPLE

They stick out, and that is their intention. They dress for attention. They walk with a swagger, and expect you to move out of their way. Some of them take pride in their GOODNESS – that is the religious kind. Some take pride in their easy RECOGNITION – that is the fame oriented political kind. Some take pride in the FEAR they create in others – that is the earthy “raw power” kind you find in bars where soldiers back from the front gather. The scene today provides a look at all three of these:

Religion based Power – Elders and Scribes

Search the passage for all the times the Elders, Chief Priests and Scribes are mentioned and it will look something like this:

They felt POWERFUL:

Mark 15:1 Early in the morning the chief priests with the elders and scribes and the whole Council, immediately held a consultation; and binding Jesus, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate.

The verbs of verse one reveal a sense of power. Note words like “held consultation”, “binding”, “led away” and “delivered”. Jesus appears to be a victim, and they appear to be in control of everything. He is a docile rabbit, and they are the slaughterers. He is unarmed, and they are dominant.

They felt SELF-JUSTIFIED: Mark 15:3 The chief priests began to accuse Him harshly. 4 Then Pilate questioned Him again, saying, “Do You not answer? See how many charges they bring against You!” 5 But Jesus made no further answer; so Pilate was amazed.

The men raised accusations. The term “katagoreo” is the word here, a combination of two very well understood words in Greek. “Kata” is a modifying word that usually indicates intensity or direction. Sometimes it is translated “down”, but it is much more. The second part of the word is “agora” the word for the public forum, shopping mall, or public discourse center. In combination, the idea is the loud disputations one could hear in a market place. Read: LOUD, BRASH, HOSTILE, FRUSTRATED. Stand at a “customer service counter” at Christmas and you will get the idea. People complain loudly out of a sense that INJUSTICE has been done to them. They believe they must PRESS the idea to be heard. Someone said about there marriage to me the other day: “My wife was taught in her home that if someone didn’t agree, it must be a hearing problem – they can’t hear you. She learned that if she turned up the volume, you would agree. Often I do – simply because I want the volume back down!”

You can read of their self justified attitude a few verses later:

Mark 15:11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to ask him to release Barabbas for them instead.

Here are the leaders behind the scenes “agitating” (ana= by; seio=stir) the crowd to get what the leaders want. They are FINE with freeing a murderer and dissident, in exchange for getting rid of One who is much more popular. Their issue isn’t MORALITY or PUBLIC ORDER – their issue is CONTROL – and that is at the center of their works. Some religious people are about controlling others – but in the end all of them are about hoping they can CONTROL GOD and His reaction to their outward devotion.

I suspect that no teaching of the Bible is harder to swallow for people in our day than that of man’s utter depravity. Those words are the theological terms for the utter inability of man to earn God’s favor. That is at the heart of the religions made by men. Biblically, I can do NOTHING that will make myself acceptable to God – no attendance at mass or religious service, no prayer to a saint of yesteryear (no matter how great that saint was in their lifetime). Isaiah 64:6 reminds us that even our RIGHTEOUSNESS – that is, the things we do that we deem GOOD, are as “filthy rags” before God – because they are not what He accepts as our Judge.

Ray Prichard said it this way: “That doctrine teaches us that there is nothing we can contribute to our salvation. We are so lost in our sins that we have no idea how sinful we really are. When we look into our own souls and see ourselves, we see only the sin that lies on the surface, but God sees to the bottom – and what he sees is a foul pit of iniquity. We are so lost that unless God takes the initiative to save us we will never be saved at all.”

They are SELF SATISFIED: The religious powerful find evidence in the world that they are right in what they teach and believe. They are able to SHOUT DOWN the conscience that God placed within them with self made “ends justify means” dogma. Look at the behaviors they had toward the condemned Jesus at the cross: Mark 15:31 “In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes, were mocking Him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. 32 “Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!” Those who were crucified with Him were also insulting Him.”

Isn’t it sort of obvious if you were standing on the that hill on that particular day, that you would see THEY WON. They got the One who called Himself “The Way” out of their way. The One who was called “The Truth” was listening to the taunts of those who shouted insults and LIES. The One who called Himself  “The Life” – was having His life drained away from Him – at the command of the taunting ones.

Men of religion can seem powerful because they can indicate GOOD WORKS and ACCOMPLISHMENTS they believe justify the way they do things. They can point to beautiful buildings and helpful philanthropy – and argue they had the right to plow under distractions on their way to doing God’s work. Ironically, when God put on skin and walked the earth, He chose to walk with people who were largely uncared for by these religious powerhouses.

Political based Power – Pontius Pilate

Beyond religious people, there was the political backdrop of the passage. Jesus was not only a religious problem, He had become a political liability.

Pilate thought Jesus was STUPID: Mark 15:2 Pilate questioned Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And He answered him, “It is as you say.” 3 The chief priests began to accuse Him harshly. 4 Then Pilate questioned Him again, saying, “Do You not answer? See how many charges they bring against You!” 5 But Jesus made no further answer; so Pilate was amazed. To one who supremely prizes POWER, the argument to gain and keep power makes sense. When you are accused, you fire back. You hold your ground, because YOUR OPINION is worth hearing. You believe in yourself, and you ask people to believe in (and vote for) you and the ideas you bring to the table. Silence is a sign of inability to the political mind. Your skillful oratory is your ability to FIGHT – and that is what makes you powerful. There He stood, the Creator of all (Col. 1:16-17), embodied before a puny Prefect. (Wikipedia on the title: “The “Praefectus” was the formal title of many, fairly low to high-ranking, military or civil officials in the Roman Empire, whose authority was not embodied in their person (as it was with elected Magistrates) but conferred by delegation from a higher authority. They did have some authority in their prefecture such as controlling prisons and in civil administration.”) What an irony… Jesus before Pilate. The levels between the two in every way were staggering. Was Pilate more intelligent? He thought so. Was Pilate more important in human history? He thought so. Was Pilate more significant in governing the affairs of men? He thought so.

Both Pilate and Jesus died. One opened salvation to humanity, and saved the world. The other was apparently banished to Gaul and unable to die in his own home, discarded by his emperor and his spouse. In what appears to be the more reliable historical note on what happened to Pilate: Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiae book ii: 7), quotes some early apocryphal accounts that he does not name, which already relate that Pilate fell under misfortunes in the reign of Caligula (AD 37 – 41), was exiled to Gaul and eventually committed suicide there, in Vienne.

Pilate thought Jesus was a CAREER OPPORTUNITY: Mark 15:9 Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he was aware that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy…15 Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified.

Pilate knew the charges were not real, they were based on ENVY. He frankly just didn’t CARE. He wanted to keep the people before him from causing a stir. In a way, he was like the parent of the child that is held hostage in the public setting by a child that threatens to SCREAM if the parent tries to curb any desire of the child. He was hoping this would help cement relationships in HIS JOB. Luke adds the detail: “Now Herod and Pilate became friends with one another that very day; for before they had been enemies with each other.” (Luke 23:12). Pilate no doubt saw the condemnation of Jesus as a great career move toward making important friends.

He thought Jesus was PATHETIC: Both before the Crucifixion and after, Pilate reflected a tiny bit of humanity in his demeanor. He seemed to argue to keep Jesus alive for a time: Mark 15:12 Answering again, Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” 13 They shouted back, “Crucify Him!” 14 But Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify Him!” After his bigger agenda of keeping the people happy took over and the Crucifixion was completed, he again showed a more human side: Mark 15:43 Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God; and he gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate wondered if He was dead by this time, and summoning the centurion, he questioned him as to whether He was already dead. 45 And ascertaining this from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph.

I am not trying to make him into a good guy – he clearly was not. At the same time, he and his colleagues had dispensed such “justice” many times in their lives, and he certainly had no clue this day was any different. Jesus was, as far as he was concerned, a pathetic pawn trapped in His own popularity by envious and jealous religious stooges. He should, Pilate thought, be pitied for His misfortune.

Reputation based Power – Roman Soldiers

Beyond the echelons of power reached by public placement – like the priests and prefect – were the simpler but still powerful bearers of the Roman eagle standard… the cohort of Roman soldiers.

They saw Jesus as ENTERTAINMENT: Mark 15:16 The soldiers took Him away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium), and they called together the whole Roman cohort. 17 They dressed Him up in purple, and after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on Him; 18 and they began to acclaim Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 They kept beating His head with a reed, and spitting on Him, and kneeling and bowing before Him. 20 After they had mocked Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him. The chief problem for Roman soldiers was BOREDOM. Those who have served “Uncle Sam” can understand. There is nothing like being transported far from home to a place where most people HATE you and don’t even KNOW you. Respect of such people can only be gained, they thought, by open displays of BRUTE STRENGTH. If they had to be brutal, so be it. At least Jesus offered a distraction from the mind numbing boredom of serving Rome in this backwash of the Empire.

They saw Jesus as a DUTY: Mark 15:21 They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross. 22 Then they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull. The soldiers had no desire to build relationships – just get their job done. When Jesus couldn’t stand up and carry the cross beam of His cross – they found someone else. A Numidian African – a Roman of the Senatorial Province of Cyrene was pressed into service.

They saw Him as a way to GAIN: Mark 15:23 They tried to give Him wine mixed with myrrh; but He did not take it. 24 And they crucified Him, and divided up His garments among themselves, casting lots for them to decide what each man should take. Beyond the distraction from boredom that Jesus provided, they could gain a small amount under Roman law, by getting the few meager pieces of cloth and leather that were taken from the condemned. It wasn’t much, but many duties offered no gain at all.

THE SECOND KIND: THE PAIN FILLED IMPRISONED PEOPLE

Just a single verse describes the criminals crucified on either side of Jesus in Mark’s account: Mark 15:27 They crucified two robbers with Him, one on His right and one on His left. Ray Prichard notes: “When Christ died, he didn’t die alone. Two thieves died with him. We often focus on the thief who cried out, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” We know that man was saved because Jesus told him, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). But don’t forget there was another man hanging beside Jesus. He cursed and swore and blasphemed the Son of God. He died as he had lived, a wretched sinner, unforgiven. ..The cross that saved the one doomed the other. The cross stands as a silent sentinel proclaiming that you have to come God’s way – or you won’t come at all! The same cross that offends the world and judges the world also saves the world…God has no other plan of salvation – and he doesn’t need one.

Paul acknowledged how our message looked to his world. He said: “But we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (I Corinthians 1:23) Our chief Christian symbol is the symbol of an EXECUTION. Today, a contemporary symbol might be a noose, an electric chair, or a small chamber with the machine for a lethal injection. Our message is the OUR LIFE COMES FROM HIS DEATH.

There is, however, a condition. I can KNOW that God accepts ME because of Jesus IF and ONLY IF we accept His Son’s sacrifice in the place of our own goodness, and our own works. 1 John 5:11 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

Hold up your left hand and let it represent you standing before God with your sins – in an unforgiven and guilty state. Now hold up your right hand and cover it with a cloth or a towel or a handkerchief. Let your right hand represent Jesus Christ and the cloth his perfect righteousness. As long as you (the left hand) stand before God with your sins uncovered, you cannot enter heaven. Now take both hands and clasp them together so that the cloth covers both hands. When God looks down from heaven, what does he see? He doesn’t see your sins because they are covered by the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Now you can enter heaven because God sees you as having the righteousness of his Son. (Prichard)

Two kinds of people met Jesus at His Cross – the pride-filled powerful and the pain-filled prisoner. One was offered rescue, the other condemned by his hardness. That is ALWAYS how it is with Jesus.