Saturday, May 6, 2017

Daily reading assignment: Mark 15-16

The setting of Mark 15-16 is the crucifixion of Christ.  I am currently in the midst of a series titled “Perspectives on the Cross” at Hillsdale Baptist Church and relishing the opportunity to slow down and consider details that were part of the arrest, trials, and crucifixion of Christ.  Although familiar to all my readers, I pray today’s devotional commentary will be as enriching for you as it is for me.

The Middle East has always been a boiling caldron of violence, rebellion, and nation overthrowing nation.  In Jesus’ day the Romans were imposing their “Pax Romana” on Israel and the Jews were chaffing under the oppression of Roman taxes and the presence of Roman soldiers.  The threat of rebellion was constant and no Roman official was more efficient at putting down rebellion than Pilate, the Roman governor, appointed by Caesar Tiberius.  Pilate’s harsh rule fueled rebellion and insurrection among the people and his excessive cruelties had even reached the ears of Caesar.

Our scripture reading in Mark 15 follows the illegal trials Jesus had suffered before the high priests and the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:53-72).  Having condemned Jesus, but lacking the authority to put Him to death, they led Jesus away to be tried by Pilate (Mark 15).

Hearing the accusations the chief priests, elders and scribes brought against Jesus, Pilate was amazed He remained silent and did not answer their charges (15:2-5).  Knowing his adversaries were not interested in justice, but motivated by “envy” and spite (15:10), Pilate attempted to free himself and Jesus from the entanglement of Jewish injustices (15:6-9).  In keeping with tradition during the Passover, Pilate offered to free one prisoner, and suggested to the mob that had gathered that Jesus be released (15:9, 12).  Rather than free Jesus, a man Pilate had judged innocent; the wicked Jews demanded the release of Barabbas, a notorious robber, insurrectionists and murderer (15:7, 11).  Having heard their bloodthirsty cries that Jesus be crucified (15:14), Pilate made the fateful decision against his own soul and, “willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified” (15:15).

His fate having been decided, Roman soldiers returned Jesus to a judgment hall called Praetorium and called “together the whole band” of soldiers (some 40-60 men) and began to mock and humiliate Jesus, stripping Him of his clothes they scornfully hailed Him, “king of the Jews” (15:16-20a).   When they tired of mocking Jesus, they “led Him out to crucify Him” (15:20).

Prisoners condemned for crucifixion were forced to bear their cross to Golgotha (the place of the skull); however, Jesus was so weakened from the scourging and loss of blood that a man named “Simon a Cyrenian” was forced to assist Jesus with his cross (15:21).  It is on this point I will pause and ponder, “What became of Simon from Cyrene after he helped bear the cross on which Jesus was crucified?”

I believe the answer to that question is found in the latter part of Mark 15:21 where we read:  “And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross” (15:21).

Mark gives the names of two sons of Simon, Alexander and Rufus, who were apparently known to believers of the first century.  It is my speculation Simon’s two sons were named because they, like their father Simon, were themselves Christians and members of the church.  That is a point I cannot prove; however, among the thousands who were saved following the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, the fact that Simon and his sons are named gives me hope they were believers and known in the church.

We do not know what became of Simon after he bore the cross to Golgotha.  I like to think he stood not too far from the cross and observed Jesus, an innocent, sinless man, bearing the sins of those who crucified Him and the world.  Simon’s pilgrimage for the Passover from Cyrene in northwest Africa (modern Libya) to Jerusalem had providentially led him to the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36).

Friend, have you been to Golgotha, the place called Calvary, and gazed upon the man dying in the midst of two thieves (15:27-28)?  Have you heard the mocking and scorn of those who crucified Him and listened as He prays, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34)?   Behold the man, not only forsaken by those He loved, but as He bears the penalty of our sins prays, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).

Jesus Christ, the perfect, sinless Son of God, died bearing the penalty of your sins.  Have you accepted Him as your Savior?  I urge you today, in this very reading to, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31).

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith