“The Tragic and Triumphant Cross Leading to Hope for Us All”
“Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.”
“They compelled a passerby, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.”
“It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews.’ And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes were also mocking him among themselves and saying ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.” (Mark 15:16-32)
Six times in this chapter of Mark, Jesus is spoken of as “king”. The Roman soldiers mock Jesus’ alleged claims to be king. They clothe him in mock royal garments and place a crown of thorns on his head. With cruel violence they hail him as king, striking his head with a reed and spitting on him. The great irony of this bitter parody is that Jesus is really a king yet he is not a king whose power and authority are displayed in worldly ways. What was spoken in bitter mockery and jest is actually true; he is a king of a most unexpected sort. Throughout his ministry Jesus had been demonstrating his sovereign power over hunger, sickness, demons, and even death. His ruling power reached its summit not by avoiding the cross but by accepting it.
Prisoners condemned to crucifixion were often made to carry their own cross, or at least the crossbeam. Apparently Jesus was already weakened by the torture he had endured. Simon, who must have come to Jerusalem for the Passover, was pressed into service to carry the cross of Jesus. This man, who enters and exits the passion narrative in one verse, reminds us of discipleship. Taking up the cross was described by Jesus as the mark of true discipleship.
The place of execution is called Golgotha, which Mark translates for his readers as “place of a skull”. The details of the crucifixion are stark; the soldiers offered him a narcotic which he refused, they divided his garments by casting lots, they inscribed his charge as “The King of the Jews”, two others were crucified to his right and his left.
This scene of horror, with Jesus affixed to the cross and his royal title fastened to the wood, is Mark’s depiction of Jesus fully revealed as the suffering Messiah. The notion that a crucified king could be honored was strange indeed. There had been numerous messianic movements during the century in which Jesus lived, yet none of these would-be messiahs had any thought that their cause would come to fruition through his own death. Yet, in a profound sense, Jesus truly reigned from the cross and brought his kingdom into existence through it.
The crucified Jesus is cruelly mocked by those who pass by, the religious leaders, and those crucified with him. With supreme irony, the mockeries are expressions of Jesus’ truest identity; the temple destroyed and rebuilt, the one who saves others but not himself, the one who remained on the cross so that others may believe. His mission was accomplished in the most paradoxical form.
Who has been a Simon of Cyrene for you, helping you carry your cross? How can you be a Simon for others?
Crucified Savior, you reign from the cross and establish your kingdom in pain. Help me trust that real power and victory is available through the weakness and humility of the cross.