What a night it has been (now early Friday morning and still dark). Just hours ago, Jesus was singing Psalms, arm in arm with His beloved disciples, celebrating the Passover – now He is utterly alone, betrayed, drained, and surrounded by angry crowds that jeer His death.
There had been no “fair” trial for Jesus. Every judicial rule was broken. Jesus was getting expedited treatment by the Jewish leaders. (Talk about systemic injustice!)
Spit on His face, swollen, bloodied, and in chains – Jesus is dragged before the Roman authorities. If there was anyone/thing the Jews despised almost as much as Jesus – it was Roman authority. Unfortunately, they were willing to part ways with their political leanings, just long enough to make their case against our Lord. None of their punishments or discipline would be enough – they wanted blood – they wanted to see Jesus dealt with in the most intense, brutal means available – they wanted Him crucified.
The text says they came ‘early in the morning’ to the door of Pontius Pilate (the top dog in the area – the fifth governor of Judaea under Emperor Tiberius). Jesus so far has interrupted the lives of many in 1st century Palestine. The Sanhedrin had enough of this interruption – they had now given their answer – they would hand over their ‘king’ to the ‘dogs’ (Psalm 22:16) like the scapegoat on the day of atonement.
Jesus is the great interruption of history. He demands answering to. Jesus is impossible to brush off like a passing fad or piece of advice. Jesus is a stumbling block that causes you to trip and trip until you face it head-on! Notice where you put your foot! He will either be a stumbling block or a steppingstone! You do not get any other choice.
Everything about this chapter, the image of a suffering, beaten King of Kings – demands our attention. It flips our notions and assumptions on their head. It interrupts our life. It leaves many ‘amazed,’ dumbfounded, scoffing, offended as Paul would go on to say as he preached this story around the Mediterranean.
“We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1: 23-25). Don’t miss a good Jesus interruption – here we see four people Jesus tripped up.
1.) Jesus interrupts Pontius Pilate.
You can picture Pilate waking up to the sound of approaching crowds. Rubbing his eyes, still tired from the long night prepping for heightened security during the Passover. With millions of visiting Jews – could this be a revolt? Is today the day the Jews fight back as they did 150 years ago under the Maccabees?
Pilate had a difficult job as the prefect of Judea. This was likely the lowest position one could have. He was probably sent to Jerusalem as a disciplinary measure for a past failure (on the downside of his career). No one wanted to deal with the rebel Jews…it was a constant headache putting down riots and protests.
In fact, Pilate was likely a constant mess of anxiety – he felt the tension coming from Emperor Tiberius (history shows that he was brutal, impulsive, and cruel). “One more riot, and you will pay with your own blood” was the message from Rome.
“Who is interrupting me at this hour? Don’t they know we don’t take any trial cases until 7 am? This better be quick! This is the last thing I needed this week. Can it not wait?”
His aides quickly brief him on the situation (it’s the ‘King of the Jews’ – that Jesus guy). Pilate throws on a shirt, has a quick shave, and comes before the crowds in anticipation to meet this man. To his surprise, he sees a bloody, beaten, quiet, humble Galilean carpenter.
Pilate chuckled to himself, “So, this is the king of the Jews?” (v.2). The ‘King of the Jews was to be the new David. The political leader who would reestablish the nation-state and free the people from Rome. This ‘Jesus’ was hardly a macho warlord. Pilate was immediately relieved; this guy does not offer any threat to Rome. The gospel of John elaborates on this further as Pilate and Jesus discuss kingdoms, armies, and the nature of truth.
Jesus’ answer clearly affect Pilate “It is as you say” (v.2). Pilate is amazed that this ‘King’ makes no attempt to defend Himself. The silence and resoluteness of Jesus provokes Pilate to trip on such a cornerstone. Pilate remarks, “I find no fault in Him” in John and Luke’s gospel. Pilate thinks of how he can appease the crowds and defend Jesus. Maybe I can release to them a true zealot, Barabbas!
Ironically, Matthew’s gospel states Barabbas’ first name is Jesus (Jeshua/Joshua -meaning ‘deliverer’), and his last name is Barabbas (meaning – son of the father). Pilate offers the crowds a choice – Jesus, son of the father OR Jesus of Nazareth, son of the true Father. The choice is still offered to us today. Who will we follow? Who would we rather be our Deliverer? Jesus the zealot, politician, activist, warlord, social justice warrior? Or Jesus the Son of God, redeemer, servant, healer, Passover lamb? The crowds choose Jesus the Zealot…they have been ever since! They accepted a false son of the father.
At this point, Pilate feels the pressure. He knows Jesus is innocent. His decision would go down in history – to be remembered in the Apostle’s creed as the ‘one under whom Jesus suffered.’ Instead of siding with Jesus, Pilate feels the pressure of the crowds, and picks the politically correct answer. He signs off on the death of Jesus – the King of Glory – then ‘washes his hands.
Pilate, who begins by seeking amnesty for Jesus, ends by seeking it for himself. This decision about Jesus was the most crucial decision he could make (still is for you and me). Jesus Christ had interrupted his Friday morning, stood in his presence, and Pilate chose to satisfy the crowds. Don’t miss a Jesus interruption!
2.) Jesus interrupts Simon of Cyrene.
Jesus is sent away to be flogged, beaten, and abused by Roman soldiers. His kingship is mocked with a purple robe and a crown of thorns. In a twisted way, from the Sanhedrin, to Pilate, to the tormentors, Jesus is rightly acknowledged as King (the brutalized lamb of Revelation). Jesus is tied to the horizontal beam of His cross, bleeding and ripped open at every place, splinters digging into His wounds, and forced to walk through crowded streets to outside the city gates – up a rocky hill to die. This procession is the very image Jesus was referring to when He asked people to take up your cross and follow Me (Mark 8:34).
Simon of Cyrene was likely a Jew from northern Africa (Libya – 800 miles away) visiting the city for Passover. He may have been out in the marketplace with his kids, enjoying the spring morning when His life was interrupted. Seeing this bloodied mess limping down the road, Simon would have wanted to be anywhere else but there. He is forced, against his will, to help Jesus carry His cross. What a profound image!
Simon likely didn’t know who this man was. He probably thought it was a deserving criminal. As He took on the cross, the blood, spit, sweat, and flesh of Jesus would have gotten on his robes. Simon would have heard the cries and grunts of Jesus in utter agony. This was the last place Simon wanted to be. What a horrible start to the day!
Yet, Mark offers an interesting editorial note in the text. V. 21, “Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus.” Remember that Mark likely wrote this gospel to Christians living in Rome. Therefore, he points out this connection, “you guys know Rufus – this is his dad!”
We know a Rufus was living in Rome during this time (of Mark writing his gospel) because Paul gives him a shout out in Romans 16:13. Church history remarks that Rufus would become a leading bishop in the early church along with his brother Alexander.
Therefore, something about this experience with Jesus, this profound, grotesque, interruption, changed Simon. It didn’t just leave him ‘amazed’ as it did Pilate. Simon became a believer. Little did he know that this assault by the Roman guards would become his biggest privilege.
What a reminder for us when we think we are having a bad, strange, messy day. Could God be doing/unfolding His best work yet? Do you have the time to serve Jesus? Even while Satan is doing His worst work – God is still saving and interrupting lives for the better. Church tradition states that Simon was eventually martyred for his faith by crucifixion many years later. Don’t miss a Jesus interruption!
3.) Jesus interrupts The Rebels on the cross.
Jesus reaches the hill of Golgotha, and is nailed down to the cross, shoulders dislocated, and lifted up, naked, beaten, humiliated, caped in purple, with His thorny crown – and above Him His rightful title “king of the Jews” (so there is no confusion as to WHY He was executed). Next to Him on His right and left were two other crucified criminals – caught up in the most famous moment of all time.
Even in their final moments, these rebel (zealot) thieves find themselves caught up in the drama and focus of Jesus’ death. For one thief, in particular, His life is interrupted by the severest of mercies (as Luke’s gospel describes). Mark says they both hurled insults – yet – something changed in one of them. Maybe it was watching Jesus suffer. Perhaps it was hearing the words “Father forgive them for they know not what they do!” (Luke 23: 34).
Both thieves were interrupted by Jesus – but only one responded in faith. Saying the same words of Pilate – but going a step further (into faith). “This man has done nothing wrong…remember me when YOU COME INTO YOUR KINGDOM” (Luke 23: 41-42).
Earlier, James and John had asked to sit at Jesus’ right and left hands in glory (10:37). Such positions, Jesus reminded them, entail trials and ordeals, a “cup” and a “baptism.” They did not know what they were asking. To truly receive the kingdom Jesus is inheriting requires positions of a radically different kind – one that Jesus took on for us – one that is received in faith. This is why the Apostle Paul goes on to say, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).
The cross of Jesus is a symbol that has rung out through the generations. It is the picture we all know well. It baffles the wise and is a disgrace to the proud. It is the stumbling block of all stumbling blocks. Such kind of love demands an answer. Here He is beloved, High and lifted up.
Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3: 14, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” Again, in John 12: 32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
Beloved, how has Jesus interrupted your life? What about Jesus is causing you to stumble? Are you waiting for a more convenient time to really listen to Him? Are you waiting for a less ‘messy’ opportunity to get close to Him? To walk with Him? Are you prepared to die with Him? To place your everything on the cross – to be crucified to the world?
There is no getting around the cross. No shadow it will not illuminate. Therefore, fall before it – fall before the Son of God – receive His gift of redemption.