Mark 15:1-32

Readings for this week April 8 – 12
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Day 1 – Pilate

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 15:1

There is a definite political element to what Mark is presenting to us – not solely political of course, but it is present nonetheless. And it is that political element that precipitates Pilate’s involvement in these events, and that culminates in the guilty verdict against Jesus. Jesus was executed as a rebel against Rome. Mark hammers this point home by continually referring to Jesus – and having others refer to him – as “the King of the Jews”. If Jesus was merely a troublemaking prophet, Pilate could simply have had him flogged as a lesson. If he was acting like a religious renegade, Pilate probably wouldn’t have even cared. But someone (other than Caesar) claiming to be King: that was something Pilate had to take notice of and deal with, even though he knew Jesus wasn’t leading a normal revolt like those Pilate had suppressed in the past.

So Pilate doesn’t care that the trial isn’t fair. He’s not doing this in order to get to the bottom of what’s going on; nor is he doing it because he is a lover of justice and wants to make sure Jesus gets a fair hearing. He’s doing it because he’s looking out for number one, he’s making sure that the Jews (and anyone else looking to cause trouble for him) have no grounds to complain to his superiors in Rome about how slack he is in quashing rebellions directed against imperial power. His own personal job security and desire to avoid any controversy attaching itself to him are his primary motivations as the King of the Jews stands before him, awaiting judgement.

Question to Consider
What do you think of Pontius Pilate’s actions?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, guard my mind so that my motivations are always honourable and put others and their situation first, before my own considerations. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – A Bigger Picture

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 15:2-5

“Don’t give up your day job!” we often jokingly say to someone who is attempting but failing at something outside their normal area of expertise. From the evidence of his performance before Pilate, it is just as well that Jesus was not a trial lawyer because he would not have been a very good one. Any impartial observer would come to the conclusion that he didn’t really seem to be trying very hard, if at all, to present a defence of any kind. His two basic approaches were either brief, cryptic responses to questions, or silence. Surely there is so much more he could have said, so much more he could have done to mount a defence? Pilate wasn’t even pressing very hard to find him guilty; it was more out of a wish to act the contrarian and to spite the Jewish leaders’ desire for Jesus to be condemned rather than any belief in justice. But surely Jesus could have conducted himself in some other – any other – way?

The fact that he didn’t when he so easily could have suggests that there is a greater picture here, one that Jesus himself has at the forefront of his mind as his ‘trial’ unfolds, something that goes beyond the simple necessity of Jesus ‘dying for our sins’ (as true as that still is). Jesus sees himself as enacting the inauguration of the kingdom of God. He is taking upon himself the fate that he had said awaited the Temple and those who thought they could restore the people to the land through armed rebellion. The innocent one takes the sins of Israel, and the world, upon himself, to bring forgiveness and healing.

Questions to Consider
What do you think of the way Jesus conducted himself? Why did he do things this way?

Prayer
Lord God, help me see the ‘bigger picture’ and live faithfully for your kingdom, especially when the way seems strange or unknown. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – A Life for a Life

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 15:6-15

Contained within the wider theological story of salvation and redemption there is, as always, the personal story, the story as viewed from inside the life of each of us. There is a personal element to these events for all of us, a place where we can insert ourselves in the story and try to see how the trial and crucifixion of Jesus directly impacts us, and experience the awe-inspiring effects for ourselves. We can do this through the person of Barabbas. At this point in the story, symbolism slips away and we are left with a literal exchange of one life for another. It can’t be stated any clearer than this. Barabbas, a condemned criminal, most likely the type of rebel who took up arms against the Romans in an attempt to bring about the change he believed was needed, is set free, while the innocent true King is condemned to a painful, humiliating death in his place.

The innocent life given for the guilty life. One who spoke words of life and love in the service of God condemned so that one who believed in using violence and fear to force God’s hand could be saved and released. The story of a guilty man going free while an innocent man is condemned to die should speak volumes to those of us who know we are sinners, who know we ought to be condemned, and yet find ourselves miraculously pardoned and forgiven and set free. We see ourselves in Barabbas; we see God’s grace in action in our lives and we marvel at the underserved nature of what we have been given.

Questions to Consider
How do you think Barabbas felt? How would you feel? How did you feel when you realised what God had done for you?

Prayer
Loving Father, thank you for the astonishing undeserved grace that you have bestowed on us and the new life you have given us free from condemnation and death. May I live a truly grateful life. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Carrying Out the Sentence

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 15:16-28

The sentence had been passed. All that remained was to carry it out. Jesus was being led away to the place of crucifixion, forced, like all victims of crucifixion, to carry the wood that would be used to make his cross. The punishment that Jesus had received already had obviously weakened him enough to require the soldiers to order a member of the crowd to carry his cross for him.

There were so many ways you could die on a cross: acute shock from blood loss; dehydration; stress-induced heart attack; becoming too exhausted to breathe; asphyxiation; or heart failure leading to cardiac rupture. Nails were driven through nerves, insects would land on open wounds and eyes. And while being beaten and whipped was not a necessary part of the procedure, the extra punishment and torture inflicted by the soldiers would have caused excruciating pain even if you weren’t nailed to a cross afterwards, providing ample opportunity for wounds to tear and reopen. Part of the spectacle of crucifixion was the opportunity for the citizens of the city to be able to see the condemned criminal being led through the city to the site of execution. A Roman soldier would walk ahead of the prisoner with a sign showing the prisoner’s name and crimes. The route taken would not have been the shortest route available – the longer the route, the more people would be able to see the procession, to scoff, to mock, to jeer. It was a procedure designed to heap humiliation upon pain.

Question to Consider
Why do you think the Romans choreographed their executions this way?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, as we enter the final week before Easter, help me focus upon you and the sacrifice of your son. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – “Save Yourself”

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 15:29-32

They called out to him “Save yourself”. That is what someone with divine power should easily be able to do. If Jesus was God – and therefore almighty – surely he could save himself from his current situation. Maybe that’s why he was on the cross in the first place: what greater show of strength and power than to rescue himself from the toughest situation imaginable? People saw kingship and rule in terms of power, and the ability to control and determine events through the exercise of a strong, indomitable will. What better way to show that than to “save yourself”?

But Jesus was not interested in saving himself. That was not why he was hanging there, nailed to the cross. He subjected himself to power – the power of those who wanted him dead, for whatever reasons. He was there to save us – all of us. His will was directed elsewhere, not towards an expression of Almighty force, but towards a place of Almighty sacrifice, displaying a power of a completely different kind to that of the Romans who had condemned and executed him. He was there to show us the length to which he would go in order to save, restore and protect his people and his creation. Saving himself was not what Jesus was doing, no matter how much the human pain and suffering he was experiencing may have made him want to. He was doing for us what we could not do for ourselves, experiencing for himself judgement he did not deserve to save those for whom judgement would otherwise destroy.

Questions to Consider
What does this tell us about the love we are to show to others, especially our enemies? How can we exhibit such love?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, I am humbled before such love, it is almost incomprehensible that you would do this. All I can do is kneel before you and praise your name, and your love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)