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The Comedy at Calvary

Tom Pennington • Mark 15:27-32

  • 2013-06-30 PM
  • The Memoirs of Peter
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Well, it has been a wonderful journey for me through Mark's gospel, and tonight we come back to Mark's gospel. We really don't have much remaining. We're near the end of chapter 15, and- then, of course, just the resurrection after Jesus' death. But tonight, we come back to Mark's gospel. Now the last time we studied Mark's gospel together, we looked at the crucifixion of our Lord, the actual event of the crucifixion itself.

Tonight, we come to the next section that begins in verse 27 of chapter 15 and runs down through verse 32. It is the mockery and ridicule of Jesus on the cross. That is a contemporary event, even in our day. Bertrand Russell, for example, in speaking of Christ and Christianity, said, "I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world." Christopher Hitchens more recently wrote,

The God of Moses would call for other tribes, including his favorite one, to suffer massacre and plague and even extermination, but when the grave closed over his victims, he was essentially finished with them unless he remembered to curse their progeny. Not until the advent of the Prince of Peace [he says] do we hear of the ghastly idea of further punishing and torturing the dead. [Hitchens goes on to say of Jesus] If Jesus could heal a blind person that He happened to meet, then why didn't He heal blindness?

If you go on some of the sites on the internet, the news sites that have Christian stories, you will find an endless stream of vitriol pouring out of people who want to ridicule Jesus Christ and our faith in Christ. That is absolutely nothing new. The Mishnah, the Jewish Mishnah, writing about Jesus after the fact said that "He is a stumbling block who makes the majority of the world error in serving a divinity besides God." Ridicule is a constant reality, for us, but for our Lord. Such ridicule (Understand this.) is really a transparent rejection of the real Jesus and His personal claims.

Thousands of years ago the Psalmist told us it would be like this. As we begin, I want you to keep your finger in Mark, but turn back to Psalm 2. The Psalmist said this is how it would be, that there would be this rejection of the Messiah. Psalm 2:1,

Why are the nations in an uproar?

And the peoples devising [or scheming, or meditating on carrying out a plan]

[this] … vain idea?

The kings of the earth take their stand

The rulers take council together

Against the Lord and against His Anointed [that is, against the Messiah], saying, "Let us tear their fetters apart

And cast away their cords from us!"

Understand that when people ridicule and attack the true God or the true Jesus, the biblical Jesus, that's really what it's all about. It's, in New Testament terms, "We will not have this man to rule over us."

This universal rejection of the true God and of His unique, one-of-a-kind Son is most clearly seen in one historical event, and that is at the cross. It's interesting, when you read the gospel records, that it's not the physical suffering of Jesus on which they most concentrate; instead, what receives the most scrutiny at the cross in the gospel records are the insults, the ridicule, and the jokes at Jesus' expense. So much so, that I think it would not be inappropriate to call this next section we study together "The Comedy at Calvary": intentionally joking at the expense of one who is suffering unimaginable anguish. Let's read together back in Mark 15. Let me begin reading in verse 27,

They crucified two robbers with Him, one on His right and one on His left. [And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "And He was numbered with transgressors."] Those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, "Ha! You who … [were] going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!" 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. Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!" [And] Those who were crucified with Him were also insulting Him.

Really a remarkable account, and remarkable that the gospel writers would record it. They all record the mocking of Jesus at the cross; because you see, on the cross Jesus was ridiculed by His enemies, but in a remarkable display of divine providence God caused even their ridicule to point to the truth of who Jesus was and why He was dying. Think about the gospel record for a moment. Jesus was ridiculed and laughed at, made fun of, by Pilate, by the Jewish leaders, by those simply passing by, by the Roman soldiers, and even by the two criminals, the two terrorists, that were crucified on each side of Him. But the ridicule to which Jesus was subjected is not an indictment of Jesus, but of all mankind. In fact, as we have already seen Mark do on several occasions, he intentionally includes groups of people that are representative of large groups of mankind. When the true Jesus is seen and understood, in the heart of His mission, He is always ridiculed.

Let's look at the crowds that ridiculed Jesus, then and now. First of all, He is always ridiculed by the power elite. Look at verse 27, "They crucified two robbers with Him, one on His right and one on His left."

Now, remember the man who was supposed to have been on that center cross. Look (back in verse 7), "The man named Barabbas had been imprisoned with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the insurrection." This man named Barabbas had been connected to an event that's simply called "the insurrection." Between 6 AD and 70 AD there were Jewish zealots who led countless armed revolts against the Roman occupying army. And Barabbas had been one of those zealots, one of those insurrectionists, and he had been involved in one specific insurrection. He is specifically called by John a "robber" in John 18:40. The word describes, in context, comparing it here with verse 7, "an armed revolutionary, a guerrilla, a terrorist." Josephus uses this word to describe the Zealots, the anti-Roman insurrectionists. He tells us, (Josephus does), that the Romans crucified all the Zealots they captured. Notice verse 7 adds that Barabbas had been captured along with several of his followers, several of his fellow insurrectionists. They had all been convicted of murder and insurrection and were awaiting their execution.

Now obviously, since Barabbas was supposed to have been crucified, and Jesus that morning took his place, it seems likely that these two men on each side, who are also called robbers as Barabbas was, were probably his accomplices. These criminals were crucified on each side of Jesus. Now, by whose order? Obviously, the Roman soldiers, the centurion detail carrying this out, caused it to happen, but undoubtedly it was by Pilate's command. It was a cruel joke, both against Jesus and the Jewish leaders. Remember, he put a placard over Jesus' head that called Him "The King of the Jews," and then he crucified Him between two criminals as if He were guilty of the same offense. Pilate was saying to everybody, "Ha! This is just the kind of king the Jews deserve!" It was Pilate's ridicule of not only the Jews but of the Son of God. D. Edmond Hiebert writes in his commentary, "It was a caricature on Jesus' central position as King. It was intended as a further insult to the Jews."

This is always the way it works. You know, it's not surprising that when the Epistles describe our election, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 1:26 says, … consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many … mighty [that is, not many powerful and influential] and not many noble [that is, not many of noble birth….] This has always been the way it is. And those few who are called, love and follow Jesus Christ, but the rest of the power elite always ridicule Jesus. They have consistently rejected and ridiculed the biblical Jesus, as Pilate did, as Herod did, later as Festus did.

Whatever version of the Bible you're using, I want you to notice verse 28. It is somehow marked with an indication or an explanation that early manuscripts don't contain this verse. So, it was added later, probably borrowed from Luke 22:37 where the same idea occurs, and there it does occur in all the original manuscripts. Here it was added, because it really is the explanation, the true spiritual significance of what happens. Listen carefully, Pilate may have meant Jesus' crucifixion on that center cross between two criminals as a joke, but ironically there was a profound spiritual truth in what he did.

I want you to turn back to Isaiah, Isaiah 53. It had to be this way, because the prophet had prophesied 700 years before that it would be. Isaiah 53:12. Speaking of the Messiah, the Suffering Servant. "… I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, [And watch this.] And was numbered with the transgressors…." [That was the significance. Not only is it a prophecy that Jesus would die between two thugs, between two terrorists, between two criminals, murderers, insurrectionists, but there's also a spiritual significance. He would die bearing the transgression of many. Notice the next line.] "Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for … transgressors."

So, He died with transgressors on that sinner-cross between two of them, but He died for transgressors including one who died next to Him, and for us. So, Pilate's joke turns out to be on him. It in fact fulfilled the prophecy and made the meaning of Jesus' death even more of a reality.

There was a second group represented at the cross who ridiculed our Lord, and that was the outwardly religious. Notice verse 29,

Those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, "Ha! You who … [were] going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!"

Now remember, if you rewind in your mind back to earlier that morning, a large crowd had gathered in the open market just outside of the Praetorium where Pilate's bema seat was located. That crowd consisted of three groups. There was the Sanhedrin and all of their entourage. Remember, at the break of dawn that morning they had had a formal trial, the third Jewish trial, on the Temple Mount in their official meeting quarters. And there they gave official accusation against Jesus, and they condemned Him officially to death. They then came, many of them en masse, to that open market just outside of Herod's palace where Pilate was staying for the feast. So, there was the entourage of the Sanhedrin.

There was also those buying and selling in that large open market area. It was Passover; business had to go on. And so, there were many who had gathered in that huge market area to buy and sell on that morning for the necessities of life. The third part of that crowd were those who came to seek the release of a prisoner, perhaps even friends of Barabbas. Notice verse 8: "The crowd went up and began asking Pilate to do as he had been accustomed to do for them." There was a custom, on the feast of Passover he would release a prisoner. We've dealt with that text. You can go back and listen. It's really a remarkable, remarkable story. But there was a crowd of people that showed up that morning to ask for the release of a prisoner, perhaps, even as I said, friends of Barabbas.

So, there was this huge crowd in this market area there at the bema seat outside of the Praetorium. Apparently, many in that crowd had followed the crucifixion detail to Golgotha, because Luke 23:27 says, "Following Him [from the Praetorium out to Golgotha] was a large crowd of the people, including women who were mourning and lamenting Him." The religious women of Jerusalem would do this in the case of those who were to be executed, whether they knew the victim or not. When they arrived at the place of execution, many of the crowd stayed to watch. Luke 23:35 says, "The people stood by, looking on."

In addition to those groups, there were also some of Jesus' followers there at the cross. Verse 40, notice down in verse 40, "There were also some women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Less and Joses, and Salome." We'll talk about that when we get there, but there were clearly followers of Jesus there at the cross, including John the Apostle. So, standing just outside the city walls of Jerusalem, at a common site of crucifixion called Golgotha, was this unusual crowd of people.

Now, the site of the crucifixion would have been intentionally, highly visible and public. In fact, one Roman writer, Quintillian, writes, "Whenever we crucify the guilty, the most crowded roads are chosen where the most people can see and be moved with fear." It's very likely (honestly, when you take all of the history into account) where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher stands today. You see in the foreground of this picture is the palad of Herod. (This red line will mark for you.) From the palad of Herod they would've gone just outside the city walls into that suburb. And this is what it would look like in relief. This is a model of the ancient city of Jerusalem. You can see to the right of the screen is the massive palad of Herod in the foreground and to the right, and then in the circle there to the left you see the site of the crucifixion and the tomb just outside the city wall. This is where the event would have been held. Now, there's a road, a main road, that flowed from the suburb into the city there.

Now with that in mind, look back at verse 29. Mark speaks of "those passing by." Mark here introduces us to yet another group who were present at the crucifixion. Literally, "the ones passing by." In other words, those walking or riding on that road that passed near Golgotha, past Golgotha, from the suburbs, into the city proper. Now who are these people passing by? Well remember, it's Friday, but it's not just any Friday, it's Passover. Staying in or nearby the city of Jerusalem, above its normal population of some 60 to 80,000 people, would've been another 100 to 300,000 pilgrims there for Passover. So, in addition to the normal residents of the city going and coming to and from their homes out in the outskirts of the city, there were these pilgrims by the tens of thousands. They were either Jewish, or they were Gentile proselytes to Judaism. They were certainly not secular pagans for the most part.

Most of them would have been at least outwardly religious, because they cared enough about the Old Testament law, or at least their family's tradition, to make sure that they were present for at least one of the three required feasts of Israel. So here, represented in those just passing by the scene of the crucifixion, are those in our world who are outwardly religious in some way.

So, how do those who are externally religious respond to the true Jesus who claims to be God's Son, who claims to do miracles; who says that all men are sinners, all men are spiritual beggars in need of His salvation that He will purchase by the sacrifice of Himself, that He will in so dying satisfy the just wrath of God? How do outwardly religious people respond to such a Jesus? Notice verse 29, "Those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads…." The Greek word that's translated "hurling abuse" is the Greek word "blasphemeo" from which of course we get our English word "blaspheme". It's often translated that way in the New Testament.

Mark clearly intends this in two different ways. When one human being does this to another human being, it's what we would call "name-calling." It's to speak in a disrespectful way that demeans, that denigrates, that maligns. And boy, does this happen in our world today of Jesus Christ. But because Mark, and we as his readers, understand that Jesus is in fact deity (We've seen that through his gospel.), Mark here intends the other use of this word as well. Not only was it men name-calling another man hanging on the cross, but they were blaspheming God.

Notice he says they were "wagging their heads" or shaking their heads. If you look through the Old Testament, this was as sign of scorn and contempt. In fact, turn back to Psalm 22, because this had been prophesied. Psalm 22, and notice verse 6. David here is writing about someone more than he, and the New Testament writers quote it in that way, as a fulfillment of Jesus.

But I am a worm and not a man,

A reproach of men and despised by the people.

All who see me sneer at me;

They separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying,

"Commit yourself to the Lord; let Him deliver Him;

Let Him rescue Him, because He delights in Him."

[If God delights in You, then let Him come and help You.]

Now go back to Mark's gospel, and notice what Mark tells us that this religious crowd said as they passed by. Remember now, they're on their way to celebrate Passover. "Those passing by [verse 29] were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads." And this is what they said: "Ha!" That's an expression of mingled scorn and a sort of sense of victory. It's when you beat your enemy at something, you say, "Ha!" There's scorn, and there's "I've won!"

Then they refer to something Jesus had said nearly three and one-half years before in the early days of His ministry. Turn back to John 2. This is where this comes from. John 2, at the first cleansing of the temple, early in His ministry, three and one-half years before. John 2:18. After He cleansed the temple,

The Jews said to Him, "What sign do You show us as Your authority for doing these things?" Jesus answered them, [Here's My sign.] "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "It took forty-six years to build this temple, [They think He's talking about Herod's temple.] and will You raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking of the temple of His body.

Now remember, it was this saying of Jesus that had shown up as an accusation against Him at the trial before the Sanhedrin at the home of Caiaphas just a few hours before during the night. In fact, look at it in Mark 14. Mark 14:55. They were trying to find testimony (verse 55) to put Him to death; they weren't finding any. Many were giving false testimony against Him, but their testimony wasn't consistent.

[And then] Some stood up [verse 57 of Mark 14] and began to give false testimony against Him, saying, "We heard Him say, 'I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.'" [And] Not even in this respect was their testimony consistent.

So, this keeps coming up. Clearly, these outwardly religious Jews, just passing by the cross that morning on their way to celebrate Passover, were committed to the doctrine of the Pharisees, to the teaching the scribes and Pharisees had presented to them. Just as Paul would later be accused of threatening the temple, the Pharisees and the scribes and the chief priests had obviously concluded, they had seized on that statement by Jesus, and throughout His ministry they had taught their followers, "See, you can't trust the guy, this is what He said." They concluded that His words about the temple, which He meant about His body, were inflammatory, self-indicting, and on the face of it, ridiculous. And this is what they had taught their followers. So, when these outwardly religious Jews passed by Golgotha that morning, and they saw Jesus crucified, this was the issue they raised.

But did you notice that both the false witnesses at the trial that night and those passing by the crucifixion that morning misquoted Jesus' words? Jesus said, If you destroy this temple, I will raise it up in three days. They quoted Him as saying that He would destroy the temple. Not only did they misquote Him, but they misinterpreted Him. Because they interpreted His words as referring to Herod's temple. He was referring to the temple of His own body. And He had said to them three and one-half years before, there's going to come a day when you will destroy My body, and if you destroy it, I will raise it up in three days. That's the sign that I have authority to do what I'm doing and to teach what I'm teaching.

So, these outwardly religious Jews taunt Jesus: if you have that kind of power.... You know, remember now, they think He's claiming to be able to destroy Herod's temple and rebuild it in three days, And so they say to Him, look, if you have that kind of power, then surely You can save Your own life and come down from the cross. They were making fun of His great claims of power compared to His present nakedness and helplessness. I love what Hendriksen says. He says, "They imply that it is weakness that keeps Jesus on the cross. Actually, it was His strength, the strength of His love for sinners." "It was my sin that held Him there until it was accomplished."

This is still the response though of the outwardly religious today. They are perfectly content to respect Jesus as long as it's the Jesus of their own making; as long as He is simply one of several legitimate options; as long as He is merely a good teacher, a good man, a helpful spiritual guide. You've seen this with your own family, with your co-workers and neighbors as you tried to share the gospel. But start talking about a Jesus who is God in the flesh; who has limitless power; who claims exclusive worship; who says I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but by Me; who demands total allegiance; and who will return in flaming wrath against His enemies—and the outwardly religious want nothing of it. That's not the Jesus I signed up for. And they ridicule that kind of Jesus, the true biblical Jesus.

There's a third group that was represented in the crowd that day, and it's the false teachers. Notice verse 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. Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!"

Now, the chief priests here were those men along with their powerful families who controlled the high priesthood, the temple, and all of the commercial enterprise connected to it. These were the blue-blooded aristocrats. These were the people who were the powerful and influential. Don't think of the high priest or chief priests in Jesus' day as being deeply spiritual men. They were not. They were politicians. They were blue-blooded aristocrats who wanted their wealth and their opulence, and "let those religious people do whatever they want, but let's have a system, a financial system whereby we sell sacrifices, we exchange money, and we make a profit on it!"

Mark adds, along with them was "the scribes." These were the professional lawyers, who were responsible to interpret and teach the Old Testament.

And Matthew adds that the elders were there as well. The elders were laymen who were elders from synagogues all across the land of Israel who were elected to this council called the Sanhedrin. Together, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders constituted the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of Israel.

Now, notice what these men do. They were "mocking Him among themselves." In a totally inept attempt to maintain some degree of their dignity and decorum, the religious leaders don't speak directly to Jesus like the passersby did; instead, they were mocking Him among themselves. The Greek word translated "mock" here is a different word than the word that was used of "blaspheme". This word means "to make fun of." Luke 23 adds that they were "sneering." They were wrinkling their faces in disdain and disgust. Mark records what they were saying to each other, but obviously they were saying it to each other where other people could hear it.

Notice verse 31, "They were saying, 'He saved others; He cannot save Himself. Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!'" Notice, "He saved others." This is remarkable. Even Jesus' worst enemies had to admit the reality of His healing miracles.

After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, just about six weeks before His crucifixion, they had convened a secret meeting of the Sanhedrin to decide what to do about Jesus. And the chief priests and the Pharisees convened that council, and in that council they were saying, "What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs." So, how could they dodge believing in Him if they believed He performed many signs.

Well back in 3:22 says, "The scribes who came down from Jerusalem [from the headquarters of the religious elite, were giving this line, this spin] 'He is possessed by Beelzebub,' and 'He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.'" Sure, sure, He does signs and miracles, and He heals, we can't deny that; but, it's not God, it's Satan. "He saved others," but they say, "He cannot save Himself." Literally, "He lacks the power, He doesn't have the ability" is the Greek word "to save Himself". He could physically rescue others, but He can't rescue Himself. Think of the irony in that. Think of the truth in that. Jesus couldn't save you if He saved Himself. Their joke is turned by God into amazing truth.

They go on to say, "Let this Christ, the King of Israel." Luke adds that they said it this way: He is "the Christ of God, His Chosen One." And Matthew adds that the Jewish leaders also referred to Jesus in another way in Matthew 27:43. "For He said, [This is the leaders of Israel quoting Jesus.] He said, 'I am the Son of God.'" That is exactly the claim Jesus made in the hearing, at the second Jewish trial during the night, and at the third Jewish trial early that morning. In fact, look back in 14:61.

… [Jesus] kept silent and did not answer. Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, "Are You the … [Messiah], the Son of the Blessed One?" [Are You the Son of God?] And Jesus said, "I am."

You know, I read just today on the internet, some foolish person who thinks he knows the Bible saying Jesus never claimed to be equal to God. That was what He was crucified for! That's what He was convicted of, was blasphemy, because He said I am the Son of the Blessed One. And He even quotes in verse 62 from the book of Daniel, a passage clearly referring to deity. And the high priest got it. Verse 63, "Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, 'What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy.'" He's blasphemed God by claiming to be God's one and only unique Son. They got it, and this was why He was killed.

One other statement they make about Jesus at the cross: "Let this [one who has claimed to be the] Christ, the King of Israel, [the Son of God, let Him] now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!" Now, this is completely disingenuous. They had seen Jesus perform many miracles. We just saw, "He has performed many signs."

In fact, three days after this, Jesus would do something far greater than coming down from the cross. He would raise Himself from the death and the grave. And what was the response, what was their response in the face of the soldier's eyewitness testimony of the resurrection? They denied it, and they fabricated their own ridiculous story. They weren't going to see and believe; in fact, it never works that way.

Do you remember what Jesus Himself said in Luke 16:31? You remember, the rich man suffering in hell said, send Lazarus to my brothers so that they will believe and not "come to this place of torment." And Jesus ends the story with Abraham saying this to the rich man suffering in hell, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead."

Let me ask you, if you're not a follower of Jesus Christ, if you've never truly repented of your sins and become His disciple, what would it take, what would it take for you to believe in Jesus Christ? Would it be seeing Him perform a miracle? Would it be meeting the resurrected Christ? Not according to Jesus. If you refused to believe the Scripture, according to Jesus, if you refuse to believe the New Testament record, then you will not believe even if you were to witness a genuine miracle, or you personally met the resurrected Christ. There were people who did and who didn't believe. The reason people refuse to believe is that they refuse to have Jesus as their Lord. They don't want anybody telling them what to do.

So, the false teachers of the false religion of first century Judaism mocked the real Jesus. Do you understand all false teachers mock the real Jesus? All false teachers either deny His humanity or His deity. Some of the health, wealth, and prosperity guys say that He was a sinner. They talk of His weakness. They teach that His work alone is not enough to secure our salvation, we need to add our own efforts. All false teachers mock the real Jesus, and all false religions mock the real Jesus in the same ways. It's always been so; always will be.

There's another group, a fourth group, that ridiculed Jesus at the cross, but Mark doesn't mention them, Luke does. Those are the entirely pagan. This group was represented by the Roman soldiers. Look at Luke 23, Luke 23:36. Luke says,

The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, and saying, "If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!"

This was, as I've pointed out to you before, a detail typically of four Roman soldiers. One of them being a centurion, a commander of a hundred men. These soldiers involved in the crucifixion detail of Jesus were making fun of Jesus. How did they do it? Notice, they "Mocked Him [They made fun of Him.], coming up to Him, and offering Him sour wine." This cheap wine or wine vinegar was the favored beverage of the lower classes. It was the ordinary wine that soldiers drank. Since they offered it to Jesus as part of their mockery, it's likely that they were simply seeking to prolong His pain and agony by quenching His thirst.

But notice what they said, verse 37, "If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!" If You're really a king, then show Your power by rescuing Yourself from the suffering and death that we mere, lowly, Roman soldiers have inflicted upon You. You know, usually pagans are indifferent to the biblical Jesus; they just ignore Him altogether. But if they are confronted with the real Jesus and forced to deal with Him, then like the pagan soldiers, they too will ridicule Him.

Mark tells us there was a fifth group, fifth and final group, that were represented there at the cross, and they were condemned sinners. Go back to Mark's gospel, chapter 15, and notice verse 32. The second half of the verse says, "… Those who were crucified with Him were also insulting Him." Each time Luke refers to these two men, he simply calls them "criminals." It's a general word for someone who's broken the law. They're also called "robbers" here. As I said, that means they were likely compatriots of Barabbas.

Roman law distinguished between theft and robbery:

  • "theft" being stealthfully sneaking into someone's belongings and taking them without any threat to their person,

  • "robbery" being taking what they possess at the risk of violence and force.

Neither of those were capital offenses in Rome. So, it is likely that these men also had been involved in the insurrection with Barabbas. So, these were vile, wicked men, who deserved to die for their crimes.

But notice, their crimes against God were even worse. They were guilty of blasphemy of the Son of God. They were insulting Him. In fact, Matthew and Mark both go out of their way to say that both of these men were involved. You know, isn't it interesting that sin often looks at an object to strike out at, and in this case, it found its target in the sinless Son of God. J. Oswald Sanders, writing about this amazing thing; now think about this. Here are two criminals, two terrorists, who are in the middle of dying wretched deaths. And in the middle of that, instead of thinking about their own future, their own eternity, their own circumstance, they join the rest of the crowd and turn their vitriol, their attacks, on the person on the center cross. J. Oswald Sanders writes,

One of the most incredible facts of the whole event of the crucifixion is that those seasoned criminals became anxious for their reputations through being crucified in Christ's company. Lest they be credited with being His friends or associates, they join company with the passersby as they taunted and mocked Him. They didn't want their reputations to be stained by having anything to do with Him.

Look at the nature of their blasphemy. Luke 23:39 says, "One of the criminals who were hanged there said, 'Are you not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!'" One of the two continues his blasphemy. You know, think for a moment about these two pathetic men nailed on crosses on each side of Jesus. It's hard for us (Let's just be honest.) to think that we have anything in common with them. You feel like you share anything in common with those men? The biblical answer is yes, you do. You share everything with them.

It describes us. Condemned criminals? That's us. Romans 3:19, we all stand with our hands over our mouths before the justice bar of God. Worthy of death? Yes, sin deserves death. Guilty of blasphemy against God? Yes, all of us. By showing us that all of the groups that were at the cross ridiculed Him, we see the universal response of unregenerate man to the real Jesus of Nazareth. In the words of the song that we have all come to love, "Behold the man upon a cross, my sin upon His shoulders. Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers." That's the point of the gospel record. We are all represented there, all of humanity.

But thank God, that's not how the story ends. Luke tells us that although these two condemned criminals had been partners in crime and now were partners in death, they suddenly parted ways just three or four hours before their deaths. And they parted ways for eternity. One of these men—in fact turn over with me to Luke, Luke's gospel. Let me show you this. It's really a remarkable story of redemption. I wish we had lots of time to go through it, but let me just point out a couple of things to you. Luke 23, Luke 23, now notice verse 39, "One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Jesus, saying, 'Are You not the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!'" By the way, the other gospels make it clear that both of them had been doing it up to this point. Shortly before noon, at some point, the other one,

Answered, rebuking him and said, "Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he was saying, "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!"

That is absolutely remarkable. One of these men that Luke simply refers to as "the other" experiences a dramatic change. Remember now, they were all crucified together at about 9 am. It's not yet noon, because at noon the sun will go dark for three hours. So, at some point during the three hours from nine to noon, probably near the noon hour, this second thief begins to experience a radical change that can only be explained by the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit.

Since he had first met Jesus just a few hours before, think about what he had heard. He had heard Jesus on the way to Calvary prophesy that judgment was coming, both temporal on Jerusalem and eternal judgment. He had heard Jesus' prayer for the forgiveness of those who crucified Him. He had witnessed Jesus' remarkable character, and he had even heard Jesus' own incredible claims. How? In the taunts of Jesus' enemies, in the ridicule toward Jesus he had heard that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah of God, His Chosen One. He had heard that Jesus claimed to be the King of the Jews. But most shocking of all, he heard that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. Now both of these criminals had been exposed to the same truth that morning: the truth about who Jesus really was, and the truth about the gospel. But one of them truly repented.

Notice the conclusions he comes to about himself here. He concludes that he didn't fear God. He says to his friend, "Don't you even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?" Now remember, just a few minutes before this he had been doing the same thing. So, his indictment of his friend is really an indictment of himself. There's also a tacit admission that he had violated God's law. He says, "We indeed are suffering justly." If he had violated the law of man to the point that he deserved death, then he had violated the law of God as well. He recognized that he deserved whatever punishment he got in life and in eternity: "We indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds."

But perhaps most important of all, this man came to understand that Christ was not at all like he and his friend were. Notice verse 41, "This man has done nothing wrong." He had begun to see that Christ wasn't dying for Himself. And before the next few hours were done, he came to understand that Jesus of Nazareth's death involved a divine transaction. Remember, he would hear Jesus' words the rest of those hours.

The thief also not only repented, but he put his faith in Christ. Notice, he acknowledges Christ as King, "When You come into Your kingdom." He acknowledged his own unworthiness to become part of Christ's kingdom. He doesn't say, "You know, I'm dying with You, so, I'm with You here, I deserve this." He says, please "remember me." Just "remember me," that's all. And don't miss his main point. This thief has just admitted that he is a terrible sinner who deserves to die, and in the same breath he acknowledges that Christ is righteous. Still, he wants to be a part of Christ's kingdom. That means he really wants to change.

He wants to change kingdoms. I'm wicked; You're righteous. I want to be in Your kingdom. He put his eternal hope in the person of Jesus Christ. He says, "Remember me when You come into Your kingdom!" When You come into Your kingdom: when after Your death You ascend to Your throne. I'm putting my only hope in You. If I ever enter Your kingdom, it'll be because of Your mercy, Your grace, and not because of what I deserve. This is a perfect picture of the first beatitude, isn't it? "Blessed are the beggars in spirit." This is where we all are. We just don't all realize it as much as he realized it at that time. It's really a remarkable story.

Now go back to Mark. I want to ask this question as we finish our time together. Why? Why do the gospel writers include so much of what was said in ridiculing Jesus? Because in doing so, Jesus' enemies provide us with evidence of what He really claimed about Himself. Everything they said was exactly what He claimed for Himself. You know, you hear people say, well, Jesus never claimed - you fill in the blank.

Jesus' enemies got what He claimed. And in the mouth of His enemies at His death, it's there. So, we can say it this way: their ridicule restated Jesus' remarkable claims. He claimed to be the Messiah of the Old Testament Scriptures. He claimed to be the King of Israel. He claimed to be the Son of God. No question about that. They got it. And by the way, they got what He meant by Son of God. Remember? It was blasphemy. No human being should ever claim it.

Secondly, their ridicule highlighted the heart of Jesus' remarkable mission. He came to save. They were talking about physical rescue, but He was talking about spiritual rescue. Back in 10:45, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom to rescue many."

Thirdly, their ridicule reminded everyone of Jesus' proof of His claims. What was the proof of all of Jesus' claims? What did He say was the proof? The resurrection. Do you want to know by what authority I do these things? Destroy this temple, My body. When you destroy this temple, I will raise it up in three days. Think about the seed of the gospel that was planted in the hearts of all of those outside that city wall that morning. They all heard what Jesus had said three and one-half years before. And three days later when He was raised from the dead, you can bet this came back ringing in their ears. It was the proof of who He was.

And finally, their ridicule reminds us that God gets the last laugh. Yeah, there was comedy at Calvary as they mocked the Son of God, but God turned their mockery and caused them to speak the truth as He had done so many times before. But more than that—go back to Psalm 2 where we began. The peoples, the rulers of this planet (verse 3), they don't want the king and the Messiah's fetters, their cords. How does God respond to their rebellion? How does He respond to their ridicule? Verse 4,

He who sits in the heavens laughs,

The Lord scoffs at them.

Then He will speak to them in His anger,

And terrify them in His fury, saying,

"But as for Me, I have installed My King

Upon Zion, My holy mountain."

They can laugh all they want. They can ridicule all they want. God gets the last laugh. And He will install His king, and He will deal with His enemies in His fury.

How do you respond? Look at verse 10.

Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;

Take warning, O judges of the earth.

[Here's how you're supposed to respond.]

Worship … [Yahweh] with fear

And rejoice with trembling.

Do homage [to] [literally, kiss] the Son, that He not become angry, and

you perish in the way,

For His wrath may soon be kindled.

How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!

Listen, there are only two kinds of people at the cross. There are those who by their words and life and behavior ridicule the Son of God, and there are those who are His disciples and follow Him. There are those who kiss the Son, who take refuge in Him, and there are those who will someday endure the full fury of His just anger and wrath. My question for you tonight is which group are you in?

Let's pray together.Father, thank You for this remarkable account. Thank You for the picture of all humanity ridiculing the Son of God. Lord, we were there. Ashamed, we do hear our own mocking voices among that crowd. We were condemned criminals like those two on either side, condemned before Your law with no hope, living life the way we wanted, without any contemplation of the future judgment.

But Father, we thank You, that for many of us we're the other thief, the one that You in mercy rescued.

Lord, I pray for others here tonight, who may be still in the other crowd, either by their words, or by their thoughts, or by their lives, mocking Jesus' claims upon them. Lord, may this be the day when they embrace Him, when they kiss the Son, when they do homage to the Son, when they take refuge in Him from Him. We thank You and bless You for what You did at Calvary. We thank You that our Lord took the abuse, not because He was too weak, but because of His strength, because of the strength of His love for us.

We pray in Jesus' name, Amen.

The Memoirs of Peter