Easter 5) The Crucified King

5) The Crucified King

Text: Mark 15:21-39


I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard the song ‘Isn’t it ironic’ by Alanis Morissette? I remember a comedian commenting that the most ironic thing about that song is that Alanis Morissette doesn’t actually know what irony is. The dictionary defines irony as a situation that is strange or funny because things happen in a way that seems to be the opposite of what you expect. And as we’ve been looking at the kingship of Christ we’ve looked at how opposite Jesus is to what we expect. Rather than a proud king he is a gentle king, rather than people serving the king, Jesus serves us as our Passover lamb, rather than doing his will, the King obeys his Father’s will, rather than long live the king, Jesus is crucified on a cross. This morning I want to reflect on the irony in the fact that Jesus is the crucified king. No one ever expected the Christ to be crucified. It’s a major problem. In fact, Paul says, ‘23 …we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. (1 Cor 1:23)’ There is something completely unexpected about the Christ being crucified, and I think that irony is developed even further in four particular scenes in our passage today.


1) The King amongst Criminals (v27, 32b)

Firstly we see the king amongst criminals. Our text says, ‘27 They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left. (Mk 15:27)’ And that’s right after Mark tells us about ‘26 The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS. (Mk 15:26)’ You can’t make it clearer than that, the King is crucified between two common criminals. And the ironic thing is that of all the people who could have been up there Jesus is the only one who shouldn’t. Jesus is the only one who had never broken the law. He was the only person who ever lived who had never committed a sin, who had never done anything wrong. The Bible consistently teaches that Jesus was without sin (2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 Jn 3:5; Heb 4:15; 7:26). Even Pilate couldn’t find any basis for the charges against him (Lk 23:4,14). Jesus wasn’t a criminal, and yet he was crucified like a common criminal. In fact, Luke records that one of the criminals understood this irony, saying, ‘41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong. (Lk 23:41)’

But while it is ironic that the Christ is crucified with common criminals, it also teaches us something essential about the nature of Jesus’ Kingship. Jesus, as the King, came to identify with sinners, just like these two criminals crucified on either side of him. Jesus died on the cross in order to save sinners, in order to save criminals like these guys. In fact, that’s exactly what happens. The criminal who sees the irony also experiences Jesus’ saving grace, as Jesus turns to him and says, ‘43 …today you will be with me in paradise. (Lk 23:43b)’ The whole point of the cross is that our King died to save criminals, to save sinners like you and me.


2) The King’s Temple

The second scene in our text this morning that really highlights this irony are the comments of the passersby. Jesus is hanging on a cross and they make a reference to the temple, so I’m going to call this point the King’s temple. Verse 29-30, ‘29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” (Mk 15:29-30)’ Actually Mark highlights two ironic things in this scene.

a) Blaspheme

Firstly, he says, they ‘hurled insults at him.’ The NIV doesn’t bring out the irony of that statement. We figure they’re doing the same as the criminals do in verse 32, when they ‘32 …also heaped insults on him. (Mk 15:32c)’ But in the Greek the words translated as ‘insults’ are two different words. In verse 29 it’s the word blaspheme. The passerby’s blasphemed Jesus, which is quite ironic on two levels. Firstly, that’s exactly what Jesus had been charged with, blasphemy, claiming he was God. And secondly, because he was in fact God, and it’s not actually blasphemy if it’s true. Mark is actually being quite accurate in saying that what these passersby were doing is blasphemy. They weren’t insulting Jesus, they were in fact insulting God. I hope you see the irony of people blaspheming someone who was charged with blasphemy who hadn’t in fact committed blasphemy, which meant they were committing blasphemy. Irony, confusing isn’t it?

b) Jesus Body

But even more ironic is what they say to Jesus. They remind Jesus that he had said he would ‘destroy the temple and build it in three days.’ The ironic thing about that is that they thought he was talking about the Temple in Jerusalem, when the truth was Jesus was in fact talking about his own body. The Apostle John is the only one who records Jesus saying ‘19 …Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days. (Jn 2:19)’ But then John adds, ‘21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. (Jn 2:21)’ The irony is that the passersby were mocking Jesus for not being able to fulfill his words, when in fact that’s exactly what Jesus was doing. The temple was being destroyed right before their eyes. Jesus’ body was being destroyed while they were speaking. And in three days time Jesus’ prophecy would be fulfilled in his resurrection, when he was raised back to life. The irony was that they were mocking him for doing exactly what he said he would do, die and be raised again in three day. The passersby didn’t understand the sort of king that Jesus was, that he had come to die, that the crucifixion was part of God’s plan, it was what the Christ had come to do.


3) The King’s Salvation

The third scene in our text this morning that uses irony are the comments of the religious leaders. Verse 31-32, ‘31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” (Mk 15:31-32a)’ They call into question the King’s salvation. Again there are two ironic things in these verses.

a) Saving others

Firstly, they say, ‘he saved others, but he can’t save himself.’ Again, they have completely misunderstood the nature of Jesus’ ministry. They though he had failed, they thought the cross was the sign of his defeat, they thought that the fact that he couldn’t save himself was proof that he wasn’t the Christ. But the irony is that Jesus was on the cross in order to save others. They joked ‘he saved others,’ but the truth was he was still saving people. Jesus refused to save himself, because by his death he was saving everyone who would put their faith in him. In fact, Jesus was given ‘21 …the name Jesus, because he will save his people (not from Roman oppression, but) from their sins. (Mt 1:21b)’ And Jesus says, ‘16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…17 …to save the world through him. (Jn 3:16a,17b)’ Jesus was on the cross in order to save people. Paul says, ‘18 …the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor 1:18)’ The irony is that they wanted Jesus to save himself from the cross, but Jesus was on the cross in order to save them.

b) Come down from the cross

And that’s why their taunt for Jesus to ‘come down from the cross, that we may see and believe,’ is so filled with irony as well. They thought Jesus was just another man who couldn’t save himself, who couldn’t come down, but the issue isn’t whether he could, because he could, the issue is that he never would. As Jesus was preparing himself for his death he asks himself, ‘27 …what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. (Jn 12:27)’ The truth is that it wasn’t the nails that held Jesus to the cross, but God’s love for sinners. It was Jesus’ love for the very people who were taunting him that kept him on the cross. The irony was if the religious leaders truly understood what Jesus was doing for them, they would never have told him to come down, instead they would have fallen at his feet in amazement at the love that was keeping him there. The irony is that they thought that if Jesus was the Christ, the King of Israel, he would save himself, and come down off the cross, and then they would believe in him. But then the one in whom they would believe was no longer the one who could save them from their sin, he wouldn’t have been the Christ. The irony is that the very thing they were asking him to prove himself by was the very thing that would have proved he wasn’t.


4) The King Recognized

The final irony in our story this morning is that someone watching all this does recognize Jesus as the King. And the irony is that it’s the least likely person there, the Roman centurion. The religious leaders don’t recognize Jesus, the Jewish people walking past don’t recognize Jesus, instead it’s the very person they were hoping to be saved from, the Roman oppressors, who does recognize Jesus. He says in verse 39, ‘39 …Surely this man was the Son of God! (Mk 15:39c)’ He heard Jesus words, he heard Jesus’ final cry, he saw him die and he saw him for who he was, the Son of God. It’s not God’s people who recognize Jesus as the Christ, instead it’s the heathen Gentiles. The irony is that Jesus was crucified as the King of the Jews, when in fact he was the King of the universe.  


This morning as we reflect on the kingship of Christ, the irony is that the defining aspect of Jesus’ kingship is nothing other than his crucifixion. Jesus was crucified because by his sacrificial death our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled with God. The King died as a common criminal so that the one who broke no law could save those who had. The King died just as he said he would, his temple destroyed, so it could rise again in three days, victorious over sin and death. The King refused to save himself in order that he might save us from our sins. The King refused to step down from the cross out of love for you and me. So I want to ask you, do you see Jesus as Your Lord King, crucified for you? Did Jesus die for your sins? Was his body broken for you? Have you experienced his salvation? Do you know the extent of God’s love for you? On Good Friday we gather to worship the king who was crucified for us. Amen.

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