The Humiliation of the King of Kings (Mark 15:16-20)

2 January 2013 by Wes Bredenhof

You know as well as I do that the world in which we live doesn’t promote self-control as a virtue.  Instead, the world promotes self-indulgence.  The world tells us that we need to look after ourselves, and even spoil ourselves.  We need to throw off restraint in various areas of our lives, whether it comes to our intake of food or alcohol, or perhaps sex.  Self-control is something you can do without — it just spoils your fun.  That’s what the world loudly preaches at us through every means available.

The Bible teaches us something different.  The Scriptures encourage Christians to be self-controlled, to reign over our desires, rather than letting our desires reign over us.  This is part of what it means to share in the anointing of Christ as a King – we fight against our evil desires and resist them.  Yet how often don’t we fail?  How often don’t we listen to the lies of the world?  We so easily give in to the inclinations of the left-overs of our sinful nature.  The Father of lies entices us to cast off restraint, give in, and stop fighting.  Instead of ruling over ourselves in Christ, we let ourselves be ruled by sin.

This sad reality goes back to our first parents Adam and Eve.  Adam was appointed as a king over creation.  He was to rule the Garden of Eden.  He was to guard it.  However, the First Adam failed in his royal calling.   He allowed the deceiver to invade God’s good creation and have his way with the creatures.  Since the First Adam failed there, we all fail.  Because the First Adam failed, there’s a need for a Second Adam who would be faithful in the place of Adam and all his believing descendants.

It’s this Second Adam whom we find revealed in our text.  Here is the King who doesn’t look like a king.  The appearance is that of a pathetic criminal being humiliated before his execution.  The reality is something different.  There is more going on here than meets the eye.  This is not just human beings humiliating another human being.  Jesus is falling under the wrath of God.  He’s doing so for all our failures in our royal calling to hate sin and war against it, including our failures to have self-control.   Here broken and sinful people can find encouragement from the gospel – we have a Saviour who has taken what failed kings like you and I deserve.  So, brothers and sisters, I urge you to pay attention this morning as we see the King of kings humiliated on his way to the cross.  We’ll see how our Saviour was:

  1. Clothed
  2. Crowned
  3. Cruelly beaten, spit upon, and mocked

Jesus had just been before Pontius Pilate.  You’ll remember that Pilate could find nothing in him worthy of punishment.  He gave the Jews an opportunity to have Jesus released, but instead they chose to have Barabbas released.  The guilty man was set free and the innocent man was condemned to death.  It should have been Barabbas going to the cross, but instead we see Jesus sent on his way.  But first he was scourged – we heard about what that involved and how many people never survived a Roman scourging.  It was vicious and brutal – a horrific physical ordeal.  After that, Jesus would have been covered in his own blood and gore.

But before he would be crucified, there was to be more humiliation and suffering.  This took place at the hands of the soldiers.  Officially, they would have been Roman soldiers.  However, they were auxiliary troops and were therefore enlisted from regions bordering on Judea.  This helps to explain two things about our text.  First, it explains how they could mock Jesus in his own language.  The neighbouring regions also had people speaking Aramaic.  Second, it explains the contempt these people have for an alleged criminal who’s Jewish.  They hated the Jews and now they vent that hatred against Jesus.

The soldiers are going to have some fun with the prisoner.  Likely Pilate and others in command are conveniently looking the other way.  They take Jesus into an area known as the Praetorium.  They call together all the soldiers they can so the amusement can begin on this Friday morning.  The amusement takes the form of a mock enthronement ceremony.  Some of them have heard the charge that Jesus claimed to be the king of the Jews.  So they think, “Let’s treat him like a king.”

It begins with a robe – a purple robe.  Purple robes were normally associated with royalty.  The dye needed to make purple robes came from sea snails.  The process of producing this dye was expensive and so few people could afford purple robes.  Where did this purple robe come from?  Almost certainly not from any real royalty.  Most likely the robe belonged to a soldier and was not really purple.  They were pretending it was a royal purple robe – and this explains why Matthew’s parallel passage says that it was a scarlet robe.  Scarlet robes were common enough, and close enough to purple for the purposes of this mock enthronement.

Jesus is clothed with this fake royal robe.  He is being humiliated.  He is the King of kings, the one through whom everything was created.  He is the majestic Son of God.  But here he is being mocked and they make him out to be worthy of nothing other than a pretend robe.  This mockery speaks to us not only of the way people regarded him, but also of what is happening to him at the hands of God.  He is worthy of the finest robes in all creation, but here God is clothing him with a robe that’s obviously a counterfeit.  Christ is being shamed, humiliated, and driven deeper into his suffering.

Brothers and sisters, what our Saviour receives here is what we deserve.  We are worthy of all the shame and the mockery that he receives.  We who are supposed to be royalty, we who are supposed to rule this world and ourselves for God, we deserve to be humiliated and punished into eternity for our failures.  But here is the good news:  through Christ and because of what he suffered here, we do not receive what we deserve.  We receive the opposite.  Because Christ was clothed with this fake robe, we are clothed with real robes of righteousness.  Because Christ was humiliated in our place, we are assured of our glorification.  “They put a purple robe on him,” so that you can have a white robe put on you.  That’s the significance of what’s happening here in our text.  It didn’t just affect Jesus back then, it affects you here and now.  Believe this about your Saviour and let your heart again be drawn up to worship him and to love him and live for him.

Back to our text and what king would be without a crown?  Of course, Roman soldiers don’t have golden crowns laying around their barracks.  They need to create a crown.  The appropriate materials are readily at hand.  Judea has dozens of species of thorn bushes.  They take some of these thorn bushes and weave them together into a crown for Jesus.  Already he is bruised and bloody from his scourging and now these thorns get pressed into his head and more blood flows.

Here is King Jesus, the King of kings.  He should be wearing the most majestic and impressive crown ever created.  The Imperial State Crown worn by our Queen is set with 3,000 gems, including some 2800 diamonds.  King Jesus is worthy of a crown more impressive and valuable than that.  He deserves the greatest and best.  But here God strips him of his majesty and places on him a crown of thorns.

The soldiers just picked up whatever crude material was nearby.  They thought that thorns would be fitting for this Jewish criminal.  Surely they didn’t realize the significance of their choice.  The First Adam had been regent over the Garden of Eden.  When he failed in his royal calling, God told him that the ground would be cursed because of his failure.  The ground would produce thorns and thistles because of his failure.  You see, the Second Adam wears a crown of thorns because of the failure of the First Adam.  He bears the curse upon his head, the curse of thorns.

That would also be your curse and mine.  The crown of thorns represents God’s curse on sin.  King Jesus wears this crown in his humiliation.  He does so that we can bear another crown – the crown of life.  James 1:12 says that God has promised the crown of life to those who love him.  To those who believe that Jesus took their place in his sufferings, God promises the crown of life.  All of us deserve the crown of thorns, the curse upon our own heads.  But the gospel promises us that our Saviour took the curse as our substitute, so that we can receive grace, the opposite of what we deserve.  Through Christ we are promised a crown of glory!

Now verse 18 tell us that with his robe on and the crown on his head, it was time to mock him with their words.  They called out with the words that soldiers might use to greet Caesar, “Hail, King of the Jews!”  What they mean to say is, “If you think you’re a king, you’re really a joke.  You’re no king.”

What follows in verse 19 is more mockery and more cruelty.  From Matthew’s parallel, we know that the soldiers also equipped Jesus with a staff or scepter – a stiff branch or something like that.  Here in Mark, we read that they used this pretend scepter to strike the king himself on the head.  He had already been beaten by the Jewish religious leaders.  He had been scourged as well.  Now these soldiers took things further and beat him on the head – the same head that had just received the crown of thorns.  Undoubtedly the crown of thorns would have been driver deeper into his scalp by this beating.

And they anointed him too.  Kings need to be anointed as they take up their office.  So in this mock enthronement ceremony too, Jesus was anointed.  But not with oil.  Instead, they anointed him with their spit.  They just added even more to their contempt and disdain for Jesus.  Throughout the centuries till today and in every culture, one of the worst ways to show disgust for someone is to spit on them.  That’s what they did to our Saviour Jesus.

That’s what our sin did to him.  That’s what we deserve.  We deserve the cruel beating.  We deserve the disdain and disgust of men and of God.  Of ourselves, we’re not worthy of anything better.  Jesus didn’t deserve any of this, but he chose to take it for you and for me.  Isaiah 50 prophesies of his suffering here.  It says that he did not hide his face from the mocking and spitting.  That means that he chose it, even though he didn’t deserve it.  He chose it for us.  So because he was beaten, we receive the opposite.  We receive the loving embrace of our Father in heaven.  Because he was anointed with spit, we receive a blessed anointing.  We receive anointing with the Holy Spirit.  He comes and makes his home with us and brings us into fellowship and communion with the Father and the Son.  Brothers and sisters, do you see how rich we are because Jesus was beaten and spit upon in our place?

Those soldiers did one more thing to mock and humiliate our Saviour.  They all came before him on their knees and paid homage to him.  They pretended to respect him the way they would respect Caesar.  It’s significant that the word used in the original there can also be translated as “worship.”  They worshipped him.  Of course, they didn’t really.  They were mocking him.  Little did they realize the irony of the situation.  That day they were poking fun of this pathetic Jewish criminal.  But the day will come when every knee will genuinely bow before this King of kings.  Though they humiliated him then, someday all will recognize his royal majesty, power, and authority.  Then there will be no human mocking.  According to what we read in Psalm 2, it will be the LORD who will mock and scoff at them.  But for now, he has to travel down this road of humiliation.  His road to glory goes through the valley of the shadow of death and mockery.  Here he’s stripped of everything he deserves.  Think about that.  Jesus was worthy not just of the homage that people might show to their human kings.  Jesus was worthy of worship from these soldiers.  They should have been genuinely worshipping him.  He knew that.  It was part of his suffering for us to have the homage and worship he deserved stripped away and substituted for this denigrating mockery.  God took away all his royal rights and privileges and replaced them with insults and shame.  He did that to again show us the sinfulness of our sin and the great price that needed to be paid for our sins.

We can be so easy and flippant about our sins.  Sin is so deceitful.  We so easily get tricked into thinking that our sins are trifles, just little things, no big deal.  Our text makes us look at Jesus and makes us see what our sins did to him.  Here is the King of glory.  Here is the King of kings, the most majestic and fantastic king the universe has ever seen.  And our sins led him to be stripped of all his glory.  Our sins have turned his world upside down and brought intense pain to his body, grief and humiliation to his soul.  Can you read this text carefully and really think that your sins are nothing?  Someone once said that the heinousness of sin rests in the height of the majesty sinned against.  This is true.  We could also say that the heinousness of sin rests in the depths of the humiliation endured by the sinless King of kings because of it.  See it and let it impress you so that you can again be impressed with your Saviour.

Verse 20 tells us what the soldiers did after they were finished with mocking our Saviour.  They took the robe off and put his own clothes back on.  This is significant not so much for what it says as for what it doesn’t say.  The robe gets removed, but the crown doesn’t.  Many portrayals of Jesus on the cross show him still wearing the crown of thorns.  It’s not the time to discuss the ethics of pictures of Jesus, but these portrayals would seem to be correct about the crown of thorns.  Jesus goes to the cross with the crown on his head.  On the cross, he will be enthroned – there’s a little seat on the wooden cross called the sedicula.  The crucified could prop themselves up on this little seat and their suffering and shame would be extended.  Thus the cross could be conceived of like a crude joke of a throne and Jesus, the King of the Jews, still had his crude crown of thorns as he sat on this throne.

Through all this, the King of kings was thrust deeper and deeper into humiliation and suffering.  He was bearing the wrath of God against our sins.  He went through this because the descendants of the First Adam had failed in their royal calling.  You and I fail to resist the evil in our own hearts, the wickedness of the world, and the temptations of the devil and his forces.  These failures brought Jesus to this horrible place we have seen in our text.  But the good news is that because he went through all of this, our failures have been paid for in full.  Our debts to God have been erased.  Because of the humiliation of the King of kings, we are set free and we need not fear eternal shame and condemnation under the wrath of God.   What a wonderful gospel we have, what a great Saviour!

Now that our eyes have been opened to that again, let’s be motivated to live as those who share in his anointing.  We are united to the Second Adam.  We have his Holy Spirit living in us. These things are true and they give us encouragement.  As we look to Christ, we are not slaves to sin.  Listen:  you do not have to sin.  If you are in Christ, you can have self-control.  In Christ, you can and you will rule over your sinful desires.  In and with Christ, you will someday rule over all things.  The Saviour who entered into this horrible humiliation guarantees ongoing sanctification in this life and glorification in the life to come.  Loved ones, let us continue to look to him in faith today and through the coming week – and always.  AMEN.