Jesus is Scourged and Mocked
Scripture: Mark 15:15-20; John 18:36-40; 19:1-12
Reading: Lord’s Day 15, Q&A 37-38
Text: Mark 15:15
Sermon by Rev. Peter Breen
Orthodox Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1985
© Burlington United Reformed Church; The Preacher, Vol. 2, No. 10
This sermon may be used in worship services for free; please state the author and church above.
Congregation, beloved of our Lord Jesus Christ:
We turn in our Heidelberg Catechism to Lord’s Day 15, questions 37 and 38, particularly question 38.
Q. 37. What dost thou understand by the words, “He suffered?”
A. That He, all the time that He lived on earth, but especially at the end of His life, sustained in body and soul, the wrath of God against the sins of all mankind: that so by His passion, as the only propitiatory sacrifice, He might redeem our body and soul from everlasting damnation, and obtain for us the favor of God, righteousness and eternal life.
Q. 38. Why did He suffer under Pontius Pilate, as judge?
A. That He, being innocent, and yet condemned by a temporal judge, might thereby free us from the severe judgment of God to which we were exposed.
Our text is taken from Mark 15:15 “And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged Him, to be crucified.”
The sufferings of our Savior not only took place in the garden of Gethsemane, where His soul was exceedingly sorrowful and He sweat, as it were, great drops as of blood; and not only upon the cross where He suffered that awful torture and anguish of the crucifixion, but also before Pilate and the Roman soldiers where He suffered almost an indescribable shame, reproach and mockery.
Today we want to look at that part of the suffering of our Savior under Pontius Pilate, and we might also say, under the Roman soldiers.
First of all, Pilate in this whole experience had been exceedingly uncomfortable because he was called upon to bring Jesus unto judgment. As you recall, the Sanhedrin and the multitude of Jews who had come before Him had already indicated what that judgement must be. They would be satisfied with no less than His death. They had charged Him with being a blasphemer. They had declared that He was worthy of being put to death. Pilate had examined Him again and again, and in the gospel writings we find that no less than five times he said, “I find no fault in Him. He has done nothing worthy of death.”
Our catechism indicates that where it teaches us that as He suffered under Pontius Pilate, He being innocent was condemned to death. Pilate’s last endeavor to try to set Jesus free from this Jewish mob and the Sanhedrin, which had determined that He must die, was to set before them a choice. It was the time of the Passover, and at that time there was always one who was set free. That person became a very prominent person in Israel.
The Lord Jesus spoke about that very thing taking place when He stood up in the synagogue and preached His first recorded sermon. Luke 4 gives that sermon, as the Lord Jesus stood in the synagogue and read the passage of scripture from Isaiah 61, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent me. to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty unto the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of our Lord and the day of vengeance of our God and to comfort all them that mourn.” It was that passage that the Lord Jesus read in the synagogue as He began His public ministry. The result was that Jesus said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” Then, in His own city, the city of Nazareth, the Jews became angry with Him and sought to push Him over the cliff, but Jesus escaped out of their midst.
It is that passage of scripture which refers to the deliverance of the prisoner out of Egypt at the time of the first Passover, in which the children of Israel were set free and delivered from bondage. Now the Jews had continued that particular custom, and at the custom of the Passover there was one prisoner who was released, who became symbolic of the deliverance of the children of Israel.
Not only that, but it also became prophetic of the deliverance of the children of Israel from the bondage of the Romans and from all their enemies. That prisoner who was released then would become a hero, and the children of Israel, the Jews, would look upon him and they would say “This is the one toward whom we must look, because he has been set free from bondage.”
It is Pilate who remembers that custom and he submits to them the suggestion that one could be released to them at this particular feast. Pilate is hoping that the person they will ask to be released will be Jesus. Then every eye can be fixed upon Him as a hero and they can say that this man is a symbol of how God released them from bondage in Egypt and will ultimately release His people from their present bondage. Not so — when the people had the choice they said, “Not this man, but Barabbas.”
So Pilate acceded to their request and released Barabbas. Barabbas became a hero among the Jews as the released captive; but Jesus remained bound. This in no way alleviates Pilate’s problem. Not only does Jesus suffer under Pilate, but Pilate suffers under Jesus. Also, Pilate suffers because he can find no source of guilt in the Lord Jesus. So Pilate tries another thing — we read in our text that Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged Him, to be crucified.
We ought to be reminded what that scourging was. That scourging had its place among the Jews also. Restraints were always laid upon the Jews when they scourged someone who was guilty. We read about that in Deuteronomy 25. The first three verses of that chapter read as follows: “If there be a controversy between men and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked. And it shall be, if the wicked man be worthy to be beaten, that the judge shall cause him to lie down, and to be beaten before his face, according to his fault, by a certain number. Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed: lest, if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee.”
So the Jewish method of scourging had those two restraints. The first, that the victim must lie down to be beaten. The second, that the number of stripes that he would receive would never be beyond forty. In fact, the rabbis later introduced another suggestion that it be no more than thirty-nine because they did not want to make a mistake in counting and exceed the count even by one.
But we may presume that this was not a Jewish scourging. This was a Roman scourging. At a Roman scourging, the victim would be tied to a post and it was required that the very first blow from the scourge must draw blood; and how many more lashes the victim received, scripture does not record. But this much is in evidence, if indeed the Romans did it, that there must be blood shed at the force of the first blow. That meant that that first blow must be very severe.
Boys and girls, do you know what a scourge is? It is a whip. It is a whip that perhaps has leather lashes, with pieces of lead tied to the end of the lashes. So when that scourge was flayed through the air with tremendous force and the lead struck the flesh, the impact would break the flesh apart so it would bleed. This becomes the first forced bleeding of our Lord Jesus at the hands of His enemies.
There had been other times when, as it were, His blood had been shed. On the eighth day He was circumcised and the blood shed there already pointed to the covenant that God made with His people that would only be satisfied with the shedding of blood. For without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.
Do you remember that in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus voluntarily sweat drops of perspiration? Those drops were like great drops of blood. There is the possibility that there was such strong pressure and intensity in His sorrow that there might have been bits of blood mixed with that perspiration.
That was all voluntary by the Lord Jesus. First He submitted to the law, then He submitted to His Father’s will, but now it is the lashes of the enemy that were laid upon Him. It is the temporal judge who is scourging Him and causing His blood to be shed for sinners, and only for those sinners who are chosen in Christ. There is not one drop of blood for the reprobate Jews. There is not one drop of blood for that reprobate judge before whom He stands. There is not one drop of His blood for the rest of the world who are not called in Christ, for that blood of Jesus avails only for His own and for His people.
Our catechism is correct when it says that He was condemned by a temporal judge, that He might free us from the severe judgement of God to which we were exposed. When He took those lashes from Pilate and his soldiers, was really taking lashes which belonged to us. He took the lashes which should have been our lashes and our judgement because we were the sinners, and we were the guilty ones.
Isaiah 53 declares that “Surely He hath born our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.” There was a propitiatory work going on at that post outside of the Praetorium; in the presence of that whole multitude, His blood was being shed and with His stripes we are healed.
Not only was He scourged, but we read furthermore in the gospel of Mark how that punishment and mockery continues. It now becomes something of a private thing. They have taken Him away from the place where they scourged Him. They lead Him back into the hall — the Praetorium — where no Jews are allowed to come unless they defile themselves. They call together the whole band and they clothed Him with purple. Purple is the sign and the garb of the king. You know that this was no real purple garment but it is some old soldier’s faded garment. They laid it upon Him because they heard Him say He is a king, and so He ought to be attired as a king. They make Him a picture of ridicule. They clothed Him with the purple robe. Not only that, but they said that if He is a king, then we ought to have a coronation for this king. Every king is worthy of a crown, and so someone gathered together some pieces of brush from the thorn bush and quickly they fashioned that crown of thorns. They said “If He is a king, let us crown Him,” and they put it on His head. Then they began to bow the knee for Him and said, “Hail, king of the Jews.” Oh, what a picture of mockery and shame took place by these Roman soldiers as they mocked our Lord Jesus Christ, our blessed Savior — innocent, pure, perfectly righteous, sinless, the Son of God. What a picture of shame — the rightful king but now a king without His glory; a crown of thorns upon His head, the purple robe, and now the ridiculing bowing of the knee before Him.
That mockery continues in verse 20. When they had mocked Him they smote Him on the head with a reed. Someone took that stick they had placed in His hand, which was the symbol of the power of the scepter. You remember what that power meant. In the days of the book of Esther, if the king stretched out that scepter, it meant that he would receive the person, but if he did not, that person would be condemned to death. The power of the ruler they had placed it in His hand in the form of of an old stick or club; and then one of them took it out of His hand and struck Him on the head where there was the crown of thorns. Once again the blood begins to flow, even before He goes to Calvary’s cross.
Oh, what a picture of shame and sorrow the Lord Jesus is enduring. But in the midst of it all He is perfectly silent. He says nothing. They mocked and spit upon Him, and bowed their knee and worshiped Him. Human spittle was upon the face of our Savior, the expression of the contempt of the Roman soldiers against the one who had done them no wrong, who had been perfect in all His ways. It was a fulfillment of what the prophet Isaiah said about Him in Isaiah 50: “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” Shame, spitting and sorrow had come upon the Son of God. It was a fulfillment of Psalm 35, where David cries out, “Let not them that are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me: neither let them wink with the eye that hate me without a cause. For they speak not peace: but they devise deceitful matters against them that are quiet. Yea, they opened their mouth wide against me and said, ‘Aha, aha, our eyes hath seen it’. This thou hast seen, O Lord: keep not silence: O Lord, be not far from me.”
Probably the Lord Jesus prayed that very prayer at this very moment because of the shame and the ridicule and the sorrows that He was enduring for us. Oh, indeed Jesus had been set at naught by Pilate and now by the Roman soldiers. This is the King, the true King of Israel. This is the one who Himself said to Pilate, “Thou sayest I am a king, for this cause came I into this world.” This is the man who has the power to put Pilate to naught and to silence the ridicule of these soldiers. When Pilate said, “Speakest thou not unto me? Knowest thou that I have power to crucify thee and power to release thee?” Jesus answered, “Thou could’st have no power at all against me unless it be given thee from above. Therefore he that delivered Me unto thee hath the greater sin.” When Pilate realized that, he again was deeply troubled. We read that from thenceforth Pilate sought to release Him, but the Jews cried out, saying, “If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend; whosoever maketh himself a king, speaketh against Caesar.” Pilate began to tremble; not for God, who had spoken to him as Jesus stood before him; not for God who said, “Thou hast no power at all, but for the Jewish leaders and the Roman authorities.” Pilate’s job is at stake. His position hangs in the balance. If this man is king, then you have spoken against Caesar.” It is upon that judgement, finally, that the issue is settled and Pilate gives them the right and the opportunity to crucify Jesus.
Do you see what is transpiring here? Evil men have done all that they could against Him. Without grace in our hearts we would mock Jesus also. We would spit upon Him. We would revile Him. Without grace in our hearts we too would say “Let Him be crucified. Away with this man — we will not have Him to rule over us.” Without grace we would make ourselves the moral brothers of Barabbas, rather than the Lord Jesus.
But what else is happening? The sovereignty of God is in control. One must be delivered up at the feast, not to be set free but so that others may be set free. He Himself must not go forth, but that He might proclaim liberty to others. It is God’s will that Jesus shall endure the mocking, scourging and shame of it all until He has fulfilled the God-ordained purpose to deliver us from our sins.
The prophet Isaiah declared in Isaiah 42, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth. I have put my spirit upon Him: He shall bring forth judgement to the Gentiles. He shall not cry nor lift up, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench; till He bring forth judgement unto truth. He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till He have set judgement in the earth.”
That is what God is now bringing to pass through Jesus Christ. The sovereignty of God is being expressed as He sorrows, as He suffers, as He bears the shame and reproach, as His back bleeds from the scourging, as His brow bleeds from the crown of thorns that has been smashed upon His head, and as His face is covered with human spittle, as His body is beaten with a rod. As the prophet Isaiah says, “as the hairs plucked from His beard,” that is the sorrow and the shame that He bore for us because of our sins.
Calvin says that ought to have a result, and the result is that we ought so to abhor sin. We ought to flee from sin. We ought to despise sin. When we remember the pain, the shame and the blood that it cost to forgive and pardon that sin, Calvin says we ought to see the vileness of our sins, flee from it and walk in the ways of truth and righteousness. Our lives ought to be expressions of gratitude to God for His deliverance from our sins.
The Apostle Paul put it this way. All things are of God — the cross, the scourging, the mockery, the shame. “All things are of God who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself; not imputing their trespasses unto them, and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ as though God did beseech you by us. We pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” Amen.