Bible Commentaries

Hamilton Smith's Writings

Mark 15

Verses 1-47

( Mark 15) THE CROSS

In the scenes that surround the cross the evil of fallen man is disclosed in all its enormity. Every class is represented- Jews and Gentiles, priests and people, the ruler and his soldiers, the passers by and criminal thieves. However great their political and social distinctions, all are united in their hatred and rejection of Christ (1-32).

When man and all his wickedness is lost to sight in the darkness that covered the land, we are permitted to hear the cry from the Saviour that tells us He was forsaken of God, when, as the Holy Victim, He was made sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (33-38).

Finally, when the forsaking is past, we have a threefold witness borne to the Lord Jesus by the centurion, some devoted women, and Joseph of Arimathea (39-47).

(Vv1-15). Already the Lord has been unjustly condemned by the Jewish council. But all the world has to be proved guilty; therefore, as the perfect Servant of Jehovah, the Lord submits to appear before the judgment seat of the Roman power, only to prove the utter breakdown of government in the hands of the Gentiles.

Before Pilate, the Lord is again challenged as to the truth, for at once Pilate asks, "Art Thou the King of the Jews?" The Lord replies, "Thou sayest it." As one has said, "Whether it was before the high priest or before Pilate, it was the truth He confessed and for the truth He was condemned by man" (W. K.). To the accusations of the Jews, He answered nothing. In the perfection of His way, He knows when to speak and when to keep silence. For the truth He will speak, but when it is a question of meeting personal malice against Himself, He is silent. Good for us to profit by His perfect example, and follow in the steps of the One who, when He was reviled, reviled not again. There is a time when silence will produce a far greater effect upon the conscience than any word that van be uttered. Nevertheless, such silence is entirely foreign to our fallen nature. Thus, Pilate marvelled at His silence.

Knowing full well that all the accusations of the Jews had no real weight as proving any wrong on the part of Christ, Pilate seeks, on the one hand, to appease the Jews, and on the other hand, to escape the infamy of condemning an innocent person, by falling back on a custom at the Feast of the Passover, of releasing "one prisoner, whomsoever they desired." At that time there was a notable prisoner, named Barabbas, who lay bound for rebellion and murder. Encouraged by the multitude who were clamouring for this custom to be carried out, Pilate suggests that He should release Jesus, the King of the Jews rather than Barabbas, the murderer.

To fall back on this custom was a mere compromise, and added to the wickedness of the judge; for if, as Pilate knew, the blessed Lord was innocent, a righteous judgment would demand that, apart from any custom, He should have been released. Moreover the injustice of Pilate in not at once releasing an innocent Man is increased by the fact that he was perfectly aware that, in having bound the Lord and brought Him before the judgment seat, these wicked men were moved by envy. Envy, or jealousy, whether in a sinner or in a saint is one of the greatest incentives For evil in the world. It was envy that led to the first murder, when Cain killed his brother: it was envy that led to the greatest murder when the Jews killed their Messiah. Well may the preacher say, "Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?" ( Proverbs 27:4). With envy filling their hearts these religious leaders incite the people to choose Barabbas rather than Christ. Moved by envy they reject Christ, the One who is "altogether lovely," and choose a murderer and a rebel. Well for all believers to take to heart the lessons of this solemn scene, and heed the words of the apostle James when he warns us against allowing "bitter envying and strife" in our hearts. If not judged in the heart it will lead to confusion and every evil work, even in the christian circle ( James 3:14-16).

Pilate may be a hardened man of the world, but at least he made some feeble remonstrance against the condemnation of the One that all knew to be innocent. Therefore, if he is to release Barabbas he asks, "What will ye then that I shall do unto Him whom ye call the King of the Jews?" Without any hesitation they cried out, "Crucify Him." We do not care for the company of a rebel and a murderer, but such is the enmity of the flesh to God, that, if left to ourselves, and we have to choose between a murderer and Christ, we prefer the murderer.

Again Pilate asks, "Why, what evil hath He done?" Their only answer is the unreasoning cry of a mob, "Crucify Him." Willing to content the people, he abandons all show of justice, releases Barabbas, and having scourged the One that he knows to be innocent, delivers Him up to be crucified.

(Vv16-20). In the treatment of the Lord at the hand of the soldiers we see the brutality of man that finds its pleasure in outraging a defenceless person. It was no part of a soldier"s duty to maltreat a prisoner, but the lowly grace and perfection of this Holy Prisoner brought God near to them, and this was intolerable to fallen man. The One who will yet be crowned with many crowns at the hand of a righteous God, submits to be crowned with a crown of thorns at the hands of wicked men. He who will rule the nations with a rod of iron, allows poor wretched man to smite Him with a reed. In mockery they bow the knee before the One to whom they will have to bow in the day of judgment.

(V:21). The violent soldiers, indifferent to the liberty and rights of others, compel one returning from his labours in the field to bear the cross. Simon the Cyrenian had the honour of bearing the actual cross for the One who suffered on the cross for all the world. God, apparently was not unmindful of this small service for the Lord; for we are told that this Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus. This seems suggestive of the Rufus mentioned in Romans 12:13, and would imply that Alexander and Rufus were well known converts when Mark wrote his gospel.

(Vv22-32). No indignity or humiliation is spared the Lord. Having crucified Him in the place of a skull, the soldiers gamble for His clothes. In derision they pour contempt upon the nation by the superscription of His accusation, "THE KING OF THE JEWS," and at the same time crucifying Him between two thieves. Unknown to themselves they were fulfilling scripture which said, "He was numbered with the transgressors."

It might be thought that the passers by would at least refrain from taking part in this terrible scene, but even they wag their heads, rail upon Him, misapply His words, and challenge Him to "Save Himself, and come down from the cross."

The chief priests join with others in mocking the Lord, when they said, "He saved others; Himself He cannot save." This indeed, was true, little as they realised that it was the truth. But what they add is wholly false, for they say, "Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe." Faith cometh by hearing not by sight. Moreover, had He come down from the cross belief would have been in vain. We should yet be in our sins.

Finally, the Christ of God is rejected and scorned by the lowest criminals, for we read, "They that were crucified with Him reviled Him."

(Vv33-36). We have seen the Lord rejected by all men from the highest to the lowest, and forsaken by His disciples. Now we are permitted to hear of His far deeper sufferings when forsaken by God. It is no longer he envy, malice, and cruelty of men that He has to bear, but the penalty of sin when delivered up to death by a holy God. Into this solemn scene no man can, or shall intrude. Darkness was over the land. Christ was alone with God hidden from every eye, when Hebrews, who knew no sin, was made sin. As made sin He had to endure the forsaking of God. But may we not say that, never was He more precious to God than when in perfect obedience He endured the forsaking of God? He ever glorified the Father, but never in a greater degree than when made sin and forsaken. That such a sacrifice was required magnifies the holy nature of God; that such a sacrifice could be given magnifies the love of God. No less a sacrifice could secure the glory of God or obtain the salvation of men.

But what must it have been to His holy nature to be made sin? Coming into the world He was spoken of as that "Holy Thing": going out of it He was "made sin." The One who was the Object of the Father"s delight from all eternity is forsaken. From the Twenty second Psalm, we learn that the One who utters the cry, "My God, my God why hast Thou forsaken me?" alone can give the answer, "Thou art holy, O Thou that dwellest amid the praises of Israel." If the purpose of the heart of God, to dwell in the midst of a praising people, is to be fulfilled, then the holiness of God must first be met. Nothing can meet the holy requirements of a holy God in respect of sin except the offering of Christ without spot.

(Vv37, 38). When all was accomplished, "Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost." His cry with a loud voice proved, indeed, hat His death was not the result of the failure and exhaustion of natural rowers. One has said, "Jesus did not die because He could not live, as all others do." If the holiness of God was to be met, and salvation to be made possible for sinners, He must die; but no man took His life from Him. Hebrews, Himself, gave up His life.

Immediately the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. The veil separated the holy place from the holy of holies. It spoke, indeed, of the presence of God, but man shut out from God. Such was the character of the time of law. God present but man unable to draw near to God. The rending of the veil proclaimed that all was over with Judaism; but more it tells us that God can now in righteousness come out in grace with the good news of forgiveness for Prayer of Manasseh, and that man can draw near to God on the ground of the precious blood.

(V:39). The great work of the cross being finished, the first voice to be lifted up as a witness to the glory of the Person of Christ, is a Gentile, the harbinger of the new day, when a great host from the Gentiles will confess the Saviour as the Son of God. Doubtless, this centurion had seen many a death on fields of battle, but never a death like that of Christ. He recognises that the One who can, with a loud cry, yield up His spirit, must be more than man. Thus, he can say, "Truly this Man was the Son of God."

(Vv40, 41). Then certain devoted women, who had followed the Lord and ministered to Him of their substance, in the days of His flesh have honourable mention. In love they had followed the Lord in His life of service, they clung to Him in death upon the cross, they behold when His body is laid in the grave. It is easy to dwell upon their lack of intelligence, while falling far behind them in their devoted love.

(Vv42-47). If when the disciples had fled, these devoted women shine forth in time of danger, so too an honourable counsellor is emboldened to come forward, and beg the body of Jesus for burial. Though a true believer, who waited for the Kingdom of God, yet his high social position may have hindered him from identifying himself with the lowly Jesus and His humble disciples. But, as so often, the greatness of the evil forces faith to show itself, and those whom we might judge to be spiritually of little account make a firm stand on the side of the Lord, when others that we might expect to take a lead entirely fail.

Thus the word of God is fulfilled that tells us that though men appointed His grave with the wicked, yet He should be with the rich in His death ( Isaiah 53:9 N. Tr.). Thus if men are allowed with every insult to nail Christ to a cross, that the counsel of God may be carried out, care is taken- that great work being finished- that His body shall be buried with due reverence, and without further insults from wicked men.

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Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Mark 15". "Hamilton Smith's Writings". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/mark-15.html. 1832.