Suffered Under Pontius Pilate – Mark 15:1-20
If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to the Gospel according to Mark, where we are going to be looking at Mark 15:1-20.
At this point in the final week of Jesus’ life, it is early Friday morning. Jesus has just been betrayed, abandoned, interrogated, beaten, spit upon, and denied. And within a few hours, He will be scourged within an inch of His life and sentenced to death by crucifixion, where He would stand in our place and take the punishment for sin we deserved.
And we pick up where we left off, in Mark 15, beginning in verse 1: “And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate. 2 And Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ And he answered him, ‘You have said so.’ 3 And the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 And Pilate again asked him, ‘Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.’ 5 But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.
“6 Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. 7 And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. 8 And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. 9 And he answered them, saying, ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ 10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. 12 And Pilate again said to them, ‘Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?’ 13 And they cried out again, ‘Crucify him.’ 14 And Pilate said to them, ‘Why? What evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him.’ 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
“16 And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor's headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. 18 And they began to salute him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ 19 And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.”
“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.”
For those of you who are not familiar with the words that I just read, that was the Apostles’ Creed—one of the earliest statements of Christian belief that is still recited in a number of churches, today.
The Apostles’ Creed has been dated as far back as the second century, which means that it was not written by the apostles themselves, but it is a summary of their teachings. And while there are a number of points in the Apostles’ Creed that I would personally love to unpack, the one that I want us to focus on, and that we see in our text, is that Jesus Christ “suffered under Pontius Pilate.”
Now, we might not think of this point in the Apostles’ Creed as being one of any real significance, as compared to some of the other points in it, but what this point does is it makes clear the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, that He really did suffer during the rule and reign of a real governor of Judea by the name of Pontius Pilate, somewhere between A.D. 26 and 37.
And for our time together, this morning, we are going to look at the silence of Jesus, the substitution of Jesus and the suffering of Jesus, and why it is still important for us today that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate.
1. And the first thing we see is the silence of Jesus.
Last week, we looked at Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin, the governing body of Jewish leaders, and how they “were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death.” That was their intention. They wanted Jesus dead.
And so, they put together this illegal trial and gathered up these false witnesses with their false testimony against Jesus. But the only charge they could make against Jesus was that He made a threat against the temple. Now, what Jesus was actually referring to was much worse than they realized, but what they were charging Jesus with was a threat against the temple.
But then, the high priest asks Jesus outright if He is the Son of God, to which Jesus replies, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” This was blasphemy according to the Jewish leaders, because Jesus was claiming equality with God.
And so, they are charging Jesus with threatening the temple and with blasphemy. And with that, it says that “they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate.” And Pilate is an interesting character.
Pontius Pilate was the fifth and longest-serving Roman governor of Judea, but he was very cruel and did not care for the Jewish people or their customs. In Luke 13:1, we are told of an incident where Pilate mingled the blood of certain Galileans with their sacrifices.
On another occasion, Pilate marched his troops into the temple carrying military standards with the image of the emperor on them, which violated the Jewish ban on images. And so, a group of offended Jews then went to Caesarea, where Pilate lived, nearly seventy miles away, and staged a nonviolent protest outside of his house that lasted five days. Pilate gave orders for them to be killed, but then relented, once he saw that they were willing to die.
On another occasion, Pilate spent money from the temple treasury to build a twenty-three-mile-long aqueduct to bring water into Jerusalem, but was again met with Jewish protesters, who didn’t like the idea of temple funds being used for city upgrades. And in the opposition that followed, many Jews were killed by the order of Pilate.
The Jewish leaders have just handed Jesus over to this guy. As the governor of Judea, Pilate wielded an enormous amount of power, and thus, he plays a very important role in the Jewish leaders getting what they want.
But Pilate isn’t concerned about the charges laid against Jesus of threats against the temple and blasphemy. These are charges of a religious nature. They would have been of little concern to Pilate.
The Jewish leaders would have known this, which is why, in Luke 23:2, we read that when they handed Jesus over to Pilate, they accused Jesus of “misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” Now, Pilate is interested.
You see, Rome didn’t arrest and crucify people who were not at least perceived as a political threat. But if someone started claiming that they were the “King of the Jews,” then Rome would have an interest in that person, because there was no king but Caesar in the eyes of Rome.
And so, Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate wants to know if Jesus is making a political claim, and if there is some validity to these charges against Him. And Mark notes Jesus’ response is simply, “You have said so.” It’s at this point, in John 18, where the apostle John notes that there is some theological discussion here between Pilate and Jesus, where Jesus says, “My kingdom is not from the world.”
And what is so fascinating is that Pilate initially finds Jesus not guilty. This cruel and stubborn Roman governor has had some time to dialogue with Jesus but finds “no guilt in him,” according to John 18:38.
This obviously doesn’t satisfy the Jewish leaders, who continue to accuse Jesus of many things, at which point, Pilate asks Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.” But it says that “Jesus made no further answer.”
Isaiah 53:7 says, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”
Though the charges against Him were false, He was content to endure the false testimony against Himself, not answering again. Though He was innocent of any transgression, He submitted to hear slanderous accusations made against Him, without a murmur.
And the astounding thing that happens in our text is that Pilate takes notice. Look at the reaction of Pilate at the end of verse 5. What does it say? It says that “Pilate was amazed.”
And the reason Pilate is amazed is because our natural tendency is to want to retaliate and get even—an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. When I have been slandered by someone else, it is very tempting for me to defend myself and to slander them back. Pilate knows that this is our tendency. It’s why he’s amazed at the silence of Jesus, because it goes against every fibre in our being to remain silent when evil is spoken against us.
But what we know about Jesus is that He has been bringing His kingdom, that is not of this world, to earth. It’s why He says, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” It’s an upside-down kingdom.
And do you know what living life according to this otherworldly kingdom does? It amazes the world. Now, amazement doesn’t equal faith, and sadly, there are many people who find themselves amazed with Jesus, but who have no desire to go beyond amazement and into belief in Jesus. This might be some of us here.
But when we live according to the kingdom of God, when we don’t do what comes naturally to us, when we don’t do what the world expects us to do, it puts Christ on display. The world is watching to see how we, as Christians, respond when we are put in the fire. Will we respond no differently than how the world responds, or will we respond how Christ responded to the evil against Him?
Now, I’m not saying this is easy, or that I have it all figured out, but I do know that we have a perfect Saviour who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return. He remained silent for all the times when we should have been silent. He took every slanderous word that we have uttered against others in retaliation. The silence of Jesus is good news for us. That’s the first thing we see in our text.
2. The second thing we see is the substitution of Jesus.
Pilate believes Jesus to be innocent. At the very least, he doesn’t believe Jesus deserves death. In fact, in Matthew 27:19, Pilate’s wife says to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” And in verse 10 of our text, it says that “he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up.”
Now, as the governor of Judea, Pilate possessed authority to pardon the sentence of any criminal he chose. So, Pilate decides to do what he normally did at Passover, and let a prisoner go free. And he brings out a guy by the name of Barabbas, whose name means “son of the abba,” or “son of the father,” and who apparently murdered someone in the insurrection.
And in an attempt to win over the favour of the crowd, Pilate would let them decide who to set free. “Do you want me to release for you Barabbas, the one whose name means “son of the father,” or Jesus, the true Son of the Father?”
And you can just imagine that Pilate feels pretty good about himself and his wit, because he, no doubt, thinks that they will choose Jesus over a murderer, and that the truly innocent One will go free. Pilate is doing this for Jesus. But his plan backfires. Verse 11 says that the chief priests had “stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead.”
And Pilate can’t believe it. He says, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” Verse 13 says that they cried out again, “Crucify him.” Finally, Pilate makes one last plea before the crowd: “Why? What evil has he done?” But it says that “they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him.’”
At this point, Pilate has a riot on his hands. In John 19:12, the crowd begins shouting, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend.” And given what we know about Pilate, historically, he’s not a big fan of Jewish riots and protests. He didn’t care for his Jewish subjects, but he cared more about peace and security.
And so, in Matthew 27:24, Pilate took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” And Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, “released for them Barabbas.”
There is a tragic irony, here, as a convicted killer is set free, and in his place the innocent Son of the Father is condemned to death. They choose to set a murderer free and to have the Author of life put to death. The guilty is set free and the innocent is put to death. The great sinner is delivered, and the truly sinless One remains bound. Barabbas is spared, and Christ is crucified.
But this is the glory of the gospel. You see, we are all by nature in the position of Barabbas. We are all guilty, wicked, and worthy of condemnation. We deserve punishment and eternal death for our crimes of rebellion against holy God. We had no hope and no God in the world, according to Ephesians 2:12. But while we were still sinners, Christ the innocent, our substitute, suffered and died on our behalf, the godly for the ungodly, the just for the unjust, the righteous for the unrighteous, so that God “might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus,” according to Romans 3:26.
For those who have, by faith, trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, we can confidently say, “Christ is mine. I deserved hell, but Christ stood in my place and died for me. And now, believing in Him, I have hope for heaven, where Christ is.”
This is amazing grace. There is no way that we should have ever been pardoned for our sin against God. We were rightfully on our way to certain condemnation and death. But in a drastic turn of events, we are set free and the One who should have been set free takes our place and our judgment.
As 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” And so, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I am found; was blind, but now I see.”
The question that Pilate asked is the same question for us, today: Whom do you want: Barabbas or Jesus? Who will you have to wash away your sin? Who will you have when the storm is raging all around you and when life doesn’t make sense? Who will you have when your heart is breaking from sorrow and loss? Who will you have? My hope is that we will have Jesus of Nazareth.
3. We see the silence of Jesus, and the substitution of Jesus. Finally, we see the suffering of Jesus.
Verse 15 says, “…and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.” I don’t know how many of you have ever watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, but I would recommend it. It is quite gruesome, but they do a good job of showing the horrific nature of what is taking place here.
Scourging, or flogging, was a cruel and merciless preparation for crucifixion. According to one commentator, “The prisoner was stripped and bound to a post and beaten with a leather whip woven with bits of bone or metal. No maximum number of strokes was prescribed. The scourging lacerated and stripped the flesh, often exposing bones and entrails. One of its purposes was to shorten the duration of crucifixion, but scourging was so brutal that some prisoners died before reaching the cross.”
It is important for us to remember that Jesus is not some helpless victim; He is willingly submitting Himself to being whipped to shreds. It is not the will of Pilate, or the will of the chief priests, or the will of the crowd that Jesus is suffering here. They are certainly all responsible for His suffering, as each one of them had a part to play in it, but this is ultimately the will of God the Father, who, Romans 8:32 says, “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.” Acts 2:23 says that it was “the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” for Jesus to be delivered over into the hands of wicked men.
And Jesus would submit to the will of His heavenly Father, in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He prayed, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
It’s the suffering of Jesus. And what happens next to the Son of God is truly deplorable. Jesus is led away, and about 600 Roman soldiers gather to mock Jesus. “They clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. And they began to salute him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.”
Isaiah 53:3-6 says, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Completely alone, humiliated, naked and nearly beaten to death, our Suffering Savior endures ridicule and shame and pain at the hands of sinful men—those He came to save. The Father had sent His one and only Son to rescue and redeem a rebellious race, and look what they have done to Him. Look church, and never forget, what our Lord has done for us.
Why it is so important that the Apostles’ Creed contains the words, “suffered under Pontius Pilate,” is because it is in the silence of Jesus and the substitution of Jesus and the suffering of Jesus that we see the gospel of Jesus.
Jesus would suffer under Pontius Pilate, paying the penalty for our sin, satisfying the wrath of God against our sin, so that we could say, “He is my Suffering Saviour and my Conquering King.” If Jesus had not suffered and His blood had not been shed, we would have perished miserably in our sins. But we have been set free, because of Jesus—our great Saviour and King. We have been brought near to God, adopted into His family, completely undeserving. This is the good news of Jesus, and it is found in the words, “suffered under Pontius Pilate.”
And the question for us now is: What will you do with Jesus? I’m just going to close by reading the words of the hymn, What Will You Do with Jesus?
Verse 1: “Jesus is standing in Pilate’s hall—friendless, forsaken, betrayed by all; hearken! what meaneth the sudden call! What will you do with Jesus?”
Verse 2: “Jesus is standing on trial still, you can be false to Him if you will, you can be faithful thro' good or ill: What will you do with Jesus?”
Verse 3: “Will you evade Him as Pilate tried? Or will you choose Him, whate’er betide? Vainly you struggle from Him to hide: What will you do with Jesus?”
Verse 4: “Will you, like Peter, your Lord deny? Or will you scorn from His foes to fly, daring for Jesus to live or die? What will you do with Jesus?”
Verse 5: “‘Jesus, I give Thee my heart today! Jesus, I’ll follow Thee all the way, gladly obeying Thee!’ will you say: ‘This I will do with Jesus!’”
Chorus: “What will you do with Jesus? Neutral you cannot be; someday your heart will be asking, ‘What will He do with me?’”
There may be some of us here who are on the fence with Jesus. Maybe we think that we have enough time to live our lives, now, before we think about what we will do with Jesus. But there is no guarantee that we will have more time. What will you do with Jesus? Will you give your heart to Him, today? Will you say yes to Jesus and live your life for Him, whatever the cost? What will you do with Jesus? Let’s pray…