Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word. Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things our of your law. I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me! My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times. (Psalm 119:17-20)
Today we’re looking at Mark 15:16-20—
And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. And 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. (Mark 15:16-20, ESV)
The Bible is a book. It is a book that is a collection of many books (sixty-six if you’re a Protestant Christian, a few more if you’re a Catholic Christian). My favorite copy of the Bible is a brown faux-leather English Standard Version translation that I can hold comfortably in my hand while preaching. I also have a smaller “pocket” version of the ESV that I received for my birthday in May of 2004. Both copies are well marked with my highlighters and colored pencils and notes in pen. The pocket-sized one is quite dirty and many of the pages are folded and wrinkled from riding around in my purse or backpack for the past nine years. With the growing availability of Bible apps, it has become more convenient to access Scripture on the go. But there is just something about holding the book in my hand that helps me connect more with the words of scripture. I need the aesthetic experience of flipping through the pages and seeing the bread crumbs I have left for myself over the years in the form of asterisks and exclamation points—Ebenezer stones reminding me that this passage or that passage affected me once and should be revisited on occasion.
The Bible is a book, to be sure, but the Bible is also a mirror. Engaging with scripture shows me the metaphorical “spinach in my teeth” as I seek to live a godly life. Scripture helps me to see where I am missing the mark (which is the original Ancient Greek meaning of the word “sin”), and the mark, of course, being Christ’s example. But it also shows me the hope I have. To paraphrase Dr. Garry Friesan, who spoke at last weekend’s Multnomah University commencement ceremony in Portland, “The Bible is a mirror: it shows us our faults, but also points to who we are becoming as we are transformed.” (i.e. 2 Cor 3:18)
Just as I need to look at a mirror every morning to make sure my hair is in place and my make-up is not overdone and my outfit matches, I also need to look at the spiritual mirror of scripture every day to make sure my priorities are straight and my heart is in the right place.
But sometimes I read a passage of scripture and see something about myself that I really don’t like. Today was one of those times.
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The thing that is so offensive about this passage in Mark is the mocking. I hate mocking of any kind. When I see someone being mocked or someone mocking another person, I recoil. Mocking someone is, I think, the highest form of insult. It is an act that is, by definition, marked by derision and scorn. So to read about Jesus being mocked should make us all recoil. It should make us sick to our stomachs. No one should be treated this way—but especially not the innocent Lamb of God. This is an example of the highest offense of God—right up there with “blaspheming the Holy Spirit.” To mock Jesus is to mock God. That this happens at all makes me shudder.
But if you are anything like me, when you spend time with a passage of Scripture, inevitably this question will arise: What does this passage tell me about myself, and my own relationship with and to God? As I’ve reflected on this passage over the last few days, I have had to be honest and acknowledge that the soldiers are not the only ones who mock Jesus. Neither are outspoken atheists or angry ex-Christians. Sometimes, I mock Jesus too. This is a really hard thing to admit. But it’s true.
You might not read this passage and come to the same conclusion I do, but this is what I’ve been mulling over. Every time I take the grace of God toward me for granted, I mock Jesus. Every time I sing,”Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee,” like I did at church yesterday, and then I make a selfish or sinful choice, I mock Jesus. Every time I sing, “You are my king…” and then let something else rule me—even for a moment—I mock Jesus. Every time I realize how much I rely on my own natural skills, rather than prayer, for strength and achievement, I mock Jesus.
I am not saying this to create a sense of self-condemnation. If you know me at all, you know that I do not suffer from self-condemnation, because I have truly embraced my identity in Christ. So I am not sharing this as a testimony or a breast-beating statement of how horrible I am. I am simply sharing that this passage reminds me that I am no better than those guards who mocked Jesus. I love Jesus and I want my life to be for his glory. But if I am honest, I admit that sometimes, I live as a practical atheist—confessing Christ with my mouth, but practically denying him with my actions.
This is why we who are in Christ need constant reminders of what we have been delivered from: namely, our innate sinful nature that constantly challenges the Lordship of Christ in our lives. Even though we have been saved through the Cross and faith in Jesus Christ, we must contend with the fact that we are also being saved daily through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:13-15). We have been delivered, and we are being delivered. We have been saved, and we are being saved. This is a great paradox in Christianity—the “already and the not-yet,” as many have called it.
The apostle Paul writes extensively and vulnerably about his own struggle with this paradox in Romans 6 and 7. After exploring the nature of human sinfulness and God’s redemption through Jesus Christ, after confessing his own constant and ongoing struggles with sin even though he knows better—”I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate”—Paul utters a statement that all of us can—and should—utter from time to time: “Wretched person that I am! Who will deliver me fromt his body of death?”
I think this is the question I am pondering as I read about the mocking of Christ and consider my own life (1 Tim 4:16). It’s a good question to ask, because it humbles me and re-awakens my awareness of my own need for grace. It reminds me that I am associated with the sinners, the mockers, and the scoffers in my need for forgiveness and mercy.
And it reignites my worshiping heart as I echo Paul’s sentiment in Romans 7:25: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Just as Jesus prayed from the Cross for those who crucified him, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” (Luke 23:34), he prays for me. He has delivered me, and he will deliver me.
This is the good news of the Gospel.
In his first letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul instructs his young friend to, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Tim 4:16) This passage in Mark encourages me to keep a close watch on the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart and to consider how I might be mocking the Lordship of Christ in my own life. And it helps me to consider myself through the mirror of scripture, as I see who I am–and who I am becomingas I grow from one degree of glory to the next (2 Cor 3:18).