Hollow Worship in the Face of the Cross: Mark 15:16-20

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The passage we are focusing on this week may be short, but the implications it shares are powerful when we pause and think about them. We have come to the morning of Jesus’ crucifixion, and are looking at an event that happens following Jesus being condemned to death, but before He begins the walk to the place where He will be crucified.

Three of the four gospels share this event, and for our episode today, we’ll look at Mark’s version of what happened. We can find this event in the gospel of Mark, chapter 15. Reading from the New International Version and beginning in verse 16, Mark tells us that:

16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

This is one of the cruelest parts of the Bible, and it has been reserved for describing how Jesus was treated by the ruling government of humanity. However, what the soldiers miss in their abuse and treatment of Jesus is that His very existence and self-sacrifice made Him worthy of being king. The Roman soldiers’ only picture of a king was the military king that Rome had in its emperor.

An empire focused on ruling through military strength could only see a neighboring king as a potential threat. If the neighboring king’s forces were weaker than the military empire’s, then the empire would attack, capture, and absorb the neighboring king’s territory. Only in a case where there were two kings of somewhat equal strength, could there be a co-existing set of kingdoms.

All the Roman soldiers saw in Jesus was a weak threat to their empire. Jesus didn’t walk like any leader they respected, He didn’t talk strategy like they talked strategy, and He was wholly uninterested in military conquests like they were. But what is interesting is that while they were mocking Jesus, they were actually speaking something very profound.

While Jesus was dressed up like an earthly king and they were hitting Him and spitting on Him, Mark tells us in verse 18 that they began calling Him, “King of the Jews”. This is significant because as God’s promised Messiah, Jesus would technically be King of the Jews – if He were only the Messiah for the Jews.

However, Jesus came as the promised Messiah for all humankind because He was promised and foreshadowed from the very first sin and sacrifice. In a subtle way, these Roman soldiers didn’t realize that even by mockingly claiming that Jesus was the King of the Jews, they were incriminating themselves because Jewish scriptures pointed to God’s Messiah being humanity’s eventual King.

While the Jewish leaders had rejected their King and handed Him over to the Romans to crucify, the Romans, who represent the broad group of gentiles living throughout history, also reject Jesus as their King. This is significant because while Jesus had a few followers, they were nowhere to be found which meant that they were not a threat – at least in the Roman government’s eyes.

However, as we are talking about this together, even though they don’t believe Jesus to be special or even significant, these Roman soldiers call Jesus a King, and Mark tells us that they fell on their knees and paid homage to Him. One synonym for the word homage is worship. Even if they didn’t worship Jesus from their hearts, we see evidence that they acknowledged Jesus’ role as King and His right to be respected and worshiped.

But did their admission mean anything if everything they did and said was rooted with the motives of hostility? That I cannot say for sure, but I am just sharing an interesting parallel that is worth us paying attention to.

When talking about hollow and shallow worship hurting God, I wonder how many of us today have ever fallen into this category of people. While we weren’t among the Roman soldiers who were actively hurting Jesus with their words and their actions, I wonder if we at times are not unlike these soldiers when we choose to bring hollow, shallow, and meaningless worship to God.

God desires our hearts, and there are remarkable similarities of cruelty between us and these Roman persecutors if we approach God with our hearts in worship only to pull away and return home still holding the gift He desires the most.

In this record of Jesus’ torture, I wonder if Satan had a hand in the empty worship that the Roman’s presented to Jesus – knowing that it would hurt Him and God on a spiritual level just like the hollow and shallow religion of the Jews at that time was nothing like what God had intended.

This all prompts me to wonder why Jesus would go through with a death with this much torture and pain when any death would appear to work. While tragic, Jesus could have written prophecy to describe a death from a heart attack in the garden while in prayer. However, I think that through the type of death Jesus chose, we are able to learn more about God and His character.

By dying in the way that He did, Jesus demonstrated to the entire world and universe how much God loves everyone He created. He chose humanity because we are the ones actively rebelling against Him, and we are the ones Satan had successfully blinded. Jesus came to show us how much God loved each of us, and through the torture on the road to death that Jesus was willing to face for us, we can see a glimpse of just how much we are valued by God.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I want to leave each of us with:

First, be thankful towards God for loving us through Jesus and for showing us how deep and amazing He loves each of us through the way Jesus chose to die. Jesus could have written prophecy and history to include any type of death He that could be imagined. When we look at how Jesus chose to die, it appears as though He picked the worst, most painful, humiliating death that humanity has ever invented.

Also, be sure to study the Bible for yourself and pay special attention to the week of the crucifixion, because nothing in this week happened by chance – everything that we read was strategically planned out from the beginning of history. When we do study, we should prayerfully come before God and give Him our hearts in worship. After giving our hearts to God, we should be willing to submit our lives to Him and His will. While our physical heart stays in our body to pump blood through our veins and arteries, we should always leave our spiritual hearts with God, and any time we are tempted to take it back, we should remind ourselves of what Jesus did for us. In the big picture, a gift of our heart is the least we could do to say thank you for everything God has done for us.

And as I always end each set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, or chicken out of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Season 3 – Episode 47: Cam discusses the torture Jesus receives before being led away to the cross, and something hidden within this torture that is profound for us to pay attention to.

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