Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sermon 03/22/09 24 Redemption Part 4: “The Irony of it All”

Scripture: Mark 14:53-15:20

Over the last several weeks, we have been working our way through the last 24 hours of Jesus' life. We first looked at the story of the woman, possibly Mary, who poured perfume over Jesus' head to anoint him for burial. We then looked together at the Last Supper and the Gethsemane story.

Today we will be looking at Jesus on trial. The Gospel of Mark records the story this way.

53 They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, the elders and the teachers of the law came together. 54 Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire.

55 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. 56 Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree.

57 Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: 58 "We heard him say, 'I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.' " 59 Yet even then their testimony did not agree.

60 Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, "Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?" 61 But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?"

62 "I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."

63 The high priest tore his clothes. "Why do we need any more witnesses?" he asked. 64 "You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" They all condemned him as worthy of death. 65 Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, "Prophesy!" And the guards took him and beat him.

66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. 67 When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. "You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus," she said.

68 But he denied it. "I don't know or understand what you're talking about," he said, and went out into the entryway. [a]

69 When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, "This fellow is one of them." 70 Again he denied it. After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, "Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean."

71 He began to call down curses, and he swore to them, "I don't know this man you're talking about."

72 Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. [b] Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows twice [c] you will disown me three times." And he broke down and wept.

1 Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, reached a decision. They bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.

2 "Are you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate. "You have said so," Jesus replied.

3 The chief priests accused him of many things. 4 So again Pilate asked him, "Aren't you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of."

5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

6 Now it was the custom at the Festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.

9 "Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate, 10 knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.

12 "What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?" Pilate asked them.

13 "Crucify him!" they shouted.

14 "Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!"

15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

The gospels agree on the trials of Jesus for the most part. Luke adds one extra step, telling his readers that the first time Jesus was sent to Pilate, he did not find fault with him and sent him over to Herod. Herod simply wanted Jesus to perform magic and is disappointed, se he sends him back to Pilate. John's gospel seems to focus in more on Jesus' interactions with Pilate, making Pilate look better than most historians do.


As I read and studied the trials of Jesus, primary in the gospel of Mark, I have been struck by the number of ironies in this passage. Some of you may remember Alanis Morissette's song Ironic. She sings,

An old man turned ninety-eight

He won the lottery and died the next day

It's a black fly in your Chardonnay

It's a death row pardon two minutes too late

It's like rain on your wedding day

It's a free ride when you've already paid

It's the good advice that you just didn't take

Who would've thought... it figures

It's like rain on your wedding day

It's a free ride when you've already paid

It's the good advice that you just didn't take

Who would've thought... it figures

"It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife

It's meeting the man of my dreams

And then meeting his beautiful wife

And isn't it ironic… don't you think

A little too ironic… and yeah I really do think


As I was reading this story, I was saying the same thing about the trials of Jesus. The events that unfold tend to be very ironic. According to Wikipedia, Mark uses dramatic irony, which is a disparity of expression and awareness: when words and actions possess significance that the listener or audience understands, but the speaker or character does not.

A Little Ironic

Irony #1:

The first two ironies come from the way Mark and Matthew frame this story. Notice that the trial of Jesus begins, Mark shifts over to the story of Peter denying he knows Jesus. Mark records that the High Priest asks the question, "Are you the Messiah?" The sentence in Greek reads, "auvtw/|\ su. ei= o` cristo.j" If we go back to Mark 8, where Peter confesses, "You are the messiah", which reads auvtw/|\ su. ei= o` cristo,jÅ in Greek. Ironically, the High Priest makes a confession while Peter who once clamed Jesus was the Messiah denies knowing him.


Irony #2

The second irony comes from the reactions of those around Jesus. They blindfolded Jesus and hit him, then asked him to prophecy who had hit him. They were mocking Jesus as a false prophet. Ironically, Mark then records Peter denying that he knows Jesus, just as Jesus had foretold earlier in chapter 14. In other words, those trying Jesus considered him a false prophet when he was actually able to prophecy.

Irony #3

The third irony has to do with Jesus being on trial. The high priest and the rest of the Council are there to cast judgment about Jesus. Indeed, they find him to be guilty. Notice however, the words Jesus uses to describe himself in when he is asked the question, "Are you the Messiah?" Jesus answers, "I am; and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven."

Jesus is taking a metaphor from Daniel 7, in which Daniel sees the "Ancient One" casting judgment over the whole earth. Then, he sees one like a human being, coming with the clouds of heaven. The Ancient One gives him dominion, power, and glory. In other words, Jesus is saying to those passing judgment on him that one day, God will vindicate him and he will be the one given power to judge them.

Irony #4

Fourth, Pilate fails to make a judgment about Jesus, so he lets the people choose a person to release. They decide to release a guy named Barabbas who, more than likely led some sort of revolt against Rome, possibly a violent revolt. The people choose to have Jesus crucified. Jesus, who is innocent, dies in the place of a criminal. The irony is that Mark's readers realize that Jesus' dies a death that he doesn't deserve for people who do.

Irony #5

Notice also the questions that were asked of different people. The High Priest asks, "Are you the Messiah" and Pilate asks, "Are you the king of the Jews?" Peter was asked if he knew Jesus. The irony for Mark is that these are not just questions he wants the people in the gospels to answer. These are the questions he wants the readers to answer. Each of us has to make a judgment about Jesus. Do we believe that Jesus is the Messiah? Do we believe that he is the king? Will we acknowledge that we know and follow Jesus? The gospels ask us to make a judgment about the good news of Jesus.

Hatch or Go Bad

Have you ever had a discussion with your spouse, or a boy friend, or girl friend, or maybe even a friend about where to eat? If they are anything like my experiences, it probably goes something like this. 'Where do you want to eat?" I don't know, how about you." "I don't know either." If we are going to go eat, somebody has to make a decision.

In this passage, Pilate is seen as a person who fails to make a decision about Jesus. Instead, he allows the decision to go to popular vote. Mark makes it clear that by not making a decision about Jesus, he sided with everyone who shouted "crucify him."

CS Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity makes the point that we must make a decision about Jesus. He says it is like an egg, it either has to hatch or go bad. Today, Mark is asking us to make a decision for or against Jesus. I believe we make this decision by choosing to follow Jesus in our lives.

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