Mark 15:15
It is remarkable that the evangelists speak of their Lord's enemies with such unruffled calmness. If our dearest friend had been subjected to inhuman treatment, ending in his death, we should have held up the names of his oppressors to the execration of the world. But in the Gospels we look in vain for a strong epithet, or a burst of indignant declamation. This was not because the evangelists were deficient in love to their Lord, but because they had caught something of the spirit of him "who, when he was reviled, reviled not again," and because they had learnt that amid these strange, sad scenes the Divine purpose was being fulfilled, and that he who was the Victim of sinners was the Sacrifice for sin. Hostility to the Lord Jesus Christ is the irrefragable proof of man's antagonism to goodness and truth. The cross of Calvary, stained by his blood, is a witness at once to the depravity of man and the infinite love of God. Hatred to goodness was never more pronounced and desperate, for goodness was now both incarnate and aggressive. It was no longer an abstraction, but a Person; no longer inert, but active. The Jews were generally left unmolested, because they were content to dwell as a peculiar and separate people, without assailing idolatry in others. But our Lord and his disciples endeavored to make the truth known and felt. Moses said in effect, "Keep yourselves from surrounding peoples, lest ye be defiled." Christ said, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." The old economy was represented by the temple, which was compact, perfect, kept free from the defiling tread of the heathen; the new was represented by the mustard seed, which would grow under the open sky till it became a tree, and many nations found rest under its shadow. It was partly because Jesus Christ was aggressive in his work that the world rose in arms against him. Let us study the characteristics of some of his foes, and discover their motives, that we may be on our guard against becoming their modern representatives. In the two verses we have chosen we have glimpses of the priests, of the people, and of Pontius Pilate.

I. THE PRIESTS WERE HOSTILE TO OUR LORD FROM PRIDE. They should have been the first to welcome him. As Jews they were familiar with the utterances of the prophets, and as priests they should have known the meaning of the sacrifices they offered. They had heard the preaching of John when he announced Messiah, and they had again and again had evidence respecting the work and teaching of Jesus. But pride summoned prejudice to build up an obstacle impervious to all assaults. Their social dignity refused to recognize this peasant Teacher; their intellectual culture spurned the utterances of the Prophet of Nazareth; and their ecclesiastical prestige held it to be incredible that a carpenter's Son should be "the Light of the world." In our day, too, pride has such disastrous influence. Many admit that Jesus Christ was a pattern of benevolence and of moral purity; but when he declares himself to be an infallible Teacher of Divine truth, when he claims superhuman power, when he demands submission to his will, they rise against him, as those did who once exclaimed, "For good works we stone thee not, but for blasphemy; because thou, being a man, makest thyself God."

II. PILATE WAS HOSTILE TO OUR LORD FROM POLICY. He saw at a glance the vindictiveness of the priests, and the innocence of him they accused; and, after a few minutes' conversation, frankly said, "I find in him no fault at all." But this was followed by a pitiful struggle and fall. He tried to rid himself of responsibility by sending the Galilean to Herod; he offered to release him, not on the ground of innocence, but as an act of grace, usual at the Passover; he cruelly scourged him, in the hope that this would satisfy the bloodthirsty mob. But when these devices failed, and the people threatened Pilate himself, as a traitor to the emperor, he delivered Jesus to be crucified. He fell through moral cowardice, brought about by former crimes, fearing lest he should lose office and honor unless he fell in with the demands of this brutal crowd. Things seen rule the man who has no faith in things unseen. Personal interests seemed more to him than the life or death of one poor Prisoner. He yielded to clamor; and though at the time he knew it not, he crucified the Christ.

III. THE PEOPLE WERE HOSTILE TO OUR LORD FROM PASSION. "The chief priests moved the people." They would urge that Jesus had been condemned by their own orthodox court, and that it was the duty of every patriot to induce the Romans to support its decisions; and they would further urge that Barabbas, the leader of an insurrection, was a friend of the people and a champion of their liberties, so that he was to be preferred to Jesus of Nazareth. The mass of the people were not intelligently hostile to our Lord. Some knew little of him, and thought that the Sanhedrim was best able to judge of such questions; and others went with the popular current, whether it led them to shout "Hosanna!" or "Crucify him!" Hence they were included with the soldiers in the prayer of our Lord, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." - A.R.







And so Pilate, willing to content the people.
I. WHAT SORT OF MAN WAS PILATE? Probably not worse than many Roman governors; not very unlike Festus, Felix, Gallio, and the rest.

1. Cruel.

2. Determined.

3. Worldly.

II. WHAT WAS HE TO DO WITH JESUS? This was his difficulty; this was the rock on which he was stranded. The voice of the nation demanded Christ's death. Insurrection, possibly even war, impended, if the demand was refused. What was to be done?

III. PILATE TRIES TO EVADE THE RESPONSIBILITY OF DECIDING.

IV. WHY DID NOT PILATE DARE TO REFUSE THE JEWS' DEMAND?

1. He had an evil conscience.

2. By defending Jesus, he would run the risk of earthly loss.

3. He had no fixed belief to support him.

V. OBSERVE THE EFFECT OF LIVING HABITUALLY FOR THE PRESENT WORLD. A man of the world, who lives only for the things of time and sense, content if he can satisfy Caesar and the people, has authority given him to deal with the cause of Christ. He cannot make up his mind to take up the cross and follow Him; for he has lived for self alone, and walked only by sight. What will such a man do in time of sudden trial but follow Pontius Pilate. If I must, I must. I see it is wrong. I would give much to escape, but there is no other way open. I must be content to satisfy the people. Jesus of Nazareth, His Church, His kingdom, His interest, His people, I surrender them to your will.

(C. H. Waller, M. A.)

I. PRINCIPLE WILL, BUT POLICY WILL NOT, PRESERVE YOU FROM SIN. If you will not make the sacrifice which goodness requires, give up all hope of keeping your goodness. Courage is absolutely necessary for goodness.

II. A MAN'S SINS WEIGH HIM HEAVILY. If Pilate had had a guiltless conscience, he would have defied the clamour of the rulers. He walks along the downward path to hell with his eyes open.

III. BEWARE OF COMPROMISE. Come to no terms with evil, but resist it.

IV. IF WE CAN PREVENT WRONG BEING DONE, WE CANNOT BY VERBAL PROTESTS ESCAPE THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR IT. Pilate's hand washing has many imitators, men substituting a feeble protest for vigorous and dutiful action. But in vain does Pilate think to wash his hands of guilt.

V. THE HOLLOWNESS OF EARTHLY PRIDE AND POMP COMES OUT HERE.

VI. THERE IS AN EXHIBITION HERE OF THE SINFUL SIDE OF HUMAN NATURE. Self-will seems a bright, brave thing, very excusable. Behold its guiltiness here. Weakness seems a harmless, good-tempered thing; it may easily commit the greatest crime.

VII. THE HARDSHIPS OF TRANSGRESSORS' WAYS IS ILLUSTRATED HERE. Pilate would have found it ten times easier to do right. Think of his shame, self-contempt; of the horror he would feel when Christ rose from the dead; of the penalties which followed. It was not more than seven or eight years before Caiaphas and Pilate were both degraded from their posts; and shortly after, Pilate, weary with misfortunes, killed himself. Nor, when we hear the men of Jerusalem ask the Roman governor for a cross, can we help remembering that they got their fill of crosses from the Romans; when, Titus crucifying sometimes 500 a day of those seeking to escape from the doomed city, at length, in the circuit of Jerusalem, room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies.

VIII. OUR WEAKNESS INCREASES THE SAVIOUR'S TROUBLES.

IX. CHRIST NEVER GOES WITHOUT A WITNESS. Pilate, Herod, Pilate's wife, and even the hypocrisy of the crowd, all proclaim, "There is no fault in Him."

X. THE SAVIOUR'S SUFFERINGS CLAIM OUR GRATITUDE, BUT THEY ALSO CALL ON US TO TAKE UP OUR CROSS AND GO AFTER HIM. Let us copy the Divine meekness, majesty, and love which met in the cross of Christ.

(R. Glover.)

The miserable governor is an example to us of a man of infirm principle who seeks to tide over a difficulty by temporising. He proposed to inflict ignominious sufferings on Christ, grievous in themselves, but yet short of death; hoping in this way to appease the multitude, and by moving their fickle humour by the sight of blood, to induce them to remit the punishment they had just cried out to have executed on Christ. Pilate had no strength of character, no moral rectitude and fortitude. He could not do a right thing unless he were backed up by the people. He must have the popular voice with him to do justice or to commit an injustice. A terrible instance is Pilate to us of what comes of seeking a principle of action, direction, outside of our own selves, of being swayed by popular opinion. Pilate knew too well what were the Jewish expectations of a Messiah to suppose for an instant that the High Priests had delivered Jesus over because He sought to rescue His nation from a foreign domination. He appears never to have been deceived for a moment as to the malignant motives of those who sought the death of Christ; but he had not the moral courage to stand out against the popular voice.

(S. Baring Gould, M. A.)

Jesus is given over to death. Wickedness has had its way; righteousness and pity have been trodden down. Yet no Divine defeat here. Though seemingly a victory for hell, it was really a triumph for heaven.

I. AS A VINDICATION of character. In no other way could such irresistible proof have been given of Christ's sinlessness. Deadly foes, with everything their own way, cannot find against Him a single cause of just accusation. Six times He is declared by two Roman officials to be without fault. Throughout the scene it is continually forced on us that Jew and Roman are on trial, and Jesus is the judge. Not by His charges, but by His silence, they are made to convict themselves of prejudice, envy, hypocrisy, falsehood, outrage of justice, cruelty, and murder.

II. AS A FULFILMENT OF THE DIVINE PLAN. The hope of the world was fulfilled at this hour. Eden's distant anticipation of bruising the heel of Him who should bruise the serpent's head; Abraham, across the altar of his son, beholding this day afar off; Moses, lifting up the serpent in the wilderness; the Psalmist's picture of rejection, trial, and death; that chapter in Isaiah where we are made to stand beside the cross; all these, and many another prophetic assurance, waited for this tragic hour of salvation. Not alone through the love of friends, but even more through the wrath of man, the purpose of God marched on through tears and Crime to redemption.

III. THE FINAL OUTCOME OF CHRIST'S CONDEMNATION DISPLAYED WITH STARTLING POWER WHERE DEFEAT AND TRIUMPH RESTED. Pilate gave up Jesus to death to save his place; soon he was accused to his master, and driven forth, a broken-hearted exile. The priests persuaded the people to give Jesus to death to save their place and nation; that generation had not passed away before their own madness brought down on them, ten thousand times repeated, all the cruelty and outrage to which they had surrendered Him. But the crucified One — on the third day rises, and on the fortieth ascends to the throne of God. Today, while the Roman Empire is only a name, and the Jew is a restless and afflicted wanderer, Jesus triumphs.

(C. M. Southgate.)

Among the Romans the despotic power was so terrible, that if a slave had attempted the life his master, all the rest had been crucified with the guilty person. But our gracious Master died for His slaves who had conspired against Him. He shed His blood for those who spilt it. He was willing to be crucified, that we might be glorified. Our redemption was sweeter to Him than death was hitter, by which it was to be obtained. It was excellently said by Pherecides that God transformed Himself into love when He made the world. But with greater reason it is said by the apostle, God is love, when He redeemed it.

(Handbook to Scripture Doctrines.)

"I will chastise Him," said Pilate. The word used (παιδεύειν) is contemptuous; it means to correct as a naughty child, or, as a slave, to scare him against again committing the same offence. By Roman usage, when a slave was about to be set free, his master led him before the Praetor, and the latter then slightly beat the slave on the back with a rod (virgulta), as a reminder to him of the slavery in which he had been, and from which he was about to be set free. And now, see, the Jewish people lead Jesus, bound as a slave, before the Roman governor, and Pilate ignorantly deals with Him according to the law for the manumission of slaves. He beats Him — but Jesus does not pass at once from His court to freedom. He must first traverse the dark valley of death, and go to His death through the way of sorrows. There were various kinds of scourges employed among the Romans. There was the stick (fustis), the rod (virga), the whip (lorum), which was of leather-platted thongs, and into the plats were woven iron spikes (scorpio) or knuckle bones of animals. When Rehoboam said to the deputation, "My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions," he contrasted the simple scourge of leather thongs with that which was made more terrible with the nails and spikes, and which was called the scorpion, and was in use among the Jews as well as among the Romans. The lictors who stood about the Praetor bore axes tied in bundles of rods. The rods were for beating, the axes for decapitating; but they only used the rods for persons of distinction and quality. A Praetor such as Pilate had six of such officers by him. We may be quite sure that they did not proceed to unbind their bundles of rods to scourge Jesus with them — that would be rendering Him too much respect. He would not be beaten with the lictors' rods, but be scourged with the thonged whip, armed either with scorpions or knuckle bones, the instrument of chastisement for slaves and common criminals. Before Christ was scourged He was stripped of His raiment before the people, His hands being bound and attached to a pillar. We have descriptions from old heathen writers of the manner in which such a scourging was performed. "In Rome," says Aulus Gellins, "in the Forum was a post by itself, and to this the most illustrious man was brought, his clothes stripped off, and he was beaten with rods." There is a profane Life of Christ, of uncertain date, written in Hebrew, circulating anciently among the Jews, that embodies their traditions about Christ, and in it it is said that "The elders of Jerusalem took Jesus and bound Him to a marble pillar in the City, and scourged Him there with whips, crying out, 'Where now are the wondrous works that Thou hast done?'" In the Jewish laws it is ordered that behind the man to be scourged shall stand a stone, upon which the executioner shall take his place, so as to be well raised, that thereby the blows he deals may fall with greater effect. It is probable that before Herod's palace, where Pilate held his court, was a low pillar, and the prescribed square block on which the executioner was to stand, whilst the person to be scourged was fastened to the low pillar in a bowed position, the ropes knotted about his wrists being passed through a ring strongly soldered into the stone pillar. Thus the scourger stood above the man he beat and struck downwards at his bent back. The tradition that the scourging of Jesus took place somehow thus, that He was attached to a pillar when beaten, is very old.

(S. Baring Gould, M. A.)

Christ shows us how the flesh is to be mastered by the spirit, how we are to strive to obtain such a dominion over our bodies that we can bear pain without outcry and anger. God Himself sends us pain sometimes, and we are disposed to be restive under it, to murmur, and to reproach Him. Let us look to Jesus, scourged at the pillar, and see how He endured patiently. Let us learn to keep the body under, and bring it into subjection; ease, luxury, self-indulgence have a deadening effect on the soul, and this is an age of self-indulgence. We are always intent on heaping to ourselves comforts; we have no idea of "enduring hardships." We must have softer, deeper carpets for our feet; garments that fit us most perfectly and becomingly, easy chairs, soft springy beds, more warmth, better food, purple, fine linen, sumptuous fare every day. Our rooms must be artistic, the decorations and colours aesthetic; the eye, the ear, the nose, the touch must all be gratified, and we seek to live for the pleasures of the sense, and think it a sort of duty to have the senses tickled or soothed. How strangely does the figure of Jesus, bowed at the pillar, with His back exposed, and the soldiers lashing at Him with their whips loaded with knuckle bones, contrast with this modern foppishness and effeminacy! What a lesson he teaches of the control of the senses, of the conquest of the flesh! I would not say that it is wrong to cultivate art and to love that which is beautiful; but it is wrong to be so given up to it as to allow the love of the ease and beauty and gracefulness in modern life to take the fibre out of our souls, and reduce us to moral limpness. We must endure hardship as good soldiers of Jesus Christ; we must strive to be above the comforts and adornments of modern life, and make of them the accident and not the substance of our existence.

(S. Baring Gould, M. A.)

Oxford Lent Sermons.
In Pilate's case, the particular influence that prevented was the fear of man. "What will the Jews say, what will the Jews do, if I discharge this Prisoner whom they wish me to condemn? "When once men are governed in their conduct, not by the sense of right, but by the desire to obtain the world's approval, or the fear of incurring the world's hatred, they are at the mercy of the binds and waves, without chart or rudder. They are not rocks against which the waters break, but which stand unmoved because they are rooted into the solid earth, but they are things that drift upon the surface, borne hither and thither as the current sets or the breezes drive them. The man who owns Christ only when the world tolerates it, or as far as the world bears it, will deny Christ when the world frowns. It is impossible to be a lover of Christ and a lover of the world; it is impossible to fear God and man too; it is absolutely impossible to please men and be the servant of Christ.

(Oxford Lent Sermons.)

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