Mark 15:16-32

The Shame of the Cross

The writers of the New Testament in general, and Mark in particular, make no attempt to sensationalize the suffering and death of Jesus. As horrendous as the suffering of Jesus was, the Bible does not dramatize the events but rather presents the story in a very straightforward manner. For instance, last week we noted how in Pilate’s treatment of Jesus, that the reader might miss the fact that Jesus was scourged before he was crucified. Mark does not record any details of the scourging and in fact does not even use an entire sentence to tell us that it happened. Mark simply moves the narrative on at fairly rapid pace, but now as Jesus’ death is drawing near he slows the story down considerably to dwell on the shameful treatment Jesus endured in his final hours. This is the shame of the cross and we are reminded that Jesus not only took our sin, he took our shame as well.

Sin and shame go together.  When sin entered the world, shame entered the world. This means that we all have experienced some level of shame.  In this book Shame Interrupted, Ed Welch puts forth this helpful definition of shame:

“Shame is the deep sense that you are unacceptable because of something you did, something done to you, or something associated with you. You feel exposed and humiliated.”

Shame can be a powerful influence in our lives.   We will consider this week how Jesus entered our shame.  And specifically we will see three scenes of this shame.


#1 In the Palace

Having survived the flogging, and not everyone did, Jesus is led away inside the palace (v.16). Now the flogging was a judicial matter – an official punishment handed down by the Roman governor Pilate to inflict not only significant physical pain but disgrace and shame as well. However, this is not the end of the shame Jesus endured. Inside the palace the Roman soldiers inflicted a further sentence on Jesus that was not handed down by the governor.  They called together the whole battalion (v.16) which was one-tenth of a legion, or about 600 soldiers to amplify the shame that would be poured on Jesus. They then clothe him with a purple cloak and place a crown of thorns on his head while they mockingly salute him as King of the Jews (v.16-17). Remember the Jewish authorities mocked Jesus by asking him to “prophecy” as to who struck him while the Roman authorities mockingly salute him as king. This treatment reflects their different concerns. The Jews were appalled by his claim to be God while the Romans took issue with his claim to be king. This is why the Jews found him guilty of blasphemy and the Romans found him guilty of treason. The soldiers continue their abuse of Jesus striking his head with a reed and spitting on him (v.19). All of this was done add insult to injury. In other words, it was down not only to carry out the official orders from Pilate to crucify him which was disgraceful enough, but they sought to shame him deeply in as many ways possible.


#2 On the Way

Jesus is led out of the palace to a place outside the city wall of Jerusalem called Golgotha which Mark tells us means Place of a Skull (v.22). The Latin word for skull is calvaria, hence the name “Calvary” which we today associate with the location of Jesus’ crucifixion. We know from the other gospel accounts that it was required of Jesus to carry his own cross on the way to Golgotha but that Jesus had been so weakened by his earlier inflictions that he was unable to make it the entire way. This is the shame of helplessness. Mark records that the soldiers compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene…to carry his cross (v.21). This adds to the shame that Jesus must have experienced being dependent on a passerby to carry his cross. In this way, however, Simon unwittingly becomes the first person to fulfill Jesus’ earlier words (c.f. Mark 8:34) to take up your cross and follow him. Along the way Jesus was offered an ancient painkiller wine mixed with myrrh (v.23) but he refused. As he was prepped for the cross and in fulfillment of Psalm 22:18, the soldiers stripped Jesus and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them (v.24). This means that despite his depiction in popular works of art, Jesus was most likely crucified naked. This is yet another way Jesus endured shame for us.


#3 At the Cross

It was the third hour (v.25) or about 9am when they crucified him. Apparently Roman law required the charges for the criminal to be posted on the cross and so Mark tells us that the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews” (v.26). In some ways this charge was truer than they realized but the spirit of the charge was that Jesus was a political rebel bent on overthrowing Rome which of course was not true. Even Pilate testified that he could find no evil in him and so here is shame of a false accusation.

Jesus is hung on a cross between two robbers, one on his right and one on his left (v.27). Here is the shame of association that Jesus was treated just like these two thieves. Even the thieves participate in the mocking of Jesus as Mark tells us that they reviled him (v.32). (Luke finishes out the story of the two thieves and we know one of them had a change of heart and actually began defending Jesus.)

As Jesus hung naked on the cross he had to endure the mocking words of passersby. Aha! You would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross (v.29-30)!” As expected the chief priests and scribes join in on the mocking of Jesus: “He saved others, he cannot save himself (v.31).” Not only are these shameful words, they are false words. Jesus certainly was able to save himself, but he chose to surrender to his Father’s will and allow himself to be condemned that he might save not himself but us.

Ironically the Jewish authorities invite Jesus to come down so that they may see and believe (v.32). This is precisely what Jesus will do although in an even more remarkable way after he has died. And still these men persisted in their unbelief.


What This Means for Us

We learn that Jesus not only knows our shame, he entered into our shame, and ultimately took away our shame. This is the power of the cross to not only take away the penalty of sin but to take away the shame of sin.

Psalm 91:15 says this:

When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble;  I will rescue him and honor him.

The psalmist says that God will rescue us and honor us. I think we tend to understand reasonably well the rescue mission of Jesus. He died to take away our sin but Psalm 91 takes it a step further. God not only rescues us, he honors us.   Imagine you know someone who is sentenced to prison. They go away behind bars and serve their time. When they are released, they have “paid their debt to society” and are free to move on with their lives, right? In practice, however, this isn’t typically how it works because although their legal debt has been satisfied, still the shame and dishonor of having been in prison remains. This is exactly what sin does to us as well and this is why we need Jesus to not only remove the penalty of sin but the shame of sin.

Discussion Questions

  1. What does it mean that “Jesus took away my sin”? What does it not mean?
  2. What is the difference between shame and guilt?
  3. What are some ways Jesus experienced shame in this passage? What do you think this was like for Jesus?
  4. Which one of these causes of shame in this passage would be most difficult for you? Why?
  5. What Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled in this passage? [If you are stuck, read Psalm 22 or Isaiah 53.]
  6. In what way are the words of the Jewish authorities – “He saved others; he cannot save himself” – actually true?
  7. Explain the irony in verse 32.
  8. How does Jesus take away our shame?
  9. What would someone’s life look like if they were free from effects of shame?   [Note: This question is not about being shameless but about being free from shame.]
  10. What is one think you will do as a result of studying this passage?