Reading: Mark 15:16-20
The Roman soldiers’ mocking of Jesus epitomizes what the Apostle Paul calls, in 1 Corinthians 2:14, the “folly” of the “natural person.” The natural person, Paul observes, cannot understand the things of God because s/he lacks the discernment that only the Holy Spirit can give. The soldiers understand quite clearly Christ’s claim to kingship; what they cannot see—blinded as they are by pride—is the truth of this claim. They are, as Paul says elsewhere, “darkened in their understanding” (Eph. 4:18).
For those who have eyes to see, however, Mark’s account of the soldiers’ ridiculing of Christ reflects profound irony on at least two levels. The soldiers are enjoying what they evidently see as a rather clever joke. How could this lowly peasant carpenter from Nazareth possibly be a king? To expose the absurdity of this notion, they design for Jesus a mock coronation ceremony, complete with makeshift symbols of royal prerogative: a purple robe, a crown of thorns, an august salutation. This sham ceremony culminates in counterfeit homage as the entire battalion kneels before Christ inside the governor’s palace—the very heart of provincial political power.
Yet even as these soldiers laugh condescendingly at the patent absurdity of a carpenter King, they are are unwittingly playing the fools in the far greater plan of God. For in this sham ceremony is a divine irony that trumps their own ironic mocking. These scoffers have unknowingly testified to the sovereign lordship of Christ; they have, without recognizing it, anticipated that day when “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:10-11).
As Spirit-filled believers, we can appreciate the irony of Mark’s account, and see that the real absurdity lies with the soldiers, not with Jesus. We can find strength in the certainty of Christ’s ultimate triumph. And yet, even we can sometimes fall victim to our own blind folly, just as the soldiers did; for how prone we are to acknowledge Jesus with our mouths but not our lives. As the commentator Matthew Henry put it, “Those that bow the knee to Christ, but do not bow the soul, put the same affront upon him that these [soldiers] did.” May Jesus truly be the king of our souls.
Written by Chad Stutz