Do You See What I See
Preached by Pastor Benjamin Vrbicek
This morning we are in Mark 15:16-20. If you are new to our church, what we typically do here on a Sunday morning is spend time in song singing that have words that teach and remind us about the greatness of our God and his love for us. Then we typically spend 30 or 40 minutes studying a passage of the Bible. We do this because we believe that God has spoken in his word, and therefore it is beneficial and necessary that we learn from this book. And we tend to think one of the most helpful ways to learn about this book is move through just one book at a time, and just one passage in a time. So I’ll be picking up in the Gospel of Mark right where Jason left off last week.
Follow along with me as I read from Mark 15:16-20.
16 And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. 18 And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.
I have two pictures on the screen that I want to show you (one underneath the other). It’s of the L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station, just south of the National Mall in DC. Google Maps tells me it takes 2:09 minutes to get there from my house, but I suspect that’s without traffic. I’ve ridden the metro before but never been to this stop. Maybe some of you have been here.
It’s hard to see in the top picture, but it’s photo from just inside the entryway door—the doors on the right take you to an escalator that goes down to the trains. Off in the left corner, there is a non-descript young man wearing a Nationals baseball cap and playing a violin. You can see him better in the bottom picture.
At 7:48 on a Friday morning in January, this man walked into to the lobby, set down his case, took out his violin, tossed some “seed money” in the case, and he began to play.
In 45 minutes he made $32 and change, which means he made about $40 an hour. That’s not bad, not bad at all. Forty dollars an hour is pretty good. Except – except! – when this man normally preforms, he makes $1,000, not an hour, but every minute.
On that January day a few years ago, in a metro lobby in DC, just over 1,000 people passed by one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the most beautiful music that composers have every composed, and doing it all on one of the most beautiful instruments in the world. And of the 1,000 people, only seven people stopped what they were doing to listen.
The man’s name is Joshua Bell, a world famous violinist. He agreed to do the experiment, and to have it recorded, for the Washington Post. I read about the experiment the other day in a book, and when I sought out the original article, the story fascinated me.1
Oh yeah—one more thing. That violin is worth $3.5 million. It was made by Antonio Stradivari in 1713, when the violin maker was in his prime.
And maybe some people did hear it, and they did see the man playing, and they were intrigued, but it just wasn’t their thing.
In the video you can see some people just walk right by not even noticing that there was any noise coming from anywhere, not because they couldn’t hear, but because they were somewhere else in their mind—they didn’t have eyes to see or ears to hear the beauty of what was going right in front of them.
This story highlights something that we see highlighted in our passage this morning, namely, that truth and beauty can be right in front of our faces, but if we don’t have eyes to see it, that is, if we are blind to truth and beauty, then we’ll miss it. And in this passage we can see that we might even mistreat it. Our sin blinds us to seeing the truth and beauty of the kingship of Jesus. It happened to these Roman soldiers, and it can happen to us.
This morning, as we look at this passage, we’ll see three things. We are going to 1) see at the problem on the surface, and 2) see the problem beneath the surface, and 3) see the solution to the problem.
1. Seeing the problem on the surface
Let’s start by seeing the problem on the surface. This passage is short and it is singular. It is short in length, and it is singular in focus. On the surface, we see only one thing happening: Roman soldiers in control of and mocking Jesus. In just five verses, there are at least 12 statements expressing the control of and the mocking of Jesus.
Let me read through the verses again, pausing here and there.
16And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion.
First there is the word “led.” The soldiers “led” Jesus. You don’t lead a king around. He leads you. But not here. They lead him. And they lead him to the governor’s headquarters. You might not see that at first, but this was an insult. I’m not sure Jesus would have been bothered by it if he was not there as a prisoner, but the Jewish leaders would not even have set foot in that place because would it make them unable to eat the Passover (John 18:28).
And it’s the “whole battalion” that is called out. If you have a footnote in your Bible, it will tell you that this is something like 600 men. Why so many? Did they really need that many?
Well, there were that many there to keep the peace in the Jerusalem, which was bursting with pilgrims celebrating the Passover. And what was the Passover? It was the celebration of God’s deliverance of his people from a foreign enemy. And what do you think many of these pilgrims were praying for, maybe even plotting? Perhaps another liberation, one form the current enemy: Rome.2 This made the soldiers necessary. And they were set on edge.
And on top of that, as we saw in last week’s passage as Jason preached through it, there was a man named Barabbas that they intended to crucify this morning because he lead a revolt against Rome, or at least tried to. And in the process, Barabbas killed someone, perhaps even on of their very own. And so, these are not neutral soldiers. They are in a pressure cooker and they are ticked. If you killed an NYPD officer, do you think they’d treat you better, or worse? Now, Jesus didn’t kill anyone, but Barabbas did, and he got out, but the angry towards Barabbas did not. And now there is a guy in custody that is purported to be the King of the Jews. So what do they do with the king? They mock him.
17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him.
Purple was the color of royalty, so if they place it on him. And then some guy says, “Ohh, ohhh. I know; let’s give him a crown made out of THIS.” So they do.
18 And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
They salute him and shout to him as though he were Creaser, as though he were a real king. The irony is that he is a real king. But they don’t see it.
19 And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him.
In Matthew’s account (Matthew 26:29), the soldiers give him the reed first to hold like a mock-scepter, then they beat him with it on the head, the symbol of authority. And they spit on him.
And then some guy says, “Ohh, ohhh. I know, let’s kneel to him and worship him.” And a bunch of them do.
20 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.
It would have been painful to have the cloak stripped off of him, so they did it. And just like it started, the passage says that they “led [Jesus] to crucify him.” You don’t lead a king. He leads you. But here, they lead him out to crucify him.
This passage is short, and singular. The kingship of Jesus, which is a true and beautiful thing, is mocked. This is the problem on the surface. This problem is concentrated in these verses, but it spills out across the whole of chapter 15. Mark 15 is replete with verses mocking the kingship of Jesus (vv. 2, 9, 12, 16-20, 26, 32).
Their actions makes us angry, of course, and they should. A great injustice is taking place. That’s a problem, but what helps us understand the type of problem that this is, is seeing the problem beneath the surface.
2. Seeing the problem beneath the surface
The problem beneath the surface is that Jesus is the king of the Jews, in fact the king of the whole world, and they don’t see it. The problem is that they are blind. And they are deaf. The beauty and truth of the kingship of Jesus is right there in front of them and they can’t see it.
And that’s what sin does—always. It blinded them, and it can blind us to the beauty and truth of the kingship of Jesus.
And if this is the case—that sin blinds them and they do not know what they are doing—then let’s be clear about how we should feel about the problem. I said a moment ago that we should be angry at the injustice of it all. And we should. It should make us angry.
If we heard about a young man with Down Syndrome that was bullied and abused, how would we feel? Angry.
And what if kids at school would bump into this young man in the hallway, and they knock down his books out of his hand. And as the young man bent over to pick them up, the bullies shoved him to the ground. And when his glasses fall off, they stomped on the glasses. And they kick his books across tile floor. Now, you are mad. And you have compassion for this person, for sure.
But, I would say, that’s not what’s going on here. We should feel angry at the way Jesus is treated, but the picture in the gospels is that we are not to feel so much sorry for Jesus, as we are for these men, and for us. These men, in the words of Jesus, do not know what they do. While on the cross, the Gospel of Luke records that Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
The better way to think about these men is to think of them like this: Picture men who capture a full-grown adult male lion (10 feet in length, and over 400 pounds, and the leader of the pride). And they put him in chains made of construction paper. And these men, so cocky, go up to the lion and pull his mane. And they spit on the lion. And then they hop on the lion’s back and beat the lion’s hindquarters with a stick, pretending to ride on him.
And then some guy pries open the lion’s mouth, sticks his head inside the jaws, and he says, “Awwww, now look at this; what big teeth you have. Look how sharp and pointy they are, Mr. King of the Jungle.”
That’s different, isn’t it? Now you want to scream, “You don’t know what you are doing, people!” That’s a lion. Are you blind?”
They are playing catch with a live grenade. There is power and authority and majesty and wonder and awe and they think they can poke him the nose.
When I was growing up, my best friend was with another friend at the other kid’s house, and the two of them found his father’s gun. And they played with it a bit. Held it and pretended to point it at things. Nothing happened, but later they saw that it was loaded.
That’s what sin does. It blinds us. And this is so interesting because back in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve, when they were tempted by Satan, what were they promised?
Look at Genesis 3:4-7.
4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
Oh, there eyes were opened, and they saw some different things for sure, but they lost the ability to see other things as well, didn’t they. They used to see God as loving and kind, and an all-sufficient provider and a king that they used to walk with in the cool of the day (v. 8), but now… they hide from him. They don’t see him. They were removed from the garden (vv. 22-24). Yes they were open, but they were also closed.
This why the apostle Paul would write what he did in 2 Corinthians 4. He write,
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
The problem on the surface is that these guards are mistreating Jesus. And the problem beneath the surface is that their sin and Satan have blinded them to keep them from seeing the glory of the Christ.
Blindness is one of several metaphors in the Bible for sin and separation from God. Sin clouds our vision. And note this, the power of sin to blind can be so powerful, that Jesus can be right in front of you, and you can actually say all of the right words (“Hail, King of the Jews”), and yet not believe a word of it.
Well, if blindness is the problem under the surface, then when what is the solution? What is the solution to blindness?
3. Seeing the solution
You probably could guess it already, but the solution is sight. We need spiritual eyes to see the truth and beauty of the kingship of Jesus.
2 Corinthians 3:14-16, 18a,
14 [Speaking of those in Moses’ day] their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed… 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another…
And then, reading from Chapter 4 just a few verses after what I read a few moments ago, we read,
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants1 for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
What does Paul say? That turning to Jesus is like when God spoke at creation. In Genesis, God said let there be light. And there was light. And when God saves a person from their sin and their blindness, what is that like? It’s like God speaking into an individual’s heart and saying, “Let there be light.” That’s how salvation happens. God doesn’t save people because they are trying really hard to see, any more than Light was going around before creation saying, “Gee, I wish I could just start shining.” No. God calls things into existence (faith and sight), that do not exist. If this is how salvation works, we can have great hope that even people we know that seem the most distance from God, we can have hope for them that God would open their eyes.
The Bible has many ways to describe this experience. Sometimes it’s called being “born again” or “regeneration,” that is, where our hearts are re-born or re-created so that we see the beauty and love of Jesus in the Gospel.
I remember when this happened to me. I had heard about Jesus dying for my sins and rising again on the third day, and that through Jesus I could have my sins forgiven, and that now Jesus sits in heaven on a throne because he is a king. I had heard that. But to me – although I wouldn’t have said it like this because I knew it was offensive – it seemed like the gospel was a cliché. But all of that changed. No longer was it cliché. It was reality. The kingship of Jesus and his gospel were true and beautiful. And it’s like lights came on.
Has this happened for you? Have you seen in the person of Jesus Christ truth and beauty and salvation?
If you have seen it, good. Now, see it again. Hear it again. Ask God to make his grace amazing. Again. And again. Because this isn’t just a message for those at the beginning of the Christian life. Seeing the truth and beauty of Jesus Christ and the glory of the gospel is how we live the Christian life.
Look at 2 Corinthians 3:18 again, which we just read, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” How are we changed, Paul? How to saved people, people that have had the light of God shine on them, keep changing more and more like Jesus? They do it by “beholding the glory of the Lord,” the glory of King Jesus in the gospel. Beholding means seeing. Paul says, people are changed keeping their eyes on Jesus.
The gospel that says that Jesus was the king of the world, and though he was king, he took on the nature of a servant, and allowed these Roman soldiers to abuse him and to crucify him.
And none of them saw it. Well, at least none of these soldiers saw it yet. There was at least one soldier in the gospel of Mark that we know of who had his blindness taken away. There is one centurion that gets to see who Jesus really is, but we’ll talk about him in two weeks.
Church, keep looking to Jesus. If sin has clouded your vision, get rid of it. If you have become enamored with other things, look to Jesus a fresh.
At the start I told mentioned an article in the Washington Post about Joshua Bell. At one point, the author says this:
[The experiment] was all videotaped by a hidden camera. You can play the [time lapse] recording once or 15 times, and it never gets any easier to watch… The people scurry by in comical little hops and starts, cups of coffee in their hands, cellphones at their ears…
Even at this accelerated pace, though, the fiddler’s movements remain fluid and graceful; he seems so apart from his audience – unseen, unheard, otherworldly – that you find yourself thinking that he’s not really there. A ghost.
Only then do you see it: He is the one who is real. They are the ghosts.
That’s some interesting commentary. I think what the author means is that they needed eyes to see and ears to hear. And if they had them, if they could see and hear true beauty, they would become real. The kingship of Jesus is a true and a beautiful thing, but do you have eyes to see it, and a heart to love it?