Summary: The cross should serve as a lesson that it is precisely at times when we or the church appear powerless that God’s power is most at work.
We come back to the cross. The King, our champion, hangs on the cross for our salvation and continues to endure the mockery of his persecutors. They mock him as a fraudulent king; keeping up the sport they now ridicule him for his lack of power. The man who supposedly possessed great power to save cannot even save himself.
27 They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left.
It is probable that these men were fellow insurrectionists with Barabbas. In verse 7 Mark identifies Barabbas as one in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The term translated thief or robber was also used for the insurrectionists. John identifies Barabbas with the same term in his gospel (cf 18:40), and the historian Josephus used the same term for the Zealots who were Jewish rebels. These fellow crucified victims were not petty thieves, but men who regarded themselves as soldiers for God’s kingdom fighting against the pagan oppressors, much in the same way as the Al Qaeda men regard themselves.
Now that Jesus is hanging on the cross, the mockery continues. As if they can’t be satisfied with his capture and physical punishment, his enemies are compelled to heap abuse upon him.
29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!”
Those who passed by would seem to be people traveling along the road to and from Jerusalem. The crosses would have been placed in a conspicuous location, again as a warning to others who would defy Rome. Jesus is not far off the road, but near one of the main thoroughfares. Those hurling the insults are obviously either the leaders who have taken part in the Sanhedrin trial or who have received the gossip of what went on. Maybe they include the false witnesses who accused Jesus of saying he would destroy the temple and rebuild it. How ludicrous such a statement seems now. This man hanging from the cross, gasping for breath and tormented with pain claimed to be powerful enough to destroy the temple? Ha! And you were also going to rebuild it in three days? Wow, you must really be a powerful man! Do something simple and hop off the cross. That shouldn’t be tough for a superman. Come on, let’s see what you can do.
6 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by men and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads:
8 “He trusts in the LORD;
let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him” (Psalm 22:6-8).
This mocking is good sport.
31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”
The religious leaders are overjoyed. Finally, after all the years of Jesus always getting in the last word to shame them, they now have their say. Where before their slander fell on deaf ears, such as accusing him of being demon possessed, now neither he nor his followers can contradict them. He saved others. He is the miracle-man who can overcome all obstacles. Isn’t he the one who could heal anyone? Deliver anyone from evil spirits? Isn’t he the big savior? What’s wrong? Why is he struggling? Why, are the nails too strong for him to break free? Doesn’t he have anything to say now? He made a supposed paralyze man walk. Surely getting free of a cross should be child’s play. Or maybe…remember how he forgave that man’s sins? Could it be his sins are not forgiven? He warned us of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Maybe he is the one who has blasphemed? Let this one who dares call himself the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down. Then we will believe.
Oh, those religious leaders! They really know how to milk a good joke, especially when they feel safe, as they finally do now. Finally, they are not having to react to yet another sensational miracle; finally, they are not fending off another sharp remark by Jesus about their hypocrisy. Finally, he is publicly shown to be a fraud, and they can have their way with him. Finally, life can get back to normal. But now is the time to savor their victory.
Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him. Now where did that come from? What would Jesus’ fellow victims have against him? I know John records in his gospel that one of the thieves actually defended Jesus, but it would not conflict with the facts that at the beginning of the crucifixion they both railed against him and one eventually coming under conviction. Dying will often lead a person to finally become honest with himself.