Jesus’ Glory Hidden in His Stumbling and Falling: Mark 15:17-21

Is it not astonishing?  It is just as Jesus said it would be.  The soldiers mock Him.  They beat and scourge Him.  And to make sure Jesus’ humiliation is complete, they bow down to Him in mock worship.  

The angels, who love Jesus and have worshipped Him since their creation, do not intervene.  The Father Himself, who has declared Jesus to be the Son whom He loves and in whom He is well pleased, does not intervene.  For Jesus’ glory is fully hidden under bruises and blood, under spitting, shame, and abuse of every kind.

And now that Jesus’ humiliation is as low as it can get, they take Him out to crucify Him.  But not even that part of the journey can be uneventful.  Jesus has had no sleep and nothing at all to eat or drink since the Passover meal the night before.  The scourging has left Him famished and in deep thirst.  Under the blood of His wounds are the deep bruising from the beatings.  And now they tie onto His arms and shoulder the wooden cross beam for Him to carry to the place of execution.  But He cannot do it.  Jesus stumbles in exhaustion.  The One who spoke the mountains and oceans into being falls under the weight of the cross.

Again, we gasp!  Is there no one to help?  The angels do not help.  The Father does not intervene.  But what about those whom Jesus has helped?  Will not one of them say, “Here, let me carry the cross!”?  Where are the lepers whom Jesus healed?  Where are the blind and the deaf to whom Jesus gave sight and sound?  Is there not even one from the thousands Jesus fed who will come forward to help?  Where are the disciples?  Is there no one who will help?  

No.  There is no one.  And most astonishing of all is this: Jesus does not help Himself!  He was still the almighty Son of God.  He could have used the power that He had as God to lighten His load.  If Jesus had wanted to, He could have carried that cross with no more effort than it would take to carry a twig.

But look at Jesus there on the way of sorrows.  No one helps Him.  And He does nothing to help Himself to lighten His burden and ease His pain.  The soldiers kick, prod, and beat Jesus, trying to get Him to carry His cross.  But in exhaustion, Jesus will continue to stumble and fall down.

So the soldiers–not wanting this filthy business to occupy them any longer than needed–grab a muscular man from the crowd.  Simon, from the coast of Cyrene, is passing through town.  He clearly knows nothing of what is going on or why this crucifixion is happening.  It looks as if Simon cares little about the One suffering, stumbling, and falling.  The soldiers seize Simon.  Out of no regard for him, and still less for Jesus, they put the cross beam on Simon’s shoulder to speed up the procession on the way to the execution.

The soldiers don’t seize Simon because they pity Jesus.  No, earlier, the soldiers had already shown their contempt for Jesus.  They just want to get the job done.  The sooner the better!  Nor does anything suggest that Simon saw himself as a helper of Jesus in this sad spectacle.  He was drafted.  And even then, the help he gave is the help that hastened the journey to the place of Christ’s execution.

We can barely grasp how people could be so cruel and so heartless.  Not one of those whom Jesus helped or healed, not one of those who said they loved Him, did anything to help Jesus.  But what may leave us most puzzled of all is why Jesus did nothing to help Himself.

Would it have been a crime for Jesus to use His divine power to stand tall and then march triumphantly to the altar of the cross?  Would it have been so terrible to spite the devil and all those who hated Jesus with at least some show of dignity on His way to death?  

After all, Jesus had shown a glimmer of glory in Gethsemane when He was arrested.  There, Jesus had performed the miracle of healing Malchus, whose ear Peter had cut off with his sword.  Would it now be so terrible just to let another glimpse of that glory shine through, instead of this heart-rending scene of humiliation?

But no, no one helps Jesus in His torment.  And Jesus doesn’t want anyone to help Him.  Jesus does not even help Himself.  That’s how much He loves us.  That’s His glory.  Oh, it’s not a glory that we would consider glorious.  But it is a hidden glory that uses every moment to show His love for us.  He wants us to see and know the price He pays for our salvation is full price, not bargain-basement or knock-off cheap.  

Sin and suffering have been real since our Fall into sin.  And so Jesus, who now stands in the place of sinners, His suffering must also be real.  And so Jesus stumbles under the crushing weight of the cross.  He falls down on the pavement and stains it with his blood.  As Isaiah had prophesied: He goes as a quiet lamb to the slaughter.  He stumbles.  He falls.  He lets us see His glory in the suffering that earns our salvation.

For Jesus knows that we, too, will stumble.  We, too, will fall.  He wants the sight of His stumbling and falling to comfort us.  He wants the sight of it to let us know that He understands and knows our pain.  

The book of Hebrews puts it so well.  “We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses.  Instead, we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin.  He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since He Himself is subject to weakness” (Heb 4:15, 5:2).

For like Jesus, we had the power to avoid stumbling and falling.  We saw it earlier in Gethsemane.  If we had just watched with Him, filled our eyes with Him and our minds and hearts with His Word, we would not have stumbled.  We would not have fallen.  

However, unlike Jesus’ stumbling, our stumbling is from moral and spiritual weakness.  We should have used the help that Jesus gives us to prevent such stumbling and falling.  But we haven’t done that, not like we should have.  Instead, we’ve given in to our own weakness.  

And so, through our own fault, we stumble.  We fall.  The soldier of conscience may be nearby to kick us while we are down.  Others may cry out: “Look at the hypocrite!  He’s no better than we are.  His Christianity is all play-acting.  When it’s convenient, he puts on the show; and when it’s not, he turns it off.”  

Oh, how blessed we are when our conscience kicks us while we are down.  How blessed we are when others shame us because we have stumbled and fallen into hypocrisy.  For hiding down on the street, kicked and prodded by conscience, ridiculed and shamed by others who should expect better from us, we, at last, see Jesus.  

Jesus stumbled to bear the punishment for our stumbling.  To endure the eternal shame that we deserve because we all too easily fall, He fell.  Thinking of you and yearning for your salvation, He let himself be kicked.  And Jesus did it, so He could meet you there in the street of your shame and in the gutter of your guilt.

And from Jesus’ stumbling and falling, you now know that He understands your stumbling and loves you in spite of it.  Yes, Jesus loves you and raises you up again to begin your journey under the cross once more.  

With the water of your baptism, He washes you from the filth and the grime of your fall, even though no one washed Him from the filth and the grime of His fall.  With the wine of His blood, He refreshes your parched soul, even though no one offered Him so much as a drink of water when He was thirsting.  He feeds you with the bread of His body to renew your strength, even though no one even gave Him a crust of bread to quiet His hunger.  With His words of absolution, Jesus speaks His forgiveness to you, even though others only cursed and reviled Him.

Yes, Jesus willingly, eagerly comes to your side to pick you up and carry you when you stumble and fall, even though your stumbling is your own fault.  Is that not astonishing?  And is it not reason to love Him all the more as you follow Him in Lent?  

So let your heart and soul be filled with God’s grace that has always been there for you when you fall.  And then, maybe, just maybe, you will not stumble so often and fall so far.

And then, maybe, just maybe, you will even join those who, like you, have stumbled and fallen.  You will join them–not in their sin–but with Jesus in helping to raise them up.  You will seek your glory in loving service to those who, like you, have stumbled and fallen.  You will join them to do what Jesus wants to do–not belittle, not ridicule and abuse and kick them when they are down.  No, like Jesus, you will join them in love to help raise them up.  You will join them in forgiveness.  You will join them to help them bear the cross as Jesus has so often and so generously raised you up.

For we are on the way to Golgotha.  We are on the way to the triumphant cry of “It is finished!”  We are on the way to the victory of the empty tomb and the shout that resounds through the ages, the cry of “He is risen!”  

Oh, may those who have stumbled and fallen fill His victory procession.  May it be filled with those who were raised up, washed, and renewed by Jesus, who Himself stumbled and fell.  May it be filled with those whose sorrows we have shared, whose guilt we have forgiven, and whose crosses we have helped to carry out of love for Jesus, who carried His cross for us and our salvation.  Amen.