November 26, 2017
Most of us can remember from our high school speech class or debate club selecting an issue and then being assigned to argue the for or against position. Perennial favorites, even since I was in school a very long time ago included, and still include, abortion, gun control, legalized marijuana and capital punishment. Most of us can remember the arguments for each of those.
Capital punishment refers to the government-sanctioned death of people who commit certain crimes – called capital crimes, like murder or genocide, etc. Then, the arguments revolved around the morality of the action, but today, the argument seems to be the humaneness of the action. That is, is it possible to put someone to death humanely? Which is why, interestingly, the guillotine was invented – it was thought more humane since death was instantaneous. In our country, execution has ranged from hanging to firing squad to electrocution to gas chamber to lethal injection. Again, along a continuum hoping to become more humane. Now, I’m not arguing the merits or demerits of the practice, simply observing the issue. What I find interesting is when we inflict the death penalty, we want to do so as humanely and painlessly as possible.
You see, last week, we began talking about the death of Jesus Christ. We looked closely at the kind of capital punishment used – the agonizing, excruciating pain associated with crucifixion. In fact, we saw that was the very reason the Romans used crucifixion – to inflict as much pain as possible before death came. As a result, it was against the law for Romans citizens to be crucified. It was normally reserved for the lowest classes and the worst criminals. Jesus endured that kind of death, so we explored the physical suffering of the cross last week.
But it wasn’t just the pain, we also looked at the shame of the cross. That shame came primarily through man’s commentary on the crucifixion of Christ. We saw, specifically, four groups of people give their comments about the cross of Christ:
The Romans began the whole thing by scourging Jesus. Then, they mocked Him as the supposed King of the Jews, giving Him the various accoutrements of royalty – a robe, a crown, and a scepter. Of course, the robe was nothing more than a soldier’s tunic; the crown, a brutal crown of thorns; the royal scepter, nothing more than a reed. They continued to display their blasphemous contempt for Jesus, bowing before Him, proclaiming, “Hail, King of the Jews,” rising to spit on Him and hit Him on the head with the reed, driving the thorns deeper into His brow. Of course, the irony was, Jesus really was the King of the Jews. More than that, He was King of kings – they had mocked and abused their own King, and didn’t even know it. They continued their mockery by giving Him wine too bitter to drink, stripping and nailing Him to a cross. They completed their abuse by gambling for His clothing.
The second group to give their commentary on the cross of Christ were those passing by. Crucifixion was used both as an instrument of cruel, inhumane, brutal execution as well as an example, so typically crosses were erected on thoroughfares for all to see. The city of Jerusalem was teeming with people for Passover week – there would have been many who passed by that day. Aware of who Jesus claimed to be, many hurled their abuse at Him, wagging their heads in contempt and disgust. “Ha! You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross.” The irony was the Temple was being destroyed before their very eyes – and it would be raised again in three days. And the ultimate irony was He stayed on the cross – He chose not to save Himself, but to save others; giving His life as a ransom for many.
The third group of people to give their thoughts on the cross was the Sanhedrin – the chief priests, the scribes, the elders. They all made a point to visit Jesus that Friday, but they didn’t even have the decency to speak directly to Him. As He hung in cruel agony, they simply mocked, speaking loudly enough for Jesus to hear as they spoke to one another. “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, and we will see and believe!” The irony was, He did save others through His ministry, healing, casting out demons, raising the dead, and again, He could have saved Himself. But He was in the process of providing eternal salvation for those who would believe in Him – not because He came down from the cross – but because He stayed.
The final group to lend commentary on the cross was the two who were crucified with Him. They insulted Jesus with the same words, “If you are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” The irony is, He was the Christ. And He did save one of them that day, saying, “Today, you will be with Me in paradise.”
If you only listened to the commentary of the groups of people gathered around the cross that first Good Friday, you wouldn’t be impressed. You would be tempted to dismiss Jesus of Nazareth as yet another fraud – another would-be revolutionary, another would-be Christ, whose life and dreams ended in ignominy and shame, while all His followers fled. You, too, would have walked away, shaking your head in contempt and unbelief.
Fortunately, these were not the only commentaries about the cross that day. There were other statements which exalted the event, and pointed clearly to the effects of the cross. We read about it in our text today, Mark 15:33-39, as we arrive at the death of Jesus.
Last week, we looked at what people thought of the cross – today, in a sense, we see what God thought of it. We arrive this morning and over the next three weeks at the end of our two year journey. Last week, we saw Him nailed to the cross – this week, we’ll see Him die. Last week, we looked at the pain and shame of the cross, to include the commentary of those who put Him there. This week, we’ll look at the glory of the cross – as we look at the divine commentary on the cross. Our outline will go like this:
- The Miracle of Darkness (33)
- The Cries of Christ (34-37)
- The Miracle of the Veil (38)
- The Cry of the Centurion (39)
The first divine statement on the cross came through supernatural darkness – “When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour.” That is, it was dark from noon until three in the afternoon.
We often think of the miracles that accompanied the birth of Jesus, but we don’t often think of the miracles that accompanied His death. When Jesus was born, there was a supernatural light that shone around the shepherds in the field – a magnificent display of the glory of God. Later, a brilliant star would lead the magi to the place where Jesus lay. He was, after all, the light of the world. But here there was not light, but darkness, as the light of the world was put to death.
You remember Mark said Jesus was crucified around 9:00 in the morning, meaning He was on the cross for about six hours. As we come to our text today, He’s already been on the cross for three hours. About noon, darkness covered the land, literally, the earth. Various attempts have been made to explain the darkness. Some have suggested it was an eclipse. Two big problems – first, Passover happens at a full moon, and there can’t be an eclipse during full moon. Second, an eclipse doesn’t last for three hours. Others have suggested it was a massive sandstorm, but there’s no mention of that in the text. All three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, simply state darkness covered the land. It was obviously a supernatural event – but what was it meant to convey?
Many suggest it was a symbol of divine displeasure, as when darkness covered the land in the ninth plague in Egypt. As such, it is seen as the continued judgment of God against Israel for the rejection of their Messiah, as the later tearing of the curtain will indicate – that is, God is beginning, even at the cross, to bring judgment on Israel and its Temple, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. All that is possible, even likely.
But I believe further it was during those hours of darkness the Son of God took the sin of the world upon Himself. Paul said, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us.” Think of that – the pure, sinless light of the world became sin – darkness, for us. And creation displayed it visibly. Peter said, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross.” Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us – for it is written, ‘CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE.’” The wrath of God against sin was poured out in judgment on His Son. This darkness displayed both tragedy in the extreme suffering of Christ, and judgment against the sin of the world. It has also been suggested the darkness veiled the unspeakable anguish of the Son of God while He was bearing the punishment for our sins. The blackness spoke of our evil sin and the cost to purchase our redemption.
But something else happened during that darkness, which brings us to the Cries of Christ in verses 34-37. Most of you are aware Jesus said seven things from the cross – we call them the seven sayings of the cross. Three of them took place before the darkness came. As they first crucified Him, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Later, Paul would say, “if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” Christ prayed for their forgiveness, even as they drove the nails into His hands and feet, and raised Him to be crucified.
Later, He said to John and His mother, Mary, as they were standing at the cross, “Woman, behold your son,” and to John, “Behold, your mother.” By those statements, He was entrusting the future care of His mother to His beloved disciple. Still later, He said to the repentant insurrectionist who was crucified with Him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” It was at that point, Luke tells us, darkness came over the land. And for three hours, there seems to have been relative silence as Jesus bore the sin of the world.
But Jesus broke the silence with a loud cry, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani.” The words are Aramaic, and Mark gives us the translation, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”, a quote from Psalm 22. The bystanders thought He was crying out for Elijah to come help Him. You see, II Kings 2 tells us Elijah never really died – He was taken up to heaven by a whirlwind. By this time, legend had arisen Elijah would come to the aid of the righteous who were suffering unjustly. So, while one bystander offered Jesus some sour wine to drink, the rest of them said, “Let’s see whether Elijah will come to take Him down.” In other words, let’s see if He’s really who He says He is – let’s see if He really is righteous, suffering unjustly. I find that amazing – even through the supernatural darkness surrounding them, they held to their hardened unbelief and mockery.
What was this cry, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Jesus was bearing the sin of the world. He had become sin; He had become a curse for us. Couple those truths with Habakkuk 1:13, which says, “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, And You can not look on wickedness with favor.” Most feel, and I agree, that while Jesus became sin, bearing our sin, He was abandoned by the Father. God the Father, as it were, turned His back on His own Son. There was a separation in the Trinity, never experienced before, never to be experienced again. This is the only time Jesus did not address God as Father, but simply, My God. It expresses, to some degree, the depth of separation Jesus felt.
How did this separation take place – what exactly did it mean? I don’t know – it’s a mystery. In the secret of divine sovereignty, in ways I can’t understand, God the Son was separated from God the Father for this brief time while the wrath of God was poured out on sin. God, in some way, forsook His Son as Jesus became our substitute – the sin bearer. Again, we come face to face with the horror of sin and the cost of our salvation. One author said it this way:
“Rejected and scorned by Israel, sacrificed as a political pawn by Rome, denied and abandoned by his own followers, Jesus is wholly forsaken and exposed to the horror of humanity’s sin. Its horror is so total that in his dying breath he senses his separation from God.” (Edwards, Pillar)
Can I suggest another thought as well. When we think of the cross – specifically, this cry on the cross – I have this mental image of Jesus on earth, doing all the work. He’s bearing the sin of the world. And in heaven – a long way away – the Father is watching, maybe even with arms folded. And when the going gets really tough, the Father turns His back on Jesus – He can’t bear to look. Can I suggest that while we hear the words of Christ on the cross, and we hear His agony – God the Father experienced the same pain. Remember, we are talking about the Trinity. They are One. We’re not talking about three gods, but one. They had forever enjoyed fellowship and relationship. But now, even if for just a moment, they experienced a separation. We should not see the Father as distant, with arms folded, back to His Son. We should see Him as painfully experiencing the same grief as His Son. And I don’t know how to fit the Holy Spirit in to all that. I believe there was great grief and suffering on the part of the Trinity – greater, perhaps, than ever before experienced – when God purchased our redemption.
Of the seven sayings of Jesus from the cross, Mark only records this one. But in verse 37, he says there was another. We know from the other gospels Jesus said three more things:
At one point, in John, He said, “I am thirsty.” Perhaps it was right after verse 35 in our text, right after He cried out to God, because Mark tells us someone gave Him some sour wine to drink. There were two other sayings – either one or both could be the one to which Mark refers. John tells us, after drinking the sour wine, He cried out, “It is finished.” Meaning, the work of redemption – the bearing of the sins of humanity was completed. And so, Luke tells us Jesus then said, “Father, into your hands I commit My spirit.” And He bowed His head, and yielded up His spirit. Meaning, He died. It all comes to this – we arrive at the death of Christ.
Will you think about that. We understand the wages of sin is death. And we also know Jesus never sinned. But in bearing our sin, He incurred the penalty of sin, and died. Notice, even in recording His death, Matthew and Luke indicate it was a voluntary act on Jesus’ part – He yielded up His spirit. God, in the flesh, died willingly for us – no one took His life – He laid it down. He gave His life as a ransom for many.
Which brings us to another significant miracle that happened at the death of Christ. There were several, Mark records just one more. It’s found in verse 38. As many of you know, the Temple in Jerusalem was the most holy of all sights. Even today, orthodox Jews continue to pray at the only remaining remnant of the Temple – the Wailing Wall. There were a series of courts within the Temple complex – progressing from the court of the Gentiles, through the court of women, through the court of Israel – which was only for Jewish men – through the court of the priests. All that before you ever got to the Temple itself. Within the Temple, you came first to the Holy Place, which contained the table of showbread and the lampstand. Beyond that was the Most Holy Place – where the ark of the covenant sat. The ark was a golden box, within which resided the law of Moses on tablets of stone. The lid to the box was the mercy seat. On the lid were two cherubim. And above the mercy seat, between the cherubim, God’s presence dwelt.
Certainly, God was omnipresent, but there was a sense in which He dwelt with His people, the people of Israel, in a special way, within the Holy of Holies. Now, this Most Holy Place was off limits to everyone. Once a year, on the day of atonement, the high priest went into the Holy of Holies with blood from a sacrifice to sprinkle it on the mercy seat. It was the day of atonement, when the sprinkling of the blood atoned for sins committed. Think of it – the blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat as a barrier between God and the Law – the Law which had been broken.
Now know this, the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin. They would simply roll the sin forward another year, another year, another year – until they were finally rolled on Christ, who died, once, for all. Listen to these verses in Hebrews:
Hebrews 7:26-27, For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.
Hebrews 9:11-12, But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.
Before this, the whole setup at the Temple spoke of separation. You can’t get to God. He is separate – He is within the Holy of Holies – you are on the outside looking in. There is very limited access, and you don’t have it. And God’s the one who designed it that way. Under the Old Covenant, we needed priests to intercede for us – and they did it imperfectly, because they themselves were sinners.
Again, the setup screamed, no access. You can’t come this way. The veil of the Temple was a huge curtain that hung between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. Remember, only the priests could even enter the court of Priests, and only a few priests, on their assigned days, could enter the Holy Place. And only the High Priest, once a year, could enter the Most Holy Place where God was. But, the moment Jesus died, the veil of the Temple, was ripped in two, from top to bottom, meaning completely, from heaven to earth. There was a gasp. The people couldn’t see it – but they certainly heard about it. And the priests serving in the Holy Place got a glimpse of the Most Holy Place they had never seen before. Which I think is why later in Acts we read many priests became obedient to the faith. They understood the significance.
What does all that communicate? So very much. With the death of Christ, the Old Covenant, with all its regulations; its prescribed worship; its precise ways to approach God, was done away with. No longer did the High Priest need to enter the Holy Place to make atonement for sin, because the High Priest had entered to make atonement – and it only needed to be done once. Now, the way to God has been opened for us – the veil torn in two – there is access, not only for the high priest, but for all who believe. And, there is only one mediator between God and man – the man Christ Jesus. As a result, we have all become believer-priests – you can approach God on your own. You don’t need me – you don’t need anyone else except Jesus. Listen to Hebrews again:
10:19-22, Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Do you see? We can actually enter into the presence of God – made possible by the death of Christ. The veil separating us from God, shouting, no access, has been destroyed. Another interesting thought – the word torn in verse 38 is used one other time in Mark – in chapter 1, at Jesus’ baptism when the heavens were opened – split apart – torn – and the voice of the Father said, this is my beloved Son. This time, the curtain is torn, indicating we have access to heaven, and this time the centurion says, this is truly God’s Son.
We’re almost done, but think about this with me. Jesus, the light of the world, embraced darkness, the darkness of sin, so that we could embrace light. Ephesians 5:8 says, “for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord;…” He was light, we were darkness. He embraced our darkness so we could embrace His light. Jesus said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me,” signifying the separation from the Father He endured on the cross. He embraced separation so we could be brought near. Ephesians 2:12-13 says, “remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
Further, Jesus embraced death so we could embrace life. In John 11:25-26, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.”
Last week we talked about the pain, brutality and shame of the cross. We looked at the actual event, and saw men’s wicked commentary on the cross. This week, we’ve looked at the glory of the cross, God’s glorious commentary on the cross, and the results of the cross. Which brings us to our last point, and conclusion, The Cry of the Centurion in verse 39. “When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’”
This is an amazing declaration. When he saw God’s commentary on the cross, he had the only reasonable response, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Lots of discussion as to whether he was actually confessing faith in Jesus. That’s beside the point. The point is, once you understand the facts, who Jesus was and it was our sin which crucified Jesus – we are just as guilty as the ones who drove the nails – once you know the facts, it can only cause you to fall on your face and say, “Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of the world.”
An amazing declaration, and the point of Mark’s gospel. Mark began his book with a title, The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Then, in chapter 1, God Himself declared Jesus to be His beloved Son at His baptism. He said it again at the transfiguration in chapter 9. Demons had declared His divine sonship through the book, starting in chapter 1. Jesus Himself declared it in chapter 14 when questioned by Caiaphas, who asked Jesus, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” To which Jesus responded, I am.”
But here in chapter 15, this centurion was the first human being to declare the divine sonship of Jesus. A Gentile soldier who had overseen His crucifixion. You see, not only had the way been cleared for access to the Father for the Jews, but also for Gentiles – for all who would believe.
Here’s my question – have you said that? Have you ever fallen on your knees and confessed Jesus to be the Son of God? Have you ever confessed your sin which drove the nails? Have you ever asked to be brought out of darkness into light. Have you ever realized you were separated from God, and asked to be brought near, to be given life through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ? That is the gospel.