Crucifixion
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Mark

Crucifixion

Mark 15:16 -- 47

The events of the Crucifixion are familiar to all Christians. Indeed, the peril of the lesson is that the teacher repeats himself to the point of being dull – on the most important subject. This should not be. We begin by letting the Bible speak for itself.

16The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

21A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). 23Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

25It was the third hour when they crucified him. 26The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS. 27They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left.£ 29Those 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, 30come down from the cross and save yourself!”

31In 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! 32Let this Christ,£ this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

33At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?“—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”£

35When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

37With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

38The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and£ saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son£ of God!”

40Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

42It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 46So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.

Events before the Cross (Mark’s view)

Mark has selected certain events with which he portrays the Crucifixion. It is not my intention to provide a complete view of this event, but rather to look through Mark’s eyes, asking, “Why did he include that?”

Flogging

Mark begins with the flogging. It may surprise you, but the flogging is an act of mercy – and efficiency. A man simply nailed to the cross might take many days to die – days which would occupy soldiers to make sure the man wasn’t removed from the cross by friends. During those many days, the victim would suffer constantly. Flogging shortened the suffering.

What’s that to us? Perhaps in our own lives God has led us through suffering. We ask why; it just may be that this is the shortest path to God’s desire. By suffering Christ was fitted for God’s purpose; we should expect the same.

Mockery – the crown of thorns

Capital punishment in America has a rather antiseptic air about it. It is dignified, almost formal. This is the exception in history. Executions have usually been public affairs presented for the entertainment of the populace. The soldiers here are doing no more than they would have done with any other prisoner. They let loose the full venom of the human spirit.

Note, please, how our Lord endures it. In silence. It is his way of answering the mocker. It is a lesson for us, as well. We often want to answer a fool according to his folly. Our Lord here brings out the power of silence. Our silence signals the end of reasonable discussion and the beginning of mockery. It is very difficult to do, but in the end such silence speaks louder than any words.

Simon of Cyrene carries the cross

To understand this you need a little historical background. First, this procession with the victim carrying his cross (and the placard announcing his crime) was a feature of Roman justice. Justice? Yes indeed. If someone in the crowd knew of a reason that the man should not be crucified, he was commanded to speak up. In theory, at least, this prevented the execution of an innocent man.

Sometimes, however, the flogging was so severe that it meant the victim could not carry the cross. In this instance the Roman soldier used his authority. Part of being a Roman conquest was the fact that a soldier could compel someone to carry a burden for about a mile – taxation by sweat, so to speak. He could not compel a citizen to do this – but a conquered subject could be compelled. (This is the source of the statement about a man compelling you to go one mile, you go two). That’s what’s happening here.

Can you look at this instance and not see the point? We are the “Simon” of our time. The world looks at us and says, “Carry Jesus’ burden.” Indeed, that is our privilege. We are the body of Christ, and therefore we must carry his burdens. He carried the sins of the world with Him. We must at least be willing to carry the lesser burdens. It is surprising sometimes to see how many Christians are willing to do this – until it becomes inconvenient.

On the Cross

Mark’s selection of events on the Cross gives us these:

The placard

Isn’t it interesting that Pontius Pilate got it right? The other accounts tell us that the Jewish leaders argued with him about this placard. Mark simply records its existence. It is one of those fine details by which God exhibits his sovereignty.

Have you ever been “labeled?” Put in a pigeon hole by the way the world works? It can be very frustrating. Children in school often find this. One teacher writes down a negative comment on the “permanent record” (how we feared that when I was a child!) and from then on it becomes absolute truth – even if the child changes. In this instance the accusation is indeed a proud title.

But consider: do we confine God in our lives this way? Do we place a label on his shirt and say, “thus far – and no farther?”

Between two thieves

Have you ever been in a jail? A prison, perhaps? It is something with which my wife and I have become familiar. There is a certain hardness in the cruel clang of the doors. Jails are at the same time kept very clean – so that the air of scum confined will penetrate all the better. My wife, after her first trip to visit someone in prison, said “I want to go back to the hotel room, take off all my clothes and burn them, and take a shower.”

Jesus went through that same feeling. The feeling of being thrown together with the scum of the earth. The King of Kings endured that for us. Is it any wonder, then, that one of the tests for entry into the kingdom is whether or not we have visited those in prison? If he – who arranges all things – could go through this, which of us is too good to visit prisoners?

Mockery of the people

Ideas go in and out of fashion – which has nothing to do whatever with their truth. The mood of the crowd has turned against Jesus, and some of those who shouted “Hosanna” just a week ago are now mocking him.

It’s a lesson for us. One week things are going well, and we pat ourselves on the back for doing things right. Next week we are out of fashion – do we then blame ourselves? Or do we continue to do what is right, whether we are praised for it or blamed for it?

Mocked by the priests

In every generation there are those who are the “intellectual leaders.” It is amazing how each generation has two consistent ideas:

  • The previous generations, unenlightened by our wisdom, got it wrong, and
  • We got it right.

These priests had the entire Old Testament before them – and could not see the Christ when he came. But are we much better? There are those in the church who have “discovered” that homosexuality is not sin (a fact which escaped the notice of a hundred generations of Christians). Indeed, there are those in our own church who have “discovered” that the roles of husband and wife are interchangeable. These are the people who mock the old-fashioned sort who read the Bible to find truth, not their own opinions. Have we progressed?

Death

The cry of despair

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is one of those passages which gives theology a bad name. Let’s take it at face value: it is the cry of the one who had no sin yet became sin itself – so that we might appear sinless before God.

It is a horrible cry. Have you ever heard a small child crying out in terror for her mother? If you can hear the rising panic in the voice of a child like that, you have an echo of what has happened here. The one source of all good has been cut off; this is truly the cry of the hopeless. He went through that – for us.

The loud cry

We know from other Gospels that the cry was, “It is finished.” Mark does not give the words, only that it was a loud one. What can we learn from that? Certainly this: Jesus death was a voluntary one. He came for that purpose. A man who is dying a natural death (especially one being crucified) does not have a loud cry as his last word. No, it’s a feeble whisper. But Jesus dies as he must – willingly.

It brings up a question: He died for you, voluntarily. What do you do, voluntarily, for Him?

Reaction

There are four reactions observed in Mark’s Gospel:

Centurion

The centurion could hardly have been unaware of the struggle surrounding the death of Christ. He would know that this was another of what seemed an endless series of hagglings over the minutest of things. His reaction at first must have been one of a man carrying out an unpleasant (but all too familiar) task.

See the change: At the end, the centurion knows that Jesus must be the Son of God. Please note one thing: it is not the resurrection which changes the man’s mind. It is Christ’s death. The manner in which he died was that of God.

I wonder; do we ever think on that? Do we ever realize that Christ died like God? If God (in the flesh) dies this horrible death – and does it in such a way as to convince a hard nosed Army sergeant – what impact does it have on us?

The women

Of all the followers of Jesus, only the women remain to the end. They say nothing; they are just there. They see him die; they know he is dead. Then they have a task – embalming the body. It seems so hopeless, yet they are there.

How about us? Are we Christians only as long as everything is upbeat and cheerful? Or do we press on, doing what we can, even in the times of despair? It is likely enough that we will soon get an answer to that question.

Joseph of Arimathea

One of the enigmas of the New Testament is this man. See how he is emboldened by Christ’s death! Just at the point where things appear to be hopeless, he comes forward. We know from other Scriptures that he was a secret disciple. Secret, because he would lose his position in the Sanhedrin if he proclaimed it publicly. That doesn’t speak very well of the man, does it?

But now – when all appears truly hopeless – he shows himself to be devoted. He does something that the world would say is foolish. Perhaps he is trying to atone for the cowardice of secret discipleship. One thing is certain: the death of Christ changed Joseph radically.

How about us? Does his death – his sacrifice – change us? If not, why not?

The curtain

There is one final witness. It is the curtain in the Temple that hides the Holy of Holies. It is torn – starting at the top. The meaning is clear: God himself has torn it, opening up the way for all who believe to have direct access to him.

That rip in the cloth – which changes our access to God – was very costly. The price was willingly paid so that you and I might have eternal life. I leave you with one last question: do our lives show it?

“His shame took away our shame

His bonds made us free

By the thorny crown of His head we have obtained the crown of the Kingdom

By His wounds we are healed”

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