THE CROSS

Mark 15:16 - 47

 

The scene was Jerusalem. It was the day of the preparation of the Passover. On this evening, the Passover meal would be eaten in thousands of homes throughout Jerusalem and Judea.

Within the temple, the high priest is preparing to officiate in the slaughter of thousands of lambs. The stones of the temple will run red with the blood of countless lambs.

Meanwhile, merely a couple of hundred yards away, another Lamb is being prepared for the slaughter. This is the ultimate sacrificial Lamb. This is the Lamb of God.

 

1. THE CROSS COMPELLS.

After they had mocked Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him.

They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross. (Mark 15:20-21).

His name was Simon. It was a common Jewish name and this man was only one among thousands of pilrgims who had come to observe in the Passover. He is known as Simon of Cyrene. Cyrene was located in modern Libya on the plateau between Benghazi and Tobruk. Lying 17 miles inland from the Mediterranean, Cyrene was a Greek city, having also a large Jewish population.

Simon was a Jew living in Cyrene. But on this day, he had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. And on his way, he was conscripted into service to carry the cross of this condemned Galilean.

This was the domain of Rome. And any man might be impressed into the service of a Roman soldier at any time. It did not matter that Simon was on his way to celebrate the holy feast of Passover. His inconvenience was inconsequential to Rome. He was here by compulsion.

The cross has a way of doing that. It bursts unexpectedly into our lives. It isnít as though most of us spent our lives looking for God. I love the way C. S. Lewis described his conversion: "I was looking for God the way a mouse looks for a cat." For many of us, the cross comes unexpecctedly. But when it comes, there is something about it that is compelling.

In Simonís case, that compulsion was initially from the outside in. It was an external compulsion.

I imagine that Simon would have been angry at the Romans that forced him to carry the cross. And he might have even been angry at this stumbling Galilean whose crimes now interfered with his Passover celebration.

But that anger was replaced by something else. And even when his journey to Golgotha was completed, Simon may have tarried. No longer compelled by the Roman guard, there was now an inner compulsion which made him, not only a continuing spectator, but an enduring participant in the cross.

How do I know this? Because Mark adds that Simon was the father of Rufus and Alexander. Why would he add this? There is no reason - unless Rufus and Alexander were known to those for whom Mark was writing his Gospel account.

You see, Simonís life was changed that day. What began as an inconvenient detour became his salvation. What started as an irritating chore forced upon him by a rude soldier became his entrance into eternal life.

When we read of the gospel first being taken to Greeks in the city of Antioch, we read that the leaders of that church were Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene (Acts 13:1).

And when Paul writes his epistle to the Romans, he instructs the church there to "greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord" (Romans 16:13).

This tells me something about Simon. He was a bystander, but he became a participant, not only with his hands, but with his heart. He came for the cross, but he stayed for the crown. He was forced to bear the cross, only to find that it was to be the bearer of his own sins. He had come for his own purposes. He was stopped by some Roman soldiers and the next thing he knew, he was carrying a cross for which he had never asked.

We are like that. We were once doing our own thing. And then we were confronted with the person of Jesus. Before we knew it, we had become participants in His cross. And you life has never been the same.

There is a lesson here. It is that you need to be aware of the unexpected nature of such encounters.

There was an old mountain man who was as mean as could be. He was hated by everyone. He died and in those days they did not embalm the body. They took him and they put him into a wooden casket and his family gathered together to act as pallbearers. They had lifted the casket to their shoulders and were coming out of the house to carry the casket to the cemetery when the bumped the casket into the gatepost.

The shock of the gatepost was enough to revive the old man and he sat up in the casket and began cursing at everyone present.

He lived for another year and when he finally died, the entire scene was repeated once again. Once again, the pallbearers came and as they were carrying the casket down the steps and past the gate, the old manís poor, bereaved widow called out, "Watch for the gateposts!"

Are there any gateposts in your life? They are those unexpected occurrences which come upon you and change your entire life. They arenít always pleasant. But if you look carefully, you will usually find that they are in the shape of a cross.

 

2. THE CROSS CONTRASTS.

And they crucified Him, and divided up His garments among themselves, casting lots for them to decide what each man should take. (Mark 15:22-24).

Such a contrast!

Jesus

Soldiers

The spotless Son of God

A gang of profane soldiers

He is paying for the sins of the world

They are gambling over their victimís clothes

He has come to GIVE all that He has

They are only interested in what they can TAKE.

He manifests the infinite love of God for the world.

They manifest apathy - it is not that they HATE Jesus, they simply donít care.

It seems scandalous that the Roman soldiers should be shooting craps at the base of the cross where our Lord was crucified. The truth is that they had no idea of the significance of what was going on in their midst.

It is like the sailor who was present at Pearl Harbor. As he saw the Japanese planes begin their bombing attack, he exclaimed, "I didnít even know that they were mad about."

People are like that today. They go through their whole lives and they donít even think about life and death and the life hereafter. It isnít that they do not believe. It is that they donít even think about it.

The opposite of love is not hate - it is apathy. But you cannot come to the cross and remain apathetic. It does not allow that option. Oh, you might for a time - long enough to roll a dice - but spend any time in the shadow of the cross and you will have to come to a decision.

3. THE CROSS CERTIFIES.

The inscription of the charge against Him read, "The King of the Jews." (Mark 14:26).

It was customary to write the name of the criminal and the nature of his crimes for which he was being punished upon a white tablet. This certificate would then be taken and nailed to his cross.

The inscription of Jesus was unique. It had never before been used. It declared that the One who hung upon this cross was a king.

Who was responsible for this inscription? Mark does not tell us. Johnís gospel states that it was written by Pilate, the Roman procurator who had sentences Jesus to death (John 19:19-22).

Pilate did not believe the claims of Jesus. He was not particularly interested in whether He was innocent or not. He was more interested in his own political position. He was more interested in keeping the peace with the Jews. He was more interested in not making waves. And yet, he wrote this inscription.

Why? I think that it was meant as a mockery against the Jews. For a long time, Pilate had been antagonistic to the Jews. They had already sent petitions to Rome complaining of his rule and asking for his removal. They hated him and he hated them. So when political pressure forced him to have Jesus crucified, he sought his petty revenge in the posting of this inscription. By this he indicated that he was crucifying the king of the Jews. It was an open taunt. It was meant as an insult.

But God used it to glorify His Son. Golgotha was located near the northern gate to the city. Thousands of Jews were coming to the city to celebrate the Passover. Every Jew that passed along that road saw the inscription and read the words. They testified to the kingship of Jesus.

That is not the only certificate which was nailed to the cross of Jesus that day. There was another certificate, unseen by human eyes.

And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14).

This other certificate was our certificate of debt. It consisted of all our crimes. It pronounced our guilt. It declared that we were worthy of death. It condemned us.

This certificate was also nailed to His cross. It consisted of the crimes for which Jesus was punished. He took that punishment in our place. He suffered the penalty of death instead of us.

 

4. THE CROSS BRINGS CRITICISM.

Those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, "Ha! You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save Yourself, and come down from the cross!"

In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes, were mocking Him among themselves and saying, "He saved others; He cannot save Himself.

"Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!" Those who were crucified with Him were also insulting Him.(Mark 15:29-32).

Notice all of the different groups which joined into the mockery of Jesus.

    • Those who were passing by.
    • The chief priests and the scribes.
    • Those who were crucified with Him.

It is as though the entire world rose up against Him to insult Him and to mock Him. I can understand the chief priests and the scribes doing this. But some of those who taunted Jesus had nothing to do with the dayís proceedings. Some were merely "passing by." And if anyone had been able to empathize with His sufferings, it should have been the two robbers who were nailed beside Him. But they also taunted Him.

Indeed, there is something almost supernatural about the venomous hatred that people felt for Jesus upon this day. It is as though Satan filled the heart of anyone and everyone to heap up scorn upon scorn on the Son of God.

Notice the taunts.

a. "He saved others; He cannot save Himself."

This was a true statement. If He was to save others, then He could not save Himself.

b. "Come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!"

It is specifically because Jesus did NOT come down from the cross that we believe in Him. The world says, "Let us see and then we will believe." God says, "Believe and then you will see."

 

5. THE CROSS QUESTIONS.

When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour. (Mark 15:33).

At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" which is translated, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Mark 15:33-34).

The ninth hour would have corresponded to about 3:00 p.m. This was considered to be the early evening. It was at this time of the day that the evening sacrifices began in the Temple.

We saw in verses 29-32 that Jesus was rejected by the world. Now we see Him rejected by God. What saved us? Was it the physical pain and agony that Jesus suffered upon the cross? No. The other two robbers suffered from that same physical torture. What saved us? It was the forsaking from the Father. It was when the Father turned His back on the Son and the Son was forsaken by the Father. It was when God reckoned as guilty the One who was sinless.

All of us like sheep have gone astray,

Each of us has turned to his own way;

But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. (Isaiah 53:6).

Our iniquity fell upon Him. He was made a curse for us. He who was from the beginning and who was in the beginning with God was not cut off from the presence of God.

"My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" This was a questioning cry of loneliness. The two who have been one are now two. For a moment in time, the Father is Sonless and the Son is Fatherless. The Trinity is dismantled. The unity is dissolved.

It is more than Jesus can take. He has withstood the beatings and the mock trials. He was silent as He was struck about the face and scourged. No scream came forth as the nails pierced his skin. But now something happens which evokes an agonizing shriek. "Why?" begs the pitiful wail.

As we come to the cross, we must ask the same question. WHY? Why did you do it, Lord? What was it that motivated you to go through such suffereing on my behalf? The only answer is the LOVE of God (John 3:16). But that only takes the question to the next level - why did God love?

When Paula and I were first married, she used to ask my, "Why do you love me?" And I would say what men usually say, "I donít know." And in those early years, she did not much care for that answer. But in recent years that has changed. She asks me now, and I still say, "I donít know" - but I sometimes add, "There is just something unreasonable about my love for you." That is what God tells us. We come to the CROSS. And we look at the suffering Savior. And we ask, "Why?" And He says, "Because I love you.?" And we ask, "But why do you love me?" And He replies, "There is just something unreasonable about My love."

 

6. THE CROSS CONVINCES.

And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

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!" (Mark 15:38-39).

In the temple was a veil. It was made of blue and purple and scarlet linen. Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us that it was a great double veil, each measuring 60 feet high and 30 feet wide and as thick as a manís hand. There was an opening at one end which allowed you to walk between the veils and come out the other end in the Holy of Holies. This was the innermost sanctum. It was the place where no Jew was permitted to go. Not even the priests were permitted to come here. Only the high priest and only once a year was entrance into this place permitted. On Yom Kippur the high priest would enter beyond the veil and offer an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the nation.

It used to be that the Ark of the Covenant sat here. But the Ark of the Covenant had been taken by Nebuchadnezzar 600 years earlier and had never returned. Now there was only the place where the Ark once stood. Just a barren rock covered with generations of dried blood.

The Holy of Holies signified the presence of God. The veil was there to keep men out. They could not come into the presence of God. Their sins separated them from the holiness of God. Their sins demanded a sacrifice. A sacrifice had been offered for the nation each year for the past six hundred years. Six hundred years of lambs being slain. Six hundred years of being shut off from the presence of God. Six hundred years of God being hidden behind a veil.

At the very moment that Christ died, something spectacular took place in the Temple. It was the ninth hour. It was the time of the evening sacrifices. The Passover lambs had been slain. And a final sacrifice was made. Blood was sprinkled once again on the altar. And the high priest himself went into the temple to offer incense upon the Altar of Incense.

Suddenly there is a commotion. It comes from inside the Temple. The great veil which separates the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies is torn from top to bottom, signifying that the way has been made for men to enter into the presence of God. No more sacrifices. No more blood. No more veils.

There was one who saw these things on that day and who came to an astounding conclusion. He was not one of the priests or scribes. He was not a rabbi. He was not even Jewish.

He was the Roman centurion who had been in charge of the crucifixion detail. He would have been present at the trial under Pilate. He had ordered the cross to be carried, the nails to be driven, the clothing to be divided.

Through it all, he has watched this simple Galilean carpenter. And now he comes to an astounding conclusion: "Truly this man was the Son of God!" What made him say this? Was it the sun turning black? Was it the tearing of the veil? Was it the love and forgiveness reflected in the bruised and bloody face? I donít know.

But I do know that, for a brief moment and perhaps for a lot longer, this pagan centurion saw more spiritual truth than all of the theological experts in Jerusalem. 

 

THE REST OF THE STORY

When evening had already come, because it was the preparation day, that is, the day before the Sabbath,

Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God; and he gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. (Mark 15:42-43).

Joseph was a secret disciple. He had been quiet all through the trials of Jesus. That might not have been Josephís fault. He might not have been called to the trial - remember that it was held in secret. But Johnís gospel tells us that Joseph was a secret disciple "for fear of the Jews" (John 19:38). He had never stood up for Jesus while He was alive. But now that He is dead, Joseph determines to perform a deed of service. He goes and he gets permission to take the body of Jesus.

Joseph bought a linen cloth, took Him down, wrapped Him in the linen cloth and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. (Mark 15:47).

Caves were often used as tombs. But this was no mere cave. This tomb had been hewn out in the rock. It was more elaborate than a mere cave.

Joseph already owned the tomb. He had prepared it for his own eventual death. But he uses it to bury the body of Jesus.

Did you ever stop to consider that Joseph got his tomb back? Jesus did not stay there. He arose from the dead. The tomb was merely temporary for Him. And because He rose, we will also rise. And the tomb will not be permanent for us, either.

You see, the story is not over. When Jesus gave His instructions for the obervance of the Lordís Supper, it was in view of His ressurection and eventual return. He said, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this wine, you show the Lordís death UNTIL HE COMES."

And so, as we partake of His Supper, we do not merely do this as a memorial of one who is now dead, but as a COMMUNING with One who is ALIVE.


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