In this study, we come to the death of Christ, which is a familiar topic to most of us because it is so central to the story of Jesus. However this familiarity sometimes works against us – we start to take things for granted, instead of taking them to heart. "What kind of death?" is this that we are going to look at? It is no ordinary death. Every part of Jesus’ death is out of the ordinary and we have to avoid making it ordinary so that we can fully understand it. Let's not come to Jesus' death in a flippant way. His death should be something we behold and treasure.
(A) Extraordinary Suffering: in his love, Jesus suffered and died for sinful man. (v.16-32)
Mark 15:16 picks up with Jesus being led into the palace, the governor's headquarters by the soldiers. Mark also tells us that they called a whole battalion to guard Him. Isn't that odd, with so much security for just this one man? They must be called for some other reason.
In verses 17-20, Mark details for us the various kinds of suffering that Jesus endured. Jesus suffered immensely both physically and mentally. The table below summarises the kind of suffering that Jesus went through.
|Soldier's actions||Physical suffering||Psychological suffering|
There are also 3 groups of people that mock Jesus as He made His way to the cross.
The first group were the passers by, who focused on the destruction of the temple, which He said in Jn 2:19. Jesus, as John explained to us, actually spoke of His body, and not in the sense that the people were using to accuse and mock Him (i.e. The literal sense). They used a half truth to insult Him.
Next, we also saw the chief priest and scribes mocking Jesus. They called Him the Christ, the anointed and chosen One. It was the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew "Messiah". These were people so blinded by their own unbelief that they were unable to see how He is fulfilling prophecy. They were the ones who should have known Scriptures the best, and should have known what was going on. Yet, they were also so self-centered and challenged God to convince them to do something they wanted to see. If He did, who is really God then? These verses in Mark show us the depth of their sins and unbelief.
Lastly, those who hung with him on the cross also reviled Him. Why would they, considering they are in the same condition and not much better? It shows us how poisonous the atmosphere was that even those that hung dying were also mocking Him. One of them does confess and seek forgiveness later though. But these 3 groups show us sin, sin in our world that also resides in us. Like them, we too reject Christ, and seek to worship ourselves instead.
Why is Jesus’ suffering recorded in the Bible? Why does it matter at all? A non-believer might look at the text and point out the all-encompassing nature of Jesus’ suffering as an intensifier for this part of the story, a fitting climax to Jesus’ life. It would evoke a sense of pity or sympathy or disgust from the reader, and would certainly get a reaction from anyone who reads it. Is that what Mark wanted? For the Christian, it is an imperative that we understand what the suffering of Christ really means. Everything that Christ suffered – the extreme physical pain and mental torture – all of it , and more, is what we deserve for our own sin. Everything Jesus went through fulfilled prophecy. Jesus also underwent every single human experience, and is the great High Priest for us. As Christians, it is imperative that we understand what the suffering of Christ really means. Everything He suffered is what we deserved for our own sins! The man with the scourged back, with raw flesh, was mocked and spat on, and hung dying on the cross. The pain that He endured was to be borne by us. We don't like to think of that, because we think that we are small sinners who commit the occasional mistakes, but the Bible is clear that we have all turned to our own way and rebelled against God. We were only deserving of death, but our judgment and what was all borne by God. In here too we see God's great love. There is a weight and worth to God's love. When we say that God loves us, it is real. He loves us so much, He died the death we should have died.
Does the suffering of Christ matter to you? It should, it should weigh heavily upon us because we deserved that suffering but Jesus bore it for us. What impression does this give you of God? That He would suffer so much for us? Who would you die for? This death is not some dramatic Hollywood-esque one. It is more and better. This is a God who love us more deeply than we can imagine.
(B) Extraordinary Death: in His power, Jesus' death brought salvation for sinful man. (v.33-41)
As Jesus hung on the cross, darkness covered the land from noon to 3pm ("from the sixth hour to the ninth hour", v.33). There are many reasons that people have come up with to explain this darkness -- eclipse, dust -- but these natural causes could not explain this darkness. This was a supernatural darkness. It is not exactly grief and mourning. We often see God portrayed as light, but in many cases, Darkness can also symbolize God's power and wrath. In Exodus, God's presence covers the mountain in a cloud, and represented with thunder and lightning. In some sense this is the situation here.
How does Jesus respond at the ninth hour? He calls out to God, using a term of intimacy -- "my God". Can you begin to imagine the torment and the pain that Jesus is going through right now? Jesus is part of the Trinity who had the perfect relationship from eternity past. This is the judgment and pain that Jesus bore, not for anyone else but for you and me.
Finally, Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last (v.36). At that point, the curtain was torn from top to bottom. This curtain in the temple separated the rest of the temple from the Holy of Holies, where God dwelt. This wasn't just any flimsy curtain. More importantly, this symbolized a way being made to God. This is why we can go to God, worship Him in the way that we do today! Previously, the people had to depend on the priesthood and sacrificial system, and no one could go to God.
The centurion who faced Jesus saw Him die, and acknowledged that Jesus was the Son of God (v.39). What was so special about this? Don't forget that this is a Roman official, who pledged allegiance to the Empire. This was also one that has seen many deaths before in his line of work. He would not be surprised by death on a cross, and no one would expect him to make such a statement. Yet, he confesses something really specific and makes a big claim too. He did not, not because he pieced things together to their logical conclusions, but it must have been that he was given a supernatural revelation and understanding.
There shows us something simple, but amazing -- there is great power in the death of Christ. Has your life been changed by the death of Christ? If you are someone who does not yet know Christ, would you take time to ask for Him to show you what His death means? Would you at least ask someone to help you understand what the death of Jesus means? For those of us that are Christians, we too, should take some time to reflect and ponder on Jesus' death. As Singaporeans, we remember the death of the late Lee Kuan Yew just a year ago. There were stories of Singaporeans queuing up for 8 hours just to walk by his coffin and to pay their respects because of his great work for the nation. This was for a leader of a nation that many did not know personally. What about Jesus? How much more should we reflect on His death for us? How more more does it change our lives?
(C) Extraordinary Burial: in his sovereignty, God orchestrated Jesus' burial to point to the hope for sinful man (v.42-47)
After Jesus dies, we are told that Joseph of Arimathea, a "respected member of the council" who was "looking for the kingdom of God" approached Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus (v.43). Mark added these extra details about Joseph, because this was a man of standing and was respected in society. He knew the circumstances surrounding Jesus' death, and hence, had to take courage to ask for His body and to be associated with Him. It is worth noting that Mark gives us specific names and details about people (e.g. Simon of Cyrene the father of Alexander and Rufus, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Joses) so that the early readers could verify his writings with witnesses.
We see God's wisdom and plans at work here. It is no coincidence that one of standing asked for Jesus' body. It probably would not have been possible if it was His disciples who asked. Pilate was surprised, because he did not expect Jesus to be dead already. Usually, they are left hanging to die for a few days. They would break the legs of the criminals to quicken their death. They certainly would not want them to be hanging there over the Passover. This means that Jesus' bones were not broken, a fulfillment of prophecy. It also shows us how Jesus was in control even at His death. He laid His life down as He said He would. The control and will of God can be seen through these verses! We needed Jesus to die, Joseph to have courage to approach Pilate, and Pilate to agree! Can you see God's hand at work?
Joseph was given the permission to remove His body (v.45), and Jesus was buried in a new tomb (v.46). New tombs were reserved for the rich and people of high standing. Finally, Jesus the King had treatment that He deserved. Joseph certainly wanted to accord Jesus the respect He deserved. Yet, he did not know what was going to follow after Good Friday. He merely acted in a way that he thought it was best. However, Joseph is playing a crucial part in God's plan. If Jesus was just thrown into a mass grave, his resurrection would not have been recognised.
In these verses, we read of how Jesus' death was tragic and heartbreaking. God forsook Jesus on the cross. But none of it was ever outside of God's plan. None of the suffering and death was out of His hand. Isa 53:10 tells us that "it was the will of the Lord to crush him". This should give us great confidence for the future, both near and far. At the cross, God's plan was at play! This was a fulfillment of the plan from Gen 3.God effected the plan through such gruesome scenes and unexpected ways. Everything that goes on in this world, right down to our own stories and our own personal struggles, are part of God's plans and we should trust God.
Sometimes we struggle with things, and we feel that it cannot be right and it cannot ever be alright. If we go back to the cross, we see that the greatest wrong, was made right by a God who was in control at every step of the way. If we have a God who is so sovereign, why are we so fearful and anxious for the future? Why do we chase so many things that are not God? In the coming days, many of us will be spending time in church on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. May reading these verses again cause us to least have a think about how we approach the death of Jesus. Let us not go into services assuming that we know everything there is to know about it. Even if we know the facts and the symbolism, may we truly let the Word of God sink deep into our hearts – may the sin that Jesus suffered for hang heavily in our minds, and the deep anguish of Jesus’ death weigh heavily on our hearts, and may it overflow in joy on Easter Sunday.