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At the Cross, part 2

08 May

I started going to Russia on ministry trips in the early 90’s. When I began these annual excursions, my children were quite young. On one occasion, my family was saying goodbye to me at the gate. (It was back when anyone could enter the terminal and go to the gate.) My son grabbed me around the neck and said, “Dad, don’t leave. Please don’t go.” His earnest plea was enough to break your heart.

If you take my son’s fervent appeal and multiply it by a factor of one million, you still do not come close to the anguish that Jesus felt on the cross when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). When Jesus took on the sins of the world, he was separated from his Father. At the cross, Jesus completes his mission and opens access to God (Mark 15:33-41).

Through his death on the cross, Jesus completes his mission by taking on the sins of the world. During the hours of 9 AM – 12 Noon, Jesus experienced tremendous suffering. In the midst of his pain, Jesus extends grace to those around him. Jesus forgave his persecutors—“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). He affirms the faith of the thief on the cross—“Today, you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus made provision for his widowed mother—“Woman, behold your son! … Behold your mother!” (John 19:26-27).

At 12 Noon, the world became dark and the darkness lasted for three hours (33). Whether the result of a solar eclipse, a sudden dust-laden storm, or thick clouds, it was a supernatural phenomenon. It was a cosmic sign of divine judgment and the mourning of heaven (Amos 8:9-10). It paralleled the ninth plague of darkness (Exodus 10:21-29) that preceded the Passover (Exodus 11:1-12:32).

The crucifixion came to a climax at 3 PM with Jesus’ anguished cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (34). It was the only prayer of Jesus where he did not address God as “Abba,” or “Father.” His cry expressed the truth that the one who knew no sin became sin in order for us to receive righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Some of the bystanders misunderstood Jesus’ words and thought he was summoning Elijah. There was a popular Jewish belief that Elijah came in times of distress to deliver those in trouble.

Someone ran to get something for Jesus to drink. It was a wine vinegar concoction, often diluted with egg and water, sort of the Gatorade of the day, and the preference of the poor. Whether it was an act of mercy or more mockery to strengthen Jesus so he could suffer longer is a question.

Jesus’ death was unlike any other crucified criminal. Most victims lapsed into a coma after hanging on the cross. But Jesus was in control to the very end. Like a runner breaking the tape at the finish line, Jesus gave a shout of triumph—“It is finished!” (John 19:30). He gave his life to God—“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46)—and breathed his last.

Through his death on the cross, Jesus opens access to God for all people. The curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom (38). There were two curtains in the temple. The outer curtain prevented Gentiles from entering the temple. The inner curtain kept all people except the high priest out of the presence of God. If the outer curtain was torn, it signified that Gentiles could worship God. If the inner curtain was torn, it meant that all people could enter God’s presence. I lean towards the latter interpretation since that is how the writer of Hebrews describes the effect (Hebrews 6:19-20; 9:6-14; 10:19-22).

In addition to the tearing of the temple curtain, there is also an earthquake and partial resurrection (Matthew 27:51-53). The events of the day all add up to convince the Roman Centurion in charge of the execution squad of the deity of Jesus—“Truly this man was the Son of God!” (39).

Mark closes his account by stating that some of Jesus’ female followers watched the proceedings from a distance. Mary Magdalene was one whom Jesus released from demonic possession. Mary, the mother of James and Joses was present, along with Salome, the mother of James and John, the sons of Zededee.

The cross is a magnet that draws men and women and children from every culture and race.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 8, 2016. It is part of a series in the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

 

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