Author Archives: wheelsms
It seems like you can find crosses almost anywhere. You can find a cross around someone’s neck or on a lapel pin. Crosses serve as works of art—paintings, sculpture, plaques. Crosses serve as inspiration pieces, such as the cross found in the wreckage after 9/11. They can also become centers of controversy, as the 9/11 cross later became.
2,000 years ago, a cross became the center point of history when Jesus died on the cross. He is the King who died to save us from our sins.
Jesus endured a series of three religious trials (Mark 14:53-62). He was denied by one of his closest associates (Mark 14:66-72). Jesus endured three civil trials and the scourging that followed (Mark 15:1-15). Mark 15:16-32 takes us to the cross and describes the events leading up to the crucifixion.
The Roman practice of crucifixion was more than just hanging on a tree. It included humiliation and unrestrained torture. Jesus had already endured scourging. The Roman soldiers heap on the humiliation by mocking Jesus as being a king (16-20a). A faded scarlet military cloak serves as a royal purple robe. A crown of thorns takes the place of the victor’s laurel wreath. A reed or staff parodies a royal scepter. The mocking cry, “Hail, king of the Jews!” bears a mocking resemblance to, “Hail, Caesar, Emperor!” The whole affair was a grotesque, vaudeville production. After paying mocking homage to a king, the soldiers led Jesus to be crucified.
Crucifixion may have been invented by the Persians, but the Romans raised it to an art form. It was one of the most horrifying forms of execution ever devised. After being stripped and flogged, the victim carried his own cross or crossbeam to the place of execution. This was typically outside the city at a crossroads where passersby would see it and be warned about the might of Rome.
The condemned victim was forced onto his back and nailed to the cross as it lay on the ground. The nails, measuring five to seven inches long and resembling modern railroad spikes, were driven through the wrists (rather than the palms of the hand) in order to support the full weight of the victim’s body. The victim’s feet were then secured with a single spike, with the knees bent so that he could push himself up in order to breathe.
The cross was then slowly raised until it was vertical. The foot of the cross was then dropped into place into a deep posthole, landing with a reverberating thud that sent excruciating pain jolting through the victim’s body.
Rather than kill the victim, the process was designed for maximum suffering. Death could take a number of days, and the victim often died of exposure and exhaustion. Sometimes, the Roman soldiers would break the victim’s leg to hasten the death.
After scourging and mocking Jesus, he was made to carry his cross or crossbeam through the city. He was so weak that the Roman soldiers compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, to carry it the rest of the way (21).
After arriving at Golgotha (22), Jesus is offered some medicated wine which he refused (23). This act fulfilled one more prophecy about the Messiah (Psalm 69:21).
Rather than describe all the hateful details, Mark simply says, “…they crucified him…” Since his readers were Roman, they already knew the details about crucifixion.
A victim’s personal belongings became the property of the execution squad. In Jesus’ case, the four-man group cast lots, probably dice, for his clothes (24). This also fulfilled a prophecy about the Messiah’s death (Psalm 22:18).
Mark seems to use the Jewish method of counting hours from sunrise when he says that the crucifixion occurred at the third hour, or 9AM. In contrast, John uses the Roman method of counting hours from midnight when he says Jesus was condemned at the sixth hour, or 6AM (John 19:14).
Jesus was crucified between two criminals (27). This also fulfilled messianic prophecy (Isaiah 53:12).
While on the cross, Jesus is subjected to verbal abuse, both by passersby (29-30) and the religious leaders (31-32). Ironically, the religious leaders state the truth of the gospel in their jest, “He saved others; he cannot save himself.” If Jesus saved himself, he could not save others; by not saving himself, he did save others.”
In the midst of his suffering, Jesus extends grace to one of the thieves (Luke 23:39-43). One thief mocked him while the other asks for mercy and receives it. He became a trophy of God’s grace to this day.
In his commentary on the gospel of Mark, Pastor R. Kent Hughes tells the story of Donald Grey Barnhouse, the famed pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. On one occasion, Dr. Barnhouse was visited by a ships’ captain. During a tour of the church, Dr. Barnhouse asked the man, “Sir, have you been born again?” The captain replied, “That is what I came to see you about.”
By this time they had reached a chalkboard in the prayer room, and Dr. Barnhouse drew three crosses. Underneath the first one he wrote the word “in.” Underneath the third he wrote the word “in.” Underneath the middle cross he wrote the words, “not in.” He said, “Do you understand what I mean when I say those men who died with Jesus had sin within them?” The captain thought and said, “Yes, I do. Christ did not have sin within him.” Then over the first cross and over the third cross Dr. Barnhouse wrote the word “on.” He said, “Do you understand what that means?” The captain wrinkled his brow—he didn’t quite understand. Dr. Barnhouse said, “Let me illustrate. Have you ever run through a red light?” “Yes.” “Were you caught?” The man said, “No.” “Well, in running that red light you had a sin in you. If you would have been caught, you would have had sin on you. So here the thieves bear the penalty of God.”
Then he wrote another “on” over Jesus Christ and said, “The one thief’s sins rested on Christ by virtue of his faith in Christ.” Then he said, “Which one are you?” Well, the man was a very tall, distinguished man of British carriage, and as he stood for a moment Dr. Barnhouse could see that he was fighting back tears. He said to Dr. Barnhouse, “By the grace of God, I am the first man.” Dr. Barnhouse said, “You mean your sins are on Jesus?” He said, “Yes, God says my sins are on Jesus!” He shot out his hand and said, “That’s what I came to find out!” Dr. Barnhouse invited him to lunch and further shared with him, and the man went back to New York a glowing Christian.
Which one are you? Are your sins on you or on Jesus? Jesus Christ is the King who died for our sins.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 1, 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.
I want to live a life that can only be expressed by the phrase, “Look what God did!” I echo the sentiment expressed by Francis Chan in his book, The Forgotten God: Reversing our tragic neglect of the Holy Spirit (pages 142-143).
I don’t want my life to be explainable without the Holy Spirit. I want people to look at my life and know I couldn’t be doing this by my own power. I want to live in such a way that I am desperate for Him to come through. That if He doesn’t come through, I am screwed. (I probably shouldn’t write that word here, but it’s how I truly feel about this.)
There was a time when I got excited over a crowd showing up to hear me preach, but those days are long gone. Now I deeply desire that the Spirit of God would do things that I know are not of me and that cannot be faked or accounted for by human reason.
I don’t believe God wants me (or any of His children) to live in a way that makes sense from the world’s perspective, a way I know I can “manage.” I believe He is calling me–and all of us–to depend on Him for living in a way that cannot be mimicked or forged. He wants us to walk in step with His Spirit rather than depend solely on the raw talent and knowledge He’s given us.
While that is my desire, unfortunately and far too often, I settle for the comfortable, easy, and familiar ways of doing things rather than take the risk of stepping out in faith and walking in the Spirit.
May God help him to long for him and depend on him alone. May God grant me the sensitivity to see where/what the Spirit is doing and to get in step.
I have been engaged in short-term ministry trips since the early 90’s. I have led, participated, trained, and sent numerous teams. I was fortunate in my early years to gain from the wisdom and experience of those went before me–Dan Hollingsworth, Tim Jack, Kaye Edds, John & Naomi Musgrave, and others. Because of their influence, I saw short-term ministry teams as a prime vehicle for discipleship and leadership development.
I am currently engaged in training a team that is going to Ghana this summer. As you can read in the Training Manual, we are combining Scripture memory, reading assignments, cross-cultural simulation exercises, and skill development to help prepare them for their task. Each member is memorizing 26 Scripture verses–1/3 of which are focused on presenting the gospel; 2/3 are all about servanthood; and the final two dealing with worry. They are reading John Piper’s book, Let the Nations Be Glad! The supremacy of God in missions, which is the best book on missions I have read. We’ve used the BARNGA game and the LUNA game as a way of helping them experience what it is like to enter another culture. The members will also be working on specific skills necessary to use puppets in sharing the gospel, interacting with people, and teaching groups of women and children.
For one of the few Mondays in recent memory, I didn’t spend the day thinking about church. Instead, I participated in the justice process—I was on jury duty. (I was originally asked to serve while I was in Russia, but delayed my service until yesterday.)
I checked into the 4th floor jury pool room at the Hampden County Superior Court at 8AM, and then spent three hours waiting, watching TV, reading a Stephen Lawhead novel, and people watching. They had a big screen TV in the jury pool room with Good Morning America on at the time of check in. Later, they played a video on the MA justice system which was informative.
I must say I was amazed/dismayed at the quality (or lack thereof) for what passes for entertainment on morning TV. It seemed like it degenerated by degrees with each hour of the morning. Good Morning America was a mix of news, culture, and trending issues. Rachel was a mix of pop culture interviews, cooking tips, and gossip. Wendy was pure, unadulterated gossip. The View was a discussion of gossip. Good thing I had a book to read, though the volume on the TV was loud enough to be a distraction.
Sometime after 11AM, me and 120 of my closest friends were taken down to Courtroom 2 on the 3rd floor. We received an orientation from the presiding judge, and met the Assistant DA and his assistant, as well as the two defense attorneys. We then learned that we were part of the jury pool for a criminal trial that might last up to two weeks. The defendant was accused of committing murder in 2014.
As it turned out, I was juror #127. They started with #2 and worked their way through the pool to find and seat 16 jurors. I must admit to having mixed feelings. I was willing to serve, but I really didn’t want to give up two weeks to do it. It would be an inconvenience to sit on a jury during the day and do church work and sermon prep at night. Rather than ask God to get me out of the task, I decided to simply leave it in his hands.
By 3:30PM, they were up to juror #70 and had chosen 20 prospective jurors. The judge asked the remaining 50 of us if serving on a two-week jury would be a hardship. Several hands went up and they were excused. Since I couldn’t claim a hardship such as having young children at home or caring for aging parents, my hand stayed down. By the time His Honor asked a few more questions, there were only 7 of us left in the pool of prospective jurors. He then asked if the rest of us were willing to return on Tuesday to continue the selection process. I was honest enough to admit I was willing, but I would prefer not to. Fortunately, I was excused and on my way.
Since MA implements a one day, one trial system, I have fulfilled my obligation for another three years.
After arriving home, I started my usual Monday task of mowing the lawn. I began praying for the trial that justice would be done. I prayed that …
- the prosecutor would present a solid, strong case
- the defense attorney would represent his client with dignity
- the judge would have wisdom and fairness in his rulings
- the witnesses would tell the truth
- the family of the victim would find peace and closure
- the jury would have wisdom and insight in coming to a verdict
- God would be honored through the proceedings and that justice would roll down.
We had two new families in our 11:00 worship service yesterday at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA. One was a family of refugees from Congo who spoke only French & Swahili. The other was a military family relocated from Hawaii and the wife was a former French teacher. Only God could orchestrate something like this!
God is on the move!