The Servant’s Death (Mark 15:21–41) (2)

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Three specific hours are mentioned in this section of Mark: the third (Mark 15:25), the sixth (Mark 15:33), and the ninth (Mark 15:33–34). The Jews reckoned time from 6 6 P.M., so this means that the third hour was 9 A.M., the sixth hour noon, and the ninth hour 3 P.M. Mark followed the Jewish system.
I. The third hour (15:21–32).
21 Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross. 22 And they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull. 23 Then they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it. 24 And when they crucified Him, they divided His garments, casting lots for them to determine what every man should take. 25 Now it was the third hour, and they crucified Him. 26 And the inscription of His accusation was written above:
27 With Him they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left. 28 So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with the transgressors.” 29 And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save Yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him.
A. The guilty victim had to carry his cross, or at least the crossbeam, to the place of execution.
Jesus was no exception. Jesus started out carrying the cross from Pilate’s hall, but in his weakened state he was unable to carry it all the way to the execution site. The physical pain and psychological and emotional stress he felt is beyond description.
When you consider all that our Lord had endured since His arrest, it is not surprising that His strength failed. Indeed, “He could have called 10,000 angels,” yet He willingly bore the suffering on our behalf. There was a higher purpose behind this act: the victim carried the cross because he had been found guilty, but our Lord was not guilty. We are the guilty ones, and Simon carried that cross on our behalf. Simon Peter boasted that he would go with Jesus to prison and to death, but it was Simon of Cyrene, not Simon Peter, who came to the aid of the Master.
Simon had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, and he ended up meeting the Passover Lamb! We have good reason to believe that Simon trusted the Saviour and went home and led his two sons to the Lord. No doubt many of Mark’s Roman readers knew Alexander and Rufus, and perhaps they had even known Simon.
B. Executions for the Romans and the Jews were held outside the city of Jerusalem.
Golgotha is an Aramaic word that means The Place of the Skull. The place where Jesus was crucified could have gotten this name because it looked like a skull or there were many skulls there from the previous crucifixions. The location of “The Place of the Skull” is not known with certainty.
Visitors to the Holy Land today are shown “Gordon’s Calvary,” which does have the appearance of a skull, but guides also point out another possible site in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We do not know the exact place where our Lord was crucified, nor is it important that we know. He was crucified outside the city walls, the place of rejection (Heb. 13:12–13); and He died for the sins of the world.
C. The victims of crucifixion were customarily given a narcotic drink that would help deaden the pain.
Jesus refused to drink this potion, choosing instead to stay fully conscious and experience the terrible sufferings of the crucifixion.
He wanted to be in full possession of His faculties as He did the Father’s will and accomplished the work of redemption. He would enter fully into His sufferings on our behalf and take no short cuts. He refused the cup of sympathy so that He might better drink the cup of iniquity (Matt. 26:36–43). What an example for us to follow as we do God’s will and share “the fellowship of His sufferings”.
D. It was a Roman custom to write the name of the condemned man and a description of his crime on a board and attach it to his cross.
All four Gospels record the words of Jesus’ notice but with minor variations, probably because it was written in three languages. Mark recorded only the official charge against Him … THE KING OF THE JEWS. Pilate’s wording was intended as an insult to Jewish aspirations for independence.
Passersby and Jewish religious leaders mocked and hurled insults at Him. They taunted Him for His alleged claim regarding the temple. If He could rebuild the temple in three days, then surely He could save Himself from death by coming down from the cross.
They also mocked Jesus’ messianic claims replacing Pilate’s words “King of the Jews” (cf. 15:26) with King of Israel. They challenged Him to prove His messianic claim by a miraculous descent from the cross so they could see the compelling evidence and believe that He is God’s Messiah. The issue, however, was not lack of evidence but unbelief.
II. The sixth hour (v. 33).
33 Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.
A. Darkness at noon was a symbol of God’s judgment.
What sort of darkness it was, we do not know. It might have been one of the blinding sandstorms of the area. It could not have been an eclipse of the sun, as Passover occurred at full moon. The darkness seems to have pictured God’s wrath not just directed at those who had rejected his Son but also at the sin which Jesus was bearing at that moment for us, as our sin-offering.
The darkness lasted for three hours—from the time Jesus was crucified until the moment of his death. This miraculous darkening of the skies expressed the agony and grief of heaven over the death of the Son of God. Also, it is significant that this is happening during the Passover festival. The ninth plague in Egypt was a three-day darkness followed by the last plague, the death of the firstborn. The darkness at Calvary was an announcement that God’s beloved Son, his firstborn, was giving his life for the sins of the world.
B. All creation sympathized with the Creator as He suffered.
This was indeed a miracle and not some natural phenomenon, such as a sand storm or an eclipse. It would not be possible to have an eclipse during full moon at Passover. By means of this darkness, God was saying something to the people.
The darkness at Calvary was an announcement that God’s Firstborn and Beloved Son, the Lamb of God, was giving His life for the sins of the world. It was also an announcement that judgment was coming and men had better be prepared.
III. The ninth hour (vv. 34–41)
34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” 35 Some of those who stood by, when they heard that, said, “Look, He is calling for Elijah!” 36 Then someone ran and filled a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink, saying, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down.” 37 And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last. 38 Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 So when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” 40 There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome, 41 who also followed Him and ministered to Him when He was in Galilee, and many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem.
A. At the ninth hour, Jesus expressed the agony of His soul.
The darkness symbolized the judgment Jesus experienced when the Father forsook Him. As was so often the case, the people did not understand His words; they thought He was calling for Elijah the prophet. There was not only darkness over the land, but there was darkness in the minds and hearts of the people.
Then Jesus said, “I thirst”, and the soldier gave Jesus a sip of vinegar. This assisted Him in uttering two more wonderful statements: “It is finished!” and “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit”. Jesus was not murdered; He willingly laid down His life for us. He was not a martyr; He was a willing sacrifice for the sins of the world.
B. Two remarkable events occurred at His death: there was an earthquake, and the veil in the temple was torn in two.
The veil had separated man from God, but now, through His death, Jesus had opened for the whole world a “new and living way”. There had been an earthquake at Sinai when the Law was given, but now the Law was fulfilled in Jesus Christ and its curse removed.
Through His sacrifice, Jesus had purchased not only freedom from the Law, but also freedom from the entire sacrificial system. It is thrilling to read the witness of the Roman centurion, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” especially when you consider that his words could have gotten him into trouble with both the Jews and the Romans. That Jesus Christ is the Son of God is one of Mark’s important themes.
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