|THE CRUCIFIXION OF THE CHRIST
Series: The Good News of Jesus Christ - Part Forty Seven
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
April 14, 2019
Would you please follow along as I read for us our passage for this morning - which is Mark 15:16-47.
And the soldiers led Him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. And they clothed Him in a purple cloak, and twisted together a crown of thorns, they put it on Him. And they began to salute Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
And they were striking His head with a reed and spitting on Him and kneeling down in homage to Him. And when they had mocked Him, they stripped Him of the purple cloak and put His own clothes on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him.
And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry His cross. And they brought Him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). And they offered Him wine mixed with myrrh, but He did not take it.
And they crucified Him and divided His garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified Him.
And the inscription of the charge against Him read, “The King of the Jews.”
And those who passed by derided Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!”
So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked Him to one another, saying, “He saved others, He cannot save Himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.”
Those who were crucified with Him also reviled Him.
And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”
And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, He is calling Elijah.”
And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to Him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take Him down.”
And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed His last.
And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses, and Salome. When He was in Galilee, they followed Him and ministered to Him, and there were also many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem.
And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.
Pilate was surprised to hear that He should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether He was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that He was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph.
And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking Him down, wrapped Him in the linen shroud and laid Him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.
Jesus is Mocked
We are picking up where we left off last Sunday. It is Friday morning. Jesus has been through 6 trials which are all focused on taking Jesus down and… out. Jesus has been delivered by the Roman Procurator Pilate to Roman soldiers to be scourged and crucified.
Which takes place - most probably in the Fortress of Antonia. Which was the Roman military barracks which overlooking the Temple Courts - so the Romans could keep track of what was going on in the Temple Courts.
The Fortress of Antonia housed the cohort of the 10th Legion - which was 600 fighting men plus support personnel. And it was the Jerusalem military headquarters of Pilate. Pilate - who is in Jerusalem during the Passover to maintain order and make sure that taxes are collected and the tribute is sent to Rome.
So, as we noted last Sunday, Pilate - being in a precarious position because of the politics in Rome and his previous failures in Judea - Pilate fearing the crowd and fearing for his life - delivers Jesus to be scourged and crucified.
Which was brutal.
A scourge had a short wooden handle to which several thongs were attached. The ends of the thongs were equipped with pieces of lead or brass and with sharply pointed pieces of bone.
Generally two men were employed to administer the punishment. One lashing the victim from one side, the other lashing the victim from the other side. The result was that the flesh was lacerated to such and extent that deep seated veins and arteries and sometimes entrails and organs were exposed.
There were two purpose to scourge someone. One was to create fear - as in “I don’t want that to happen to me.”
And second - scourging was a precursor to crucifixion because it shortened the time a victim spent on the cross. An expert scourger could scourge someone within an inch of their life.
Mark records - coming to verse 16 - that as Jesus is scourged the other soldiers in the fortress were called to watch and as they watched they began to mock Jesus. To further humiliate Jesus based on His claim to be the King of the Jews.
They dressed Jesus in a purple cloak - purple being a royal color. They twisted together a crown of thorns which they shoved down on His head. Thorns which were probably more like spikes 2 to 3 inches long. And they mockingly saluted Him: “Hail, King of the Jews!”
Then - instead of handing Jesus a reed - like a royal scepter - which would have been humiliating enough - they beat Him on the head with the reed and began to spit on Him and to kneel before Him in fake submission and respect - “homage”. The word in Greek has the idea of worship.
Ironically, their words and actions reveal the truth. Before them really is THE King of kings and THE Lord of lords - the potentate of His creation. And that one day all of creation will kneel before Jesus including these soldiers now mocking Him.
But now - blinded and deluded by their own politics and egos and religion and perspective of the world they have no clue Who Jesus is and so they mock and torture Him. To the point where Jesus is barely recognizable as a man.
The prophet Isaiah writes: “But many were amazed when they saw Him. His face was so disfigured He seemed hardly human, and from His appearance, one would scarcely know He was a man.” (Isaiah 52:14 NLT)
Then they removed the purple cloak - which may have - by this time - become matted with Jesus’ blood and adhering to Jesus’ skin. So removing it would mean tearing away at Jesus’ already shredded skin. They put Jesus’ own clothes back on Him - and led Him out to be crucified.
Isaiah again: “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7)
Verse 21: Jesus is Crucified.
At this point Jesus would have been turned over to an Exactor Mortis. The title means something like “exactor of death.”
The Exactor Mortis was usually a centurion who commanded a squad of 4 soldiers called a “quaternion.” These were professionals trained in the skill and the art of crucifixion. It is their job to make sure Jesus gets crucified and dead.
On the way out of the fortress they “compel” - meaning they “volunteered” Simon who was from Cyrene - which is a town on the north coast of Africa - think Libya. Simon who’s in town probably for the Passover and who is himself passing by. Which means he was… passing by. Meaning that, as a pilgrim from Cyrene, he could have just happened to have been there.
But Simon is mentioned by name by the Gospel writers which means he is someone who’s probably known to the first-century Christians. Mark alone mentions his sons Alexander and Rufus. Mark who’s primarily writing to Roman Christians. Which may connect them with Paul. Paul in his letter to the Roman church sends greetings to Rufus and his mother who ministered to Paul. Rufus who may have been the son of Simon. (Romans 16:13)
All that is not random. Simon is someone who may have had no clue what was going on. He’s just passing by. But his life - and the life trajectory of his family - may have been dramatically changed by this experience. It’s hard to imagine how Simon wouldn’t be changed. Imagine if you are I were in his place.
So Simon is “compelled” to carry Jesus’ cross to a place known as “The Place of the Skull” - which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. Calvary comes from the... Latin. (Calva = bald head or skull).
Which is according to both Roman and Jewish custom. Crucifixion had to take place outside the city walls. Which traditionally - Golgotha - is located just west of the fortress. Which ultimately is not a long walk. At the most a quarter of a mile.
Today, you can walk the Via Dolorosa - literally the “path of pain” - which today is full of pilgrims and tourists and shops. At the end of which is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Which is also full of pilgrims and tourists. No shops. But very crowded. And very removed from the events of 2,000 years ago.
Arriving at Golgotha the Romans prepared to crucify Jesus.
We know that the Romans were very economical in how they crucified someone. They wasted nothing. They recycled everything.
Simon would have carried - what was known as a “patibulum” - or crossbeam. When they got out to Golgotha - the patibulum would have been fitted on the “stipes” - which was the vertical part of the cross - using a mortise and tenon joint. No nails.
Which allowed them to easily take the cross apart and reuse it for the next victim.
Then they would have stripped him of his clothing. Meaning total nudity. Not the modest PG-13 pictures we have today. The soldiers didn’t care about modesty. The more shame - the more humiliation - the better.
Then they would have then stretched Jesus out on the cross. Two soldiers would have stretched Jesus’ arms across the patibulum. His feet would have been placed flat against the stipes. Probably one soldier would lay across Jesus’ chest while another would have pinned his feet.
Then they would have driven 5 inch long and 3/8’s inch wide nails into Jesus’ palms - maybe wrists. Then they would have bent His knees and driven nails through each foot or perhaps 1 nail through both feet overlapping each other. Nails that they would later recycle and use on the next victim.
Nailing - as gruesome and as painful as it sounds - nailing was actually more merciful than just tying someone to a cross. Tying someone meant using a sedile - which was a platform under the feet which enabled the victim to push up and go on breathing.
Not using sedile was actually more merciful. Why? Because it meant that a victim would wear out faster - get exhausted and be unable to breath - and would die in agonizing hours not linger for agonizing days.
Which is probably what Pilate ordered. Since it’s the Passover and Pilate’s position is precarious and he needs a win not more complaints going back to Rome. So Pilate is doing what he can to make this happen - to happen quickly - and keep the Jews happy.
The wine mixed with myrrh was probably intended to numb Jesus to some of the pain. Which He refused. Why? We don’t know.
Probably, reasonable speculation is because He is intent on taking on Himself all of what this crucifixion is about. And it’s important for us to know that He did. He is all in for all of us.
Finally - they would tip the cross up and guide the base of the stipes into a hole. The cross - suddenly vertical would drop into that hole with a jarring thud. Then the soldiers would drive wedges between the stipes and the hole to make sure the cross remained vertical.
By the third hour - which is our 9:00 a.m. - they were done.
Then according to custom - after they’d finished - they “cast lots.” Meaning they gambled - probably with dice - for Jesus’s clothes. Which fulfilled yet another prophecy - Psalm 22:18: “They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.”
Which is another reminder - all the prophecies that are coming together and being fulfilled - all that reminds us that all this is taking place according to God’s will and plan.
So the soldiers - seasoned veterans - soldiers should have been paying attention to Jesus - to His words - His attitude. But they’re indifferent. They’ve done this maybe hundreds of times before. They are clueless - throwing dice - while the Lamb of God is dying to take away the sins of the world. Their sins. Our sins.
Chuck Swindoll - in his commentary on Mark - quotes Jim Bishop - the journalist. Jim Bishop combined science and historical information and some imagination to describe - pretty accurately what Jesus was going through at this point.
His arms were now in a V position, and Jesus became conscious to two unendurable circumstances: the first was that the pain in His wrists was beyond bearing, and that muscle cramps knotted His forearms and upper arms and the pads of His shoulders; the second was that His pectoral muscles at the sides of His chest were momentarily paralyzed. This induced in Him an involuntary panic; for He found that while He could draw air into His lungs, He was powerless to exhale.
At once, Jesus raised Himself on His bleeding feet. As the weight of His body came down on the insteps, the single nail pressed hard against the top of the wound. Slowly, steadily, Jesus was forced to raise Himself higher and higher until, for the moment, His head hid the sign which told of His crime. When His shoulders were on a level with His hands, breathing was rapid and easier. Like the other two, He fought the pain in His feet in order to breathe rapidly for a few moments. Then, unable to bear the pain below, which cramped legs and thighs and wrung moans from the strongest, He let His torso sag lower and lower, and His knees projected a little at a time until, with a deep sigh, He felt Himself to be hanging by His wrists. And this process must have been repeated again and again. (1)
Verse 26 records that Pilate had ordered a sign placed over Jesus’ head “The King of the Jews.” Which may have been Pilate’s way of justifying his actions. Jesus is crucified as a political rebel. It may have been some passive aggressiveness - Pilate getting back at the religious leaders.
Verse 27 records that Jesus is crucified between two thieves. More prophecy is fulfilled. God’s will and purpose. (Isaiah 53:12)
Matthew records that the thieves began to revile Jesus. To taught Him with sarcastic comments.
Verse 29 brings us to those how passed by. The abuse - the slander and taunting - coming from the crowd.
People who may have either in person or by word of mouth they’d heard of Jesus’ claims of Messiahship - maybe His teaching or they’d heard about or seen His miracles. For sure they’d heard the Sanhedrin’s twisted version of what Jesus had said about Himself and the temple.
To the crowd Jesus is just another rabbi - another prophet maybe - someone who said some things worth thinking about - but definitely over the top with all this Son of God stuff. If He really was all those things He wouldn’t be hanging on that cross.
Mark 15:29: “And those who passed by derided Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!”
That’s a harsh thing to say to anyone getting crucified. “You got what’s been coming to You. What a jerk. If you think You’re so great, save Yourself.”
Verse 31: “So also” - the chief priests - the scribes - the elders - the religious hierarchy and the political heads of the Jewish nation - the Sanhedrin - those who should have believed Jesus - should have recognized Him for who He is - should have gotten on board with Him - should have pointed others towards Him.
So also - they mocked Jesus. “He saved others, He cannot save Himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.”
We’re probably only getting the sanitize G version of what was said. But, notice the common theme of “Save Yourself.”
Which He could have done. One word from Jesus and the armies of heaven would have come. One word and those mocking Jesus would have been charcoal. One word and the cross and creation no longer exist.
But nails aren’t what’s keeping Jesus on the cross.
Ironically, their mocking reveals the truth of what they do not comprehend. What they are spiritually numb to.
The choice Jesus is making to not save Himself in order for Him to save them. It is because Jesus chooses to remain on the cross that He is able to save those mocking Him - to save us. Which is the will and plan of God.
Darkness - in the Old Testament - the prophets spoke of darkness as a sign of God’s judgment. In Egypt - before the Exodus - the last plague before the Passover and the death of the first born - the last plague was darkness. Only those covered by the shed blood of the Passover lamb would be delivered from God’s wrath.
What was foreshadowed in Exodus is now finding it’s ultimate fulfillment on the cross.
Paul writes to the Corinthians: “For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1 Corinthian 5:7b)
Again the plague of darkness proceeds the sacrifice. But this time it is God’s own firstborn Son Who is to die.
Verse 34 - at the ninth hour - meaning 3:00 in the afternoon - Jesus cries out with at loud voice - He screams: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”
No where else in Scripture is there such a statement. It is beyond our understanding. Staggering to consider. Jesus experiencing what you and I deserve. What every human being in history deserves. What Jesus alone does not deserve.
Our Savior - Who for all of His existence - in that perfect divine unity of the Trinity - Jesus has never been alone. Now - in His incarnate humanity - Jesus experiences separation from His Father. The Father - God - Who is holy must forsake the Son who bears our sin.
As He cries out Jesus bears the full weight of God’s vehemence and wrath upon our sin. Jesus does not just feel forsaken. He is forsaken.
Forsaken so that we might be forgiven. Cut off so that we may never be separated from God’s love.
Some there said, “Behold, He is calling Elijah.”
In those days there was a popular religious belief that Elijah acted as kind of a patron saint of those who suffered. So someone offered Him a drink. Sour wine was used to reduce fever - to provide refreshment.
Maybe the idea was to keep Jesus going long enough for Elijah to show up. Maybe they’d all get to see Elijah.
What is the most momentous event in their lives and again there is misunderstanding. They are again spiritually clueless - their minds darkened by superstition.
Verse 37: And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed His last.
Mark doesn’t tell us what Jesus cried out. John does. John records Jesus’ last words as “It is finished.” (John 19:30).
“It is finished” in Greek is actually only one word: “tetelestai” - which comes from the verb “teleo” - which has the idea of arriving at a goal - reaching the end - the purpose - for why something exists.
Jesus understood that the goal of His life - in humanity - was the doing the work that God had given Him to do. Everything God had used His prophets to point towards. His ministry and message comes down to this moment. His whole life has been leading up to this moment. With this cry Jesus is declaring that He’s done it. He’s accomplished everything the Father sent Him to accomplish. It’s done.
The completely sufficient sacrifice of Christ on the cross for us.
Mark records - as Jesus breathes His last - the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
The curtain in Temple. Thick. Formidable. It was what had kept people from approaching the Ark of the Covenant - over which God’s shekinah glory resided - the revealed presence of the holy God.
Even for the priest uniquely selected - to go beyond the curtain inappropriately was death. To enter uncleansed of sin was death.
The curtain which separated humanity - us - from the holy presence of God is torn dramatically top to bottom - supernaturally by God. Because of the work of the atoning Lamb - sacrificed on the cross for us - the long standing separation between ourselves and God has been shredded.
Then - as Jesus breathes His last - the centurion, who stood facing Him - looking at Jesus and perhaps each watching the other as Jesus died - when the centurion saw that in this way He breathed His last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
The centurion - the head of the quaterina - the Exactor Mortis - the man who has supervised perhaps hundreds of crucifixions - the Roman - Gentile - pagan - centurion when he saw “that in this way” Jesus breathed His last - purposefully - intentionally - crying on in victory - the centurion recognizes the truth of Who Jesus is.
Words that echo Peter’s declaration. Jesus’ question: “But Who do you say that I am?” Peter’s answer: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:13-17; Mark 8:27-30)
Mark records that there were a women watching from a distance. Probably from a perimeter established by the soldiers.
Mark gives us some of their names. The other Gospel writers add others to the list. Mark describes their connection to Jesus. We know that there were also men there - including John the Apostle.
How many women? How many men? We don’t know. It’s not the point.
Mark records that they were “looking on.” The verb in Greek is “theoreo” which means to observe with sustained interest for the purpose of gaining understanding.
Like a spectator watching a baseball game and analyzing every sign. Every shift of position. Analyzing all of that to understand the strategy - the skill - the meaning.
These women had seen first hand what we can only read about. They’d heard the response of the Centurion. And they’re looking on. What does it all mean?
Then finally - in verse 42 - Jesus is buried.
The word “sabbath” transliterates the Hebrew word “shabbat” which means “to cease and desist” - “stop”. On the Sabbath a Jewish family would cease and desist together - sharing a meal - celebrating God’s provision and protection - and rest from work.
The Day of Preparation was when they… prepared - prepared all that needed to be prepared in order for them to be able to cease and desist together.
That it was becoming evening - around 6:00 p.m. Friday - when the Sabbath’s ceasing and desisting is about to begin - that adds urgency.
That Old Testament said that someone executed by hanging couldn’t be left hanging over night - that law adds necessity. (Deuteronomy 21:22,23)
Joseph of Arimathea - we know from what Mark and the other Gospel writers record - Joseph of Arimathea was a respected - prominent - member of the Sanhedrin who also was a righteous man who was a secret follower of Jesus - understandable given his position. Who had not consented to Jesus’ crucifixion. Who - perhaps because of the crucifixion - Joseph steps forward - at great risk to himself - and asks Pilate for Jesus’ body.
Pilate - who is in Jerusalem for the Passover to maintain order and keep tribute flowing to Rome. Who’s position is precarious and who needs a win. Pilate does not want to violate Jewish religious customs and who’s life may depend on Jesus being dead. Pilate summons the Centurion Exactor Mortis - to make sure that Jesus is, in fact, dead.
Which the Exactor Mortis does. Because his life depends on Jesus being dead and his being able to give Pilate and accurate report that Jesus is, in fact, dead.
Meaning that there is no possibility that they crucified the wrong guy - maybe some volunteer - or that Jesus fainted after being beaten to a pulp and then woke up and rolled the bolder away and escaped - meaning that He really didn’t die and then later ran off with Mary Magdalene to the south of France to father a line of future Frankish kings while the disciples perpetuated some hoax about His resurrection that they all - except for John - got martyred horribly saying really happened.
Jesus is dead. And His body is turned over to Joseph - who with some oil and spices provided by Nicodemus - wraps Jesus’ body in linen that was used for burials - and they lay Jesus’ body in an unused tomb that Joseph had acquired for his family. And then they roll the stone against the entrance to the tomb.
Verse 47 - Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.
The word saw is that Greek verb “theoreo” - looking intently with a desire to understand.
After that long - exhausting - traumatic day - the women sat before the tomb - staring - trying to make sense of it all. What does it all mean.
Processing all that for ourselves...
All of Jesus’ ministry needs to be viewed from the perspective of this final week of ministry. All of this final week of ministry comes down to this moment and what we know is coming on Sunday.
But if we were sitting there - on that night - in front of that tomb - which of us would get it? Wouldn’t we be at a loss for meaning? Empty and wondering? How are we suppose to process and respond to that?
Two takeaways that are worth our thinking about - meditating on - in the time between now and the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.
First: He died for you and for me. In our place. By God’s will according to God’s plan.
Peter describes Jesus what Jesus did - 1 Peter 2:22: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him Who judges justly. He Himself bore our sin in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:22-24)
The Son of God - God - takes on the flesh and blood of our humanity - dies in our place on that cross for each of us who has mocked Him and ridiculed Him and rejected Him - acted indifferently towards Him - carried on in our own selfishness and pride for our own purposes - that each of us might be made right in our relationship with God.
Second: He died for you and for me because He loves us.
Jesus said: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends…” (John 15:13,14a)
That’s what kept Jesus on the cross. Not nails. But His perfect complete love for you and for me.
1. Jim Bishop, The Day Christ Was Born and The Day Christ Died (New York: Galahad, 1993, pages 491-492) - quoted by Charles Swindoll, page 388
Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).
Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 2: Insights on Mark (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016).
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.