In recent weeks we’ve read about the time when the Lord was eating with his friends; and a woman came into the room and poured expensive perfume over the Lord’s head in order — he said — to prepare his body for burial.
And we read about the last supper when the Lord took the bread and the wine and set them aside to be signs to signify how his body would be broken and his blood would be poured out for our forgiveness.
And then we read about the time when he went into the Garden of Gethsemane where he became deeply distressed and troubled and overwhelmed at the thought of what would soon happen to him, because he knew that very soon he would have to take and drink the cup of wrath. And he prayed to his Father in heaven, asking, if possible, for the cup of wrath to be taken from him. But not what I will, but what you will, he prayed.
And then we read about his arrest, when Judas betrayed him into the hands of the guards who had come to take him away to be tried by the Sanhedrin.
And then we read about the trial before the Sanhedrin and how all those false witnesses came and testified against him; and then the High Priest charged him with blasphemy; and the whole council came to a decision and they condemned him as being worthy of death.
And then we read about the trial before Pontius Pilate, who wanted to release the Lord Jesus, because it was clear to him the Lord Jesus had done nothing wrong; but wanting to satisfy the crowd, who were demanding the Lord’s death, Pilate eventually gave the order that the Lord Jesus should be crucified.
Everything we’ve read in recent weeks in Mark’s gospel has been leading up to today’s passage, where Mark gives us his account of the Lord’s death on the cross. And there’s always a sense of solemnity when we read the account of the crucifixion. We can’t read about it casually or carelessly or with indifference, can we? No, we have to read about his crucifixion with a sense of solemnity, because this is the account of how the Son of God suffered and died. And that’s something that makes us pause and think and wonder why he did such a thing as this? Well, we believe — don’t we? — that he suffered all of this and he died like this so that whoever believes in him may have the assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of everlasting life in the presence of God. God the Son came into the world to deliver his people from our sin and misery. And the only way to deliver us and to satisfy the justice of God was by suffering the wrath of God in our place.
Verses 16 to 20
And so, let’s turn to Mark’s account of the Lord’s crucifixion; and we read in verses 16 to 20 how the Roman soldiers mocked the Lord. The Lord had already been flogged by the soldiers: we read that in verse 15. Now we read how they brought the Lord into the palace to make fun of him. And, of course, they’re mocking him for claiming to be a king. That was the charge the Sanhedrin brought against him when they presented him to Pilate. Now he is a King. But his kingdom is not an earthly kingdom; and he did not come to lead a violent rebellion against the Roman Emperor. His kingdom is a heavenly kingdom, a spiritual kingdom, which is extended, not through violence, but through the preaching of the gospel. He wasn’t a threat to Rome or to the Roman Emperor. Nevertheless, the members of the Sanhedrin brought him to Pilate and presented him as being a rival king to the Emperor. And Pilate convicted him of that charge and sentenced him to death. And so, now the soldiers are going to mock him and make fun of him for claiming to be a king.
So, they put a purple robe on him, which is the kind of robe a king would wear. They then made him a crown out of thorns and placed it on his head. And just as they might do to an earthy king, they began to call out and say:
Hail, king of the Jews!
And Mark tells us that again and again they struck him on the head with a staff; and instead of kissing him — which is how you showed loyalty to your king in those days — instead of kissing him, they spat on him. They also fell on their knees before him and paid homage to him. It was all a pretence, of course; they were only pretending, because though they hailed him as their king, none of them believed he was a king and they were only mocking him with their words. And sure enough, after they had their fun, they took the purple robe off him and led him out to crucify him.
Verses 21 to 32
And so, the soldiers mocked him. In the following verses — verses 21 to 32 — we read how they crucified him. Normally the person who was to be crucified was forced to carry the crossbar to the place of execution. The fact that this man Simon from Cyrene was made to carry the Lord’s cross suggests to us that the Lord had been so weakened by the flogging he has received earlier that he did not have the strength to carry his own cross. Eventually though they came to the place of execution which was known as Golgotha or ‘The Place of the Skull’, which suggests it may have been a hill which looked somewhat like a human skull. Mark tells us that they offered the Lord a drink of wine mixed with myrrh. This is a kind of pain relief which the women offered to those who were being crucified. But Mark tells us that the Lord refused it, so that he will fully conscious of everything that was going on. In other words, no one could claim that he did know what was happening to him. On the contrary, he was fully aware of what was happening.
And then, in a very simple and straightforward way, Mark tells us that they crucified him. Some people like to go into the details of what happened to the Lord, but Mark doesn’t dwell on what he suffered on the cross. It’s enough to know that our Lord was crucified. Mark does tell us, however, that the soldiers divided up his clothes, casting lots to see what each would get. Mark tells us this, because he knows it’s the fulfilment of what we read in Psalm 22 where God’s Suffering Servant says:
they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.
Mark tells us that it was the third hour when they crucified him. That’s about 9 am. He also tells us about the sign on the cross. You see, it was the custom in those days to put a sign on the cross to let people know why this person was being crucified. And so, Mark tells us that the written notice on the Lord’s cross read:
The King of the Jews.
So, there you have it once again that the reason the Lord was crucified was because he claimed to the the King. Mark also tells us that two robbers were crucified with the Lord, one on either side. We don’t know much about them, but perhaps they were involved in the same insurrection as Barabbas who had been released.
And the people who passed by the cross mocked the Lord Jesus. Again, this is a fulfilment of Psalm 22 where the Lord’s Suffering Servant described how people hurled insults at him. So, Mark tells us these people hurled insults at the Lord, saying:
You who are going to destroy the temple and built it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!
You’ll recall that the false witnesses at the trial before the Sanhedrin claimed that the Lord had said he would destroy the temple. Their testimony wasn’t true, of course, but it seems that many people had heard it and believed it and now they mocked him for it. Furthermore, the chief priests and teachers of the law also mocked him. They said:
He saved others, but he can’t save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.
Once again, they mention how he claimed to be a King and that’s the reason why he was killed like this. And even the two robbers on either side of him joined in and they too heaped insults on the Lord.
Verses 33 to 41
And so, we’ve seen how the soldiers mocked him for claiming to be a king. We’ve seen how they crucified him for claiming to be a king. And we’ve seen how the people who passed by also mocked him for claiming to a king. And in verses 33 to 41 we read how he died. From the sixth hour until the ninth hour — so from noon until 3pm — darkness fell on the whole land. And on the ninth hour, the Lord cried out in a loud voice, asking his Father in heaven:
My God, why have you forsaken me?
He’s in fact using words spoken by God’s Suffering Servant at the beginning of Psalm 22, because the Lord Jesus is God’s Suffering Servant; and on the cross he was left alone — completely alone — to suffer for our sins. All by himself, he drank the cup of wrath. All by himself, he bore the punishment we deserve. All by himself, he paid the ransom to set us free. He did it all by himself, without even the Father to help him.
Some of those standing near misunderstood what he said. They thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah to come to help him. And even though they offered him a drink to quench his thirst, they mocked him once again, saying:
Let’s see if Elijah will come to take him down.
And then, Mark tells us in a very simple and straightforward way that the Lord let out a loud cry and breathed his last. But even in that one detail, Mark is telling us something important about the way the Lord died. Normally people who were crucified were exhausted at the end; and they were often unconscious when they died. But right at the moment when the Lord died, he was strong enough to let out this loud cry, which is perhaps a way of letting us know that the Saviour gave up his life. His life was not taken from him, and it did not ebb away; instead he gave himself over to death for us.
And Mark then takes the focus of our attention away from Golgotha and away from the cross to the temple in Jerusalem where something remarkable happened, because when the Lord breathed his last, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. This was the curtain which separated the Most Holy Place from the rest of the temple. The Most Holy Place symbolised God’s throne room in heaven; and the curtain at the entrance signified how sinners cannot come into the presence of a holy God. Ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and were sent out of the Garden of Eden, the way back into God’s holy presence has been closed to sinners. And we have been shut out of the glory that surrounds the Lord and which would have been ours to enjoy forever if Adam had not sinned in the beginning. You see, God made us to enjoy everlasting life in his presence, but because of sin — Adam’s sin in the beginning ; and our own sins which we commit every day — because of sin, we fall short of God’s glory and we were kept out of his glorious presence. But now that Christ the Saviour has died for sinners — taking the blame for them; and suffering the punishment we deserve — the way into God’s glorious presence in heaven has been opened up to those who trust in God’s Son, because by his death he has satisfied the justice of God; and his shed blood purifies us from all our guilt and shame. The Lord Jesus suffered the Father’s wrath in order to bring us to God in heaven.
And then Mark shifts our focus back to the cross, where the centurion — who must have seen dozens of crucifixions — was so struck by the way the Lord died that he confessed:
Surely this man was the Son of God!
And this part of the gospel ends with Mark telling us about some of the women who were near the cross and who saw what happened.
And so, we’ve seen how the soldiers mocked him for claiming to be a king. We’ve seen too how they crucified him for claiming to be a king. And we’ve seen how the people who passed by mocked him for claiming to the a king. And then, we’ve seen how he died; and the centurion confessed that this man is the Son of God.
I’ve said on previous weeks that these events are the fulfilment of the Lord’s parable of the wicked tenants. Do you remember the parable? I’m sure you do, because I’ve referred to it several times. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and he rented it out to some tenants, before going off on a journey. At the time of the harvest, he sent a servant to the tenants to collect some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the servants beat the servant and sent him away, empty-handed. He sent more servants, but the tenants beat some and killed others. Finally, the landowner decided to send his son, thinking that they will surely respect his son. But when the tenants saw the son, they recognised him as the son, and rather than have him rule over them, they decided to kill him.
The landowner in the parable hoped the tenants would respect his son. ‘Surely, they’ll respect my son’, he thought. But they did not respect the landowner’s son. And here’s this centurion, standing at the cross, who recognised that Jesus is God’s Son. But the Jews and the Romans did not respect God’s Son when he came into the world. No, instead they killed him, just as the tenants in the parable killed the landowner’s son.
And remember why he was killed like this? He was killed for claiming to be a king. Well, the reason the wicked tenants killed the landowner’s son was because they realised that he would inherit the land and he would one day rule over them; and they did not want him to rule over them. And though the Lord Jesus is God’s Son and our King, the people he came to save rejected him as their King; they did not want him to rule over them; and so they did what they could to kill him and to destroy him so that they would not have to obey him as their King.
And still today men and women and boys and girls refuse to accept that Jesus Christ is the King; and they will not have him rule over them. They will not bow to him and they will not obey him, because they want to live their lives their own way, without God ruling over them.
But if only those soldiers — who pretended to bow down to him and to hail him as their king — if only they did it for real, if only they did it sincerely, they would have discovered that he was the only one who was able to deliver them from their sin and misery and to give them everlasting life in his everlasting kingdom. He was the only one who was able to deliver them, because he’s the only one who suffered the wrath of God in the place of sinners, and who — by his death — has opened up the way for sinners to come into the presence of God in heaven where there is life and joy and peace for ever.
And if only those people — who passed by the cross and who hurled insults at him and who mocked him — if only they bowed before him and confessed him to be their King, they would have discovered that he’s the only Saviour of the world, and that he alone was able to save them from the coming wrath.
If only the soldiers had bowed before him, if only the people had bowed before him. But like so many others, they did not submit to him. What about you? Will you bow before him and confess that yes, you believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Anointed King, who gave up his life for sinners? And will you ask God to pardon you for all that you have done wrong for the sake of Christ who died for sinners? And will you promise that from now on you will live your life, no longer for yourself, but for Christ the King? Will you do that?
If you don’t, then be assured of this that the way into God’s glorious presence will be shut up to you so long as you refuse to repent and believe; and unless you repent and believe in Christ the Saviour, you will never ever be able to enjoy everlasting life in Christ’s everlasting kingdom, but you’ll instead suffer eternal punishment away from the presence of the Lord forever. But if you repent and believe, then be assured of this that the way into God’s glorious presence will forever be opened to you; and Christ the King will lead you along the narrow way that leads eventually to everlasting life. And so, will you repent and believe in Christ the King who is the only Saviour of the world?
And what about those of us who already believe in him? Well, even though you believe in Christ the King, you have often disobeyed him, haven’t you? Instead of living your life for him and for his glory, you have so often lived to please yourself. Instead of doing his will, which is what you’re supposed to do, you have so often disregarded his will and done whatever you wanted. Though you believe he’s your King, you have so often lived your life as if he were not your King.
What would an earthly king do to one of his subjects who disobeyed his commands and who disobeyed his orders? What would an earthly king do to a disobedient servant? Would he not punish his servants for disobeying him and for disregarding his authority? That’s what we’d expect an earthly king to do. But the good news of the gospel is that the Lord does not treat his people according to our sins; and he does not repay us according our iniquities. The good news is that as often as we disobey Christ our King, we’re able to go to God and confess our sins and seek his forgiveness. And he promises to pardon us — again and again and again — no matter what we have done, because Christ bore the punishment we deserve in full; he has suffered the condemnation we deserve in full; he has paid for our sins in full. And so, for his sake, we receive full forgiveness for all that we have done wrong. And despite our many sins, the way into God’s holy presence will never again be shut up to those who trust in his Son, because by his death on the cross, he has opened up the way to God; and he will never ever shut it again.
And so, those who have never submitted to Christ, should submit to him now and confess your sins to God and ask for his forgiveness. And those who have already submitted to Christ, should rejoice once again in the good news that God promises to forgive us for the sake of Christ who died for us; and despite our many sins, we still have the hope of everlasting life in the presence of God, a hope that God will never ever take away from those who trust in his Son.