I believe, without question, that the greatest pivotal event in history is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament saints looked forward to it, and the New Testament church looks back to it. But not only is it central to Christians, the cross is the monumental centerpiece of the history of the whole world. Even our calendar reflects the fact of Jesus’s life and death. I know, AD does not mean “after death.” It means “anno domini”, which means “in the year of our Lord.” However, even though historians now use BCE or CE, meaning “before common era,” and “common era,” the determining crux of the eras is still the life of Jesus Christ.
Jesus whole life purpose was to come to offer Himself as our substitute, to die on the cross for our sins, that we might be made righteous by the grace of God and be given spiritual life. But in order to accomplish that, He also had to be God incarnate, He also had to be the Messiah, He also had to be the Son of God, and He also had to be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
And I believe that as Mark describes the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, he is instructing us in this tragedy of errors, as the world fails to recognize Jesus Christ as it’s King. In fact, they scorn Him and ridicule Him for claiming to be the King of the Jews. If this event were a fictional work of literature, then this story would easily best the greatest Shakespearean tragedies. The King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, rejected, despised, scorned by His own people, and to add injury to insult, they crucify Him, having failed to recognize His rightful claim to the throne, nor His mission of mercy towards the very ones that assailed Him.
I think it’s very interesting that Mark gives merely four words to describe the actual act of the crucifixion; “and they crucified Him.” Mark does not tell us all the grisly details of crucifixion. He leaves out even many of the events that the other gospel writers include. Mark obviously wants to focus our attention on this event, but on what exactly? Volumes of books have been written on the crucifixion. Movies have been made, poems written, songs composed, and yet Mark, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, gives us four words. What gives? If not the torture of the cross, then what should we be considering here?
Well, I want to suggest that what Mark wants us to consider the humiliation of King Jesus. He is humiliated in that He has put aside HIs robes of glory, His heavenly splendor, and for our sakes became poor, for our sakes became garbed in human flesh, and yet He was despised for it, He was ridiculed for it, He was flogged for it, and then hanged for it. Paul says in 2Cor. 8:9 “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”
Mark emphasizes again and again that He was the King of the Jews. Notice how many times the phrase turns up in this section of scripture. Notice in vs2, Pilate questioned Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And He *answered him, “It is as you say.” Then notice vs9, Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” Then vs12 Answering again, Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” Next, let’s hear the words of the soldiers in vs18 and they began to acclaim Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then notice the charge they crucified Him under; vs26 The inscription of the charge against Him read, “THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Notice next they join the title Messiah, or Christ, with the King of the Jews, in vs32 “Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!”
Now that’s a pretty interesting perspective on the crucifixion, I believe. Jesus claimed to be the King of the Jews and the Son of God. Jesus was condemned, crucified for being the King of the Jews. He was ridiculed and scorned and beaten for being the King of the Jews. He was taunted to come down from the cross if He was indeed the Messiah and the King of the Jews.
Now to be clear, to claim to be the Messiah was to claim to be the anointed King of the Jews by God Himself. The Messiah, by many prophesies, was to be a descendent of David, of the line to the throne of David, which indicated that the Messiah would restore the kingdom of Israel. So in the last chapter, when Jesus is brought before the High Priest in a midnight trial, they ask Jesus pointblank, “Are You the Christ (that is the Messiah), the Son of the Blessed One?” And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.”
So Jesus claimed to the religious leaders of the Jews that He was the Messiah, that He was the Son of God, and that He would be sitting on the throne of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven. That’s a pretty heavy claim. He is claiming not to be just the King of the Jews, but the Supreme Ruler of the Earth. And then to Pilate, the face of Roman civil authority, who asks “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answers, “it is as you say.”
Now Mark left out the remainder of the remarks that Jesus said to Pilate. But it behooves us to consider them because it’s reported in John 18:36 Jesus continued to answer Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”
What Jesus is claiming is pretty clear; His kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, not of this world. Not of the physical, material world. It is a kingdom of the spiritual world. And those who are spiritual are part of His kingdom. Though Jesus had every right to claim the physical, material benefits of being the King of the Jews, the Messiah, He was not setting up a physical throne in Jerusalem but through the royal line of David is establishing a spiritual sovereignty over the world. And so as Paul would make very clear later in his epistle to the Romans said in chapter 2:28-29 “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.”
Now that death of the flesh, which Paul says is pictured by circumcision, is described for us here as the cross. The cross is the means by which the flesh is put to death, and righteousness is revealed, so that sinners might be made spiritually born again. Folks, there is something missing today in modern Christianity. And that is the cross. Not the historical details of the crucifixion. I think we are all well familiar with them. But taking up our cross and following Jesus. We have to take up our cross, we have to crucify the flesh, we have to be reborn, transformed, converted, so that we have new life. Gal. 5:24-25 “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”
I’m afraid for the church today because we have millions of people who are claiming to be Christians, claiming faith in Christ, but most cannot be characterized as having been reborn, they cannot be described as all things becoming new, they cannot be thought of as having been converted. As a result of their Christianity, they may be able to make the claim that they are improved. but not changed. I’m afraid it is because they have been taught a watered down gospel, which says you can retain all the corruptness of the flesh and still have salvation.
The truth is, that the flesh and spirit are diametrically opposed. Rom 8:5-8, 12-14 “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. … 12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh– for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”
I’m sure you have all seen the products which have become familiar in the grocery store, and then they come out with a new color scheme on their packaging, and they write in bold letters, “New, Improved!” Yet when you taste it, it tastes the same as it ever did. I’m afraid that is what a lot of Christians are like. They claim to be new and improved, but what’s inside still seems to the same. The problem is perhaps that they have never been converted. They have just changed some things on the outside, but not the inside.
Now that change comes from recognizing that you are a sinner in need of changing, number one. It is an appeal to the One who is able to change you to forgive you of your sins, and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness. To make you into a new creature. And that conversion can only come from the One who has the authority to give life, and to take it away. It comes when we renounce our will and bow down and worship the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who alone has the power and authority to forgive sins, and to give new life.
I think there is some difficulty in recognizing what it means to be a King in today’s culture. We live in a culture of independence, of personal rights. We live in a time when democracy claims to be the rule of law. The rule of the people. But that is not what a King or a kingdom represented in history. A King had complete authority over life or death. A King owned all the land, and all the people of the land. Everything was under His dominion. The King granted land to certain nobles. He appointed certain people to certain tasks. He gave permission for people to do various things. Everything existed by His decree. Now that is an outmoded form of government today. But it was very much in play for the first 6000 years of the history of the world. And that kind of sovereignty is what is referred to in the title King of the Jews.
Now Mark gives us a long list of folks that are at the cross during the crucifixion. And the overwhelming response of them all towards the idea that Jesus was the King of the Jews is that of scorn and ridicule. But not all of them. I want to briefly address each of these groups as they are recorded as encountering the Lord Jesus as He suffered, and in the process we will see how they came to see the cross and it’s significance for them.
The first person we see after the sentencing by Pilate an scourging by the soldiers is a man called Simon of Cyrene. As Jesus is being led to the cross, He is forced to carry His cross. And the suffering He has already endured, and the lack of rest or sleep has had a tremendous effect on Him. So as He is carrying His cross, Mark tells us that He stumbled, and so the Roman soldiers requisitioned a passerby, who was coming into Jerusalem from the country, to carry the cross of Jesus.
There is a picture here that I think is illustrative for us as we labor under the load of our sin. Notice the phrase in vs21, that Simon was chosen “to bear His cross.” The cross is a picture of sin. And our load of sin causes us to stumble. The picture here is that we need someone to carry our load for us. Our sin is too much for us to bear. But Jesus bore our sins on the cross, that we might be made righteous. And I believe that Simon came to see this for himself at some point.
Now there is a tradition that Simon actually became a Christian as a result of witnessing the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. We don’t know exactly how it happened, or when it happened, but notice that Mark tells the reader that Simon was the father of Rufus and Alexander. The point being that they were known to the church in Rome at the time of Mark’s writing, presumably because their father Simon had first become a Christian, and then led his sons to become Christians. Many believe that Paul writing much later to the Romans mentions Rufus as a leader of the church of Rome in Romans chapter 16.
The next group we see in this passage is the soldiers once again. They brought Jesus to a place called Golgotha. There are a variety of explanations why it was called the place of a skull, we are not sure which is the real reason. But that definition is not the point of this lesson. We see the soldiers offered Him a drink mixed with wine and myrrh, which was a form of narcotic that was given to help those being crucified to lessen the pain somewhat. But Jesus refused it. As I said last week, He had no desire to escape the cross, nor even it’s suffering. He willingly suffered for sin, because that was the penalty for sin that was due to us.
You know, the cross is a terrible way to die. But it may not be the worst possible way to die. I don’t know what is, and I prefer not to think of it. Thousands of people have been crucified, however, down through the centuries. However, God chose the torture of the cross as a just recompense for the affront of our sin. A Righteous Judge must give an adequate punishment suited to the severity of the crime. And the agony of the cross illustrates for us the severity of our crimes against God. We may think of our sins as being too terrible, but to a Holy God, they deserve not only the horrors of the cross, but the beatings of the trial, and the terrors of Hell. We have too small a view of sin, and too mild a view of God’s wrath against sin.
Then after the soldiers had crucified Him, Mark says they divided among themselves His garments. This is all in fulfillment of prophecy found in Psalms 22:16-18 “For dogs have surrounded me; A band of evildoers has encompassed me; They pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me; They divide my garments among them, And for my clothing they cast lots.” Written roughly 1000 years before Christ, this is an amazing fulfillment of prophecy. That He was crucified, and that they cast lots for His clothing.
The illustration though that needs to be seen in this event, is that the soldiers are natural men, physical men, and consequently are blind to the spiritual. Thus they crucify the King of the Spiritual Kingdom of the whole earth, and focus only on His clothes. They completely miss the point of the crucifixion, that God has prepared a righteous robe for them to wear through the death of Jesus Christ, the King of the Jews. Instead, they are focused on the physical parts of His clothing. How many people come to Christianity today looking for the physical benefits to the cross, and completely miss the spiritual blessing. The prosperity gospel that glosses over the blessing of new life in the Spirit, while emphasizing your best life now, is but a caricature of what we see these poor blind soldiers doing.
These callous men who are gambling over Jesus’s clothes, are the very ones of whom Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” They are looking down at the clothing and the dice on the ground, when they should be looking up, where above Christ’s head is the inscription written in Aramaic, Hebrew and Latin, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. The Creator of life, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the source of true riches, hangs above them, while they focus on the rags below.
The next group that Mark shows us at the cross is the robbers who were crucified with Him. Mark doesn’t give us the details that the other gospel writers do concerning these men. He seems content to say in vs.32 that they were also insulting Him. But Mark does tell us that this fulfills the prophecy that He would be numbered with transgressors which is found in Isaiah 53:12 written about 700 years before Christ.
Luke tells us that one of the robbers in particular was hurling abuse at Jesus, but the other rebuked him and then said, Luke 23:41-42 “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” Jesus answered Him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” One robber despised Jesus as a victim, saw only a convicted man dying upon a cross, the other saw a King, dying to give men life.
Then there are the passersby. It was typical of Rome to crucify criminals beside the main roads, in order to be a warning to others of a criminal intent. And as it was the Passover, many people were undoubtedly passing by to enter into Jerusalem before the Sabbath. And those who passed by were blaspheming Him , shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuilt it in three days, save yourself and come down from the cross.”
The thing that these passersby failed to recognize, was that Jesus was intentionally hanging there to save them. He had no interest in saving Himself. He would not come down from the cross to try to save Himself. He went to the cross to save them. Isaiah 53:7 “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.” The Lion of Judah became a lamb that was slaughtered for the sins of His people.
These naysayers are fulfilling prophecy again from Psalm 22:6-7 “But I am a worm and not a man, A reproach of men and despised by the people. All who see me sneer at me; They separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying,“Commit yourself to the LORD; let Him deliver him; Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.”
There is another group of scoffers that Mark describes, the chief priests and the scribes. The very ones who demanded that Pilate crucify Him. The ones who arrested Him and demanded that He be killed for the charges of blasphemy and treason. Now they come to the cross for their pound of flesh, and say, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!”
Notice first of all, they recognize that Jesus has saved others. They cannot dispute His miracles. So what they do is just add more requirements in order for them to believe. The problem is that they don’t want to believe. They hated Him without a cause. Notice also that they call Him the King of Israel, the Christ, or the Messiah. They are saying it in sarcasm, of course.
But by their words they condemn themselves. “Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!” They say that if they see, they will believe. But salvation is by faith, and faith is the evidence of things not seen. I’m afraid that a lot of people today, even many so called Christians, are guilty of making this charge against Christ. “Manifest yourself and we will believe! Show us a sign and we will believe. Why doesn’t God reveal Himself? I would believe if He would show Himself.” Such sentiments are not of God, but of the flesh. Jesus said God is Spirit, and we must worship Him in Spirit and in truth. The Bible tells us that the just shall live by faith, not by sight. Jesus said concerning Lazarus and the rich man, that even if a man were to come back to earth from the dead, they will not believe. And even if Jesus was to have come down from the cross, these men would not have believed.
Now there would come a time when it says in Acts that many priests came to faith. But I think it was because of the preaching of the Word of God, in conjunction with the working of the Holy Spirit. And that was poured out on the church with power after Pentecost. Acts 6:7 “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”
This speaks volumes of the love of God towards sinners, that after the resurrection, Jesus did not send the apostles to hunt down and put to death or condemn to death the priests, but to preach the gospel so that even the very ones who persecuted Christ to death, might live in the Spirit by faith in the gospel. What a great testimony to the patience of God when we are living in rebellion against Him. God is continually wooing us, and seducing us by His mercy and grace that we might turn to Him. The gift of salvation is available to everyone, even to those who hammered the nails in His hands. Even to those who cheered His crucifixion. Even to those who deserted Him at His trial. Christ came to save sinners, even the chiefest of sinners. The only people that cannot be saved, are those who will not be saved.
Well, Jesus had been crucified at about 9am. For three hours He endured not only the torment of the cross, but the ridicule and scorn of His people. But then at high noon the lights went out. God caused darkness to come upon the land for three hours. Some translations say it was an eclipse of the sun. But the full moon would have prevented a natural occurrence of an eclipse. I believe it was a supernatural event, signifying God’s judgment upon the sin of the world.
For three hours of darkness God’s judgment rained down upon Jesus in a way that we cannot imagine. But it obviously caused great torment and a sense of desolation to Jesus. Vs.34 At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “ELOI, ELOI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” which is translated, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?”
Once again, this is a direct fulfillment of Psalm 22, which says in vs 1, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.” We have already seen the disciples forsake Jesus, the Jews forsake Jesus, and now it seems even God the Father forsakes Jesus as Christ becomes sin for us.
But some bystanders hearing Jesus, seems to misunderstand Him as asking for Elijah. And so they say, “Behold, He is calling for Elijah.” Someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink, saying, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to take Him down.” Perhaps they referred to Elijah, having been familiar with the prophecy that Elijah would come first before the Messiah, to prepare the way for Him. So they are sarcastically saying that maybe Elijah will come and help Him come down from the cross. Right up to the end some of them are slandering Christ.
And you know, the same is said to be true of the generation of the last days. 2Peter 3:3-4 “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” I believe we are living in the last days, in dark days of spiritual blindness and hardness of heart. And the Bible teaches that God will bring judgment upon the world during that darkness, but men still will not repent.
Right up to the second coming of Christ, men will curse God, and ridicule Him, and mock God.
Mark then tells us in vs37 after this one last mockery that “Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last.” We know from the other gospels that He cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit. It is finished!” Jesus gave up HIs Spirit to the care of the Father, as His body died hanging there on the cross. And Mark tells us at that moment, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. This veil being torn from the top to the bottom is another supernatural occurrence by God showing that the way to Him was made possible to all men. The chief priests had been the only one allowed in to the Holy of Holies, and that only once a year. Now that was rent, the high priests office is no more necessary, as our Great High Priest fulfilled the role of both the mediator and the eternal, perfect sacrifice for sin. The curtain that separated the natural from the spiritual was opened up through the death of Jesus Christ, that we who were condemned flesh, might be given spiritual life.
Finally, there is one last person that we will look at today. We see the centurion, who witnessed the entire proceedings, from trial to the darkness, to the way that Jesus gave up His Spirit to die, and who seeing all of that comes to the conclusion, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
This centurion, who took part in the torture and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, suddenly sees in the death of Jesus the evidence of Christ’s divinity. He who had participated in nailing Jesus to the cross, now confessed Him as the Son of God, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. And by such faith, he was given forgiveness, he was given repentance, he was given new life by faith in Jesus Christ.
Listen, what we need to take away from this is that regardless of your rebellion, or how grievous your sin might be, or how horribly you may have blasphemed against the Lord, He died to save you. He died to change you, to make you a part of His kingdom. Repent and be converted. Call upon the Lord to save you, and give you a new life. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, and be saved today.