November 1, 2010 David Balzer

Mark 15:21-47: The Death of Jesus

So this is it! The culmination of Jesus’ ministry on earth! All the talking and preparation is over! The miracles and healings have been done.

This is where the rubber meets the road, where we find out if Jesus is a simply a man of words, or a man of action!

All the purposes of the world are about to be fulfilled! Every event before and after find their meaning and purpose here!

The concert is about to begin! The rehearsals are over, the instruments are tuned, the PA is warmed up and ready to roar, the stadium is full, and the crowd is pumped. Everyone is ready! Ready for the superstar of the show to perform his explosive opening number. Everyone waits with expectation!

The hour has come for the miracle man!

He’s the one who made water into wine, who miraculously fed thousands,  calmed storms, healed the sick, the lame and the blind, raised the dead –

The hour has come!

But things have started to go wrong! This ruler of the wind and waves has been betrayed and captured. This mighty healer and miracle-worker has been accused and convicted, and left all alone. His disciples have fled in fear of their lives.

Puny, insignificant and spiteful little men pass a sentence of death on the Son of God.- the one who was with God in the beginning!

And Jesus just let’s all this happen! The hour has come?! What’s going on? What sort of hour is it anyway that has come?

1. Whose murder? (16-32)

The thing which strikes me most in these verses is the sheer ordinariness of them. Jesus seems to be a helpless passenger in the events which unfold.

He seems to be simply a piece of flotsam bobbing around as the powerful torrent of rushing floodwater sweeps him along. The powerful miracle-worker seems to be gone. In fact, Jesus, whose been the centre of the action for 15 chapters, is strangely absent in these verses. His name isn’t mentioned at all between v 15 and v 34! Jesus becomes simply “him” or “he”

These verses show us Jesus – by himself – against the world!

Jesus’ death is a case of

a. Murder by numbers:

(Mark 15:16 NIV)  “The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers.”

The writer doesn’t say “and called together some soldiers”

or “a suitable group of soldiers”. The whole company of soldiers was needed for this dangerous prisoner!

A Roman company was 600 soldiers! Perhaps it may have been a smaller detachment – say 100. Even if it was only 100, what a tragedy that Jesus, who went willingly to the cross, needed 100 men to crucify him!

Jesus against the world!

These courageous soldiers needed a whole company to crucify Jesus. They were nothing more than puny, insignificant school-yard bullies – nameless and faceless without identity

But it wasn’t just the soldiers either! Look at v29.

(Mark 15:29-32 NIV)  “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, {30} come down from the cross and save yourself!” {31} In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! {32} Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.”

“Those who passed by” seems fair enough. It was almost expected of them. And it’s no surprise that the chief priests and teachers of the law are in on the act! They’ve been out to get Jesus since the beginning. But “those crucified with him”?! That really takes the cake doesn’t it!

Can you imagine the scene? These two criminals aren’t far off death themselves. You’d think if there was ever a time to be introspective and worried about your own problems, this would be it!

You’re pinned to a cross like a butterfly on a pinboard. You’re on display next to a main road- up high so that everyone passing by can see you. The aim is to humiliate you, then kill you – painfully. You’re naked, you’re in excruciating pain, and will be dead in a few hours. How weird that you would be paying out the one next to you whose in the same position. It’s quite a bizarre picture!

What’s this picture tell us?

By focussing in on the two thieves, Mark shows us how inappropriate the behaviour of everyone was. It shows the blindness and sinfulness of the whole crowd. It shows the sheer lunacy of mocking one dying, when you’re only a hop and a skip behind him.

But are those we walk past in the street any different? How far are we all from death? Is it any less foolish for us to thumb our noses at Jesus when death could be waiting for us around the next corner?

There’s another reason Mark mentions the two thieves.

(Mark 15:27 NIV)  “They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left.”

Mark even goes so far as to specify where the two thieves were in relation to Jesus. Do the positions of on the right and left of Jesus remind you of anything?

(Mark 10:35-40 NIV)  “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” {36} “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. {37} They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” {38} “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” {39} “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, {40} but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.””

I think Mark’s point is that the disciples themselves were no different to the crowd. They misunderstood what Jesus’ kingdom was about as much as these criminals. Jesus’ glory is a strange glory! It’s certainly not what James and John expected!

It’s glory seen in shame. It’s kingship seen in servanthood. It’s authority seen in defeat. It’s success seen in failure. It’s power seen in submission. It’s victory seen in death

James and John wanted to follow Jesus into a wonderful new and powerful earthly kingdom. Yet to be on Jesus’ left and right in his glory means to be crucified with him.

To follow Jesus is to take the cup of suffering he takes and every day to take up the cross he takes up.

This is the Jesus who calls you to follow him. To follow Jesus is the only true way of life, but it’s not an easy way.

Obedience is harder than disobedience.

Listening to Jesus is harder than listening to the world

Submission is harder than standing up for your rights.

Being different to the world is harder than comformity

Defending truth is harder than tolerance

If you choose to follow him, do it because Jesus is the truth, not because the Christian life is an easy one.

One of the themes then has been “Murder by numbers”. Jesus – all alone – misunderstood and abandoned – against the world.

Another theme in this section is of

b. Accidental Fulfilments:

Throughout the account there are several important details which we may miss on first reading. Many of them seem accidental or even insignificant but to those of us “in the know”, with the benefit of hindsight, they are fascinating jewels.

The first real character we meet in this account is Simon of Cyrene

(Mark 15:21 NIV)  “A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.”

Simon was from Nth Africa. He was a long way from home. He’d stumbled onto the crucifixion march, and someone managed to end up carrying Jesus’ cross! He was the country hick in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It seems accidental, but to those of us who understand more of Jesus’ mission, it’s important!


(Mark 8:34 NIV)  “Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

All of Jesus’ followers have deserted him! They expected an earthly throne,

not a tomb! The only one left who follows Jesus truly does so by accident!! How ironic!**

Secondly, we read

(Mark 15:24 NIV)  “And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.”

This tragic display emphasises the attitude the soldiers have towards human life. They are more interested in Jesus’ meagre belongings than in his life.

It reminds me how during WW2 the Germans in the death camps would take gold fillings out of Jews before they were gassed.

But even in this pitiful scene, we see God’s hand. We see what it means to be a true king of Israel. For this scene echoes one found in Ps 22.

Ps 22 is a Psalm of King David – the great King of Israel – God’s chosen one – His Messiah -and the one from whom Jesus was descended.

Ps 22 doesn’t speak of glorious thrones and palaces. It speaks of David’s humiliation and helplessness at the hands of enemies. Among other things it says,

(Psa 22:12-18 NIV)  “Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. {13} Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me. {14} I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. {15} My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. {16} Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. {17} I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. {18} They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”

Jesus is achieving the plans of God. His kingdom is not about an earthly victory.

There is a bigger picture than the one we are seeing!

The rejection and helplessness felt by King David echoes and mirrors that felt by the greater King from David’s line – Jesus!

The soldiers have accidentally fulfilled God’s plans! How ironic that in their mockery and selfishness, the soldiers point to Jesus.

To Jesus, as the Messiah who fulfills God’s kingly purposes!

Thirdly we read,

(Mark 15:29-31 NIV)  “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, {30} come down from the cross and save yourself!” {31} In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!”

The crowd mock him as he hangs there with his broken and bruised body, for boldly claiming to destroy and rebuild the temple. How ironic that as they watch, his body, the temple, is being destroyed, and that when he is raised from death, the temple is rebuilt!

The priests criticise him for his lack of saving ability – That in his impotence on the cross he can’t even save himself. How ironic that it’s in this very action – of refusing to save himself – that he is effecting the salvation of the world! Jesus’ salvation is heralded by those who mock him!

How ironic!***

These situations involved unwitting and accidental incidents. Yet these incidents assumed greater significance. They were all part of God’s greater plan. God is the hands-on director of life’s movie

Mark has enabled us to see history through the director’s eye – “the director’s cut”!

What men see as their decisions we are able to see as all part of the eternal plan of God. A plan which spans all of these puny plans.

How should this affect the way we approach the events of our life? Are we conscious of God’s purposes? It’s often easy to see them as we look back on our life. Do we look for God’s plans in events as they happen?

Do we consider how God may want to use each circumstance that we find ourselves in? Or are we too busy setting our own agenda, and steering our own course?

Is our life a novel where the plot is guided and planned by the Author. Or a choose-your-own-adventure, where we do whatever we feel like?

c. A Right Royal Mess:

Another theme through this section is that of royalty. The Jews were expecting a King from David’s line who would bring about a new glorious kingdom.

This desire had been strengthened by the Roman oppression.

Rome, on the other hand, was keen to keep a lid on this nationalistic fervour. Any new king would threaten their rule.

The Roman mockery of Jesus as “King of the Jews” was poking fun not just at Jesus but at the insignificant hopes of the tin-pot nation Israel. “Is this the best you can do?”

The notice above Jesus’ head, “THE KING OF THE JEWS”, serves a similar purpose.

“He’s your king – next time you think about rebelling against Rome, just remember what happened to your last king” – is the message being sent

Yet again, we see how Mark uses these events with a sense of irony. It is his action on the cross which shows his glory, and achieves his victory over sin and death.

How ironic that Rome’s mocking charge identifies Jesus more accurately than most of the Jews!

In the first section, Jesus has been conspicuous by his absence – “who’s murder?”. In the second section, we answer the question, it’s

2. Jesus’ murder! (33-39)

It almost appears that Jesus has been forgotten. In this section the focus returns to Jesus, as we zoom in on him.

a) An earth-shattering event

The first thing we see is that nature is more receptive to what’s going on than the people!

(Mark 15:33 NIV)  “At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.”

The whole land was dark from midday to 3 pm! The enormous significance of Jesus’ death is seen in this darkness.

It was common for momentous earthly events to be proclaimed by cataclysmic heavenly events. Remember that Jesus’ birth had been heralded by the star in the sky.

And Jesus had foretold of these events in Ch 13

(Mark 13:24-26 NIV)  “”But in those days, following that distress, “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; {25} the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ {26} “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”

This was no run of the mill crucifixion! What was happening beside this dusty road, among dozens of similar crosses, in a backwater of the Roman empire, was re-shaping the whole of creation.

This event gives significance and explanation to every event before and after it. It explains why God deals with the human race. It explains his purposes in creation.

The people have missed the importance, but the creation recognises the true significance!

The darkness is also a sign of God’s curse just as the plague of darkness was on Egypt and Pharoah in Exodus. God’s curse is on his only Son Jesus!

The darkness shows what Jesus reveals in his cry in the following verse – that God has abandoned him.

b) Abandoned

In v 34, Jesus’ name is mentioned for the first time since v 15

(Mark 15:34 NIV)  “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?””

Now these words of Jesus are also taken from Ps 22. They’re also King David’s cry as he is surrounded by his enemies, and feels that God has deserted him.

Perhaps Jesus had seen the soldiers gambling for his clothes, and this reminded him of Ps 22? My guess is that it was nothing as rational as this.

The darkness had shown God’s curse on him. At his death, God had placed on his shoulders the guilt of the sin of the world.

God turned his face from his only son and for the first time in all eternity, Jesus felt the incredible pain of separation from his Father.

It was pain he knew was coming, and which he longed to avoid

(Mark 14:33-36 NIV)  “He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. {34} “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” {35} Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. {36} “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.””

Jesus knew that his role was to pay a price. This was what was meant by giving his life as a ransom. That’s what he said back in Ch 10. V45. A ransom is a price paid to buy someone back. Jesus paid with his life for us. He took the punishment we deserved

And for this act, his Father rejected him. For his obedience, his Father turned his back on him. When your father doesn’t acknowledge you, it hurts!

Some men go through their whole lives looking for the approval of their father.

My Dad is quite stern, and compliments and approval don’t come easily. I try hard to win Dad’s approval. Even now, it’s important to me what Dad thinks of the things I do. Imagine how Jesus felt to be rejected by the Father with whom he’d been one since all eternity!

Yet, in obedience, he went to the cross!

(Mark 14:36 NIV)  “”Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.””

Jesus was willing to endure the cup of suffering because of his great love for us.

c) The Demolition Expert:

So, as an act of obedience, Jesus dies.

(Mark 15:37-39 NIV)  “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. {38} The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. {39} And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!””

I’d never noticed this before, but it was the way Jesus died that caused the centurion to exclaim, “Surely this man was the Son of God”

I’d always assumed that it was because of the way Jesus lived, or perhaps the way he went to his death. But it was Jesus’ loud cry – a sign of the strength he still had – which surprised this seasoned veteran.

It caused him to recognise that Jesus was in control of the situation, and that death was his decision. Jesus wasn’t defeated and overcome by death, he submitted to it as an act of his will, and an act of obedience to his father.

The effect of Jesus’ death was that the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. Now, there were two curtains in the temple. One was inner and the other outer. One curtain was inside the inner sanctuary, and separated the Holy Place from the Holy of holies.

If this curtain had been torn, only a few priests would have seen it, and it’s destruction would have been easy to hide.

The second curtain separated the inner sanctuary from the forecourt. It was visible from the forecourt when the temple doors were opened. If this curtain had been torn, it would have been a public sign – like the darkened sky.

I feel that this is more likely.

The tearing of the temple curtain represents that – in spiritual terms – the temple is now old-hat, superceded, a runout model. Jesus has done the spring clean on the temple when he cleared it. He has replaced it! He is the new and improved model.

He is the means by which man and God can now relate. It is no longer through the temple which man approaches God.

(Heb 9:12-14 NIV)  “Jesus did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. {13} The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. {14} How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”

Do you know God? Do you feel clean? Do you feel that you are no longer guilty before God!

Are you confident that it is because of what Jesus has done that you have been put right with God?

It is only through this act of Jesus that God can declare us to be friends with him. This is the most important act in the history of the world! What will you do in response to it?

3. Witnesses for the Crown: (40-47)

The last section I’ll cover only very briefly. It really sets up the next section. It tells the story of those women who witnessed Jesus’ death and his burial, and his resurrection.

In Mark’s account, it is these women who are the eyewitnesses to the events of Jesus’ glory! It is these women who are the foundation of the new church built on the events of these few days.

They say that if you want someone to stick at a job, you get a woman to do it! The right man for the job is a woman!

(Mark 15:40-47 NIV)  “Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. {41} In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there. {42} It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, {43} Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. {44} Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. {45} When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. {46} So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. {47} Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.”

We are here today because of the testimony of these women.

But there is more to our connection with these women. The next generation of the church will only exist because we testify to what we know of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.

Will you be witnesses for the crown?

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