Man of Action, Part 7

The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ

The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ

The defining events of Christianity – the reasons for its existence – are the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In fact, I’ll go one further. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are events that give meaning and purpose to our world. These events are the hinge upon which the history of mankind swings. What happened to Jesus is the pivotal point this planet’s history. Mark 15 gives a detailed account of our Lord’s trial, crucifixion, and death.

Innocent, yet condemned, Mark 15:1 – 15

After Jesus had been arrested, a mock trial was held at the palace of the high priest, Caiaphas. This was a serious thing; it lasted an entire night. The next morning was Passover.

Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, reached a decision. They bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate. (Mark 15:1 TNIV)

It was early, around 6 am, when Jesus was taken before Pilate’s civil court.

The chief priests accused him of many things. (Mark 15:3 TNIV)

The Romans, represented by Pilate, would have had no interest in a charge of blasphemy, which was what the Jews had come up with. This wouldn’t have merited the death penalty, so the Sanhedrin downplayed that charge and instead, charged Jesus was treason. In all, four charges were leveled at Jesus Christ:

• Stirring up the people against the Roman government;
• He prohibited the poll tax;
• He claimed to a king;
• He claimed to be the Son of God (see Luke 23:2 and John 19:7)

The first two charges were completely false and the last two were true, but either misunderstood or misrepresented before the court. To his credit, Pilate was no dummy. He smelled something fishy. He didn’t care about Jesus one way or the other, but he probably resented these pesky and arrogant religious leaders. So, he took Jesus aside to question Him personally:

So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.” But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed. (Mark 15:4, 5 TNIV)

Pilate was astonished with Jesus’ attitude. In all probability, Pilate tried to give Jesus an out, but Jesus didn’t take it and Pilate didn’t want anything to do with Him. Too bad for Pilate. He just wanted to be left alone; he didn’t care about Jesus. He should have. Whenever the Apostle’s Creed is recited, the judgment of history upon him is remembered: Jesus Christ “suffered under Pontius Pilate.”

It was clear that Jesus was innocent. Pilate should have released Him. Instead, we read this:

“Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead. (Mark 15:9 – 11 TNIV)

It was Pilate’s custom to release one prisoner during Passover; a prisoner of the people’s choice. Pilate was cruel, but he did this once a year to soften his image and help his image among the Jews.  Instead of Jesus, the crowd wanted a man named Barabbas released. We don’t know anything about this guy, although Hollywood knew enough to make a movie about him. His name, Barabbas, is a non-descript name, meaning, “son of a father.” Instead of the Son of God, the crowd chose some chump known only as the “son of a father.” In other words, Barabbas was an insignificant nobody. That’s who was allowed to live this day.

Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. (Mark 15:15 TNIV)

There was no changing the mind of the mob. Pilate put forth a little effort, but the crowd would not be swayed. So in the end, he made his decision merely as a political opportunist – a morally confused and weak man without an ounce of integrity. G.K. Chesterton once made a statement that explains perfectly why Barabbas was chosen over Jesus:

The issue is now clear. It is between light and darkness and everyone must choose his side.

Crucified and dead, Mark 15:16 – 41

They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get. (Mark 15:22 – 24 TNIV)

The fix was in and Jesus’ life was now measured in hours. He would be crucified like a common criminal. Both Roman and Jewish executions were done outside the city. The place of execution was Golgotha (Aramaic) or Calvary (Latin). Nobody is sure exactly where this place was located, other than it was outside the wall of Jerusalem.

In Matthew’s account, the soldiers offer Jesus wine mixed with something bitter to drink. Mark tells us it was wine mixed with myrrh. Apparently our Lord tasted it, but then refused it. There is some speculation as to why He did this. It seems likely, though, that Jesus wasn’t interested in having the pain dulled. He wanted His mind clear throughout this experience, so that He would totally understand and comprehend what being sinful man’s perfect substitute was all about.

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. (Mark 15:33 TNIV)

From 9 am until noon, Calvary would have been a busy place. The soldiers had performed their various tasks. Passersby would have gawked at Jesus nailed up to a cross, along with the other criminals. Others, including the religious leaders would have scoffed and mocked the whole scene. But at noon, a very odd and unexpected thing happened: The land fell into darkness. This shouldn’t have been a surprise; it had been foretold by the prophet Amos:

“In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.” (Amos 8:9 TNIV)

Nobody knows for sure what caused this darkness, other than God’s direct intervention into the normal cycles of our earth. Apparently all of Israel fell into darkness. More than speculating how it happened is why it happened at all.  What was the point of this darkness? In the very simplest of terms, this darkness represented God’s judgment upon the sins of man. His awesome wrath, focused on His Son as the sinner’s substitute blotted out the light. William Hendriksen makes this powerful observation:

Hell came to Calvary that day, and the Savior descended into it and bore its horrors in our stead.

Mr Hendriksen offers the following as proof that this is the correct answer:

First, in the Bible, “darkness” is often associated with God’s judgment.

In that day they will roar over it like the roaring of the sea. And if one looks at the land, there is only darkness and distress; even the sun will be darkened by clouds. (Isaiah 5:30 TNIV)
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. (Isaiah 60:2 TNIV)
I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. (Joel 2:30, 31 TNIV)

Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light. (Amos 5:18 TNIV)

Second, with His death moments away, Jesus Himself said He was about to give His life as a “ransom for many.”

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45 TNIV)
Matthew 20:28 TNIV

…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28 TNIV)

This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:28 TNIV)

At last, at the moment of His death, our Lord cried out these words:

And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). (Mark 15:34 TNIV)

It’s a peculiarity of Mark’s Gospel that he breaks the day of Jesus’ crucifixion up into three hour chunks. The first three hours, from 9 am until noon, and the second three hour chunk was from noon until 3 pm. During those first three hours, the world was in the light physically but in the dark spiritually. Man did his worst in the light from 9 am until noon. Man mocked, beat, scoffed at, tortured, and began to kill the innocent Son of God. The sin of man put Jesus on the Cross. During the second three hour segment, the world may have been in darkness, but it was in the light spiritually because it was then that God began to do His work. From noon until 3 pm Jesus hung dying for the sins of the world, not because of them. From noon until 3 pm Jesus became sin for us. From 9 am until noon, the world did all it could to stop and destroy Jesus, but from noon until 3 pm Jesus paid the price for your sins and mine. He felt as though He was forsaken of God, but even during the worst time of Jesus’ life, God was in Him.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18, 19 TNIV)

It’s a paradox. What our Lord felt and said, and was not really true. There was no way – no way – God the Father ever left His Son or ever stopped loving Him. No way. Some Bible teachers teach that God the Father deserted His Son’s human nature. But that’s a most unsatisfactory answer. It makes our Savior sound like some kind of freak. He was, in fact, completely human and completely divine, all at the same time.

Turing to Hendriksen for help again, he offers a helpful, if flawed, illustration.

Let us say a child is very sick. He is still too young to understand why he has to be taken to the hospital, and especially why, while there, he may have to be in the ICU, where his parents cannot always be by his side. His parents love him as much as ever. But there may be moments when the child misses the presence of his father or mother so much that he experiences profound anguish. So also Jesus. His soul reaches out for the One whom he calls “my God,” but His God does not answer Him.

This was something Jesus knew was coming, by the way. What He experienced on the Cross, whether in reality or merely felt in the depths of His heart, is what believers feel all the time. Who reading this has never felt as though God had forsaken them? Who has never felt as though their prayers were not getting past the ceiling? To you, Jesus offered this advice:

“Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.” (John 16:31, 32 TNIV)

It’s an objective fact. Jesus was never alone, not even the Cross. And you’re never alone, either. In your darkest hour, as in Christ’s, you may feel alone, but you aren’t. God is right there, whether you feel Him or not. He’s there.

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