(Lenten sermon delivered in
Oak Forest on March 20, 2013
by Seminarian Jason A. Mabe)
Text: Mark 15:22-32
In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Suffering Substitute for poor sinners, dearly beloved fellow watchers with Him in His bitter passion:
In our mid-week Lenten meditations, we have had the privilege to “Behold the Man,” Jesus, our Savior, suffering in our stead and for our sakes. We beheld how He was in agony for us during His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane as He suffered the agony of a guilty conscience weighed down by the world’s sins, also our sins, laid to His charge by His heavenly Father. We beheld Him betrayed for us into the hands of the chief priests by Judas and thus subjected to the worst kind of treachery; and we witnessed Him subsequently arrested, taken prisoner for what we have done. We beheld Him suffering the denial by Peter, who arrogantly boasted that he would neither be offended because of Him nor deny Him in any wise – the very denial we make of Him when we, according to our sinful flesh, refuse to acknowledge Him. We beheld Him accused of blasphemy, acts of sedition, and treason, crimes of which we are truly guilty before God by commission or omission. We beheld Him abused, scourged and smote maliciously by Roman soldiers for us, the very ones who by our sins caused that mistreatment. And now this evening in our sixth meditation, we look to the text before us and behold Him yet again, this time on the way to the cross. Come with me then and “Behold the Man” crucified for you!
The description of Christ’s crucifixion that Mark gives us in our text is very brief: “They crucified Him” (v. 25). More words to describe this process were not necessary for Mark’s readers since crucifixion was commonplace and was well-understood by the people at the time. Secular historians describe crucifixion as an excruciating way to die since, as an instrument of torture, it was designed to last all day and even several days, even though many victims did not die as a direct result of it but had to be beaten to death to finish them off! In the process of a crucifixion, a cross of timbers was first placed on the ground; and then the victim was stretched out against the wood to the extremities of the cross bar. With the victim’s hands placed out to each side, heavy iron nails were then driven through his hands and also through his feet into the wood to fasten him to the cross. The victim was now regarded to be “crucified” (vv. 24–25), or affixed to a cross. When, as Mark records in our text, Jesus was in this same manner “crucified,” the Old Testament prophecy of the Savior’s words recorded by David in Psalm 22 was fulfilled; for “they pierced My hands and My feet” (v. 16c). Throughout this entire process, Jesus suffered traumatically. Just try to imagine yourself in this unbearable situation – huge spikes driven through your hands and your feet, suffering not only the trauma of being nailed to the cross, but also by having your shoulders overly extended and disjointed and your rib cage so lifted up that you can hardly breathe, hanging in this torturous condition for hours!
This horrible process of crucifixion, being a form of sadistic torture, was so cruel and degrading that it was not considered appropriate for Roman citizens. The Jews, however, were not Roman citizens but colonists, no better than slaves under Roman law. Certainly Jesus was not regarded by the Romans as what at least some of the Pharisees recognized Him to be, namely, “a teacher come from God” (John 3:2). Rather, He was in His own words in Psalm 22, “a worm and no man, a reproach of men and despised of the people” (v. 6). Jesus had been up all night without sleep, having been dragged by the Jews from one court to another, in trials which were illegal under Jewish law because they were held at night, trials in which Jesus was falsely accused, slapped and mocked. Early the next morning at six o’clock, He had been taken to Pilate who, having yielded to the political pressure of the Jews, finally sentenced Him to death even though he had declared Jesus to be innocent! Jesus, having been scourged, smacked around, and spat upon, carried His cross until He could not bear it any longer; and then Simon of Cyrene was compelled to finish carrying it to the place of execution.
Now, as our text reads, “They bring Him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, ‘The place of a skull’” (v. 22), the common place of execution outside the city walls of Jerusalem. We learn here that the time of this event was “the third hour” (v. 25a) of the day, nine o’clock in the morning as the Jews reckoned time. It was then that “they crucified Him” (v. 25b). When we behold what Jesus was going through, we can better understand what He suffered for our sake — innocent though He was in His person and yet suffering intensely as the vilest criminal in our stead.
In verse 23 of our text, we see that “wine mingled with myrrh” was offered to Jesus just before His crucifixion, but that He “received it not.” This wine, into which a narcotic, an anesthetic drug, was mixed, was customarily given to criminals prior to their crucifixion to reduce the immediate pain — not for the purpose of showing mercy toward the condemned — but so that the victim did not die prematurely of cardiac arrest and thus escape the intended torture. Jesus, however, refused such a drink, choosing instead to experience, with His senses unimpaired, the full extent of the agony for and in the stead of all mankind, for us, for you. He did not shrink back from the cup of suffering which His Father had given Him to drink (cf. Matthew 26:42) because it was necessary for Him, “who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree” (I Peter 2:24), Peter writes in his first epistle, to go through all of this pain for us in order to redeem us and all the world from our sins.
Jesus was crucified, He was subjected to this cruel form of capital punishment, in order to expiate, that is, fully pay for and remove from before God the guilt and sins of all mankind. We learn from our text that “He was numbered with the transgressors” (v. 28); and in this way “the Scripture was fulfilled,” namely, the Old Testament prophecy recorded in Isaiah chapter 53, verse 12. Jesus was “numbered,” that is, counted “with the transgressors” — not merely because He was crucified between “two thieves, the one on His right hand and the other on His left” (v. 27) — but because He was numbered as a transgressor and on behalf of transgressors as the vicarious Redeemer of all sinful mankind. Jesus had assumed the sins of the world, that is, for every soul of man, by way of imputation or reckoning; for God had “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us,” St. Paul explains in II Corinthians 5:21; and “the Lord ha[d] laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). In this manner, my fellow watchers, God imputed or charged to the innocent Christ the sins of all mankind and meted out His full wrath on Christ instead of on us, so that Jesus suffered the guilt and suffered the punishment of the world’s transgressions; for “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust” (I Peter 3:18). Thus, “in Christ,” God removed the cause of His righteous anger toward sinful mankind – “the sin of the world” (cf. John 1:29), thereby “reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (II Corinthians 5:19).
Moreover, in connection with His crucifixion, Jesus was to fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the suffering of the Messiah. We read for example in our text that “when they had crucified Him, they parted His garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take” (v. 24). This seemingly insignificant detail had been foretold long ago by David in the 22nd Psalm, verse 18, where the Messiah Himself speaks and says, “They part My garments among them and cast lots upon My vesture.” Jesus’ ordinary clothes were simply divided up among the soldiers; but John in his Gospel account tells us that “His coat,” which “was without seam, woven from the top throughout,” was neither torn up nor divided but was awarded by the casting of lots (John 19:23–24), by “the roll of the dice,” as we would say today.
Furthermore, Jesus was taunted by the soldiers, blasphemed by the people, and mocked by onlookers while He was suffering on the cross — in fulfillment of another prophecy from the mouth of the Messiah Himself in Psalm 22, where we read, “All they that see Me laugh Me to scorn. They shoot out the lip; they shake the head, saying, ‘He trusted on the Lord that He would deliver Him. Let Him deliver Him, seeing He delighted in Him” (vv. 7–8). We read in our text how precisely this prophecy was fulfilled: “They that passed by railed on Him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘Ah, Thou that destroyest the temple and buildest it in three days, save Thyself and come down from the cross!’” (v. 29–30). Also the chief priests and scribes dared Jesus to make them believe by means of a miracle. We read further, “Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, ‘He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross that we may see and believe’” (v. 31–32a). Even the two thieves, “they that were crucified with Him,” also “reviled Him” (v. 32b).
Was Jesus “[the] Christ, the King of Israel,” as He had claimed to be before Pilate, as we learned two weeks ago during our 4th Midweek Lenten service? Indeed He was! Was “the superscription of His accusation” that Pilate had “written” and posted on His cross — the inscription, ‘The King of the Jews’” (v. 26) — was that really true? Indeed it was! We learn from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah in his 23rd chapter, verses 5 and 6, that the Messiah was foretold to be “a King…called the Lord, our Righteousness,” and from the Old Testament prophet Micah in his 5th chapter, verse 2, that the Messiah was “to be Ruler in Israel.” Jesus was indeed “the King of the Jews” (v. 26); but these mockers, these scorners, were not truly interested in the Messiah’s spiritual kingdom. Yet we see that Christ “died for all” (II Corinthians 5:15), even for these blasphemers, yea, for all of us. From this cross of shame, Jesus, afflicted by imputation of our guilt, would not “come down” because He was determined to suffer and die for the redemption of the world. It was God’s will from eternity already that Jesus be crucified in time. We learn in Hebrews in chapter 10 that the One who had “come into the world” (v. 5) saying, ‘Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God’” (vv. 7, 9), was “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God,” to be “taken and by wicked hands… crucified” (Acts 2:23). “Behold the Man” crucified for you!
Why is it that this “Man,” whom we “behold” here in our text, was crucified for us? It was out of love for fallen mankind (John 3:16; I John 4:9–10) that, “when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son,” His Christ, “made of a woman, made under the Law, to redeem them that were under the Law” (Galatians 4:4–5) by suffering crucifixion in the stead and for the benefit of all mankind. As we noted before, Jesus suffered the imputed guilt of the wretched world; and He suffered the “wages of sin” (Romans 6:23a), “being made a curse” on the tree of His cross for you and for me; “for it is written, ‘Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13b). In our place, He willingly endured being crucified to propitiate, that is, to satisfy fully and perfectly, God’s just requirements of His holy Law as the complete sacrifice “for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:2). “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
We see in the crucifixion of our Savior God’s eternal plan to save the world through His Son (cf. John 3:17), through His Christ, “who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world” (I Peter 1:20) to be its Redeemer (v. 18). Peter continues in his first epistle to explain how then in time Christ “was manifest[ed]…for you” (I Peter 1:20). We have in the precious Gospel the knowledge of what God has done “in Christ,” that is, on the basis of Christ’s perfect propitiation to remove from before Himself the offenses of all mankind (II Corinthians 5:19), to forgive all the sins of the world (John 1:29), and to count Christ’s righteousness as covering the world’s unrighteousness (Romans 5:18), thus reconciling also you unto Himself “when [you] were [His] enem[y]” (Romans 5:10a), when you were “[a child] of wrath, even as others” (Ephesians 2:3). Knowing of this wonderful reconciliation and moved by the power of this Gospel as the Means of the Holy Ghost, “behold” this Christ, “the Man” crucified for you, that by trusting in Him, you, as “[a child] of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26), have personally, as your own possession, the blessedness of His perfect righteousness imputed to you and the “redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of [your] sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7) — all the unspeakably great benefits that your Savior has accomplished for you by His holy life in your stead and by His perfect suffering on the accursed tree of His cross in your place!
Let us therefore turn our eyes not away from this gruesome suffering but toward His wondrous cross, clinging in childlike confidence to our crucified Redeemer and singing to Him,
Thou knowest all my griefs and fears,
Thy grace abused, my misspent years;
yet now to Thee with contrite tears,
Christ Crucified, I come.
Wash me and take away each stain;
let nothing of my sin remain.
For cleansing, though it be through pain —
[the pain which Thou didst endure for me],
Christ Crucified, I come!
(TLH 390, vv. 2 and 3, adapted)
O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us and grant us Thy peace. Amen.