The Lord’s Day Evening
April 2, 2006
“Is This the King?”
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Please be seated. Now we come this evening and next week to
consider together the account in Mark’s Gospel of the crucifixion, and as we do
so…it is always a solemn thing to ponder and reflect on the manner of Jesus’
death, but as we do so tonight we want to specifically think of it not just as a
death, but a death for us and on our behalf. And before we read the Scriptures
together, let’s once again come before God in prayer.
Our Father in heaven, we bow in Your presence. We
want especially to ask this evening that You would come by Your Spirit and
enable us once again, as we view the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, that You
would remind us afresh of our utter unworthiness of so great a gift, that You so
loved the world that You gave Your only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in
Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Now come, Holy Spirit, and
write this word upon our hearts and give us the spirit of illumination, for
Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Now we’re reading from the fifteenth chapter of
Mark’s Gospel, and beginning at verse 16. This is God’s word:
“The soldiers took Him away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium),
and they called together the whole Roman cohort. They dressed Him up in purple,
and after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on Him; and they began to
acclaim Him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They kept beating His head with a reed,
and spitting on Him, and kneeling and bowing before Him. After they had mocked
Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him. And they
led Him out to crucify Him.
“They pressed into service a passerby coming from the country, Simon
of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross.
“Then they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated,
Place of a Skull. They tried to give Him wine mixed with myrrh, but He did not
take it. And they crucified Him, and divided up His garments among themselves,
casting lots for them, to decide what each man should take. It was the third
hour when they crucified Him. The inscription of the charge against Him read,
‘The King of the Jews.’ They crucified two robbers with Him, one on his right
and one on His left. And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘And He was
numbered with transgressors.’ Those passing by were hurling abuse at Him,
wagging their heads, and saying, ‘Ha! You who were going to destroy the temple
and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!’ In
the same way the chief priests also along with the scribes were mocking Him
among themselves and saying, ‘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!’ Those who were crucified with him were also insulting Him.”
Amen. And may God bless to us the reading of His holy and
Many of you, I’m sure, are familiar with a very
famous painting by a Pre-Raphaelite painter, a member of the Pre-Raphaelite
Brotherhood, Holman Hunt, and the painting is called “The Shadow of the Cross.”
It depicts Jesus, perhaps a late teenager, in early manhood perhaps, stripped to
the waist inside what was His father Joseph’s carpenter shop. And it’s late in
the evening and the sun is now beaming through the door, and Jesus has His arms
stretched out. And the workbench and His outstretched arms cast a shadow on the
wall behind Him, the focus of this painting; and the shadow is in the form of a
cross and Jesus crucified to it. It’s actually a very significant piece of art
in that theologically it depicts something which is very true: that the work of
Jesus was not only accomplished here on the cross, but was in fact a work which
began from the moment of His conception. And all through the earthly ministry of
our Lord there was an inexorable goal to it: namely, that He would be crucified.
He had set His face to go to Jerusalem. And now as we come to these portions of
Scripture tonight, and God willing, next Lord’s Day evening, we want to be
singing as we read this very familiar account,
“Sweet the moments rich in
Which before the Cross I spend;
Life and health and peace
From the sinner’s dying Friend.”
Lord, that I should boast
Save in the Cross of Christ,
And we sing that not because of what we necessarily
could have seen with our eyes and heard with our ears, because that which they
saw and heard was utterly repulsive. We would be utterly repulsed by the sight
of crucifixion. But it’s because of what we have come to understand the
crucifixion to mean, because God has added to the crucifixion an interpretative
word: that the Cross speaks of substitution and satisfaction of a Savior who has
lain down His life as a ransom for our sins, that you and I might know the hope
of glory and the adoption of sons; that we are able, you and I, to sing
“Sweet the moments rich in
Which before the Cross I
Now, in many ways, as Luther was fond of saying,
crux probat omnia — the cross interprets everything; or, the cross is the
test of everything. Everything about our Christian faith is interpreted for us
by the significance of what Jesus is doing here upon the Cross, and I want us
this evening in the first half of our consideration of the crucifixion of Jesus
to see three things that Mark especially seems to be focusing upon: A
Suffering Theme, in the first place, in the way in which Mark describes the
crucifixion; and, A Curse Theme, in the way in which Mark tells us that
He was crucified between two thieves, one on the left and one on the right; and,
An Enthronement Theme, in the significance that Mark seems to draw our
attention to in the plaque that was above Jesus’ head which bore the words “The
King of the Jews.”
I. A suffering theme.
In the first place, then, A suffering theme.
A suffering theme – and you see it there in the second half of verse 20: “And
they led Him out to crucify Him.” After the mockery and insults on behalf of the
Roman soldiers in the Praetorium, after they had dressed Him in purple and
beaten His head with a reed and spat upon Him, now He is led along the streets
of Jerusalem, along the Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrows, toward that place
where they will crucify Him. He carried the patibulum, the cross beam on
which His hands will be nailed. It was a wooden beam that may have weighed
anything from forty to fifty pounds, according to some; and according to others
possibly even as much as eighty to a hundred pounds. And Mark reminds us again
of the physically weakened condition of our Lord’s body at this point, having
been scourged with the 39 lashes by Pilate’s men, His back bleeding and
lacerated and torn to shreds, carrying now this wooden beam.
At a certain point He collapses along the road, and
a man called Simon of Cyrene is forced (and the Greek word is a very strong
word)…he is forced against his will (or so it seems) to bear this wooden beam
on Jesus’ behalf. Mark seems to indicate that his sons are known to the readers
of the Gospel: Alexander and Rufus.
Who is this man? We aren’t absolutely sure. There is
a Rufus that is mentioned at the end of Romans, and there is also in Acts 13:1
the mention of a Simon of Niger, who may or may not be the same figure.
And now as we follow Jesus and Simon of Cyrene as
they make their way along the Via Dolorosa to the place of execution, they
arrive at Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, identified by some as a hill that
from a distance actually looks a bit like a skull, so-called Gordon’s
Calvary…or, perhaps indeed the traditional location where the Church of the
Holy Sepulcher is today.
They offer Jesus wine mixed with myrrh, a spice from
the Arabian desert and having some kind of narcotic, dulling effect upon the
senses. It was a gesture of sympathy, it was a gesture of compassion — the only
one, indeed, that even remotely appears in these descriptions of the
crucifixion, but Jesus refuses. And He refuses for a particular reason: because
as the substitute and sin bearer, He must needs bear in His own body the full
and unmitigated wrath of His Father without the compensation of this narcotic.
And they crucify Him.
And Mark’s account is so economical. He mentions
only the barest of details. None of the salacious details that you would imagine
a modern day visual description of crucifixion might entail on CNN or Fox — or
even for that matter in The Passion. Because Mark, whilst emphasizing and
stressing the physicality of what is happening to be sure, wants us also to see
a deeper and in some ways more profound understanding of what the crucifixion is
actually about. Mark doesn’t actually say so, but it is inferred from the
details that His clothes are now taken away from Him, and in all probability
Jesus is crucified naked.
One of the heresies, you see, of the later church
was to deny the reality of Jesus’ humanness. It’s understandable when the
church was eager to defend the deity of Jesus and the Godhead of Jesus, that He
was very God of very God…but there were others who suggested Jesus’ body
wasn’t real, that He was some kind of phantasm or ghost-like creature. And there
were others, Apollonarius, who did not credit Jesus with a human mind or spirit.
And there were others, Uticus, who suggested that Jesus was some kind of
composite figure — half-human, half-God — and that He could switch from one to
the other at a moment’s notice and perhaps dull the effects of the physical
crucifixion by appealing to His divine nature. And all of those, of course, are
errors. And what the Gospel writer in the economy of its description wants us to
understand is that Jesus is suffering here in the full and complete sense of
physical pain and suffering — cramps, muscle spasms, the bleeding which would
now render Him in a semi-conscious condition.
“We may not know, we cannot tell
What pains He had to bear.”
And He suffers, too, in what we might call a
social way. Mark reminds us in a little more detail now of the way in which
the crowds mock Him, reminding Him of those words about destroying the temple
and in three days building it again. And then the priests calling upon Him to
come down — He who could save others, now save Yourself and come down — taunting
him. And even the two thieves on the cross joined in this act of brutality. And
He dies. And you see it, my friends. He dies bereft of any sort of any comfort.
We’ve witnessed in these last few days the
importance of social comfort, of brothers and sisters coming alongside each
other in moments of great stress. But Jesus is alone. He is absolutely alone.
His disciples now have fled for fear; the establishment has turned against Him.
In every quarter and section of society He is bereft of support. There’s no one
to help Him.
Perhaps the words of the twenty-second Psalm, which
Jesus will quote when He says, “My God, My God! Why have You forsaken Me?”
(which we’ll take up next week) — perhaps the words of the twenty-second Psalm
are on Jesus’ mind: “All who see Me mock Me…they hurl insults, shaking their
heads”; “He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord deliver Him, since He delights in
Don’t you think, my friends, my brothers and
sisters, don’t you think that Jesus is now being tempted to ask the question,
“My Father, where are You now? Where are You when I need You the most? Where are
You when I find Myself in the depths of hell?” Don’t you think Jesus is now
being tempted to call a legion of angels to come down in chariots of fire and
take Him away? And clouds of darkness are descending, and they’re descending on
the very messianic consciousness of Jesus, so that in a little while He won’t
even say “My Father,” as though the consciousness of His own native sonship has
been obliterated now, and all that He is conscious of is being a condemned
sinner under the wrath of God. And all He can say now is, “My God, My God, why
have You forsaken Me?” There’s a Suffering Theme here.
II. A curse theme.
But there’s a Curse Theme here, too. He was
crucified [verse 27] between two thieves, one on the left and one on the right.
Now, other Gospel writers, Luke especially, will draw attention to the fact that
one of these thieves will actually repent in the eleventh hour. “Have mercy on
me when You come into Your kingdom,” and those beautiful words “Today you will
be with Me in paradise.” But Mark doesn’t draw our attention to that, because
Mark wants us to see…he wants us to see the answer to the question “Where is
Jesus now?” And He’s not only hoisted and nailed to a Roman gibbet, but He’s
between two sinners. He’s between two thieves.
You notice in verse 28 that some manuscripts [and
it’s in the New American] contain these words of Scripture as fulfillment here,
and the Scripture was fulfilled where it says “…and He was numbered with the
transgressors.” Just as that fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, that Servant Song,
had prophesied, He is numbered with transgressors — He’s one of them. He’s being
reckoned as a sinner — the sinless, spotless Lamb of God is numbered with
transgressors. Mark wants us, I think, to see that…to see that what is taking
place here is the fulfillment of prophecy, that what is taking place here is
that which the Old Testament Scriptures had predicted all along, because those
words in Isaiah 53, “He was numbered with the transgressors,” goes on to say
“and He bore the sin of many.” And do you remember what Jesus had said earlier
in Mark’s Gospel, in the tenth chapter? That He had come to give His life as a
ransom for many. The same passage. And it’s as though it’s all coming to full
circle now, as that which Isaiah 53 had been depicting in terms of that glimpse
of that Suffering Servant of the Lord, and here He is.
You see, Mark wants us to be able to answer the
question “Why is Jesus dying on a cross?” And the answer is “He is dying on a
cross as the answer to the question ‘How can we be saved? How can our sins be
forgiven? How can sinners be reconciled to God?’ And the answer to that
question which had been given in covenant from before the foundation of the
world was that the Son of God Himself would become incarnate, and that He would
live this perfect in life in obedience to every facet of the Law, and that this
righteous life would be reckoned with sinners, and the sin of God’s people
reckoned to His account, and He would die to bear the covenant anathema of God
in our room and in our stead; so that as Paul will go on as he explains this in
the Galatian epistle, “Christ became a curse for us.” And that’s what’s taking
place here, that you might know the peace of God that passes all understanding,
Jesus becomes a curse for us, hanging between two thieves, reckoned as the
off-scour of the world, worthy of no pity, shamed in His nakedness with the holy
anger of God His Father descending now upon Him for our sins, for our
transgressions, that we might be forgiven, that a way might be opened for us to
come into fellowship with our Father in heaven.
“What wondrous love is this, O my
soul, O my soul?
What wondrous love is this?”
But Mark, you see, has focused on something else:
the fact that His clothes have been taken away from Him. Do you remember?
Back in the Garden of Eden before sin had entered into the world, they had no
clothes. They were naked and not ashamed. And now, as it were, in order for
Jesus to undo the effects of Adam’s fall that has beset us all, He must go all
the way back to where Adam was — naked before God — and render to God a
righteousness which Adam did not render. He’s undoing the curse – do you see? –
by bearing that curse in His own body upon the tree.
III. An enthronement theme.
There’s a Suffering Theme here, and there’s a
Curse Theme here, but there’s an Enthronement Theme here, too. It’s the sign.
Now, Mark doesn’t tell us, but it’s another writer
that tells us that it hangs above His head, and it bears the words “King of the
Jews.” In verse 2 and in verse 9, and in verse 12 and in verse 26, and in verse
32, like a ringing bell Mark has repeated these words: “King of the Jews.” He’s
drawn attention to that crown of thorns, in mockery pushed down upon His head.
And what Mark wants us to see in truth and in reality, despite the mocking tones
of the authorities that wrote those words on that whitewashed plaque, burned
into it “King of the Jews,” what Mark wants us to see, do you see, is that He
truly is the King of the Jews. He truly is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Yes!
This poor benighted cursed figure hanging upon the cross, His life ebbing away,
unable now so much as to move a muscle, as the last gasp for breath as He tries
to hoist Himself to draw air into His lungs fails Him and He dies. And Mark is
saying He’s King, you see. You don’t see it there, of course. You see it in
chapter 16, when “Up from the grave He arose, Jesus, my Savior.”
We want to ask, don’t we, what are we meant to do
when we see this crucifixion of our Lord? And you know, perhaps a better
question tonight would be, “How should we respond to it?” Bow down, my friends.
Bow down. Get as low down as you can possibly get, and weep that this is
what it cost…this is what it cost to redeem you. This is what it cost to bear
away your sin. This is what it cost the Son of God to bring you into fellowship
so that you can say “My Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.” Bow
down, my brothers and sisters! And weep, and worship…and worship….
“Man of sorrows, what a name
For the Son of God who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim;
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
What a Savior!”
Let’s pray together.
Our Father in heaven, every time we glimpse the
Cross we shudder a little. Were You there when they crucified our Lord?
Sometimes it causes me to tremble….We want it to be far less than that to bear
away my sin…that my sin drove Jesus to the Cross…Help us to hate it, to hate
our sins with perfect hatred. And help us tonight to bow down and to weep a
little, and to worship, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Please stand and receive the Lord’s benediction.
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and
the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
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