March 29, 2023


Good Friday ❧ Part 1

Mark 15:16-39 ❧ Pastor, Dr. John Denney

Few people can boast of having accomplished what Cecil John Rhodes did in his short 48 years.  His long list of accomplishments is nothing short of impressive. In 1888, as a shrewd mining entrepreneur in South Africa, he started the mining company De Beers.  It soon began producing 85% of the world’s rough diamonds making him enormously wealthy (even to this day, 136 years later, De Beers is still the world’s largest producer of diamonds!).  As an ambitious British colonialist he founded the South African state of Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe.  As an influential politician he served as the sixth prime minister of Cape Colony.  South Africa’s Rhode University was named after him, as well as the once renowned Rhodes Scholarship.  

Historian Richard A. McFarlane has called Rhodes as integral a participant in southern African and British imperial history as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln are in their respective eras in United States history. Successful mining magnate, accomplished businessman, influential politician – few have enjoyed Cecil Rhodes level of great accomplishments and have done them in a brief 48 years.  Yet, as he lay dying his last words were, “So little done, so much to do.”  Ironic, isn’t it? In the end, all of his extraordinary accomplishments left him feeling as though his life was unfulfilled, unfinished, wanting – So little done, so much to do.  

Listen to the sharp contrast of some of Jesus last words: I glorified You on the earth having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do (John 17:4).  Wouldn’t it be great if you and I could come to the end of our days with the same confident satisfaction? “Father, I’ve finished the work You put me here to do for Your glory. When I look back at my life, it is with thanksgiving and when I look ahead, it is with excitement and anticipation.”

Open with me in your Bibles to Mark 15.  Tonight, I want to spend some time reflecting on the cross.  To the world, Jesus’ horrifying death on the cross seems like a dismal failure, a meaningless tragedy.  This isn’t surprising.  They neither recognize Who Jesus is, nor do they see the need for forgiveness. Nor do they understand the price of forgiveness.  It’s easy to see why the world would look down on Jesus’ death.

There is another tragedy though that we as followers of Christ are often guilty of when it comes to the cross – the tragedy of becoming desensitized.  Jesus’ death was real. We should not be overcome by a morbid preoccupation with the gore of the Cross or by shallow sentimentalism, writes one commentator, At the same time, Christ’s agony must never become a matter of dispassionate interest.Jesus said, It was for this reason I was born, for this reason I came into the world (John 18:37).  Jesus is the only Person who ever lived born for the purpose of dying. 

Read: Mark 15:16-39. Jesus’ sufferings are a window into the very heart of God.  What does the cross show us about God’s heart?  It shows us His unconditional love and forgiveness. 

Leading up to the cross, Jesus underwent a number of mock trials, severe beatings, including pulling out His beard, constant verbal assaults, and a near-death scourging of His back and sides that literally ripped the skin away from the bone leaving His body a torn shredded mass of mutilated flesh.  He was spit on, beaten with a pretend scepter until He was virtually unrecognizable. 

For thousands of years great artists have tried to capture Jesus gruesome and repulsive sufferings in their artwork, but the truth is, no representation of Jesus suffering or crucifixion does justice to the actual almost indescribable horror He actually endured.  They are too clean, too sterile.  We’re we to have witnessed the actual agony of Jesus, I think we would be shocked beyond belief.  It was more bloody, more gruesome, more vulgar, more repulsive than any artist would dare attempt to recreate. 

I think this is a good part of the reason none of the Gospels go into a great deal of detail into Jesus’ sufferings and death.  The reason is simple: Everyone of that day was all too familiar with the cross’s horrifying and revolting details.  Even the mere mention of the word “cross” was avoided by most due to its shocking brutality.  Cicero, the well-known Roman orator, called the crucifixion, a most cruel and disgusting punishment…It is impossible to find the word for such an abomination…Let the very mention of the cross be far removed not only from a Roman citizen’s body, but from his mind, his eyes, his ears.  Today, we get the word excruciating – which literally means “out of the cross” from this agonizing death. 

If the cross was an offense to the Romans, it was even worse to the Jews.  They viewed it as God’s absolute abandonment.  Deuteronomy 21:23 said anyone who hung on a tree was under God’s curse.  They must have smiled with great satisfaction when Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  Little did they understand it was for them the “eternally ancient bond with the Father was broken.” I love the words of William Barclay here: There is a mystery behind that cry which we cannot penetrate.  Maybe it was like this.  Jesus had taken this life of ours upon Him. He had done our work and faced our temptations and borne our trials. He had suffered all that life could bring Him.  He had known the failure of friends, the hatred of foes, the malice of enemies. He had known the most searing pain that life can offer. Up to this moment, Jesus had gone through every experience of life, except one – He had never known the consequence of sin. Now if there is one thing sin does, it separates us from God.  It puts up between us and God a barrier like an unscalable wall.  That was the one human experience through which Jesus had never passed because He was without sin (Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, p. 383).  It was on the cross that Jesus experienced not only our sin, but our separation from God.  He understands how unworthy we feel of God’s love, how ugly we feel due to our sin.   

The cross was the lowest degrading form of humiliation and loneliness imaginable.  It was the ultimate rejection by both God and man, a rejection that injected bitter torment deep into the soul.  This is why Jesus was crucified outside the city of Jerusalem.  The act was so offensive to the Jews they would not allow it in the sacred boundaries of the city.

Mark tells us as Jesus, severely weakened and so gruesomely disfigured it turned your stomach, was carrying the cross beam (patibulum) of His cross, a man named Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry the bloody cross beam the final distance.  The irony is Simon had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover and in doing so met The Passover Lamb! The experience so marked him that he and his family became believers. William Barclay called this one of the great “hidden romances” of the New Testament. God brings us to Him in way’s we’d never expect. By the time Mark wrote this, Alexander, and Rufus (v.21) were well known as believers.   

Once they got to the place of execution, Jesus was thrown down on the cross beam and post where His hands and feet were nailed to them.  Then, while He hung by flesh tearing nails of agony, His cross was hoisted upright and then dropped with a jolting agony into a posthole for all to watch.  Now, the real torture began.  All of His pain and anguish leading up to this moment had been child’s play in comparison.  The dial of his torture was wrenched to the max and left there.  What’s more amazing, when He was offered a pain softening drink (wine mixed with myrrh v.23), He refused it! He did not want anything to get in the way of what had to be done.  Mark says all of this in four words: And they crucified Him(Mark 15:24).  Jesus knows what it feels like to be separated from God because of sin. He understands how sin leaves us feeling broken, ugly, unlovable, unworthy of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness.  

That, in fact, is God’s message of the cross: God loves you and forgives you unconditionally through Jesus’ death on the cross. The word unconditional means without conditions, without reservations.  At any moment Jesus could have called it quits.  At any moment during His mock trials, during the unbearable accusations and multiple beatings, He could have stopped it all.  At any moment while He hung on the cross, He could have put an end to the crucible of His suffering.  With one word He could have ended it all.  But He didn’t.  

It wasn’t the authority of His corrupt judges that forced Him to endure their vindictive rants.  It wasn’t the strength of the Roman soldiers who led Him to the cross.  Nor was it their nails they drove into His body that kept Him on the cross – it was His great love for you and me.  The cross is God’s message to you and me, “I know what your sin has done to you.  It has left you broken.  It has left you feeling unworthy of My love and forgiveness.  That is why I sent My Son to die for you.  There is no length too far, no feat too great, no price too high to prove My love for you.”  Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us (Galatians 3:13). For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).

The late British pastor and professor Ian Pitt-Watson beautifully captures God’s unconditional love and forgiveness for us through the love his youngest daughter Rosemary had for her rag doll. 

There is a natural, logical kind of loving that loves lovely things and lovely people. That’s logical. But there is another kind of loving that doesn’t look for value in what it loves, but that CREATES value in what is loves. Like Rosemary’s rag doll. 

When Rosemary, my youngest child, was three, she was given a little rag doll, which quickly became an inseparable companion. She had other toys that were intrinsically far more valuable, but none that she loved like she loved the rag doll.

Soon the rag doll became more and more rag and less and less doll. It also became more and more dirty. If you tried to clean the rag doll, it became more ragged still. And if you didn’t try to clean the rag doll, it became dirtier still. The sensible thing to do was to trash the rag doll. But that was unthinkable for anyone who loved my child. If you loved Rosemary, you loved the rag doll—it was part of the package.

All of us can identify with that little rag doll; broken, dirty, unwanted, ragged by sin.  But God speaks to us through His Son on the cross: I love you. I forgive you. Love Me, love My rag dolls, including the one you see when you look in the mirror.  This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven (1 John 4:10, TGB).  The cross is a window into God’s heart revealing how He loves us and forgives despite the fact we don’t deserve it.   

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