SERMON: The Son of God on the Cross (EASTER MESSAGE) | Mark 15:33–41

The Son of God on the Cross | Mark 15:33–41
Shaun Marksbury | Grace Bible Church
Sunday Morning Service | April 21, 2018

Why do we spend so much time thinking about the horrors of the cross?  God’s justice and mercy meet there, as He’s able to exact a penalty for sin and forgive sinners.  In the sermon today, we start and end with God at the cross.  We're going to note first God’s presence there, the perplexion of the people there, and the Personhood of Christ there.  Then, we'll see how this ties into the resurrection of Christ.



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Last week, we started looking at the crucifixion.  We said that sermon was a part one of sorts because it only covered the first three hours of Jesus on the cross.  Today, we’re looking at the second half of the crucifixion, His final three hours on the cross.

Why are we spending so much time on the sufferings of Christ?  First, because it’s true.  It’s not that we believe it to be true — these events occurred whether you or I believe them or not.  Because they are true, they can mean something real to us.

We are talking about the plan that the God of Creation implemented before the foundation of the world.  He created man, and mankind rebelled in Adam.  Even though He created the world in perfection, sin corrupted everything and everyone, leading to millennia of violence and transgression.  God, being a holy, righteous, and just Lord must judge all sins according to His high law; violators of such an infinite standard must bear an eternal penalty.  Yet, also loving and not willing that all should perish, God predestined a path of salvation which He revealed throughout the years with road signs pointing to the cross.

As such, when we read about Jesus on the cross, we’re reading about God’s plan of redemption.  This is why we call it gospel, good news — God decreed that salvation would come through His Son to all who believe.  He revealed it through His Holy Word, and as we read last week, that revealed message is paramount to the Christian church.  This leads the Apostle Paul to later say, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3–4).  The gospel is God’s predetermination to save believers from the wrath that is to come.

The mystery of the cross is that God’s justice and mercy meet.  He’s able to exact a penalty for sin and forgive sinners.  As such, this is exactly the best turn of events for us.  As I read someone say while I was preparing this, we shouldn’t feel sorry for Jesus.  He’s willingly embracing the cross for us, for believers He pities.

In the sermon today, we start and end with God at the cross, and for the sake of alliteration, we have three P-words.  We’re going to note first God’s presence there, the perplexion of the people there, and the Personhood of Christ there.    Let’s begin with God’s presence at the cross.

I.               First, note God’s presence at the cross (vv. 33–34)

When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour.  At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Now, what we just read seems like the opposite of what I just said!  Darkness descends, and Jesus cries out over what seems to be God’s abandonment.  At first glance, it seems like Jesus is at His loneliest point (and in many ways, He is), with the Father even turning His back on Him.  However, as we dig into thee elements, we will see that God the Father is quite present at the cross.

First, note the timeframe.  It’s the sixth hour in the Jewish day or six hours from sunrise.  In other words, it’s high noon, but darkness descends upon the land.   We don’t read that the darkness abates until the ninth hour, meaning that Jesus’s last three hours on the cross have the land shrouded in darkness. 

In fact, there’s some question as to how far this darkness spread.  The Greek word can mean “land” or “earth,” though I don’t know that histories from elsewhere in the world records three hours of darkness.  Still, the darkness seemed pervasive, for as the MacArthur Study Bible notes, “the writings of the church fathers hint that it extended beyond Palestine.”[1]

There can only be on explanation for this darkness.  It can’t be a solar eclipse, for the path of an eclipse is too narrow and too rapidly moving to explain this event.  Besides, since it’s Passover, that means there is a full moon, the opposite positioning required for a solar eclipse.  This darkness must have been supernatural in nature, then.

So, what’s happening here?  The Father manifests His glory in judgment.  While we often rightly think of God as robed in light, He sometimes descends in darkness.  He descended upon Mount Horeb in a terrifying cloud of darkness to give the Law (Ex 19:15; Dt 4:11), and Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law.  God first used darkness to judge Egypt for three days (Ex 10:20), and several passages speak of a coming day darkness as a sign of judgment (Joel 2:1–2, 10; Amos 5:20; 8:9; Zeph 1:14–15).  However, it’s not Israel or the whole world but His Son facing judgement. 

So, the Father descends to strike the Son.  That might sound off-putting, and in any other context, it is.  In this case, however, God had already worked out in eternity past that the Son must pay for the sins of believers.  It pleased Him to smite the Son; Isaiah 53:10 says, “But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief.” 

Jesus willing submitted to this treatment for the sake of His people.  So, Jesus says nothing until the ninth hour.  Everything seems to be still as Jesus faces His greatest trials upon the cross.

It’s not until that afterwards that the man of sorrows (Isa 53:3) cries out.   Of the seven statements from the cross, this is the fourth.  He says in v. 34, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” These words are a literal transliteration from the Aramaic of Psalm 22:1.  Matthew’s words (Mt 27:46) are slightly different because he records the Hebrew transliteration, writing to a Jewish audience.  We see Jesus quoting Scripture even from the cross.

Mark gives the interpretation for his Roman readers, and we have it translated for English readers: “My God, My God, why did You forsake Me?”  As one commentary explains, the separation Jesus experienced was “in a judicial not relational sense.”[2]  He was experiencing the divine imputation of sin (2 Cor 5:21).  However, He was not ontologically separated. 

At no point should we understand this to be relational separation between God the Father and God the Son.  First, the text doesn’t say that such an ontological or relational separation took place, nor does any other text of Scripture.  Second, Jesus’s very prayer and words, “My God, My God,” presume continued unity.  Third, the Psalm Jesus cites ends with a confident note of triumph (comp. Psalm 22:1 to v. 28).  Fourth, such an understanding would contradict the truth of the Trinity.  Fifth, even with Christ bearing sin at this moment, such a separation would contradict the promise of God to never leave nor desert the believer (cf. Hb 13:5). 

The best way to understanding this moment is judgment then, a judicial punishment, not a change in relationship within the Godhead.  With that said, God isn’t absent from Calvary.  Just the opposite; God the Father’s presence made it a more difficult time.  Still, Jesus willingly faced it, resting on the revealed will of God.

II.            Second, note the people’s perplexion at the cross (vv. 35–36; 40–41)

When some of the bystanders heard it, they began saying, “Behold, He is calling for Elijah.”  Someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink, saying, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to take Him down.” … There were also some women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Less and Joses, and Salome.  When He was in Galilee, they used to follow Him and minister to Him; and there were many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem.

Those standing near are so ignorant of the significance of the moment that they neglect a familiar line from the Psalms.  It’s as though something good happens to me and I say, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound!”  Most would understand I’m referencing the first line of a popular hymn, not thanking some gal named Grace!

Could they honestly be so obtuse?  Perhaps they, as one commentary notes, “deliberately intended to mock Christ, and to turn his prayer into an occasion of slander.”[3]  Some believed that Elijah would first come back (cf. 6:15; 8:28), creating an interesting expectation.  Of course, they ignored the significance of John the Baptist’s ministry. 

And so, v. 36 says someone ran — perhaps a soldier, considering his access to the cross and command to the crowd.  He gives Jesus a cheap wine that’s nearly vinegar, a wine vinegar or gall, in fulfillment of Psalm 69:21.  This would not dull Jesus’s pain but rather reinvigorate Him, prolonging His suffering, an apparent attempt at further mockery. 

However, knowing that all was accomplished, Jesus did say that He was thirsty (Jn 19:28).  As one commentary notes, “This allowed Jesus to utter His final two sayings, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30) and ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit’ (Luke 23:46).”[4]  We’ll talk more about that in a moment.

Let’s skip down to v. 40.  We notice some women mourning in the distance.  It is probably good that they stood far, both to protect themselves as well as to put them out of earshot of some of the mockery.  Earlier, another woman was there; before the darkness, Jesus told Mary His mother to look to the care of John, and He commanded John to take care of her (Jn 19:26–27).

In this group of women, first listed is Mary Magdalene.  She was from the southwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee (cf. 16:9; Lk 8:2).  Jesus had cast seven demons out of her (Lk 8:2).  She is not to be confused with “the sinful woman of Luke 7:36–50.”[5]

The second Mary is the mother of James the younger and Joses.  She’s mentioned also in Matthew 27:56 during this event, but nowhere else.  Perhaps this is someone the Roman Christians knew.  She is perhaps the mother of James the Son of Alpheus (Mt 10:2).

The third woman is Salome.  She’s the wife of Zebedee (Matt. 27:56) and mother of James and John (Mt 27:56; cf. 20:20, 21).  She had that special request about her sons being on His right and left, and now two thieves occupy those positions.

They were following Him since Galilee.  Even though the men had fled (except for John, Jn 19:26, 35), they remained, showing their devotion.  This is an example of the how the New Testament exalts women to the position of equal image-bearers.  Still, the context makes it clear that they are just as confused by this turn of events as anyone else.

III.         Third, note Christ’s Personhood at the cross (vv. 37–39)

And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last.  And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

We have this effeminate version of Jesus in popular culture, one who is soft and lost to forces bigger than Him.  However, the biblical Jesus doesn’t whimper and then go out like a candle.  We mentioned last week that the Jews did not kill Jesus and the Roman crucifixion did not end His life.  He stepped forward to embrace the cross, and after hanging there by choice with the power to descend, He pierces the quiet with the power of His voice and lets go of His life.

Consider the fact that Jesus utters a loud cry.  As we read this, we might imagine this is a cry of pain in response to the torture He’s enduring.  That may be present, but what isn’t obvious is how weak any individual would be at this point.  As one study Bible notes, “Frequently, crucifixion produced a coma or unconsciousness prior to death.”[6]  Yet, Jesus is not quietly dying — His strength endures right to the end.

That means His death is abrupt and unsettling.  Obviously, the centurion here is impressed, and later, we will note that Pilate is also surprised that Jesus is already dead (v. 44).  Death doesn’t claim Him — He plunges into it with plans of His own conquest.  As Jesu said elsewhere, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.  This charge I have received from my Father” (Jn 1:17–18). 

What is it that He cries out?  After the sour wine touched His lips, He proclaims one word — tetelestai — “it is finished” (Jn 19:30).  He’s accomplished His mission, saving His people from sin; He has no need to continue to be re-sacrificed, or to endure more sins.  Before the cross, He prayed, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do” (Jn 17:4). 

As such, He then says, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Lk 23:46).  He’s in complete control the whole time.  He’s never lost fellowship with the Father, so He can entrust His spirit to the Father.

As such, He died.  We sometimes talk about giving up the ghost as a euphemism for dying, but in Jesus’s case, He chose to yield up His Spirit.  Again, He chose to lay down His life, and He remained in control even now.

In fact, odd events surround His death.  Of note, a seminary professor, Robert Plummer, recently wrote a journal article on some of the phenomena titled, “Something Awry in the Temple?”[7]  Scripture highlights three events that occur with Christ’s death. 

The first isn’t recorded here: a massive earthquake.  It was great enough to split rocks, as Matthew records (Mt 27:51).  This would be yet another parallel between Christ and Moses, for again, there was a earthquake during the giving of the Law (Ex 19:16–18).  It seems fitting that there would be one during its fulfillment!

The second is also absent from this text — the opening of graves (Mt 27:52), though this wasn’t fully witnessed until after His resurrection (v. 53).  It’s likely that the earthquake opened some of the tombs and, once Christ rose from His grave on Easter morning, He brought others to life as an added attestation to His power.  This bespeaks His nature: He is the firstborn of the dead (Col 1:18) and the first-fruits of the resurrected (1 Cor 15:20).  That is worth exploring today of all days, but we will learn more about the resurrection in a couple of weeks.

The third event Scripture highlights is the rending of the temple curtain.  This would have been a tall, thick piece of fabric which would not be prone to tearing.  Only the priests would have been in a position to witness this, so this news was obviously reported by them later for the people to all know (cf. Acts 6:7), as also reported in the Talmud. 

What message does this communicate except that Jesus is the once-for-all sacrifice?  God has no further need of sacrifices (Hb 7:27).  As the sacrifice (Hb 9:14), He gains all believers redemption (Hb 9:12).  As Jesus says in John 14:6, He now is the way.

Of course, at this moment, the centurion wouldn’t have been privy to the tearing of the temple veil.  His title means that he commanded a hundred men, and he would have been in charge of overseeing the execution of Jesus and the other two prisoners.  This means that He’s been watching closely, and v. 39 says he was standing right in front of Jesus at this moment.

The text says that the centurion observed “the way He [Jesus] breathed His last.”  We might say that the earthquake or the darkness left an impression on the centurion, and we might be correct.  Yet, the text has him fixated on Christ in the midst of what must have been a surreal experience.  He watched as Jesus cried out with strength, spoke with control, and seemingly turned off His life like a switch.

This leaves the centurion to conclude, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”  Some have pointed out that the Greek could possibly be translated “a son of a god,” but that doesn’t seem to be less of a declaration.  Still, every major English translation renders it “the Son of God” because that is the better understanding.  The centurion accepted what the chief priests rejected in their charges against Jesus — this is God’s Son hanging on the cross.

This parallels the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, which notes that Jesus is the Son of God.  Mark opens his Gospel by saying Jesus Christ is the Son of God (1:1).  The crowd declared Jesus to be the Son of God (3:6), and Jesus doesn’t say they’re wrong.  Jesus wouldn’t rebuke the centurion’s assessment either, and Mark’s Gospel comes full circle in demonstrating the Person of Jesus Christ.

IV.         Conclusion

The cross proclaims Who Jesus really is.  Jesus isn’t defeated.  He maintains perfect control, as attested by witnesses in both man and nature.

However, this is Easter Sunday, where we remember the resurrection of our Lord.  Perhaps you wonder as we’ve continued our focus on Good Friday.  Where does the empty tomb factor into the message today?

Listen to this: If the work of Christ on the cross was unacceptable to God the Father, then Jesus would have remained in the grave.  The stone would remain, and Jesus — the emblem of sin and wickedness at His death — would rot away in the tomb.  As Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 15, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (vv. 17–19).

However, because Jesus is raised, we know this moment on the cross was invested for the sake of eternity.  If you believe in His atoning work on your behalf, you know that your soul will also raise from the grave.  That’s why we can refer to a day marked by such brutality as a Roman scourging and crucifixion as “Good Friday.”

[1] John MacArthur Jr., ed., The MacArthur Study Bible, electronic ed. (Nashville, TN: Word Pub., 1997), 1500.
[2] John D. Grassmick, “Mark,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 189.
[3] John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 3 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 320.
[4] Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House, The Nelson Study Bible: New King James Version (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1997), Mk 15:35–36.
[5] Grassmick, “Mark,”, , 190.
[7] Robert L. Plummer, “Something Awry in The Temple?  The Rending of The Temple Veil and Early Jewish Sources That Report Unusual Phenomena in the Temple Around AD 30,” JETS 48/2 (June 2005) 301–16.

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