“Surely This Man Was the Son of God!”
March 29, 2013 Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Scripture: Mark 15:33–16:8
Synopsis: “Surely This Man Was the Son of God!” In this Good Friday message, we examine Mark’s account of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ from Mark 15:33-16:8. From his account, Pastor Cam highlights four specific details and uses them to answer three critical questions about the events of Good Friday and Easter.
In the four Gospels, we have four distinct accounts of the events of Good Friday and Easter. Each account is based on the evidence of eye-witnesses who actually saw, heard and experienced those momentous hours. There are different ways to approach a study of these events. One is to compare them all and compile a harmony or composite picture of all that happened. This is certainly a valid approach, and much good scholarship and preaching has resulted from such efforts. The other method, though, is to focus on one of the accounts, and seek to enter into the mind and intention of one particular Gospel writer, looking at the details he emphasizes and the message he is seeking to communicate. I have chosen this second method today, focusing on the account contained in the Gospel of Mark.
Many scholars believe that this was the first Gospel to be completed and circulated. It is attributed to a man named Mark, or John Mark as he is referred to in the Book of Acts. We don’t know how many of the events of Holy Week he actually witnessed himself, but we know he was present in Jerusalem during this time. We also know that he had a close relationship with and access to the Apostle Peter in his later years.
Each of the different Gospel writers seemed to have a different target audience in mind as they wrote their accounts of the Life of Christ. It is believed that Mark had a Roman audience in mind, based on his writing style, vocabulary and the particular focus of many of his accounts. So, with this brief background, let us turn to the text:
Read Mark 15:33-16:8
The Death of Jesus
15:33 At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”
36 One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. 37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.
42 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.
16:1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ”
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
I want to focus on four specific details or points that Mark makes and emphasizes in his account. We shall then use these facts to answer three critical questions.
The first is an agonizing cry. We read this in Mark 15:33-34: At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” – which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
These are the only words of Jesus from the cross that Mark includes in his account. The language is Aramaic. Mark gives the translation for his Roman audience. It is a cry of utter desolation. The sun itself refused to shine upon the scene as God imposed a supernatural darkness over the land. The words are torn from the depths of his soul. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is a phrase and a moment that will ever be hidden in mystery. How could God be separated from God? How could the Father abandon the Son? We may never be able to answer that question satisfactorily in terms of the “how” in relation to our theology. But while we may not be able to explain the mechanics, we must face the fact that for that awful moment in history, God the Father turned his back on Jesus the Son.
The second point that Mark emphasizes is an unusual death. What do I mean by that? I am not talking about crucifixion as an unusual death. That was all too common in the Roman world. But how did people under crucifixion die? They died exhausted. The most common cause of death in crucifixion victims was asphyxia. When they could no longer pull themselves up against the nails in their hands and feet, their body slumped forward and their chest cavity collapsed. They died because they could no longer breathe. They were incapable of breathing, let alone speaking. How did Jesus die? In verse 37, Mark tells us, With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. Literally, “he expired”, he breathed out a final time. But with that last breath he had strength to give a great cry. We are not sure if this was a wordless cry, or represents one of the final words of Jesus described in the other gospels. That is not Mark’s point. His point is that he had strength at the very end to give a loud cry. Then he stopped breathing. This caused amazement on two points. First was that his death occurred so soon. Victims sometimes lingered for days on the cross. Jesus died after six hours. Pilate was amazed to hear that Jesus was already dead. The second was the physical strength he had to cry out. This so amazed the centurion that he knew that what he witnessed was something unusual, something divine.
The third point that Mark describes for us is a careful burial. Most commonly, the bodies of crucifixion victims were simply discarded like garbage, or buried in unmarked graves. Not so with Jesus. A wealthy man of influence named Joseph from Arimathea requested his body. First of all, careful steps were taken to ascertain his death. When Pilate questioned the rapidity of death, the centurion who oversaw the crucifixion was called. He confirmed the death. As a man who had probably witnessed numerous crucifixions as well as seen deaths on the battlefield, he was unlikely to make any mistake. The text itself somberly changes vocabulary. Joseph came requesting the “body”, using a Greek word which can mean either living or dead. After investigation, we are told that Pilate gave the “corpse” to Joseph, a Greek word that is only used of dead bodies. Once he received the body, Joseph carefully wrapped it in linen cloths and spices before laying it in a tomb hewn from the rock. As he did so he was watched by several women who carefully noted “where he was laid.”
This careful burial is important for several reasons. First, it confirms the fulfillment of prophecy. In Isaiah 53:9 we read: He was assigned a grave with the wicked, but was with the rich in his death. This was an exact description of the difference from what would have been expected for a crucifixion victim and what actually happened to Jesus. Secondly, it sets the stage for what took place on Easter. If Jesus’ body had been carelessly flung aside, the precise details of his resurrection would have been very difficult to verify and prove. But there was no possibility of any error.
Finally, the fourth point that Mark emphasizes is a missing body. In Mark’s account, he tells of the women approaching the tomb very early on Sunday morning to further anoint the body with spices. They have one primary concern. How will they move back the very large stone that they had seen rolled across the entrance to the tomb? To their amazement, when they approach they find the stone has already been rolled away. When they enter, an angel, described as a young man in white robes, is sitting there. His words confirm several things. First of all, they have come to the right place. You are looking for Jesus who was crucified…See the place where they laid him. Secondly, he points out what is so obvious to their own eyes; the missing body. He is not here. And thirdly he announces the conclusion. He has risen! Actually the angel starts with the conclusion and then points out the evidence. But the result is the same.
These facts are clearly written into the record; an agonizing cry, an unusual death, a careful burial and a missing body. Now I want to use these facts to answer three critical questions. Question # 1: Who is he? Here we need to retrace our steps in Mark’s Gospel. Obviously, the identity of Jesus is central to this whole story. In Mark’s account, while under trial, Jesus answered three questions in the affirmative.
High Priest: Are you the Christ?(14:61)
Jesus: I am. (14:62)
High Priest: Are you the Son of the Blessed One (God)? (14:61)
Jesus: I am (14:62)
Pilate: Are you the king of the Jews? (15:2)
Jesus: It is as you say. (15:2)
These are Jesus’ claims, plainly made in the text for us to believe or reject. The question before us today is, how do the facts we have been considering in today’s text give credibility to those claims? I would point to three powerful evidences for the validity of Jesus’ claims. First of all was what Jesus cried on the cross. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? These words expressed the agony of Jesus on the cross, but they were also a fulfillment of prophecy, as those very words were used in one of the most powerful of the Messianic psalms in Psalm 22:1. They demonstrate that Jesus was fulfilling prophecy and fully entering into the suffering of Messiah that was prophesied in that psalm.
Secondly was the unusual manner of his death. He died so quickly. He had so much strength left at his death. It is as though he died, not when he ran out of strength, but when he chose to die. This fact bears out what Jesus himself said in John 10:18: No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again…
And so, at the hour of his choosing, he dismissed his spirit and died. It is interesting to see the impact this had on the centurion standing by in verse 39: When he…heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” I am not sure how much this pagan, Roman soldier understood when he spoke these words. Remember, in my introduction I said that we believe that Mark wrote his Gospel primarily for a Roman audience. He began his Gospel with the words “The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ the Son of God.” In his account, the first human being to voice this conclusion in clear words of witness was a Roman soldier. “Surely this man was the Son of God.” And he did so purely on the basis of seeing how he died.
Finally, and most powerfully is the witness of the empty tomb and the missing body and the angel’s announcement, “He has risen!” It is Paul the apostle who says it most clearly in Romans 1:4: He was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
Who is he? He is the Christ, the Son of God. That fact is supported by the fulfilled prophecies. It is supported by the way he died. It was declared with power by his resurrection from the dead.
Question # 2: Why did he die? If he is the Son of God, what was the purpose of his death? We don’t need to speculate here. Let us go back in Mark’s Gospel to Jesus’ own words in Mark 10:45: 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. Did you get that last phrase? To give his life as a ransom for many. That’s why he died. Paul supports this in 1 Corinthians 15:3: Christ died for our sins.
Here are a couple more Scriptures to make this absolutely clear. Isaiah 53:6 says it in prophetic form. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. That was what was happening as Jesus hung on the cross. Paul says it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:21: God made him, who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. That is why the sun went dark. That is why the Father turned his face away, and Jesus experienced that awful separation from his Father. He was carrying our sins. He was dying for us. Our sins were laid on him. Every lie we ever told, every harsh word and unkind action, every lustful thought and deed, every crime, every foul or blasphemous word that ever passed from our lips, every broken vow or promise. It was laid on him, and he died as the sacrifice for our sins. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? That was our separation from God that he endured for us.
That brings us to critical Question # 3: What did his death accomplish? To answer that question, I want to highlight one more dramatic incident that took place when Jesus died. It’s recorded without comment in Mark 15:38: The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. There is no comment or word of explanation, but the symbolism of this event rings with unique power even today. For hundreds of years a curtain had hung. First in the tabernacle; then in Solomon’s temple; now in Herod’s magnificent reconstructed temple. It was magnificent and awesome in size. According to scholars, the curtain in Herod’s temple was 60 feet long and 30 feet high, and 5 inches thick, made of 72 squares joined together. It was so heavy that we are told that it took 300 priests to manipulate it. It hung between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies which represented the visible dwelling place of God on earth.
So holy was this place that only the High Priest was allowed to enter, and he only went in once a year on the Day of Atonement. He went in to sprinkle the blood of sacrifice on the Mercy Seat, to atone for the sins of the nation. He went in fearfully. According to reports, the other priests would tie bells to his robe so that they could hear him moving about inside and know that he was still alive, that God had not struck him down. They tied a cord to his ankle, so that if the unthinkable happened and he died inside the Holy of Holies, either by natural causes or because God struck him down, they could pull him out without going inside themselves. This curtain symbolized the awful gulf of separation that existed between God and man. It was the separation caused by sin. It was a gulf that wasn’t there when Adam and Eve walked in the garden with God. It had come as a result of sin. A holy God cannot tolerate sin. He must separate himself from sin. That curtain symbolized that separation.
Now, at the moment of Jesus’ death, that curtain, that awesome, awful symbol was torn in two. And it was torn in two from top to bottom which means God was the One doing the tearing. Jesus’ death opened the way for us to enter the very presence of God. The barrier of our sins has been removed by Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice for our sins.
The writer of Hebrews says it this way in Hebrews 10:19-22: Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith…
What did Jesus’ death accomplish? Our sins are gone. The barrier between us and God has been removed. The veil’s been torn from top to bottom. We can draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. No wonder Mark began his book by saying it was “good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
But I must challenge you this morning. Is it good news for you? There is a condition here. It was there in the passage from Hebrews: We can “draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. Faith is the condition. Always and everywhere in Scripture, faith is the condition. Look at Romans 5:1-2: Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
Access to God is by faith and faith alone. You might say, “Faith in what?” Sorry, that’s not quite the right question. The real question is “Faith in whom?” The answer to that question is found in the answers to the three critical questions of our sermon. Who is he? He is the Christ, the Son of God. Why did he die? He died for our sins. What did his death accomplish? His death removed the barrier of sin, and opened the way for us to enter the presence of God. Do you believe that? Have you entered into that relationship of peace with God which comes only through faith? If not, wouldn’t this Good Friday be an appropriate day to do so?
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
- Read Mark’s account of the Crucifixion of Christ together (Mark 15:21-47). What details stand out to you? What questions does the account raise in your minds?
- In the message, Pastor Cam pointed out three specific details from verses 33-47. (An agonizing cry; an unusual death; a careful burial.) Explain these details and discuss the significance he attached to each.
- Read Mark’s account of the Resurrection (Mark 16:1-8). What details stand out? What questions do you have? Discuss the emotions of Jesus followers on that day? (Use the text as well as your imaginations.)
- From these verses, Pastor Cam highlights one specific detail (A missing body.) What significance did the angel attach to this fact?
- Using these details, the message seeks to find the answers to three critical questions. What are the questions? How do the details already discussed help us to answer these questions?
- What is the significance of the torn veil in the temple (Mark 15:38) to us today? (Use Hebrews 10:19-22 as a guide to your discussion.)