The Death of Jesus
March 24, 2021 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Midweek Lent 2021: The Passion According to St. Mark
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 15:33–15:41
Midweek Lenten Worship
March 24, 2021
“The Death of Jesus”
And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour] 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”40 There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.
The day we call Good Friday is before us in the Scripture reading for this evening. Darkness at midday for a period of some three hours must have been incredibly unnerving and frightening. Hundreds of years before, the prophet Amos foresaw darkness at noon on the Day of the Lord, “where the darkness expresses ‘the mourning for an only son’ (Amos 8:9f.)…The darkening of the sun marks a critical moment in history and emphasizes the eschatological and cosmic dimensions of Jesus’ sufferings upon the cross” (The Gospel According to Mark, by William L. Lane. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974; pp. 571). This darkness was then followed by Jesus’ cry of dereliction, or abandonment, upon the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). In speaking these words, Jesus is quoting the very first words of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22:1). This is the only saying of Jesus from the cross that Mark’s Gospel records. Enduring unimaginable suffering and pain on the cross, Jesus experienced spiritual anguish as well. In bearing the crushing burden of our sin, Jesus experienced for us the terrible consequence of sin, which is separation from God; condemnation and abandonment. The Father turns his face away from his own Son’s suffering. And why? Why did Jesus do all of this? For the sake of love – his redeeming love for you and me. Jesus took upon himself the punishment that was rightfully ours. That is the “good” of Good Friday.
It was widely believed that the prophet Elijah would return to rescue a righteous person who was accused falsely and suffering unjustly. That is why the bystanders said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down” (Mark 15:36). In calling out to his Father in the words of Psalm 22 and speaking Aramaic, Eloi, Eloi, may have sounded a lot like Eliyah, or Elijah. Jesus was not calling out for Elijah, but he was most certainly calling out for his Father. Even in his cry of dereliction, or abandonment, there at the cross, Jesus did not die renouncing God. In fact, this was a profoundly deep and personal prayer uttered to God. Even in the midst of his abandonment, Jesus still affirmed his relationship with his Father: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In our own lives, when we must endure suffering and pain, we may at times feel a sense of abandonment; of being all alone and cut off – not just from people, but from God. In such times, let us remember that Jesus suffered this in our place so that we would never know that terrible aloneness of isolation, of being cut off and abandoned by our heavenly Father.
The sour wine, or vinegar mentioned in the text was a thirst-quenching drink widely used in the Greco-Roman world by workers and soldiers (see Numbers 6:13; Ruth 2:14). And it is now offered to Jesus to refresh him in his dying moments on the cross. Having completed all that was appointed for him to do by the Father in order to fulfill all righteousness, Jesus breathed his last and we are told that “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38). What does this mean? Mark’s account does not tell us which veil was torn. There were two, both enormous (recorded as being some 60 feet high and some 30 feet wide) and four inches think, woven of blue, scarlet, and purple yarn. The outer veil which “separated the sanctuary from the forecourt… while the second, or inner, veil partitioned the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies to which the high priest alone was admitted on the Day of Atonement” (Ibid, p. 574). Regardless which veil of the temple was torn asunder, the clear implication is that this event carried great significance, and should be understood as a sign from the Lord God. The separation between holy God and sinful human beings, illustrated by the design of the temple itself and the veil, had been bridged through the cleansing blood of Jesus (see Hebrews 6:19; 9:2f., 6f., 11f; 10:19f.). When in our own lives we are burdened with a sense of separation between ourselves and God because of the evil we have done or the good we have failed to do, let us always remember that “the blood of Jesus God’s Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
Throughout Mark’s Gospel, it is always the outsiders who recognize Jesus’ true identity. The Gentiles, tax collectors, prostitutes, and the demons know who he truly is, but God’s own people do not. That is reflected once again here at the cross following Jesus’ death when the Roman centurion exclaimed: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). And so Mark’s Gospel closes as it began. The opening verse tells us: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1), mirrored by the centurion’s confession of this same truth after he watched Jesus give his life on the cross. “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39).
Even though all of Jesus’ disciples had run away, it is the women who remained: “Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome” (Mark 15:40). Having followed and ministered to Jesus throughout his ministry, they are with him to the very end. The blessed truth yet to be revealed is that this is not the end, but a new beginning. Good Friday will give way to Easter Sunday. Death gives way to eternal life for Jesus and for us.
Join us for midweek worship during Holy Week next Wednesday evening when we will hear of Jesus’ burial (Mark 15:42-47). May the Lord who has begun this good work among us bring it to completion in the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). Amen.