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The Crux of Human History

Date: Mar. 28, 2010

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Mark 15:16-47

Key Verse: Mark 15:34

“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?’”

There are many events that have caused a dramatic shift in human history.  In a speech, President Franklin Roosevelt called December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, “a day that will live in infamy.”  When Pearl Harbor was attacked, the United States entered into World War II and would become the leading economic, military and political power in the world.  The attack on Pearl Harbor was a world-changing event, but I’ve got one even greater.  Two thousand years ago the path of all humanity changed.  People were living a lie and they didn’t even know it.  The path of all humanity led to hell, but God wouldn’t abandon us to the pit of fire.  He sent his son Jesus to die on the cross to forgive us, to rescue us, and to free us from the grip of hell.  It was the one event – the only event – that could change the course of human history.

But, a little background first: Jesus lived on earth for about thirty years before he started to go out to talk about the kingdom of God, call disciples, heal the sick, and forgive people of their sins. People flocked to Jesus, but the religious leaders became so angry that they plotted to kill Jesus because he didn’t adhere to their traditions, his teachings seemed pretty radical, and he went around calling himself the Son of God.  After the religious leaders arrested Jesus and put him through a corrupt trial, they went to the Roman governor to have him executed and the governor sentenced Jesus to crucifixion. Now, crucifixion is the most horrible form of execution that the Romans had, and it was reserved for the worst of criminals.  But, innocent Jesus was flogged and handed over for crucifixion, setting the stage for the turning point of human history.

Shortly after being sentenced, “The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers.” (16) When all the soldiers were gathered together, they began to humiliate Jesus by mocking his kingship.  They placed a purple robe and crown of thorns on Jesus to make him look like a fake king.  Then, the soldiers made fun of Jesus, by calling out, “Hail, the king of the Jews!” (18) “Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him.” (19) With every blow, the thorns on Jesus’ head would dig deeper into his scalp and cause the blood to flow.  The soldiers’ spit was a mockery of a kiss given as a greeting.  When they had all their fun, they took off the robe and led Jesus out to be crucified.

By this time, Jesus was exhausted.  He didn’t have any sleep the night before.  His trial went through the night and he was beaten and bloodied, as his wounds were still fresh.  In light of this, the Romans forced a man named Simon, who was just passing by, to carry the cross for Jesus.  Now Simon was from Cyrene, which is in northern Africa, and he wasn’t sympathetic towards Jesus and wanted to help him carry the cross.  The soldiers forced him to carry the cross.  Still, by carrying the cross, Simon was deeply affected by the events that were unfolding before him.  Whatever his background was before, Simon came to believe in Jesus and his personal history was changed, so much so that his entire family became Christian.  This verse calls Simon the father of Alexander and Rufus: the same Alexander and Rufus that are mentioned in the book of Romans as very dear coworkers in Christ working in Rome.

As the scene progressed, “They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull).” (22) The place where they brought Jesus was outside the city gates.  It was an area of bare rock that was commonly used for executions, and it reminded people of a human skull.  At Golgotha, they crucified Jesus.  The Bible simply uses the words, “And they crucified him.” (24) It sounds like a non-event, but crucifixion was very gruesome and painful.  It is so painful that we invented a word to describe it: the pain was excruciating.  Nails were driven through nerve centers in the hands and feet to make it especially painful.  When the condemned was lifted up, the three points where the nails were driven were all that held up his body.  The crucified would hang there for days in unmentionable pain, naked and waiting to die.  Usually, people wouldn’t die from blood loss or dehydration or pain; they would die from suffocation.  It was impossible to breathe the way the body hung on the cross.  A person would have to raise himself up on the nails that pierced his flesh, so that every breath would be filled with mind-numbing pain.  I don’t think that any of us could imagine what crucifixion feels like, but Jesus went through it.

It was customary to have the crime the accused committed above his head.  Above Jesus, there was a sign that read, “THE KING OF THE JEWS”. It was a mockery towards Jesus’ kingship and to the Jews.  It showed the power of Rome over the king of the Jews.  To add even more insult to injury, the Romans “crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left.” (27) Thieves were brought out with Jesus and they put them to the left and right of Jesus. With Jesus in the center, it looked, to the passerby, like he was the ringleader in a gang.  The pure and innocent Jesus was counted among the wicked. 

When people saw the scene of Jesus with the two robbers, they were appalled.  “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!’” (29-30) The people were making fun of him.  He was nailed to the cross, and they just ridiculed him and called for Jesus to come down from the cross.  It was a far cry from what the people of Jerusalem did when Jesus came into the city just a few days prior.  As he was entering the city, the people spread their cloaks on the road and others placed branches down.  They shouted, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!  Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10) They welcomed Jesus into the city like a conquering king, but now, they insulted him.

“In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can't save himself!  Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.’ Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.”  Those who plotted Jesus’ death, the religious leaders, were enjoying the fruits of their labor.  The religious leaders were so smug.  They said that Jesus saved others, but couldn’t save himself.  In their eyes, for all the power and authority Jesus had, he still was hanging on the cross.  They mockingly cried out to him to prove his power by coming down from the cross.  However, their words are ironic.  At a whim, Jesus could have come down.  At a thought, Jesus could have called on legions of angels to rescue him.  Just think about what that would look like!  There is no doubt that that would have made many people believe that he was the Son of God, but if he did come down, human history would not change.  We would continue down our wrong path until we fell into destruction, but instead, Jesus stayed on the cross to solve the sin problem and keep us from destruction.

At the sixth hour, after being on the cross for three hours, darkness covered the land.  It was the middle of the day, but all the light vanished from the world.  The darkness marked the full measure of what Jesus was going through.  The darkness covering the land shows that God has turned his back on Jesus; God had abandoned Jesus.  After bearing with being abandoned for three hours, Jesus couldn’t take any more.  “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?’” (34) This is the first time Jesus cried out.  He didn’t cry out when he was being tortured.  He didn’t cry out as the nails were penetrating his flesh.  He didn’t cry out when the people insulted him as he hung there.  But after God abandoned him, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Jesus uses the word “forsaken”.  To be forsaken is to be completely and utterly abandoned.  To be forsaken is like this: There was a child of about five who was always with his father and they loved each other very dearly.  Then one day, the father took his child to the worst part of the city; a place so violent that people are killed daily, bystanders are just numbers, and the police don’t even dare to come near.  To this place the loving father drove his child, dropped him off with all the bloodthirsty people around him, and left him there.  The child was left alone without his loving father, but with people who would kill him just for the fun of it.  Now, imagine yourself as that child.  You would be so frightened and so lost, wondering why your loving father abandoned you, and that would be just a taste of how Jesus was forsaken.

Jesus knew beforehand what was going to happen, but he still cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  From before the world was created, Jesus was with the Father God.  Even as he walked on earth as a man, Jesus was always connected with God, but at this point, for the first time, Jesus and God were separated.  That sense of loss and abandonment just caused Jesus to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Not only was Jesus abandoned but also the full wrath of God was being poured out on Jesus.  The entire scene is so graphic and cruel and horrible because Jesus was taking the full wrath of God.

We might be tempted to look at Jesus on the cross and think that it was some sort of misguided act by the people…that it was a tragic shame, but God was actually in control of the entire situation.  Acts 2:23 says, “This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”  Also, Jesus said about his life, “No one takes it 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. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:18) Jesus on the cross wasn’t a random act and Jesus was not a helpless victim.  God had a plan to change the course of history.  God had been telling people about his plan for thousands of years and now was the time to carry it out.  In fact, Jesus’ death fulfilled many prophecies even down to details like his clothes being divided up by casting lots.  Furthermore, Jesus willingly went to the cross.  Jesus struggled with the thought of being on the cross, but he still went.  Jesus was not dragged to trial and death; he went with his head held high.  When Jesus was arrested, it was those who came to arrest him who trembled at Jesus’ feet, not the other way around. (John 18:1-11)

Jesus’ crucifixion was a scene of horrors, humiliation, and abandonment.  God had orchestrated the crucifixion to make it history’s most pivotal point.  To understand the importance, we have to understand where humanity was heading.  Human history is filled with rebellion against God.  Our first parents, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God’s only command and because of their disobedience, the human race stepped away from God and every person has learned how to be away from God ever since.  Any time we do anything that goes against God, we are rebelling against God, and we are God’s enemies.  We call that sin.  Now, the Bible says that the wages for sin is death. (Romans 6:23) That might sound a little harsh, but when people step away from God, he is grieved at their actions.  Genesis 6:6 says, “The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” It really hurts God that we don’t listen to him.  God loves us and he wants for us to obey because it is in our best interest.

Not only is God grieved, he is just and loving.  When a husband, who loves his wife, finds his wife in bed with another man, he is furious, not because he hates his wife, but because he loves her and is hurt.  It is so much more painful to God when we hold our own ideas and thoughts above God, and he is rightfully angry with us.  His justness demands justice.  In Leviticus 26, God lays down the punishment for disobedience.  It starts with gentle punishment to remind his people that he is their God, but if his people do not listen to that correction, then the punishments become progressively worse.  It all leads to, “If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over.” (Leviticus 26:27-28) This leaves no doubt that, as it says in Hebrews 10:31, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

Nevertheless, God’s wrath isn’t merely for a select few.  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Everyone falls short of God and sins, and our actions deserve punishment.  Our sins deserve death, so what exactly have we done?  How are we sinners?  We know some sins that are easy to name.  There is murder, hatred, theft, coveting, adultery, lust, drunkenness, prostitution, idolatry, lying, and self-righteousness.  But really, sin is anything that limits us from coming to God.  Sin keeps us from being Godly.  Our more subtle sins are the parts of our lives that we try to justify.  Either we feel stuck being a certain way or we don’t even want to change, so we just say, “That’s the way I am.”  The world teaches us that it is ok.  Men act like men.  They are coarse and insensitive and get into fights all the time, but that’s ok, they are just men.  You can’t do anything about it.  Women are overly sensitive and get upset about nearly everything and it takes them forever to get over it after being apologized to, but there is nothing that you can do about it.  They are just acting like women.  Some people are extraverted and they act like creeps, because that is the way they are.  Others are introverted and they could never reach out to others.  I’m not saying that we have to be boring people with no differences, but when these traits keep us from God or others from God then we are sinning. 

When you justify yourself in this way, then you are going against God because God offered us a way out.  That is the meaning of the crucifixion.  We fell into our terrible ways and we started walking right into God’s terrible wrath.  But Jesus, according to God’s plan, took our place in front of God’s wrath.  Isaiah 53 tells us God’s plan and what Jesus has done. “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5) Jesus took our infirmities, our sorrows, our transgressions, and our iniquities and bore them on the cross.  Jesus took our sin, what keeps us from God, keeps us from life, and took the full punishment.

Everything that Jesus went through in this passage was meant for each of us.  When Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (34), the answer is that Jesus was forsaken – he was abandoned – so that we could be redeemed.  Now, redemption means that we can be brought back to God, that is, we are forgiven and we are set free from what keeps us from God.  Hebrews 10:14 says, “because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”  Again, Ephesians 1:7 says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace.”  Jesus saved us, forgave us and freed us from everything that takes us away from God.

If we accept that, that means we can come to God and live a full life.  If we don’t accept what Jesus did, then we keep nailing him to the cross again and again.  Think about it for a second.  What have you tried to justify about yourself that is just horrible?  Do you hold a grudge against someone or are manipulative and say that I am that way and that’s it?  Do you act like an idiot and cause frustration to everyone and say that is how you are made?  Are you so stuck in your own ways that you can’t see that people walk away from you and God because you are so inflexible?  Then, you are nailing Jesus to the cross.  Jesus has already died to redeem you from those very traits.  Look at what Jesus did for you and repent for all the excuses that you make.  You are freed from everything that you try to justify.  Because of Jesus on the cross, there is so much hope for you.

Listen to this example.  John Newton served on ships in the slave trade in the mid-18th century.  He was even captain of two slaving vessels, but he called himself a Christian.  Like many people of his time, Newton viewed the slave trade as helping the poor souls to live a more civilized life, so there was nothing wrong with kidnapping people and indoctrinating them into slavery.  They were cargo on the ships and treated like cattle.  When he finally met Jesus personally, Newton saw the severity of his sins and the justification he was trying to make for them.  Newton was changed so much that he wrote the hymn Amazing Grace, which became a popular song among slaves in America.  He also became a champion to abolish slavery and the slave trade in England.  Because of Jesus’ crucifixion, Newton’s personal history changed, and his work helped change the world.

Personally, Jesus’ crucifixion has been life changing for me, as well.  I’m a very snappy person.  When people talk to me, I can guess how the conversation is going.  When it is time to respond, I am very sharp and very quick.  To the other person, I come off strong and sound angry and condescending.  In my head, I think that I am just being quick to respond and I want people to accept me as being quick to respond, but the fact of the matter is, I cause a great deal of hurt and frustration whenever I do this.  I’m a jerk and I was trying to justify it by calling it something else.  I was blind to what I was doing, but I didn’t want to see it.  However, a few weeks ago, God opened my eyes, as I prepared for this message.  He showed me that Jesus died because of my ignorance, stubbornness, and the very sin that causes so much pain.  There is no way for me to change myself, but Jesus redeemed me from being a jerk.  I don’t have to be a jerk, anymore.  I can be a be a bold speaker of God’s word, a man who cares for those around me, and a good husband to my wife, Viola.  Jesus’ sacrifice has changed my history.

And it is not just for John Newton and me.  Jesus’ work on the cross is for everyone.  Instead of being coarse and getting into fights all the time, Jesus died to make you a bold servant who stands up for the word of God.  Instead of being oversensitive, Jesus died to make you compassionate towards others.  Instead of being a creep, Jesus died to make you a passionate speaker of his word.  Instead of being shy, Jesus died to make you a prayerful person.  Jesus died so that you do not have to be the way you are, but you can be the way God meant for you to be.

And, his work was complete.  Not long after crying out to God, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”, Jesus let out one final cry and died. (37) The wages of sin is death and Jesus died for our sins.  There was no more to do, and there were signs of this.  “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  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!’” (38-39) The temple curtain signified our separation from God, but after Jesus died, it was ripped from top to bottom.  The way to God was now open, as it never was before.  You can see it in the hardened soldier, possibly Jesus’ own executioner. As he stood in front of Jesus and witnessed all the events, he recognized that Jesus was the Son of God.  A new door had opened: a man who knew little of God was able to testify the Jesus was the Son of God.

With his testimony, we have proof that Jesus did die.  This passage shows that the women, the centurion, and Joseph, the man who buried Jesus, all witnessed his death and lifeless body.  Joseph buried Jesus in a tomb, and you don’t bury people who are not dead.  After preparing Jesus’ body for burial, the tomb was sealed with a large stone, signifying the finality of death.  It was our sins that caused him pain, suffering, shame, abandonment and death.  “But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2:24) Jesus didn’t stay dead; he rose from the dead a few days later.

Our sins killed Jesus, but God raised him from the dead and gives us hope for that change in our lives, the change in history.  Humanity was willingly on the road to destruction, but Jesus was destroyed in our place.  Jesus was killed to save even the worst of people, and Jesus was forsaken to redeem all people even from the smallest of sins.  If we accept what Jesus did and repent for holding on to and trying to justify our sins, then there is nothing that can keep us from God anymore.  Look to the cross and witness what the Lord gave up to change world history…to change your history.

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