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The Darkness of Dereliction (Mark 15:33-39)

Sermon Audio:

(You can also find our sermon audio on Apple's podcast app by searching for "Quinault Baptist Church")

Sermon Discussion Questions:

  1. What were you afraid of when you were younger?
  2. What are incorrect, but popular perceptions of what Christianity is?
  3. What does the darkness of Mark 15:33 represent? (Read Amos 8:9-10)
  4. Read Mark 15:34. What was so significant about the cry? What was Jesus suffering while on the cross?
  5. Read Gal 3:10 and 3:13. What do these verses tell us?
  6. Marc read this quote during the sermon: "Christ, being perfectly holy, knows and feels the horror and weight of sin more deeply than any of us sinful ones could." If that is true, if Jesus hates sin, why does He not also hate us?
  7. What were the two things the death of Jesus accomplished in the text? What did those two things mean?

What were you afraid of when you were younger? When I was a little kid there was a TV show called Are You Afraid of the Dark? that I was, admittedly, too afraid to watch. It was a kid’s show, but it was a show about scary stories, but scary stories made for kids, Nickelodeon style (I don’t know why this was a thing, this sounds like a terrible idea). But just the title of the show turned me off because was afraid of the dark.

We naturally fear darkness. Some of that certainly comes from some sort of biological survival instinct. We can’t see in the dark, we get disoriented, and we panic: What if there is something lurking in the darkness that is going to hurt me! But there is something more than just a survival instinct. My children have experienced nothing but safety and comfort in our home, we don’t release wild animals into their bedrooms at night or show them horror movies before bedtime; we don’t kiss them goodnight and whisper “good luck…hope you make it,” but they still get scared at night. 

Why do we fear the dark? The Bible actually has an interesting theology of darkness.

In the beginning there was darkness. “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep,” (Gen 1:2). Darkness represents the disorder and chaos of the formless void. The earth had not yet been ordered, structured, and aligned by God—it was in a state of disorder, and so Genesis simply describes it as “darkness.” Throughout the Bible “darkness” serves as a picture of God’s judgment, like God is reversing the process of Genesis 1, deconstructing the order back to a state of chaos.

We see this later in Genesis when Abraham is making a covenant with God, but just as the covenant is about to be ratified this happens: “As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him,” Gen 15:12. This is the darkness of God’s judgment that envelopes Abraham—a judgment that God wants Abraham to be aware of, but a judgment that He pledges to take Himself if Abraham breaks the covenant (Gen 15:17). 

We see this again in the book of Exodus, when God blankets the land of Egypt in a thick darkness as a judgment, a darkness described as “a darkness to be felt,” (Ex 10:21. The OT prophets would picture divine judgment on the last day taking the form of darkness, like Amos who explains, “And on that day,” declares the Lord GOD, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight,” (Amos 8:9; cf. Isa 13:10; 24:23; Ezek 32:7; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; Amos 5:20; Zeph 1:15; Rev 6:12; 8:12). Jesus follows this pattern when He describes what the final day of judgment will be like, He explains that “the sun will be darkened” (Mark 13:24).

In our text today we will see this happen: God’s judgment. Jesus has been unjustly nailed to the cross and is hours away from His death while being mocked by onlookers. And suddenly, just like Amos foretold, the sun will be darkened at noon, a thick darkness of God’s judgment will fall, a darkness of dread, a darkness to be felt. The signs of judgment that are to be present at the Last Day, is showing up. But, amazingly, the darkness of judgment isn’t falling on the perpetrators of the cross, but the Victim. Let’s read:

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!” – Mark 15:33-39

If anyone ever thought that Christianity was basically a moral improvement program, like a mindfulness app on your phone meant to center you and motivate you with positive messages, if anyone has thought that Jesus is basically a cheerleader there to rah-rah you on in your personal development goal-setting and that’s it—then they do not know what Christianity is about. Here’s what the world tells us Christianity should be about: you should be happy; you have dreams and goals, and the difficulty of life stands in the way of your self-actualization. Other people may not believe in you, they may doubt you, but God doesn’t! He is there to make sure you achieve your dreams! Why did Jesus come? To show us how to live a life of love and goodness, a life of impact and influence, a life where we don’t let anyone else tell us how to live! So go, follow your dreams, care for other people, and believe in yourself! That’s what God is here for.

Friends, God wants something so much better for you than that cotton-candy, whip-cream nothingness; something solid like a mountain, something gloriously bigger than you. But even if we had nothing else in the Bible but this story, we would notice that there would be a problem with this theory of Christianity as a self-improvement program: this story leaves a jagged scar on the face of this depiction of our faith. This story screams for something more than just an example. It is a story of accomplishment, of substitution. Here we see the two boulders of the holiness and justice of God crashing together with the mercy and grace of God.

The “Cry” (What happened at the Cross?)

As Jesus is being crucified He offers what is now traditionally known as the cry of dereliction: “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?” (15:34). Why does Mark preserve the Aramaic phrase here? Jews in Palestine during Jesus’ day all spoke Aramaic, but Mark has been writing his gospel in Greek, so he has been translating everything thus far—why preserve this? Because the words themselves were burned into everyone’s memory. They couldn’t get them out of their heads.

Here, Jesus is actually citing 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? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest,” (Ps 22:1-2). 

Psalm 22 is a psalm of David that recounts David’s lament that he feels abandoned by God while all of his enemies surround him and attack him (a psalm that seems to prophetically foretell precisely the crucifixion itself, see 22:16-18). By citing this passage Jesus is associating Himself with this same kind of abandonment, this same kind of despair. This is not an example of Jesus losing His faith or second-guessing the plan of salvation. Rather, Jesus is a faithful Jew who has spent His entire life reading, meditating on, and memorizing God’s Word. It is just a part of Him. So much so that when He is wanting to express His grief and despair, He reaches for God’s Word. He is experiencing real grief, real despair, but He is turning to God’s Word to express it. But what does the cry itself tell us?

Something we noted last week was that nowhere in the gospels do we hear Jesus crying out because of the physical pain of the scourging or crucifixion (though, He most certainly did)—the only thing Mark thought significant enough to record was Jesus’ complaint of feeling abandoned by God. More painful and agonizing than anything else was Jesus’ experience of the Father turning His face away. The doubling of “my God” is an expression of grief, like David weeping over the death of his son Absalom, “My son, my son,” (2 Sam 18:33). Further, note that Jesus doesn’t just say “God, God,” but, “My God, my God.” God isn’t some distant deity that Jesus is lamenting over—it is personal. If I refer to my wife as “My Hillary,” it’s a way of communicating the depth of our relationship. And the depth of that relationship means that if that relationship is severed, there will be far, far more pain. If some random stranger on the internet tells me that she never wants to speak to me again, that won’t bother me too much. But if my wife tells me she never wants to see me again, I will be devastated. What is happening at the cross? The Father is forsaking, abandoning Jesus. But considered: how deep was Jesus’ relationship with the Father? How perfect was it? And how painful would it be to experience that forsaking? 

Now, sometimes preachers who get really worked up in a sermon on this passage will make it sound like the Trinity broke apart here. God the Father turns to God the Son and casts Him out of the Godhead, or something like that. That is not happening—Jesus is God, and He cannot be un-God-ed anymore than the Father or the Spirit can. So, what is happening here? Jesus, the God-man, in the fullness of humanity is experiencing for the first time of His human life an abandonment from the Father. He is experiencing the human punishment for sin: the judgment of God.

The “Why” (Why did it happen?)

Jesus cries out to the Father: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Remember friends, Jesus is citing a psalm here. Jesus knows why. He taught His disciples repeatedly that He would die, He told them the purpose of His death (Mark 10:45). So when He cries out in asking “why,” He isn’t asking that question for Himself, but for us, for us to wonder to ourselves: why is Jesus being forsaken? This question gets us down to the very heart of the gospel, to the very heart of God.

Earlier, Mark explained that Jesus was crucified at the “third hour” (which would have been 9 AM), but in verse 33 we are told that at the “sixth hour” (Noon) something odd happens, “there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour,” (Mark 15:33). So, from noon to 3 PM an inky darkness covers the whole land. The darkness is the judgment of God, the judgment reserved for the Last Day when sinners will be held accountable to God. But who is being judged here? Jesus. Why? Paul provides an answer for us by summarizing our problem and our solution in Christ:

The problem: “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them,” (Gal 3:10). We were made in the image of God, meaning we are meant to image God to the world around us. Our life should reflect the character and holiness of God. That was how we were designed. And from the Garden, God warned us that if we veer away from that design there will be consequences: death (Gen 2:17), a curse (Deut 27:26; cf. 28:15-68). An earthworm is designed to live buried under the dirt and eat decomposing plants and garbage; I am not. What happens to me if I try to bury myself alive or eat garbage? I will die. That is what sin does to us—it kills us. God does not give us commandments and warnings arbitrarily; He is trying to save our lives. But we don’t listen to Him and plunge ourselves headlong into the curse. And how does Jesus respond?

The solution: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree,” Gal 3:13. Jesus’s response: He redeems us through becoming a curse for us. When Jesus is hanging from the tree of the cross He is becoming the curse, bearing the punishment, the death we deserved. 

Think about this: the more pure and morally clean your conscience is, the more horrified you are at the sight of evil. Conversely, the more debased and seared your conscience is, the less you are bothered by it. In Dane Ortlund’s wonderful book, Gentle and Lowly, he carries on this thought: “Christ, being perfectly holy, knows and feels the horror and weight of sin more deeply than any of us sinful ones could.,” (p. 69). This leads us to assume the natural conclusion: we should be cast out of God’s presence, we should suffer the curse—precisely because Jesus is so holy, so pure. 

But Ortlund also considers this conclusion as well: “Just as the purer a heart, the more horrified at evil, so also the purer a heart, the more it is naturally drawn out to help and relieve and protect and comfort, whereas a corrupt heart sits still, indifferent. So with Christ. His holiness finds evil revolting, more revolting than any of us ever could feel. But it is that very holiness that also draws his heart out to help and relieve and protect and comfort,” (p. 69-70).

Jesus takes sin very seriously. He hates it more fully and perfectly than any other being in existence. It makes Him sick. But, amazingly, when He casts an eye an lecherous, sin-soaked people like us, what does He do? Not only did Jesus not turn from away from us in revulsion, but He was drawn to us, was willing to take on the very curse our sins deserved. The perfectly holy One, whose conscience had never tasted a drop of guilt, suddenly had 10 billion mega-tons of human guilt and corruption and condemnation dumped onto His spotless soul and presented Himself as “guilty” before the Father and was cast out, condemned, abandoned. Why? Because His pure and holy heart was drawn in by your weakness, by your plight, by your sin. 

Of course, we shouldn’t pretend that judgment is no longer an option for humans. There are two places where God’s justice will be assuaged: the cross of Christ, or the eternity of Hell. If we reject the offer of Christ, then our sins will evoke God’s holy wrath and we will be left cast out from His presence. But if we are Christ’s? Then the payment for our sins have been made and our sins evoke His pity, His loving concern: 

“There is comfort concerning such infirmities, in that your very sins move him to pity more than to anger…Christ…is so far from being provoked against you, as all his anger is turned upon your sin to ruin it; yes, his pity is increased the more towards you, even as the heart of a father is to a child that has some loathsome disease, or as one is to a member of his body that has leprosy, he hates not the member, for it is his flesh, but the disease, and that provokes him to pity the part affected the more…The greater the misery is, the more is the pity when the party is beloved…And [Christ], loving your persons, and hating only the sin, his hatred shall all fall, and that only upon the sin, to free you of it by its ruin and destruction, but his affections shall be the more drawn out to you,” (Thomas Goodwin, The Heart of Christ, cited in Gentle and Lowly, p. 70-71).

Drop an axe head into the ocean of God’s grace and come back a thousand years later, and it will still be sinking.

The “Sigh” (What did it accomplish?)

“And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 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!” – Mark 15:37-39

Jesus surrenders His spirit, breathes His last, and dies. It is finished. Immediately two things happen: The temple curtain is torn, and the Roman centurion standing opposite of Jesus confesses that He is really the Son of God.

The veil of the temple was a thick curtain erected to separate the holy of holies from the rest of the temple. It was within the holy of holies that the ark of the covenant dwelt, the footstool of God’s throne (1 Chron 28:2), dwelt. It was within the holy of holies that God’s covenantal presence dwelt. Only one person was permitted to enter the holy of holies, the high priest and only once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16). On that day, the high priest would enter with a sacrifice of blood from an animal, a substitute to take the penalty of Israel’s sins, and sprinkle blood on the ark, confession the people’s sins, and leaving. It is ironic, of course, that in the gospel we have the high priest working to execute Jesus, who will be the final sacrifice to end all sacrifices.

When Jesus dies, the curtain “tears”—the only the other place this word (schizō) is used in Mark is at Jesus’ baptism when Jesus sees “the heavens being torn open” (Mark 1:10) as the Spirit descends and the Father speaks His benediction over the Son. Now the curtain is being “torn” open, and just in case we didn’t catch that God is the one doing this, Mark points out that it is being torn “from top to bottom.” What is happening here? All heaven is breaking loose. God is erupting into our broken, hopeless, pitiless world. 

And now, this means that anyone can get in on this. The veil has been torn, there is no separation now. Jesus has come to give us direct, unfiltered, total access to God, anytime we want! If you want to go to God you do not need to go to a priest, you don’t have to wait for Sunday, you do not need to go to some sacred spot or do some religious pilgrimage, you don’t need to be born in the right family or have the right ethnicity, you don’t need to be hyper religious and know all of the right words and all the right motions. All you need is to come to Jesus and admit your need, confess your sins, and turn away from them and turn towards Jesus. St. Augustine, writing 15 centuries ago, said: “God gives where He finds empty hands.”

We see this wide open invitation by the second thing Jesus’ final sigh does: the confession of the centurion. The centurion was a Roman soldier with rank, which meant that he had to have been in the army for quite some time. He had seen many, many people die. He likely would have performed dozens and dozens of crucifixions. But, we are told, “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!” (Mark 15:39). The centurion is standing opposite Jesus, watching Him take His final breath. And there is something that happens in the heart of the centurion as he watches Jesus die that makes him realize that the sign hanging over Jesus’ head isn’t a farce. To a Roman, the title “Son of God” was reserved for Caesar—it was both a claim to deity and a claim to kingship. Which makes his confession even more astonishing: He really is the King, He really is divine. 

But this tells us one final point of application: you cannot understand who Jesus really is apart from the cross. No human being in the entirety of Mark’s gospel has confess that Jesus was Son of God. While people discuss and Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah (Mark 8:29), people at the time didn’t assume that the Messiah was divine in any way. It is only as Jesus is dying as a substitute on the cross that one can rightly understand His identity.

If you imagine Jesus as being primarily a moral example or teacher, you will misunderstand Him. If you imagine Him being a pool of energy and affirmation, there only to empower you to achieve the goals in your life, you will not see Him. If you think He is nothing but a cold, distant deity who is perpetually disappointed at your pathetic life, then you will not understand Him. It is only as you see Him as your sin-bearer, as your substitute who was abandoned and deserted on the cross, judged in your place, that you will see Him for who He is: the Son of God.

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The Crucified King (Mark 15:1-32)

Sermon Audio:

Sermon Discussion Questions:

  1. What stood out most to you from the sermon?
  2. What does this story tell us about the social pressure of the crowd? Read Mark 15:11 and 15. Is there anything going on in your life or your work where you feel pressure from a leader or from crowds to accept something that is wrong?
  3. What are the ironies we see demonstrated in this story?
  4. Of all the ways that Jesus could have died, why did God choose this method? (Marc gave 5 reasons--read through each of them and discuss what each means. Which one was most helpful for you?)

A family of missionaries stationed in China had decided to employ a local woman to help manage the home. She spent hours each week with the family, saw how they cared for their children, and how they lived their life. It was a wonderful evangelism opportunity—mission work delivered to their front door! Their relationship with been going well until they noticed that the caretaker began to become noticeably uncomfortable. The husband and wife tried as hard as they could to make the woman feel welcome in their home and to be as warm and engaging as they could whenever she was around. However, her discomfort continued until it could not be ignored any longer. The wife eventually asked the woman what was wrong and she replied: “I see that you are good people and deeply care about your children, but why would you have a picture of a naked criminal being hung to death on a cross in the sight of your children?” 

We can often become so familiar with the cross that the shock and gruesomeness of it is forgotten. The cross is a religious symbol, an emblem that to many communicates peace, not horror. Seeing the cross through new eyes reminds us of just how strange that is—why would a crude and ugly instrument of torture be something we would make art of and hang on our walls?

Today we arrive at the crucifixion scene in Mark’s gospel, a scene we can be so familiar with that it almost passes us by in its shocking brutality, in its offensive ugliness. Tom Holland, a classical scholar, writes, “No death was more excruciating, more contemptible, than crucifixion. To be hung naked, ‘long in agony, swelling with ugly weals on shoulders and chest,’ helpless to beat away the clamorous birds: such a fate, Roman intellectuals agreed, was the worst imaginable,” (Dominion, p. 2). What does it mean for us that our Lord and Savior suffered one of the most horrifying deaths known to man? Turn to Mark’s gospel and let’s read:

And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate. 2 And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” 3 And the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.” 5 But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.

6 Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. 7 And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. 8 And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. 9 And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. 12 And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” 14 And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.

16 And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor's headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. 18 And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.

21 And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. 22 And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. 25 And it was the third hour when they crucified him. 26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. 29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him. – Mark 15:1-32

Historical Understanding of the Crucifixion 

Jesus is brought before Pilate, the Roman governor who is over the city of Jerusalem, so that Pilate might able to give his consent to Jesus’ execution. The charges that the high priests have accused Jesus of are religious in nature (blasphemy, destruction of the temple) and so they would be of no immediate relevance to Pilate. However, the chief priests decide to highlight a political danger to Pilate. They accuse Jesus of setting Himself up as a rival to Caesar (cf. Luke 23:2; John 19:15). Ah, Pilate thinks, here is another rebel thinking he can overthrow Rome. So Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Mark 15:2; see Luke 23:2-3). Jesus responds indirectly, “You have said so,” (Mark 15:3)—perhaps because Pilate’s conception of a “king” is very different than the kind of king Jesus really is. After this, however, Jesus remains silent.

Now Pilate had a custom to release a prisoner every year to the Jews during the Passover feast. And he offers the crowd a choice: Barabbas or Jesus. Barabbas, we are told, was “among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection,” (Mark 15:7).  We aren’t told specifically what the “insurrection” is that Barabbas participated in, but since it is called “the insurrection”, Mark assumes his readers are familiar with it, so it must have been large enough to be well known. What we know is that Barabbas is a rebel who committed murder in some sort of revolutionary activity. He is precisely what the chief priests are trying to depict Jesus as to Pilate: a dangerous threat.

At first glance, the choice between the two seems obvious: on the one hand there is a popular teacher, beloved by the multitudes, a wonder-worker who could heal diseases, raise the dead, and work miracles, and on the other hand you have a murderer. And yet, “the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead,” (Mark 15:11). What a poignant warning of both the danger of the influence of wicked leaders and the social pressure of a crowd. Just because a leader is telling you to do something, and everyone else is joining in doesn’t make it right. In Mark’s gospel the “crowds” have by and large been supportive of Jesus. But here? In a frenzied mob, the crowds shout out for Barabbas’ release and for Jesus’ crucifixion. The approval of the world is a fickle thing.

Pilate wonders out loud what evil He has done to be worthy of such a punishment, but the crowd only responds with screaming even louder (Mark 15:12-14). So, “Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified,” (Mark 15:15).

Jesus was then delivered over to the praetorium (governor’s headquarters) where a whole battalion is called together (approx. 600 soldiers) just to mock Jesus, likely after his scourging. You get a sense of the brutality of Rome and the way they despised Jews by how they treat Jesus. They dress him up like a mock king, make a crown of thorns (likely out of a local vine with thorns 3-4 inches in length) and crunch it down on top of his head, and pretend to bow down to Him, laughing at what a pathetic and weak spectacle the “king of Jews” is, before they begin spitting in his face and striking him with a rod (Mark 15:16-20). Once they’ve exhausted their savage humor, they lead Jesus away to the cross. Only, Jesus is now too weak to carry the cross (a testament to how intense the scourging process was), so must receive help from a bystander “Simon of Cyrene” who just happened to be walking by at the moment, to carry the cross-bar outside of the city to Golgotha, where He will be crucified (Mark 15:21-22)

What did it mean to be crucified? 

Cicero, the ancient Roman, said that the crucifixion was, “the most cruel and horrifying punishment,” and that any decent citizen should avoid even talking about it (Verrine Orations 2.5.165). It was forbidden for any Roman citizen to be crucified and was reserved only for slaves and the worst kind of criminals. The entire purpose of crucifixion was to serve as a kind of psychological weapon of terror for Rome. They worked hard to imagine the most public and gruesome form of death so that they could display to everyone what would happen if you tried to disobey Rome (“Whenever we crucify the guilty, the most crowded roads are chosen, where the most people can see and be moved by this fear,” – Quintillian in Declamationes 274).

Before an individual was crucified they were first scourged (see Mark 15:15). The criminal would have their hands tied to a post and would be whipped with a scourging tool that had nine leather cords coming out of a handle with bits of rock, bone, glass, or metal attached to the end of the cords. While the leather cords would sting and cut the skin, the metal hooks would dig and rip into the muscle. The scourging would remove most of the flesh off of the back of the victim, sometimes exposing bones or organs—at times even killing the victim right there. The purpose of the scourging was to accelerate the victim’s death after being affixed to the cross. 

After the scourging, the victim then was responsible to carry the horizontal cross bar to their execution site—another way of humiliating the victim and spreading terror to the bystanders—where he was then stripped totally naked and nailed or tied to the cross. Since no major arteries would be severed by the nailing process, victims didn’t bleed to death but would die from asphyxiation (slowly suffocating from not being able to inhale deeply enough because of their stretched out posture on the cross) or heart failure.

“Crucifixion was a ghastly form of death: excruciatingly painful, prolonged, and socially degrading. The thought that God's Messiah could suffer "a cross of shame" (Heb 12:2) was so scandalous that some twenty-five years later Paul confessed that the preaching of a crucified Messiah was "a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (1 Cor 1:23),” (Edwards, PNTC). 

Jesus is offered “wine mixed with myrrh,” a rudimentary narcotic meant to numb his pain, but He refuses (Mark 15:23). The soldiers, like vultures, pick through the little belongings Jesus has—his clothes—gambling over who gets what (Mark 15:24). As was typical for those crucified, there is a placard affixed to the cross detailing the victims crime that deserved their punishment, “The King of the Jews,” (Mark 15:26). Another chilling reminder to the watching crowd: this is what happens to Jews who try to fight Rome; if THIS is what we do to your king, what will we do to you if you defy us? Somehow, rather than evoking simple human sympathy and compassion, the crowds gathered around Jesus, hung between two other criminals, and taunt Him, hurling insults at this would be Messiah, laughing at His impotence and impending death (Mark 15:27-32).

While Mark doesn’t cite it explicitly here, he obviously sees what is occurring as a fulfillment of Psalm 22, (which Jesus will quote in Mark 15:34) a psalm written a thousand years before the crucifixion of Jesus:

“All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”… For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet—I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” Psalm 22:7-8, 16-18

The Ironies of the Cross

As we read through this account, we will notice many twists of irony. Irony is when someone says or does something that means something different or the exact opposite of what they intend. We, the readers, know the truth, but the characters in the story are blind to it.

The Innocent is Declared Guilty so the Guilty can be Declared Innocent

Barabbas, a guilty murderer who participated in a violent revolution, is set free, so that Jesus, the innocent who is wrongly accused of being a revolutionary, is condemned. Barabbas’s name in Aramaic literally means, “Son of the Father,” (bar = son, abba = father). So the contrast is shocking: a guilty son of the father declared innocent; the innocent Son of the Father declared guilty. Here we have a tightly packed picture of the divine exchange that we all experience when we come to faith in Christ: Jesus stands in our place and takes the penalty we deserve so we can receive the pardon and blessings He deserves.

The Man who is Mocked as King is Really King

Could you imagine if you bumped into a person at work who, in your estimation, was kind of pathetic, unimpressive, and he asked you to do some task and you simply laughed out loud and sarcastically snipped back, “Sure thing boss! Let me just drop EVERYTHING I’m doing to wait on you hand and foot!” Only to later realize that that man really was your boss? The soldiers bowing down in mock homage to Jesus are, unknowingly, rightly identifying Jesus as King. The sign posted on the cross as a mockery of Jesus is, in fact the truth: He is the King of the Jews. Even more than that, He isn’t just the King of the Jews—He is the King of Romans, and the Greeks, and the Persians, and the Americans, and the Russians, and of every nation, from all time, in all places. It will not be long until, “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” (Phil 2:10-11).

The One Accused of Being Powerless is All Powerful

As the crowds and chief priests gather around the cross they mock and scorn Jesus they unknowingly are confessing the truth. Well, some of the truth.

“You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” (Mark 15:29-30). In John’s gospel, John records this short interaction with the chief priests from earlier in Jesus’ life, “Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body,” John 2:19-21. The temple is Jesus’ body, and it is being destroyed, and it will be raised again in three days. It is precisely this reason that Jesus cannot save Himself.

“He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe,” (Mark 15:31-32). The chief priests have heard the stories of Jesus’ miracles. If Jesus really could do such things, then He should be able to use the same power to rescue Himself from the cross right now. And, of course, Jesus really could have done that. But, again, the chief priests are speaking the truth more than they realize: He saved others, he cannot save Himself. This is exactly true—it is precisely because He is—right now!—in the process of saving others, that He cannot save Himself. “It was not the nails that held Jesus to the wretched cross; it was his unqualified resolution, out of love for His father, to do His Father’s will—and, within that framework, it was his love for sinners…He really could not save Himself,” (Carson, Scandalous, p. 30).

Jesus is accused of being guilty, but really He is innocent. Jesus is mocked because they assume He is a nobody pretending to be a somebody, but really He is the King. Jesus is mocked as being powerless, when really He is all powerful. He is challenged to prove He is the Messiah by saving Himself, but He is demonstrating He is the Messiah by not saving Himself. What do these ironic reversals tell us? They provide a dramatic picture of who Jesus is and what He came to do. 

Who normally gets crucified? Guilty, powerless, nobodies. Who is Jesus? Innocent, all-powerful, King of the Universe. And yet Jesus allows Himself to be treated like a guilty, powerless, nobody so guilty, powerless, nobodies like me could be forgiven, washed, and adopted into Jesus’ family.

Why the Cross?

Of all the ways Jesus could have died, why crucifixion? If Jesus needed to die in our place, to absorb the wrath of God, couldn’t He have just had a heart attack? A bolt of lightning strike Him?

1.     To be a depiction of the horror and gruesomeness of sin and the wrath it deserves. 

The cross is a terribly ugly thing. But the physical pain and shame of the cross is simply a picture of the horror and ugliness of our sin against God and the punishment it deserves. The physical agony Jesus experienced on the cross, though considerable, was not the worst thing He experienced. It’s amazing that Mark never records Jesus complaining of the physical pain He is experiencing. The only thing Jesus laments at the cross is the abandonment of the Father, His being forsaken by God (Mark 15:34). 

2.     To demonstrate just how low Jesus was willing to go to redeem us, how deep the Father’s love was for us.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” John 3:16.

3.     To show the world and Satan that their most vile weapons can be bent to serve God's sovereign purposes.

To comfort Christians that no matter how dark their suffering is, no matter how unjust, God can use it for good. If He can redeem something as atrocious as the cross, He can redeem your pain.

4.     So Jesus could relate with those who suffer as a sympathetic high priest--He knows what it is like to suffer unjust, unthinkable torment.

5. To be a visceral picture of what real discipleship, real greatness, real power means: "Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me." (Mark 8:34)

Do you remember the story of James and John approaching Jesus to ask if they could have seats of prominence in the Kingdom? "And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Mark 10:37. Jesus responds to them and explains, "You have no idea what you are asking." The one other place that the phrase "one at the right hand and one on the left" appears in the gospel of Mark is in the crucifixion story describing the two thieves crucified, one on Jesus' left and one on His right. James and John are under the delusion that the path of discipleship, that Jesus' Kingdom will be one of worldly comfort, status, and glory. But Jesus shows them that the way "up" is actually "down." The path to greatness in the Kingdom, is the path of the cross, the path of service. Jesus explains:

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Mark 10:42-45

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Waiting Through Despair (Psalm 130)

Sermon Audio:

Sermon Discussion Questions:

  1. What is something you feel like you have been waiting for?
  2. Why might a Christian find themselves "in the depths"? (Because life is hard; they might be doing the right thing; they might be hiding sin; they be frustrated with their weakness; they might have no idea why)
  3. What role does prayer play in your life? If prayer was a piece of your car, would it look more like a steering wheel or more like a spare tire?
  4. As Christians wait on the Lord, what should we do? (Hope in the Word; Wait expectantly; Hope in the Lord)
  5. Can you think of any specific promises in God's Word you can hope in to help you wait? (Ex. Rom 8:32; Matt 6:33)
  6. Is there any area of prayer that is difficult to "wait expectantly" for?
  7. Read Luke 18:1-8. What does this tell us about prayer and waiting? (Note: verse 7 seems to tell us that God answers our prayers "speedily," yet verse 1 and verse 8 seem to tell us that there are seasons of waiting that will tempt us to stop praying, to lose heart, and lose faith. So God answers our prayers speedily, in a way, but in another way slowly enough that we are tempted. See Hab. 2:3).

Sermon Manuscript:

Let’s begin today with the story of a king, Israel’s first king. In so many ways, Saul seemed like an ideal choice; he fits the bill of many successful politicians today. 1 Samuel tells us that he came from a family of great wealth, and was tall and handsome (1 Sam 9:1-2). He had the status and looks of a king (cf. 1 Sam 10:24). Further, he also had the decisive leadership of a king. Saul has been able to unite the army together, command men to battle, and deliver Israel from destruction (see 1 Sam 11). 

Two years later, Saul is faced a crisis that requires leadership. The Philistines have invaded Israel and have gathered a massive army of chariots, horsemen, and troops, “like the sand on the seashore in multitude,” (1 Sam 13:5). Saul musters an army, but everyone is afraid of the Philistines. Even worse, the prophet Samuel is late. Saul cannot start the battle till Samuel offers the necessary sacrifices to God and while they wait people begin to peel away and scatter. So, Saul makes another decisive leadership move: he offers the sacrifice instead of waiting. But as he is wiping the blood off his knife, Samuel appears walking over the hill and asks Saul: What on earth are you doing? And Saul, looking to justify himself, explains: Look man, I waited for you but YOU didn’t show up and the army was breaking apart and I didn’t want to but I HAD to. You forced my hand by being late and…and…what else was I supposed to do? (see 1 Sam 13:8-12). 

Let’s look at another story of a king, one living hundreds of years later, but in a similar situation: King Jehoshaphat. An alliance of enemies has come against Israel that totally outmatch their own strength. And as Israel is preparing for battle they catch wind that there is another massive army planning on attack on them. What does the king do? “Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the LORD; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD,” (2 Chron 20:3-4). Jehoshaphat assembles the whole of Judah to come to the temple and prays before God, acknowledging God’s power, God’s promises to redeem His people, and confesses their own weakness before concluding with these famous words: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you,” (2 Chron 20:12). 

I read an article this week by a popular evangelical pastor on this prayer who thought that while the spirit of humility this prayer exhibited was commendable and necessary for good leadership, he thought it unwise for leaders to publicly confess that they don’t know what to do in situations and should instead project confidence. So, if you’re in a board meeting or elder’s meeting, you shouldn’t tell people that you feel overwhelmed and unsure—that’s not what people expect from a leader. Obviously, King Jehoshaphat disagreed. He stood before the gathered nation, before the people he was responsible to lead and defend at a moment of great crisis, at a time where all were tempted to despair and said: I have no idea what to do—God help!

Now, be honest, who would you rather have as your king? One who is a strategic problem solver who gets things done, or one who admits that he doesn’t know what he is doing and is waiting for God to give help.

If you’re anything like me, you get frustrated with indecisive leadership mostly because you hate waiting. We want fast solutions to problems, we don’t want to hear about limitations and nuance. We want things to be fixed because we are the products of a generation that is allergic to waiting. You hate getting stuck in traffic, you hate waiting for vacation to come around, you hate waiting for that person to respond to you when you need their answer. 

But what happens when you encounter a problem where there is no instant solution? What if, as you survey the options, none of them provide a quick fix? In Psalm 130 we find a reflection from one who is stuck in a difficult situation and is left waiting for God to show up and provide relief.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!

2 O Lord, hear my voice!

Let your ears be attentive

to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,

O Lord, who could stand?

4 But with you there is forgiveness,

that you may be feared.

5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,

and in his word I hope;

6 my soul waits for the Lord

more than watchmen for the morning,

more than watchmen for the morning.

7 O Israel, hope in the LORD!

For with the LORD there is steadfast love,

and with him is plentiful redemption.

8 And he will redeem Israel

from all his iniquities.

Why Do Christians Experience Despair?

The psalm opens with the confession: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!” (Ps 130:1). We don’t know who wrote this psalm, but whoever they were it was someone in a dark place. They were in “the depths.” In the ancient world they had a different understanding of how the world was structured. The world lay flat on a series of foundations that God had set, and God dwelled on high, in the heavens. The grave (Sheol), which represented death, was spatially furthest away from God which is why the grave is often spoken of as a place where individuals will have the hardest time communing with God (Ps 6:5; 115:17). While God is even present in the depths of Sheol (Ps 139:8), the “depths” are where God is hardest to see. This becomes a poetic metaphor used by the psalmists to describe times in their life where they feel most abandoned by God, most in despair. For instance, listen to Psalm 88:

O LORD, God of my salvation,

I cry out day and night before you.

2 Let my prayer come before you;

incline your ear to my cry!

3 For my soul is full of troubles,

and my life draws near to Sheol.

 (Ps 88:1-3)

One reason Christians may feel despair is because of discouraging circumstance. Think of the prophet Elijah, after fire fell from heaven in 1 Kings 18 the wicked queen Jezebel still refuses to repent, Elijah flees into the desert and collapses under a broom tree, begging God to just let him die (1 Kings 19). Perhaps there have been circumstances in your life that have left you doubting that God really cares for you, really is in control. One of my missionary heroes is Adoniram Judson, the first American missionary, who traveled to Burma. He experienced a season of intense despair because of the great persecution and loss he suffered while striving to reach the Burmese people who had no Christian witness. He was beaten, imprisoned, starved, and suffered the death of his wife, the loss of his next wife, and four children, before he himself died of an infection from the jungle. At one point he sunk into such a dark state of mind that he dug a grave in front of his house and sat next to it for days, contemplating his own death. 

Few of us will experience the kind of hardships that Judson experienced, but I bring up the story of Judson not because his suffering is so similar to ours but because his life demonstrates the falsehood that if you just live a godly life you won’t experience suffering, you won’t experience despair. Judson chose the narrow path; he was offered a comfortable position as a pastor of a wealthy, influential church back in America but turned it down to go live in a hut in the muggy jungle of Burma. If anyone was living a life of godliness, it was Adoniram Judson—and yet, his life was filled with extreme suffering. 

This means that the difficulty in your life does not automatically mean that God is abandoning you or is punishing you. It just means that you live in a fallen, broken world, a world filled with heartache, disappointments, and sin. In fact, the Bible seems to tell us that if we desire to live a godly life we will experience even more suffering (2 Tim 3:12; Acts 14:22).

Another reason for despair among Christians is the presence of sin. Perhaps it isn’t necessarily circumstances happening to you that cause despair, but indwelling sin in you. There is no agony like the agony of tortured conscience. David writes of the pain he experienced from trying to conceal his sin, “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer,” (Ps 32:3-4). If you want to experience despair, hide sin in your life, refuse to repent of it, and you will be certain to be haunted by the specter of depression.

But maybe you are despairing not because of unrepentant sin, but just a general awareness of your sinfulness. There isn’t a specific sin you can pinpoint that needs repenting of, but an awareness of your limitations, your weakness; you have an idea in your mind of the kind of person you want to be and know how deeply you have fallen short of that. Samuel Davies, one of the most fruitful and effective preachers during the Great Awakening, writes; “I have but little, very little, true religion...Perhaps once in three or four months I preach in some measure as I could wish...It is really an afflictive thought that I serve so good a Master with so much inconstancy...I am at best smoking flax; a dying snuff in the candlestick of his church...The flame of divine love, sunk deep into the socket of a corrupt heart, quivers and breaks, and catches, and seems just expiring at times.”

Or, perhaps worst of all, you are experiencing despair and you have no idea why. The dark night of the soul has flung itself upon you and left little to no clue as to why it is present. You are in “the depths” and you don’t know what has brought you here.

What do Christians do about it?

This is where the psalm really begins to give us help. The psalm gives us two things that Christians can do: Pray and Wait.


“O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!” (Ps 130:2).

As soon as the psalmist is in the depths of despair he cries out in prayer and pleads for God to hear him. But what great comfort! The depths the psalmist has fallen into are not so deep that God is unable to hear his prayers. Corrie Ten Boom, a prisoner in World War II for hiding Jews from the Nazis, reminds us that “there is no pit so deep, that Christ is not deeper still.” There is no cloud over us so dark that God cannot still commune with us in prayer. No matter how numb your soul, how bleak your circumstances, how black your guilt, you can cry out to God and He will hear you.

What does the psalmist ask for? Mercy. The psalmist knows that he does not deserve the help he is asking for, but is asking God to not give him what he deserves. This could be a plea for God to withhold the judgment his sins deserve, or it could be a request for God to give him aid even though his sins make him unworthy. It could be both. The psalmist knows he needs mercy from a holy God. 

God doesn’t not give us help because we have earned it, no, His help is a help that flows from His gracious heart to the undeserving. We intuitively assume that God answers the prayers of the deserving, of the super spiritual who know all the right things to say, of the gurus who pray and fast for hours in scratchy robes in mountain caves—they have earned the right for God to answer their prayers. At least, so we think.

But here? Here we see that the psalmist understands that God does not owe him anything, even the right for his prayers to be answered—and yet he prayers! Why? Because he is confident that God is a merciful God:

“If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared,” (Ps 130:3-4).

If God were to treat us according to what our sins deserved, who could stand? We would all be obliterated instantly! But praise God, that doesn’t happen! “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities,” Ps 103:10. 

An employee makes a foolish, stupid mistake and winds up costing the company a fortune. He was advised not to do it, but he did it anyways and now it has blown up in his face. He knows that he will likely be fired any minute, but decides to head to the company’s Christmas party, nonetheless. He walks in, head hanging low, not looking as he grabs the wrong nametag. Before he realizes what is happening, he is being pushed on stage, handed one of those comically large checks with an eye-popping bonus on it and is congratulated for being the employee of the year. What happened? He mistakenly grabbed the nametag of someone who deserved something far different than what he deserved—he is not being treated according to his sins. But friends, where this was an accident, in the gospel it is no accident. God has not been hoodwinked. He has, from before time began, planned to send His Son to take your sins and bear them away at the cross and to give you His righteousness, so that if you believe in Him you will not be treated according to your sins, but according to your Savior. Unremitting love flows to the undeserving and unworthy.

This is staggering when taken seriously. It makes sense why the psalmist says, “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared,” (Ps 130:4). There is a kind of cheap forgiveness that downplays the reality of sin (it wasn’t that bad) that leads to a lighthearted frivolity towards God and a continued indulging of sin. And there is another kind of cheap forgiveness that is earned through our own self-righteousness where we pay God back for our sins by being really good. Then there is another forgiveness altogether. A forgiveness that is as hard as nails on the horror of our sins but as wide as the ocean in its total and free forgiveness offered. That kind of forgiveness pierces you with a fearful and awesome joy, and brings you trembling to your knees wondering: What kind of Savior is this?

So now, if you are in Christ, wherever you are, whether you are on the mountaintop of a spiritual high or in the depths of a spiritual pit, God will hear your pleas for mercy because He has forgiven your sins and clothed you in the righteousness of Christ, so come to Him with your pleas, come to Him with your prayers. You have the same standing before the Father in your prayers as Jesus does, so be bold. Seek heaven’s aid for your help, plead with the Father, call down all the resources from on high to thunder against your despair, your gloom, and your sin. 

This is why we will be taking time to pray together as a church in the Fall in our discipleship classes. Life is too hard, we are too weak, and the resources available to us through prayer are too great for us not to pray together as a church.


“I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,” (Ps 130:5a).

Just because we have access to the throne room of God in our prayers does not mean that we immediately receive what we ask for. We often have to wait. Sometimes when we read the Bible we can get the impression that during the Bible times there was a miracle happening around every corner, God was answering prayers instantaneously, and things were happening so evidently. And then, when we look at our life, at how mundane it is, how ordinary it seems, we can feel discouraged. The apostles in the book of Acts can pray, and bam! blind people can see. And we can think: Now that’s what I’m talking about! Why can’t I get some of that in my life? And, of course, God can and will at times answer our prayers instantly. But friend, I wonder if you realize that the normal, ordinary pattern in the Bible is a pattern of waiting. 

Think of the Israelites in Egypt who were in the bondage of slavery for four hundred years, praying to God for deliverance (Ex 2:23-25; 12:40). Or think of how long Israel had to wait for the Messiah to arrive. To make it more personal, think of the prophetess Anna, 84 year old Anna, in the gospel of Luke. Here is how she is described after seeing the child Jesus for the first time: “She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem,” Luke 2:37b-38. She is 84 years old and has spent the majority of her life in the temple doing what? Fasting and praying. Waiting.

Remember the parable Jesus tells of the unjust judge? There is an unjust judge who doesn’t care about justice, but keeps being pestered by this persistent widow who keeps asking for the judge to give her justice. Eventually, out of sheer annoyance, the judge answers her requests. And if an unjust judge who doesn’t care about justice will eventually give in, how much more so will just judge who loves His children? But here is how Jesus opens that parable: “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart,” (Luke 18:1). In other words, you are going to be tempted to stop praying and to lose heart. 

Are you tempted to stop praying because it feels like you are just left waiting? Don’t lose heart, wait. The words of the prophet Habakkuk are helpful, “If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay,” – Hab 2:3.

How do we wait?

With hope in God’s Word.

“I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope” – Ps 130:5

As we wait, we hold onto what God has promised us in His word. 

Are you faced with a perplexing decision and are unsure what to do? Pray for wisdom because God has promised in His word, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him,” (James 1:5). 

Are you weary and worn down? Pray for rest because Jesus has promised: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” Matt 11:28.

Do you feel emotionally untethered and fearful from the circumstances of your life? Pray for peace from the God who has promised: “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand,” Isa 41:10.

As you find yourself stuck in the gap between what you are praying for and the answer to that prayer, fill your mind and heart with promises from God Word and hold onto them, wield them like a sword to slay your sinful temptations. Hope in God’s Word.

Wait with Expectation

“…my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning,” Ps 130:6

As we wait, we wait with eager expectation for how God will answer our prayers. The psalmist tells us that he is waiting for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning. Night watchmen would be posted up on the walls of city or set to guard the perimeter of the camp. At the first break of dawn it meant that they and the city were safe from night assaults and they could now go and rest. As the guard is eagerly searching the horizon for the first rays of light, so too should God’s people be eagerly looking for how God will answer our prayers, trusting that He will.

We often hedge our bets when praying to God. Because we are so frustrated by waiting and think it is something strange, when we pray for a long time and keep failing to see results it makes us less confident in our prayers. But we should trust God’s timing and God’s ways. 

Hope in the Lord

Earlier we were encouraged to hope in God’s Word, but the psalmist concludes by pointing us to God Himself: “O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities,” Ps 130:7-8. God's character is worthy of your hope--hope in Him!

Let’s return to the story of our two kings at the beginning. Why does Saul offer that sacrifice? He has a large enemy he is fighting, the prophet is late, and his soldiers are beginning to desert the battlefield. In so many ways, it is so understandable why Saul did what he did. But it, of course, reveals what Saul was ultimately hoping in. His strength, his ability, his wisdom, his leadership. Saul couldn’t see how he could keep on waiting, so he acted. And he sinned. And it cost him the kingdom.

What did Jehoshaphat hope in? “We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” Jehoshaphat hoped the Lord and his character to deliver them. He knew that he had nothing in him to make this work, but knew that God was able. And God honors Jehoshaphat’s prayer and saves Israel.

Friend, God is worthy of your trust, of your hope. He is full of steadfast love and with him is plentiful redemption. He has forgiven your sins, made you His child, and promised to care for you. Hope in him. As you wait through despair, as you are in the depths, hope in God. You may not be able to see how you can fix the problem in front of you, you may feel totally overwhelmed--but that's the whole point: hope in the Lord, not yourself! Wait for Him to answer your pleas for mercy. Wait with hope and expectation that God will provide. Wait with confidence that God will not let the righteous be moved. 

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Jesus and the Trial (Mark 14:53-72)

Sermon Audio:

Discussion Questions:

  1. What stood out most to you from the sermon?
  2. Who recognizes Jesus most accurately throughout the gospel of Mark? Can you think of any examples?
  3. How should we approach Jesus to orient ourselves correctly to the truth?
  4. What assumptions did the chief priests, scribes, and elders have about the Messiah that led them to condemn Jesus?
  5. What assumptions did Peter hold that led him to deny Jesus?
  6. Can you think of a time where you had some assumptions about God that have proven to be untrue?
  7. Read 1 Cor 10:12-13. What is this passage telling us about how we should think about sin and temptation? How does Peter's story relate to this?

Sermon Manuscript:

How we orient ourselves to the truth will determine how we receive the truth. How you approach the truth will determine how you interpret the truth.   

If a husband and wife are in a fight with each other, if the husband loves his wife, he will help his wife orient herself to that truth by demonstrating gentleness, patience, and a willingness to listen to her. But if he simply gets angry and barks “Calm down!” to her, he is going to make it harder for her to see the reality of his love towards her, it will be more difficult for her to experience that love. Why? Because how we orient ourselves to the truth will determine how we receive the truth. How you approach the truth will determine how you interpret the truth.

In our text today, we will see two examples of ways you can orient yourself to the truths of the identity of Jesus Christ, wrongly. One will be confronted with a clear and precise explanation of the truth of Jesus, but will approach it so wrongly that they will dismiss Jesus entirely. Another will be closer, but still fundamentally misunderstand who Jesus is because of a poor orientation to the truth.

53 And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. 54 And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. 56 For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. 57 And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, 58 “We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” 59 Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. 60 And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 61 But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. 65 And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows.

66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. – Mark 14:53-72

The Accusation

The scene opens with the guards hauling Jesus in to the high priest and the gathered Sanhedrin (the chief priests, scribes, and elders) (Mark 14:53). This group of individuals comprises the ruling and governing class over the Temple and thus over much of Jewish life and they have been working for some time now on a way they could capture Jesus. And now they have Him. But they are running into issues:

“Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree.” – Mark 14:55-56

Mark makes it very plain for us in simply stating that they “bore false witness against him.” People are just lying about Jesus, hoping to concoct a story damning enough to get Jesus condemned. But they can’t seem to agree on what exactly it is that Jesus is guilty of, but they are certain that He is guilty! 

“And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, “We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” Yet even about this their testimony did not agree.” – Mark 14:57-59

Perhaps these people have overheard Jesus’ prophecy in Mark 13 about the temple being destroyed (see 13:2). But there Jesus does not threaten to destroy the temple Himself, but simply prophesies that God will destroy the temple. Nowhere in Mark’s gospel do we have Jesus making this claim (though a similar claim is made in John 2:19 by Jesus). But still, even about this issue they can’t agree on exactly what was said. What Mark is trying to show us is that this is anything but a fair trial. The men are not impartial, unprejudiced investigators whose only commitment is to where the evidence leads them. The jury has arrived at their conclusion long before anyone began asking any questions.

Frustrated that their efforts are getting nowhere, the high priest gets involved: “And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer,” Mark 14:60-61. Surely, the high priest thinks to himself, this man must have some defense, some justification he will try to make to escape being condemned to death. But Jesus does not open His mouth. Jesus’ silence fulfills what the prophet Isaiah foretold in Isaiah 53:7: 

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,

yet he opened not his mouth;

like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,

and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,

so he opened not his mouth.

Then the chief priest pointedly asks: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Mark 14:61b. 

The chief priest ask Jesus if He is the Christ (that is, Messiah), and the Son of the Blessed (which is a way to describe God by means of circumlocution; pious Jews refrained from speaking God’s name out of fear of breaking the third commandment). The “Christ” was the promised Redeemer whom the Old Testament awaited; the son of David who would deliver Israel from its exile and bondage and restore the people. While there doesn’t appear to be a one-for-one overlap with the term “Christ” and “Son of God” the high priest here obviously sees them interconnected in some way—perhaps because the David is promised that his son will be treated like a son to God? (2 Sam 7:14)

Though Jesus has privately admitted to being the Messiah to His disciples (Mark 8:29-30), all throughout Mark’s gospel Jesus has never publicly taught or admitted that He was the Christ. He has also not permitted anyone to address Him as the Son of God. The only times we have heard Jesus’ be identified as the Son of God was from the title of gospel (Mark 1:1), from the Father addressing Jesus as the Son (Mark 1:11; 9:7), and from demons (Mark 1:24-25; 1:34; 3:11-12; 5:7). The only place in the gospel where we have a human acknowledging that Jesus is truly the Son of God is after Jesus is crucified—shockingly, by one of the Roman guards who did the crucifying! (Mark 15:39). 

Who recognizes Jesus most accurately in the gospel of Mark? Those afflicted by demons, Gentiles, women, the infirmed, the desperate. It is like Mark is wanting to show his readers that the further away you are from the “inside clique” of religiosity, the quicker you are to recognize who Jesus really is. Why is that? It isn’t as if religion and piety are evil—Jesus Himself was a faithful Jew who observed the Torah, who was very pious and religious. The common denominator around those who reject Jesus isn’t religiosity—Pilate, after all, rejects Jesus—but self-reliance, self-righteousness. Those who want to approach God on their own terms, with a sense of entitlement and competence will always be unable to recognize who Jesus is. 

Do you remember the story where Jesus is eating a meal with sinners and tax collectors, and the scribes of the Pharisees ask, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:16-17). Why do those who think they are well not flock to the physician? Because they do not think they need Him. 

And in their self-competence and reliance, they fail to recognize who He is. And here, those who are most reliant on themselves have now asked Jesus point blank who He is: “Are you the Christ, the Son of God?”

The Answer

Jesus responds “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven,” (Mark 14:62). Here Jesus takes several identities from the Old Testament and folds them together in order to reveal one of the fullest and most colored-in descriptions of Jesus’ identity that Jesus offers in the gospels. 

First, Jesus takes the identity of the son of David from Psalm 110: “The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool,” (110:1). If you remember, back in Mark 12 when Jesus had been arguing with the temple authorities, He cites this text and asks how them how David’s son could be also be called David’s Lord (Mark 12:35-37). Here, Jesus is demonstrating the answer to that question and identifying Himself as the son of David, the Messiah.

Second, Jesus takes the identity of the Son of Man from Daniel 7. In Daniel 7, we hear this: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed,” (Dan 7:13-14). Jesus folds together the identity of the son of David into this figure, the Son of Man. Fascinatingly, Jesus explains that the Sanhedrin will see Jesus coming on the clouds of heaven—potentially referring to His ascension where Jesus ascends to Heaven to take up His throne over the kingdom, and is taken into a cloud (Acts 1:9). 

Lastly, Jesus could be identifying Himself with Yahweh with His response: “I am.” In Exodus, when Moses asked God to tell him His name, God responds: “I am who I am,” (Ex 3:14). Now, Jesus could be simply answering in the affirmative to the high priest’s question: Are you the Messiah, the Son of God? But it doesn’t seem inappropriate for Jesus to be subtly nudging in this direction, as He has done elsewhere in the gospel of Mark (Mark 6:50; cf. John 8:58). This actually makes the most sense of the high priest’s response.

So, Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the coming Son of Man…Yahweh in the flesh. Nowhere else in the gospels—not even to His own disciples—does Jesus provide such a profound and clear description of His identity. But how do they respond? 

“And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows,” (Mark 14:63-65).

The chief priests and scribes and elders’ problem was not a lack of knowledge. Jesus simply answered their question, but this only hardened their hearts further and confirmed what they already suspected, that Jesus was an imposter and a sham who needed to be killed. We must remember, it is not like Jesus was a stranger to these people. Jesus had a public ministry of nearly three years where He was complete celebrity. He couldn’t go into towns without being mobbed by crowds. His teaching drew in thousands of people who would sit and listen to Him for hours upon hours. He healed people no one else could heal, He delivered people from bondage that no one else could deliver, and He taught like no one else could teach—He even raised people from the dead! The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders knew all of this—they had access to the same information that everyone else did, information that led so many others to believe that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah. And here they ask Jesus point blank whether or not He is the messiah, and He answers more fully than He has ever answered, and what do they conclude? No, this man isn’t the Messiah, this man deserves death. 

Why? Because people who don’t think that they are sick, don’t see a need for a Physician. How you orient yourself to the truth will determine how you receive the truth. Their approach was wrong, so their interpretation was wrong. Like the person playing golf who thinks that the person with the highest score is winning, the chief priests have fundamentally misunderstood what the Messiah was to be, so they have misunderstood Jesus.

The Abandonment

Peter, this whole time has been warming himself by the fire in the courtyard of the high priest, trying to observe what will happen. We could assume that there is still some mixture of fear with genuine devotion in the heart of Peter. None of the other disciples attempted to follow Jesus. Peter sincerely loves Jesus, but he is also very afraid. Three times people approach Peter and ask him if he is associated with Jesus, with each time the questioners becoming more confident that Peter is certainly a disciple of Jesus, and each time Peter responds more forcefully that he does not, indeed, know who Jesus is, until…

“And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.” – Mark 14:72

Just a few hours ago Peter was swearing up and down that he would rather die than abandon Jesus. And yet, here he is, doing just that. Now Peter, like the chief priests, isn’t looking at the information totally right. He is far closer than the chief priests, but He still has misunderstood who Jesus is. He still has incorrect perspectives on what the Messiah was, how God works, and what that would mean for his life. And because he has oriented himself wrongly to the truth, he has failed to see the truth rightly. And this produces in him the result of doing what he never imagined he would do: deny Jesus.

Which gives us a sober reminder: we should take God’s warnings about sin very seriously. Peter never thought he would deny Jesus, and yet here he is. Jesus warned him that this would happen, but Peter thought the idea that he would deny Jesus was so ludicrous that he outright contradicted Jesus: You’re wrong Jesus, I won’t deny you! But Jesus knew Peter’s weaknesses better than Peter did. And friend, God knows your weaknesses better than you do. When God’s Word warns us of the danger of sin, the danger of temptation, we should not be quick to dismiss it: I’ll never do that, I don’t need to worry about that sin. Paul warns the Corinthians, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” – 1 Cor 10:12. 

John Owen reminded his readers in his great work The Mortification of the Flesh that whenever sin tells you I plan on taking one step, you can be certain that it will always take two. Sin will always take you further than you wanted to go and will always demand more than you want to give. Sin is a cruel taskmaster who is bent on your destruction. Do not toy with it, do not flirt with it. This is why Owen encouraged his readers to respond to the first sight of temptation with the knowledge that it intends to take us always to its final station. That little lust? It wants to take you to an affair and the ruin of your marriage. That little white lie? It wants to so sear your conscience that you burn all trust through your habitual lying. Owen writes, “Rise up with all your strength against it, with no less indignation than if it had fully accomplished what it aims at.”


How do you approach rightly?

With desperation

What is the common denominator among those who recognize Jesus? Desperation. They are desperate people. Like blind Bartimaeus who screams out louder and louder for Jesus when others try to shut him up: Son of David, Son of David, have mercy on me! They are like the friends of the paralytic who are willing to rip a roof off to lower their friend down to Jesus. They are like the unclean woman who shoves through a crowd just to touch the fringe of Jesus’ robe. Every story where Jesus is rightly identified, believed in, trusted in as He ought to, the individuals are those who have thrown self-reliance to the curb. Three times in the gospel of Mark are we told about parents with sick or dying children who implore Jesus to come heal their child. What kind of desperation would you feel if your child was on the verge of death, with no hope of any kind of medical solution, and you heard that there was someone here who could instantaneously heal your child, what kind of desperation would you feel to get your child to that person?

How do you approach Jesus?

Do you see your need?

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