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Mark 15:16-16:20: The Crucifixion at Christmas Print E-mail
Sunday, 16 December 2007

You may be wondering to yourself this morning: ‘Why preach on this text at Christmas?  I mean why are we at the end of the Gospel when everybody knows that Christmas is about the beginning?’  Or as someone might state it: 'What does Golgotha have to do with Bethlehem?’  Of course, one could simply assume that we are finishing a series on the book of Mark and that is why we are looking at this text at Christmas (which of course is true).  Yet, the question demands further consideration.  Why is it not only appropriate, but even necessary that we talk about the Crucifixion at Christmas?

As we look at our passage this morning, I want us to keep this question in the back of our minds.  At the end of our time together, I want to come back and offer my answer.  But first, let’s look at what Mark teaches us about the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord. 

The mockery of Jesus (15:16-20, 29-32).

Mark tells us of the Roman soldiers and their mockery of Jesus in 15:16-20.  Look at those verses with me.  Pilate saw fit, under the influence of the Jewish leaders, to condemn Jesus for claiming to be the ‘King of the Jews’ (see 15:2).  This charge is known to these soldiers and they seize upon the opportunity to mock the ‘King.’  Thus, they dress Him in a robe, place a crown of thorns on His head, and begin to salute Him.  The soldiers and this scene reminds me of the bully on the playground having his way with the weaker kid.  Of course, the irony of their actions is obvious to anyone who knows and believes the whole story.  Jesus was not the weaker kid.  He was in fact, not just King of the Jews, but the King of the Romans and the Greeks, and all the world.  He was the King of Kings, who reigned with His Father from eternity past and who will be restored to His rightful place of authority following His obedience to death.  The soldiers could not see this.  All they saw was an easy target and a good laugh.

The soldiers were not the only ones to mock Jesus before His death.  Look at verses 29-32.  Apparently the chief priest and the scribes were not finished with their attacks against Jesus.  While He was hanging and dying on the cross, they wanted to get a last word in and drive home their belief that this Nazarene preacher was not the Christ.  Again, we cannot miss the irony in what they say.  In mockery, they once again ask Him to prove Himself.  ‘If you are the Christ, then prove it by coming down from the cross and saving yourself,’ they shouted.  Since Jesus did not come down they wrongfully concluded that they had proven their point.  The problem is that they had greatly misunderstood what the Christ, the Messiah, was to come and do.  They had no category for a suffering Savior, even though the prophets had spoken of such. 

The great irony in their statement is that if Jesus would have ‘proven’ Himself to them by coming down from the cross, He would have actually failed at being the true Messiah, foretold in the Scriptures.  If He would have saved Himself, He would have failed at being the true Savior.  They thought they had Him, but little did they know that He was doing exactly what He had come to do, proving that He was indeed the King of Israel, the Promised Messiah, and the Savior of the world.

So, then, let me ask you a simple question for application: Will you believe that Jesus is the Christ?  Will you misunderstand Him and mock Him (intentionally or unintentionally), or will you submit yourself to the suffering Servant, who gave Himself for sins of many?

The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus (15:21-39).

After the mocking by the soldiers, Mark tells us that they led him out to crucify him.  Look at 15:21-27.  Mark, in keeping with his writing style, is very matter of fact in his telling of the crucifixion.  In just a few short verses we are told of the Son of God being hung on a tree.  We are given certain details: the carrying of the cross by Simon, the name of place where Jesus was crucified (Golgotha), the offering of the wine mixed with myrrh (seemingly to dull the pain) that Jesus refused, the dividing up of Jesus’ clothes (a fulfillment of the Scriptures), the charge against Jesus, even the time is noted by Mark (9 a.m.).  Seemingly, just bare facts and sparse details.  Yet, the weight is there.  Verses 24 and 25 hit us like a Mack truck.  Jesus, the Son of God, God Himself in the flesh, is hanging on a tree.

After the mocking of the crowds, Mark tells us of Jesus’ death.  Look at 15:33-39.  Mark only records one statement of Jesus’ from the cross: Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani…My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Jesus is quoting Psalm 22, a Psalm which speaks of righteous suffering and trust in God’s eventual deliverance.  Some say that Jesus quoted the whole Psalm on the cross (which is a possibility, emphasizing His trust in the Father’s plan, which He no doubt had).  Yet, I think that interpretation seems to de-emphasize what Mark actually records. 

Although Mark does not spell all this out in his telling of the narrative, we know that Jesus is here facing the wrath of the Father in our place.  Do not miss the weight of that.  This is the cup that Jesus wanted to pass from Him.  And this is the cup that He willingly submitted to drink.  Then comes verse 37.  Jesus dies.  He suffered under the wrath of God in our place and He dies.  Two things follow: the curtain of the temple is torn, symbolizing our access to the Father; and the centurion (a non-Jewish soldier) cries out: Truly this man was the Son of God, seemingly symbolizing the future ingathering of all the nations.  This of course leads to a second question of application: Will you believe in Jesus’ sacrifice for your sins?  Give up on trusting in yourself and your own ‘goodness’ and cast yourself at the feet of Christ.

The Burial of Jesus (15:40-47).

Mark tells of the women who witnessed the crucifixion and Jesus’ death (we will say more about this in a moment).  He then introduces Joseph of Arimathea who comes to Pilate and asks for permission to bury Jesus.  Why would Mark include these details?  So that the reader would not doubt that Jesus was truly dead.  Look at his language in verses 44-45.  Three times Mark speaks of Jesus being dead.  Likewise, he calls Jesus’ body a corpse, to emphasize that He was dead.  Mark did not want the reader to have any doubt that Jesus was dead.  He leaves no room for the ‘swoon theory’ or anything else that would deny the death of Christ.  Jesus was dead.  So let me ask a third question of application: Will you believe that Jesus really died and was buried?  Anything less than a true, physical death will lead to a cheapening of the resurrection.  Thus, we must believe that Jesus truly died on the cross.

The Resurrection of Jesus (16:1-20).

Praise the Lord that Mark’s gospel does not end with chapter 15.  Of course, the question of when it actually does end is troublesome, but we know that it does not end with Jesus in the grave.  No, Mark tells us of the glorious resurrection of Christ in 16:1-8.  Look at those verses with me.  Mark has included the witness of the women in Jesus’ death and burial.  Now he tells us that they were the ones who were first told of the resurrection of Christ.  This is an interesting detail because women were not customarily used as witnesses, which lends credence to Mark’s story of the resurrection account.  Just as Jesus was dead and buried, He is now risen and alive.  Again, Mark does not go into all the implications of Jesus’ resurrection.  He leaves that for the other New Testament writers.  But the truth is here nonetheless: Jesus is alive.  He has suffered under the wrath of God in our place and conquered death on our behalf.  The grave, a veritable enemy indeed, could not defeat Jesus and will not be able to hold all those who repent of their sins and trust in Him (which will lead us to a fourth application question).

Before we identify that fourth question, we must consider the issue of the ending of Mark.  I do not have time to go into all of the issues here, but let me give a summary of my understanding.  Most (myself included) consider verse 8 to be the ending of Mark’s writing.  He may have written more, but that writing no longer exists.  Thus, verses 9-20 were added later to seemingly ‘finish’ the Gospel.  The content of these verses match the other gospels for the most part, with the only major difference coming in verse 18, where the signs of picking up snakes and drinking poison without harm is mentioned with other more common signs.  These verses do not contradict the other Gospels and can therefore be affirmed in that sense, but I would caution us in our understanding and application of verse 18 in light of its lack of attestation.

However you take the ending, one thing is clear: Jesus does not remain in the grave.  Thus, let me ask you one final question of application: Will you believe that Jesus was raised?  Will you forsake any hope that you have in your own abilities and place all of your trust in the victory of Christ?  The Gospel of Mark demands a response.  The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus demand a response.  Will you or will you not believe and follow hard after Him?

As we come to the Table this morning, let me return to my original question: What does the Crucifixion have to do with Christmas?  Why remember the death and resurrection of Christ through communion when this is the season for remembering His coming to the manger in Bethlehem.  Let me answer with two reasons. 

First, Jesus was born to suffer and die under the wrath of God in our place.  Is this not what He identified as His reason for coming?  Look at 10:45.  He came to Bethlehem to serve us by ultimately dying on a cross for our sins.  This is why we sing: ‘O Come let us adore Him.’  Second, Jesus was born to give us victory over death.  The first Advent in one sense ended at the cross.  When Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to the Father’s right hand, the expectation of the second Advent began.  If I have learned anything from our Advent services the past few years it is the importance of expecting and longing for the second Advent of Christ.  We not only remember that He came, but we remember that He is coming.  Because He came before in the form of a helpless babe and lived a perfect life, dying on the cross for our sins, and was raised on the third day, we have firm hope in His return. 

Thus, it is not only appropriate, but necessary that we focus on the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ during the seasons of Advent and Christmas.  As we come to the table, may we remember His death and resurrection and long for His promised return.  To Him be all glory!  Amen.
~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 27 December 2007 )

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