Mark 15:15-39

Follow the Suffering Savior

2000, J.W. Carter
Scripture quotes from KJV

This is the last of an 8-lesson series entitled, "The Cost of Bold Discipleship" and is based upon the Gospel perspective presented by Mark. In Mark, chapter 15, we find the account of the crucifixion of Jesus.

Why did Jesus go to the cross? (To pay the price for our sin, to redeem us (or buy us back) from the debt of sin, the condemnation that we deserve for our impurity.) Jesus, the Son of God paid a price that we could not pay for a debt that he did not owe. From the beginning, God’s plan was to redeem sinful man to himself through Jesus’ atoning death. From the beginning the shedding of blood was required for the forgiveness of sin.

Heb 9:16-22.  For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. 17For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. 18Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood. 19For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, 20Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. 21Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. 22And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.

God’s plan was that the debt for sin was suffering. However, it was never the faithful one that sinned who God would cause to suffer the ultimate punishment for that sin. Instead, He called for the sacrifice of one that is innocent: a spotless lamb, an animal that is incapable of sin. Through this act, God was revealing his ultimate purpose to save mankind through the sacrificial death of His Son, who like the lamb, would die by the shedding of blood.

Mark 15:15-20.

And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified. 16And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band. 17And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head, 18And began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews! 19And they smote him on the head with a reed, and did spit upon him, and bowing their knees worshipped him. 20And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and led him out to crucify him.

We have often looked at the passion week as a tragic story, without actually realizing the significance of the treatment that Jesus received before he was crucified. None of the gospels describes all of the events, but between the four we find many of the events that took place between the sentencing and the crucifixion. The gospel writers were more concerned with the purpose of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus rather than creating a record of all of the details of events that took place. However, just as Jesus was subject to the temptation in the wilderness (Mark, Chapter 1), his ability to circumvent these events serves to heighten their theological significance. As Jesus had done before, he could have simply walked away in the midst of the people. Instead He chose to be obedient to His called purpose and humble himself before cruel and ignorant men who subjected him to torture and death.

Mark identifies some of the initial experience. Jesus was flogged (scourged) to the point of near-death. All that followed took place after the scourging, an abuse that creates near deadly fluid and blood loss. Many weaker souls who were scourged prior to crucifixion died before the scourging was completed. Mark then describes briefly the placing of the thorns on His head and then the soldier’s beating it into his head with a staff. He only alludes to the facial beating that He took (described in Matthew) herein described as mocking, and the tearing off of the blood-soaked robe from the skin that had been so badly torn.

Through all of this, Jesus remained silent. The Roman soldiers were skilled at torture, at breaking down the will of a criminal. Some have argued that Jesus’ silence added to His suffering, as it enraged the Roman soldiers who were more accustomed to enjoying the screams for mercy coming from those they tortured. They became more brutal than normal as they tried to get Jesus to break down.

Mark 15:21-24.

21And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross.  22And they bring him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull. 23And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not. 24And when they had crucified him, they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take.

Psalm 22:18.  They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.

Why did the Romans conscript Simon from Cyrene to carry Jesus’ cross up the road from the Praetorium to Golgatha? (Jesus’ body was so weakened from the torture He would have died on the road.) Jesus was offered wine mixed with aloe or myrrh to deaden the pain that he was about to be subjected to. Jesus refused, preferring to remain alert. He was then laid down across a wooden beam (pentabulum) and two spikes were driven through his wrists near the ends of the beam. The beam was then lifted up to the top of the vertical post where it was dropped onto the post, centered on a hole in the pentabulum. Once in place, they took another spike, placed it over Jesus’ crossed feet and nailed his feet to the vertical base of what now was a cross.

Jesus ministry of serving people, and the suffering he received at the hands of the ignorant and wicked are well-documented. In the previous chapters of the gospel of Mark, Jesus has called us to a similar ministry to people, and told us that as we take a stand for the truth, we will experience persecution at the hands of the ignorant and wicked. We are now seeing a significant amount of persecution against the Church that includes torture and death. We are, for the most part, protected in this country from torture and death, so the exercise of our faith is not so significant. As a result we might be willing to give our lives for our faith, but we are living it in a way that will subject us to lesser persecution. We have become an army that has infiltrated the camp of the enemy so well that, not only are we unidentifiable amongst them, our impact in the community is lessened. This occult ministry has protected us, not only from persecution, but from the mocking insults of those who hate God. We cringe when we see others abused for their faith, so why do we experience so little ourselves? (The word, "occult" says it all… our faith is hidden.)

Mark 15:25-32.

Isaiah 53:12.  Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

25And it was the third hour, and they crucified him. 26And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 27And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left. 28And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors. 29And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, 30Save thyself, and come down from the cross. 31Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save. 32Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him. 

The third hour would have been about 9 a.m. It was customary to post the charges against a criminal. Typically a sign would be hung around the criminal’s neck where it would be carried to the place of execution where it would then be posted. The problem here was that there were no Roman charges. Pilate’s final statement, meant to mock the Jews, came in the form of a charge to be posted. He proclaimed this crucified Jesus as the King of the Jews. Little did Pilate know that his mock proclamation was the only truth to come out of the Roman government throughout this entire event.

Though the words "robbers" and "thieves" are used to describe the others crucified next to Jesus, the term translated as such more likely describes those who are guilty of leading a rebellion; insurrectionists. As such, Jesus was identified with them: an insurrectionist who would be King. Those next to him knew the territory and one of them proclaimed him innocent. (Luke 23:41).

Note that verse 28 is missing from the NIV and other translations. It is considered an addition by later redactors to express reason for what is taking place. It is a quote from Isaiah 53:12, "And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors." Jesus quoted the verse in the upper room (Luke 22:37).

Jesus was also mocked by the people who passed by (prophesy Psalm 22:7), "All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads." As one who could save others, his inability to save himself seemed incongruous.

A third group that mocked Jesus was that of the religious leaders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They needed vindication for their actions, and found it in Jesus’ apparent helplessness on the cross. They said more than they knew when they said "He saved others… but he cannot save himself." Jesus could have saved himself. Why did he not do so? He could not save himself and remain faithful to his identity as the Messiah who would be the sacrificial lamb who would die by the shedding of his own blood. If he had survived the cross, he would have been merely another human messiah, attempting to make his own path of meeting God’s demands. Twice before Jesus had resisted this same temptation to turn away from the cross (Matt. 4:6; 16:23; Mark 14:36).

The chief priests said they would believe if Jesus had come down from the cross. Would they have delivered on their promise? (No, they did not believe when they had witnessed other miracles, and they ultimately did not believe when Jesus was resurrected. Consequently, after the resurrection, Jesus appeared only to people who had been faithful prior to the crucifixion. God’s purpose was always one of faith, and Jesus did not perform an "I told you so" act by revealing Himself to any unbelievers.)

Though we most likely will never endure insults and persecution like Jesus experienced, we can expect to suffer for our commitment to God if we express our obedience openly, as we are called to do.

Mark 15:33-35.

And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? 35And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, he calleth Elias.

Psalm 22:1.  My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?

From about noon until 3 p.m. a darkness came over the area. Most likely, it was a time of relative silence. There would have been heard the crying from those faithful women who were there. The apostle John was there, probably consoling Mary and feeling quite bewildered himself. The mocking crowd would have been bored and left by this time. The other apostles were gone, in hiding (fulfilling prophesy) . All but a faithful few, and the required Roman guards, were left.

Jesus’ next statement has kept Biblical scholars busy. Mark recorded his words first in Aramaic, and then provided a Greek translation. Of course, ours is an English translation of that. There are several positions:

(1) At this time Jesus was carrying the sins of the world. God would not relate to him in the same way as was always true before. Jesus, who had been in complete communion with God for eternity, found himself alone. He drew on the words of David in Psalm 22:1 to communicate how he had been abandoned by both the apostles and by God Himself.

(2) By quoting from Psalm 22:1, Jesus was saying more than just its first statement. The Jews of the day had a much better understanding of the scriptures than average people today, and to them, the quoting of scripture was idomatic.

Psalm 22:30-31.   A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. 31 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.

The last statement in the Psalm reveals the message of the entire Psalm, and Jesus' statement on the cross is idomatic of the entire Psalm's message. Our ignorance of the idiom causes us to see only the spoken words. People there would be turned to looking at the Psalm for what it is: an expression of anguish that ends in a message of hope and confidence in a promise of God’s ultimately delivery. Rather than seeing a testimony of abandonment, they would see a testimony of hope. Jesus' testimony was one of hope and promise that was inspired by the true agony of his temporary abandonment by God.

We may find ourselves at moments when we think we have been abandoned. If we depend upon other people, the potential for that is great. We can always remember that God promises never to abandon us or forsake us (Deut. 31:8, Matt 28:20). Jesus knew that He would not be abandoned, we can know the same.

Mark 15:36-39.

36And one ran and filled a sponge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down. 37And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. 38And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. 39And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.

After six hours on the cross, the time of Jesus' death was near. With his body mortally drained of fluid, Jesus’ blood oxygen level at its lowest possible to sustain life, Jesus still wanted to make one last statement before his death. The wine vinegar offered would moisten Jesus’ mouth and throat enough to speak, a task in and of itself nearly impossible considering the suffocation that accompanies crucifixion. John 19:30 records the final cry as the statement, "It is finished." Luke 23:46 records, "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit." Most likely, Jesus' final statement included both.

What is significant about the tearing of the temple curtain from top to bottom? This was a very heavy curtain, several inches thick, that separated the holy place in the temple from entry by anyone except the high priest. There was probably no tool in their technology that could have accomplished this feat. God destroyed that barrier and tied its destruction to Jesus’ death on the cross. No longer would people have access to God only through the priest, but through the Holy Spirit, all who put their faith in God have full and complete access to the presence of God. The temple and the priesthood no longer had any spiritual significance in bringing people to God. With the tearing of the curtain, came an end of the Old Testament era. The temple would never be used again as a place of sacrifice and solitary access. For a while its use would be symbolic, and a few years later it would be permanently destroyed. A Moslem mosque now sits on the site of the temple.

The centurions were leaders over a unit of 100 soldiers. They were pagans, not Jews, and were not subject to the prejudice toward the gospel that was typical for the Jewish leadership. When they saw the miracles of Jesus, they were often turned to faith (Matt. 8:5-10; Acts 10:1-2). The centurion who testified here certainly knew very little of Jesus’ purpose, or of the good news that Jesus brought. However, he did understand the first fundamental truth that we must all grasp in order to come to God in faith, that Jesus is, "Surely" the Son of God. He saw the Jesus we know: Jesus' calm submission to an excruciating death, His lack of hateful words towards the soldiers that brutalized Him, His concern for His mother’s welfare at a time when His own was so much in stress.  The centurion witnessed dignity and strength to the very last breath. He had never seen anything like this before. Seeing Jesus for what He really is, the centurion could come to only one conclusion.

The centurion represents millions of gentiles who would follow. When we show people who Jesus is, what He came for, what He did, and what He continues to do, people will see someone they have never seen before. They will be able to come to the same conclusion that the centurion did.

Jesus’ death on the cross was God's plan for providing redemption for sinners. The way Jesus faced His death provides a model for today’s believers to imitate. This lesson describes Jesus’ crucifixion as fulfilling prophecy (Mark 15:22-24). It also shows the insults of the crowd, the priests, and the thieves crucified with Jesus. It presents the moment of Jesus’ feeling forsaken. It also shows Jesus as He faced death courageously in such a way as to convince the Roman centurion that He was God’s Son. People who follow Jesus in committed discipleship leave an example and a pattern for believers and nonbelievers to view and to imitate.