A Glorious View from the Mt Everest of Our Redemption
Topic: The Passion Passage: Mark 15:16–15:47
On May 25, 2001, Erik Weihenmayer (why-in-meyer) became the first blind man in history to reach the summit of Mount Everest. As he stood at the summit he felt a deep sense of accomplishment and at the same time he was aware that one of the greatest payoffs for reaching the summit was the breathtaking view from the top of the world, and that while he now belonged to the very small, very select club of humans to be in the position to see that view, he was physically unable to enjoy the grandeur of what lay before him.
As we come to the crucifixion account in the gospel of Mark this morning, I feel a little like Weihenmayer. Mt Calvary was a physically small hill, probably only a few hundred feet high, but it was on Calvary that Jesus reached the pinnacle of his saving work. Calvary is the Mt. Everest of God’s redemptive plan, the infinitely high peak of His loving plan to reconcile lost sinners to their Creator. And yet, I know there is so much I can’t see or fathom about all that Jesus accomplished on the cross. We need God’s help to see and marvel at our Savior’s great sacrifice and glorious accomplishment on Calvary.
So, before we read the crucifixion account, let’s pray and ask God to open our eyes – even just a little bit – to see and behold Jesus on the cross and be overwhelmed by what we see displayed there. (pray)
Here’s what I want to do this morning. As we stand, through God’s word, on Mt Calvary and take in the view, there’s really no way that we will be able to take in all the sweeping scope of what God did on Calvary, so I’m just gonna point us in two directions and identify some of the landmarks we can see through this text. First let’s survey the sufficiency of the cross – all that Jesus accomplished and achieved and completed on the cross.
And then we’re going to look in a different direction and survey the insufficiency of the cross. Now that may sound confusing to some of you and maybe even a little bit concerning, but stay with me and I think by the time we’re done you’ll agree with me that there is a way that the cross by itself is insufficient and as we see how it is insufficient we will get yet another breathtaking view of the scope and grandeur of God’s redemptive work accomplished through Jesus Christ.
I. The sufficiency of the cross
There’s a hymn that says, Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood. All that Jesus bore on the cross, he bore in our place. It wasn’t his to bear, he bore it for us. The sufficiency of the cross was that Jesus was completely and perfectly able to stand in our place and to bear all that should have been ours to bear, and be condemned in our place, removing it completely and perfectly from the shoulders of all those who come to him in faith. In this passage we see three distinct condemnations that Jesus bore in our place:
a. Jesus bore our shame on the cross (vv. 16-32)
Ed Welch makes the point in his book Shame Interrupted that Western cultures don’t tend to talk about shame as much as guilt because we are people of law - we think more in terms of guilt and condemnation than we do in terms of shame, but the Bible speaks about shame nearly ten times more often than it speaks about guilt. Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood.
Mark makes a point to highlight the shame that Jesus endured leading up to and on the cross. The soldiers didn’t just beat him (which by itself is deeply humiliating) and flog him, but they mocked and ridiculed his claim to be a king. They stripped him of his clothes – stripping him of his dignity as well - and put a mock king’s robe on him and twisted a crown of thorns and crowned him with thorns that pierced his brow with scorn. Their vicious abuse continued: they struck his head, and spat on him, and knelt down in fake homage. And then they stripped him again and put his own clothes back on him. We see the pain that Jesus endured in the beating and flogging and crown of thorns, but do we see the shame? I submit to you that it’s the shame, rather than pain, that is the greater agony of this trial.
And then the soldiers laid the patibulum or the cross beam of the cross, which weighed about a hundred pounds, on Jesus shoulders to carry the mile or so to Golgotha. At some point during that trek Jesus, who was weakened by a Roman flogging, staggered under the weight and the soldiers force a man named Simon of Cyrene to carry it the rest of the distance. Simon probably thinks he was at the wrong place at the wrong time, but the fact that Mark mentions his two sons, Alexander and Rufus, by name indicates that they were known to the church by the time Mark wrote his gospel. Some think that Rufus might be the Rufus mentioned in Romans 16 where Paul writes: Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. We can’t know for sure, but it’s very possible that grace entered this family through Simon’s forced service to Jesus.
Finally when they reached Calvary, they crucified Jesus. Crucifixion is one of the cruelest and most painful forms of execution ever devised but don’t miss the shame of it: the Roman soldiers divided his garments at the foot of the cross. You know what that means? Jesus was either naked or nearly naked. The Romans typically crucified criminals naked, but it’s possible that out of consideration for Jewish sensibilities they allowed a small loin cloth, but Jesus would have hung on the cross stripped of dignity as well as clothes – he bore our shame.
And then there was the mocking sign that hung above his head and the scoffing of the crowd and the religious leaders and even the two criminals to his right and left. Eventually one of them would turn in repentance but for a time, every voice lifted around him was lifted in mockery. Without for a moment diminishing the excruciating pain of the cross at this moment, the greater focus is on the shame of the cross. Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood.
The shame of sin
Shame is a prominent theme in the Bible. In fact humanity’s last perfect moment, Adam and Eve’s last perfect moment before they disobeyed God and sin entered into the world is described in terms of shame, that is, their complete lack of it: And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed (2:25). Before sin, there was no shame. When sin enters the world, shame enters too.
Shame is a part of guilt and can be caused by guilt but it’s not the same as guilt and it can plague us even when we aren’t guilty. In the Bible shame is characterized in images of the poor, the outcast, the leper, the unclean, the worthless, and the unaccepted. Unlike the guilty person, for the ashamed person there may not be anything to confess or repent of. A person can be guilty of nothing and yet be ashamed. Someone who has been sexually abused would know this kind of shame – they feel dirty, unclean, ashamed – yet they aren’t guilty - they are victims. Still they can feel a deep sense of shame.
Shame isn’t the same as embarrassment. When we do something embarrassing the embarrassment fades over time. Over time we even laugh and share our most embarrassing moments, they reveal our knuckleheadedness. For me, it’s usually my big mouth that gets me into trouble, specifically when I engage my mouth without troubling to engage my brain, like the time someone I was meeting for the first time complimented my wife’s youthfulness and beauty and I answered, “yeah, I really robbed the grave when I married her.” There was this embarrassed silence and then I realized what I said…I mean, cradle. I robbed the CRADLE!! But at that point it was too late to save the conversation.
Embarrassment fades over time. But shame doesn’t fade over time– often it grows over time. We don’t share it, we hide it. Unless we face and overcome shame it never becomes a sermon illustration or a funny story shared among friends – we hide it under lock and key so no one ever sees it.
And the funny thing is, we all feel some degree of shame – sin has brought a universal shame to the human condition. Some may have a deeper, hidden shame, back rooms that you don’t open up to anyone, others may not have that form of shame. But most of us feel some degree of shame – it may be the shame of feeling that we’re not accepted. We don’t fit in. We’re different. We have idiosyncrasies – oddities that, if people knew who I really was, they’d reject me. How many of us hide behind images and personas and keep people at arms length so who we really are isn’t known. Shame is a powerful feeling and it’s a deep part of the human dilemma.
Jesus bore our shame on the cross. He hung there stripped and humiliated and rejected and shamed for all the world to see so that our shame could be taken away. Our nakedness covered. The deep, dark rooms of shame opened up to the light and it’s a safe light, a light of complete acceptance and cleansing from God. Our worthlessness is transformed into preciousness – we are precious to God, we belong to God. Our odd personalities and quirks and idiosyncrasies become the shape that God uses for His great glory, and our weaknesses become the door to His power and grace in us.
1 Peter 2:9 describes the shame-destroying results of the cross: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Through faith in Christ we can stand before God and man, unashamed. Because by bearing our shame, Jesus has removed it from us and replaced it with acceptance and belonging. Jesus bore our shame on the cross.
b. Jesus bore our guilt on the cross (Read vv. 33-36)
Verse 33 transitions to a very different point on the cross. After several hours of exposure to the shame and ridicule of the bystanders, a supernatural darkness fell over the whole land and covered Jesus, but not to spare him further shame. No, it’s at that time that Jesus bore God’s full wrath for our guilt. What happened to Jesus during that time, what agonies he endured, are cloaked in mystery – we will never fully be able to pierce the darkness or see what horrors Jesus faced in the hours between 12 noon and 3pm. But we know that the greatest agony was separation from God as his Father turned away from His Son and laid on him to guilt for all our sin.
We know that from Jesus’ cry at the end of the 3 hours of darkness, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is a cry taken directly from Psalm 22, a psalm that predicts and describes Jesus’ agony on the cross in amazing detail. Let me read a portion of it:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?…6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.7 All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; 8 “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” …14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
… 16 For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— 17 I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.
All that David described in the psalm happened to Jesus, but what agonizes Jesus most acutely, the portion of this psalm that screams from Jesus’ lips, is the feeling of being abandoned by God. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? When we talk about Jesus bearing our sin, when the Bible says that he who knew no sin became sin for us, it doesn’t mean that Jesus became sinful or polluted. He was the spotless lamb offered for our sin. No, it means the guilt of our sin was laid on him and the punishment that accompanied that guilt. The Father cursed Jesus, punished Jesus, abandoned Jesus, counted Jesus guilty, as if he had committed every sin ever committed. The hymn goes on to say:
Guilty, vile, and helpless we, Spotless Lamb of God was he, full atonement can it be? Hallelujah! Jesus bore our guilt on the cross.
c. Jesus bore our death on the cross (Read vv. 37-39)
Finally, as we continue our surveyance of the sufficiency of the cross, we see that Jesus bore our death on the cross. Let’s read vv. 37-39.
Jesus didn’t die like crucified men die. Crucifixion has been called “death by exhaustion” – the life of a man ebbed out of him until he became so weak and feeble that he just faded away into death. That’s not how Jesus died: Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. He gave up his spirit. Death didn’t come to Jesus, Jesus ran to death. Death didn’t take Jesus’ life or overpower Jesus, Jesus gave his life of his own accord and by his own power.
So amazing and different was his death, that the Roman centurion who oversaw all the proceedings of Jesus’ execution exclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God!” This is an amazing confession – Mark opens the book with the words: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…” (vs. 1) and at different points there were some unusual confessions of the deity of Christ, such as when a demon declares Jesus to be the Holy One of God in chapter 1:24, and here is yet another unusual confession. Not from the lips of Jesus’ followers. Not from the lips of the religious authorities were in the best position to recognize who Jesus was from their great learning and scholarship. No, it comes from a Gentile soldier, tasked with making sure Jesus is properly executed. Yet a confession of faith and amazement comes from him.
Among the last words, if not the last words from Jesus is the proclamation, It is finished. Tetelestai. It is accomplished. It is completed. Our debt had been paid in full. Why can a person have assurance of heaven when they trust in Jesus Christ? Because we can know that our sin has been paid for in full.
Lifted up was he to die, “it is finished” was his cry, now in heaven exalted high, Hallelujah what a Savior!!
Jesus bore our shame, Jesus bore our guilt, Jesus bore our death on the cross. Our salvation, our eternal entrance into the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ was accomplished, was completed, on the cross. It is the Mt. Everest of God’s redemptive work and the greatest display of God’s dear love for lost sinners such as you and me!! That is the sufficiency of the cross.
II. The insufficiency of the cross (read vv. 40-47)
Now in just a few closing moments, let’s turn our gaze and survey yet another glorious view of God’s redemptive work, a view that we can see most clearly from Calvary: the insufficiency of the cross.
Now, let me be quick to say that I don’t mean that there is any essential lack or inadequacy in the work of Christ on the cross. Not at all. It is finished. But from the heights of Calvary we can – and must – see that the cross isn’t the end of the story. And it can’t be. The gospels could never end at the cross and still be the “gospels” – the good news of Jesus Christ. It’s the high point – the Mt. Everest – of God’s redemptive work and the greatest display of God’s love for lost sinners.
But it’s not the climax of God’s work. No, from the peak of Calvary we can see a vista that spreads out gloriously beyond the cross – and we see the sun rising on glorious distant views such as the resurrection. The cross would not be sufficient if not for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And so we see Mark setting up the next glorious chapter of Christ’s work: the resurrection. Jesus isn’t left to rot or thrown into some unknown pit the way that most crucified criminals were. Joseph, the fearful and timid member of the Sanhedrin, gathers enough courage to ask for Jesus’ body to be laid in his tomb. And Pilate, who never believed Jesus to be an insurrectionist, grants permission.
And then the women, two Mary’s who had been among the women who watched Jesus die, followed their processional to the tomb and watched Jesus laid in it. They were witnesses of Jesus’ death and his burial. And they would be the first witnesses of his resurrection! It is an ironic fact of history that Jewish law in that day would not accept the testimonies of women, so in the eyes of the courts their testimony would not be accepted. But in God’s plan, their witness was essential and He accepted their testimony as completely legitimate and essential.
So as we look out at the vista that stretches beyond the cross we see the resurrection, which we will celebrate on Easter morning next week! And then beyond the resurrection we see the ascension when Jesus rises to the right hand of God the Father. And looking beyond we can see the promises of Jesus’ return to the earth, and his setting up his kingdom on the earth, a throne that will last forever. The Bible could not, and would not, end at the crucifixion, and neither must we! We rejoice in the cross, and we rejoice in all the powerful promises and landscapes that reach beyond the cross – knowing that such glorious landscapes would not be possible if not for the cross.
And so, as we stand on Mt. Calvary and take in the view of God’s redemptive work, we find our shame removed. We are free from shame because Jesus embraced it as his. We find our guilt removed as if we have never, ever sinned, because Jesus bore it was if he had committed all of it. We find the sting of death removed because those who believe in Jesus will never die, but will live.
And we see more than the removal of shame, guilt, and death. We find our hearts filled and burning with hope and purpose and a longing that goes beyond this life and this world. To serve Jesus while we live and to look for the day when we will be with him forever in his glorious kingdom. The hymn goes on to say:
When he comes, our glorious King, all his ransomed home to bring. Then anew this song we’ll sing, hallelujah!! Hallelujah!!