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  • Writer's pictureLou Hernández

WHEN HEAVEN TURNED AWAY - Mark 15

MESSAGE BY PASTOR ROB INRIG FROM

BETHANY BAPTIST IN RICHMOND, BC

As we come into chapters 15 and 16 of Mark’s gospel, we open up to the most important events the world has ever known.  God bringing rescue to a world that He knew we would choose to go horribly wrong.  None of this surprising God and so, as we are told, before the foundation of the world, He already had His rescue plan in place.  A rescue plan that would lead us to a Cross where each one of us needs to decide on what we’ve been given to see.  

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At first glance it would be easy to think that some of the events surrounding Pilate and his dealings with the Jews did not make sense.  After all he represented mighty Rome.  As occupiers, if they decided to set the power of their military loose, no Jew would be left alive.  The Romans did not accomplish their victories by good will and negotiation, they accomplished it by force.  Time and again they had proven that.  So when it came to the crucifixion of Jesus, how was it that the Pharisees and scribes were able to have an influential voice that was even listened to?  If Pilate knew that Jesus was an unjustly accused, innocent man and we see again and again that he did, why wouldn’t he have just told them, You are just an insignificant flee speaking to a lion. An irritant with no ability to demand anything.  So the things you ask, the things you demand are not going to happen.  


Except they were going to happen because, as the Jews knew, Pilate wasn’t speaking from a position of strength.  Due to his previous actions, Pilate’s standing with Tiberius Caesar was precarious and the Jews in authority knew it.


So what foolish actions had made it so challenging that it had Pilate walking on eggshells?  Well, Josephus helps us with that.  Ironically his first misstep came in his attempt to show Rome’s power.  He did that by having his soldiers march through Jerusalem parading colourful ensigns emblazoned with the image of Caesar, these banners later posted throughout the city.  While that might have been a good Roman thing to do, it definitely wasn’t a good Jewish thing to do.  God clearly stating in the second commandment, You are to have no graven images before you.  And these Caesar imprinted banners flown and posted all around them were like waving red before an awakened bull.  Infuriated by this, the Jews sent a delegation to Caesarea asking that these to be removed but Pilate, wanting to display his power, told this peaceful delegation to gather in the amphitheatre.  In that place Pilate demanded that they immediately end their opposition.  If they did not, he would have his soldiers, now encircling them, cut off their heads.


By his calculations this should have ended all protests but Pilate hadn’t anticipated their response.  Instead of cowering in fear, the delegation lay on the ground and exposed their necks for him to do just that because they would not back down from their demands.   In the end Pilate was forced to give in and withdraw these images from Jerusalem.  As can be imagined, this defeat of power was not a good look for Pilate.


His 2nd confrontation with the Jews went just as badly.  Pilate had determined that an aqueduct was needed to bring water from Caesarea to Jerusalem.  Good idea, bad execution.  In order to fund this, Pilate raided the Jewish treasury, using sacred money to bring this about.  That action was again met with outrage.  As people gathered in protest, Pilate was not about to suffer another shameful defeat.  This time he had his soldiers dress up as civilians who he then ordered into the crowd to beat and kill those who raised voices against him. Unfortunately for him, both of these events made their way to a displeased Tiberius.


By now, you would hope that Pilate would have learned that actions like these weren’t looked on favourably by Caesar, but he hadn’t.  So once again he stepped into the mud, his 3rd significant misstep, hanging shields imprinted with the image of Caesar in the Antonian Fortress inside Jerusalem.  This time when the Jews discovered what he had done, they bypassed Pilate and went directly to Tiberius in Rome.   


These events put Pilate on a very short rope. And into this backdrop came the Jews’ demand to do away with Jesus, a predicament Pilate did his very best to avoid.  But try as he might, he soon found that there was no way out, not with previous missteps hanging over his head.


Again and again, 4 or 5 times in fact, Pilate tries to get out of this ‘Jesus’ mess.  Knowing Jesus is innocent, he says, I find no basis for a charge against this man Jn 18:38. He is also warned by his wife of her dream, telling him, Have nothing to do with this innocent man Matt 27:19.  And so he tries, declaring he finds no fault in him and then shipping him off for Herod to deal with. When those efforts failed, he tries to satisfy the Jews by administering a horrific beating of Jesus.  He hoped that when the crowd saw what had been done, their blood lust would be satisfied.  Added to that, Pilate changed his approach. When he first presented Jesus it was, Behold your King Jn 19:14.  Not now - now he tries to lower the temperature by saying, Behold the Man Jn 19:5, he wanting them to see Jesus as no more than mere man. 


A man that’s been humiliated, a man who’s been made to suffer.  Surely their humanity would see that what’s been done has been enough and they could leave it at that.  But he hadn’t convinced them, which forced him to play the last card he had, which surely would be enough to dig himself out.  The offering of one who was undeniably despicable in order to let One who was undeniably good, go free.


But the Jews had an answer for that which forced Pilate’s hand despite his, Why? What evil has He done? :13  From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar” :12.  Opposing Caesar was not something he wanted Tiberius to hear.  Though he alone held power over Jesus’ life, this leader was more cowardly than principled, and as :15 tells us, wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate takes a basin to wash his hands in a futile effort to escape his guilt.  Finally he is resigned to the reality that with the people’s demand for a Cross, some nails and a hammer was the only solution that would satisfy.


Don’t miss the Jewish leaders hypocrisy.  Their accusation against Jesus was blasphemy but their true indictment was that Jesus exposed their evil hearts.  And if these ones who considered themselves faithful to the Word of God wanted to carry out the punishment for blasphemy they should have done what was outlined in Leviticus, The one who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him Lev 24:16.  But by this time the Jewish Sanhedrin had lost the power to perform capital punishment without Rome's approval.  This did not mean they couldn’t execute criminals; it meant they had to work within the confines of the Roman legal system. 

And that meant crucifixion, a parallel to God’s saving deliverance that John reminds when, Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so too must the Son of Man be lifted up Jn 3:14.     


And the process of being lifted up told us here: And the soldiers led him away inside the palace, (that is, the governor's headquarters) and they called together the whole battalion.  And they clothed Him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on Him.  And they began to salute Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they were striking His head with a reed and spitting on Him and kneeling down in homage to Him. And they were striking His head with a reed and spitting on Him and kneeling down in homage to Him.  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.  15:16-20


In what we read here, there are two images on view, one obvious, the other still to be seen:


THE DESPICABLE THE VICTORIOUS


The Crowds - mouths wide open and loud The Lamb of God - who didn’t open His Mouth

Shouting and mocking by the many Prayed to by the few - (small is the gate & narrow the way Mat; 7:14)

Costumed in a purple cloak of ridicule  Robed in blood - red forgiveness of God’s love

Stripped in order to mock Stripped in order to save

A thorny crown pressed in, drawing blood A crown placed on -reward for His shed

blood

Mocking praise delivered on bent knee Applause of praise from those who bend

the knee

Hell’s delivery of contemptuous spit Heaven's song of triumphant praise

A reed that will beat A scepter that will rule


Those events taking us to what we see next:


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. And they brought Him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull).  And they offered Him wine mixed with myrrh, but He did not take it.  And they crucified Him and divided His garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take.  And it was the third hour when they crucified Him.  And the inscription of the charge against Him read, “The King of the Jews.”  And with Him they crucified two robbers, one on His right and one on His left.  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, save yourself, and come down from the cross!”  So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked Him to one another, saying, “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.” Those who were crucified with Him also reviled Him.  :21-32


Let’s look again at the two views just read to take a look at the Cross. On one side, a Cross that Condemned on the other, a Cross that Makes New: 


A CROSS THAT CONDEMNED A CROSS THAT MAKES NEW


A Cross - Carried to kill A Cross - carried to bring everlasting life

Place of a Skull declaring ‘death wins’ Place of a Skull declaring ‘death is put

to death

Cheap wine offered to lessen the pain Rich wine offered - God’s love given to

end all pain

Garments stripped and taken God’s Robe of Righteousness given

Robbers condemned One robber transformed - (so many

more to come)

A Temple of stone destroyed. A new Temple of flesh come, far

greater than stone

Man’s accusation - cannot save Himself God’s ovation - Will not save Himself so others will be saved

And then we read:


When the 6th hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the 9th hour.  And at the 9th hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, He is calling Elijah.”  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.”  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!”  :33-39      


Though they didn’t see it, God was actually connecting things just seen to the deliverance God gave the Israelites many years before when He took them out of Egypt.  Ex 10.


Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness spreads over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.”  So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for 3 days. No one could see anyone else or move about for three days. :21 


Soon after those 3 days of overwhelming darkness, would come the death of every first born. Death coming to all who weren’t under the covering of the blood of God’s Passover lamb.  Yet for those under the blood of the lamb, deliverance and a passageway into a brand new life.  That deliverance temporary, the deliverance done by God’s Passover Lamb at the Cross – forever.


God doing in full fashion, what was foreshadowed in Egypt - this time after 3 hours of darkness, offering deliverance from sin, once for all, for those who come under the shed blood of the Lamb – this lamb God’s only Son, God’s Passover Lamb.


Notice that it is after the darkness and Jesus declaring His last words that we are told that the curtain separating the Holies of Holies, where God’s presence dwelled, from the Holy Place is torn wide open.  In the Holy of Holies where once every year on this day alone, a sanctified high priest was allowed to enter past the curtain on the Day of Atonement to offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin.  But now, something entirely different, something entirely new.  This curtain, that was ripped from top to bottom,  described in the Mishnah as being woven of 72 cords, its thickness around 10 cm 4”, its height 18 M 60’, its width, 9 M 30’ across.  It was so heavy that it required 300 priests to put it in place.  Which is to say, only God is able to rip a curtain like this.


And in that moment with a torn curtain, everything about how we can come to God changed.  


No longer will yearly sacrifices have to be made. No longer will there be a need for a human priest to intercede on our behalf.  No longer will people be kept out.  With the curtain ripped in two, God’s message was clear – you can come near at any time, no matter where you’ve been, no matter what you’ve done, you may come and be forgiven and made clean so that, covered in the blood of Jesus, you can come in to God.


Jesus’ blood forgiving our sin, His blood making us acceptable to a Holy God, not because we are better but because we stand in Jesus’ righteousness not our own.


But here’s the question, why the Cross?  More specifically, why the blood? - blood Paul tells us that, Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin Heb 9:22.  But Hebrews tells us, It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin ... but ... we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way  Heb 10:5,19,20 And the answer to Why the blood? is all about covenant.  Way back in Genesis 12-17, God comes to Abraham and makes promises to him about the land he will possess, the blessing he will receive and the descendants that will come - through him the nations will be blessed.  


Great promises but how was Abraham to know these things would actually come about?  In Gen 15:8 we read, O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?  


And God’s response is, Bring me a heifer 3 years old, a female goat 3 years old, a ram 3 years old, a turtledove and a young pigeon.  


In this answer Abraham knew immediately, God was going to enter into a covenant with him which meant blood. I would guess he’s thrilled at first but I wonder if he’s soon terrified because no covenant got signed without the shedding of blood, in fact in Hebrew you don’t make covenant, you cut covenant.  And how do you cut covenant with God that you can possibly keep?  


Here’s the problem, a covenant is an agreement entered into by two parties that is sealed by the killing of animals. The slain animals were cut in half, the portions placed apart from one another with their blood pouring out onto the pathway in between.  Each party would then individually walk through the blood, signifying that if one party were to break covenant, the party at fault would pay with their blood.  Perhaps now you can imagine why Abraham might have been feeling somewhat anxious about making a covenant with God. 


But here’s where the story gets especially great. Gen 15 tells us that when the animals were slain and placed apart, God passes through the blood, He ratifying His part of the covenant but then He does the unexpected by putting Abraham to sleep.  Then God passes through the blood once more.  God taking it upon Himself that the covenant promised is completely based on Him, Abraham having no part in the keeping of the covenant.  If the agreement in the covenant is broken and blood needs to be paid, God will pay it.  When Abraham and his descendants fail to do what this requires, God takes it upon Himself to pay what Abraham has no capacity to pay.


And so it is we see Jesus on the Cross, He taking our sin that separates us from God upon Himself.  He paying in blood what we can’t possibly pay.  Our sin, no matter how small we think it to be; our sin no matter how great we know it to be, has been fully paid by Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross.  Paid in full for all who are willing to come and bow before Him as Saviour and accept the payment He has made on our behalf.  No one, other than Jesus, is worthy to pay for sin and make us righteous in God’s sight. Our forgiveness not based on our good but based on His.  As God’s Word tells us, All our righteousness is as filthy rags Is 64:6 or There is no one who is righteous, not even one Rom 3:10. But you are in Christ Jesus, who became wisdom from God for us—our righteousness, sanctification and redemption 1 Cor 1:30.   God demonstrating His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Rom 5:8.


It's interesting to note that Mark chooses to ignore some other events surrounding Jesus’ death.  Take for example what Matthew tells us, The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke opened. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many Mtt 27:51-53.  Given these spectaculars mentioned, you’d think they’d get some mention.  Perhaps not the earth shaking and rocks splitting but tombs opening and the dead coming to life?  


But to Mark, as amazing as those things were, they paled compared to a torn curtain which said all that needed to be said - God’s covenant has never been broken.  Access to Him, still open to us today by what is offered us in Jesus’ blood.  


The centurion’s voice summing up what he had witnessed, Truly this was the Son of God.


He like all the others having no idea that what he witnessed as what was will soon be seen as a what IS in an appearance none of them could have ever imagined.  


Back in 1976, there was a TV mini-series entitled Jesus of Nazareth.  It starred Robert Powell as Jesus, Olivia Hussey as His mother Mary, and Anne Bancroft as Mary Magdalene.


For the role of the Centurion they picked Ernest Borgnine who took his role very seriously. The weather for filming that day was chilly and gray, and since the camera was to be focused on Borgnine at foot of the cross it wasn’t necessary for Powell who portrayed Jesus to be there.


To help focus him, the director placed an “X” on some scenery beside the cameraman and told Borgnine to focus on THAT as if he were looking on Christ. Borgnine said, for some reason, he was uneasy that day, and so he asked “for somebody to read from the Bible the words Jesus said as He hung on the cross.”


The director found a Bible, opened it to Luke and signalled for the camera to roll as he read the text. Borgnine stared at the chalk mark, trying to think what might have gone through the centurion's mind that day. He said as he heard Jesus’ words to the thief:  Truly, truly I say unto you, today you shall be with Me in paradise.  He visualized the centurion thinking ‘If Jesus can forgive that criminal, then He will forgive me. 


At this point Borgnine wrote, Then it happened. As I stared upward, instead of the chalk mark, I suddenly saw the face of Jesus, lifelike and clear. It wasn’t the face of Robert Powell I was used to seeing, but the most beautiful, gentle visage I have ever known. Pain-seared, sweat-stained, blood flowing down from thorns pressed deep, His face was still filled with compassion. He looked down at me through tragic, sorrowful eyes with an expression of love beyond description.


Then His cry rose against the desert wind. Not the voice of the director, reading from the Bible, but the voice of Jesus Himself: ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.’


In awe I watched Jesus' head slump to one side. I knew He was dead. A terrible grief welled within me, and completely oblivious of the camera, I started sobbing uncontrollably.


Borgnine closed his comments with these words, “I have not been quite the same person since. I believe that I take my faith more seriously. As that centurion learned two thousand years ago, I too have found that you simply cannot come close to Jesus without being changed.


I have no idea where Borgnine’s experience took him. Fascination? It would seem. Appreciation?  I think his tears tell us that.  


But fascination and appreciation may make us better but they cannot make us new.   Only transformation can do that.  And transformation means coming to the Cross of Jesus not to look but to bow.  Coming – recognizing and owning our sin and bowing to Jesus, accepting His forgiveness that only He can give because of His shed blood.  And in that we are what the Scripture calls, ‘born again’, as Jesus said to Nicodemus, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is  born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God Jn 3:6,7.  Born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  1 Pet 1:3.






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