Mark Lesson 13
1. Most of the statements made at the cross were intended to ridicule Jesus and his ministry. The Jewish leaders regarded his claims as an affront to their view of God’s kingdom. However, within each statement is a hidden truth, expressing greater significance than the original intent of the speaker. The real essence of God’s power was displayed in what man ridiculed. This was and would always be the case. The apostle Paul would admit that to the Jew and the Gentile the idea of a suffering God was “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:18-31), but to God, it was the expression of his power. What man saw as weakness, God revealed as the essence and power of his kingdom.
a. “King of the Jews”. It may have been Pilate’s way of taunting the Jewish leaders by placing this placard above the head of Jesus. It was certainly a standard Roman practice to place on a wooden board the accusation that led to a criminal’s crucifixion, perhaps to deter others from duplicating the offense. It does not seem, however, that Pilate truly believed Jesus’ crime was as serious as treason (see 15: 1-15 and perhaps why he would allow Joseph to bury- see question 4). Whatever the reason, what others saw as an statement of mockery carried with it the truth and it was this truth that brought Jesus to the cross. His kingship would be established by enduring the cross.
b. If Jesus had come down from the cross and saved himself, he would not have fulfilled his mission. Once again, the Jewish leaders had misunderstood the nature of his ministry and teaching. The rebuilding of the temple could only take place with his death and resurrection, not from his avoiding the indignity and ignominy of the cross but in enduring it. He must be humiliated. It was only after this could he raise and rebuild the glorious temple of God (see John 2:19-22).
c. The Jewish leaders continued to ridicule Jesus because of his inability to avoid the suffering on the cross. How could God’s Messiah meet this kind of pathetic end? If he was God’s Messiah, then they wanted to see him perform a miracle and save himself from the cross in order to prove it to them. Unfortunately for the Jewish leaders, their view of God’s purposes clouded their view of the truth. Had Jesus come down from the cross and saved himself, the Jewish leaders may have believed, but would have been utterly lost in their own sins. We all would have been lost, for their would have been no sacrifice that could placate the wrath of God. We can only praise God for the fact that he did not save himself, but chose to save mankind by losing his own life in the humiliation of the cross.
d. The only positive statement made about Jesus on the cross is said to have come not from any Jewish leader, but a pagan Roman soldier. A gentile. With very little doubt, he did not mean “son of God” in the same way scripture does in its use of Jesus. His expression meant something more like “a divine hero” or “supernatural one”. But Mark uses this phrase to indicate a truth hidden in the expression of this unbeliever. He gave it more significance than its original intent. Despite its meaning, it can be understood that this pagan had more respect for Jesus than did the Jewish leaders, leading to his confession in seeing something more than a mere mortal on the cross. But just what led him to this conclusion? In Mark, it is connected to the manner of his death. After Jesus let out his loud cry (15:37), the soldier saw him breath his last breath (15:39), it was here that he made the statement. Typical crucifixions lasted days before the criminal died. Many were tied, not nailed to the cross, prolonging their death. Jesus had also been severely beaten. Usually death was a result of asphyxiation, which would not allow the victim to utter a “loud cry”. Many see something supernatural here, and perhaps the Roman soldier did as well.
2. The suffering of Jesus on the cross, I believe, must be seen in a larger context than in the separation of God and Jesus. Many have regarded this statement in15:34 as confirmation of God the Father abandoning Jesus on the cross, due to the statements of Jesus becoming a curse for us and taking on our sins (see 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24). But what does this mean? If it is true that God the Father’s holiness could have nothing to do with sin and when Jesus became sin he had to abandon Jesus on the cross, then what does this say of Jesus’ divinity? Can we truly claim to know enough about the divine nature of God to make this claim? And in doing so do we not also diminish Jesus’ divinity to something less than God the Father’s? And do we not believe in One God? If so, would that not mean what is true for God the Father is true for God the Son? Scripture never clarifies this by any means. It does however point to the demeaning nature of the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus’ coming flesh was a humbling experience, losing (“emptying”) some aspect of his power and authority (Philippians 2: 6-8). This humiliation would be profoundly expressed by his succumbing to death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). There is evidence that this humbling of the incarnation has lasting effects on his person even now (1 John 3:2- note the expression as “he is”). The Psalm quoted here is a psalm of the suffering of the righteous. It was written by one who was suffering despite his righteousness and his appeal to God to intervene and save him. It is not a psalm of hopelessness, but of hope in the God who, although seemingly has abandoned the psalmist, had proven over and over again in the past that he will deliver his people from trouble. The psalmist hope was founded in that indisputable fact. The question is did Jesus quote this psalm in order to fulfill the role as the righteous sufferer or as one abandoned by God? If the latter is true, it is odd that nowhere in scripture is this expressed in an unambiguous way.
3. Jesus’ death had more than religious significance, but cosmological ones as well. In Matthew 27:51, the earth itself shook in a violent reaction to the death of the Creator. The dead were raised from the hold of death (27:52). This was not a death without significance. Mark records two other events that each said something about the terrifying nature of this event.
a. Darkness for three hours. In the OT, darkness symbolized judgment (see Exodus 10:21-22; Amos 8:9, where darkness was tied to the Day of the Lord, his judgment over the unfaithful Israel). It could here be the judgment of God over those who rejected Jesus. If the Exodus event played into this, you can see that the darkness lasted three days in Egypt and then was followed by the last plague that would lead to the release of God’s people from captivity: the death of the first born. But nowhere is this ever mentioned and so we must be careful in making too much out of the parallels. It could also be a symbol of the horrific nature of the event. Jesus suffering and death was felt in more than just the heavenly world, but in creation itself. The death of Jesus shut down the world and brought into a state of chaos.
b. It is difficult to know which curtain was torn in two here. Was it the one between the entrance of the court and the entire sanctuary(where the holy place and the Holy of Holies were located) or the one between the holy place and the Holy of Holies? Most accept this event as the tearing of the curtain between the holy place and the Holy of Holies, but once again there is not enough evidence to claim this without some doubt. The meaning of this event seems to me to be more than just allowing access to the presence of God, but also acknowledging that Jesus’ actions made the temple obsolete and/ or was a symbol of judgment on the temple (see Mark 13). It was a powerful testimony to the advent of the new covenant and a testimony to the claims of Jesus that he would rebuild the temple! There is a vague reference in Jewish literature that some have placed around this event. In the Jewish writing b. Yoma 39b it was noted that “during the last forty years before the destruction of the temple the doors of the sanctuary would open by themselves”. This would be around 30 AD. It is difficult to make too much out of this statement.
4. Typically criminals executed by crucifixion were not allowed a proper burial and when they were, the family and/or friends had to petition the Roman prefect/ procurator for the body, in this case Pilate. It was typically the family or close friends who would do so and to petition for the body of a rebel would have been risking one’s reputation. None of this mattered to Joseph of Arimathea (possibly a town northwest of Jerusalem in Shephelah). He was rich (Matthew 27:60) and a prominent member of the Council (possibly the Sanhedrin, although the word can mean any prominent group) and to bury this criminal after his own council had condemned him to death could have easily jeopardized his religious and social standing. The grave he laid Jesus in was his own (Matthew 27:60). It was also important for him to bury Jesus before the Sabbath day (beginning that night at 6pm). Time-wise, it would have been about 4pm when he was able to get the body of Jesus (it is highly unlikely he did this alone he could easily have gotten servants to assist). To have his body hanging on cross would have brought a curse on the land (see Deuteronomy 21:22-23) if left after nightfall and on a holy day. But Mark alludes to something more than a desire to avoid ritual defilement of the land. Joseph looked for something greater, and even though he may not have understood what was happening, his actions were important to the plans of God. It placed Jesus in the tomb where his greatest power would be displayed, in his overcoming death. Joseph’s desire in seeking the kingdom of God was honored by giving him a part in its establishment.
5. The only people Mark mentioned being at the cross were the women who followed Jesus and possibly supported him monetarily (see Luke 8:3). It is interesting that women would be the ones testifying to the resurrection of Jesus because of the view of women in the first century. There is evidence that the testimony of women was considered unreliable (M. Rosh Hashannah 1:8; Josephus Ant. IV.viii.15). Such would not be out of character of the way God worked through the outcast, seeing that Jesus’ birth was witnessed by shepherds (who apparently were not allowed to testify in court due to their questionable character) and by pagan religious leaders (Magi). When they arrived at the tomb, they expected Jesus’ body to still be there, for they were worried about who would roll away the stone covering the opening for them. The ointments they were bringing had no real practical use, they were typically not used to embalm the body, but applying them was an act of compassion on the part of the women. It would have been unlikely that Joseph did not follow the stringent laws of washing the corpse prior to the burial (m. Sabbat 23:5- a practice so important that it was allowed on the Sabbath day). Perhaps the only use was to reduce the odor of decay. When they entered the tomb they would discover the body of Jesus missing, but the presence of an angel. Their encounter with the angel (the young man in white- white clothing being a symbol of heavenly beings, see Daniel 7:9, 13; Matthew 28:3; Mark 9:3) would bring to them the greatest news this world would ever hear: Jesus has risen from the dead! But their encounter would result in amazement and fear. Human inadequacy in comprehending the work of God and the magnitude of his raising Jesus from the dead could only lead to an overwhelming fear and awe. The significance of this event within human history cannot be overestimated, This is the event that all human history rests upon, It is because Jesus died and rose again that God created the world and the world has purpose and meaning (John 1:1-5; Ephesians 1:9-10; Colossians 1:15-17). No event in human history compares to the life of Jesus. Should that not make us fall to our knees in awe and fear?
6. See question 6 for this as well. We should all see the resurrection as the most important event within all of our lives. It gives meaning to our baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the church, our family, our job, our hope, etc. All that we are should defined by this one event. It helps us see the reality of Jesus’ nature and the focus ministry. It helps us see where true selflessness leads. But the event should be overwhelming. It should define history. It should define the purpose of our life. It should drive us to our knees at the awe-filling power of God in his Son just like it did to the women. The gospel ends with the women so afraid and awe-struck that they refused to tell anyone of the events, but we know from the other gospels that this did not last long. They did tell others (Matthew 28:8; Luke 24:10). What Mark may be focusing on in their refusal to immediately speak was the overwhelming nature of God’s mysterious work in Christ.
7. This question should allow people to express their feelings about the resurrection and its meaning to them and its effect not merely in their own life but in the overall work of God. We must see the effects of his resurrection in this world and the spiritual world and not just in what it did for us individually or we lose the true power of the event.
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