Scripture Reference: Mark 15:21-41
Jesus, Crucified For UsDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | April 5, 2009
Selected highlights from this sermon
Hanging on the cross, Jesus heard the blasphemy, mockery, ridicule, and contempt of the people. His Father heard it as well. But instead of God unleashing His wrath on the people for doing this to His Son, He released His judgment and all of His wrath onto Jesus… for us.
Today I speak on the topic, Jesus, Crucified for Us. When we think of Jesus coming into Jerusalem (which begins what we call the Holy Week), and then we think of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, that cluster of events that we refer to as Holy Week are surely the most special days on the Christian calendar.
I know that Christmas is great, but remember that Jesus was born for a specific purpose, and not until we get to Holy Week do we understand why he was born. He was born crucified. He was born to die.
When he came to Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday, the intention was for him to stir up a demonstration, because remember he came to Jerusalem to die and he needed to get himself crucified. And he knew that when he came to Jerusalem in that way that it would stir up the already over-heated anger of the scribes, the Pharisees and the religious leaders, and he was assured that he would be put to death.
The crowds that greeted him on that day were pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem, and they had arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover. Sometimes it is said that the crowds who greeted him on Palm Sunday are the ones who cried, “Crucify him,” on Good Friday. I don’t think so. I think that the common people heard Jesus gladly and they were the ones who welcomed him and said, “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” It was a different crowd that insisted that he be crucified.
Holy Week was a very busy time for Jesus. Not only does he come into the city of Jerusalem, but also it is then that he cleanses the Temple, and the next day he curses the fig tree. You have the Last Supper and then that series of trials taking place at night, those trials which condemned him. And now morning has come and it is time for Jesus to be crucified.
I’m going to ask you to open your Bibles to chapter 15 in the Gospel of Mark. We have been using Mark as our baseline as we have done this series of messages entitled For Us - In Agony For Us Betrayed For Us Tried For Us Crucified For Us and then Raised from the Dead For Us. Today we come to Mark 15:21. May I read to you the next six or seven verses? “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.”
I need to pause here. Keep in mind that when it says the third hour that’s 9 o’clock in the morning. The time was calculated in those days according to this schedule from 6 in the morning, so you have the third hour, which is 9 o’clock. The sixth hour that will be coming up is high noon.
So the Bible says that they crucified him at the third hour. “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.” I’m reading just that far for now.
They bring him to the Place of the Skull. Golgotha in Aramaic means Skull Hill. Calvary in Latin means the same thing. It was a place of refuse, apparently like the city dump, but it was the place where people were crucified. It was a horrid place, and that’s where they brought Jesus. Simon of Cyrene happens to be there for the Passover. Jesus has been carrying his cross but he staggered under its weight and eventually gave way because, after all, he was up all night enduring those trials, and so Simon carries the cross of Jesus to the place of crucifixion.
What I would like for us to do today is to look at the various responses of Jesus, the responses of individuals, and the crowds that were there on hand for the crucifixion. So as we go through this text (and I’ll also be referring to others texts), let us consider for a moment also that we are there. Were you there when they crucified my Lord? I used to sing that as a boy, thinking, “Well, of course, I wasn’t,” but actually you were there and so was I.
First of all, let’s consider what the response of the soldiers was to Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. I think we could describe it as cruel indifference. Now when Jesus is brought there to the place of crucifixion they do offer him wine mingled with myrrh. Evidently it was a sedative, and Jesus rejected it because he wanted to die with all of his faculties intact. He wanted to have a clear mind as far as he could have under those conditions. He refused to die drugged. He would bear our sin and he would bear the full weight of it. He would keep in communion with the Father, at least until high noon, and so Jesus said no to what was offered to him.
Well, the soldiers brought him there, and the way they did a crucifixion is that the cross was laid down flat on the ground, the person who was being crucified would be put on that cross, and this time there would be nails that would be put through him, and then the cross was raised and it would go down into the hole that was prepared for it, undoubtedly hitting with a thud. And you can just feel the pain that is going to go through Jesus, as well as those who were crucified with him - the inflammation of the body, the tendons being torn, the burning thirst, all of the places of the body that were sensitive and in high pain, and Jesus is crucified.
It’s remarkable that in four words here Mark sums up the whole purpose of God in creation and in redemption when it simply says there in verse 24, “And they crucified him.” Those three words, “They crucified him,” sum up everything that God has been about in this world throughout these years of history.
And then the soldiers threw some dice regarding his clothing. There were four different kinds of clothing. You think of the headgear. You think of his belt and his shoes, his inner tunic and then the outer tunic, which was a seamless robe. It was the custom in those days for a mother to make a seamless robe like this for her first-born son. It is entirely possible that Mary made this robe for Jesus. And there they are. They are throwing the dice to see who gets what, and that night when the soldiers went home, and their children asked them what they did that day, they said, “Well, we participated in some crucifixions, and I have here his sandals. I have a robe. I have a belt (or whatever it was that the soldiers took with them).” What a tragedy. One of the things that most of them did not take with them from the crucifixion was the gift of forgiveness, which they could have received. How tragic to be in the very presence of the one who can forgive them and leave with nothing to show for it except a piece of clothing. But I do need to ask you this. When you attend a church what do you leave with? Do you leave with a hymn? Do you leave with some thoughts that are edifying? Do you leave with some new truths that you are going to apply or is it that you leave basically and go home with nothing? Cruel indifference! That’s the way I describe the soldiers.
Well, what about Pilate? I would say that he was conflicted. Now this is very interesting. The text says that above him the inscription read, “The King of the Jews.” Now you know that it was customary in those days to write the crime of the person on top of the cross as a placard so people could see what he was guilty of. Pilate wrote the inscription and the full inscription was, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Mark just picks up the last part of it giving us the gist of what was written. It’s very interesting that Pilate should write that. In the 19th chapter of John the Jewish leaders, the Bible says, appealed to Pilate who insisted that the inscription be written. They appealed to him and they said, “Do not say, ‘He is the King of the Jews but rather that he said, “I am the kind of the Jews.”’” Pilate said, “What I have written I have written,” and he wouldn’t change it.
What’s going on there? There’s no doubt in my mind that what Pilate wanted to do was to spite the Jews. You see, he knew that he had been vested by them. He didn’t want Jesus to be crucified and three times he said, “I find no fault in him. I find no fault in him. I find no fault in him,” but because of the pressure of the crowd he bowed to it and gave them what they wanted, and he handed him over to be crucified. Pilate is angry about that, so what he does is he writes this superscription, “The King of the Jews.” The Jews were angry. They said, “He’s not our king even though he said he was the King of the Jews,” and Pilate says, “No, I’m not changing it.” He was saying, in effect, first of all, “I think that this IS the king of the Jews.” You never know how much insight Pilate had. Maybe he was saying something else too. “Is this the best that you Jews can do - that you have this man as your king?” Oh how it galled those leaders to know that Pilate would not change the sign.
But you see, back behind Pilate’s motives there was God. God was making a statement. God was saying, “This IS the king of the Jews,” and there it was, written in Hebrew and Greek and Latin. So, Pilate’s response was one of conflict, one of spite. That’s the way in which he saw the crucifixion of Jesus.
Now what about the robbers? The Bible says that “with him they crucified two robbers” in verse 27, and notice what it says at the end of verse 32. “Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.” Both thieves - bad to the bone, criminals - reviled Jesus too, and yet, in the midst of that, asking him to come down from the cross, to save yourself and us, there was something about Jesus that struck one of the thieves. Maybe it was this placard that Pilate had written because it was a Gospel tract. The thieves couldn’t see Jesus. Probably they couldn’t, but they could hear as people would walk by and say, “Oh, what was his crime? It says the King of the Jews.” And there was something about Jesus, even though he was in a predicament that was as bad as his appeared as weakness, no doubt, one of the thieves who was dying said, “If you’re a king, and if it is true that you saved others (as people who were walking by sarcastically said) remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He didn’t have the nerve to ask for forgiveness. He didn’t have the nerve to say, “Meet me in your kingdom.” He just said, “Remember me,” and Jesus on the cross said, “Today you shall be with me in Paradise.” Wow!
How would we describe the thieves? Well, they taunted him, but one of them believed, and the other did not. Just the request for this king to remember him got him a place in Paradise. It takes your breath away.
So much for the robbers! What about the bystanders? We’re now in verse 29. You’ll notice it says, “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 (undoubtedly deliberately misinterpreting what Jesus said), save yourself, and come down from the cross!” They were blaspheming him. Calvary was at a crossroads. It was outside of the city. The people would walk by. Undoubtedly there are some people who decided to show up because there was a crucifixion that day. At least three people were being crucified, and they walked by and they saw, “King of the Jews.” They had heard about Jesus, they knew about him, and so they blasphemed him and said, “If you are the Christ, come down from the cross.” Imagine! What the crowd was thinking was this. He is up there because he is weak. He is up there because there was nothing that he could do about it. He is up there for the same reason that the robbers are up there, and he belongs with them. By the way, that also was a stroke of providence when the centurions put Jesus in a position to be in the middle of two thieves. They thought, “Well, this is where this criminal belongs, and they didn’t know that God was making a statement because God had said, “He was numbered with the transgressors and came to redeem those who are lost.” But now the crowd “Weakness! If you’re a king, if you’re the Son of God, come down from the cross.” They did not understand that it was not a matter of weakness. It was a matter of strength. It was his love for us that kept him there. That’s what kept him on the cross. Jesus was not crucified because he couldn’t help it. He was crucified because he knew that this was God’s plan that he had agreed to, and so he was bearing the sin of many.
God help that crowd. They should have been saying, “Woe is us because our sin is being paid for on this cross. We are the ones who need to repent of our hardness of heart,” but the crowd didn’t see it that way, did they? And the crowd still doesn’t see it that way today, do they?
Well, let’s go on now and talk about the religious leaders and the chief priests. We’re in verse 31. You’ll notice it says now, “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.” And I want to say, “Give me a break.” Of course they wouldn’t have believed. They had seen miracles. They had seen demonic deliverance. They had seen even (and known of) a few resurrections that Jesus performed. You’ll notice that they are different from the passersby. The passersby actually call out to Jesus, “Save yourself! Come down from the cross.” The religious leaders don’t. They talk to one another and they say (losing all their dignity), “Well why doesn’t he come down from the cross?” and they talk among themselves. They say, “f he were to do this we would believe.” No, you wouldn’t believe. You’ve had a chance to believe and you are angry and full of contempt and hatred and you will not believe, but that’s what they said.
Now, visualize the scene. Here you have Jesus dying. The disciples have forsaken him and fled, though John shows up later. You have the situation with the women. They are watching from afar off. They had more courage than the men, God bless them, and oftentimes it’s the same way today, but Jesus is dying there alone and you have all of this blasphemy taking place around him, all of the mocking, all of the ridicule, all of the contempt, all of the humiliation - horrid sins. What do we expect? We would expect God to come out of heaven and to say, “Enough already. I’m going to just zap these people with my judgment. I am going to give them what they deserve for treating my son like this.” We’d expect that, wouldn’t we? But Jesus takes all of this kindly and then something happens. If you and I had written the Bible we’d have never come up with what follows next because instead of the wrath of God falling on these people who are blaspheming and ridiculing and humiliating the Son of God, something mysterious and terrifying happens. The judgment of God does fall, but not on them. It falls on Jesus of all things. Wow!
Verse 33 says, “And when the sixth hour had come (we’re talking now about noon) there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, and at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” What’s that all about? For three hours, from 9 o’clock till noon Jesus suffers under the hands of men. Beginning at high noon when darkness comes over the whole land Jesus is now suffering under the hand of God. Jesus is now being made sin for us, the one who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. Jesus is now, as a sinless Savior, becoming a sin bearer. Holiness, searing holiness coming in contact with sin, horrid impure sin! We cannot take it in. And in those three hours Jesus is going to suffer what you and I would suffer throughout an eternity of suffering were it not for the fact that in those three hours he bore for us an eternity of hell.
Ravi Zacharias said that he met a young Christian woman who newly received Jesus Christ as Savior and she said that when she read the Bible and came to the crucifixion of Jesus she was so overwhelmed with love that she wept, but when she read about hell, she became hardened and angry with God. But Ravi said, and said accurately, “You cannot understand the crucifixion unless you understand hell. Hell visited Calvary that day. Hell was there breaking upon the Savior in darkness.” We have no account of what really happened between noon and three because there is darkness over the whole land, a darkness that could be felt, the darkness the likes of which this world has never seen, as Jesus and the Father complete the work of redemption for fallen sinners.
And then Jesus cries out, “Why have you forsaken me?” You begin the crucifixion and he says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He says, “Father.” You get to the end and the last word of the cross are, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit,” but now the fourth word of the cross (the middle of the seven words) he does not call him Father. It’s not that he’s still not his father but right now there is no fellowship. The Father has forsaken the son. It’s not that there was a break in the Trinity. It was a break of fellowship, and it was necessary because of the holiness of God, for who can withstand his wrath, and who can endure his anger?
So Jesus there is going to bear the full weight of our sin alone, separated from the Father who had been with him all of this time, and he cries out, “Why have you forsaken me?” You see, on the cross the whole purposes of God converged. What you have on the cross first of all is that man did his thing (his work), namely crucifying the sinless Son of God. That’s what man did. Satan did his work. He nipped the heel of the seed of the woman. That’s the best he could do. He thought he had done a lot more but Resurrection Sunday proved him differently. He nipped the heel of the woman’s seed. Jesus did his work. He died, the just for the unjust that he might bring us to God, and God did his work. God was vindicated and displayed his complete justice and said, “My justice and holiness is satisfied for those who believe,” and so God did his work and showed forth that he was completely righteous. Death had to be paid and our debt was paid when Jesus died, and so you have the purposes of God coming together in the cross of Jesus Christ. And when Jesus Christ called and said, “My God, my God,” though he did not use the word father, notice that in his distress he still used the word, “my.” He said “My God, my God.” It was a sign and a cry not of distrust but of distress. By the time Jesus is finished with these last three hours the Father’s fellowship is back, but what a horrid time those three hours were.
So what you have is the response of Jesus and the judgment on Jesus because of our sin. No wonder worship was changed forever. Verse 38 says, “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!” and you’ll notice that the curtain of the temple was torn. That curtain separated the holy place from the Holy of Holies where the high priest could go only on the Day of Atonement once a year. That was now torn in two, and God says, “In light of the fact that it is torn in two, now you are welcome to come into the Holy of Holies through the blood of Christ,” as it says in the book of Hebrews. The barrier is gone. Gone is the Old Testament priesthood. Gone are the Old Testament sacrifices. Gone are all the rituals. “Come now. Come. Come into my presence because you actually live in the presence of God.” You and I live in God’s presence. We sin in God’s presence. We rebel in God’s presence, and we repent in God’s presence as the way to the Holy of Holies is not only open but Biblically we are actually living there every day of our lives.
What can we say about a passage of Scripture like this that has such profound implications? First of all, we have to see ourselves as we think of the crucifixion. We have to see ourselves as one of the mockers. You know when Jesus prayed, and as he prayed this, his lips were moving. They are the first words of the cross. When Jesus prayed he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing,” did he mean that the people who crucified him were completely innocent? I don’t think so. Pilate knew right well that he had condemned an innocent man. Judas knew that he had betrayed innocent blood. The religious leaders knew that they had trumped up charges and they had paid people to give false testimony. They knew that they were guilty, but one thing they did not know was the enormity of their sin. In fact it says in Corinthians that had they known they would have not crucified the Lord of Glory. They really didn’t know how terrible this deed was, but you and I know exactly how terrible it was. You and I know a whole lot more than they did. We know that Jesus is the Son of God. We know that Jesus died for sinners. We know the fruits. We live on this side of the Resurrection. We live on this side of all of the evidence that is compelling that Jesus was whom he claimed to be , even as Christians, taking sin lightly and walking there among the scoffers and saying, “Well, it’s nice that he died but sin can’t be that bad.”
The death of Jesus reminds us that it is just that bad, and we are more responsible than they are. If you are here today and you have never trusted Jesus as your Savior, your judgment is going to be greater than those who lived in that day because they didn’t know how terrible the crime was that they had committed, and we know, don’t we?
Secondly the crucifixion of Jesus both hardens and softens hearts. It does both but it usually does one or the other. No doubt there are some people who went away from the crucifixion more determined than ever to not believe, but thank God that there were some who, when they saw it and understood it, had a change of heart. I personally believe without any doubt that the centurion who stood facing Jesus, when he saw that Jesus died that way, this Roman soldier (God bless him) said, “Truly this was the Son of God.” He believed.
And later on Peter is going to preach on the Day of Pentecost and thousands of people are going to believe, many of whom I believe were among the mockers. In fact, when Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” this was not blanket forgiveness. It was forgiveness for those who would believe, forgiveness for those who would know what they were doing, and thousands of people who were part of the crucifixion scene I believe were saved. In fact, the Bible says expressly in the book of Acts that many of the priests believed in Jesus. But usually crucifixion does one or the other. Usually a message like the one you are hearing today will either soften your heart or, if you turn from it and you’ve never trust Christ as Savior, your heart will become just a little bit more calloused, and it’ll be easier for you to say no when you hear the Gospel again. That’s why the Bible says, “If you hear the Word, don’t harden your heart. Today is the day of visitation.”
There’s a final observation I want to make and that is (I love this) that even on the cross, Jesus was still king. I love it. There he is to a thief (a criminal actually), someone who woke up that morning with no hope of forgiveness, knowing that crucifixion awaited him. Jesus said to this man, “Today you shall be with me in Paradise.” Imagine Jesus on the cross. Look at the brow. Look at the crown of thorns and the blood that it produced. Look at his broken body, having been lashed 39 times. Just look at him. In fact, the Bible says in the book of Isaiah it was so awful he was scarcely recognizable as a human being, and there he is opening Paradise for a criminal, and then dying, and his last words are actually, “Into thy hands I dismiss my spirit.” He was still in charge but willing to be crucified in such weakness.
I want to conclude today by reminding you that both thieves prayed. They did. Both criminals prayed. If you look at the book of Luke and the other accounts, you’ll find that the other thief was praying too. He said, “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us.” That’s a prayer. He wasn’t so concerned about eternity. He said, “Just get me off this cross.” He prayed and was lost forever, but the other thief, God bless him, said in effect, “King of the Jews? Wow! Remember me when you come to your kingdom.” And Jesus says, “Today you shall be with me in Paradise.” Jesus’ last friend on earth becomes his first friend who he meets that very day in Paradise, having redeemed one of his own even while he was dying and being crucified in weakness. But even on the cross, Jesus was king. And then when we think of Resurrection Sunday we know for sure “King of Kings, Lord of Lords, God of all Gods,” redemption was accomplished for those who believe.
So I ask you today, do you believe? Do you trust Christ? Do you have a personal relationship with him? Have you asked him to be your sin bearer, and if you will, let us pray?
Father, I am amazed at the mystery. I am amazed at the love. I am amazed by what we know and curious about all that we don’t know about those three hours. I just know that I personally want to thank you that you drew me to yourself when I was a teenager, and that I knew that I was a sinner and that I needed a Savior, but Father, my heart breaks for the many who are listening to this message who may know that they are sinners but aren’t willing to accept a Savior. I pray that the thief on the cross might instruct all of us when he said, “Jesus, remember me.”
If you are here today, my friend, and you’ve never trusted Christ as Savior (and now I’m talking to you as people) or if you are listening on the Internet or on the radio, whatever, and you’ve never trusted Christ, why don’t you right here say, “Jesus, remember me. Forgive me. Cleanse me. I receive what you did for me as my own.” Would you tell him that?
Father, help them to know that if they don’t, they’ve taken their position among the scoffers. Lord, we’ve done all we can do. It’s all up to you. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.