“FACES OF CALVARY” (Mark 15)
November 11, 2018 10:30 AM
Rev. Jeremy B. Stopford, Pastor
It is Good Friday once again. And as is my custom on the Good Friday “sermonette”, the “Today’s Special” is reverently silent. Perhaps next week, and the coverage of the Resurrection, will bring 2 specials for our enjoyment.
Good Friday. The Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 6:14: “But God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of my Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” Profound thought in a verse – that the whole of eternity centers around just one moment in time: the cross of Calvary.
Throughout this series of messages from each chapter of the Gospel of Mark, it has been my desire to highlight one incident, one person, one theme from each chapter. But Mark 15 is unique. As lengthy as the narrative is over Chapters 14 and 15, Mark develops in the chapter before us today the special viewpoints of several people, several faces if you will. They are what I call “Faces of Calvary”. Let’s look at Calvary through their eyes today. PRAYER
1. BARABBAS (vs. 6ff)
For all of eternity, the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, and Barabbas will be connected. For it was Pilate who made the decision to release Barabbas and allow the Savior to be crucified. The Apostle John tells us of Jesus’ conversation with Pilate, ““You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” The Savior’s life was not taken from Him. He gave it as a sacrifice for our sins.
Barabbas. The early church historian, Origen, stated that Barabbas’ full name was “Jesus Barabbas”. “Jesus”, Savior. “Bar”, “son”. “Abbas”, father. We’ve seen this before, when the Savior prayed in the garden of Gethsemane in Mark 14, “Abba, Father.” “Abba” is an intimate Aramaic term for “father”. And Barabbas’ true name meant, “Jesus, son of the father.” He represented all that the world has to offer, and all that it strives to gain by deceit or even murder. And the Savior? “Jesus, Son of The Father” [capital “T” and capital “F”]. He represents the love of God for the sins of the world. Both figures clashing at Calvary.
And Barabbas is released so that the Savior can willingly go to the cross for us.
2. SIMON (vs. 21ff)
He will always be known as “Simon the Cyrene”. The other gospels identify this fellow’s origins as being from North Africa. He was perhaps on his way to Jerusalem for the Passover, unaware of the goings on of the cross. Perhaps he had heard of the many executions that the Romans had on a regular basis. He would have paid no heed, except for one small detail.
“They forced him to carry the cross.” This is an amazing statement. The Savior was in the prime of his life. For many of us in our early thirties, we remember how strong we felt – and how we felt we would be this rugged forever. Perhaps not like Tom Brady at 41. But we felt like we could perform in top shape for a long time.
Our Savior was in His prime of life. So why couldn’t He carry His own cross all the way to the Hill of Golgotha? In verse 13, Mark gives us the insight: “Pilate had Jesus flogged, and handed Him over to be crucified.” Added to this were the crown of thorns, and the mockings, and the repeated striking on the head with a staff, and the spitting – all the humiliation.
But the floggings was the center of Roman punishment prior to their crucifixion. The flogging, or “scourging”, was the repeated lashing of a whip – a stick with leather straps which had attached to them pieces of glass or broken stones. The ones whipping the victim would lash across the back and then pull skin off with the pulling of the chards across whatever part of the body to which they happened to attach. Isaiah says that the bruised Messiah no longer would look like a man as a result of the entire process of the crucifixion.
In 2 Cor. 11:24, Paul writes “From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.” For the Jew, the 40th lash was the death lash, the death blow. 5 times Paul received the 39 lashes, what the Jew realized was one lash shy of the death blow. But the Romans knew no such rule, no such courtesy of punishment. Who knows how many lashes our Savior received? The Romans did not care – for to them the Lord Jesus was just another criminal.
The One Who hours earlier was a picture of health and strength hours later could not carry His own cross.
But there is one further note that Mark makes. Simon is noted as “the father of Alexander and Rufus”. No other gospel gives this insight of the lineage of the cross bearer. No doubt Simon’s experience at the cross was passed on down to his children. It is not a light thing that the Scriptures have little mention of an “Alexander” or a “Rufus”. But the mentions are worthy of note. Alexander was noted by Paul in 1 Timothy 1:20 as having a faith which was shipwreck due to his willingness to blaspheme the only Name worthy of his trust. In 2 Tim. 4:14, Paul’s final words before his own death, he refers to Alexander as a coppersmith who had done him much harm. On the other hand, in Romans 16 Paul gives a detailed account of those dear saints who were of great help to him. Noteworthy among them is “Rufus, chosen in the Lord”. Simon had two known sons – one a blasphemer, and the other a precious saint. Eternity will record that each one of us has to make his own choice as to whether or not to follow the cross of Christ, which cross Simon no doubt followed for the rest of his life. His one son did as well, the other didn’t.
Choices. What is your choice?
3. THE CENTURION (v. 39; see also Matthew 8:5ff)
A Roman centurion is an officer over 100 soldiers. The unnamed officer of Mark’s account was an eyewitness to many crucifixions. They were all the same. The victim – whether innocent or not – would holler, scream, complain, curse, fight, fidget right to the death. Perhaps this centurion had heard much of this One called Jesus. And so he watched as the Savior endured the punishment, despising the shame. He did not holler, scream, complain, curse, fight, fidget. In fact, He even encouraged the arrangement of His mother’s care into John’s oversight, as shared in John’s gospel. He called out the agony of the separation from “My God.” And when He died, He simply “gave up the ghost.” He didn’t die a martyr – He gave His life. His death was different. And immediately, immediately, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The centurion understood. And in his heart and from his lips he proclaimed his faith, “surely this man was the Son of God.”
There is one other centurion mentioned in the gospels, and it is a good possibility that he is the same one of Mark’s account at the cross. In Matthew 8 a centurion came to Jesus seeking His healing of the centurion’s servant. The centurion’s request was an unique one: he simply wanted the Savior to speak a word of healing without visiting the servant’s home. The Roman officer voiced his faith through these words, “I myself am a man under authority.” He recognized that his position as a soldier was the same as the Savior’s position of submission to His heavenly Father. And to that bold statement the Savior said to all who would hear, “I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.”
Could this not be the same centurion of our story in Mark? Could this man’s faith have become sight at the cross? Could this hardened soldier’s journey have taken him from trusting in the Savior being but a man into believing that He is the Son of God? Eternity will tell, but Mark’s gospel gives a fresh vision, a fresh hope, of the journey each one of us must take.
Is Jesus the Son of God, or just a man? Our eternity rests on the answer to that question.
4. JOSEPH (OF ARIMATHEA) (v. 43ff)
Our final face – of the many faces of Calvary – is that of Joseph who hailed from the region of Arimathea. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling authority of the Jerusalem. He had trusted in Jesus, but for fear of his fellow Jews he kept his faith to himself. He was “waiting for the kingdom of God” – an huge statement of faith in light of his current events. Many had thought that if Jesus was truly the Messiah, He would overcome the rule of Rome and put the Jews of Israel back in charge. But Joseph’s faith was such that he waited for the true kingdom, the one proclaimed by the prophets in which the Messiah will reign on David’s throne forever.
The cross made the difference in Joseph’s life. Mark details that Joseph came “boldly” to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body. Mark also shares Pilate’s thoughts, startled that the Savior was dead without the help of further Roman cruelty. The soldiers would often break the legs of the ones hanging on the cross. This would then keep them from being able to lift themselves up to get one more breath of air, one more breath of hope. The Savior gave Himself. He had no bones broken.
And Joseph gave of himself for the Savior. He was a rich man whose riches did not own him. He bought valuable linen cloth. He himself lovingly, tenderly took the Savior’s body down from the cross. He wrapped the Savior in the cloth and placed Him in Joseph’s own expensive tomb. This tomb had a purposefully placed rock, sitting in a trench which rolled down a short incline so that the front of the tomb would be sealed.
Joseph’s faith, once secret, was now public. He would ask us, “is your faith a secret faith? Or are you not ashamed of the gospel of Christ?”.
The central eyewitness of the events of the cross, of course, is the Lord Jesus Himself. There was His agonizing cry, a fulfillment of Psalm 22, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”. Paul wrote in 2 Cor. 5:21, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” For the first time in eternity, the Father turned from His Son when His Son became my sin – our sin.
“With a loud cry, He breathed His last.” The simplicity of the Son becoming sin.
And then “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” Again, Paul comments, in Heb. 9:12, “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” The high priest needed to enter the holiest of holies once a year, to make atonement for his own sin as well as for the sin of the nation. The Savior went into the heavenly temple with His own blood, thus enabling all who love Him to enter into the Holiest of Holies boldly through Him.
More comment is made on the details of the cross than are made of any details of the resurrection. We are given NONE other than “He is risen; the stone is rolled away”.
He bore our sins on Calvary’s tree. Are you a Barabbas – a rebel to the cross? Are you a Simon, whose children may be influenced by your following the Savior? Are you like the centurion, an eyewitness to the Savior who finally declares your faith in the Son of God? Or are you a Joseph of Arimathea – a disciple who comes forth and outwardly shows to the rest of the world that you do not belong to yourself but to the King of kings?
Close in prayer