We’re going to be in Mark 15 today.
We’re nearing the end of summer—
I mean, school has started, can we even call it summer anymore?— so that means we’re nearing the end of our journey through Mark.
We have this week and next week and then we’ll be done.
Since June we’ve been following Jesus around through Mark’s story,
and asking, “What would it look like for us to take this guy seriously?
That’s what the church should always be doing, right?
Following Jesus around,
watching him, listening to him,
and trying to take him seriously?
So that’s what we’ve been trying to practice this summer.
It seems like only last week we were reading the opening words of Mark’s story:
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.
That’s the way Mark began his story.
Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God.
That’s who this story is about.
And whatever else Mark’s story is,
this story is good news.
Whoever Jesus is,
Jesus is good news.
The first half of Mark’s story is the most spectacular kind of story— if it were a movie, it would need to be an action movie to do it justice.
Mark doesn’t have as many teachings or parables as Matthew or Luke or John.
But Mark doesn’t need them in the story he’s telling—
he’s telling the story of Someone Stronger than the forces of evil who is here to defeat the forces of evil.
To tell that story, you need action.
We start following Jesus through the villages and towns and countryside,
where Jesus is absolutely kicking the trash out of evil
and spreading life wherever he goes.
This is basically the first half of the gospel of Mark.
Wherever he goes, whomever he meets,
whatever kind of darkness he encounters
(evil spirits, chronic disease, raging weather, empty stomachs)
Jesus banishes that darkness and brings light.
Jesus calls this— this light that he’s shining—
this hope that’s bringing to the hopeless,
this Spring that’s he’s spreading in the land of Winter—
Jesus calls it “the kingdom of God.”
This is what it looks like when things are as God wants them to be.
When God is in charge
the darkness flees.
When God is king
Spring blooms eternal.
And so obviously,
the buzz begins to grow around Jesus—
crowds are swelling around him.
“This has got to be the guy that we’ve all been waiting for. The king, the anointed one, the christ, the messiah, the one who is going to rescue us all.”
Jesus is traveling with his disciples in chapter 8, and we hear exactly this.
(8.27b) “Who do people say I am?”
(8.29b) Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
And Peter isn’t wrong.
Jesus IS the One they’ve been waiting for.
He is the Messiah. He is the King.
Mark told us that with his opening words.
Jesus is here to rescue.
But evidently Jesus is interested in rescuing people from something deeper than just Roman armies occupying the streets and land of Palestine—
That’s why in Mark’s story Jesus is always trying to keep people quiet about him.
People have these huge expectations about what the coming king would look like and do and Jesus is about to upend all those assumptions.
Because Jesus has got a bigger enemy in his crosshairs—
he’s planning a rescue from the greatest enemy of all.
The enemy no one imagined could be defeated.
The enemy whose shadow looms large over each and every one of us.
The last enemy.
Jesus has set his eyes on death itself.
And so in the last few weeks, we’ve seen that Mark’s action movie has taken the strangest of twists.
Jesus decided to die.
Three times since that halfway point in chapter eight, Jesus has been telling his disciples, “I’ve come to serve—I’m here to serve, I am servant, and that’s going to lead me to die—lead me to die, lead me to die.”
And today— today is the day when we reach the point where Jesus succeeds.
Our passage today in Mark 15,
is one of the punchlines of the entire Christian faith—
and maybe the climax of Mark’s story.
So let’s read it:
(15.25-38) It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the jews.
They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left.
Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying,
“So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!”
In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves.
“He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”
Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”
Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
Crucifixion was a gruesome and torturous way of killing a person.
It wasn’t something that the Romans invented (it had been around for centuries) but it might have been something the Romans perfected.
In fact, it became something of their go-to-method for executing anyone who rebelled against rule of Rome.
“You’re not a fan of the Pax Romana?
You don’t like the peace we’ve forced onto the world?
You want to step out of line and try to make things different?
We know exactly what to do with you.”
The Romans discovered
that if you could viciously and publicly execute
those who tried to lead rebellions or start revolutions,
then guess what?
People were far less likely to lead rebellions or start revolutions.
Especially if you could keep most of the public well-fed and entertained.
And so when the local Jewish leaders
hand over a Galilean rabbi to the Roman governor of Judea
and tell him: “This guy is causing trouble—he’s claiming to be a king,”
well, this Roman governor knows exactly what to do.
He’s got a go-to-method.
You crucify him.
This guy wants to be a king—fine.
Nail him up a stake
so everyone can see his lordship.
Put a sign above him (v26),
so everyone can see what happens to unsanctioned kings.
You want to be a king, Jesus?
We’ll make you
the king of a tree,
the king of fools, the king of horrors.
All of his disciples have abandoned him by this point.
I mean, they couldn’t get away from Jesus fast enough last night.
But Jesus isn’t alone—far from it.
Jesus has again got a crowd swelling around him, but this time it’s a crowd gathering to hurl insults at him (v29).
“Hey Jesus, why don’t you come off that cross,
if you’re powerful enough to destroy and remake the Temple?”
“Hey Jesus, you’re supposed to rescue other people— why don’t you start by rescuing yourself?”
The religious leaders are in the mob too, saying (v32): “Ok, Mr Messiah—come down from the cross and we’ll believe you. For real—we will.”
Even the two rebels nailed next to Jesus are heaping insults on him.
We blow past that little detail, but how isolating is that?
The church and the state
and those in the mob
and even those on death row all have one thing uniting them.
They’re all united against Jesus.
Nobody understands Jesus at all—
everyone has either abandoned him or joined the dogpile,
and Jesus is absolutely and utterly alone.
Is this the only place where following Jesus brings us?
Is this where taking Jesus seriously leads?
To the whole land (or the “whole earth”) being plunged into darkness?
This seems to be a deeper darkness than just not being able to see.
This is a darkness that doesn’t just blocks light from the eyes.
It blocks light from the heart.
It’s a darkness that hides not only the sun,
but also the goodness of the world and even the face of God himself.
Jesus cries out,
“Eloi, Eloi—My God, My God—why have you forsaken me?”
It’s the first line of Psalm 22, and it’s expressing the deepest fear that any human being can express:
“Where is God in this moment?
Where is the hope, where is the light?
Why I been abandoned? Is everything lost?”
Jesus has been heading to this moment for the last half of Mark’s story.
But now that’s he’s here, the pain and isolation and weight of it all are just so intense and so real and so crippling that they’re threatening to swallow him whole.
Mark’s kept Jesus’ cry in the Aramic for us.
Probably because it was so haunting that it was difficult to un-hear,
but also to help us understand that even in his deepest pain and fear Jesus is still being misunderstood. “What’s he’s saying?”
“I think he’s crying out for Elijah.”
(By the first century, Elijah had become something of the “patron saint” of righteous people who were in trouble.)
“Elijah!! Yeah, you need him, don’t you buddy…
“HEY LAY OFF.
Quit it with the vinegar wine.
We’re doing an experiment here!
Let’s see if Elijah actually shows up to help him.
Let’s see just how righteous this guy is.
But Elijah doesn’t come though.
and the pain
and the mocking
and the isolation
don’t miraculously come to an end.
Jesus winds up dying in darkness.
Most people who died by crucifixion slowly and quietly faded away as they lost the strength to straighten themselves out so they could breathe.
But not Jesus.
His death is sudden and violent and loud.
Suddenly Jesus gives a loud cry (v37) (a “megas phone”, a terrible shout, a shriek,).
This is horrifying.
There’s only two other places in Mark where people speak with a “phone megas”— with loud cry, with a shriek.
The first is a demon-possessed man in the synagogue in chapter one, the second is a demon-possessed man in a graveyard in chapter five.
Those are the only two people in Mark who shriek—
people so overcome and overwhelmed by evil,
people so swallowed up by darkness that their vocal cords are torn by the trauma.
And now Jesus shrieks.
But it’s like Mark is painting
a terrible, beautiful picture for us.
Jesus has been telling us that he’s got to come to Jerusalem because this is where he’s going serve others,
this is where he’s going to give himself for others—
and now Mark is painting the moment
when the forces of evil and darkness and death
absolute consume this man.
By Mark’s storytelling, he sounds like a possessed person.
In the words of New Testament writer,
it sounds like he’s become sin itself (2 Cor 5.21).
And then breathes his last (v37).
And in this terrible, beautiful picture that Mark is painting,
I think the forces of evil and darkness die with him.
Because in the Greek verse 38 just keep the sentence going with the word “and.”
Jesus shrieks and dies, AND the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
Mark is almost certainly referring to the curtain in the Temple that hung in front of the holy of holies— the place where God most powerfully made his presence known.
The life of heaven wasn’t something that just anyone could access.
There was a curtain that kept the dirtiness and the impurity of a sinful world separate and distant from the holiness and the glory of God.
But as Jesus shrieks and dies that curtain is torn from top to bottom.
It’s like Mark is painting a picture,
of God tearing through every barrier that gets between him and this world.
It’s like the holy of holies is everywhere now— because evil and darkness died with a shriek in Jesus.
And when a centurion (of all people!)
a Gentile commander of occupying military forces—
one of the guys with Jesus’ blood literally all over his hands—
when he sees all of this, he makes a confession.
He says, “Surely this man was the Son of God.”
Well Mark’s already told us that too in his opening words—
“The good news of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God.”
It only took eight chapters for someone to confess that Jesus is the Messiah.
But it’s only here—
practically at the end of Mark’s story—
that anyone other than the demons can recognize that there’s something more to Jesus than just human kingship.
He probably didn’t even know what he was confessing—
but this centurion can’t help himself.
He gazes at crucified form of Jesus and can’t help but confess:
“This is what God looks like. There something divine here.”
“Surely this man was the Son of God.”
One brief reflection on this passage as we come to the table this morning.
The Christian faith talks a lot about the cross— about the death of Jesus and what the death of Jesus accomplished.
We remember the crucifixion as something sacred and special.
It’s a moment in time that was glorious and (ultimately) good.
We’ve even taken to calling it Good Friday.
But there is only one person in this story
who recognizes anything good about what’s going on—
and even that person doesn’t understand what he’s saying.
He’s just got a vague sense that there’s more going on here than meets the eye.
Everyone else is mocking and jeering and heaping insults and misunderstanding.
If we had been there,
we would have thrown up.
This looks like the king or horrors not the king of glory.
There’s nothing obvious about what’s going on here.
It’s not self-evident.
It’s not plain to see.
There was nothing obvious about
God’s love or God’s plan or God’s goodness
in these moments.
There’s nothing obviously good or glorious or sacred or special about the crucifixion of Jesus.
It’s only in the light of what comes later—
it’s only in the light of the resurrection—
that we can begin to understand the goodness what’s happening here.
the disciples are scattered, the mob is satisfied,
the world is without hope.
all this centurion can do is confess goodness without understanding it.
But now—Christians everywhere confess the goodness of the cross,
the goodness of the atonement, the goodness of Good Friday,
in every conceivable way.
We write songs and poetry,
we make paintings and sculptures,
we wear execution poles around our necks as jewelry—
we can recognize goodness at work even in the darkness on that Friday.
The cross isn’t the darkness that most of struggle with.
What most of struggle with is the darkness that surrounds us.
We feel overwhelmed by it a lot of times.
Our pain and isolation and the weight of it all are just so intense and so real and so crippling that they feel like they’re going to swallow us whole.
There’s absolutely no obvious goodness hidden in our darkness.
But there was no obvious goodness hidden in the crucifixion either.
There’s never anything obvious.
If we’re following Jesus,
if we want to take Jesus seriously,
then we’re invited to confess goodness even when we’re in the dark.
This is something that I’m learning this in my own life—
it’s really easy to allow the pain in the present and the uncertainties of the future
to swallow me alive. I haven’t seen how God make all things new yet— I haven’t seen God recreate and resurrect the cosmos— and I don’t understand how it all works.
Maybe it’s my personality,
maybe it’s my temperament,
maybe it’s my circumstances,
but there are a lot of mornings where I almost feel swallowed up before I even get out of bed.
But I’m learning to lean into something.
I’m learning to lean into faith.
Faith that this existence I keep waking up in every morning is a good existence.
That this world that God has created is a good world.
That the people around me are gifts,
that the work given to me to do is a gift,
that the meals that I eat,
that the place where I live,
that the life that I have been given,
all of it is no accident—it’s all a gift.
Faith that despite how I feel or how things look or whether I believe it or not God has not abandoned me.
Quite the contrary—!
I’m learning to have faith—to really trust—that God himself in Jesus has somehow taken all of this darkness into himself and left it in dead the grave.
Faith that God will do the impossible,
and right all the wrongs,
and raise the dead, and restore all things.
It sounds silly based on how much we throw the word around, but I’m learning to have faith.
I’m learning to confess goodness even when I’m in the dark.
To confess the goodness of this world and the goodness of God and the goodness of the future and the goodness of the present even when I don’t understand.
Especially when I don’t understand.
If I understood, it wouldn’t be faith.
That’s what we’re all invited into.
That’s why we come to this table.
This is the place we come each week
to recognize and remember
that we have hope. We recognize and remember that God does not leave us in darkness—he enters it with us.
[we remember that] the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
In just a moment, you’ll be invited to come and receive from this table.
You’ll be invited to come down the center aisle, to receive a bit of cracker, to dip it in the juice, and then return to your seat along the sides.
This table is open.
It’s open to anyone who wants to practice faith— to practice trusting the God revealed in Jesus.
To confess goodness even when we’re in the dark.
And to trust that we are not alone in the darkness. God has entered our darkness, and God will banish the darkness.
Resurrection is coming. Goodness will win.
So as we come this morning,
may we remember the endless love of God made known in the shriek of Jesus,
may we learn to learn to embrace the sufferings of Jesus so that we can experience the resurrection of Jesus,
and may we each have the faith to trust that we are in the overwhelming presence of goodness even when it’s not at all obvious.