Sermon: See How He Died

Good morning!

Today is what is known as “Good Friday.” It is the Friday before Easter where we remember and commemorate Jesus’ death on the cross. But why call it ‘Good Friday’? What makes it good? Isn’t it a bit weird, a bit morbid, a bit odd, that for nigh on two thousand years people have been gathered to celebrate that Jesus died, and calling it good? What would make sense of this? What would explain why this event, coupled with Easter Sunday, has become THE event that defines the history of the world? What happens so that the cross becomes the hinge of all of human history and we can call Good Friday “good”?

I want us to start by listening together to the story. We are going to take some time to do this. It’s Mark 15, the whole chapter, beginning in verse 1. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. Mark 15, beginning in verse 1. But before we hear God’s Word, please take a moment to pray with me.

Prayer

Listen closely and listen well, for these words are trustworthy and true, the very word of God:

Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law, and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.

“Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”

But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.

“Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.

What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.

“Crucify him!” they shouted.

“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged and handed him over to be crucified.

The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they truck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means ‘the place of the skull’). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

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 him, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him is Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

What makes Good Friday ‘good’? What is it that separates this death from all the other tragic deaths in the history of the world such that Christians speak of it with affection, with joy, and spend time contemplating it? Part of the answer to that question will come on Easter Sunday, but this morning I want to show you three moments at the cross that show why we call it good, that show why we hope in the cross of Christ.

First, a jeer.

Then, a cry.

Lastly, a confession.

The jeer comes in verses 31 and 32: 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.

As Jesus hangs on the cross, in excruciating pain, those around him mock him and jeer at him. Just before this, we heard how all who passed by called upon him to come down from the cross if he was so powerful. But here, it is the chief priests and teachers of the law, those who tried him in a sham in the night, who brought him to Pilate in the morning, and who stirred up the crowd to demand Barabbas’ release and Jesus’ crucifixion. Their shamelessness has no end as they mock Jesus among themselves.

But look at what they say, “He saved others, 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.” Even though they hated him, they knew of Jesus’ miracles. They knew he healed the sick, raised the dead, and cast out demons. They knew his power, but laughed that he did not seem to be able to save himself. They claim that if he performed just the one sign – coming down from the cross – then they would see and believe, see and believe that he was Messiah and King.

But what they did not understand, what they were too blind to see was that the astounding truth of Good Friday is that Jesus saved others by not saving himself. What makes Good Friday good is that by not coming down from the cross, Jesus does not disprove his claims to be Messiah, but in fact, shows himself to be the Messiah, the Suffering servant.

By choosing not to save himself, but to willingly stay and endure the cross, Jesus saves others. He does it not just by dying, not even just by dying on a cross, but by bearing sin on behalf of sinners.

And this connects to the second moment in the story we need in order to understand why it is good. It’s verses 33-34: 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?”)

We call Good Friday good because Jesus, by not saving himself, saved others. His death was for the salvation of sinners. But we also call it ‘good,’ because Jesus died on the cross for our sins. As Paul says elsewhere, God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God.

On the cross, Jesus cries out with the words of psalm 22. If you were following along in the liturgy we provided, this is the psalm you just read. It is a psalm of anguish, of rejection, of deep lament. It is a psalm that, from the lips of David, speaks of the suffering that Jesus endured. But the suffering of Jesus was more than physical. He was beaten and mocked, but he also endured sin, he bore the weight of sin on his shoulders on the cross. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Jesus experienced forsakenness on the cross as a result of our sin, not his. Jesus has no sin, but he takes the place of sinners and endures forsakenness by God for us.

We call Good Friday ‘good’ because on the cross Jesus takes all that was ours – all the filth, all the sin, all the rebellion, all the rejection, all the wrath, all the painful rupture of sin, and cries out My God, My God, why have your forsaken me? God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us. Your sin and my sin were placed on his shoulders so that he cried out with the words of Psalm 22. This was not just about physical anguish or pain, but about the weight of sin upon him. The pride and cockiness that I don’t even think is that big of a deal, the weight of it cause my Saviour to cry out My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? The sins you enjoyed committing and look forward to doing again. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? The sins you regret and cannot seem to find your way out of. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Jesus took them all and wiped them away by shedding his blood on the cross.

Do you believe this?

Good Friday is good because on the cross Jesus took all that was ours and made it his, but also because he took all that was his and made it ours. God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God. This is the wonderful exchange of the gospel and the glory of the cross. Jesus takes our sin and punishment, take our guilt and shame, and gives us his righteousness and holiness, forgiveness and grace. All that was his becomes ours. Jesus who was perfectly holy, Jesus who could stand righteous before God, Jesus who is called beloved by the Father – all that becomes ours, just as all our rejection, rebellion, and uncleanness becomes his.

We call Good Friday ‘good’ because in the jeer of the chief priests they get so close to the truth: Jesus saves by not saving himself. But we also call it good because on the cross, our sins are taken away and Jesus places them on his own shoulders, even crying out in abandonment, so that everything good, all his wondrous gifts, become ours.

But there is one more moment I want us to consider, one that takes place at the foot of the cross:

Look with me at verse 39: And when the centurion, who stood there in front of him, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

When this Roman soldier, this leader of more than a hundred men, saw how Jesus died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

For the Romans, there was only one person who could claim the title, “Son of God” and that was Caesar. Caesar was the King that the whole known world proclaimed to be ‘Lord and God’ – the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

This centurion would have only known this too well. The glory and splendor of Ceasar. His power made known in the stability his rule brought – a stability won through bloodshed and unparalleled strength.

As a roman centurion, he would known the power of Caesar. Upon joining the army, he would have boldly proclaimed that Caesar alone was Lord and God.

As a Roman soldier in Jerusalem, he must have seen hundreds of crucifixion before.

And yet, when the centurion, who stood there in front of him, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Somehow, what he saw, changed everything for him. No longer could he proclaim that Caesar was Lord and God. Instead, he saw the true king die in front of him.

But what did he see? How could it be that a Roman would see that Jesus was king? King, even as he died on a Roman cross.

What did this centurion see that made him say, “Surely this man was the Son of God”?

I want to show you something in this passage that, when I first learned it, sent chills down my spine: Jesus’ journey to the cross looks just like a Roman coronation – the ceremony where Caesar was declared King and the Son of God.

If we walk step by step through the crucifixion of Jesus, we see that even as he dies, he is being crowned as King, the true king. And I believe the centurion saw it and it changed his life.

Don’t believe me yet? Let’s look at the scriptures together.

Mark is probably writing in Rome, if not in Rome, then at least to people familiar with Roman customs. The whole story has been leading to this, Jesus knew his death was coming, knew it would be to pay the penalty for the sins of the world, knew it would be in accordance with Scripture. But the way he died also declared to the whole Roman world that the crucified one was the King of Kings.

In Rome, when a new Emperor, a new King was crowned, there was an elaborate ceremony, known as a coronation. Kings and Queens still do this today. But there was a specific liturgy, if you will, for a Roman coronation. And when it was done, everyone who saw it would believe that Caesar is God.

There are records of these coronations, these events. And they all have pretty much the same shape.

The coronation – begins when the King arrives in the Praetorium and the whole royal escort, known as the Preatorian guard, is called together:

The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers.

Then, after the guard is gathered, the King is dressed in a ceremonial purple robe and a crown is placed on his head.

They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him.

Then the soldiers gathered around the King and declare with loud shouts that he is the King.

And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they truck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him.

Then the Praetorian guard, the King’s escort, lead him out of the city to the hill where the coronation would be complete.

And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

Are you, like me, beginning to get a few goosebumps on your neck? Could it be that when Jesus heads to the cross, he is heading to a coronation, heading to be declared Lord and God? Could it be that Mark wants us to see what Jesus went through on our behalf, not as foolishness, but as the very power of God? But wait there’s more:

As the procession went out of the city, a sacrificial bull was also led out of the city, where it would be slaughtered as the King was crowned. And following that bull, an official would be there carrying the instrument of death for that bull. 

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.

Jesus is both King who is crowned and the sacrificial lamb, and Simon follows him carrying the instrument of his death. But there’s more:

In Rome, every coronation ended in the same place. The Praetorian Guard would lead the King out of the city to a hill that was called ‘the place of the head.’

They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means ‘the place of the skull’).

Why do you think Mark included a translation, he wants us to see that Jesus heads to Golgotha – not as a sign of foolishness or weakness, but as one ascending to his throne – the very power of God. But there’s more:

On the hill, as part of the coronation, the King would be offered wine, but not just any wine. A particular and unusual mixture – wine mixed with myrrh. And tradition was that the king would refuse to drink it. And then he would sit on his throne as king.

Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him.

And then everyone who saw would know that this man was king.

And when the centurion, who stood there in front of him, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Jesus wore a crown that day, a crown of thorns. Jesus sat on a throne that day as he hung from the cross. Jesus was and is King. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of him, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Why do we call Good Friday good? Because Jesus saved others by not saving himself. He refused to use his power to rescue himself, but instead endure the cross to rescue sinners from damnation. Why do we call Good Friday good? Because Jesus took all that was ours – all the sin and shame – and bore it on the cross crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He took them all and wipe them away.

Why do we call Good Friday good? Because through the death of Jesus, we see the victory of God. We see the king being crowned.

Everything changed for the centurion that day. He saw a king crowned that day. Not a king who ruled by crucifying others and dispensing death, but a king who conquered death itself, vanquished sin and satan. He saw a king who came not to raise a sword in his hands, but to stretch out his hands, have them pierced, so that the sins humanity might be dealt with.

What words would truly describe what has taken place. But when he looked at the king on the Cross, this Roman soldier said, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” When we look at the cross, do we see the same?

The difference between life and death, between eternal life and eternal death is whether we stand with the centurion at the foot of the cross, look upon the death of Christ, and say with him, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” When we cling to Christ in faith, our sins are forgiven and his righteousness and holiness are ours. Through faith in Christ, we are saved because he refused to save himself. Through faith in Christ, we belong to the King of Kings, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. (Gal 1:4)

So today, look upon Jesus, the Savior, see how he died, and join with the Centurion in saying, “Surely this man was the Son of God.”

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