INTRODUCTION: STEVE BIKO
Well, it’s Good Friday.
And in some ways Jesus’ death is tragic.
In the late 70’s U2 sang the song ‘Biko’ [Bee-co], a haunting eulogy to the South African Steve Biko.
In August 1977 he was detained by the security police and intensely interrogated. In the process he suffered a severe head injury. The doctors examined him while he lay naked and chained. They deliberately overlooked obvious evidence of a head injury. Only after slipping into a semi-conscious state, did the police doctor recommend that he be transferred to hospital immediately.
Instead they drove him 1200km to Pretoria, a 12 hour journey, while he lay naked in the back of a Land Rover. A few hours after arriving, alone and laying in a prison cell, he died from brain damage.
Now let me ask: How does that make you feel? Outraged? Sad? How do you respond to such a tragic death?
Well, let me tell you how Jimmy Kruger felt.
He was the Government Minister of Safety and Security at the time. He lied, telling people that Biko died from a hunger strike. and he said that Biko’s death, and I quote, ‘left him cold.’ Another innocent man condemned to die.
So let me ask you, how does the death of Jesus leave you? Cold? Indifferent? Angry? Outraged? Sadness? Pity? How does Jesus’ death make you feel? How do you respond?
THE MOCKERY OF THE CHRIST
First up. Consider how people back then, present, who were there, treated Jesus?
a. Mocked and Humiliated
Well, how do the Roman soldiers treat Jesus?
They mock Him.
15:16-17 “16The soldiers [led] Jesus away [verse 16] and [call] together the whole company of soldiers. [Then] 17They put a purple robe on Him ”
A mock robe. He’s meant to be a king so let’s dress him like one. Purple for royalty. And a mock crown.
15:17 ” [They twist] together a crown of thorns and set it on Him.
Then they mock Him in words.
15:18 ” they call out ‘hail, King of the Jews!’ ”
And they mock him in action. They hit Him. Spit on Him. They drop to their knees sarcastically, pretending to worship.
15:20 ” when they [verse 20] mocked Him ”
Jesus does suffer great physical violence. But that’s not what Mark focuses on Instead, he emphasizes Jesus’ humiliation. Mocked by Roman soldiers – gentiles. Now it’s the turn of the Jews, old unbelieving Israel. Verse 29.
15:29 “those who passed by hurled insults , shaking their heads saying, ‘So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days. 30Come down from the cross and save yourself!’ ”
Mocked by soldiers, onlookers. And mocked by religious leaders. Verse 31.
15:31 “the chief priests and the teachers of the law mock Him ‘He saved others but He can’t save Himself! Let this messiah, the king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.’ ”
And to top it off, mocked by terrorists. Verse 32.
15:32 ” those crucified with him also heaped insults on Him.
Mocked by Jews, old unbelieving Israel. What then about new Israel? the disciples Jesus personally chose after rejecting old unbelieving Israel. Well, in-between 2 scenes of mocking we’ve got verses 20 to 28 which matter of factly record the details of the crucifixion.
In verse 22 they lead Him out to Golgotha, literally `The Skull’, a place familiar with death. A common place for crucifixions. In verse 23 they offer Him wine mixed with myrrh. A normal custom. A sort of sedative or anesthetic. In verse 24 they put Him on a cross. And cast lots for His clothes. A normal perk for the soldiers who carried out the execution. In verse 25 we’re told the time. In verse 26 they fix a charge notice to the cross. Again, the usual practice. And in verse 27, they crucify 2 others alongside Him. Normal procedure. This is a standard execution.
But now what about new Israel?
Those who promised to follow Him no matter what. Those who swore to take up their cross. Those who declared they were willing to die for him with him.
Well, verse 21, we’re told:
15:21 ” 21A 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.”
This matter of fact comment shouts out where are the disciples?
They’re conspicuous in their absence. Instead of them helping carry Jesus’ cross. A stranger. Someone passing by. Is forced to help. This shows the massive failure of the disciples. They deny Jesus. Abandon Him. When Jesus needs them most, they’re nowhere to be found. The gentile Roman soldiers mock Jesus. The Jews as well – onlookers, religious leaders, terrorists. And the disciples. Who run and hide.
b. Crucified as the Christ
Mocked and humiliated. But in all this there’s rich rich irony. They mock Him pretending His a King. Purple robe, crown, bowing down. Yet the irony is. He is king. The messiah. They mock Him saying ‘Hail! king of the jews.’ A messianic title. And the irony is. Jesus is who they say he is. The taunts are those Scripture predicted. The names called are His true titles. The charge is true. Jesus is the true king of Israel. He is the messiah. And it is that which sets Jesus apart from Steve Biko, from you, from me.
This is the death of God’s only son. Jesus is unique And His death is unique.
THE CRIES OF THE CHRIST
So what is unique about Jesus’ death? Well, the key is understanding Jesus’ two loud cries on the cross. And the two signs that accompany the cries. This will help us understand and grasp the significance of His death.
a. Darkness and Separation
The first cry follows and is accompanied by a strange and supernatural sign. In verse 33.
15:33 ” At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.”
The sixth hour isn’t 6am in the morning. Back then, they counted time from sunrise. So it would have been the sixth hour of daytime – effectively, 12 noon. At that hour, in the middle of the day, the lights go out. darkness descends over all the land for three hours. ‘At the birth of God’s Son there is brightness at midnight. At His death there is darkness at noon.’ Now in the Old Testament, darkness during daytime, symbolises God’s wrath. Listen to the prophet Isaiah, chapter 13.
Isaiah 13:9-10 “See, the day of the Lord is coming – a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger – to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. [ Take note!] The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon willnot give its light.” (cf Jeremiah 15:6-9)
Darkness is a symbol, a sign of God’s judgement against sin. And, as such, a sign of separation from God.
Which really helps us understand Jesus’ first cry. Verse 34.
15:34 ” at the ninth hour Jesus [cries] out in a loud voice, `Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani?’ – which means
My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Darkness is followed by the cry. The symbol of separation, followed by the cry of separation.
Now don’t miss what’s going on here. Jesus suffers physical agony, yet His cry is one of spiritual agony. This is not an imagined separation. Or a felt separation. It’s a real separation. It is to be God-forsaken – God the Son, separated from God the Father.
Jesus has suffered at the hands of His foes. The Jewish leaders, the Roman governor, the soldiers, the passers by, the crowd. Jesus has suffered at the hands of His friends. Betrayed by Judas. Deserted by disciples. Denied by Peter. But now Jesus suffers at the hands of His father.
But why? Well, that’s the very question Jesus asks. 15:34 “why have you forsaken me?”
But his not asking a question He doesn’t know the answer to.
It’s a rhetorical question. His quoting a line from Psalm 22. Jesus knows the answer. Though I wonder, do you? why does God forsake His Son? Well, what is it that separates us from God? Sin! Jesus is God-forsaken because He suffers for sin. Not His sin – His sinless. He suffers for our sin. He takes our punishment in our place. The Father turns His face away. And the Son suffers God’s anger at sin. God forsakes his son. God-forsaken for our sake. For our sin.
b. Ripped Down and Reconciled
Will, what about Jesus’ second cry? Verse 37 says.
15:37 ” With a loud cry, Jesus breathed His last.”
The original Hebrew phrase”breathed His last” implies a deliberate death. It’s better understood as”Jesus gave up his life.” The significance of the second loud cry is not what He said, but what he did. He died. he gave Himself over to death. Little boys can get up to good mischief with a magnifying glass. They find unsuspecting ants, and discover if they hold it at just the right angle, the rays of the sun will be concentrated at one single point.
Now God took all His anger at sin. His anger at every sin committed by every person in all places throughout all ages. And God focused His anger at the sins of the whole world onto a single point at a single moment of time, onto His son at the cross. The sinless Son of God takes upon Himself our sin and faces the wrath of God.
2 Cor 5:21 “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us ”
Jesus takes our sin, and is separated from His Father. He chose death.
And the sign which follows explains what His death achieves. Verse 38. Jesus dies and:
15:38 ” The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”
On the cross Jesus dies. And down the road at the temple, the curtain – it’s ripped up, or literally, ripped down. Now the temple curtain wasn’t like the curtains that cover our windows. It was a large, extremely heavy, very thick curtain between the holy place and the holy of holies. The temple symbolised God’s home – the place where He lived. But the holy of holies that was like God’s room. where God dwelt. And the heavy curtain acted as a big “no entry” sign. It warned sinful unholy people of their unfitness to approach a holy God. Only priests were allowed to enter the Holy Place.
And only the high priest was allowed past the temple curtain into the holy of holies. And then only once a year. And only with the blood of sacrifices. And only for a moment. And only while walking in backwards.
This all served as a visual aid. Showing that sinful people cannot approach a holy God. That sinners and God are separated.
So now, when the temple curtain is supernaturally torn in two from top to bottom, it shows us what Jesus’ death achieves. Jesus’ death rips down sin and removes God’s wrath at sin. His death destroys what divides – takes away what separates. And gains access for sinners into the very presence of God.
Enemies can become friends. Rebels can be reconciled. But when it comes to the king of kings, Jesus’ death rips up all the protocol.
If you want to meet with the queen, you’ve got to go through a lot of protocol and red tape. I understand you’ve got to make a request fill in an application, motivate it with good reason be granted an audience, have an appointment scheduled duly, instructed on how to greet her, treat her, and how to generally behave in her presence. There’s loads of protocol.
The curtain is torn. We can now walk directly into the very presence of God through Jesus because of His death. The death of Steve Biko is a tragedy. But the death of Jesus is a triumph. God forsakes his son,for our sin. And his son opens the way, for sinners, to come back to God.
Insults and Irony
This great truth is underlined, surprisingly, by the insults hurled at Jesus. Passers by hurled insults in verse 29.
In verse 32, it’s those who were crucified with Him. But in verse 31 we’ve got the very words with which the religious leaders insulted Jesus. And their insults are full of striking irony.
Verse 31. The chief priests mock Him. 15:31 “He saved others but He can’t save himself!”
The irony? He saves others, by not saving himself. And they continue. Verse 32.
15:32 “Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”
The irony? By not coming down, He makes it possible for us to see and believe.
THE RESPONSES TO THE CHRIST
Which all begs the question do you and I see and believe? What’s your response to Jesus and His death? We’ve heard Jesus’ two cries, we’ve seen two signs. Now there’s two responses to Jesus.
a. Blind Confusion
First. The darkness descends. Jesus cries out “My God, why have you forsaken me?” And the response? Verse 35.
15:35-36 ” When some of those standing near heard this, they said, ‘listen, he’s calling Elijah.’ One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. ‘now leave him alone. let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,’ ”
Here’s a response of blind confusion. They don’t understand. They think His calling Elijah. They fail to see and believe.
b. Believing Confession
The other response is in verse 39. Jesus cries out. And they’re not the only ones. We may perhaps be like the Jewish religious leaders. angry at Jesus ‘cos we see Him as a threat? Is Jesus a threat to you? A threat to living life your own way. A threat to having to change what you think, and say, and do? Life is neatly worked out the way you want. You’ve got your own dreams, ambitions. Your own wants, your own priorities. Jesus will get in the way. So He must be kept out of the way.
Or perhaps we’re like Pilate? You simply choose to ignore the facts? You don’t want to be against Jesus, but neither will you stand up for Him. It’s too much trouble, too much cost. You’d rather please others, than be up against everyone.
Or perhaps you follow the crowd? Herd instinct. Unthinking. Go with the flow. Easily swayed by others. Your opinion of Jesus is formed by what others say. Not by your own serious consideration.
Or perhaps you’re a mocker? Like the soldiers, the passers by, those who die with Christ. You ridicule Him. He’s a swear word. Or Jesus is a joke. Comic-relief. Not to be taken seriously.
Gives up His life. The temple curtain is torn. And then verse 39.
15:39 ” when the centurion, [- a roman soldier] who stood there in front of Jesus, heard His cry and saw how He died, he said, `surely, this man was the son of God!'”
This response is a confession of faith. A Roman centurion sees and believes. Recognises Jesus for who He is. Recognises Jesus as God.
c. And You?
Now the death of Steve Biko was a tragedy, but your personal response, or mine, will have little consequence. But the death of Jesus Christ is a triumph, a victory. And our response has eternal consequences. God forsakes his son so that his son may open the way back to God Mark wants us to consider the evidence
Is Jesus a liar who deceived others into following Him? surely not! Is Jesus a lunatic deserving of our pity and sympathy? surely not! Is Jesus merely a good man with good moral teachings? surely not! surely this man Jesus is the son of God.
Will you see? Will you believe?