2020-2-16 The Death of Christ

The Death of Christ
Mark 15:33-47
February 12, 2020

Prayer for Illumination:

Holy Spirit, pour out upon us wisdom and understanding, that, being taught by you in Holy Scripture, our hearts and minds may be opened to receive all that leads to life and holiness. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 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?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 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!”

40 There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.

42 And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. 45 And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. 46 And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.[1]

This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

Jesus’ mission statement is found in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” That is why he came. He came to die in the place of the Church. He didn’t come to be an example. He didn’t come to say, “Here’s the way to God. Hopefully you can make it up.” He came to give his life as a ransom for many; he came to die for his Church.

That moment has finally come. It has taken Mark fifteen chapter but we’re finally here. Mark has been building to this moment since the very opening words of his gospel. Everything has been building and pointing to this moment. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the crux of the gospel. Everything hinges on the death of Jesus. As one poet says, “If Jesus wasn’t executed, there’s no celebration”.

As we examine this passage we’ll see three things. First we’ll see that Jesus is the substitute dying in the place of the Church. Second we’ll see Jesus’ death provides definite atonement for his Church. Third we’ll see that Jesus’ death allows us to have communion with God.

Jesus is the Substitute for His Church

Jesus is the substitute dying in the place of his Church. We are deserving of death because of our sin. Each and every one of us has sinned. I know that’s not popular to say. We’d rather talk about making mistakes than sinning. Culturally, we have downgraded sin to mistake. I hear people talk an awful lot about mistakes. People are willing to say, “I’ve made a mistake. I shouldn’t have done that”. But I almost never hear people say, “I’ve sinned. I have sinned and broken God’s law”. Culturally we don’t like to say sin. We’d rather say mistake because a mistake is something we can fix. But sin, sin is a serious, grievous violation of God’s law. So culturally, we don’t like to say sin.

Even in the church we don’t like to say sin. When I was in Wichita, a few people complained about us having a corporate confession of sin. They said that it was too personal. The complaint under their complaint really was about saying sin. They didn’t want to admit that they have sinned and continue to sin. We don’t like to say sin.

A friend of mine in another presbytery told me that a candidate came before the presbytery for a call. As the presbytery was examining, he kept talking about mistakes, he wouldn’t say sin. Eventually one of the elders asked him about sin. He said that he didn’t like that word because it made people uncomfortable. But we have sinned.

Sin comes in a myriad of forms. It may be lying. It may be coveting. It may be lust. It may be back biting. But the sin underneath all of our other sins is rebellion against God. By lying and bearing false witness, we are rebelling against God who is truth and saying we have the right to determine truth ourselves. That is rebellion against God. When we covet, we are rebelling against God by not trusting him to provide what he knows he truly need. The sin underneath all of our other sins is rebellion. And we all have sinned. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

Because we have sinned, we are deserving of death. “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23a). Each and every one of our sins is cause for our death. “Sin is a culpable and personal affront to a personal God[2]. There is no minor sin. While certain sins might have a greater impact on other people, every sin is rebellion against God and deserving of death.

Here on the cross, Jesus dies in the place of his Church. God had been preparing his people for this for years. The temple sacrifices in the Old Testament taught the people of God that their sins required death. Either the sinner died or a sacrifice died in their place. God has been preparing his people for the need of a substitute to die in their place since Moses. When the time was right, God the Father sent God the Son to be the substitute for his Church and die in her place.

One of the greatest novels in English literature is Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. The novel is about two men who look very much alike, Charles Darnay, a French immigrant to England who is on trial for treason against the British Crown, and his attorney Sydney Carton. Darnay is acquitted of his charges. After the trial, both men fall in love with the same woman, Lucie. Lucie chooses Darnay. They marry and start a family while Carton continues to befriend the family and love them.

About ten years later, Darnay returns to France where he is framed for a murder and sentenced to death by guillotine. Carton is unable to get Darnay released from prison. Loving Darnay and his family, Carton sneaks into the prison the night before the execution and takes the place of Darnay. With some help, he drugs Darnay, puts on his prison clothes, and has Darnay taken back to his wife and daughter. The next morning, Carton is executed. He is Darnay’s substitute, dying in his place so that Darnay can live.

The same is true for Christ and his Church. The Church was imprisoned and awaiting death. But Jesus died in her place so that the Church can have new life. Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. He is the one who dies in the place of his Church.

Jesus’ Death Provides Definite Atonement for His Church

Jesus is the substitute dying in the place of his Church. But his death also provides definite atonement for his Church.

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 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?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.

Jesus is not crying out because he is in excruciating pain. He has been in excruciating pain since he was nailed to the cross. And yet for three hours he has been quiet. The entire time, he has been in pain. His back was flayed open by the scourging. And it would have rubbed against the rough hewn wood of the cross whenever he moved. That would have been painful. If that weren’t painful enough, his lungs would burn as he slowly suffocated. For three he has been in excruciating pain. And yet, for those hours he has been silent.

Here at the ninth hour, which is noon, he cries out. And he cries out because God the Father is pouring out all of his wrath for the sin that his Church committed or ever will commit on God the Son. Jesus is bearing God’s judgment for the Church. That’s why there was darkness over the whole land. Darkness is a sign of God’s judgment. And God is judging Jesus for all of the sins the Church has committed or will commit.

God is holy and just. Sin cannot stand in his presence. That is why he expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. The Garden was where God’s presence was located. And after Adam’s sin, God expelled Adam from his presence. Since then, sin has reigned in mankind. And yet God has not destroyed mankind. Why? God in his grace and mercy held off pouring out his judgment against the sin of his people. He slowly taught them their need for a savior.

And when the time was right, he sent his Son to die in their place. And here on the cross, he poured out his wrath against all the sin that his Church has committed or ever will commit. Here the one who knew no sin was made to be sin. Jesus bore the consequences of each and every sin that his Church has committed or will commit.

Jesus’ death definitely atones for every sin every believer has committed or will commit. There are some people who teach that Jesus’ death only makes it possible for people to be saved if they are able to believe on their own. They argue that Jesus’ death puts everyone back at square one, he takes them back to before Adam’s sin, and it is up to them to believe and not sin. That’s like saying Jesus built a bridge only halfway across a raging river expecting us to finish it from the other side without any wood, nails, or hammer. If that were the case, we’d be stuck on the other side of the river separated from God. There is absolutely no way for anyone to ever finish the bridge and cross the river.

Jesus’ death does not make salvation possible if we can do something. Jesus’ death does not make salvation possible if we are able to believe. He definitely and completely accomplishes salvation through his death. His death definitely and completely atones for all the sins of his Church and only his Church.

One of the most debated and contested phrases in the Apostles’ Creed is “and he descended into hell”. Growing up in the United Methodist Church, our hymnals didn’t include this phrase in the Apostles’ Creed. I don’t really know why they or other churches remove that phrase. But what I do know is that phrase tells us the gospel. That phrase tells us that Jesus our Lord “has delivered [us] from hellish anguish and torment by the inexpressible anguish, pains, and terrors which he suffered in his soul both on the cross and earlier”.[3] Jesus bore the hell each and every believer deserves on the cross.

What that means is that he has completely and definitely atoned for the sins of his Church. There is no sin that he didn’t die for. He did not die for some sin that believers commit but not others. He did not die only for the sins we committed before baptism. No. Jesus died for every sin every believer has ever committed or ever will commit. His death has definitely atoned for the sins of his Church.

Maybe you’re struggling this morning with assurance. Maybe you’ve come into worship this morning and are questioning whether or not Jesus’ death has completely and definitely redeemed you or if there is something left for you to do. Maybe you’re wondering if Jesus’ death was enough to cover your sins.

If you are in Christ, his death has completely and definitely atoned for every sin you have ever committed or ever will commit. He has born the punishment for you sin. God will not require a second atonement from you; he will not make you bear the punishment for sins that Jesus has borne. Take comfort. Jesus’ death completely and definitely atones for the sins of every believer. He was the substitute dying in the place of the Church. His death definitely atones for the sins of the Church.

Jesus’ Death Allows Us to Have Communion with God

Jesus’ death means that those who are in him can come have communion with God. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

To fully understand this, we need to know the function of the curtain in the temple. The curtain separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. The Holy Place contained the menorah and the table with the showbread. The Holy of Holies contained the Ark of the Covenant with the mercy seat covering it. They were separated by a blue, purple, and scarlet curtain (Ex. 26:31-37). The Holy of Holies was the place where God met with his people. When God filled the temple after Solomon completed it, his presence was in the Holy of Holies.

No one was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies except the high priest. And even he was not allowed to enter the Holy of Holies whenever he felt like it. The high priest was only allowed to enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. There was a strict process the high priest needed to follow before he was able to enter the Holy of Holies. That process started a week before the Day of Atonement. The high priest would be separated from everyone so that he wouldn’t be contaminated with anyone’s uncleanness. Someone would bring food to him in his quarters.

Then the night before the Day of Atonement, he would stay up all night praying, preparing his heart. He would wash himself. He would make a sacrifice for his sins. He would wash again. Put on clean, linen garments, and make a sacrifice for the sins of the priesthood. The high priest would wash himself for a third time, head to toe, put on clean, white linen garments for the third time, and then finally he would make a sacrifice for the sins of the people. That was the only time the high priest could enter into the Holy of Holies; the only time he was allowed to enter God’s presence was when he had made atonement for his sins and was making atonement for the sins of God’s people.

When Jesus died, the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies was torn in two. Through his death, the barrier separating God and man has been removed. In Jesus, we have communion with God. On the cross, Jesus was made to be sin so that we could be dressed in his righteousness. And that means we can have communion with God.

Calvin, that faithful expositor of Scripture, writes:

Now Christ, by blotting out the handwriting which was opposed to us, (Col. 2:14,) removed every obstruction, that, relying on him as Mediator, we may all be a royal priesthood, (1 Pet. 2:9.) Thus the rending of the vail was not only an abrogation of the ceremonies which existed under the law, but was, in some respects, an opening of heaven, that God may now invite the members of his Son to approach him with familiarity.[4]

In Christ, we have communion with God. We can approach God and our sin no longer prevents that from happening. We can enter into the heavenly throne room and enjoy the presence and company of God. But the only way for us to have communion with God is through Jesus Christ.

There is no other way for us to have communion with God. You cannot have communion with God through another religion. No other religion provides atonement for our sin. No other religion even addresses our sin. You cannot have communion with God by being a good, moral person. We’re really not that good. We all sin and even our good works are tainted with our sin. The only way we can have communion with God is through Jesus Christ.

We get a little glimpse of that on the Sundays that we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. We often call the Lord’s Supper communion. When we take the bread and wine, we are communing with God. The barrier of hostility that separated us from God has been removed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. And we are able to commune with our God and Savior.

That’s why I think it’s good for us to partake in the Lord’s Supper more often than once a month. In the sacrament, we get a visual representation of the gospel. In the bread we see that Jesus was afflicted in our place. In the cup we see that we have forgiveness of sins in Jesus. It is a visual representation of the gospel.

While the Lord’s Supper is a visual representation of the gospel to us, it is also a sign that we have communion with God. It is a sign that we can enter into the presence of God and fellowship with him. The Lord’s Supper is a glimpse of the heavenly meal we’ll have with God in the new heavens and earth. On that day, our communion with God will be fully realized.

Do you want that communion? Look to the cross. Do you want to be able to enjoy the presence of God? Look to the cross. Look upon the cross and see Jesus as the substitute who dies in the place of his Church. Look upon the cross and see that all of your sins have been nailed there and his death definitively atones for every sin believers have ever committed or ever will commit. Look upon the cross and see that through Jesus we have communion with God. Through him, we can enter into the Holy of Holies.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mk 15:33–47). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Plantinga, Cornelius. Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999. p.13

[3] Heidelberg Catechism Answer 44

[4] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 3, p. 323). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.