The Death of Jesus Christ
Text: Mark 15: 35-47
Proposition: As much as the atonement aspect of Jesus death was an invisible action that prefaced the resurrection, much more so was the death of Jesus a visible spectacle that would amplify the resurrection.
Introduction: There is no death in all of recorded history so well known as that of Jesus Christ. Think for a moment of all the famous people you have ever heard of. Think of Winston Churchill, what do you know about his death? Think of scientists like Albert Einstein, heroes like Norman Bethune, villains like Stalin, discoverers like Columbus, theologians like Luther, queens like Sheba, or nurses like Nightingale. What do people know of the details of their deaths and yet when it comes to Jesus who predates all of these by at least a thousand years we know the last hours and even minutes of His death. We know who was there and we know what Jesus said, we know the time, the place and the situation. I would submit to you that there is no other death in human history so widely known by so many people over so many generations as the death of Jesus Christ. Why is that? Folk lore doesn’t last that long nor preserve the details so consistently. Historical figures have come and gone with more global power than Jesus but their deaths have been lost to obscurity. How did Nebuchadnezzar die, what were his last words and who was there? It’s unknown by the world, but when it comes to the death of Jesus this is unique. Turn to Mark 15:34 -47 as we read just a small portion of the details of this death that changed the world forever.
I. Though There Are Many Attitudes Towards It, Jesus Death Means Much.
In the passage we just read we see that there are a number of different attitudes towards Jesus death:
1. For some the death of Jesus was entertainment. Perhaps it was not unlike going to the coliseum to watch death do its work. The crowd who mocked Jesus were twisting His words of “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”, to be a reference to Elijah. They were referring to Elijah as the one who would come and assist the Messiah in His ministry and they mocked that maybe now Jesus was calling for Elijah to come and help Him from dying on the cross.
2. For some the death of Jesus was business. Morticians, flower shops, churches, caterers… even today death can be a business. Certainly it was this for the soldiers, especially the centurion who was in charge of this grisly task. His responsibility was to use death to get the job done.
3. For some the death of Jesus was personal tragedy. Likely some of the eleven apostles were composed enough to be at Golgotha where the crucifixion took place. Certainly John was there along with a number of women who had been steadfast in their love and support of Jesus. These grieved and wept and were in great sorrow at what they saw, this was the public execution of the One they had come to believe was the Son of God.
4. For the church, it would say that the death of Jesus was substitutional, penal and vicarious. The first term refers to one who stands in for another, the penal term refers to the fact that it satisfied a judicial claim against guilt and the vicarious word means that what one did actually is credited to the account of another. It means the physical death of Jesus also included the events that came after death. The choices of belief and actions made in this life are things we are accountable for after death. When Jesus took our place, the substitutionary part, it wasn’t the physical death that He substituted for, it was the final separation from God to an eternity of hell. We still experience death as Christians so it wasn’t physical death that Jesus did in taking our place, it was that Second Death of final judgment. It was the same with the terms penal and vicarious, they are accomplished through the initial action of Jesus physical death on the cross but it was the divine satisfaction of God’s judicial claim against sin that is only paid in final judgment that Jesus satisfied. The vicarious part means that God will actually reckon Jesus full sacrifice as that which has been done on our behalf.
This is why Christians say that physical death has lost its sting, it’s why the Second death has lost its dominance or victory over all humanity. It was in the three hours from noon to 3pm that day on Golgotha that the full weight of the sin of mankind was being put upon our substitute. His death satisfied the claims of God’s justice against the guilt of all our sin. The claims of justice were satisfied through death and that release of debt is applied to all who will ask for it, believing in the One who has accomplished it on their behalf.
II. The Finality of the Death of Jesus Points To The Certainty of Eternal Life. Perhaps one reason why the death of Jesus is the most well known in all of human history is that what it accomplishes is also meant to be the most well known truth in all of human history. Clearly as you read the verses in Mark detailing the way the centurion witnessed Jesus death, it was not only a thing of certainty to this man, it drew him to belief as he declared aloud, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” The way that Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body of Jesus from Pilate ascertains this death. The wrappings of the linen over the body and placing of it in the tomb were all acts of the finality of death. The other gospel accounts have even greater evidence of death, the spear thrust through His side while still on the cross in order to confirm death, the guard on the tomb to secure the dead body, and perhaps the greatest evidence of death, the curtain in the Temple torn in two from top to bottom. The death of a sacrificed lamb gained temporary access of relationship with the Father. This sacrifice, this death, opened the door to Father for all who would receive Him, for all time. The torn curtain symbolized the open way to the holiest of holies that Jesus death had now accomplished.
The public certainty of Jesus death was designed by God the Father to amplify what comes next. Once a penalty has been paid what typically comes next? The answer is …Freedom. The public certainty of the death of Jesus is designed by the Father to amplify the freedom that it has accomplished. This freedom translates directly into a thing called eternal life. This is not a life that suffers entropy, this life does not suffer the depreciation of a sin nature, it does not suffer a temporal or mortal state that is at peril of being ended. This life in Christ has a freedom from all these and more, it has a freedom to move towards the God of all creation, the Lord God Almighty. It has a freedom to both know and be known by God and by others. The finality of the death of Jesus is all about the certainty of this eternal life! We begin this eternal life the moment we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior. We’ll live in these days with an absolute certainty in our understanding that life continues after this state. That’s what being in the kingdom of God means, it means living in a new state of freedom in Christ that is meant to bring hope and transformation to the world here and now even while we hold to the certain understanding that life in Christ succeeds death. That confidence is what we call faith, and the faith is in the living King, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Next week… Resurrection.