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The Last Breath

In Mark’s description of the crucifixion we are told that “Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last” (Mark 15:37). Continue reading . . . 

In Mark’s description of the crucifixion we are told that “Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last” (Mark 15:37).

This cry (v. 37) is probably a reference to the sixth of our Lord's seven utterances on the cross. According to John, this cry consisted of the words, "It is finished" (19:30). It was "not the gasp of a worn-out, disintegrated life, but an exultant expression of the supreme spiritual joy of the completion of His divinely determined work" (S. L. Johnson). It is at this moment that Jesus voluntarily relinquishes his struggle for life. Even in death he is yet in control. He gave his life willingly and lovingly." The work of redemption is done.

The result is that “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38). There were two veils in the Temple, one separating the outer court from the Holy Place, and one separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. Surely it was the second of these that was torn (v. 38). This was the veil that separated all men from God and barred entrance into the Holy of Holies. This was the veil through which only the high priest could pass once a year. It was massive: 60 ft. long, 30 ft. high, and 1 inch thick. Ancient sources tell us that it took 100 priests to put it in place.

How did this happen? I have no doubt but that God reached down and shred it in two with no less power and glory than when he divided the waters of the Red Sea!

What was the symbolic significance of this rending of the veil? Surely three things.

(1) It points to the complete, perfect, and altogether sufficient sacrifice for sins that Jesus has offered in himself on the cross. The sin that had created a barrier both spiritually and naturally between God and man has been atoned for.

(2) It also points to the end of the Mosaic Covenant and its laws, which have been fulfilled in Christ. The “old order” has passed away!

(3) Finally, it points to the fact that God in all his glory is now freely and fully accessible to all men and women who come to him by faith in Jesus Christ. For centuries before the coming of Christ, God had confined the revelation of his glory and majesty to the Holy of Holies. Now he bursts forth to dwell no longer behind a veil in a house built with wood and stone and precious jewels, but to dwell in the hearts of his people (see Hebrews 10:19-22).

Until now Jesus has been the object of scorn and ridicule and mockery. What the Jewish leaders have denied and the Roman rulers have mocked, a lone centurion now sees with pristine spiritual clarity. The centurion was most likely the Roman officer in charge of overseeing the crucifixion. He was accustomed to executions like this, but what he saw and heard in the case of Jesus led him to conclude that this was no ordinary man: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). What it was in the way Jesus suffered and died that awakened faith in him we cannot know.

There are several paradoxes in our Lord’s death by crucifixion that we must consider.

(1) We know that at the cross God was hostile toward us and punished Jesus in our stead. Yet we also know that at the cross God was loving us, so much so that he gave his only begotten Son.

(2) We know that our great Triune God is immutable and that the union between Father, Son, and Spirit is unbreakable. Yet we also know that on the cross hung God the Son, forsaken by God the Father.

(3) We know that God is the essence of all life. He is its source and sustainer. Yet we also know that somehow at Calvary the God-man, Jesus, died.

(4) We know that God is infinitely righteous, pure, and holy, in whom there is no defect and of whom nothing evil can be said. Yet we also know that God "made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf" (2 Cor. 5:21).

Probably all of you here today have experienced some season of loneliness. You may be immersed in it right now. But as painful and depressing as it may be, of this you may be absolutely certain. Paul said it best in Romans 8:35-39 – your heavenly Father will never, by no means ever turn his back on you . . . he will never, by no means ever turn away his face . . . he will never, by no means ever forsake you. How can you be so sure? Look to the cross. The only God-forsakenness that you ever had cause to fear was endured to an infinite and immeasurable degree by your Lord and Savior, Jesus.

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