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What Does the Cross Mean to You?

In the previous article we looked at the portrayal in Mark 15 of the horrific mistreatment suffered by Jesus at the hands of his executioners. A few comments today will bring the story to its conclusion. Continue reading . . . 

In the previous article we looked at the portrayal in Mark 15 of the horrific mistreatment suffered by Jesus at the hands of his executioners. A few comments today will bring the story to its conclusion.

The place of Jesus' crucifixion is called Golgotha (Mark 15:22), lit., "place of the skull." It was located outside the city proper in accordance with Jewish and Roman custom (Lev. 24:14; Num. 15:35f.; Acts 7:58; Heb. 13:12-14).

According to v. 23, “they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.” This has been interpreted in two different ways. The traditional view is that it was customary for Jewish women to provide a narcotic drink to those condemned in order to deaden their sensitivity to the pain of crucifixion (see Prov. 31:6-7). If so, then Jesus' unwillingness to drink reflects his determination to endure with complete consciousness the agonies of the cross and the Father's wrath.

Others argue that this was not an act of compassion on the part of the women but an act of cruelty and torment on the part of the soldiers ("they" refers to the soldiers). The mixture was designed to make the wine undrinkable and extremely bitter. Thus the soldiers teased Jesus under the pretense of giving him good wine. Their real purpose was to aggravate his agony and humiliation.

The reference to his garments being divided by the casting of lots (v. 24) is an allusion to Psalm 22:16-18. It was customary to divide the victim's clothes among his executioners. Jesus would have had only a bloody inner and outer garment, a belt, and a pair of sandals.

The inscription placed above his head read: “The King of the Jews” (v. 26). This charge is, of course, highly ironic. Pilate, wishing to offend the Jews and to mock their hopes of one day throwing off Roman rule, rubs their noses in their subservient status. Unknowingly, of course, he charged Jesus with being precisely who, in fact, he was.

The “two robbers” (v. 27) who were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left, were probably insurrectionists caught in the same uprising that had led to the arrest of Barabbas (cf. Isa. 53:12).

One would think that Jesus had been subjected to enough public humiliation, yet we read in Mark 15:29-32 of the taunting of the crowds (see Psalm 22:6-8). As noted, crucifixion was purposely public in order to deter others and especially to add to the humiliation of the victim by exposing him to the taunts of passersby. With expressions of malicious glee, they sadistically mock him and take delight in his pain.

The first taunt (vv. 29-30) recalls the charge of Mark 14:58. These were men who likely had been present with the Sanhedrin when the original accusation had been made.

The second taunt (vv. 31-32) not only reminds us of his trial (Mark 14:61), but also of Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness (see Matthew 4:3,6). "Through the passersby Satan was still trying to get Jesus to evade the Father's will and avoid further suffering" (D. A. Carson, 576).

Evidently they did not address Jesus directly but spoke among themselves in the sort of whisper that one intends to be overheard by the object of one's scorn. Note that they spoke “to one another” (Mark 15:31).

"He saved others" (v. 31) is probably a reference to his healing ministry. There is a double meaning here. In the sense in which the Jewish leaders meant it, they were obviously wrong. He who healed others and raised the dead could certainly have saved himself. And yet, on the other hand, if he is to accomplish that redemptive work for which he went to the cross, he cannot save himself. He must yield himself up to crucifixion.

Do we not all, at times, measure God's power by what we see? We think that what God does not do, he cannot do. But here we see that he does not save himself, not because he cannot, but simply in order that by not saving himself he might save us.

The challenge to come down from the cross has several levels of meaning: (1) It is yet one more malicious mockery of Jesus' apparent helplessness. (2) It is as if these hypocrites are suggesting that their failure to believe Jesus is Jesus' fault! "It's your fault; if we don't believe, you've got no one to blame but yourself. Come on down and we will bow before you!" (3) Finally, whereas the taunt implies that Jesus could gain a following by coming down from the cross, in reality he can secure a people for himself only by staying on it! Someone once said, "These men would have believed him if he had come down from the cross. We believe in him precisely because he stayed upon it!"

Not knowing that their taunts were a fulfillment of Psalm 22:8, these men hurl their final blasphemy. Based on their belief that God must honor and deliver his Messiah, they conclude that Jesus' helplessness is proof that his claims were false and his death was deserved. Of course, God did vindicate and deliver him, but this was not the hour. That glorious confirmation of Christ's deity and messianic identity awaited the resurrection.

Mark 15:32b says that “those who were crucified with him also reviled him.” This may well have led us to conclude that neither of the robbers repented, for together they “reviled” Jesus in the same way as the religious leaders. However, we are thankful that Luke provides information that one of the robbers repented, moving from insult to loving adoration and trust (see Lk. 23:39-43). Here our Lord sees the initial fulfillment of Isaiah 53:11 - "he shall see the travail of his soul and be satisfied."

Three men died that day. In the eyes of many who witnessed it first hand, there was no difference separating them. They were all three enemies of the state, condemned criminals, and they deserved to suffer such torments.

But we know that one death differed not only from the other two but from all other deaths that men and women die. Jesus was not dying because of his own sin, but because of ours. The only question that must be asked, and only you can supply the answer, is this: “What do you see in the death of Jesus? Was he merely a martyr dying for his cause? Was he a blasphemer and a threat to the sanctity of the Jewish people? Was he a victim of political pragmatism, a thorn in Pilate’s side who had to be disposed of? Or was he the sinless Son of God, the man who is God, dying your death, suffering for your sins, satisfying the wrath of God that you deserved to endure?” That is the question we must all answer.