When I was in college I painted a picture for my brother Seth. We both like trout fishing, so I chose to recreated a mural I had seen. A close up picture of a school of rainbow trout. It wasn't a realistic picture. A head here, a tail there. The long sweeping colors of a flank. The wary eyes of a face. All were packed together in a jumble of troutness.
I chose to paint the picture like comic book art, with vibrant colors and dark black lines to define the features of the different fish. In order to make this work in an acrylic painting I did all the colors first, only adding the defining lines and details at the end.
Because the defining lines came last, it was a frustrating painting to work on. Along the way everything looked wrong. Only at the end when I added the overlay of detail did the whole image pull together.
Our reading for today describes the last six hours of our Savior's earthly life. Just like the trout mural, this image of Christ's final hours looks wrong along the way. Every verse is filled with mistakes and things that shouldn't have been. The colors are vibrant enough, but they clash and tear at each other.
What's wrong with this picture?
Mark 15:25-37 (NKJV)
25 Now it was the third hour, and they crucified Him. 26 And the inscription of His accusation was written above:
THE KING OF THE JEWS.
27 With Him they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left. 28 So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with the transgressors.”
29 And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save Yourself, and come down from the cross!”
31 Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”
Even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him.
33 Now 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 out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
35 Some of those who stood by, when they heard that, said, “Look, He is calling for Elijah!” 36 Then someone ran and filled a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink, saying, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down.”
37 And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last.
What's wrong with this picture?
Verse 25. "Now it was the third hour, and they crucified Him."
In the minds of the disciples, this wasn't supposed to be happening. Jesus was the Christ. He was supposed to restore the glory of Israel, not die at the hands of the Romans.
The execution of Christ was also wrong on a cosmic level. God the Son had become human. But now, instead of shimmering glory, He was clothed in suffering. The God-Man was being CRUCIFIED. He was being tortured to death in a manner that was beyond barbaric. And this was being done by the very sinners He came to redeem.
Verse 26. "And the inscription of His accusation was written above: THE KING OF THE JEWS."
The plaque affixed to a cross was supposed to be the crime that the crucified had committed. But the inscription which hung above Jesus' head wasn't a crime. Above Jesus' head hung a joke which the Roman governor had directed at the Jews. This is what Rome does with so-called Jewish kings. And his ruthless joke was made at the expense of the very Son of God.
Verse 27-28. "With Him they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left. So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'And He was numbered with the transgressors.'"
The men flanking Jesus were violent men. Robbers being executed for their crimes. Jesus' placement in the center suggested that He was the prime criminal being executed here. The worst one. But in fact, He was innocent before men and sinless before God.
Verse 29. "And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, "Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days,"
They had misunderstood Jesus' words. In the past, Jesus had poetically foretold His death and resurrection by saying, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19 NIV). He was speaking of the temple of His body.
Verse 30. "save Yourself, and come down from the cross!"
If Jesus had come down from the cross He would not have saved Himself. To die in this way was a command that God the Father had given Him. Saving Himself would have been rejecting God's command. It would have been a sin condemning Him forever.
Verse 31. "Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, 'He saved others; Himself He cannot save.'"
The idea that Jesus was powerless to escape the cross was simply false. He had saved others. He was capable of coming down from the cross. He had cast out demons, healed diseases, walked on water and raised people from the dead. He had the power, but He CHOSE to remain on the cross.
Verse 32. "Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. Even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him."
The idea that a miraculous descent from the cross would make Jesus' enemies into His followers was again, simply false. Miracles don't create faith. The mob who arrested Jesus had seen Him heal a man's severed ear. This very afternoon all the people of Jerusalem would watch as a supernatural darkness covered the land from noon to three. The priests in the Temple would find the sanctuary curtain hanging ripped in two from top to bottom, revealing the innermost room of the Temple. And after all these supernatural events, when Jesus was miraculously raised from the dead - these men still refused to trust in Jesus.
The robbers who were justly being executed for their crimes also joined in to mock the innocent Jesus. And this too was utterly wrong.
Verse 33. "Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour."
Even nature was affected with the wrongness of what was happening here. Darkness at noon was not normal. And with this strange and unearthly darkness, nature itself testified that something very wrong was now unfolding in the world.
Verse 34. "And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?' which is translated, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'"
Before the universe was created, the Son of God had existed with the Father and the Spirit as the eternal, three-in-one God. The very names of "Father" and "Son" describe their intimate relationship. It had eternally been the loving relationship of perfect Father and perfect Son.
But here on Calvary that relationship was broken. It defies understanding. It is the wrongest thing here.
Verse 35-36. "Some of those who stood by, when they heard that, said, 'Look, He is calling for Elijah!' Then someone ran and filled a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink, saying, "Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down."
The bystanders were wrong when they thought Jesus was calling out to Elijah for help. That's not what He had said. Separated from the Father, the Son was experiencing hell on the cross. With His tormented cry He was expressing the deepest suffering of His soul. He, the Son of God, was feeling the sinner's just punishment for sin. He was experiencing Hell in our place.
Verse 37. "And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last."
Crucifixion was designed as a form of torturing execution that would last as long as human endurance made possible. Crucifixion was designed to make sure your last breath was one of weak, humiliated defeat. That a crucified man would die with a final triumphant cry was unexplainable.
That God-made-man would die at all was unthinkable. Wrong in every way. But on Calvary - it happened.
What's wrong with this picture?
That the sinless Son of God should suffer and die in the place of sinners was wrong. It should not have had to be this way. But instead of this being the last straw that condemned sinful mankind forever, the bitter crucifixion and death of Christ stands as the turning point in human history. Through His death, sinners, even those who actively participated in crucifying and mocking Him - are offered pardon for sin and eternal peace with God.
Alone, the image of Christ's crucifixion looks all mixed up and wrong. But the resurrection of Christ adds the final details and defining lines which make this picture pull together. It's the resurrection of Christ which makes all the wrongness here make sense.
The resurrection of Jesus three days later, testifies that Jesus was who He claimed to be. He was the Savior foretold who would gave Himself to pay for the sins of mankind. Christ experienced all the horrible punishment that our wrongness had piled up. Through faith in His blood we are declared right with God. Forgiven in full.
Over 700 years before Jesus died on the cross, the prophet Isaiah foretold it. Isaiah 53...
" 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,Just some twenty or so years after Jesus died and rose, the apostle Paul summed up the significance of the cross, saying...
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:5-6 NIV).
"21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV).▬
When we look at the last six hours of Christ's earthly life, everything looks wrong. But when everything is finished, we see that God has taken ugliness, defeat and death and turned it into victory. Christ rose from the dead on the third day, and He lives to this day, ruling over us from the Father's side.
When we look at our own lives, everything looks wrong there too. Even our "good deeds" are tainted by self-serving agendas and impure motives. But in the cross of Christ we find that God has taken all our sins away and replacing our defeat with victory.
Because He died, we shall live. Because He lives, we shall never die. This we believe. All glory be to our crucified and ever living Savior.