LoS: Exposition – Mark 15:21-32

Crucifixion, Diego Velázquez, 17th c.

Crucifixion, Diego Velázquez, 17th c.

15 21A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). 23Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him.  Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

Notice how the indirect detail gives more power to the narrative than would a long direct description of Christ’s condition. By the fact that Simon is pressed into carrying Christ’s cross we infer the depth of His wounds and exhaustion. All through this account it’s amazing how little specific detail is imparted concerning the condition and treatment of Jesus. And yet, the cumulative power is overwhelming as we witness these events unfold through the lens of the indirect detail, the unexpected response, the savage cruelty. It’s as if Christ has become a mirror that reflects the inner reality of each person that crosses His path. The souls that He has come to save are laid bare in the reflection off of his Holiness.

25It was the third hour when they crucified him. 26The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS. 27They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left. 29Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30come down from the cross and save yourself!”

But, of course, Christ chose to stay up on the cross so that they could be saved! Is it too much to hope that some of these poor wretched souls were among the three thousand who were saved on the Day of Pentecost?

Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:36-41)

31In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

The mockery continues. With the chief priests the phrase “among themselves” is noteworthy. It elicits the sense of nervous mutual support. They had set this chain of events in motion, and now they had achieved their goal. However, isn’t it possible, even likely, given what they knew about Jesus combined with the manner in which He went to His cross, that they recognized the Holy and felt inner doubt at what they had done?

With the other two condemned men the mockery highlights in a particularly stark manner a general principle of our fallen-ness. We all too often look for someone to look down on as a means of enhancing our self-esteem. With these pitiful souls to the left and right of Christ, that desire to find someone lower continued all the way to their crucifixion.

One of them, perhaps observing the manner of Christ’s suffering, was touched by the healing Spirit of Holiness. For in Luke we read:

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

Some recoil at the thought of such extravagant love and forgiveness. My response is that it is only this extravagance that gives me confidence when I look upon the depth and stubbornness of my sin.

LoS: Exposition – Mark 15:16-20

Jesus Carrying the Cross, El Greco, 1580.

Jesus Carrying the Cross, El Greco, 1580.

15 16The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him.

It’s as if an extraordinarily virulent contagion of hatred was sweeping through the city, one with Christ as its exclusive target. Some postulate that Satan had been granted free sway, so that the powers of evil could be massed to the maximum against Christ’s Goodness. Surely this is possible.

But there is at least one alternate, and more disturbing explanation; that being that no special dispensation of freedom to Satan was required to elicit such behavior. We have previously discussed how the magnitude of the world’s opposition to the Christian is a function of the extent of their transformation back to God’s will and the nature of the society in which they live. If we apply this concept to Christ: perfect obedience to God’s will within the context of an empire founded on paganism, we can easily see how these soldiers could descend to the depths without much outside encouragement.

Although Christ endured these humiliations, surely He also knew that what was occurring then as mockery would in the fullness of time be made right, for “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10,11)

20And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

Once again, lest we skip quickly over this terrible word, crucify, let’s pause to absorb the horror of what this form of execution entailed for the victim.

Crucifixion was, firstly, an extremely humiliating, public and often slow means of execution. The victim was stripped naked or near naked prior to being transfixed upon the stake or cross. Given that death could take many hours or days to arrive, one can easily (and sorrowfully) imagine the lack of privacy of the victim. In addition, they were helpless to repel the attacks of insects and even birds. Worse yet, they were powerless to avoid the mockery of the humans who would heap scorn upon their person.

Then we get to the excruciating physical pain, with every fiber screaming to move to a different position, the shoulder muscles in particular as they strain against the load of the body. Lastly, the sufferer dies by inches from exposure, loss of blood (from the flogging), thirst, asphyxiation and despair.

Words even as stark and unflinching as these are powerless to convey the true horror of the experience. This is what Christ set out to do for you and for me. To avoid gazing upon it is to avoid taking a true measure of the gravity, the scandal of our sin.

LoS: Exposition – Mark 15:12-15

In 15:1-11 Jesus is bound and taken before Pilate, who interviews Him to determine of what, if anything, He is guilty. The very first question that Pilate asks (and therefore likely the first charge placed against Him) is “Are you the king of the Jews?” to which Jesus answers in the affirmative. Jesus is silent before the other numerous charges that were being thrown at him.

Pilate, seeing before him a beaten, lonely man, whose claim to kingship could be nothing more than the fantasy of a lunatic, seeks a way to release Jesus. He offers the crowd a choice to release either Jesus or Barabbas, a murderer. The crowd has been primed, they ask for the release of Barabbas.

Ecce Homo (Behold the Man!), Antonio Ciseri, 19th c.

Ecce Homo (Behold the Man!), Antonio Ciseri, 19th c.

15 12“What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.

13“Crucify him!” they shouted.

There are few things human more irrational than a mob. But those who know how to incite the baser emotions can direct mobs. You can easily imagine what might have been said. “This charlatan made fools of you when he entered Jerusalem, making you treat him as the Messiah! He thought that he was better than you, that he was your king! Are you going to let him get away with treating you like fools?”

14“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

Once began, the hatred feeds upon itself, inciting a state of bloodlust that responds to no rational argument. Only overwhelming brute force could turn them from their purpose at this point.

15Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

At this point Pilate is a trapped man. Jesus has said just enough to give the religious leaders great leverage – He has claimed kingship of the Jews. If he doesn’t crucify Jesus now there will be a significant incident of civil unrest that could gain the attention of the Emperor. Pilate would be placed in the impossible position of explaining why he had caused such an outbreak by defending a man who was usurping the Emperor’s authority. Only by ordering the crucifixion of this single pathetic lunatic (so must have reasoned Pilate) could his and many other lives be spared.

We read over the phrase “He had Jesus flogged” so easily. But lest we miss the terrible reality of what our Lord and Savior endured in His human body, here is an excerpt of an article on this practice.

Flog-Crown“In the Roman Empire, flagellation was often used as a prelude to crucifixion, and in this context is sometimes referred to as scourging. Whips with small pieces of metal or bone at the tips were commonly used. Such a device could easily cause disfigurement and serious trauma, such as ripping pieces of flesh from the body or loss of an eye. In addition to causing severe pain, the victim would be made to approach a state of hypovolemic shock due to loss of blood.”

That God the Son would submit to such treatment by the creatures that He had created, in order that their sins might be forgiven, is an act of such impossible love that our minds collapse under the weight of the idea.

LoS: Exposition – Mark 14:61b-72

Alessandro_Mantovani_Jesus_before_the_High_Priest_700In the verses between 14:42 and 14:61b Judas leads a group of armed guards from the Sanhedrin[1] to arrest Jesus. He betrays Jesus by identifying Him with a kiss. Jesus is arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin where numerous individuals bear false witness against Him. However the false testimony is conflicting, as is so often the case with lies. Jesus remains silent throughout the entire charade. Finally, the high priest addresses Jesus directly with the question that would change the world forever.

14 61bAgain the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”

62“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

63The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. 64“You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?”

They all condemned him as worthy of death. 65Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, “Prophesy!” And the guards took him and beat him.

Consider what these religious leaders must have known about Jesus. They would have heard reports of miracles of healing, feeding and even rising of the dead. They had heard for themselves the power and authority with which He taught. And yet, they didn’t stop for an instant to consider the possibility that this man might be the Messiah, so entrapped were they in the web of their worldly schemes.

Their purpose was far more than simply killing Jesus. They wanted to so denigrate, so humiliate Jesus that His death would be but the final step in the process of total annihilation. They wanted anyone who had ever so much as thought kindly of this Man to shudder and turn away. And for those who followed Him to scatter to the wind in terror, living out the rest of their pitiful lives denying that they had ever known this fool prophet. Let any doubters follow Peter into the courtyard and then Christ to His Cross.[2]

14 66While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. 67When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him.

     “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said.

68But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway.

69When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.” 70Again he denied it.

After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”

71He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.”

Note the escalating violence of Peter’s responses. They likely track his swelling sense of fear as the dismal reality of what is unfolding becomes apparent. Jesus has been arrested and cruelly mistreated but there are no legions of angels arriving to defend Him. He is alone, beaten and humiliated; looking nothing like a Messiah. Peter must have been at a minimum in a terrible state of confusion, and possibly in great despair.

72Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

This is the moment that Peter experienced the infinite negative void of his soul. Peter had denied his Master just as He had predicted. His failure had proceeded like clockwork. But the Savior to whom he had pledged everything was apparently on His way to an ignominious death. And he might well be next. All of that paled next to the sense of shame for having betrayed such love, such wisdom, and such truth as he had experienced while at the side of his beloved Master, Jesus, whom he had announced to be the Christ.


[1] San·hed·rin n

the supreme Jewish judicial, ecclesiastical, and administrative council in ancient Jerusalem before AD 70, having 71 members from the nobility and presided over by the high priest

[2] Nothing in this manuscript is intended to allow for the great sin of anti-Semitism to be supported. It is an undeniable matter of fact that Jewish religious leaders played a central role in Christ’s Passion. It is an equally undeniable fact that Christianity was born from the Jewish faith, that its earliest followers were all Jewish, that the New Testament teaches that the Jewish Nation still has a special role to play in God’s plan for salvation, and that we Christians share the Old Testament in common with our Jewish brothers and sisters. Even if none of the above were true, Christianity is a faith that values and loves the human being and the soul that is encased within. Our calling is not to cast blame and hate but rather to seek and to save in the powerful Name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. But if anyone were to demand an answer for who is to blame for Christ’s crucifixion, the answer is only as far as the nearest mirror.

LoS: Exposition – Mark 14:32-42

The Gospel of Mark, the shortest of the four, nonetheless provides a very complete account of Christ’s passion.

Immanuel Lutheran Church Nielsville, WI

Immanuel Lutheran Church
Nielsville, WI

14 32They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

It becomes immediately clear that the ordeal ahead is both all too well known and all too real. This is no “just for show” event.

35Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

The mystery of the incarnation is that Jesus Christ is simultaneously all human and all God. But this mystery leaves open how these two natures interacted with one another. These opening verses in Gethsemane appear to show us a very human response to what was bearing down upon Him, yet within the context of an inexorable divine purpose.

37Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

How often have we confirmed the truth of this statement! Our spirits thrill to the truth of God’s Word, and we decide to make this big change or accomplish that great goal, only to have this feeble anchor of flesh sink them. Our tongue speaks a harsh word or our chasing after thrills depletes our strength and deadens our souls.

God in His infinite wisdom has chosen to encase our eternal souls for a time within these fleshly bodies. We simply don’t know why. We only know that He wouldn’t have done it without a good reason. We also know that His own Son has joined us in this experience.

We would do well when we look upon one another, and upon ourselves, to think first of the beloved soul that God has entrusted within. Doing so would go far to heal many of the evils that mar our interactions.

39Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. 40When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.

41Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

These are not the words of a man meekly resigned to his fate. They are fighting words. They are the words of a Savior who has faced down fear, faced down doubt, and is ready to ride into battle. But there will be no great army to back Him up. He will go into this conflict abandoned, naked and defiled. How then dare He speak thus? “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you, not what I will, but what you will.”

LoS: Christ’s Suffering and Death – Opening Thoughts

The-Lamb-of-GodFrom near the very beginning the concept of vicarious suffering as the payment for sin had been within the relational dynamic between humans and God. The sufferer had been an unblemished animal, a possession of great value to nomadic herdsmen. But in an early biblical story the practice, at God’s own instruction, was apparently going to take a stunning, terrible new direction. It appeared that unblemished animals were no longer going to be sufficient to pay their debts. Rather, their own sons would be the coin of payment. Abraham, in humble submission to God’s command, set off with his precious son Isaac, the son of his old age, the vessel of fulfillment of his covenant with the LORD.

Along the way the way, the son, bearing the tree, asked an innocent question that would echo down the centuries, laying bare the souls of countless multitudes: “but where is the lamb…?” Abraham’s response is of no less import in laying open that which existed in God’s holy mind: “God himself will provide the lamb…” Read this profound text prayerfully and meditate on its implications.

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

   “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

     “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

   Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

(Genesis 22:6-8)

We know that it was never in God’s mind for Abraham to sacrifice his son. The LORD stayed his hand. And Abraham was provided with a substitute, a ram.

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”

(Genesis 22:13,14)

But note – God did not provide a lamb – which is “an immature sheep, especially one under a year old without permanent teeth.” Where was the lamb? Perhaps, in the eternal, omniscient, merciful mind of God this was the announcement that there would indeed be the sacrifice of a son for sin. But this Son would not be the child of human man and wife, but rather the Father’s own precious Son. And this sacrifice would not be temporary and partial as all had been before, but eternal and total.

So, at just the right time, a Child was born, grew to Manhood and made His way to the Jordan River to be baptized.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

(John 1:29)

As John the Baptist prophesized, so it came to pass.

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

(1 Peter 1:18-21)

And as it has come, so it will be brought to final resolution.

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang:

   “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,

   to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength

   and honor and glory and praise!”

(Revelation 5:11,12)

This is the Most Holy of ground. It is the crucible where Love, Sin; Good, Evil; Hope, Despair; Victory, Failure; Salvation, Damnation; Heaven, Hell – all meet at the point of unknowable suffering within the Person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Take off your sandals.

LoS: Divergence

Two-PathsMy plan was to post the Language of Suffering as it was originally organized, systematically tracing the thread of suffering through Scripture.

However, as the Lenten season has progressed, I have felt called to offer “Christ’s Suffering and Death” out of order.  On the one hand I’m concerned that this divergence could break the flow of ideas that ensure full appreciation of Christ’s sacrifice.  On the other hand, this is the season in which Christians focus on Christ’s passion as in no other time of the year.

I’ve decided to trust that you will continue to value insight into God’s purposes for suffering even if we cover Christ’s passion earlier than would have normally been the case.  So, I’ll begin the meditation on “Christ’s Suffering and Death” this Friday.  My prayer is that it will enrich your own thoughts, prayers and hopes as we approach Good Friday together.

LoS: Creation, The Fall and Suffering’s Beginning – Closing Thoughts

So, God has both brought suffering into existence and began to provide for our needs within its confines. This is the larger story within which the language of suffering lives. We do not seek out suffering as a positive good. Jesus in His ministry of healing and feeding made it clear that the alleviation of suffering is a holy calling. But we do know that in this world suffering cannot be avoided. And so, rather than resigning ourselves to it, or worse, allowing it to make us bitter, we ask the question: If God placed suffering in the world did He intend that it should have a redeeming purpose? The stories of suffering throughout Scripture, culminating with Calvary speak a resounding Yes to that question. It is a hard answer to bear. But bear it we must if we are to enter more deeply into relationship with Him who loves us.

LoS: Exposition – Genesis 3:14-21

3 14So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. 15And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

What is true for the corrupters of individual children must be massively more true for the corruptor of humanity: “It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.” (Luke 17:2)

16To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

17To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.

18It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.

Adam after the Fall. Fresco from the monastery of Cantauque, Provence.

Adam after the Fall. Fresco from the monastery of Cantauque, Provence.

19By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” 

20Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.

This passage may appear to be the first and defining instance of “sinners in the hand of an angry God,” and it is. But if we listen carefully, down to the implications of the experience that God is creating for Adam and the Eve, we will begin to hear a strange new language that can teach hope and humility through pain, preparing our souls to cry out for and then receive a Savior.

21The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.

We take our leave from this story on a note of hope. The LORD God has doled out punishment for our sin. But now He takes action to care for our needs. This is but the first of many instances throughout Scripture in which it is God who takes the initiative to mend the brokenness between Himself and humankind. We are at best slow to respond and unreliable in our commitment. But the LORD God is relentless in seeking us out while never compromising His holiness.

LoS: Exposition – Genesis 3:6-13

3 6When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Adam, Eve, and the Serpent at the entrance to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

Adam, Eve, and the Serpent at the entrance to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

We can only wonder what transaction occurred at this tragic moment. Was the fruit as delicious as it looked, or did it taste putrid, providing intimation of what was to come.

7Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

This is the moment at which suffering entered the human experience – in shame of their nakedness. In the twinkling of an eye, their attitude had been transformed from innocent and free to defiled and enslaved. The cascade of unexpected, dreadful emotions must have overwhelmed them. One can only wonder that they maintained the presence of mind to create makeshift coverings for the sources of their shame.

8Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”

Their reckoning with the LORD God is immediate and inexorable. We sometimes imagine in our folly that ours is not inexorable because it is not immediate.

10He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

Our relationship with God is now shown to be broken. Whereas once we met Him with the confidence of a beloved child we now cringe before Him in fear. In time that fear will turn to anger and the anger to loathing. The crack will expand quickly into an impassable chasm. Praise be to God that He did not leave unanswered the question that burned so deeply after the fall: What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)

11And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

Domenichino's portrayal of Genesis 3:12

Domenichino’s portrayal of Genesis 3:12

12The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

A more pitiful, shameful response can hardly be imagined. It’s her fault…no; actually it’s your fault, LORD God, for putting her here with me.

13Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

The woman has the dignity to state with partial honestly what happened and take responsibility.