LoS: Exposition – Mark 15:33-39

Christ on the Cross -Mihaly-Munkacsy

Christ on the Cross -Mihaly-Munkacsy

15 33At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Here Christ descends into the valley of suffering that is utterly hidden from our sight. Up to this point we have at least been able to comprehend the facts of His terrible physical agony. Now we become aware that Christ is experiencing some unknowable but terrible spiritual rejection or separation from His Father. So deep are these waters that perhaps we are best served by allowing John Calvin to speak.

Though in the cry which Christ uttered a power more than human was manifested, yet it was unquestionably drawn from him by intensity of sorrow. And certainly this was his chief conflict, and harder than all the other tortures, that in his anguish he was so far from being soothed by the assistance or favor of his Father, that he felt himself to be in some measure estranged from him. For not only did he offer his body as the price of our reconciliation with God, but in his soul also he endured the punishments due to us; and thus he became, as Isaiah speaks, a man of sorrows, (53:3). Those interpreters are widely mistaken who, laying aside this part of redemption, attended solely to the outward punishment of the flesh; for in order that Christ might satisfy for us, it was necessary that he should be placed as a guilty person at the judgment-seat of God. Now nothing is more dreadful than to feel that God, whose wrath is worse than all deaths, is the Judge. When this temptation was presented to Christ, as if, having God opposed to him, he were already devoted to destruction, he was seized with horror, which would have been sufficient to swallow up a hundred times all the men in the world; but by the amazing power of the Spirit he achieved the victory. …

That this expression eminently deserves our attention is evident from the circumstance, that the Holy Spirit, in order to engrave it more deeply on the memory of men, has chosen to relate it in the Syriac language; for this has the same effect as if he made us hear Christ himself repeating the very words which then proceeded from his mouth. So much the more detestable is the indifference of those who lightly pass by, as a matter of jesting, the deep sadness and fearful trembling which Christ endured. No one who considers that Christ undertook the office of Mediator on the condition of suffering our condemnation, both in his body and in his soul, will think it strange that he maintained a struggle with the sorrows of death, as if an offended God had thrown him into a whirlpool of afflictions.

Calvin’s Commentaries, Harmony of the Gospels: Vol. 3

Calvin’s tremendous theological powers allow him to approach as close to the valley’s edge as we are likely to ever get. The ultimate mystery of what Christ suffered at the ninth hour remains out of our reach. Calvin’s last quoted sentence serves as a fitting summary for our Lord’s Passion that should be pondered with great care.

Though the experience is hidden, the meaning is clear – the coin of the price paid for our sins was the Father’s own Son’s suffering.

35When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

37With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

Finally, near the very end, there is the slightest glimmer of human kindness. Even this act appears to be defiled with the stench of corruption. The men appear to be nursing Christ along out of curiosity – “If only we can keep him alive a bit longer Elijah might show up!”

The Savior who entered this ordeal with the fighting exclamation “Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” now breathes His last with a loud cry. We are not told if it is a cry of despair or victory[1]. Once again, it will be the response to Christ that will provide the clue.

My response to Christ’s death can’t be separated from my knowledge of the resurrection. And yet, even so, the path that I have traveled with Him has been so harrowing, so heartbreaking that there is almost a sense of relief when it seems that His work is finished and He is finally beyond suffering’s dreadful grasp.

Why, you might ask, show discomfiture at having a sense of relief. After all, it’s all for the best. Christ has saved us from our sins! He is now seated at the right hand of the Father in glory! Rejoice and be happy!

Yes, that is all true, and I do indeed rejoice. My shame is that I’m relieved that I can finally stop watching Christ suffer for my sin. In other words, it’s still all about ME. How is it that God – omnipotent, holy, omniscient, eternal – can empty Himself completely, thinking only of saving ME; but I – weak, common, ignorant, temporary – can’t empty myself of ME even when contemplating the death of my Savior? Have mercy on me Lord, for I am a sinner!

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:13,14)

38The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Here again we are given information on Christ’s experience indirectly, by it’s impact on a human being. The centurion,[2] likely a hardened man who had seen many deaths, is moved to make the most unexpected, perilous exclamation that a pagan and officer of the Emperor could make – “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

What could it be about the cry of Jesus and how He died that could move such a man so? We cannot be sure. However, we can be sure that vast spiritual powers were surging around Christ as He suffered for us on His cross. Powerful enough to transform a hardened, crucified criminal from a cruel mocker to a humble supplicant of God’s forgiveness, powerful enough to physically rip the curtain separating God’s people from the Holy of Holies.

This hardened man’s soul was yet receptive to the spiritual powers that swirled around him, as well as the physical, worldly evidence of Christ’s holy suffering. It all summed up to a conclusion that must have taken him completely by surprise.

We will never know this side of heaven what happened to this centurion afterwards. Perhaps he slipped back into paganism under the pressure of the military and larger culture. I prefer to believe that the power of what he experienced at the foot of the very cross where human sin and death were dealt with once and for all, led to a new birth that no man, no culture could overcome. May it be so for us also.

Pietà, Michelangelo, 16th c.

Pietà, Michelangelo, 16th c.

[1] Although in Luke 23:46 we are given more information about Christ’s loud cry: Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. It was a cry of victory.

[2] cen·tu·ri·on n

in ancient Rome, an officer in charge of a unit of foot soldiers (century) [4]

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