In August 2010, ten humanitarian workers were brutally murdered in northern Afghanistan by the Taliban who accused them of being Christian missionaries trying to convert Muslims. One of them, a 32-year- old woman, Cheryl Beckett, had been on countless mission trips since she was a teenager. One author wrote, “Cheryl knew the risks of traveling to remote villages with a group of foreigners. Because of her familiarity with the language she was invited on the fatal expedition. She was going as a medical worker and translator. She was excited about an opportunity to be the “hands and feet” of the Lord Jesus Christ to these needy people. She willingly took the risk because her love for the Lord and these people was so great.” Cheryl Beckett died serving her Lord gladly fulfilling the mission that she felt God had called her to.
Today we look at Jesus’ death and the witnesses to his death. Mark relates these things to help his readers see what Jesus’ death accomplishes for those who believe in him. The death of Jesus marks the completion of his mission to save, which was done to bring God and man together once again. And we see what our response should be. Read Mark 15:33-41.
I. Let’s look first at Jesus’ cry.
Mark says that from noon until 3 in the afternoon there was darkness. The 3 hours of darkness symbolized that God was pouring out his judgment on Jesus. It was then that Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Next in verse 37 Mark simply writes, “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.” The loudness of his cry shows that he did not die the ordinary death of one crucified. A crucified person would normally suffer long periods of exhaustion with the person lapsing in and out of consciousness before quietly slipping away and dying. Mark rather describes a sudden, almost violent death on the part of Jesus.
II. The symbol and statement of fulfillment are seen in verses 38-39.
At the moment of Jesus’ death, the curtain in the temple was torn in two. There were two curtains hanging in the temple in Jerusalem. The first curtain separated the sanctuary from the forecourt in the temple and so would be visible during the day when those main doors were open. A second curtain separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. The high priest alone was admitted on the Day of Atonement to the Most Holy Place.
It is most likely that it was this inner curtain that was torn. The tearing of the inner curtain would be seen only by a few priests and could have been concealed from the general public. What happened to that curtain was likely reported later to the disciples by a priest who came to believe in Jesus.
This ripping of the curtain from top to bottom was a vivid symbol of the removal of the barrier between God and his people. Hebrews 9:11-12 says, “When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.”
Hebrews 10: 19-22 says, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.” Jesus entered the Most Holy Place so we all can enter into the very presence of God.
Seeing Jesus die, the Roman centurion says, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” This centurion had been with Jesus from the time Jesus was brought to Pilate. He had seen Jesus being questioned, beaten, mocked and crucified. He had seen how Jesus had endured it all and he was impressed by it all. We don’t know for certain what he meant by the phrase “Son of God.” It’s possible that he meant that Jesus was a deified human hero who accepted his death as an act of obedience to a higher being. It reflects a common view of deity found in ancient Greek and Roman thought.
However, while the centurion most likely didn’t understand all the implications of his statement, Mark wants his readers to fully grasp them. This statement is the climax of Mark’s whole book. Jesus is called the Son of God in the opening of the book where Mark says: “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark has been showing throughout that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. Now the centurion’s statement completes the argument for him.
His point now is that even this pagan can see that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. “Son of God” also described the Roman Emperor who was worshiped as divine. So this centurion is proclaiming that Jesus, not the emperor, is God. It is another way of Mark saying, even before the resurrection, “Jesus is Lord!” Even the Gentiles proclaim it; and we must submit to Jesus’ lordship as well.
But when the physician looked into his rear-view mirror to see whether the police officer got the message, he saw a smiling officer waving his own symbol of authority in the air -- his revolver. God’s authority is greater than every other authority. Jesus is the Son of God; not Caesar, not political agendas or leaders and certainly not ourselves. Rather Jesus is Lord! And that is Mark’s main point.
III. Finally, there are the witnesses who are described in verses 40-41.
At the execution, the victims were often surrounded by relatives and friends. The women listed are Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome and others as well. Luke 8:1-3 says that some of these women had been healed by Jesus. Some of these women had followed Jesus caring for his and his disciples’ needs. We know that Jesus healed Mary Magdalene of demon possession. She would also be an important witness to the resurrection later on. Little is known about Mary, the mother of James and Joses but her sons appear to be well known in the early church. She was there for the burial and also came to anoint Christ’s body. Salome was the mother of James and John and the wife of Zebedee.
Why are these women mentioned? First they had been faithfully following Jesus when he was in Galilee. The threat of death had not scared them away during Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. They were there at a distance only because they would not be allowed closer. While the disciples, with the exception of John, had all fled, these women represent Jesus’ followers who are dedicated to the end.
More importantly, however, is their role as witnesses to all these events. They are witnesses to Jesus’ death and will be there as witnesses to Jesus’ burial. And they will also be witnesses to the empty tomb and so can stand up and say, “I saw Jesus die! I saw him being buried! I saw him when he was raised again!”
IV. What are some conclusions we can draw from this?
First, let’s think again of that dividing curtain now torn in two. Think about this: we now have direct access to the holy God! Remember what happened before when people tried to even approach God? In Exodus 19:12, the Israelites learned that if they so much as touched Mount Sinai they would die. In 2 Samuel 6, the people learned that if you touch the Ark of the Covenant, you will die. The High Priest enters the Most Holy Place when he isn’t supposed to and he dies!
Now we can enter the very presence of God Almighty at any time with no fear at all! We can now humbly approach the throne of grace, as Hebrews 4:16 says, “so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” We can go to God of all and bring our every need to him personally.
Second, let us echo the centurion’s words, “Surely Jesus is the Son of God.” Remember he was saying that Jesus was greater than the emperor; Jesus is God! We, who know the Lord Jesus, who know of his great love and all he has done for us, should say it with even greater commitment! He is not just a Son of God; he is the Son of God! He is Lord! And once we say it, we’d better live it daily! We can’t say Jesus is Lord and then do our own thing with our possessions. We can’t say Jesus is Lord and then live as if he doesn’t exist in what we do each and every day. If Jesus is Lord, then that demands we give to him all we are and everything we do.
Finally, we must be willing to serve as witnesses for our Lord as these women were. We must simply report what we know to be true. Perhaps we do that by verbally by proclaiming our faith. Perhaps it is in the relatively quiet witness of these women.
Jesus is Lord and he has completed his mission! Praise God for that! Now let’s live our lives in such a way that expresses our love and our gratitude for what he has done. Let’s be willing to serve as witnesses as well by inviting others to our risen Lord.