Surely This Man Was The Son Of God
Key Verse 15:39
“And 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!’”
When they had asked Jesus the incriminating question, “Are you the Christ?” he answered “I am”. This answer was going to bring him the death sentence. But it was the truth of who he was. He was the Christ, the Son of God, the King of Israel, and the promised Messiah. This was the answer that would cost him his life. But Jesus was ready to give his life. For over three years, Jesus had fulfilled every prophecy in Scripture about the Messiah. Now all that was left were the final prophecies regarding his death and resurrection to come true.
Mark recorded these events in detail. His love and gratitude for Jesus’ sacrifice on his behalf compelled him to record these events in detail. He believed that his gospel narrative would become the source of salvation for everyone who reads it and believes. Especially the detail he puts into Jesus’ last few dying hours, are grim. But the message they hold for us is beautiful and priceless. It tells us how much the Savior went through on our behalf— on the behalf of each of us. It tells us that in the cross, God poured out his love on all of us, when he let his Son take the full punishment of our sin upon himself, so that we might not have to.
The story begins after Jesus was given the death sentence to be crucified. But before he was led to the place of the crucifixion, there was a custom that the Romans followed to keep their soldiers entertained. The soldiers’ custom was to torture and humiliate the convict. Look at verses 16-20. The soldiers mocked him. They beat him and they spit on him. They dressed him like a king, putting on him a purple robe and crowned him with a crown of thorns. Jesus must have bled from the crown of thorns in silent pain. And then the soldiers tormented him. They said to him: “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then they fell on their knees in mock worship. The humiliation Jesus must have endured from these heartless soldiers! What pain of heart Jesus must have suffered! What Jesus went through was beyond our ability to comprehend. All we know is what the Scripture tells us about why Jesus had to go through this. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away.” (Isa. 53:6-8) I suppose that only when we come to know how sinful we are as a human being, and what sort of punishment we deserve for all our sins— perhaps then we might understand why Jesus had to go through all this— the full punishment— in our place. What we witness the soldiers do to Jesus is not just a story. It is everything that I as a sinner should go through— only Jesus took my place— so that I may not have to. That is why Jesus endured the mockery and humiliation of the soldiers in silence. He loved us that much.
Read verse 21. “A 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.” Here is another remarkable story that deserves our full attention. When ordinary people look at this particular story that happened on the way to the crucifixion, all they see is cruel soldiers forcing Jesus to carry his cross, and an innocent bystander also forced into helping Jesus carry the cross. They see an unfortunate man who was there in the wrong place at the wrong time. But when you know God and are familiar to the way in which God works to fulfill his own purposes, there isn’t a more fortunate and blessed man than Simon that day. Most people have it all wrong when it comes to the subject of suffering. Just as they might have a hard time understanding the will of God and submitting to it, so also they really have a hard time understanding suffering. Most people think that suffering is a tragedy to be avoided. Even when they become Christians, this way of thinking about suffering has a way of clouding the way they perceive spiritual things. And when they persist in believing that suffering is something to be avoided absolutely, then they become clever in avoiding all kinds of sufferings— especially the necessary suffering which God gives us that purifies our soul and brings us closer to Jesus. Usually, the more one avoids suffering, the further from God that person goes. More than that, that person goes around carrying in their hearts bitterness and sorrow that never heal. Finally they are unable to serve God’s purpose in their lives. Imagine if Simon had avoided that blessed suffering. Simon suffered to carry the cross of Jesus. He was a most blessed man. Of course, he did not choose to suffer. But by the grace of God, he was allowed a moment of divine grace to share in the suffering of Jesus. It may be that when he had a taste of the suffering of Jesus, Simon later influenced his two sons to be disciples of Jesus.
Read verses 22-27. “They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get. It was the third hour when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: The King Of The Jews. They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left.” The way to this place called Golgotha where Jesus was finally crucified was long and tiring under the burning sun. Probably by the time he arrived at the place where he would be crucified, Jesus had no more strength left. They offered him some anesthetic, to take away some of the pain of the crucifixion, but Jesus refused it. It is clear that Jesus resolved to taste all the pains of punishment. He needed to taste all our pains. When Jesus did so, he made history. Ever since then, no one can ever say “I have pain and sorrow that no one understands.” Maybe we don’t understand each other’s pains. But there is surely One who understands all sorrows and all our pains because he tasted it all on that day. There is now One to whom anyone who hurts can go to— for He understands us and is able to comfort us.
After driving the nails in his hands and feet, they lifted him up on the cross. It would be a long day for him stretched out under the hot sun slowly dying. Above him the sign said, “The King Of The Jews.” They could not find any other conviction for him other than that. He came as a King, a Righteous King who would take away the stain of sin from our hearts. He would remove the barrier that separated us from God. He’s the King who would rule us with peace and with justice unlike the rule of others. His coming was the greatest blessing humanity had ever witnessed. Yet, human beings crucified him. They did so because they saw his coming as an intrusion on their self rule. So they charged him with the crime of being the king of the Jews— the crime of interfering with their lives. The world has not changed much since. People are still not willing for the King to rule in his rightful place— whether in the heart or in their midst. People are still not willing to let him disrupt their comfortable lives and interfere with their personal affairs. Peoples still charge him with the crime of being their King— the rightful ruler of their lives. But it does not change the truth. Jesus is still the King— their king. He was crucified for those who would believe in him and surrender their hearts and lives to be ruled by him.
Read verses 29,30. “Those 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, come down from the cross and save yourself!” Not only that, but the chief priests and the teachers of the law also mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!” (31b) They weren’t satisfied that Jesus was painfully dying on the cross. They wouldn’t leave him alone. They wanted to further humiliate him. They wanted to discredit him by revealing his helplessness on the cross. Evil men reflected the sheer decadence of the human heart and the extent of its wickedness. But this wasn’t only the voice of evil people taunting Jesus in his last hours of life. It was the voice of the devil tempting Jesus to save himself.
Of course, Jesus could save himself. But that’s precisely the problem. Jesus did not come all the way to the cross in order to save himself. He came to the cross to die as a ransom for the sins of many. He did not come all the way to the cross to finally make a show of power right here and then. He came to the cross because he was submitting himself to the will of God. He came to the cross to save us— to save those who trusted him to endure suffering to the end, and to give up his life that they might have life through him. Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross was the will of God for Jesus. But it was also Jesus’ responsibility and commitment to those who love him and trust him to die in their place— to take the punishment of sin in their place. It’s so important that we see this truth clearly— about Jesus not saving himself— about this being the devil’s strongest temptation when one is suffering. How much easier it is to save oneself from a terrible situation— and most people seem to do just that. How difficult it is to simply endure the cross— not only because it is the will of God— but also as a responsibility. Most men and women of faith in the Bible and in life, when they suffered, did so because they understood that suffering is not a misfortune that one should quickly avoid— but that suffering is by the will of God and for his own glory. They also understood something else in this as well. They understood that it is a responsibility God puts upon them for the sake of others to whom they must set the example of faith. And every one of them had their eyes fixed on Jesus who did not save himself so that he might save all of us.
Look at verses 33,34. “At the sixth hour, darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And 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?’” It had been six hours that Jesus hung on the cross. Every minute was excruciating. We cannot imagine what Jesus must have endured during those six hours. His disciples left him. Those he loved and who loved him back were hiding in fear. No one was left around him except for a few women whose faith and courage baffles us. But it had to happen this way. He would be abandoned by all— even by God. Jesus understood that. Jesus understood that for a time, his father God would turn his face away from Jesus— while Jesus carried on his body the sins of us all. The pain of having God turn away from him must have been the greatest pain Jesus had to endure. But he did. And Jesus didn’t hide his sorrow that God had forsaken him. He shouted it with a loud cry. It was his anguished prayer as well as his only comfort that things were going according to the will of God. Jesus understood that the suffering will end in his death, and that joy and glory are soon to follow. So Jesus cried out to God. And we can understand that there was nothing more that God wanted to do other than to come to the cry of his Son. But God didn’t. He loved us that much. God had a responsibility and a commitment to those who trusted him to keep his promise.
Read verse 39. “And 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!” No one knows who this centurion was. But he was one of those soldiers who had taunted Jesus and pinned him down to the cross. He was one of the men who cast lots for Jesus’ garment. He was a soldier who had witnessed many crucifixions. He was one of the many hopeless people living godless lives from paycheck to paycheck and from pleasure to pleasure. More than that, he was under condemnation. But all this changed the moment he laid eyes on the crucified Jesus. When he looked up at the cross, he did not see a criminal. He saw an innocent man die for the love of others. His eyes were opened to see what God had done for him. For the first time he understood the love of God for sinful people like himself. For the first time he was captured by the grace of God which flowed down from the cross into his heart. Once he did not care about anything except himself. But when he saw the Son of God die in his place, his heart came to life with gratitude. When he looked at the cross, he saw the forgiveness of God flow down in blood to sprinkle his heart and hands filled with guilt. He was born again through faith in the One who was crucified to for him. His testimony at the foot of the cross witnessed to the power of the cross to bless anyone who believes. We need to look at the cross and witness what Jesus had done for us on the cross. Then we too must confess: “Surely this is the Son of God who died for my sins.”
In verses 42-47, we see that Jesus was buried. His death and burial were historical facts and a spiritual reality— preludes to the most glorious event of all time— Jesus resurrection. We see a man, Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the notorious Council that condemned Jesus to death— although he opposed their decision. This man was a recent follower of Jesus— together with another member, Nicodemus. The Bible tells us that Joseph of Arimathea was a man whose hope was in the kingdom of God. Once, he was fearful— a closet Christian— and not committed to following Jesus openly but in secret. But when he saw Jesus on the cross give up his life for the sins of the world, his heart was moved to come out from hiding and to do for Jesus what no other person would do. He would bury him in the tomb that he had prepared for himself. It was a bold move considering that Jesus was a condemned criminal. But to Joseph, Jesus was the promised Messiah who had come to fulfill God’s promises. He took down the body and wrapped it in linen and placed it in his own tomb— and so became part of gospel history. Now the Son of God was dead and buried. He would rise again in three days to fulfill what he had come to do— the salvation of all who believe in him.