August 14, 2016
A reminder to readers: We’re in the thick of a Sunday Voice Series by Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, a close friend, mentor and colleague of mine. He serves as the President of Asbury Theological Seminary among other posts he holds across the global church. This Sunday Voice Series will continue to cover the Gospel of Mark over the next few months.
At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”
Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
We are nearing the completion of this Sunday Daily Text series on Mark’s gospel. We come now to the cross of Christ. This is the culminating act of redemption which makes the church of Jesus Christ possible. Mark presents the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in a way which is unique among all the gospel writers. The crucifixion in Mark’s gospel is the climactic act of rejection which is carefully preceded by Mark by a survey of the whole religious and political landscape.
In 11:27, his authority is publicly challenged in the temple courts by a group of chief priests, teachers of the law and elders: “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you authority to do this?”
In 12:13, we meet a group of Pharisees and Herodians who are specifically sent to Jesus to “catch him” or “trap him” in his words. This gives rise to that confrontation about paying taxes to Caesar.
In 12:18, Mark moves to a group of Sadducees who try to trip Jesus up about the resurrection by giving the hypothetical scenario of the woman who was successively married to seven brothers.
So, Mark has set the table of opposition carefully to demonstrate the whole spectrum arrayed against Jesus: chief priests, teachers of the law, elders, Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees. After Gethsemane, the rejection is deepened and made even more painful in chapter 14 by the rejection of Judas, one of the twelve, the formal rejection of a seated session of the Sanhedrin, and then by Peter, right in the inner circle of Jesus, who denies Christ three times.
This is followed quickly in chapter 15 by the official political rejection of Jesus by Pilate and the mocking soldiers which actually are pictured together with the chief priests, teachers of the law and the Pharisees at the foot of the cross joining together in one mighty chorus of rejection.
In Mark’s gospel, all the disciples have fled and Jesus is hanging alone on the cross. We hear no words of consolation to any repentant thief: “Today you will be with me in paradise” or words of communion with his heavenly Father: “Father into thy hands I commit my spirit.” That’s Luke’s gospel. In Mark, we only hear of other crucified thieves cursing him. We hear no familial word to Mary and the disciple Jesus loved: “Dear mother, here is your son.” That’s John’s gospel. In Mark’s gospel, in verse 33 of our text, even creation seems to join in the rejection of Jesus as darkness covered the land until the ninth hour.
Then, in verse 34, we have only one of the seven words of Jesus from the cross. It is the word of ultimate abandonment, not recorded by Luke or by John: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Mark even preserves the Aramaic to draw us as near as possible to the solitary isolation which any translation would somehow obscure: “Eloi, Eloi, Lama sabachthani.” Chief priests, teachers of the law, elders, Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, Sanhedrin, Praetorium, Herod, soldiers, Judas, Peter, all the disciples, creation itself and finally even God the Father seems to have joined in the rejection. Total abandonment. Mocked and publicly shamed by a mock coronation. Beaten and bleeding beyond recognition. Alone.
Why does he tell the story this way? Mark wants us to see that Jesus hangs on the cross alone as He redeems the world. This is God’s act of redemption and it is not a collaborative action of God’s people on behalf of the world. Before we see ourselves as those commissioned to bring salvation to the world we must first see ourselves as those who need to be saved, right along with everyone else. At the foot of the cross, we do not find neat separations; we see thieves and robbers, right along with chief priests and teachers of the law mocking Jesus.
As Wesleyans, we believe in the importance of our collaboration with God in the work of redemption. But, when it comes to the central act of God’s plan, we have nothing to add. The central act of salvation is God’s alone. What a great reminder to us all. We are saved because of His divine work. We bring nothing to this but our need for God’s grace. We will come back to this passage next week to explore more fully what this means for us.
1. Do you sense the aloneness of Jesus on the cross? Even though we know that this was part of God’s plan, do we realize at what great cost Jesus purchased our salvation?
2. What does it mean to stand as helpless sinners before this great act of mercy and grace?
The Sunday Daily Text through Mark’s Gospel is written by Timothy Tennent. Visit his blog here.