Death Meant Life

Mark 15:33-39 • Jeff Crotts •

Mark’s message at the end of his Gospel is that Christ’s “Death meant Life.”

  • Summarized in verse 39.

ESV  Mark 15:39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was the Son of God!"

This morning is about seeing GRACE in death on the cross and seeing GRACE in resurrection.

  • Perhaps the most unlikely person comes to life by watching Jesus die. “A Centurion”.

Verse 39 paints a dramatic scene (unlike common portraits).

  • Two figures positioned “face to face” (literally) as if mirrored reflections.
    • One, mutilated (eviscerated from scourging), virtually unrecognizable.
    • Suspended and spiked to a 7-foot-high T-bar
    • Gasping for air, bleeding, dying.
  • The other a Roman soldier.
    • Deepest loyalties to Rome, to Caesar.
    • A Centurion over 100 men (Legionaries).
    • A soldier, part of the Battalion of 600 men who had stripped, crowned, and mocked the Lord saying, “Hail, King of the Jews” (Matt. 27:27-31).
    • A Gentile, overseeing Jesus’ execution.

Gazing opposite each other, together in pitch darkness.

  • Matthew 27:51ff records that the earth was quaking, rocks were splitting, tombs were opening, and Christians rising!
  • People reporting that their temple was breaking in half.
  • Chaos all around.

All while this Gentile, this Centurion, stared into Jesus’ face, oblivious to everything else.

While the world becomes chaotic – this man sees something that is not from this world.

  • His only explanation is this One on a cross.
  • His heart centers on this One person.
  • While violence is outside, he awakens inside!
  • This soldier was moved.

He “saw that in this way he breathed his last” and sparks his confession, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (v. 39).

  • A confession that is “conviction.”
  • Not a passing comment - he says “Truly” [aleithos].

Mark, author and evangelist is making the point of his Gospel here.

Mark, actually having the Centurion make his point.

  • The point he makes in Mark 1:1.

ESV  Mark 1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

  • The soldier “saw that in this way he breathed his last”
    • He saw Jesus’ last breath
    • Saw him “breath out” or “expire.”

Something in the way Jesus died before his eyes, words, demeanor, and tumultuous surroundings opened this person’s heart.

“What in the way Jesus died moved this man to faith?”  “His words? Demeanor? The tumult of surroundings?”

“What moves anyone to faith?”  As usual, the answer comes clear by exploring the details of the text.

Prop: What did the Centurion see?

  1. Darkness (v. 33)

Ironically, (as I said) the first thing the centurion sees (of consequence) is darkness.

  • In terms of Roman time, it’s noon.
  • When the sun shines brightest, everything goes pitch black.
  • Some claim this is a solar eclipse but that is not right.

The darkness was God’s doing.

According to science, a solar eclipse typically does not last longer than 6 minutes.  The science is actually very precise.  Calculated predictions say June 13, 2132 will be the longest solar eclipse since July 11, 1991, which was 6 minutes, 55 seconds.

The longest solar eclipse that can be scientifically predicted will only last 7 minutes, 29 seconds on July 16, 2186.  This is computed and measured between 4,000 BC and 6,000 AD.

  • Even science will not count this level of darkness on 33 AD as a natural event.

This darkness lasted three hours.

  • This supernatural intervention is a judgment.

This cannot be taken any other way.  God has historically expressed judgment through darkness.

  • Ninth plague against Egypt - darkness covered “All Egypt for three days” (Ex. 10:21-23)
  • ESV Isaiah 13:10 For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. (Isa 13:10 ESV)
  • ESV Joel 2:10 The earth quakes before them; the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. (Joe 2:10 ESV)
  • ESV Amos 5:18 Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light, (Amo 5:18 ESV)
  • ESV Amos 8:9 "And on that day," declares the Lord GOD, "I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.(Amo 8:9 ESV)
  • ESV Revelation 16:10 The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish (Rev 16:10 ESV
  • ESV Matthew 22:13 Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' (Mat 22:13 ESV)

When the divine Son of God is dying there is darkness.

  • Jesus is absorbing Hell judgement.
  • Drinking the cup of God’s wrath on your behalf.

“darkness over the whole land” (v. 33).

In 1914 there was a British explorer named Ernest Shackleton who sailed with his crew (on the ship, The Endurance) from the tip of South America with hoped to dock in Antarctica and to cross over the South Pole by foot.  Most who are familiar with the story know their trip came to a halt at Elephant Island when they were stuck in the ice.  Most of the crew stayed waiting rescue while Ernest and company went for help via rescue boat.  The crew suffered severe cold (frostbite and loss of limbs) even during May-July but by their account the worst part was the desolation of the “polar night.”

May 19, 1780 at 10:00 in the morning people on the Eastern Seaboard noticed a strange haze spreading across the sky.  By noon, schools were dismissed, candles lit, and torches set in the streets.

Birds went to roost.  By one o’clock in the afternoon, fear had turned into panic as the “premature nightfall” continued.  Thousands crowded into churches to hear ministers expound on the Day of Judgment.

In Hartford, Conn. both houses of legislature were meeting, but one of them quickly dismissed since its members thought the world would end at any moment.  The other body continued, although greatly distressed.

One man finally motioned to disband since the day of reckoning was thought to have come.  Immediately, Mr. Davenport, a Christian, objected, saying, “Mr. Speaker, this is either the Day of Judgment or it is not.  If it is not, there is no need for adjourning.  If it is, I desire to be found doing my work.  I move that candles be brought in and that we proceed to business.”  The meeting went on.

Utter darkness is disorienting for all who were around – it was meant to be - being disoriented can be GRACE.

Physical darkness pictures the darkness of soul.

  • Jesus absorbing God’s full wrath was darkness.
  • What this Centurion saw first.

You will not know Jesus light without first reckoning the darkness of your on soul.

  • Recognizing, being lost in sin.
  • You are currently facing God’s wrath (Rom. 1:18).
  • Darkness of judgment is to come.
  1. Desolation (v. 34)

After inestimably the most horrible/horrific hours of suffering in human history – “Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani’” (v. 34).

Matthew records this in Hebrew, but Jesus shouted this in Aramaic.

  • “Jesus cried with a loud voice” (v. 34) meaning he was still strong.
    • At the point of physical death, he summoned all his strength.

Taken from Psalm 22:1, Jesus captures counterintuitive emotions of intimacy and forsakenness!

  • Intimacy by repeating the two pronouns: “My God, my God.”
  • “Clinging trust while feeling deserted” [Heibert].

“Is Jesus confused as to what is happening?”  “Is He truly wondering why His heavenly Father left him?”

  • Jesus knew the plan.

ESV  John 18:4 Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, "Whom do you seek?"

  • In Jesus’ desperation quotes David – though incalculably worse, Christ resonates with David’s experience.
    • What every believer should do!
    • Psalm 22 is the most Messianic Psalm that Jesus’ fulfills.

ESV  Psalm 22:7 All who see me amock me; they make mouths at me; they bwag their heads;

ESV  Psalm 22:14 I am apoured out like water, and all my bones are bout of joint; my cheart is like dwax; it is melted within my breast; 15 my strength is adried up like a potsherd, and my btongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.16 For adogs encompass me; a company of evildoers bencircles me; they have cpierced my hands and feet1--17 I can count all my bones-- they astare and gloat over me;

18 athey divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.19 But you, O LORD, ado not be far off! O you my help, bcome quickly to my aid!

  • David’s balance was Jesus’ balance!

New Testament verses express his desolation – with the balance of “joy” (cf. Hebrews 12:2).

ESV  Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us--for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"

ESV  2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

ESV  Hebrews 12:2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, awho for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising bthe shame, and cis seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

There was spiritual separation because of sin; however, God was still there.

“Complicated to comprehend: God was punishing his Son for sins while His Son was absorbing our sins for us!”

  • In other words, God was there.
  1. Derision (vv. 35-36)

Derision is another word for “mockery”, “scorn”, or “ridicule.”

  • Just as Jesus was not confused, the “bystanders” were not confused.
    • They knew He was not crying out for “Elijah” (v. 35).
    • Mocking Jesus – trying to provoke him to do another miracle!
  • Jews still anticipated “Elijah” would come as Messiah’s “Forerunner.”
  • Completely missing the point of John the Baptist.
  • Mocking Jesus wanting him to perform on last trick!

Supernaturalism does not save!

They run to fill a sponge for Jesus to drink wine to keep him going!  He still might do something! (v. 36).

  • Different than wine mixed with gall - what he refused – Christ chose to feel the full pain of crucifixion.
    • This time He drank it - Jesus was thirsty (Jn 19:28) and fulfilled prophesy.
    • Though Jesus died of natural causes, blood loss, and asphyxiation, he with full cognizance let himself go.
  1. Deliverance (v. 37)

Verse 37 again points to Jesus’ strength saying, “Jesus uttered a loud cry” (v. 37).

  • John’s account fills us in.

ESV  John 19:30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, "It is finished," and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

  • Jesus knows redemption has been accomplished (not potentially accomplished) and so with a loud cry declares it so.

Mark when it says “Jesus…breathed his last” (v. 37).

  • Jesus’ breath literally “expired” - “breathed out.”
  • Jesus was in control of the exact timing of his death under the sovereign plan of God.
  • Jesus died of natural causes only because he allowed himself to die this way.

“His death came voluntarily…he refused to use his miraculous power to fend off death” [Hiebert].

Satan did not kill Christ against his will as some form of temporary victory!  Jesus’ death was God’s will!

ESV  John 10:18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father."

His love is based on this.

ESV  John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

ESV  1 John 3:16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

  1. Dominance (vv. 38-39)

Verse 38 clearly describes God’s holy presence!

  • God is dominant, tearing the curtain from “top to bottom.”
    • A supernatural tearing.
    • This was not the earthquake’s doing.
    • The curtain would have been ripped apart from all directions.
  • This tearing was deliberate, precise, and poignant.
    • The curtain material was substantial woven together making it like a “wall.”
    • God’s barrier between the outer court and the Holy of Holies.
  • God and only God ripped this “top to bottom” (v. 38).

A few things are noted by this act of God.

  • The sacrificial system was fulfilled. Forever!
  • Corruption in this system is now shut down!
  • Believers, forever have immediate access into the Holy of Holies.
  • You have peace with God, you have access to your Father!

This is the message of Hebrews 10:19-22

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,

20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,

21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

These leads us right back to where we began.

  • The Centurion peering through darkness stares into Jesus’ face.
  • What did this man “see?”
    • He saw contrast what contrasts darkness – He saw Light
    • He saw sacrifice!
    • While the world was unravelling, something was solid.
    • Jesus’ death in strength and weakness, drew a confession!

Jesus had been declared to be the Son of God

  • By the Father at baptism – Matt 3:17
  • By demons in the temple – Mk. 1:24; Mk. 5:7
  • By Peter – Matt. 16:15; Mk. 8:25

This unlikely person is the first to understand Jesus came “not to save through conquest but through suffering.”

Ironically, it was the Centurion  - A Centurion who understood that Salvation would come through Sacrifice!  Grace Through Weakness   

“Has this light dawned in your heart?”

ESV  2 Peter 1:19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts

No one wants to stay in the dark – disoriented – directionless.

The Centurion found GRACE in Christ’s death – Disciples needed to find GRACE in Christ’s resurrection!

Mark 15-16 finishes Mark with Christ’s burial and resurrection

Women facing the resurrection

l. Eager to honor their Lord (vv. 1-2)

Verse 1 begins by setting the scene after the Sabbath.

  • Simply put these women could not work on the Sabbath but they could now.
    • These women had followed Jesus around Galilee, now down in Jerusalem.
    • A former demoniac, a mom of an Apostle, a mom of two Apostles.
  • All three loved Jesus and all three eye-witnesses.

They are eager to get to Christ.  Some think this was dangerous for them coming in the morning.

  • “the sun had risen” (v. 2) still a dark scene.
  • Some danger.

Their mission to “anoint him” (v. 1).

  • Two ideas represented here.
    • They wanted to finish the job Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had begun Friday.
    • These women again were motivated.

Like the woman in Bethany interrupting the party hosted by Simon the Pharisee?

  • She came with a flask of oil of spikenard and poured it on Jesus’ head.
  • Accused by “Judas” for wasting money, Jesus clarified she had come to anoint his body for burial (14:8).

The women at the tomb were equally motivated to anoint their King but there was no King there to anoint.

Well intentioned they missed Jesus’ message altogether.

  • Jesus predicted He would not be there right? (Mark 8:31 “and after three days [I will] rise again”; Mark 14:28).
  • Still, nobody thought he would not be there.
  • Some suspected he could be stolen, but neither the Apostles nor disciples had embraced the resurrection.

ll.Uncertain how they would complete their task (vv. 3-4)

This tells us where these women were in their thinking.

  • Walking up to the tomb, they wonder to each other how they are going to get inside the tomb (v. 3).
    • Verse 4 describes the “stone” as “very large” (v. 4).
    • I think as far as stones go this one was bigger.
  • Joseph had rolled it there (Mk. 15:46) and as I mentioned last week, Pilate secured the tomb by sealing the stone and setting a guard in place (Matt. 27:66).
    • I appreciate the fact that these women are not deterred by their obvious dilemma.
    • They are not going to be able to move this stone but undeterred by this they press on.
  • By the way, the Lord provided (v. 4).
  • Bowed low, the look up and “the stone had been rolled back” (v. 4).

J.C. Ryle the puritan preacher from Liverpool applies this well:

What a striking emblem we have in this simple narrative, of the experience of many Christians!  How often believers are oppressed and cast down by anticipation of evils, and yet, in the time of need, find the thing they feared removed, and the “stone rolled away.” – Ryle

There is tremendous grace here in the way God is working within the personal lives, removing every obstacle for them to see and grasp the resurrection.

  • What these women were missing! Failing to see!
  • Honoring Christ, they needed help to see things more clearly.

The tomb had been opened by an angel not to let Jesus out but so people could enter in!

lll. Alarmed by God’s supernatural presence (vv. 5-6)

The stone being moved, was more than a physical act.

  • The women somehow did not feel the violent earthquake (Matt. 28:2).
  • This “angel sitting on the right side” was probably one mentioned by Matthew sitting on top of the stone, the one who had come down from heaven and moved it.

Mark’s focuses on this angel, which by the way there were two present (cf. John 20:12), was his human-like characteristics.

  • He looks like “a young man…dressed in a white robe” (v. 5).
    • Do not be lulled into just thinking angels are easily dismissed.
    • They speak like humans. Yes, Hebrews says we “entertain angels unawares” (Heb. 13:2).

However, remember John fell down and inappropriately tried to worship an angel.

  • Angels have unique access to God’s presence.
  • Angels are “ministers of fire” (Heb. 1:7; Ezekiel 1, Isaiah 6, 2 Thess., Revelation 4 and 5).
  • This angel’s “white robe” would have been dazzling and brilliant (cf. Luke 24:4).

Declaring an eternal victory not unlike Jesus’ birth!

  • Women were “alarmed” also interpreted “amazed” and “distressed.”
    • This angel is being gracious.
    • He wants to re-focus them away from himself, onto the reality that Jesus is not there (v. 6).
  • There is grace in his message.
    • “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.
    • He has risen; he is not here” (v. 6).

The angel does not want them to be afraid, he wants them to be clear!

  • Yes, Jesus, the one from Nazareth, who was crucified (utterly dead), has risen, so he-is-not-here!
    • The angel wants to take them right up to where he had been laid by Joseph and Nicodemus (v. 6).
  • [Cf.] John gives us the impression the women would have seen Jesus’ “face cloth and linen cloths” left there as Jesus would have just come through them.

lV. Paralyzed by their mission and message laid before them (vv. 7-8)

Mark’s transparency about these women is both disconcerting and comforting.

  • The angel gives them the command to “go tell his disciples” that they will see him in Galilee “just as he told you” (v. 7; cf. 14:28 “But after I am raise up, I will go before you to Galilee”).
    • These women will do the right thing but their immediate response was paralysis.
    • They froze.
  • Before addressing this can I just point out the grace in what they’ve just been told?
    • First of all, you have these women being sent to the “disciples who’ve fled the scene.”
    • At least the women were there, right?
  • Nobody really believed Jesus was going to rise from death but the men had tucked tale and run away.
    • The women are being sent redeem this.

Peter is pointed out in particular.  Why?

  • His three denials would have utterly destroyed any confidence that he would ever know Jesus again!
    • Let alone be restored as a shepherd. “But go, tell his disciples and Peter” (v. 7).
    • This is grace.

Grace is one of the chief themes of the resurrection, in fact living the resurrection life is living a life built on grace!

Peter’s forgiveness could not be re-earned.

No!  Jesus had died for those denials and rose again to redeem Peter’s sins – his denials!

Back to the women’s response.

  • They are at the crossroads and we would expect to get on with their mission.
    • Other accounts tell us that they do!
  • Mark makes a clear statement that they at first are stunned.
  • Stunned by: a redirected mission, the stone removed, supernatural angels, Jesus raised, and the challenge to deliver the message of grace!
  • “Trembling and astonishment” [tromos and ekstasis – “terrified”, “bewildered”] had literally “seized” or “gripped” them! (v. 8).
  • The good news is that they did not stay this way.

Matthew 28:8-10 confirms this.

8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me."

For the Centurion - Death meant Life.

For the women and disciples – Death meant Life and Christ’s Resurrection meant Grace!

You cannot save yourself – It is only and always by Grace!



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