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At Calvary

Updated: Feb 5

Three crosses on a hill.

Mark 15:21-38

Our reading of the gospel of Mark brings us to a tragic day at Calvary—a day when the Son of God is crucified. The word "Calvary" comes from the Latin word calvaria, meaning skull. This has been taken from the Aramaic word Golgotha, which is interpreted as the place of the skull. This place of death resembles the top part of a man's skull, and so the name was very fitting, considering the amount of death that was put on display at this location.

Crucifixions were common at Calvary. Romans used this barbarous method of punishment to keep fear in the people who may think of revolting against the Roman Empire. One man wrote this about the cruelty of the crucifixion: "Exposed to public views, like slabs of meat, hung from a market stall, criminals are nailed to crosses. No death was more excruciating, more contemptible than crucifixion to be hung naked, long and agony, helpless to beat away the clamorous birds: such a fate, Roman intellectuals agreed, was the worst imaginable. "

Despite the horror of the scene, there is a silver lining. As we conclude this message, the last point will undoubtedly bring encouragement to all who read it.

As we examine Calvary, we find four things that we will address:

Jesus' Cross (15:21)

I want to start with the description of the cross. History tells us that these crosses would have weighed approximately 300 pounds; fortunately, victims only carried the crossbar, which was around 125 pounds. The remaining part of the cross would have been permanently fixed at Calvary. The victims, or criminals, were usually stripped naked, with hands tied to the wooden crossbar. Due to the guilt of the criminal, they would carry this symbol of shame to this place of death, but what do we do with Jesus, who is innocent? He was not a criminal. He was an innocent man, innocent before God and blameless before men, so the cross that He carried was not His own. It was the cross of the world! We find in the gospel records that Jesus' body was so exhausted that He collapsed under the weight of this crossbar.

This brings me to the next point: a man introduced to us in verse 21 named Simon, a Cyrenian. This man was a stranger passing through the city. He was a man from Cyrene Northern Africa, today known as Libya. He could've been there for Passover, but we don't know. He could've been a Jew, he could've been a proselyte, or he could've been a Gentile, simply passing through.

What we do know about Simon, the Cyrene, is that he was a foreigner, and this foreigner happened to be here while Jesus was carrying His cross. As Jesus collapsed under the weight of His cross, the Romans called out to Simon from the crowd and commanded that he take Jesus' cross. Now, we can't assume this is a coincidence. God indeed had a plan for the writer Mark to capture Simon's name and identify Simon as the father of Alexander and Rufus. This must mean that at a later time, he became a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. Here, Simon carries the cross of Jesus. What a picture That the entire Jewish nation sentenced the Jewish Messiah to be crucified, and none would have carried Jesus' cross, so it took a foreigner, possibly a Gentile, to step up and carry the cross of Jesus. 

This theme continues throughout the New Testament. For instance, in the Book of Acts, the gospel message was first brought to the Jews. Still, many rejected the message and refused to believe in the Messiah, so the gospel message was taken to the Gentiles. The Gentiles brought the message to the world; what a picture. 

The other thing is that this could even be a rebuke towards another Simon mentioned in scripture. That is Simon Peter; where is Simon Peter? In chapter 14, Simon Peter claims that he would die for Lord Jesus, but here we find Jesus carrying His cross to Calvary, His body unable to withstand the weight. Someone needs to step in and help Him take this cross that is not His to bear. Jesus bears it for the world, and it would've been fitting for Simon Peter to step in and carry this cross, but where is Simon Peter? He's nowhere to be found, so God has called upon a different Simon to occupy Peter's place. How humbling this must have been for Simon Peter.

Jesus' Crucifixion (22-33) 

In addition to Jesus's cross, we see Jesus's crucifixion in verses 22 through 33. As we examine verses 22 and 23, we find in verse 23, "They gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not." Jesus was offered drugs in order to numb his pain. This was a humane practice meant to ease the pain of those being crucified. Some concerned onlookers would mix a narcotic drink and present it to those who are being crucified to numb or dull their pain. Indeed, we must assume those crucified with Jesus received this drink, but our Lord and Savior refused it. The pain that He was enduring and feeling was something that He was willfully accepting. Those criminals who surrounded Him were feeling pain because of their crimes. But Jesus was feeling pain not because of His crimes but our crimes. In the book of Isaiah, chapter 53, we read that "it pleased the LORD to bruise Him." The suffering that Jesus endured at Calvary satisfied the wrath of God. It pleased the Lord to bruise Him. 

The second thing we see at Jesus' crucifixion are the dogs. These dogs were prophesied in Psalm chapter 22, verses 16 through 18. Here we read, "For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet...They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture." This Psalm of David was written nearly 1000 years before Christ came to the Earth. In this Psalm, David was allowed by God, led by the Holy Spirit, to record this tragic event when the Son of God was surrounded by the dogs of the world, referring to Gentiles, and that they pierced His hands and His feet, and that they took His garments and part of them amongst themselves. We read in Mark 15:24, "when they had crucified him, they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take." These were all fulfillments of prophecies that had been made close to 1000 years before Christ. 

The third thing we see at Jesus' crucifixion are the doubters. In verses 29 through 32, these individuals mock the Lord as they say, "Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself, and come down from the cross." These doubters denied the ability of Christ. These doubters were, for the most part, Jews, And they were showing their true heart that they had rejected God's Christ. In verse 31, we read, "Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; Himself He cannot save." Jesus was not concerned about saving Himself. He came to seek and save that which was lost. Had Jesus come down from the cross, we would have never been saved. But because He remained there until the final hours, when the wrath of God was finally satisfied, we can be gloriously saved and given everlasting life today by faith. These mockers did not understand this truth. They saw Grace as a weakness, not as Grace. 

The doubters continue in verse 32, saying let Christ, the king of Israel, descend now from the cross that we may see and believe. These foolish doubters called for Christ to come down from the cross, but yet were not willing to accept that God had already come down from heaven and now hung on this man-made cross. Their foolish hearts blinded them. And they failed to see the great demonstration of love that had descended from heaven. 

The fourth thing we see at Jesus' crucifixion is the darkness mentioned in verse 33, "And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour." From noon to 3 PM, darkness covered the land. It seems as though nature itself cried in agony as it witnessed Christ suffer at Calvary. This darkness was not the result of a natural phenomenon. There would've been a full moon at this time, and it would have been naturally impossible for an eclipse to occur. This was a supernatural event. It was as if God placed his hand upon the sun and took away the most significant source of light that the natural world had as the true light of the world suffered on that cross. A Roman historian from the second century wrote this concerning this event: "There was an extraordinary eclipse of the sun: at the sixth hour, the day turned into dark night, and there was an earthquake." The heavenly Father could not look upon His Son for three hours as Christ was made sin for us. 

Jesus' Cry (34-37)

Now we come to the third event seen at Calvary. We see the Lord's cry. In verse 34, we read, "And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" The ninth hour reminds us that this was at the end of the time when the land was covered in darkness. During those three hours, from the sixth to the ninth hour, Jesus was made sin for us. In Mark 15, verse 34, we read the words that Jesus quotes from Psalm chapter 22, "My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?" 

This has caused some to question the doctrine of the Trinity, wondering why Jesus would say such things to God if Jesus were God. We find that scripture is the best interpreter of scripture. In Second Corinthians chapter 5, verse 19, we read, "To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world onto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and have committed unto us the word of reconciliation." In verse 34, what we see happening is not just a picture of the Son of God being forsaken by God the Father. Instead, it reminds us of the persons who die in their sins, and when their eyes open in Hell, they will realize there was only ever but one God, and they cry out to him, "My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?" 

In the case of Christ, we find in the scriptures that God was in Christ, reconciling the world. Second Corinthians 5:21 also says, "For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." Jesus knew no sin; therefore, the only thing that separated Jesus from the heavenly Father was the punishment for our sin that he was willing to endure. 

Again, we read, "He has made Him to be sin for us." In verse 19 of the same chapter in Second Corinthians, we read that "God was in Christ," so what is this strange occurrence at Calvary? It is God the Son, Christ, who is being used by the Father to reconcile the world unto God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and we find that God the Father has made God the Son to be sin for us. God, the Son, knew no sin, but for us to be made the righteousness of God, we must be made the righteousness of God in Christ. 

Therefore, on the cross, when Jesus cries out, "My God, my God, why hast thou?" this is when he was enduring the punishment for sin, and all those who die in their sins without Christ will have the same cry when their eyes open in Hell. They will realize they rejected the one true living God. 

We can understand this truth because as we move into verse 37 of Mark 15, we read, "And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost." In the gospel of John, chapter 19, verse 30, we can read what Jesus' cry was before he gave up the ghost; there we read these three words: "It is finished." So what we can understand from Mark 15, verse 34 is that this is the sinner's cry as Jesus was made sin for us. But verse 37 is the cry of the Son of God who speaks to the Father and says, "Father, It is finished," and He gave up His life. Other gospel accounts say it like this, "Into thy hands I commend My spirit: and having said thus, He gave up the ghost." (Luke 23:46) 

Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many. Here, we see the great work of the holy Christ, who is made sin for us. Jesus' cry proves God the Father placed all sin on God the Son, but the final cry, "It is finished," also proves that God the Father accepted the sacrifice God the Son made.

Jesus' Conciliation (38)

Lastly, at Calvary, we see the conciliation that takes place. Conciliation means reconciling something or bringing peace and harmony between two things. Looking back at Mark 15 and verse 38, we read, "The veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom." 

This veil was once a symbol of man's separation from God. This veil separates two key places within the Jewish temple: the holy place and the holiest of the holy. Only the high priest could enter the holiest of holies and pass through the veil. No one else was welcomed inside because all were guilty of sin. But the veil of the temple was now torn from top to bottom. What took place? 

It seems God from heaven tore the veil, showing us that this was not a work of man but a work of God from heaven to Earth; the veil was torn in two. In Ephesians chapter 2, verses 13 through 15, we read, "But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace;"

The Son of God brought peace between humankind and God Almighty. At Calvary, Jesus reconciled the world to God, breaking down the wall of sin that once separated and condemned humanity to Hell. And indeed, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one will come to the Father of heaven except through His holy Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus alone has made the way to God available to us all.

Jesus' conciliation is the silver lining of the crucifixion; the sin debt is paid in full. There no longer needs to be a wall of separation between sinful man and God. Jesus Christ has become a bridge to allow all those who will come by faith to receive everlasting life and be added to God's family. 

As you read this today, you may have realized that you have never seen Jesus in such a light. That you have never seen Jesus as the only way to heaven. If this is you today, know that Jesus died for you to take care of your sin debt. And that God calls everyone to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved from eternal damnation. According to the Scriptures, Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day. Whosoever calls on His name shall be saved.

Would you bow your head right now and call on the name of Jesus? 

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May God bless you!