The Final Curtain? (By Les Kovacs)
Observe: The Gospel of Mark draws to a close. The Jewish leaders had previously condemned Jesus to death, but they didn’t have the authority to carry out the sentence. So they decided to hand Jesus over to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, for further trial and punishment. During questioning by Pilate, Jesus answers his questions, but when additional accusations are hurled at Him by the Jewish leaders, He does not respond to them. Having been stirred up by their leaders, the crowd demands that Pilate release a criminal to them as was the custom during the festival of the Passover, and the one they want released is not Jesus, but Barabbas, a rebel and murderer. When Pilate asks what they want him to do with Jesus, the leaders and the crowd all yell for him to be crucified. Having found no fault with Jesus during his examination, Pilate asks why, what wrong had he done? But the frenzied crowd just yelled all the louder for Him to be crucified. And so, Jesus was handed over to the guards to be flogged and crucified.
Mark then records how Jesus was led away by the soldiers to be horribly mocked, abused, flogged, and crucified. They made Him carry His own cross, but in His weakened condition, Jesus was barely able to stand so they conscripted a passerby name Simon to carry it for Him all the way to Golgotha. Here, Jesus was crucified. He refused to drink the offered wine mixed with myrrh, a kind of narcotic to dull the pain, in order that His senses were not numbed and that He not die from poisoning.
As Jesus hung on the cross, He continued to be mocked by the crowd. His discarded clothes were divided up by the people by casting lots for it. The Jewish leaders taunted Him about coming down from the cross. Even two ordinary criminals who were crucified alongside of Jesus mocked Him in their final hours. Jesus died at about 3:00 in the afternoon, after crying out “My God, my God; why have you forsaken me?”. At that moment the curtain in the temple is torn in half from top to bottom, and a Roman centurion exclaims, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” Many women who followed Jesus, were there to witness the end of His earthly life, and were grief-stricken. After His death, Joseph of Arimathea asks for and receives permission from Pilate to take Jesus’ body and places it in a fresh tomb to be properly prepared for burial after the Sabbath.
Chapter 16 recounts what happened after the Sabbath. When Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of Jesus, and Salome went to prepare Jesus’ body for burial, they were amazed to find the heavy entrance stone already rolled away. When they looked inside, they saw a young man dressed all in white sitting on the side and they became alarmed. He tried to comfort them by saying that Jesus, whom they were looking for, was no longer there, but had risen from the dead. He told them to tell the other disciples that Jesus was risen and that He was going to Galilee where they would see Him. However, the women so afraid of they had witnessed that they simply went away and didn’t tell anyone. And there ends the accepted official Gospel of Mark.
Verses 9-20 found in most bibles are thought to have been added by later writers to finish the narrative line begun by Mark, and wrap up the salvation message of Jesus. These verses recount the various people that Jesus appeared to after His resurrection. He appeared to Mary Magdalene who then told the disciples what she had seen, but at first they didn’t believe her. He then appeared to two men walking along a road (probably the same two men on the road to Emmaus mentioned in Luke 24) who also told the disciples what they had, but again they were not believed. Finally, Jesus appears to the remaining eleven disciples and gives them detailed instructions to go a spread the gospel throughout creation. After that, Jesus was taken up to heaven and the disciples did as Jesus commended them to do and preached the gospel wherever they went.
Interpret: These verses in Mark tell of Jesus’ trial, suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection, but they don’t go into the same detail as Matthew. Mark keeps his narrative relative short and to the point. But this brevity helps us focus on the details that he does mention. The hypocrisy and deceit of the Sanhedrin is more clearly exposed. Jesus didn’t fit their concept of the Messiah, and He wouldn’t allow Himself be controlled by them, and so they hated Him because He represented a threat to their authority. They would do whatever it took to get rid of Him, including arresting Him on trumped up charges. When Jesus remained silent during Pilates questioning, what more could He have said when there was absolutely no proof to support the false allegations against Him? Pilate easily saw through the Sanhedrin’s fabrications and was disposed to let Jesus go because He was innocent. But the Jewish leaders seeing this as their best chance to get rid of Jesus, continued to whip up the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus. Wanting to settle the crowd down again, Pilate gives in and orders Jesus punished and crucified, and washed his hands of the whole affair.
Once Jesus is handed over to the soldiers, the real brutality begins. Rome ruled its empire on the strength of her army. They dominated every nation they conquered through fear and extreme violence. Pilate’s soldiers would show no mercy to the condemned Jesus. The dehumanizing brutality of Jesus’ suffering at their hands neither needs nor deserves detailing. It simply encapsulates everything that is dark and shameful in the human heart. Even in His public and debased crucifixion, the mockery continued. There was not a shred of compassion or empathy shown by any of the onlookers, who saw this a sporting entertainment. Where were His followers, His family and His friends? Jesus died as alone as anyone ever did. All God’s prophecies must be fulfilled. At the very moment of His death, the temple curtain, the curtain that separated the sanctuary from the Most Holy Place, was torn from top to bottom. God could not have given us a clearer sign that Jesus had opened the way into the Holiest Place of the temple where God lived. The final sin offering had been made. It was made by God for His creation.
In this telling of Jesus’ resurrection, the women who came to the empty tomb did not go immediately to tell the others of what they had seen, but kept it to themselves because they were afraid, confused and hadn’t yet fully understood the true meaning of Jesus’ teachings. Even the disciples themselves didn’t believe it when they were told repeatedly that Jesus had risen, just as He told them He would. They just couldn’t grasp the truth of His sacrifice and the reality of His gift of salvation until they saw Him for themselves standing in their midst and giving them their final instructions. But once they did, the world was forever changed for those who believed.
Application: So many people in the world today read the Gospels and think they are so irrelevant because they happened so long ago. The world has moved on. We know better than the people who lived two thousand years ago. We would never condone what happened to Jesus, regardless of who He was, because we are so much more compassionate and enlightened. But the truth is that we are exactly like the people who came before us. We have our pride. We have our own of doing things. We are impatient. We don’t always take direction very well. We are susceptible to our own passions. We all have dark spots in our hearts. We are just like those who stood in the crowd and cried, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” But, we have the benefit of knowing the outcome of His sacrifice. We have the benefit of His love, mercy, and grace poured out on us. When we sin and then repent, we know that He welcomes us back into the arms that were opened wide on the cross.
Questions: Have you ever thought back on your life and recognized times when your own actions or decisions or thoughts would have placed you among the crowd yelling “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we humbly ask your forgiveness as we, by own sinful nature, stand among the mocking crowd. At the cross, you showed your great love and mercy to those who showed you scorn and no mercy. We thank you that you would willingly pay the price for our disobedience and rebellion against you. We bless and praise the holy name of Jesus, our saviour and redeemer. Amen.
Song: My Redeemer Lives: Hillsong
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In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.