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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:Our Saviour Jesus died an extraordinary death
Text:Mark 15:33-41 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's Suffering

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 63
Psalm 86:1,2
Psalm 88:1-3
Hymn 30
Hymn 27

Scripture reading and text:  Mark 15:33-41

Our Saviour Jesus died an extraordinary death

We`ll consider:

1. The extraordinary darkness
2. The extraordinary cry
3. The extraordinary tearing of the temple curtain
4. The extraordinary confession of the centurion
5. The extraordinary disciples who remained
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Saviour Jesus,

Almost every good story has a high point.  Whether it’s a book, a TV show, or a movie, the best stories usually feature some kind of conflict or tension that eventually gets resolved.  There’s a high point that we work up towards as we read or watch.  The anticipated satisfaction of getting to that high point is what keeps us engaged in the story.

Here in Mark’s gospel, we are at the high point of his story.  Actually this is not just the high point of this one book, but of the entire Bible.  Everything from Genesis 3 onwards has been leading up to this moment.  This is the climax, the turning-point in history.  Nothing has been the same since or ever will be. 

It’s the high point for us as Christian readers.  But it’s important to recognize that what for us is the high point is the lowest point for Jesus.  We can only regard it as a high point because it is the place where Jesus reaches rock bottom.  In order to secure our salvation, our Saviour was stripped of all his glory as the Son of God.  To redeem us and reconcile us to God, he was utterly shamed and humiliated before the cross and at the cross. 

On Golgotha’s cross he hung for several hours.  His death was a drawn out, protracted process.  While he didn’t suffer as long as many others who were crucified by the Romans, it was long enough.  More than that, his suffering was far more intense because it went far beyond the physical.  The death of Jesus on the cross was extraordinary.  He had an extraordinary conception and birth, an extraordinary life, and now he dies an extraordinary death.  As we focus on his extraordinary death this morning, let’s again look to him as our Saviour.  Let’s again rest and trust in his finished work on our behalf.  Brothers and sisters, this is your Saviour revealed in our text – this is meant to fire up our love for him. 

As Jesus was hanging on the cross, the hours passed by.  He was put on the cross at 9:00 in the morning.  Three long hours went by.  Then at noon something miraculous happened.  Mark says in verse 33 that “darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.”  So an out of the ordinary darkness descended until 3:00 in the afternoon.  For three hours it was dark in Jerusalem and the surrounding area. 

We have to be clear that there is no natural explanation for this darkness.  This happened at Passover – which always takes place with a full moon.  If you have a full moon, an eclipse is impossible.  Moreover, this darkness lasted for three hours.  Total solar eclipses generally last about seven minutes.  This darkness was something that departed from the normal, expected course of nature.  It was a darkness sent from God and it was a darkness meant to send a message. 

The darkness was meant to communicate a message to Jesus.  God was telling his Son that he bears the curse of sin.  He was now cut off from God and humanity – he was blind to the presence of any others.  He often spoke of being cast out into darkness and now he himself was cast into darkness.  Moreover, he has no comfort.  At the beginning, the first thing God created was light and now light is taken away from him.  Light is associated with life, but now he’s left with darkness – death and dying.  There is nothing for him but stark blackness and pain.  Loved ones, the darkness really speaks of God’s wrath against our sin.  This darkness epitomizes Christ’s descent into hell.  In his death he was thrust into darkness so that we could live in the light of his love.

But there was also a message in this darkness for those who killed him.  While the death of our Saviour was part of God’s redemptive plan, Scripture is clear that the Jews bore their responsibility for what they did to him.  The darkness was speaking about that too.  To put that in perspective, remember the timing of this darkness.  It was during the Passover.  This was the feast that celebrated deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  Do you remember those plagues that came on the Egyptians?  There was the plague of blood, there were frogs, gnats, flies, and so on.  Right before the death of the first-born, what was that plague again?  Darkness.  Darkness came over the Egyptians.  The darkness didn’t fall on the Israelites in the land of Goshen, it was only over the Egyptians – over the Gentiles who were under God’s judgment.  Now the tables are turned.  The Jews themselves fall under the judgement of God – this is signified in the darkness that came on their land but nowhere else.  It’s a message to them that they have forsaken the covenant and turned their backs on God.  It’s a warning that there is more judgment to come.  Just as darkness on the Egyptians signified coming death, so also this darkness signified the further judgment of God.  The judgment, the death that would come on the unbelieving Jews in 70 A.D. with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.

The darkness spoke of judgment for those who rejected Christ.  For all those who embrace him in faith, the darkness gives way to light and therefore life.  The darkness that we see here in verse 33 continues to speak to us today.  It warns us to seek the Lord while he may be found.  Trust in this Saviour so that you will not be cast into the darkness of God’s judgment.  If you believe that Jesus experienced the darkness in your place, taking your just desserts, you will live in the light forever.

While in this extraordinary darkness, our Saviour let out an extraordinary cry.  In these words we understand something of the depths of his suffering.  The physical aspects of his suffering were nothing compared to the spiritual agonies he endured.  That comes to expression here as Jesus takes the first words of Psalm 22 on his lips.  He speaks them in Aramaic, his native language, and then Mark adds the translation:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

These words have sometimes been misunderstood.  Some have said that Jesus is saying that God has abandoned him.  They say that Jesus is speaking about the fact that God is no longer with him as he hangs on the cross at Golgotha.  He is completely alone, they say.  In this understanding, being forsaken means being deserted.  This is not a correct understanding. 

God has not abandoned Jesus on the cross.  Instead, he has turned against him.  Whose wrath against sin is being poured out on Jesus?  It is the wrath of God.  God is present at Golgotha the same way that he is present in hell:  to pour out his just wrath.  Jesus is forsaken in the sense that he no longer has the blessed presence of God abiding with him.  God is not present to bless him, but rather to attack him.  Listen carefully, brothers and sisters:  on the cross Jesus endures the hell that we deserve.  The hell that we deserve is not the wrath of Satan, but the wrath of God consciously experienced as torment physically and spiritually.  Our Saviour Jesus is taking that wrath upon himself body and soul on the cross – in our place.   When we try to describe this spiritual suffering of our Saviour, words simply fail.  There’s just no way that words can do full justice to what he went through here.  His lament from Psalm 22:1 only gives us a glimpse of the pain and agony he endured as he was bearing the wrath of God against our sins.  Words can’t do it justice and certainly movies can’t either.  Rather than portray it or seek to describe it in detail and understand it, we’re called to believe it. 

We’re called to believe that what we deserve, Jesus took in our place.  We’re called to see the love that he had for us in doing this.  We’re called to love him who first so greatly loved us that he endured this.  We’re called this morning to see that this is what our sin did.  We’re called then to hate our sin – to hate it not only for what it does to us, not only for what it does to other people, but to hate it for what it did to our Jesus.  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – my sin, your sin, brought that extraordinary cry out of our Saviour’s mouth.   

Now Mark relates that this cry of our Saviour was misunderstood by those lingering around the cross.  We can’t say for sure whether this misunderstanding was intentional or not.  Some heard the first two Aramaic words, “Eloi, eloi,” and somehow made Elijah out of that.  There was this idea among the Jews that the truly pious could call out to Elijah when they were in distress and then Elijah would come and rescue them.  In order to extend the spectacle and see what will happen, they get some sour wine.  This was a cheap drink that a lot of people found refreshing in those days.  They soaked a sponge with it and put it to Jesus’ mouth.  Then they mocked him and ridiculed him some more.  He can’t bring himself down from the cross – he has no power to do that.  But maybe Elijah can do it – but only if Jesus was really a pious, God-fearing man.  And if Elijah won’t come, then we know the truth about Jesus.  You see, this too is part of his humiliation. 

Then we get to his death.  Mark states it so compactly, it’s almost anticlimactic.  “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.”  Normally people crucified would take days to die, but Jesus dies in an unusually quick six hours.  That reflects the intense suffering he endured.  This moment of his death is the high point for us and the low point for him.  After 33 years of life and ministry, he finally comes to the end.  Having taken the wrath of God against our sin, having borne all the humiliation that we deserve, his heart stopped beating, his lungs stopped breathing, and his nervous system shut down.  God warned Adam and Eve that death would come because of sin.  Now death comes to the second Adam because of our sin.  He dies here and by so doing, he transforms our death.  We will still die, but the death of those who believe in Christ is an entrance into eternal life.  In fact, every day we are dying.  Every day we are drawing closer to our death – unless, of course, Christ returns first.  Our bodies are breaking down bit by bit – sometimes you can feel it, especially if you’re getting older, but many times you can’t even tell.  But we are all on our way to the grave.  “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.”  These words change everything for us.  They don’t change the fact of death, but they do change our attitude towards it.  They do change how we live in the face of it.  They change what will happen to us afterwards.  Our Saviour’s death is gospel – it’s good news for people who still live in a broken world where death is a reality.  His death was extraordinary and because of that we can have an extraordinary hope. 

At the moment of his death, something else extraordinary happens that signifies that this is the turning point in history.  The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  There was a curtain separating the holy of holies from the rest of the temple.  This curtain was thick and it was tall, far taller than any human being.  The fact that it was torn from top to bottom tells us that this could only have been a miracle.  This could only have been done directly by the hand of God.  At the moment of Christ’s death, God acts in an extraordinary way and tears the temple curtain isolating the holy of holies. 

That’s what happened.  But what did it mean?  It meant that the definitive sacrifice for sin had been made.  Only one person was allowed in the holy of holies and only once per year.  That one person was the high priest and that one occasion was the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.  The high priest would bring the sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.  But it was a sacrifice that had to be repeated.  It had been repeated over and over again since the days of Moses.  But it was never God’s intention that it be repeated over and over again endlessly into the future.  These sacrifices were meant to point ahead to the coming of the Messiah who would make the once-for-all sacrifice that would bring forgiveness and reconciliation.  Now he has come and has made that sacrifice.  The Lamb of God has been offered up for our sins.  With his death, he has brought the sacrifice for sin that ends all sacrifices for sins.  The holy of holies (and in fact the whole temple ministry) is now obsolete.  The reality has come and the shadows have been fulfilled.  With his death, Christ has brought open and unhindered access to the holy God.  There is no more barrier, no more curtain.  The way is clear!  Jesus has made the way clear with his death.  This is what God was communicating by way of tearing that curtain.  It was a message that this temple was finished – with the death of Jesus, there’s no real need for it any longer.

For us today, the message is still clear:  atonement for sin has been made.  Sometimes you hear people speaking about having to atone for their sins, or pay for their sins, and so on.  Perhaps there’s some truth to that when it comes to human relationships.  Sometimes we have to make things right with people in some way in order to repair a relationship.  If that’s all that’s meant, no big deal.  But if people have the idea that they can atone for their sins or pay for their sins before God, that’s something totally different.  No one can pay for their own sins.  No one can put things right on their own before God.  You need Jesus to do that for you through his one sacrifice on the cross.  Only he can do it.  Only he has done it.  We’re called to trust in his one sacrifice that put an end to all the sacrifices for sin. 

However, his one sacrifice on the cross didn’t put an end to all sacrifices.  You heard me right.  There are still sacrifices that remain for us as Christians in this New Testament era after the death of Christ.  The tearing of the temple curtain doesn’t change that.  The sacrifices that remain for us as Christians after Christ’s death are sacrifices of thanksgiving.  God still wants to receive our thank offerings.  We are to make sacrifices of thankfulness because of what Christ has done for us in his life, death, and victory.  Those sacrifices of thankfulness are described elsewhere in the Bible as…us.  Our lives, our bodies, our everything, are to be offered to God as our sacrifice of gratitude for the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Because he made the one sacrifice for sins that ends all sacrifices for sin, we are led by the Holy Spirit to offer ourselves in commitment to God.  We want to follow his Word, please him, and live for him.  So while the Old Testament sacrificial system found at the temple is gone because of Christ’s death, something of it remains with our being living sacrifices of thankfulness to the glory of God. 

Christ’s extraordinary death led then to an extraordinary development at the temple.  It also led to an extraordinary confession from a Roman centurion.  That’s what we find in verse 39.  A centurion was a Roman soldier in charge of a century, a unit of soldiers made up of anywhere from 60 to 100 men.  This particular centurion was in charge of the execution squad at Golgotha that day. 

He heard Jesus cry out.  He saw how Jesus died.  Everything that happened at Golgotha with Jesus was unusual.  The darkness.  The intense humiliation and ridicule thrown at Jesus.  His demeanour and the words that come from his mouth.  The unusually quick death that he died.  There was nothing ordinary about this man on the cross.  That made an impression on the Roman centurion.  Such an impression that he was led to exclaim, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” 

The Roman centurion spoke the truth.  He probably didn’t recognize the full meaning of what he said.  He was a Roman soldier, not a theologian.  We can’t expect him to have had a worked out doctrine of God, where he understood that there was God the Father and God the Son, and so on.  But he understood and he saw that there was something different about this man.  He was not an ordinary man.  The centurion expressed that by saying that Jesus was the Son of God.

He speaks the truth that Mark has been working out since verse 1 of his gospel.  Do you remember Mark 1:1, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  The Roman centurion says it.  The Jews don’t see it and certainly don’t say it, but the pagan Roman does.  It doesn’t mean that he became a Christian.  It doesn’t mean that he was converted.  All it means that he made this statement which showed an insight that God’s own people missed out on.  They knew Jesus, or so they thought.  But they didn’t really.  They missed what was most important about him:  that he was God’s Son sent into this world as the Messiah, sent to lay down his life for sinners.  The centurion put them to shame. 

Now the question gets directed to us, the readers of Mark’s gospel:  what about you?  Does the centurion see something in Jesus that you don’t see?  Does he have an understanding about Jesus that you don’t have?  Loved ones, it’s easy to think that we know Jesus.  Or that perhaps that we know about him.  You can know about him the same way the unbelieving Jews knew about Jesus.  You could know a series of facts about him:  born in Bethlehem, lived in Nazareth, a carpenter by trade, had twelve disciples, and so on.  Even as God’s covenant people we could have a superficial knowledge of Jesus and miss out on what is most important.  We could miss out on knowing him as the Saviour who gave his life for the sheep, we could miss out on having a saving relationship with him. 

For that reason, look at the extraordinary confession of the centurion again.  He saw with his eyes what happened that day and was led to say what he did.  We see and know so much more from the Word of God about what was really going on and what it all meant.  Mark says, “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.’”  Now you are being written into this story.  “And when the Christian (that would be you), who heard what the Scriptures taught about Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said or she said ….”  Well, what do you say?  It should be something like “This man was the Son of God.  This man is my Saviour.  This man did this for me and for all who believe.  This man is my life, my hope, my salvation.  This man is my Lord and I love him and I want to live for him, to please him and thank him.  I want to adore and praise him forever and live with him in the new heavens and new earth.  This is my Jesus.”

Our text concludes with some extraordinary disciples.  Most of the disciples had fled.  But there was a contingent that remained.  Mark mentions that there were these woman – two Marys and some others.  They were off at a distance, but they had not completely run away.  These were women who had taken care of Jesus during his ministry in Galilee.  They continued to care about him as he hung on the cross. 

Now since they were standing at a distance and since it was dark, it’s not clear whether Jesus himself would have perceived their presence.  Their being mentioned here is not to indicate any kind of comfort that Jesus might have derived from their having been near.  Mark indicates that while on the cross, Christ had all comfort taken away from him.  So why are these female disciples mentioned here?

To begin with, this sets the stage for the resurrection.  After the resurrection, it will be some of these women to whom Jesus first reveals himself.  These women who have not completely abandoned him will have the privilege of meeting him first after he comes back from the dead.  They will be the first witnesses.  To put that in context, remember that the witness of a woman was not taken seriously in those days.  We see evidence here of one of the themes in Mark’s gospel – God works through what is lowly and despised to accomplish his purposes.  The women are the only ones who appear to still care about Jesus – all the other disciples are out of the picture.  The disciples with their high and mighty claims about faithfulness to Christ and sitting on his right hand and left – they’re nowhere to be seen in Mark.   Instead, we have some women and these women will later feature prominently in the resurrection narrative.  Even though they’re not highly respected in their context, God has worked through them and will continue to do so.  When it comes to social status, God’s priorities are different.  He prefers to work through and with those who are not highly respected in human society.

Loved ones, literally thousands of people died on Roman crosses in history.  But no one died like Jesus did.  His death was truly extraordinary from every angle.  This was the turning point in redemptive history and in human history in general.  This is the high point of the Bible, this is what everything was leading to and what everything points back to.  We should be impressed by the death of Jesus, but more importantly impressed with him.  We ought to look to him again in faith, rest and trust in him, love this wonderful Saviour who loves us, and praise him today and every single day.  AMEN.


Dear Father in heaven,

Every Sunday we hear the gospel of our Saviour Jesus Christ.  We’re thankful for that.  We don’t want to ever take this good news for granted – please help us not to.  Thank you for what we heard this morning about our Saviour Jesus.  We praise you for his extraordinary death.  We’re glad that through his death we have fellowship with you, we have access to you, we have life, hope, and peace.  Our Saviour Jesus, we praise you for the great love you had for us in the darkness.  We will always love you because you took the wrath that we deserved.  You were utterly forsaken, so that we can be accepted.  O Holy Spirit, make us more impressed with this Saviour.  Fill us with more love for him and a deeper commitment to him.  Graciously help us so that we would not become distracted from him.

Merciful God, thank you for your Word as it gives us so many riches in life.  Thank you for your Word as it also gives us hope and peace in death.  Please continue to encourage us with your holy Word each day.  Father God, we depend on you, we need you every single day for life, breath, and everything.  Please continue to have mercy on us, your children.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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