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The Cross of Jesus (week 2, Back to Basics series)

The video for this session can be watched at the bottom of this page.
The supporting article for this week can be found here.

Last week we started our series by looking at Jesus. By seeing that he demonstrated authority that only God could have, his followers used “Son of God” to describe him. He was also the Messiah promised by God to the Jewish people for centuries, but not the kind they expected.

They were expecting a military deliverance from the Romans and another golden age of prosperity as a nation. Jesus came and did battle against sin, evil – to set them free in that way.

And to that end, this week we skip right to near the end of Mark’s Gospel, to read and consider the death of Jesus on the cross.

His death by crucifixion on that cross is considered historically reliable by most credible historians. We will also assume his resurrection, which is more contested historically. But it is a big part of the Jesus story.

So we look to the story of Jesus’ death, from Mark 15:21-41. [reading]

There are only a few things I want to spend time on through this well-known story.

They nailed and hung him on the cross at 9am. Mark says that at noon the land was covered in darkness for three hours. If so, it would have been most dramatic. I can’t defend it historically because there is no evidence outside the bible that such a thing happened, but I know what Mark was trying to tell us: God was not happy.

The contrast between darkness and light turns up regularly in the gospels (most often in John). In this instance we are to imagine God watching this terrible scene, seeing what they were doing, and creation gives effect to the feeling and darkness reigns.

At 3 o’clock, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God my God why have you forsaken me.” The final events happen quickly, and in Mark’s telling of the story this forms part of the final minutes.
Jesus is quoting Psalm 22. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?”

Some have suggested that Jesus lost faith in his last moments, and this cry gives effect to it. But that is not what Psalm 22 is doing, and that is not what Jesus’ words mean.
Taken at face value, Jesus’ words suggest that God has abandoned him; he feels it like agony and cries out.

It is said that Jesus lived his life without sin – the only person to ever do this. He lived his life in communion with God, his Father. We have never lived in full communion with God, but Jesus was the opposite – he had never known separation from God.

But now, at this critical moment on the cross, his words suggest that he feels abandoned. He was willing to suffer the cross, and we don’t get told about those cries of pain. But we get told about this cry of pain – maybe this was something he didn’t expect.

It is explained to us elsewhere that on the cross Jesus took our sin upon himself – that is, the sin of the world. He who knew no sin, it says, became sin for us.

Suppose this rather heavy looking book contains all of the sins you’ve ever committed. Perhaps it needs to be thicker. Perhaps you’re better than me and yours could be thinner, but supposing this is your book. It stands between you and God.

And over here (other hand) is Jesus. He had no sin, so there was nothing between him and God. On the cross, maybe at 3pm, this happened – your sin went to Jesus. Now he is separated for the first time from God, and he knows the separation that sin causes. Not just your sin, but the world – no wonder he cries out in pain.

And as the story unfolds, he takes that sin to the grave, which is the point where sin stops. When he is raised to life, it is without the sin. He has done it, and the sin is gone. But have a look back to you – what is between you and God? Nothing. Remember that and we’ll return to it in a moment.

Mark goes on to say that when Jesus died the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom. Again we can’t verify the story in history, but the meaning is plain.

The curtain he is talking about separates the most inner part of the temple where the Jewish men were able to access from the Holy-of-Holies. The Holy-of-Holies was that shielded, sacred space where they believed that God lived. The curtain kept them safe because no one could look at God and live – sin cannot survive in the presence of God.

But when God tore that curtain it was to say that now God was with the people. There was no longer a curtain because the problem of sin was resolved – Jesus had done it!

So it is the exactly the same point as the cry. Because sin is overcome, now the people have access to God. Go back to my hand representing me and you. Sin is no longer between you and God.

That is all I need to say today about Jesus’ death on the cross. But what I have said is huge. Because of that cross, you can know God, you can live in a relationship with God.

This was done 2,000 years ago. You may ask why you don’t already know God. And for a few weeks this great question will remain unanswered, but there is an answer. But for this week, if you will believe it, Jesus has taken your sin and guilt and buried it forever.

Video of week 2 of Back to Basics – The Cross of Jesus, runs 23:21.

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