Mark 15 contains a number of ironies that point to the heart of the cross:
Jesus who had never done anything wrong condemned as a criminal.
27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left
The insults of the crowd
29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!”
As far as they could see it here was a man who had claimed to be able to tear down a temple and rebuild it hanging on a cross helpless. Yet in his death he was tearing down a temple (see John 2), and it would be rebuilt in 3 days when he rose again.
31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
He saved others, himself he cannot save. No doubt this was inspired by the sight of Jesus hanging on the cross, the one who had healed so many (healed and saved are often the same word in the Greek) unable to put himself right. Of course they were wrong. He could have saved himself. But also they were right. He could not save himself and heal us. He could not give himself life and also give us life. That is the essence of substitution. He dies in our place. He does what we cannot do.
33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”
36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
Jesus, the Son of God dies forsaken by God the Father. Here is a deep mystery. How it can be that the loving Father turns his face away. And yet he does, while also being so united with Christ that this moment fills the Father too with pain. And yet Father and Son out of love for sinful human beings give the Son in our place, so that by his death we die and by his life we live. Also remember that God’s love is not in any sense created by the cross – it is not that somehow Jesus’ death enables God to love us – he always loves us; rather it is that the cross is the supreme display of God’s love because in it God reconciles us to himself – Romans 5. We should too remember that Jesus is quoting Psalm 22 and then we are reminded that forsakeness is not the whole story, after the pain, after the crucifixion comes joy. It’s friday, but Sunday is coming…
38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
Here is another wonder. The chief priests said: “come down so that we can see and believe” – but if he had come down they would have never been able to see or believe. The Roman Centurion – the Gentile responsible for Jesus death, one “without God and without hope in the world” sees how Jesus died and believes. The sight that brings true life is not the sight of an impressive miracle, the sight that brings life is the Crucified Messiah. Folly to the Greek, weakness to the Jew – but to those being saved the power of God.
The temple curtain torn in two. We can now enter the holy place – or maybe God now comes out of the holy place to meet us in the world. The temple is gone. We need no more temples – we are the temple, believers gathered together and separated into the world are the temple, God’s presence made known through us as God sends his Spirit to live in us. The croiss is the moment of ultimate suffering, and of ultimate victory – which does not make us glib in suffering now, but does give us hope in suffering now. We expect hard times, but we know the joy that is to come because of the victory of Jesus on the cross over sin and death and hell.
Here are the wonders of the cross in the ironies of the cross – here is a wonderful prayer for Good Friday from the Valley of Vision collection (incidently “lustres” = “shines”)
My Father, Enlarge my heart, warm my affections, open my lips,
supply words that proclaim ‘Love lustres at Calvary.’
There grace removes my burdens and heaps them on thy Son,
made a transgressor, a curse, and sin for me;
There the sword of thy justice smote the man, thy fellow;
There thy infinite attributes were magnified,
and infinite atonement was made;
There infinite punishment was due,
and infinite punishment was endured.
Christ was all anguish that I might be all joy,
cast off that I might be brought in,
trodden down as an enemy that I might be welcomed as a friend,
surrendered to hell’s worst that I might attain heaven’s best,
stripped that I might be clothed, wounded that I might be healed,
athirst that I might drink, tormented that I might be comforted,
made a shame that I might inherit glory, entered darkness that I might have eternal light.
My Saviour wept that all tears might be wiped from my eyes,
groaned that I might have endless song, endured all pain that I might have unfading health,
bore a thorny crown that I might have a glory-diadem,
bowed his head that I might uplift mine, experienced reproach that I might receive welcome,
closed his eyes in death that I might gaze on unclouded brightness,
expired that I might for ever live.
O Father, who spared not thine only Son that thou mightest spare me,
All this transfer thy love designed and accomplished;
Help me to adore thee by lips and life. O that my every breath might be ecstatic praise,
my every step buoyant with delight, as I see my enemies crushed,
Satan baffled, defeated, destroyed, sin buried in the ocean of reconciling blood,
hell’s gates closed, heaven’s portal open. Go forth, O conquering God,
and show me the cross, mighty to subdue, comfort and save.
Such wonder leads to praise, and here is another wonderful Isaac Watts hymn. Originally he put “for such a worm as I”, which I have some issues with if such language is used regularly. Biblically people are not worms, we are fallen individuals who remain bearers of God’s image. However such language can be thought of as a comparative, and there may well be times when our behaviour has been so wretched and our realisation of what God has done so great, that we use such language – particularly in poetry where images are especially important. I might not be a worm, but my sinful behaviour may make me at times repulsive. I suspect such language is better than our modern day preoccupation with feeling good and making life work. We would probably better off considering the depths of sin more often, and the need for forgiveness and holiness.
Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For sinners such as I?
Thy body slain, sweet Jesus, Thine—
And bathed in its own blood—
While the firm mark of wrath divine,
His Soul in anguish stood.
Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!
Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker died,
For man the creature’s sin.
Thus might I hide my blushing face
While His dear cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt my eyes to tears.
But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give my self away
’Tis all that I can do.