The Death and Burial of Jesus – Mark 15:33-47
If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to the Gospel according to Mark, where we are going to be looking at Mark 15:33-47, this morning.
Over the past few weeks, in our sermon series on Mark’s Gospel, we have been looking at what is commonly referred to as the Passion of the Christ. We have seen Jesus in anguish in the garden of Gethsemane as He anticipated what was to come. We have seen Jesus betrayed and abandoned and denied and mocked and beaten and falsely tried and falsely accused and flogged and crucified on a cross. In a few short hours, Jesus will breathe His last.
Mark 15, beginning in verse 33: “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, ‘Behold, he is calling Elijah.’ 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’
“40 There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.
“42 And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. 45 And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. 46 And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.”
“On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame; and I love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain.”
The symbol, the emblem, of Christianity is not a fish, it’s not even a tomb, but a cross—an instrument of torture and execution. Think about that. The symbol of the largest religion in the world is a device that was intentionally crafted to inflict the greatest amount of pain over the longest period of time.
I used to have a cross on a metal chain that I would wear around my neck. Some people wear t-shirts with a cross on it. Many churches have crosses on their buildings. But what makes the cross so lovely and so glorious and so significant, that we would wear a cross around our necks or put a cross on our buildings or even sing about the old rugged cross, is the One on the cross.
And the question that is before us, is: Why would Jesus Christ come from glory to suffer and die on a cross? Why would Jesus Christ come to this world to die a painful and shameful death on a cross? The obvious answer, according to Isaiah 53:10, is that “it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.” Romans 8:32 says that God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.” God the Father would send His Son to His death.
Why? Why did Jesus come to die? What did Jesus accomplish by His death on the cross? There are a number of reasons why Jesus came to die. In fact, Pastor John Piper wrote a little book, titled, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came To Die, where he gives at least fifty reasons why. But for our time together, this morning, we are going to look at the central objective of Christ on the cross, and that is, that Jesus would face the just wrath of God for our sins.
1. The first event we come across in our text is darkness. Jesus has been suffering on the cross for three hours. Suddenly, verse 33 says that “when the sixth hour had come,” which would have been noon, “there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour,” which would have been 3:00 p.m.
On August 21, 2017, you may remember, a total solar eclipse spanned across the United States. Called the “Moment of Totality,” day became night, as the sun was hidden behind the moon for a few brief minutes. We were in Edmonton when it came across our view. We didn’t experience total darkness like what they did in the States, but it was still kind of eery, as it was just about noon and the sun was not as bright as it normally would have been.
But what happened while Jesus was on the cross was not an eclipse. We’re not talking about a few minutes of darkness here; we’re talking about three hours of darkness in the middle of the day. This was not normal; it was an act of God.
In several places in the Old Testament, darkness serves as a sign of God’s judgment. For example, in Exodus 10:21, the Lord says to Moses “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.” And it says that “there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days.”
This plague of darkness, if you remember, preceded the final plague in Egypt, where the angel of death struck down the firstborn in the land of Egypt—those who did not have the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts of their house.
Amos 8:9 says, “‘And on that day,’ declares the Lord God, ‘I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.” Amos here is referring to the judgment that would come upon Israel, but it sounds a lot like what is taking place here at Calvary.
You see, on the cross, darkness would cover the land just before Christ, our Passover Lamb, would be slain for us. The darkness was a sign that the angel of death was visiting the sins of God’s people, bringing God’s judgment on sin to bear on the true and better Passover Lamb, whose blood was shed for us.
“Alas! and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die! Would he devote that sacred head for sinners such as I? Well might the sun in darkness hide, and shut its glories in, when God, the mighty maker, died for his own creature's sin.”
God is the Creator of all things and infinitely worthy of our love and admiration. But Romans 3:23 is clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We have all loved other things more than God. This failure to love God as we ought is treason against Him. And because God is just, He cannot sweep our crimes of rebellion against Him under the rug. Sin must be punished, and He has made it clear that “the wages of sin is death,” according to Romans 6:23.
But God is not content to leave this curse hanging over all of sinful humanity. He is not content to just show His wrath, no matter how just it is. Therefore, in His love, He sent His Son to absorb His wrath, His judgment, for our sin, bearing the curse for all who trust in Him, so that Galatians 3:13 could say, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.”
The darkness here is a picture of the anger of God, and how Jesus Christ would face the just wrath of God for our sin. The judgment that was coming our way has been removed from us and absorbed by Christ on the cross.
2. The second thing we see in our text is a loud cry. In verse 34, Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1, as He cries out with a loud voice, “‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”
I listened to a podcast this week, where a couple of guys were giving a talk on using visual aids to communicate sound doctrine. Tim Challies, who is a pastor and blogger, was one of the guys. And Tim was talking about the importance of theology, and how everyone is a theologian, we all have some knowledge about the Person and Work of God, “the only question is are you a good theologian or a bad theologian.”
And he gave the illustration of someone handing you a book about the Trinity. And as you start to read it, you come across this statement: “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit died together on the cross.” Now, there is a significant problem with this statement, as it doesn’t recognize the distinct Persons of the Trinity and actually leads to heresy.
As the Athanasian Creed asserts, “We worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Essence. For the Person of the Father is a distinct Person, the Person of the Son is another, and that of the Holy Spirit still another. But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.”
What this means is that God the Father and God the Holy Spirit did not die on the cross, only God the Son in the Person of Jesus Christ died on the cross. It is important that we maintain that the Father did not Himself go to the cross, but sent the Son to the cross, where the Son would face the wrath of God for our sin.
This doctrine is called Penal Substitutionary Atonement. Penal meaning penalty, and how Christ paid the penalty for us. Substitutionary meaning in our place. Atonement meaning the reconciliation of a wrong.
This doctrine is constantly under attack. One of the more common attacks is that people claim that it sounds like cosmic child abuse—that the Father would punish the Son for what I did instead of just forgiving me outright. They claim that it is barbaric that the Father would send the Son to the cross.
And yet, what does Jesus say, in John 10:17-18? He says, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
This doesn’t sound like cosmic child abuse; this sounds like a Son freely and willingly obeying the will of His Father. Remember, atonement needed to be made on our behalf because of our sin against God. Jesus would willingly be our atonement. He was not a martyr on the cross; He was a Savior who experienced divine wrath and satisfied the holiness and justice of God on our behalf.
Notice that Jesus isn’t crying out to His Father on the cross, like He did in the garden of Gethsemane, but to His God. And the reason for this is because Jesus is feeling a real God-forsakenness for the first time in all of eternity.
This has been building, ever since Mark 14. First, Judas betrays Jesus. Then, Jesus’ three closest friends fall asleep while Jesus is in agony in the garden. Then, all of Jesus’ disciples abandon Him when He is taken away by the guards—one of them even running away naked. Then, Peter denies Jesus. And as Jesus is hanging on the cross, the Jewish leaders mock Him. Jesus has been feeling more and more forsaken as He gets closer to the cross, but then, on the cross, Jesus is forsaken even by His heavenly Father.
Jesus has been experiencing mostly physical pain by this point, but here Jesus cries out from pain in His soul, as He finds Himself outside of the embrace of His Father. Jesus is experiencing hell in this moment, as He suffers for the sins of His people, and His Father isn’t there to wipe His tears.
“How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure, that He should give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure. How great the pain of searing loss—the Father turns His face away. As wounds which mar the Chosen One bring many sons to glory.”
In verse 35, some of the bystanders think that Jesus is crying out for Elijah. In Aramaic, the sounds for God and Elijah are similar. But they also believed that Elijah would return in times of crisis to protect and rescue the righteous. And so, they fill a sponge with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to Jesus to drink, and they wait. Surely, if Jesus is righteous, God will spare Him from suffering and death, because “cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”
But what they fail to realize is that Jesus fulfills God’s plan of redemption precisely in His suffering and by taking the curse of humanity upon Himself. They continue to mock Jesus in His agony: “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” But if the Father will not intervene to spare His Son, then it is certain that Elijah will not come.
And then, verse 37, “Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.” This is likely where Jesus cries out, “It is finished,” according to John 19:30. And so it is. Atonement has been made. The work of salvation is done. The limp body of Jesus hangs on the cross. The women weeping at His feet. He is dead.
3. We have seen the events of darkness and a loud cry. The third event we see is the tearing of the temple curtain. At that moment, verse 38 tells us that “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.”
Now, there is a question as to which curtain Mark is referring to here because, according to Hebrews 9, there were actually two curtains in the temple in Jerusalem—one before the Court of Israel, also known as the Holy Place, where the priests worshipped, and one before the Holy of Holies, where only the high priest would enter once a year on the Day of Atonement.
Since it was still Passover, there would have been thousands of worshippers in the temple. So, if Mark is referring to the outer curtain, which separated the priests from everyone else, everyone would have seen this happen. They would have seen the inside of the temple for the first time. They would have seen the golden lampstand and the table with the bread of the Presence and the priests who would have been as shocked as everyone else as to what just happened.
No longer would there be any distinction between Jew and Gentile, or slave and free, or male and female, for all would be one in Christ Jesus, according to Galatians 2:28.
But if Mark is referring to the inner curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, where God Himself was said to dwell in all His holiness, and through which only the high priest could go and only once a year to offer a sacrifice on behalf of himself and the people, if Mark is referring to this curtain, then it means that the death of Jesus removed the veil between God and humanity. The Most Holy Place, the Holy of Holies, has been made accessible, not by the high priest’s sacrifice, and not by the blood of goats, but by a true and better High Priest, Jesus Christ, who offered His own blood as atonement for sin.
No longer would mankind be separated from God on account of our sin, so that 1 Peter 1:18 could say, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” The curtain has been torn. The way to God is open through the death of Jesus.
It would seem as though this inner curtain is the curtain that Mark is referring to. But regardless of which curtain it is, only God could tear it “from top to bottom.” We must understand that we were dead in our sin. There was no access to God before Christ, nor did we desire Him.
But out of God’s love for sinful humanity, He sent His Son to die for us, so that having “now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God,” Romans 5:9 says. By God’s grace, we come alive to our own unworthiness, but then we must look at the suffering of Jesus Christ and stand in awe of God’s love for us and the cost of our redemption.
4. We have seen the events of darkness and a loud cry and the tearing of the temple curtain. Finally, we see a confession. Verse 39 says that “when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’”
Unlike the other bystanders who mock Jesus, this centurion sees and believes what they do not. The first person in Mark’s Gospel to confess Jesus as the Son of God is not the Jewish leaders, not Jesus’ family, not anyone whom Jesus has healed, not even Jesus’ own disciples, but this Roman centurion.
He would have seen other men die by crucifixion, but there was something about this crucifixion, something about the suffering and death of Jesus, that was different. This wasn’t an ordinary man; this was the God-Man.
And this confession is significant in that regard, because the Romans didn’t associate deity with suffering. Gods didn’t suffer, according to them, which means that God has opened this man’s eyes to behold Jesus for who He really is and He has opened this man’s mouth to confess Jesus before men.
He hadn’t seen Jesus raised from the dead; he hadn’t seen Jesus walking on the water; he hadn’t seen Jesus feed a multitude with some bread and fish; all he saw was this bloody corpse, and the way in which He died, and he says, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” Only by the grace of God, can these words come out of this man’s mouth. Have we made such a confession?
The centurion isn’t the only one at the foot of the cross. Mark notes that there were also women there—Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses, and Salome, who was the mother of James and John, and then there were other women with them.
They were true disciples of Jesus, following Him wherever He went and ministering to Him. They had watched the crucifixion “from a distance.” They were faithful to Jesus to the bitter end. But now, Jesus is dead.
Joseph of Arimathea is on his way to Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus to bury Him. The next day was the Sabbath, so they needed to bury Jesus before sundown when they were to rest from all their work.
Verse 43 says that Joseph was “a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God.” While all the other Jewish leaders are content to leave Jesus on the cross, Joseph takes courage to ask for Jesus’ body, in order to bury Him in Joseph’s own tomb.
Pilate is surprised to hear that Jesus was already dead, but given what Jesus experienced, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that He died as quickly as He did. But after a quick confirmation, Pilate grants Joseph’s request.
Verse 46 says that Joseph “bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.”
This was to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 53:9: “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.”
And thus, the only people at the tomb on that Good Friday are Joseph and Nicodemus, according to John 19, who were Pharisees, and two woman—Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, the mother of Joses. The apostles are nowhere to be found. Those who had proudly professed that they would die with Jesus are in hiding. And it’s over. Or is it?
You see, the women “saw where he was laid,” in verse 47. They will be key eyewitnesses to what happens, next. Indeed, they already are key eyewitnesses to the death of Jesus, in case anyone would object to the truth that Jesus really did die on the cross.
But that’s Sunday. This is Friday. Here on the cross, we see the seriousness of our sin and the justice of God’s wrath against us and our sin that was satisfied in the Person of Jesus Christ. It’s the central objective of the cross.
Now, it’s true that Jesus came to take away our guilt and our condemnation. It’s true that Jesus came to give us eternal life and to rescue us from final judgment. It’s true that Jesus came to show God’s love and grace for sinners. It’s true that Jesus came to reconcile us to God and to one another. But the central objective of the cross, the means by which all of these glorious realities are ours, is that Jesus Christ would face the just wrath of God for our sin.
When we get that, when we understand what was accomplished by Christ on the cross on our behalf, then we can say with assurance, what the apostle John wrote, in 1 John 4:10, that “in this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
This is why Jesus came to die. Do you feel the darkness hanging over the cross? Do you hear the loud cry from Jesus? Do you see the curtain being torn from top to bottom? And do you confess the words of the centurion that this Jesus truly is the Son of God?
“In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, a wondrous beauty I see, for 'twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died, to pardon and sanctify me.” The cross may very well be an emblem of suffering and shame, but may we never cease to glory in it. Let’s pray…