I'm thankful for the cross.
Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Mark 15:24-39
Mark's Gospel has been building to this moment, the death of the Messiah. Mark relishes in the irony of the naysayers saying all of the right things about Jesus; they mocked Jesus for not saving Himself, not realizing that not saving Himself would be the salvation of everyone who believes. This Thanksgiving, let's be thankful for what Jesus did for us.
“Truly this man was the Son of God!” (14:39)
This week, we focus on the single greatest deed in human history -- one that we can never be thankful enough for. We have studied this event a number of times, and I have shared much of my biblical research and thoughts. My "fresh approach" for this week's lesson is twofold:
Focus on Thanksgiving
Focus on "the big picture"
But of course you are welcome to pull anything from the notes of past lessons!
We've Studied This Before!
If you feel like I've not gone in depth enough into a particular word or verse, it might be because I've covered it before.
Matthew's Gospel: What Is Crucifixion?
This post focuses on the Roman method of execution called "crucifixion".
Luke's Gospel: What Happened on the Cross?
This post's most important contribution is a study of the concept of "Atonement".
John's Gospel: Why "Crucifixion"?
This post has a deep look at why Jesus had to die by crucifixion.
Getting Started: Things to Think About
What Are You Thankful for?
This Sunday is the start of Thanksgiving Week (not that you would know that from shopping -- it's long been on to Christmas). What are you thankful for?
To get your juices flowing, consider this survey from Lifeway Research in 2020:
David (our FBC pastor) just preached a sermon called "Grace Enough for Gratitude". He said that we always have something to be grateful for, and he talked about what a "life of gratitude" looks like. Do you remember what he said?
I'll go a slightly different direction (because this is also the time of year when many Baptist state conventions have their annual meetings) -- I'm thankful to be in a church that cooperates with other churches to send the gospel of Jesus Christ around the world. This week at the Georgia Baptist Convention, I found out that we (Georgia Baptists) streamlined our budget well enough that we could give the International Mission Board a "bonus" check for $1.7 million. It was very cool to be in the room when they brought that check out.
Our IMB is back above 3,500 personnel on the field, and the "pipeline" (missionaries-in-training) is back above 1,000. These are developments to be thankful for. The IMB announced to us their "Project 3000 -- Missionary Explorers", their plan to engage the remaining 3,000 unreached people groups in the world. It's audacious; it will take some very special and highly-trained Christians. And we can be a part of making sure they do not lack for resources.
More Things to Think About:
How Would You Summarize the Gospel?
I kinda think we're getting into either-or territory here. If you feel like your group focused heavily on the crucifixion when we studied John's Gospel last year, and you don't want to do that this Sunday, you might take a big picture approach. We're here at the end of Mark's Gospel; we recently studied John's Gospel. Can your group "put it all together"?
What is a summary of the four Gospels?
What is a summary of the gospel?
We've shared plenty of videos of the years that might help. This first video focuses on the Gospels in the New Testament.
This video focuses on the gospel message itself.
Let me blow your mind with this obscure reference to Phil Vischer (of Veggietales fame) and his later project, "What's in the Bible with Buck Denver". Yes, it's for kids. People who work with kids read this post! You can go to Phil's website and subscribe to watch entire episodes.
How Would You Summarize the Bible?
If that's not challenging enough (or if you've talked recently about the gospel like I've suggested), you can kick it up a notch:
What is a summary of the story of the Bible?
What you'll find is that the story of the Bible (and there is a clear storyline) is the message of the gospel. (I'll pick on Buck Denver again -- "the Bible is the story of God's rescue plan for people".)
How did we get here?
What went wrong?
How have humans tried to fix it?
What did God do to fix it?
How can humans respond to God's plan?
How does it all end?
Of course, a good summary doesn't ask question -- it gives answers. Here's a video approach (less than 10 minutes):
And here's a print approach:
In the beginning, the all-powerful, personal God created the universe. This God created human beings in His image to live joyfully in His presence, in humble submission to His gracious authority. But all of us have rebelled against God and, in consequence, must suffer the punishment of our rebellion: physical death and the wrath of God.
Thankfully, God initiated a rescue plan, which began with His choosing the nation of Israel to display His glory in a fallen world. The Bible describes how God acted mightily on Israel’s behalf, rescuing His people from slavery and then giving them His holy law. But God’s people – like all of us – failed to rightly reflect the glory of God.
Then, in the fullness of time, in the Person of Jesus Christ, God Himself came to renew the world and restore His people. Jesus perfectly obeyed the law given to Israel. Though innocent, He suffered the consequences of human rebellion by His death on a cross. But three days later, God raised Him from the dead.
Now the church of Jesus Christ has been commissioned by God to take the news of Christ’s work to the world. Empowered by God’s Spirit, the church calls all people everywhere to repent of sin and to trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness. Repentance and faith restores our relationship with God and results in a life of ongoing transformation.
The Bible promises that Jesus Christ will return to this earth as the conquering King. Only those who live in repentant faith in Christ will escape God’s judgment and live joyfully in God’s presence for all eternity. God’s message is the same to all of us: repent and believe, before it is too late. Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, and you will be saved.
I like it!
David has been leading a group through a series that covers one book of the Bible in each session. It's bold -- for those of you who have been attending, share what you've learned so far.
Then I found a project online that's even bolder:
It requires some familiarity with the Bible to really make sense, but all in all it's pretty good.
And of course I have a soft spot for the Bible Project posters (we them hanging in the hallway next to the fellowship hall). Here's the entire New Testament in less than 10 minutes:
So, what do you think? Want to take a big-picture approach to this week's lesson?
This Week's Big Idea: The Cross of Christ
With all of that talk, we can't lose sight of the main focus on this week's passage: Jesus' death on the cross. Like I said above, I've covered this in detail in previous posts, I'm just going to hit some highlights.
Wait -- actually, I'm going to summarize the already-summarized summary of this topic in the Holman Bible Dictionary. If you don't have that already, I encourage you to get a copy.
Here's their opening paragraph:
Cross, Crucifixion. Instrument and method the Romans used to executed Jesus Christ. Among the most painful and degrading forms of capital punishment in the ancient world, death on the cross because the means by which Jesus became the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. Through Christ's teaching, the cross also became a symbol for the sacrifice of self in discipleship (Rom 12:1) and for the death of self to the world (Matt 10:38, Mark 8:34).
Here are some highlights from the article:
Christ predicted His crucifixion many times. In Mark 8:31, He explained that it was "necessary". His resurrection from the dead would vindicate Him.
By emphasizing both Jewish and Roman participation in the crucifixion, the Gospel authors show that all people are equally sinful and in need of grace. But the Gospel authors also emphasize the particular guilt of the Jewish leaders.
Mark focused on the people's misunderstanding of the Messiah (their taunts for Jesus to save Himself). Matthew focused on Christ's authority throughout the process; his tidbit about people coming out of their tombs and the veil being torn proved Christ's identity and power. Luke focused on Jesus' identity as the righteous martyr, sharing His words of forgiveness and hope and worship. John focused on the cross as Christ's throne, that Jesus turned this instrument of shame into a proclamation of His kingship and authority.
Paul shaped the theology of the cross. To him, "the cross" and its "foolishness" and "weakness" is the heart of the gospel message, for only in the message about what happened on the cross can salvation be found. And that is God's "upside-down" world in which glory comes through suffering.
There are three primary terms used to explain the cross's role in salvation: "redemption" (Jesus' blood/sacrifice was a ransom payment to deliver us from sin); "propitiation" (Jesus' death satisfied God's righteous wrath against sin); "justification" (we are acquitted of the guilt of our sin through faith in Jesus and His sacrifice).
In addition to bringing salvation, the cross also brought the circumstances for unifying the people of the world (Jew and Gentile), and it disarmed the forces of evil.
The symbolic meaning of the cross is one of discipleship -- following in the steps of Jesus. We are to "nail" our self-centered desires to the cross and "die" to our worldly interests so that we can "rise" to a new life in Christ. Paul goes so far as to say that Christians should live a "crucified life" in such a way that we no longer live a tall, but Christ lives through us.
I'll quote one more section verbatim:
The cross was Satan's great error. When Satan entered Judas in betraying Jesus, he undoubtedly did not realize that the cross would prove his greatest defeat. He could only respond with frustrated rage, knowing that 'his time is short' (Rev 12:12). Satan participated in his own undoing.
For more on this, take a look at the other posts linked at the top.
Where We Are in Mark
There's a lot of reports about the context in those other posts. Last week, we studied Jesus' actions at Gethsemane. Mark, focusing heavily on action, went straight from Jesus praying to Judas arriving with a mob (sent by Jewish leaders), to Peter cutting off a guy's ear, to Jesus healing said ear and taking control of the situation.
In particular, Mark points out how everyone immediately abandoned Jesus. He calls attention to "a young man" who fled the scene naked (seriously!) (Mark 14:52) -- many scholars believe it's a reference to Mark himself, a self-deprecating reference. The Jews sent an armed mob fearing a fierce resistance. Nope.
Mark then briefly described the sham trial (it's amazing how in just a few verses, Mark utterly destroyed the court's credibility), and at the same time described how Peter disowned Jesus three times. It's interesting to note that Peter does not appear again in the Gospel. This is obviously intentional; perhaps Peter wanted Mark to clarify the true heroes of that day, not the coward disciples like him. (I.e., following Jesus is for all people, not just hand-picked disciples.)
He then even more briefly described the trial before Pilate. He included details that would connect with his Roman audience (the behavior of the soldiers), and just enough to show how governor (prefect) Pilate bowed to the will of the Jewish leaders. Rather than release Jesus (according to local custom), the Jews asked for a local insurrectionist to be released.
Mark includes just the details that demonstrate how the crucifixion fulfilled prophecy, particularly Jesus' own words. But more on that as we go.
Part 1: Crucified (Mark 15:24-27)
24 Then they crucified him and divided his clothes, casting lots for them to decide what each would get. 25 Now it was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The inscription of the charge written against him was: The King of the Jews. 27 They crucified two criminals with him, one on his right and one on his left.
"Crucified" is the verb form for the entire process of crucifixion. The detail about casting lots for Jesus' clothes, in addition to fulfilling prophecy, was something a Roman audience might appreciate -- soldiers did what they could to take what they could get.
[Aside: John 19:14 says that Jesus was sentenced before Pilate at noon (the "sixth hour"), but Mark says He was crucified at 9:00 (the "third hour"). What gives? There are four common explanations: (1) one of these is a copyist error from over the centuries; (2) Romans used a different notation for time that Mark didn't explain; (3) Mark was actually talking about the entire process going back to the trial; (4) the times are just approximate.]
The Use of Irony. Mark is very intentional about irony. The notice above Jesus' head says that He is "The King of the Jews". The people mock Jesus for being able to "save others". The Jewish leaders calling Him "the Messiah" and "the King of Israel". The Roman centurion being the one to declare that Jesus is "the Son of God". All of the declarations are made -- but by people who don't (fully) understand them.
The Two Criminals. When we studied Luke's Gospel, I emphasized the symbolism of the three crosses: Jesus, a man who turned to Jesus for forgiveness, and a man who rejected Jesus to his death. Well, Mark doesn't focus on that at all -- he's all about the insults and abuse. This is the language that James and John used back in 10:37, it's an "ironic coronation" so to speak. Jesus is lifted up, and he's surrounded by two men who had a very different approach to "saving" Israel (assuming they were insurrectionists like Barabbas).
The Missing Verse -- Mark 15:28. Your Bible probably "skips" 15:28. That's a verse very similar to Luke 22:37 about the fulfillment of Scripture. But Mark doesn't spell out a lot of such fulfillment; it's also not found in the oldest manuscripts. The common understanding is that a later scribe inserted it here, and it found its way into the later Latin codexes (codices?). The only reason you might find this to be a big deal is that the KJV is based on those later manuscripts, so some of your group members might be confused or concerned.
What I would do with this opening section is establish the scene and explain what crucifixion is (as much as necessary).
Part 2: Mocked (Mark 15:29-32)
29 Those who passed by were yelling insults at him, shaking their heads, and saying, “Ha! The one who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself by coming down from the cross!” 31 In the same way, the chief priests with the scribes were mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others, but he cannot save himself! 32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, so that we may see and believe.” Even those who were crucified with him taunted him.
See above about Mark's use of irony.
Romans routinely crucified people along a major thoroughfare -- shock value to keep the populace in line. Focus on the two primary insults Mark records:
The one who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself by coming down from the cross.
32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, so that we may see and believe.
Here are the sorts of questions that come to mind:
When Jesus said He could "raise the temple in three days", what was He talking about?
Could Jesus save Himself by coming down from the cross?
Would the Jews have believed in Him if He did?
And the biggest picture question:
What would have happened if Jesus came down from the cross?
The leader guide offers an excellent line of questioning/prayer: what do people mock Jesus for today? Are they any worse than the taunts Jesus heard when He was hanging on the cross? How did Jesus respond to them, and how should we?
Part 3: Dead (Mark 15:33-39)
33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lemá sabachtháni?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
35 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “See, he’s calling for Elijah.” 36 Someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, fixed it on a stick, offered him a drink, and said, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.”
37 Jesus let out a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 Then the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 When the centurion, who was standing opposite him, saw the way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
We know these verses well.
Darkness for three hours. This cannot be explained in any way but supernaturally. This is Day of the Lord imagery.
Eloi, Eloi. To make a long story short, "El" is a common word for "god", and -i/-oi is a possessive suffix (like 's), so "eloi" means "my God". The Hebrew name "Elijah" literally means "my God is Yahweh". These guys didn't know their Hebrew.
My God, My God. You should know that this is a quote of Psalm 22:1. And you should also know that when Jesus quotes a Psalm, He expects us to consider the entire Psalm. Go and read all of Psalm 22 and summarize it ...
The Seven Sayings. Mark only reports one of the "seven sayings" of Jesus on the cross, and I think it's related to his emphasis of the "Messianic Secret". This is the one saying that is utterly, utterly agonizing. We can't begin to imagine the depth of Jesus' despair at His separation from God the Father as He "became sin" on our behalf. And that's what Mark wanted his readers to focus on.
Sour wine. This is some pretty cheap (read: awful) wine, reserved for slaves and soldiers (which is why they had it handy). Jesus also says that He is thirsty (John 19:18), which is why this specific "aid" is offered. I like the leader guide's suggestion that a soldier did this to prolong Jesus' life to see if Elijah would actually come 😎, though a closer reading of Mark 15 suggests that this was an act of mockery -- imagine wine vinegar running over a bunch of open wounds 😬. (The CSB doesn't translate the word other versions interpret as "Leave Him alone!" which suggests that in order to keep Him alive for Elijah to come, they need to not give Him the sour wine.) Others have suggested that someone did this sympathetically for Jesus, trying to dull His pain, and John 19 suggests that the sour wine was symbolically connected to Jesus "drinking the cup of God's wrath".
Breathed His last. The leader guide rightly points out that crucifixion (if the victim survived the scourging) often took days, with the victim slowly losing consciousness before eventually asphyxiating. Not Jesus. There are two common takeaways to this: (1) Jesus suffered far more from the wrath of God than any human torture; (2) Jesus was always in control of His life and death -- He gave His life; it was not taken from Him. The words of the centurion -- someone who was extremely well-practiced in watching other people die -- support this second option.
Torn in two. Most people believe that Mark is referring to the massive curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (click on this image to enlarge it). The only explanation could be supernatural. However, because that curtain is seen by so few people, others believe that Mark is talking about a curtain that separated the temple from the courtyard because it would be more visible to more people.
The centurion. This was a low-ranking (noncommissioned) officer in the Roman army; the only real perk to this position was being put on track to earn citizenship after 25 (!) years of service. Context suggests that he was in charge of the soldiers who were responsible for these prisoners -- from trial to execution.
Truly this Man was the Son of God. Another beautiful image of the unlikely person making the right declaration. This is probably not quite a full confession of faith (remember that "son of God" was a standard title in Roman culture), but Mark's readers would understand what the centurion saw. It could be that this centurion was the first of the universal worship of God prophesied in Psalm 22.
The crucifixion is the most important event in human history. If you group can come away from this session with a grasp of what it is and what it means, we can consider this a good day.
Thanksgiving! And of course, a great way to end your time together is to express your thanksgiving to God for Jesus' sacrifice. There are plenty of songs you could choose to do that with, or you could spend some good time in prayer. But let's make sure we spend our Thanksgiving season thanking God for Jesus.