—MARK 15:22-39.—JUNE 12.—
Golden Text:—"Christ died for our sins
according to the Scriptures."—I Cor. 15:3 .
VICTOR HUGO wrote, "Waterloo is the change of form of the universe." Another amends the statement thus, "Calvary is the change of form of the universe." The story of our Lord's crucifixion is related with a pathos which stirs our souls with sympathy, and begets in us a responsive love from the moment we truly recognize the purport of our Golden Text. Others have died just as cruelly, and a few have gone to death voluntarily and composedly. The Lord's death, however, was the first one in which the victim was entirely innocent, entirely unworthy of the death sentence,—the only one, therefore, in whose case the matter of dying was wholly voluntary, the only one who needed not to die had he not so willed.
The evangelists relate the incidents of the crucifixion with very slight variations, and the whole matter is before us when we group together the various statements, each of which is true. From Pilate's Judgment Hall, after the governor had consented to Jesus' death because unable to stem the tide of Jewish prejudice and vociferous demands, the centurion, with three Roman soldiers, took Jesus to Calvary to crucify him. As was the custom, the culprit—in this case the victim—bore his own cross, which must necessarily have been a terrible task. Our Lord apparently was overcome by the weight of the cross, when a countryman named Simon coming along was forced to assist him. The statement of Luke 23:26 implies that Simon did not carry the cross entirely, but merely assisted Jesus, carrying the hinder part of it, which usually dragged.
We have often wondered, Where were Peter and John and James that they did not see the Master's burden [R3370 : page 155] and run to proffer assistance? If disposed to envy Simon his privilege of assisting the Master in the bearing of the cross, let us reflect that many of the Lord's brethren are daily bearing symbolic crosses, and that it is our privilege to assist them, and that the Lord agrees to reckon any service done to his faithful followers as though it were rendered to his own person. Yet if no brother sees the privilege of giving a helping hand let not the burdened ones lose heart. The Lord knoweth the need and will send the aid necessary, even though it be impressed, and that because of the sympathy of the worldly—as in Jesus' case, when the soldiers provided the aid. As the wooden cross was not our Lord's heaviest burden, so, too, his followers have crosses which the world sees not, but which the "brethren" should understand. "Bear ye one another's burdens and thus fulfil the law of Christ."
Sympathetic Jewish women walked near, weeping. Quite probably these included Mary, our Lord's mother, Martha and Mary of Bethany, and Mary Magdalene. The particulars are not given us, but the sympathy of woman is markedly testified to. Our Lord was full of composure, though weak and fainting, not only because of the expenditure of his vitality previously in the healing of the sick, etc., but additionally because he had been under a most terrible nervous strain throughout the entire night, without sleep or food. It was now nine o'clock of the day of his crucifixion, and he had wearily borne a share of the weight of his cross for about three-quarters of a mile, from Pilate's Judgment Hall to Calvary. Golgotha, the name usually given to this place by the people of the vicinity, signified "the place of a skull," because that particular slope of the hill very closely resembled a skull in shape and in color, dark crevices in the face of the rock corresponding to the eye sockets, nose cavity, etc.
The offering of wine mingled with bitter myrrh, otherwise styled gall, was not an indignity as is usually supposed, but an act of kindness. A Women's Society for the Relief of the Suffering furnished sour wine with bitter narcotics with a view to deadening the sensibility to pain, and it was customary to provide this draught for all the poor unfortunates to reduce their terrible sufferings to a minimum. Our Lord tasted the wine, Matthew informs us, doing so probably to assure himself [R3370 : page 156] of what it was, or as a token of his appreciation of the kindness expressed by it. But he refused to drink of it, evidently preferring to experience the full measure of the pain and suffering which the Father's wisdom and love and justice had prepared for him—had permitted to come upon him as a test of the full measure of his loyalty and obedience.
The crucifixion must have been a terrible ordeal. The cross was laid upon the ground and the victim stretched upon it, while the nails were driven through the feet and hands; and if possible a still more trying moment came when the cross, lifted by sturdy men, was allowed to drop into the socket prepared for it in the rock. Very properly the evangelist did not stop to detail or comment upon the extreme suffering experienced by the Lord, and very properly we may similarly leave the matter. Nevertheless, our hearts can but ache still when we think of what this part of the redemption price paid for our sins cost the One who bought us with his precious blood. He who grasps the situation clearly will be the more willing to suffer something for the Lord's sake and for his cause' sake—thus to testify in return his love and his appreciation of the great things done for him by the Son of God. Indeed we should esteem it a deprivation if not permitted to "suffer with him," for otherwise we could not hope to "reign with him."
It was the custom to count the personal property of an executed person the perquisites of the soldiers performing the execution, and in Jesus' case we read that, having divided his garments amongst them, his outer robe, his head dress, sandals and girdle—enough to give one piece to each—they assigned by lot "what each man should take." One piece remained, namely, his tunic or under garment, reaching from the neck to the feet, "woven throughout and seamless." This they could not divide advantageously, and hence "for his vesture they did cast lots."—Psa. 22:18; John 19:23,24.
The crucifixion took place at the third hour, Jewish reckoning, or nine o'clock, our reckoning. Over his head was his accusation written in three languages—the Latin, the official or governmental language of Rome; in Greek, the classical language of that period; in Hebrew, the language of the Jews. The charge was that upon which the chief priests had laid special stress in their arraignment of Jesus, that he claimed to be the king of the Jews. Elsewhere we are informed that the prominent Jews objected to Pilate's inscription and endeavored to have it altered, but he refused, saying, "What I have written, I have written." The Jews would have written, "This is an impostor claiming to be the king of the Jews," but in the Lord's providences the true title was put above his head, "Jesus, the King of the Jews." Those of us who are not Jews have reason to rejoice that he is more than this—that by God's providence he is heir of the world and is surely to be the King of the world, and is already King of saints.
How it happened that two robbers were awaiting execution at the same time is not stated in the account. We may presume, however, that they had been in custody for some time under sentence, and that the chief priests may have suggested their execution at the same time. Their thought may have been to detract from the injustice of their own course and to throw a measure of justice into the proceedings as a whole, or their object may have been to demean Jesus in making him a companion of outlaws. But whatever the circumstances the matter was foreseen by the Lord and foretold by the Prophet—"He was numbered with the transgressors."—Isa. 53:12.
Near the cross stood the Apostle John and Jesus' mother and others who loved him, and whose hearts were breaking with sympathy as they beheld his ignominy and suffering and were unable to fully appreciate the necessity for this, as we shall shortly see it. Some few idlers were standing by probably, while travelers were coming and going, because Golgotha was on a frequented route. Apparently many of these, who had heard much about Jesus and his miracles, were now satisfied that his claims were false, and that probably his miracles were deceptions wrought, as the Pharisees said, by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of devils. These reasoned from analogy that if the Lord had done the works ascribed to him by the power of God, as he claimed, he would not need to be at the mercy of his enemies, for it never occurred to them that any one would voluntarily lay down his life for his friend—neither did they have the slightest conception of the necessity or object of the Lord's death.
A similar mistake is made by the world in respect to the Lord's followers. Those who have sorrows and trials and persecutions and poverty they esteem to be under divine disfavor. Thus it was prophesied of our Lord, but is true of his Church, his body as a whole—"We did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted," and we were ashamed of him. The world cannot discern, as we do, that God's favor toward the elect is manifested in letting them have those experiences necessary to their preparation for Kingdom honors.
Our Lord's statement of a few days before was remembered by some, but either misunderstood or deliberately falsified in their raillery. He had not spoken of destroying their Temple, but had said that if they destroyed the Temple it would be reared again within three days (antitypical). The Temple construction had [R3370 : page 157] required about forty years, and our Lord's declaration they considered bombastic, and said, It will be much easier for him to show his power by coming down from the cross. The fact that he did not do so was esteemed an evidence of the falsity of all that he had previously said and done. To a sensitive mind, like that of our Lord, we can readily suppose that such a charge of falsification and misrepresentation would be a severe burden upon his heart; yet he bore it patiently. O, we are so glad that Jesus did not come down from the cross, and thus leave us in our sins—the whole world unredeemed!
The chief priests and scribes pursued their victim to the cross—neglecting, doubtless, important matters in their eagerness to make sure that he did not escape them. They were more blameworthy than the common people, yet they sought to justify their course in the same manner. Strangely enough, they admitted that "he saved others;" and the fact that he did not save himself out of their grasp seems to have been to them conclusive evidence of the falsity of all of his claims as respected relationship to Jehovah God. They were satisfied that his blood should be upon them and upon their children. Poor men! they thought themselves wise, yet, as the Apostle Peter pointed out a few days subsequently, the whole matter was done in ignorance. Peter's words are, "I wot, brethren, that ye did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers." It is fortunate for these—yea, for the great majority of mankind—that the Lord our God is not the resentful One he is represented to be; that on the contrary he is "long suffering and of plenteous mercy." In full accord with this is the glorious prophecy that eventually those who crucified the Lord shall look upon him whom they pierced and mourn because of him, and that "the Lord will pour upon them the spirit of prayer and supplication and they shall mourn for him."
The Apostle points out our Lord's patience under this reviling as an example to us. When he was reviled he reviled not in return. How many cutting things our Lord might truthfully have thrown back at his persecutors. The secret of his patience was expressed in his [R3371 : page 157] words to Pilate: "Thou couldst have no power over me at all except it were given thee of my Father." The same thought is expressed in the words: "The cup that my Father hath poured for me, shall I not drink it?" Likewise our ability to take reviling and persecution patiently and unresentfully will be in proportion as our consecration to the Lord is full and complete, and in proportion as we realize that "All the steps of the righteous are ordered of the Lord."
One of those crucified with Jesus reviled him also—perhaps both, but probably only one—the other for a time keeping silent, but afterward speaking in defence of Jesus, as is related in another Gospel. The morning, which had opened very bright, became very cloudy, and the darkness from the sixth hour (12 o'clock noon) until the ninth hour (3 o'clock), when Jesus died, was quite noticeable.
It was at the close of his experiences, at 3 P.M., that Jesus cried aloud with a strong voice, indicating considerable vitality still. His cry was, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Throughout the entire experience of the night and the morning, from the time he had the assurance, in the Garden of Gethsemane, that he was pleasing to the Father, our Lord was most cool and tranquil of mind. Why was it, then, that at the very close of his experiences he should have so dark a cloud, a shadow, between his heart and the Father? Why should the Father permit any cloud to come between on an occasion when his dear Son, well beloved, so much needed more than any other time the comfort and strength and sustenance of a clear appreciation of his love and favor? This we must answer later, when considering why our Lord was crucified.
It was at this time that our Lord had said, "I thirst," and that a sponge fastened to a hyssop stock and saturated with sour wine (Jno. 19:29) was lifted to his lips. From it he sucked some refreshing moisture, for by this time under such conditions his wounds must have developed a raging fever in his blood. Then Jesus cried aloud again. What he said is not recorded in Mark's account, but Luke gives it as, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit"—my life. This indicated that his faith in the Lord was absolute and that the thing he chiefly thought of was life. He was laying down his life most loyally, most nobly, in accord with the Father's arrangement. The Father had promised him as a reward to raise him up from the dead: he trusted in this promise, and now in his dying breath he expressed his faith.
Various things are recorded as taking place at the moment of our Lord's death—an earthquake shook the ground in the neighborhood of the cross, and in the Temple at Jerusalem the great vail which separated between the Holy and Most Holy was torn, not from the bottom toward the top, as would be the expectation if it were the result of wear, but from the top to the bottom, as indicating that it was a manifestation of divine power. The vail or curtain is described as being sixty feet long and thirty feet wide, and its thickness about four inches. Josephus describes it as "of Babylonish texture, a wonderful stretch of white, scarlet and purple." The rending of this curtain represented symbolically the opening of the way between heaven itself and the heavenly condition of those in the world. Christ has opened to us a new and living way through the vail—that is to say, through the sacrifice of his flesh. True believers are represented as being now [R3371 : page 158] associated with Jesus as priests in the Holy, or outer apartment of the two. Here we have fellowship with God through the light of the golden candlestick, through the bread of the golden table, and through the incense that we are permitted to offer on the golden altar, and from this standpoint we can now by faith see beyond the vail—catch glimpses at least of the heavenly estate which God hath in reservation for them who love him, for the called ones according to his purpose, for the Christ, Head and body.
One of the most puzzling matters connected with Christianity in all minds, including the hypercritical of the Lord's professed followers, is why the sufferings and death of our Lord at Calvary were necessary. We answer that they were necessary because God made them necessary—because he so arranged his plan that they would be indispensable. That he could have devised another plan of salvation is beyond question, for the whole matter was in his hands, but that he did choose the best plan is equally indisputable. Whoever attempts to solve this question in his own mind or with the human philosophies of the natural mind will be sure to err. The only safe, proper course is to give heed to the wisdom that cometh from above respecting this matter.
Hearkening to the voice of the Lord, we perceive that he knew the end from the beginning, and that his plan is designed to be a lesson respecting his attributes of justice, wisdom, love and power, not only to men but to angels, not only to the unholy, but to the holy. When the divine plan shall have been fully accomplished, all shall see the lengths and breadths and heights and depths of wisdom and love and justice and power exemplified in the divine arrangement. At the present time, however, only a few may see: "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; he has covenanted to show it unto them."—Psalm 25:14.
With full knowledge that he could not retract his own sentence, God pronounced death to be the penalty for sin—knowing at the time that Adam would sin and that he and his entire family would come under the death sentence. To Adam and to all who understood the matter the case must have appeared hopeless, since, first, God could not revoke his sentence; and, second, the sentence deprived man of everything in depriving him of his life. It would not occur to man that God might have in his purpose a substitute: and even if it had occurred to him, looking about amongst his fellow men he could have found no one capable of serving as a substitute for Adam, because all were sinners through their inherited share in the results of the fall. It surely never would have occurred to man that God, looking down upon the fallen race of Adam, would have such pity for the transgressors of the law as to provide for them a way of escape from the penalty at such cost as was entailed. For God to provide a substitute for Adam meant the creation of another man, his equal in every particular, or the transfer of some holy being to a condition in nature similar to that of Adam before he fell. It would not have been supposable to man that Almighty God would be so considerate of the interests of his human creatures. Furthermore, they might have reasoned that for God to have created a man similar to Adam would have been merely to have duplicated the transgression; while for him to have transferred some glorious spirit being to human conditions would have appeared but a violation of justice—a punishment of a holy and obedient creature in the interest of unholy and sinful ones.
But behold the wisdom of God, as well as his love and justice, manifested in the course arranged for. He would provide a ransom for Adam and thus for his race; he would provide a perfect man to be the Redeemer of the fallen one and those who lost life in him, yet he would do no injustice to any. Rather he would so arrange the plan that the one who should become man's redemption would himself be greatly advantaged by the sufferings and deprivations incidental to the work. No doubt had God offered the proposition in a general way to all of the heavenly hosts there would have been many ready and willing to render joyful obedience and to trust for whatever reward and blessing the Father might think best to give them; but he did not make the offer general—it was made to but one.
Amongst the heavenly hosts was the only begotten of the Father, he who in the beginning was called the Word and who was with the Father, and who himself was a God or a Mighty One, and who had been used of the Father as his instrument in the creation of all the angelic and human beings. To this one, highest of all, the Father would first make the proposition of the great sacrifice, the great test of faith in the Father's love and the Father's power—that he would restore him again when the work was finished, and that with added glory. True, the Only Begotten might have declined, and, so far as we know, without prejudice, in which event the offer or opportunity would have been given probably to the one next in honor and glory and power amongst the angels. But the Only Begotten did not decline, but joyfully accepted the offer of being a co-laborer with the Father on behalf of mankind. He carried out the project; he left the heavenly courts, laid aside the heavenly conditions, spirit body, etc., was transferred to the womb of Mary, and in due time was born a man amongst men, "the man Christ Jesus."
At thirty years, the proper period under the Law, he made his full consecration unto death and symbolized it in baptism. For three and a half years the [R3371 : page 159] death was being accomplished by him, until at Calvary he cried, "It is finished." Thus his first great humbling of himself in becoming a man was a preparatory step, while his giving of himself as a sacrifice, as a substitute for Adam, covered a period of three and a half years, ending in his death on the cross. He finished there the work which the Father had given him to do so far as redeeming the world was concerned. His life was the ransom price for Adam's; and since the world had lost life through Adam, because inheriting his weaknesses, his imperfections, therefore justly, legally, actually, Christ's death not only redeemed Adam, but redeemed the world of mankind. It was because Adam as a sinner was cut off from fellowship with God that our dear Redeemer, as his substitute, was obliged to have a similar experience for a little season before he died. It was his hardest moment and called forth the cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
In due time the Father's promise toward him was fulfilled in his resurrection from the dead, a spirit being; [R3372 : page 159] in due time he ascended up on high to appear in the presence of God on our behalf—to apply to each believer a share in the merit of his sacrifice. This work has progressed throughout this Gospel age, and every consecrated believer has been accepted in Christ; and, being accepted in him as a member of his body, these believers in turn have been privileged to present their bodies living sacrifices and thus to fill up the measure of Christ's sufferings. Soon the entire Atonement Day sacrificing will be finished, soon it will be accomplished, soon the promise will be fulfilled, "If we suffer with him we shall also reign with him: if we be dead with him we shall also live with him." From that time onward the redemptive work takes on a larger scope. As soon as the last members of the body of Christ shall have suffered with him he will apply the full payment to Justice on behalf of all the remainder of mankind not believers, and the penalty, the curse against the world, will thus be cancelled—not through faith, not merely for those who shall have exercised faith, but regardless of faith.
Then will begin the work of uplifting the world—those who have not yet gone into the tomb, and gradually those who already have gone down into the prison-house of death. The prison doors shall be opened, all the prisoners shall show themselves; as the Prophet declared, they will all come forth to trial. (Isa. 61:1.) Not to a new trial on account of the first offence by Adam, neither to a trial on account of things done while more or less affected by the penalty upon Adam, but to a new trial for life on their own responsibility. The responsibility of each shall be according to the measure of character and strength which he possesses,—it will be a righteous judgment that will make full allowance for every inherited imperfection and weakness, and that will expect from the world only that which mankind will be able to render.
The result will be an uplift of the world of mankind, an opportunity for each to come back gradually to all that was lost in Eden by Father Adam's disobedience,—including Paradise restored. The obedient of heart shall then be accounted worthy of the blessing of the Lord, to continue with them eternally. They shall have everlasting life, all contrary minded being cut off in the Second Death.
Thus seen the death of our Lord Jesus was necessary for man's release from the death sentence. Christ died for our sins, as our Golden Text expresses it. He died in order that, by paying our penalty of death, God might be just and yet the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus, and release him from the death sentence. Our Lord's death was necessary for another reason also, as the Apostle explains: it is expedient that he who shall judge the world during the Millennial age shall have full ability to sympathize with the world of mankind who will then be on trial—one able and willing to succor those beset by sin and weakness and to have compassion on them, having been tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin. Thus not only the Lord Jesus, the great King and Judge of that time, but also the Church—his joint-heirs in the judgeship and in the Royal Priesthood—will be able to sympathize with those whom they will be judging and trying, sustaining, assisting and uplifting.
We perceive, then, that the plan which God adopted is in the broadest sense of the word the wisest and best imaginable, and that under this plan nothing else than death was possible in order to man's redemption from the sentence of death, and that nothing else than severe trials were appropriate for the one who would be intrusted with so high a dignity, honor, responsibility, as that which the Father had apportioned to the Christ. We see also that it behooved the Father, in bringing the Church to glory and subsequently testing the world, to prove the Captain of the salvation perfect through suffering; that he who was chief of the universe next to the Father, and whom he purposed to make so much greater still as to give him a participation in the divine nature, glory and honor—he might reasonably be expected to demonstrate before every creature his absolute loyalty to the Father; and this he did in the days of his flesh when he suffered the just for the unjust that he might bring us to God. As a consequence "him hath God highly exalted and given him a name above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess to the glory of the Father"—during the Millennial age.