Midweek Lent 6 April 10&11, 2019
Text: Mark 15:22-33, 37-39,43-46 series from 2003 rewrite 19:2123
Theme: Golgotha: A Place of Suffering
The procession came at last to a hill outside the city walls. It’s shaped like a skull – Golgotha. There the soldiers offered Him wine mixed with myrrh. He was given myrrh once before, at His birth. The wise men brought it to Him in worship. Then it was a sweet-smelling aroma; here it was the stench of death. Some say that myrrh is a narcotic and was offered as a pain-killing sedative. But Jesus refused. He would face the suffering for sin with unclouded senses so that He might drink in full the cup of God’s wrath for sin.
There the soldiers stripped Jesus of His clothing, exposing Him to the elements and to public shame. If you look with the eyes of faith, you will see how poor your Savior became so that you might become rich. So it was that there, in this place of suffering called Golgotha, they crucified Him.
That’s it. Stated in a simple way in 4 words. “There they crucified Him.” No details. In fact, none of the gospel writers describes the act. As the psalmist wrote, “They pierced His hands and His feet,” pinning Jesus to the cross. It seems unthinkable – to pierce the body of God that way. Yet, He was pierced for our transgressions.
The soldiers sat down to watch over Him there. While they waited, they amused themselves by dividing His clothes among them. When they got to the cloak, which was seamless, woven in one piece of cloth, each man wanted it. “It would be a shame to tear it.” One of them said. “Let us throw dice to see who gets it”. So, they gambled for the cloak.
Stripped of all earthly possessions! Jesus once said that He did not even have a pillow on which to lay His head. He was born into the world in poverty, wrapped in rags, laid in an animal’s feeding trough. And He left this world in death without clothing.
The condemned God/man hung on the cross watching the activity below. If ever there were a desperate moment in His life, this was it. He was a true man, you know, and the temptation to desperation would be great. This was a moment to cry out in frustration to God, to pray as His ancestor David did long ago, “O Lord, be not far from me, because distress is near and there is no one to help.” (Ps.22:11). But Jesus no longer prayed for Himself, for He would suffer alone, to the utmost, this One whom even Pilate recognized was a King.
The cross on which our eyes are fixed was not the only cross on the hill of the skull. There were two others – one on each side of Jesus. The two who occupied those crosses were violent men – murderers, rioters, robbers. And Jesus was placed in the middle as though He were the ringleader of wrong-doers. Well, in a sense He was as He carried the entire weight of the world’s sin on His shoulders. So, “He was numbered with the transgressors.” (Is.53:12)
Around the cross a crowd was gathering. The people have come to watch Jesus die. Some came to laugh; some came to cry; others just stared. Only a tiny handful of Jesus’ friends and family were there. They stand a little to the side, numb with shock over what is happening. How did it get to this point when all that Jesus ever did was only good? Numb with shock! But they ought not to be. If only they had watched and listened with the eyes and ears of faith, they would have understood this.
Jesus had told them beforehand, “A grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die. But when it dies, it raises up much fruit from it.” He had even told them the way in which He was going to die. “When I am lifted up from the ground,” He had said, “I will draw all men to myself.” Many would be drawn in faith; others would be drawn in hatred; still others would stare in complacency. Now He was lifted up before them all in the place of suffering. But even then He was drawing men to Himself., just like He said He would.
On one of the crosses next to Him hung a desperate man, a murderer, a rioter, and trouble maker. It might seem that no man is less likely to turn to God. At first, he also mocks Jesus. Yet, another of the Gospel writers tells us that this wicked man feels the pull of the Savior who is lifted up with him. He confesses his sin, looks to Christ for His mercy, and receives the promise of heaven.
But the small group of Jesus followers who were there stood with bowed heads and hearts. Unlike the robber, they do not understand that this is the reason He dies so that He might draw men to Himself. With the eyes and ears of faith the dying criminal felt that amazing love tugging at his heart. There will be more who feel it in this place of suffering before the day is over.
It was noon. The sun ought to be shining directly overhead. But strangely, it was not. Where is it? No one can say. It ought to be light; instead, it was dark, black dark, like a moonless, starless night.
At three o’clock, out of the darkness, a loud cry was heard, and Jesus breathed His last. All was done. Jesus was dead. His lifeless body hung limp. The suffering was past. His work was finished. All the wicked thoughts we’ve thought, all the wicked words we’ve spoken, all the vile deeds we’ve done, every sin since the world began and all those that will follow right up to the end, have been paid for. It was finished on Golgotha, the place of suffering. And so that you might know for sure, the curtain in the Temple which separated people from the place where God dwelt, was torn in two. No longer are we separated from Him by our sin.
The captain of the Roman guard had been watching. Never had a seen a man die like this. There is a strange stirring in his heart, the pull of something he does not yet understand. “Truly,” he says, “this was a good man. This was the Son of God.” Here’s the second one Jesus drew to Himself when He was lifted up in this place of suffering. There are still two others to come.
The laws of the Jews said no dead bodies could be left hanging after sunset. Perhaps they could not always convince the Romans of this, who sometimes left the bodies there for days as a warning against rebellion. But this was the Passover; Israel’s highest festival, ironically pointing to the Lamb of God who then hung limply on the cross. His friends had run away in fear. There was no one left to help.
But two men stepped forward. Joseph of Arimathaea was first. Later, Nicodemus joined him. Both were wealthy, both were powerful, both were members of the Sanhedrin. Neither had gone along with the court’s determination to get rid of Jesus. Why had they not spoken at the trial? We do not know. Perhaps they were not summoned to the trial since the others knew what they thought. But these two stepped forward – boldly. The gracious magnetism of the dead Savior drew them.
Not much time is left in the day before they must be home for the festival. They went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body, took it down from the cross, quickly wrapped it in cloths, poured on some oil and spices, and laid it in a nearby grave Joseph had prepared for himself. After rolling a stone in front to keep the body safe, they left, planning to return after the Sabbath ended to take better care of the Savior’s remains, little knowing the resurrection to life that awaited.
Outside the city wall there was a hill. It was shaped like a skull – Golgotha. It’s a Place of Suffering. On that hill stood an empty cross. On that cross Jesus paid the price for our sin so that we might live with Him now and forever in forgiveness. God grant it to us in faith for His name’s sake. Amen.