Wednesday 8 August

Sam Allberry is speaking at the New Horizon evening celebrations from Monday to Thursday this week. Sam is a pastor and writer based in Maidenhead, UK, and a global speaker for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. He is an editor and a writer for The Gospel Coalition and the author of a number books including Why Bother with Church? and the bestselling Is God Anti-Gay?  Here is a summary of his message from Wednesday evening.

Reading from Mark 15: 33 – 39

I was thinking this afternoon about national symbols. In England, the national symbol is the lion (because we have so many lions!). Wales have a red dragon. America has the bald eagle (at least they have eagles in the US). Canada as gone for the maple leaf. Scotland has the thistle.

The symbol of the Christian faith is really strange. The cross was the most brutal means of execution that the world has devised. The Romans were world leaders when it came to brutality. One of their own writers said, “The cross is so horrific you shouldn’t even mention it.” It was the form of execution designed to cause the most pain, over the longest period of time in the most humiliating way.

Why do we have this symbol?

Most biographies will have a page or two about the death of the person written about. But about one third of the gospel accounts are concerned with the death of Jesus and the events leading up to it.

6,000 people die each hour around the world. About two per second. Death is so universal. All of us will face death. It is not unusual that Jesus died. It is not even unusual that He was crucified. Pilate had hundreds of people crucified. And yet there was something about this cross and this death, that is not only remembered 2000 years later but is changing lives 2000 years later!

Jesus wanted His disciples to know that when His death came, it was not an accident. There was an imperative for His death. When Peter questioned the need for Jesus to die, He replied, “Get behind me Satan.” Jesus spoke of giving His life as a ransom for many. His death was not just necessary but it was going to be for others. The greatest thing He could do for us was to lay down His life.  The account we have just read, explains why it was so important.

The Cry

Jesus has been brought before the Sanhedrin and has been found guilty of blasphemy. They don’t have the authority to pass the death sentence so they hand Him over to Pilate who reluctantly agrees. Jesus is severely flogged, led to His death and crucified (about the third hour – 9am). Up to this point, it looked like a normal death but in v33 it says at the sixth hour (12noon) until the ninth hour (3pm) there was darkness. This is not a natural phenomenon.

At the birth of Jesus, the night sky was lit up with the glory of God. The signal of His birth was brightness in the middle of the night. Now at His death, we have darkness in the middle of the day. This is significant. It is a sign of judgement.

The ninth plague on Egypt was darkness, which came before the death of the firstborn. The Old Testament prophets speaks of daytime darkness as a sign of judgement.

Isaiah 13:10 – “For the stars of the heavens and their constellation will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light.”

Zephaniah 1:15 “A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness…”

Amos 8:9 – And on that day,” declares the Lord God“I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.”

The whole land was being judged at this moment. And yet in v34 there is one voice that cries out in distress. Jesus cried, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” The judgement of the land is taking place and one man is bearing it.

People thought He was calling Elijah. He was crying out because He was experiencing forsakenness. It is hard for us to process or imagine what Jesus was going through. There was the physical pain that was happening to His body. It is a level of pain that, for many of us, is outside our frame of reference. There was the emotional pain of being rejected, betrayed and abandoned by His friends. But what makes Him cry out is the spiritual pain. The rejection that pierces His soul is that He is forsaken by God. In the language of one of the future apostles, Jesus was bearing the curse of our sin.

Kevin deYoung describes a curse is the opposite of a blessing.   If you turn the Aaronic blessing on its head you may begin to understand what Jesus was experiencing on the cross. “The Lord curse you and forsake you. The Lord make His face frown upon you and be angry with you. The Lord turn his back upon you and give you wrath.”

Jesus was being pushed out of the most exquisite relationship in the universe so that we might be drawn in. The wrath of God was falling on Him so it might never fall on us.

DL Moody used to illustrate this by talking about wildfires. If someone wanted to protect a town, they would dig a circular trench and set fire to it. When it burnt out, everyone would stand in that circle and they would be safe because the fire had already burnt. At the cross of Jesus Christ, the wrath of God has already fallen. It is the one place where it is safe for us to stand so that we will never fear it.

Jesus Christ shows us how serious sin is. When we are next tempted, let us remember how serious sin is. It is not trivial thing. We mustn’t just wink at it and shrug our shoulders.

We also see the depth of the love of God. We see the love of His father that He would send His one and only son. We see the love of the Son – He went to the cross willingly. He was determined to die for us.   He laid down His life of His own accord.

The Curtain

V37   Jesus dies and the first thing that happens is that the temple curtain was torn in two. Jesus was crucified outside the city but the temple is right in the centre of the city. Why does Mark suddenly cut away from the cross to look at a piece of furniture in the temple?

The answer is what that curtain means. It was the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. It was 6ft tall, 30ft wide and as thick as your hand. That curtain was a mercy. God wants to dwell with His people but sinful people cannot step into the presence of a Holy God. Being a sinner in the presence of a Holy God is like being a germ in the presence of Domestos. That curtain protects us.  Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement (once a year).

Imagine if you thought that you would like to visit the Queen or the President of the US. You cannot just walk in. If you try to get in, you will end up on the evening news. It is just not going to happen. If our leaders have to be kept separate from us, then how much more our Creator who is so unlike us, who is so righteous and pure in all He does.

So we begin to see the significance of what is going on here. The moment Jesus dies, that curtain is ripped asunder (from top to bottom so you see the initiative). As Jesus dies, God is making Himself available. He is creating access to Himself.

I have a poster of John F Kennedy and underneath his desk on the floor of the Oval Office is his little boy John John. There is someone who can walk into the Oval Office whenever he wants and that is his child. It is a wonderful picture of the access we now enjoy with our heavenly Father because of Jesus’ death. God has turned us from people who are sinners in His sight, to people who are sons and daughters in His sight. We now come wrapped in the garments of Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 10 19 – 22: The curtain is torn because the body of Jesus is torn. It is no small thing for us to approach God. We are so familiar with it, maybe we are even bored of it.

Idiot that I am, I find myself thinking, “I have to pray today.”   No, you fool, you GET to pray today! It cost nothing less than the blood of Jesus Christ and the tearing of His body for me to be able to pray to my heavenly Father. What a privilege, what a gift!

The Confession

The Centurion watching the crucifixion says, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” This confession is not news to us (Mark’s Gospel starts with the declaration that Jesus is the Son of God and even the demons knew it!).   But this is the first time a human being has recognised that Jesus is the Son of God and it is someone unexpected. It is a pagan! Not just any innocent pagan – this is the man who has been presiding over Jesus’ death. This man has seen dozens if not hundreds of death and is familiar with seeing death on a cross. This man was there to make sure that Jesus did die but as He sees the way in which Jesus dies, he realises this death is different. This man is different.

Maybe this is how the King of the Jews demonstrates His kingship? This is an entirely different kind of ruler. This is an entirely different kind of Sovereign. Whatever it is, he sees in Jesus’ death, the true identity of Jesus and confesses it. At this point, he is the only person who knows who Jesus is.

There is no death like this one. There is no life that Jesus’ death cannot transform. The centurion was there to make sure Jesus was killed. He ended up confessing Him as the Son of God.

Who is the person you think will never become a Christian? Are they more improbable that this man? Maybe, just maybe, that person who seems so impossibly far from Jesus is you tonight?  There is no life that this death cannot touch and transform.

If you would like the confession of the centurion to be your confession, then look where the centurion was looking! Gaze at the cross of Jesus. Linger there. Look at this man and the manner in which He died. See how the one who is forsaken by God is no other than the Son of God. Hear that cry from the cross. See that curtain being torn for you. And confess with your lips, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”