|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||The Death of Christ|
|Text||Mark ch.15 v.37 |
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"And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost" (Mark 15, 37).
This is a short verse and is written without any exclamation mark or anything special to draw attention to it. There is no sensationalising of this event. The writer here tells us simply that Jesus, just before He died, gave a shout and then gave up the ghost. Yet you and I know that this was the most important event which has ever happened since the world began. It is the most important that ever will occur in the history of mankind: the death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The writer tells us here then that Jesus shouted or made a loud cry. It seems clear enough when we look at all four gospels that what our Lord shouted was these words - "It is finished". Notice that He shouted with a loud voice. Before people die usually they are reduced simply to a whisper and you have to cup your hand to hear what they are saying as they are about to pass away. But our Lord did not whisper - He shouted and then died. What does that tells us? It tells us that He was full of strength right up to the moment of His death and that when our Lord died, He did not die because His strength failed but because His work was finished. No one took away our Lord's life from Him; He died of His own free will. He had power to take His life and He had power to lay it down again. And He had power to take it up again in the resurrection. He had full control over life - something that you and I and others do not have. Having shouted in that way - almost certainly with these words, "It is finished" - our Lord then, says Mark, "gave up the ghost" (text). We know what that means. It is not a very common expression today. If you look at other versions of the New Testament they have this translation. Some say, "He expired", others, simply, that "He died". One translation has - "He breathed His last".
I want to spend a moment telling what the other gospels say at this point. Matthew puts it like this: "Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost" (Matthew 27, 50). Matthew also tells us about this loud shout. Clearly it is something important. Luke tells us this, "And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost" (Luke 23, 46). So again, in Luke, emphasis is laid upon the fact our Lord made this loud shout. When we turn to John we have these words: "When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost" (John 19, 30). The death involved our Lord, voluntarily, allowing His human nature to enter into a state of death. He had held His head erect and firm for the six hours in which He was on the cross up to this point. At his point He allows His head to fall forward. That may be simply because as death took hold of Him, naturally all the muscles relaxed and there was nothing to hold His head from falling forward. I don't know but I rather think there might be more to it than that. I can't be sure but I rather wonder if it was a sign that His work was finished. When we have completed an exercise of writing an essay we take a ruler and 'rule off'. It may have been that our Saviour was 'ruling off' - bowing His head because He had finished His work. He had nothing more to do. Every detail required of Him was now complete. All He had to do now was to die.
This was the greatest event that ever has occurred in the history of the world. It was so because here our Lord was doing mighty, mighty things. He was taking away the sin of the world; He was reconciling us to God; He was bringing in everlasting righteousness; He was satisfying divine justice; He was paying the debt which our sins owed to the justice of God for the breaking of the moral law. Here the work is complete and having completed it, having shouted with a loud cry - "It is finished" - He then relaxes His body in death. Death was necessary as well as life. Not only must our Lord suffer but He must needs enter into death because the wages of sin is death. Without His physical death the sacrifice would be incomplete. It was not enough for Him to live, not enough that He should be scourged, not enough that He should be nailed, spat upon, hated and crucified - but necessary that He should actually enter into death, which here He does lovingly and readily for you and me. So says Mark with the simplicity of a child, "Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost" (text).
I want to look at this subject from three angles today.
First of all I want to point out to you that this was an amazing death. Second I want to remind you it was a saving death. Third I want to point out that it was a comforting death.
This death was different from all other deaths - astonishingly different. Men die because of their own sins: "The soul that sinneth", says God, "it shall die" (Ezekiel 18, 20). From the beginning of history to the very end, every one who dies will die for his and her own sins. The graveyards of the world are filling up day by day - thousands, millions, thousands of millions, teaming millions have died already and will yet die. Every one that dies will die for the sake of his own sin. But this man's death uniquely is different. He did not die for His sins but for ours.
Then again it is an amazing death like this: here is the death of One who is God. We must be careful, of course, how we put all that. God as God cannot die and He cannot suffer. It is impossible for God either to suffer or to die. I do hope we are clear about that. The proof is this: if God could suffer and die as God there would have been no need for the incarnation; Christ would have suffered and died for us in His divine nature. But God cannot lie or die or deny Himself, therefore, if there is to be a Saviour who is God, that Saviour must take human nature in order, in our nature, to suffer and die. So we must be clear in our minds what is meant by the death of One who is God. He died in the human nature but not in the divine nature. I hope you are familiar with the old Puritan illustration of a soldier who has his sword in its scabbard. He puts his hand on the handle of the sword and holds the scabbard firm and draws the sword. In triumph he holds them both aloft. That is what Jesus did in His death. If you like, the scabbard and the sword together are His human nature: He is God held, soul and body with human nature, together in this life. What He did in death was He drew the soul from the body: the soul went to heaven at once, the body into the grave for three days. But He was still holding body and soul together; they were still united to His divine nature and His divinity and godhood. So I say that this is an amazing death: the death of one who holds His own soul and body apart for those three days. Death was not His conqueror as it is our conqueror. In a limited sense, as Christians, death will not wholly conquer the Christian - that is true; at the least it is an enemy - the last enemy. However, for Him death was the means to the termination of His work and the completion of His redemption. An amazing death!
This death left absolutely nothing undone in the course of His previous life. When you go to a graveyard you will sometimes see a broken column. That is, a pedestal which the architect or mason has chopped off deliberately. That is the symbol of a life incomplete. Perhaps a young man in the prime of life cut down by disease or illness or accident. Our Lord was only thirty-three, in the prime of life, but He was not appropriate in any sense to an erect 'broken column' - His work was complete. Every jot and tittle that God had required of Him He had done. An amazing death: the death of One who, up to His last breath and beyond, was still fulfilling Scripture. "I thirst" (John 19, 28), He cries in fulfilment of Scripture. "They shall look on him whom they pierced" (John 19, 37). They were doing so right there and then. Our Lord's whole ministry, even in death, was the fulfilment of all.
This is an amazing death and I ask you if you have ever wept as you meditated upon the sufferings and death of Christ? Have you warmed your heart with frequent meditation on the glory of this God-man? Let me go on to remind you how unkind people were to Him. No one ever showed such love and kindness as He did. Notice now who they preferred. There was a custom we are told at the beginning of this chapter in which Pontius Pilot being the Roman Governor had the option at Passover time to let free one of the criminals held in custody in prison. He asked the people of the Jews if he should do as he ordinarily did and let the 'King of the Jews' - as they called Him - go free. Their response was - "Not this man, but Barabbas" (John 18, 40). Barabbas was in prison for what we would today call terrorism, insurrection, rebellion, revolt. In the course of his career he had become a murderer we are told. The people cried out, "Not this man, but Barabbas" (John 18, 40). We need to pause to ask ourselves why the people preferred the release of this desperado rather than the release of Jesus Christ who was wholly harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners. He went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil. Let us ask ourselves why they preferred him to the Lord. The answer I am sure is this, that however much people are afraid of criminals and terrorists, their hatred for holiness is still greater. Isn't that terrible? It is a commentary on the fallenness of fallen nature. I say again, however much people are afraid of criminals and terrorists, what they hate still more are a holy man or a holy woman. They can't cope with that. Human nature shrinks away in horror at the thought of real godliness, real solid holiness. It was the purity of our Lord's life which threw them into the shame. Their envy of Him was the superb and sublime character which He displayed before them. They could see very well divinity written in every feature of our Lord's life and ministry and they couldn't bear it. Dear friends, we must understand the Bible to teach that we are all by nature, all of us, haters of God because He is so pure and holy. What unkindness our Lord received.
I remind you too under this heading of An Amazing Death that it was also a Real Death. Our Lord did not fall into unconsciousness on the Cross. It wasn't a case of becoming comatose; He didn't simply take a fainting fit or enter into any state of consciousness short of full consciousness. No, no, our Lord died a real death. It is an amazing death and so simply Mark describes it: "Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost" (text). No fanfares, no exclamation marks, no underlinings, just so simple; so simple my friend that if you are not careful you may miss the seriousness, gravity and importance of it. We mustn't do that. We must see if never we saw before, this is the event of all events. We don't sing hymns and Christmas carols, of course, in our churches but I have to confess to you that Philip Brooks in one of his carols has two lines of (I shall call them) poetry, which whenever I read them or recite them to myself, sends a shiver down my back. It goes like this -
O little town of Bethlehem,How still we see thee lie!Above thy deep and dreamless sleepThe silent stars go by:Yet in the dark streets shinethThe everlasting Light;The hope and fears of all the yearsAre met in thee tonight.
'The hope and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight' - that was, of course, at the birth of Christ. Those are clever words: 'The hope and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight'. The birth of Christ was to divide all mankind as also the death of Christ divides all mankind. O pale face, O empty veins, O death of One who is God in our nature! Who can comprehend it! We speak like children lisping when we refer to these things. The very angels in heaven would have veiled their faces as the sun did in heaven when it darkened for these three hours at the unspeakable mystery of God in our nature dying upon the cross.
This, of course, is a Saving Death - not simply Amazing but Saving. All Christ's life and His death and sufferings - all that He did in this world - were necessary for salvation. It does help if you ask yourself this question: "When did sin begin to be reckoned to Christ? When did He begin to be the sin-bearer?" That question is not as obvious as you may suppose. If you don't believe me you try it out on your Christian friends. Say to them, "When did Jesus begin to bear our sins?" You probably, unless you have a well-instructed Christian friend, you will probably hear them say this to you. "Our Lord bore our sins on the Cross" - which is true. Then say to them, "But when did He begin to bear our sins?" You should know that He began to bear our sins the moment He came into this world. He was born under the imputation of our sins. He was made of a woman, says Scripture, made under the law - that is to say, under the curse of the broken law. Our Lord lived under the curse of the broken law of God and all the days of His life from early childhood He bore our sins. You and I read the Bible and we call it Bible study; when our Lord read the Bible as a little boy He saw Himself all the time as having to go through the agonies of the crucifixion that He knew was ahead of Him. He knew very well He must be about His Father's business and that business would take Him to the Cross. All Christ's life was suffering and all His sufferings were vicarious - they were substitutionary, they were penal; all His temptations, trials and afflictions were for our sakes.
We see here too His blood must be shed if we are to be saved. That is why our Lord had to be treated in this way. It wasn't sufficient that He should be strangled; it had to be in a way that opened up wounds in His body for blood to pour. He was a sacrifice; He was a holocaust which is simply another word for a whole burnt offering. He was the very reality and substance of all the sacrificial offerings of the Old Testament, which we read about in Leviticus and Numbers for instance. All of those sacrifices were pointers and all of them required death and the manipulation of blood. Blood was essential in the Old Testament ritual: "Without shedding blood is no remission" [of sin] (Hebrews 9, 22). Blood was taken from the slain beast in the Old Testament and it was in various ways sprinkled, poured, manipulated and applied to ears, to fingers, to toes, consecrating, sanctifying, purifying, cleansing. Blood had to be on everything! Even the very Tabernacle was sanctified with blood. So Christ, who is the great anti-type of all those sacrifices, He must needs shed His blood. That is why it is that whenever we read carefully about the sufferings and death of Christ, blood is everywhere. If you had stood in the crowd watching our Lord being crucified and then watching Him in His crucified state you would probably have said, "Blood, blood, blood everywhere - His hands, His feet, His head, His back!" Everything was blood: He was a sacrificial offering to God.
Let us not forget that He was acting for us but not simply for us, He was also acting for God. Perhaps, because we all tend to be so man-centred, we forget this. Our Lord's first concern in becoming a sacrifice for us was not simply the man-ward side of His work, but the God-ward side of the work. This requires a little thought and concentration. You see God can do everything except one thing. There is one thing God cannot and will not do: He will not deny Himself. That means to say God cannot and will not forgive sin without there being a satisfaction made to His own holy justice. This is what is meant by God being a jealous God. God loves His own glory first. God loves His own holiness first. He will not forgive anyone his or her sins without there first being sufficient atonement made to compensate for the guilt of the sin which is pardoned. I try to speak reverently but I cannot do justice to the magnitude of these thoughts, neither have we words adequate; may God forgive our poor speaking. As we speak, we speak as children. However, in God there is justice and also love and mercy. Before the death of Christ, there was, so to say, a sort of tension between the justice of God and the mercy of God: justice demanded the punishment of sin and mercy in God requested the pardon of sin.
I don't know if you know what I mean by this but in great music - not sheet music but the music of the masters - there is in music what is called a suspension; that is a deliberate conflict of sound before the final resounding conclusion. There is a sort of discord which you call a suspension waiting for the music to subside into a final conclusion. The mind is immediately alerted by this discord to the thought it is not over yet - more must come to put it right. So, if we may be pardoned the illustration, so in God. All through the Old Testament, there was as it were a tension in God: How can God forgive the sins of Abraham and Moses and David? They were great sins as yours and mine are. Justice demanded the punishment of those sins and the mercy of God requested the forgiveness of those sins. It was only when the Lord Jesus Christ actually, by His atoning blood, paid the price to God's justice for the sins of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and others, that the attributes of God's justice and mercy could kiss one another. That is the word used in Psalm 85: "righteousness and peace have kissed each other". There was no reason now, in view of this blood and death, why God should not forgive all sin. His blood is of sufficient worth to pardon ten million worlds, if ten million worlds there were. We therefore speak about the blood of Christ as being sufficient for the sins of all the world, and indeed, all the devils. There is sufficient merit in the blood of Christ to save all angels, all devils and all sinners.
That is the sufficiency of it but then we have to go on to say there is an efficiency as well as sufficiency. The efficiency of Christ's blood is that it cleanses those only of mankind who believe in Him - the elect - those who are His, those who believe the Substitute is for them. So I say, it is saving, redemptive blood. Listen to the way the writers put it: "the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1, 7); "who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2, 20).
There is a very interesting preposition in the New Testament - the little word 'for'. That word 'for' is used again and again and again in reference to the blood and death and sufferings of our Lord: the Son of God "loved me and gave himself for me"; God "hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Corinthians 5, 21). This little word 'for', it is an all-important word because it really teaches nothing less than substitution. The word 'for' here means, 'on our behalf' and 'in our place'. Jesus was a public person, not a private man as you and I are. There were only two public persons in the whole of history - Adam and Christ. That is why He is called the second or last Adam. As we perish in Adam, so we are saved in Christ. His death, therefore, is a death which has us in view as the goal and intention of all His agonies. It is saving death, saving blood and saving suffering. With this motive behind it - His eternal love towards His own people, the love of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit - it is that love that motivated our Lord in my text to cry with a loud voice, "It is finished" (John 19, 30), and then to give up the ghost.
My dear friends, you must believe if you are to get peace, you must believe in this blood and in this death and in this Saviour. There is no other way to heaven. The gate that leads to heaven has doors that are covered in blood; you can't get to heaven any other way. The way to the presence of God, into the holiest of all, is a blood-sprinkled way. There is no other way. Human goodness, human virtue and human learning are all worthless because they cannot compensate for human sin, but the blood of Jesus gives peace to those who trust in Him. If you want faith, assurance, Christ, God, heaven and eternal rest, here is the Way, here is the Door, it is this blood-shedding and agony of Christ. O the price that was paid! O the suffering; no eye of man has seen it, no eye of an ark angel has conceived the unutterable woes and suffering of Christ; they are beyond all thought or experience. It is to save your souls and mine that He did it.
Which leaves me a moment or two in which to say something thirdly about this death as a comforting death. It is a comforting death because however much you suffer, you shall never suffer as much as He suffered. We do suffer as His people, do we not? Have you not had people tell lies about you? So did He! Have people not said unkind things to your face and behind your backs? So with Him! Have they not hurled insults upon you, misrepresenting you? So they did to Him! Look at His example however. One thing we do not see ever in Christ on the Cross is complaining, murmuring, hurling insult in exchange for insult. Our Lord committed Himself to God. You see, "there will be a resurrection of reputations as well as of bodies" (C.H. Spurgeon). Our Lord's reputation was solid by Pharisees and Scribes, "He saved others," they shouted, "let Him save Himself! Let Him come down and we will then believe." All those insults dropped off - our Lord was raised from the dead and ascended on high and sat down at the right hand of majesty, and there He is in the glory. In the end every knee will bow to Him. My dear suffering Christians - suffering lies, insults and misrepresentation - God will give you the resurrection of your own reputation. In the end, people who have spoken unkindly of you will come to wash and kiss your feet. They will have to apologise publicly before the entire universe for misrepresenting a child of God for whom Christ died. Is that not some comfort to you.
Here is another comfort. Our Lord knows what suffering is. He has been through it; He is well acquainted with all manner of suffering and He lives ever to be the High Priest in heaven, full of sympathy. It is wonderful, isn't it, to have a sympathetic friend and to say to him, "O you have no idea what I have been going through." But Christ has gone through it - He knows. There is nothing you can tell Him about your own suffering but He understands, He remembers it still. Our Lord in heaven feels the pangs of His people here on earth. I can prove that from what He said to Saul who was the persecutor before his conversion: "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me" (Acts 9, 4)? He didn't say, "Why are you persecuting my people?" What is done to God's people is done to Christ. Isn't that the same for a man and his wife? If you insult a man's wife, you insult the man. You can't speak evil of a man's wife but you insult the man - they are one. So it is with Christ and His people, they are one. Insult the Lord's people if you please and our Lord feels it is done to Himself - a dishonour. Whatsoever you suffer for Christ's sake He knows, He feels; He will deal with those who are unkind and unfair to His people. O pity those who show unkindness to Christians, they will eat bitter fruit before they are done: either repentance, which is the better of the two, or something worse - pray God not that.
I use an illustration as I close. This is a comforting death because our Lord has gone to prepare a place for every one of His people. That is what He is doing now - "I go to prepare..." (John 14, 2). My illustration is a simple one. A rich man may prepare for his guests. He has a large house with many rooms. When he is expecting many guests he instructs all his servants. Before his guests come to stay for the weekend, he makes sure the staff are all in their places. The cooks are busy preparing their food; the chambermaids are putting all the beds in good order. Everybody is doing exactly what they are called upon to do - preparing for the guests. My friends, if you and I could see it! Every angel in heaven is preparing for the people of God to come home to glory. That is what they are doing - preparing for the children of faith for whom Christ died.
I love those words of John Bunyan which were spoken at the funeral of Her Majesty the Queen Mother. John Bunyan is referring to the Pilgrim who was on the verge of death and these were among the words he spoke. These are not the exact words but close to it. "I have in this life lived by faith but now I go to the place where I shall live by sight. I shall look upon the face of my Master that was spitted upon for me and I will adore Him throughout all the ages of eternity."
That is the death of Christ - an amazing death, a saving death, a comforting death. There is only one thing that we can say in the light of it all and it is said by that centurion who stood before Christ seeing and hearing all this: "Truly this man was the Son of God" (Mark 15, 39).
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