Sermon: Light in a Dark Place

Bible talk by Steve Millay

Light in a Dark Place
September 12th, 2013 7:47 pm     A+ | a-
Reading Mark 15
For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you do show the Lords death.
The death of the Lord. It was the darkest day ever known to man. The crowd of people screamed that he should die. Men, women and children all were united against this man. It was as if he had committed some horrible crime and people could not even stand the thought of him breathing for one more day. These were normal, every day people that would be seen on the streets or in the market place. These were very religious and devout people who would often pray and offer sacrifices and attend religious ceremonies. But today they were gathered together, united in cause against this man. They felt that they needed to take a stand against this blasphemer. He was disrespectful to the scribes and the high priest; he was breaking the precious Sabbath day laws. He needed to be stopped. It was better that one should die to protect the nation.
The Romans had always thought that the Jews were a strange group. The Jews acted self righteous. They didn’t share their religion with any outsider, but kept it to themselves. They followed very strict rules and it seemed that they were always having some sort of feast or some sort of religious observance. So when this man Jesus was brought to them to be flogged, in their minds this was just another Jew who was deserving of death. This was just another trouble maker, another criminal. The Romans were protectors of the laws. They had the job of keeping things in order. If someone broke the law they needed to make an example of them to warn others what happens to law breakers. There could be no mercy. The more severe and terrible that they punish the criminal, the better the lesson for others. It was better that one should die, so that others would learn to be good citizens.
So the soldiers took this man, stripped him of his clothing and tied his hands to a post above his head. Then they took a short whip made with several heavy, leather thongs in which sharp little pieces of bone were tied. The heavy whip was brought down with full force again and again across the shoulders, back and legs. At first the whip cut through the skin only. Then as the blows continued they cut deeper into the tissues producing a flow of blood and tearing at the muscles underneath. The small pieces of bone first produced large deep bruises which were then opened by repeated blows. Finally the skin of the back was hanging in long ribbons and the entire area was an unrecognizable mass of torn bleeding tissue. Only when the prisoner was near death, did the beating finally stop. Then the soldiers would taunt the victim. This man wasn’t like your normal criminal. His crime was that he thought he was a king. The soldiers got a chuckle out of this. He certainly didn’t look like a king. They laughed at him. He thinks he’s a king does he. Let’s make him cry, lets make him bleed, lets make him suffer to show him that he is nothing more than just a lousy piece of dirt.
One of the soldiers brought a scarlet robe and put it on him. Here you go King he said with disgust to the bleeding man. That won’t do said another, he needs a crown. Here said another, let’s make a crown for him. And he pulled up some thorns from the ground and then placed them on the head of the suffering man. Here let’s give him a staff said another as he brought a reed to him and put it in his hand. Wow what a king they all said. And they bowed before him and mocked him and said Hail, Hail King of the Jews. Then they spit on him and took the reed and smote him on the head with it. When they were done playing they tore the robe off him again, tearing the flesh from his back that had dried to the robe. Blood was everywhere. The soldiers laughed and cursed and pushed the man to the ground. Come King they said, its time to crucify you. Jesus said nothing.
The severe scourging, with its intense pain and blood loss, probably left Jesus in a pre-shock state. The physical and mental abuse by the Jews and the Romans, as well as the lack of food, water and sleep, also contributed to his generally weakened state. Therefore, even before the actual crucifixion, Jesus’ physical condition was at least serious and possibly critical.
The soldiers took Jesus and stretched out his arms and tied them to a crosspiece weighing 75 to 125 pounds and forced him to walk towards the place where they would crucify him. He would fall along the way. And when he fell, he had no way to break the fall, so he fell straightforward into the street, into the dirt. With the weight of the crosspiece on his back, this was enough to inflict major injury to his chest, which would have borne the brunt of the force. It wasn’t long before he just could not move any longer. The soldiers kicked at him, telling the man to get up. They didn’t have any patience for this man. He was just a dog deserving death. They had no feeling for this man. He was just another Jew who wasn’t worth anything.
In the streets people gathered around. There were a lot of people in Jerusalem during those days. Every inn was filled to overflowing and whoever had a little room in his house made it available to the visitors. Many set up tents in the squares and the open places of town. Some say that there were over 3 million people in Jerusalem the day that Christ died. For many of them it was just the time of another Passover feast. They were busy getting ready for a good meal. There were lots to do and it was the night they waited for all year long.
As the soldiers led Christ through the crowd, people could not help but look at the man that was all blood. He was a mess, all torn up. Children stared at the sight. Some women cried and could not bear to look at him and turned their heads away. The soldiers took a man from the crowd and forced him to carry the cross for Jesus. They just wanted to get this thing over with. Outside the gate of the city, they started climbing a rocky hill, until they reached the grassy slope on top of it. From here they could look back at the city of Jerusalem, which was only about two or three city blocks away from this height. No one was looking at the view. This was the place of the Skull. Here they gave Jesus a drink of wine mixed with myrrh. Jesus tasted it, but refused to drink it. The soldiers thought this was strange that one would refuse this medicine to ease the pain. What a stupid Jew. They shook their heads and then threw the criminal on the ground and nailed his wrists to the crossbar with iron spikes that were 5 to 7 inches long. After both arms were fixed to the crossbar, four of the soldiers lifted Jesus onto the cross. Next, the feet were nailed to the cross itself. The pain was excruciating as the nail drove through the skin, into the nerves and into the wood of the cross. When the nailing was complete, a sign was attached just above the head of Jesus. The sign had the name of the condemned man and the crime for which he was condemned of. In this case the sign read: This is Jesus the King of the Jews.
Then the soldiers took the only thing that this man had for possessions. The very clothes that came off his back. This was all he owned and this was their prize for killing the man. They divided his clothes up among themselves, casting lots for them. Then they would parade in front of Jesus showing off the clothes that they had gained. Taunting Jesus and saying look at me, I am wearing the clothes of a king. They laughed at the clothing and sneered at the man who once wore them. All the while Jesus said nothing. Then the soldiers stood back and watched as the man slowly died on the cross. They watched as each time Jesus needed to breathe he would have to lift himself up on the cross. His feet pushing against the spike that was nailed in them causing horrible pain. His weak knees struggling to lift the weight of his body up. His bare back rubbing against the wood, opening up the wounds to fresh bleeding. All this pain just so he could breathe.
It was also not uncommon for insects to be drawn to the open wounds and the eyes and nose of the dying and helpless victim. Birds would sometime come and tear at the flesh of the victim. And while the soldiers watched they listened as the chief priests, scribes and elders stood up in front of the crowd taunting Jesus. These men hated this man so much. They gleefully teased him. “So Jesus, what do you have to say for yourself now?” They said. “You said you could destroy the temple and built it again in only three days. Well show us, what are you waiting for, does there seem to be a problem?” “If you are really a King, come down from the cross. We will believe you if you come down” “So you say you are the son of God? Well, is this how God treats his son? Where is your God now? Why isn’t he helping you?” “You saved others and you can’t even save yourself? Now what kind of prophet is that?” “Well Jesus, we are waiting?” And they walked by shaking their heads. Fathers pointed to the man on the cross and told their children – see that is what happens to bad men. Don’t be bad like this man on the cross.
The soldiers must have been amazed that so many people were against this man on the cross. Who was this man? How could he have so many enemies? Why wasn’t anyone coming to his defense? And even now, when the man was in deep pain and his blood was dripping down the cross. Even now when he was tired, when his face was badly bruised, when his body was completely worn down, even now when his agony was so great and he could hardly even breathe. Even now – the people still laughed at him, and still treated him with disgust, and still called him names. They had no mercy for this man on the cross.
The soldiers must have thought what a strange people these Jews are? How can they hate someone that much? And yet all the while the man on the cross did not curse. This man on the cross did not condemn. This man on the cross said nothing. The soldiers heard one of the other criminals now struggling to speak. Earlier he had cursed the man on the cross, but now he came to the defense of the man. He called him “Lord” and asked him to remember him and something about a kingdom. The soldiers were puzzled by this. What could cause this criminal to speak this way?
Suddenly it began to get dark. Very dark. With the darkness the earth cooled down. It was very strange to be so dark in the middle of the day. The soldiers noticed a woman there, crying out with great tears. This was the mother. She was obviously in great pain watching her son dying before her eyes. Unable to help him. Unable to rescue him. How hard it must have been. Her heart felt like it was cut open. The man on the cross seemed to see her there. He seemed to feel her pain. He looked at her and the man next to her and said “woman behold thy son” and to the man he said “behold thy mother”. Just to speak those words took great effort on his part. The pain was unbearable. The soldiers were amazed that here was a dying man in need of comfort and instead he was struggling to give comfort to those around him.
Not far away from all this the temple was filled with lots of activity. The high priest was there. This was a very sacred and busy time for him. Thousands of lambs were being slaughtered for the Passover feast. The priests would blow blasts from their silver trumpets each time a Passover lamb was slain. The soldiers who were watching Christ die could hear the trumpets in the back ground.
In the temple itself, all along the court, up to the altar of burnt-offering priests stood in two rows holding golden and silver bowls. In these the blood of the lambs which each Israelite slew for himself was taken by a priest who handed it to the next one in line, receiving back an empty bowl, and so the bowls with the blood were passed up to the priest at the altar who poured it on the base of the altar. The smell of blood was everywhere.
While this all was going on a most solemn hymn of praise was raised. The Levites leading the people in song from the Psalms. They chanted the words from Psalms 118, and this is some of what they sang – They sang: “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.” They sang out “Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD.”
Outside the gates of the city, the man on the cross continued to struggle to breath. The soldiers watched in silence now. They could see that the man had little life left in him. He looked so frail and had trouble hiding the pain he was feeling. All of a sudden they heard the man cry out loud – “Father, Father why have you forsaken me?” This seemed to have woken up the crowd. This man had been so quiet up until now and now he was crying out loud. He was in so much pain. One of those who watched said “He is calling for Elias” and he took a sponge and filled it with vinegar and raised it up to him to drink.
And it is at this dark moment in time. The darkest time ever known in the history of the world. The time when the son of God was in so much pain and agony, crying out for his Father to hear him. Feeling alone and forsaken. It was at this dark moment when something happened that is recorded in earlier manuscripts of scripture, but is not explained. It is in this moment that one of the solders took a spear and with a deadly blow, thrust it into the side of the man on the cross. He pierced his side and out flowed water and blood. No reason is given why the soldier did this. But perhaps as he watched this man suffer on the cross and as he witnessed all the things that were happening, perhaps as he saw the darkness fall on the land, and this righteous man shivering, bleeding, and suffering in great distress. Just perhaps it was more than he could take – and thus in his act to put this man out of his misery he fulfilled the word of the prophet – and Jesus died by the shedding of blood. The sword piercing his heart caused Jesus to once again cry out loud, “Father, into thy hands I entrust my spirit”. At that moment there was an earthquake; the veil of the temple was split in two. The ground shook.
And here is the amazing thing. At the darkest moment in the history of man – in the darkest place there could be. A place where the Jews in which Jesus came to save – rejected him. The Roman Centurion who watched as all these events took place. This gentile who the Jews scorned – this Roman soldier spoke the words “TRULY THIS WAS THE SON OF GOD”.
Even in that dark day, the light of the truth still shined. And here it began, just as Jesus said it would when he said “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto me.” So it was then and so it is now. Being now lifted up to Heaven, Jesus continues to draw men to him. Now as we draw near to Him and prepare to eat of our Passover, we think back on these events knowing that by His wounds we are healed.
For as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup we do show the Lords Death. 

Steve Millay
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