Mark 15:33-47

My God, My God Why Have You Forsaken Me?

This week we consider the final moments of Jesus’ life as he is hung on the cross. We are reminded that Christ crucified is a “stumbling block to the Jews and folly to Gentiles,” but to those who by faith have entered the kingdom, He is the power and wisdom of God (c.f. 1 Corinthians 1:22-24).

 

#1 Final Words

Each Gospel writer records a different set of words that Jesus spoke on the cross so we know that Jesus spoke up multiple times. What Mark records fits with how he has been shaping his gospel. He reports the actual Aramaic words that Jesus spoke, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which he then translates into Greek and we have in English, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v.34).

In his final moments, he does not call out “Oh Judas, Oh Judas, why have you betrayed me?” though certainly Judas’ betrayal led to the cross. He does not call out “Oh Peter, Oh Peter, why have you denied me?” though certainly Peter’s abandonment of Jesus stung deeply. He does not he call out “Oh Pilate, Oh Pilate, why have you condemned me?” though if one man was responsible for sending him to the cross it was Pilate. No, Jesus calls out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We learn in these words that Jesus’ suffering is no accident – that it did not come about ultimately because of men but because of God.

Jesus takes his last breath on the cross and dies utterly abandoned and alone. He had already been deserted by his followers, condemned by Rome, rejected by his people, and now even his Father turns his back. When Jesus calls out to his Father, he is quoting directly from Psalm 22 which describes well the agony of the cross.

Many times in the Bible there is a last minute “11th hour deliverance” that comes from God. Moses leads the people through the wilderness with the Egyptians in hot pursuit and when they are apparently trapped by the Red Sea, it looks like all hope is lost, but at the 11th hour the sea is parted and Israelites walk through to safety. Abraham is about to slay his only son when at the last moment, an angel calls out and a ram is found as a substitute for Isaac. This 11th hour deliverance is how God operates time again in the Old Testament so much so that the witnesses to the cross come to expect to witness another 11th hour deliverance. They say “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come and take him down (v.36).”

 No 11th hour deliverance is coming. Hundreds of years earlier Abraham climbed another mountain in Jerusalem and prepared to sacrifice his son. And as we have already said deliverance came at the last minute when a ram was found and sacrificed in Isaac’s place. However, no last minute deliverance comes for Jesus and no substitute is found, because Jesus is the substitute. He will not be delivered so that we might be delivered. This is the meaning behind these words “why have you forsaken me?” Jesus is forsaken by the Father not because of anything in him but because he is serving as our substitute. He is forsaken in our place.

 

#2 Final Events

Mark records three events that took place when Jesus died.

 

-1- Light begins to shine.  

We are told that darkness had come over the whole land from the sixth hour until the ninth hour, that is noon until 3pm (v.33).   Some have suggested that this darkness could have been the result of a solar eclipse but we know this unlikely since a solar eclipse requires a new moon and it was certainly a full moon because it was the time of Passover. There is no easy “natural” explanation for this phenomenon – it was supernatural. As Jesus is calling out to his father and breathing his last, the darkness gives way to light.

 

-2- The temple curtain is torn in two.

At the moment of Jesus’ death the curtain in the temple is torn (Greek, schizo). This is the same word used back in Mark 1:10 to describe the heavens being torn open at the baptism of Jesus. These are two climatic moments in Mark’s gospel.

Now there are actually two curtains in the temple; one leading into the Holy of Holies and one leading into the Holy Place. There is no clear consensus among scholars as to which curtain is in view here the point is clear all the same. Jesus’ death removed the barrier between us and God. Through him we have gained access to the Father (c.f. Hebrews 10:20). And notice that the curtain was not torn just a little bit but from top to bottom (v.38). Jesus completed the work of reconciliation.

 

-3- The centurion acknowledges Jesus to be the Son of God.

Mark 1:1 says, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Now for first time we hear someone refer to Jesus using this title the Son of God and it is a pagan centurion, the very man who was involved with carrying out the crucifixion.   This confession is no less important than Peter’s dramatic confession in Mark 8:29 of Jesus being the Christ.

These three events together testify to the finality of Jesus’ work on the cross. This is why John records the words, “It is finished” and why Luke records Jesus words to the thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” There is no more work to be done.

 

#3 “Final” Resting Place

Having died the issue arises as to what to do with Jesus’ body. Mark notes that there were a group of women who were devoted to him and were looking on from a distance (v.40) but it is not they who act but Joseph of Arimathea who took courage and went to Pilate to ask for the body (v.43). Pilate becomes the first person to doubt whether or not Jesus had actually died but once he gets confirmation from the centurion, he puts those doubts to rest. Pilate has no reason to doubt the centurion and neither should we. The Romans performed countless crucifixions and the soldiers who oversaw it were professional executioners.

Joseph took the body of Jesus, wrapped him a linen shroud, laid him in a tomb and sealed the tomb with a large stone (v.46). Again a group of women, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses (v.47), were witnesses as to where Jesus’ body lay. This is important as they will need to know which grave is his when they return after the Sabbath. There is little possibility of them having found the wrong grave if they had witnessed firsthand where he was laid only a few days earlier. And as we know this will not be the final resting place of Jesus.

 

Discussion Questions

  1. How do Jesus’ final words in verse 34 shed light on the meaning of his death?
  2. Jesus’ words show that he understands the work of divine providence in his suffering and death. Why is it important to be able to see God’s hand at work particularly in our trials?
  3. What is the significance of the temple curtain being torn from top to bottom? How does this event illustrate the gospel?
  4. What is the significance of the centurion being the first person to acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God?
  5. Why do you think Mark includes in his gospel the women who witnessed the crucifixion and burial of Jesus?
  6. Why did it take “courage” (v.43) for Joseph of Arimathea to approach Pilate?
  7. What is one thing you will do as a result of studying this passage?
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