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In this lesson we conclude our study of the gospel of Mark and Jesus' life. We will emphasize Jesus' Last Supper and how the church has understood it, as well as Jesus' death and the theological significance of the "atonement."
A. Last night with disciples (14:1-52)
1. The Passover
2. Three Views on the Lord’s Supper
B. The Final Events of Jesus’ Life
1. The Garden of Gethsemane
2. The Death of Jesus
4. The Resurrection
Lecture: Mark 14-16
Welcome. We are going to close up the Book of Mark today. We’re going to look specifically at issues related to the Passover, the Lord’s Supper, and then issues related to Christ’s death and the Atonement.
Jesus’s Last Night with the Disciples (Mark 14:1-52)
We pick up near the end of the Passion Week, and in chapter 14 of Mark, we’re at the last night with Jesus as he has his last night with the disciples. Mark starts by talking about the fact that the chief priests were looking for Jesus. Verses 1 and 2: “It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, 2for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.” I remember when I was young, I couldn’t figure out why Jesus had to be betrayed, what was the point of the betrayal. Well the point is that the people liked Jesus and they would not have stood for him to be arrested so they were looking for some time to get him when it was quiet and the people couldn’t come to his defense. So the plot to kill Jesus is underway, then there a story of the anointing of Jesus, which is the prophetic preparation for his death and his burial. Judas agrees to betray Jesus; to look for that special time when he could tell the scribes when Jesus was alone.
Then we move into the Passover. It is interesting, Jesus knows exactly what’s going to happen. In verse 21 he’s talking about the coming betrayal and he says, “For the Son of Man,” meaning me, “goes as it is written of him,” in other words, I’m going to fulfill prophecy, “but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” I know the modern media likes to paint Judas as this poor guy that we really should have much more sympathy for, but it would appear that Jesus did not have a lot of sympathy for him, even though Jesus’s death was preordained before the beginning of time, Acts 2. Jesus has set the stage. There are no excuses for Judas.
And then we get into this story of the Lord’s Supper. Let me read verses 22-25: “And as they were eating,” remember they are eating the Passover, “he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body (22).’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it (23). And he said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many (24). Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God (25).’” The disciples were in an upper room, a guest room they were celebrating the Passover Supper and what Jesus starts to do is to reinterpret what Passover is all about. Let’s take a step back historically and make sure it’s clear as to what the Passover is.
The Exodus as the Historical Background
Back in Exodus 12, God was sending plagues through Moses to punish the Egyptians because they had held the children of Israel, God’s first born, captive for four hundred years. He sent plague after plague and the Pharaoh wouldn’t release them, but God knew that the tenth plague, the killing of the firstborn of the Egyptians, would break Pharaoh’s back, and that he as their God would save his people from the Egyptians. This is called the Exodus—the going out. As you read through the Old Testament you realize that this is the single greatest act of salvation in all of the Bible. In the Old Testament they were always looking back to the God of the exodus and how with a mighty hand, an outstretched hand he drew his people out of Egypt by punishing the Egyptians and releasing them.
That’s the historical background and in Exodus 12 right before the coming of the tenth plague, when the Angel of Death killed the firstborn in every family in Egypt. We can hear the institution of what became known as Passover. Let’s start at Exodus 12:3, and I’m going to read this because if you don’t see this you’ll never understand what the Lord’s Supper is all about. This is God’s instruction to Moses, “Tell all the congregation of Israel,” all the Jews, “that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household (3). And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb (4).” In other words, what they are supposed to do is to get enough people so that they can eat all of the lamb and not have anything left over. “Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old (5).” And then later on in verse 6, “when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.” This is to be a nation-wide festival. “Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it (7).” In other words, they were supposed to put blood all around the door of the house where they were. “They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it (8).” We know from elsewhere that they’re supposed to have unleavened bread, because God was going to save them so quickly there wasn’t time for the bread to rise. So eating unleavened bread is symbolic of the speed at which God their Savior does his work. Bitter herbs are there to remind them of their bitter four hundred years in slavery.
Instructions go on and then verse 11, “In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover.” Again, God is going to save his people quickly so you eat this meal together, dressed for journey (11). “For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD (12). The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt (13).” Then as the instructions go on, God makes it clear that this is to be a yearly festival that they keep to remember God’s great act of salvation. For example, Exodus 12:26, “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’” (again, the power of ritual in a family to teach), “you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians, but spared our houses (27).’”
So the Passover in Exodus was a time in which the blood around the door would be a way for the Jews to confess that they were God’s people. Obviously the angel knew whether they were Egyptians or Jews, but it was something they had to do to make a public statement that they were Jewish and then the angel did not enter into the houses that had the blood and went into the other houses and killed the firstborn. This is a difficult plague, and if this were an Old Testament Survey class we’d spend more time. Here we will say one thing: God makes it very clear to the Egyptians, “you have been killing my firstborn and so I will kill your firstborn.” It’s not like the Egyptians were totally innocent of this whole thing. That’s the Passover celebration in Exodus 12.
Jesus Redefines Passover
What’s going on then in Mark 14 is that they are in one of these yearly observances of the Passover Festival. If you were going to read this, probably as Jesus said it, you would find yourself emphasizing the pronouns. For example, in verse 22, “Take; this is my body.” Verse 24, “This is my blood of the covenant.” What Jesus is doing is saying these elements of the Passover used to point backwards to God’s great act of salvation at the Exodus, the going out of the children of Israel out of Egypt. But now this Passover is being redefined to point to something else. It’s pointing to God’s greatest act of salvation, which is going to be Jesus’s death on the cross. The bread now represents Christ’s body and the drink now represents Christ’s blood. We have a very fundamental reworking, redefining of the Jewish Passover Festival.
1 Corinthians 11
The other passage that we tend to go to a lot in talking about this is in 1 Corinthians 11, let me read that as well because this is Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian church about the Lord’s Supper as we call it, starting in verse 23, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you,” in other words, Jesus told me this, “that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread (23),” took Passover bread, “and when he had given thanks,” sometimes we call this the Eucharist, it means to give thanks—it comes out of that word, “and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me (24).’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me (25).’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (26).” There you have again the clear reinterpretation of the Passover that it is now a celebration that is pointing to Christ’s death on the cross. There is no cup, you’ll notice, in Exodus 12—that was added later in Jewish ritual. So by the time that Jesus came along, they had bread and they had a series of cups as well.
The New Covenant
There are so many important things in this paragraph that it’s really worth you’re reading, but there are a couple that I have time to point out. Notice in the 1 Corinthians passage it talks about covenant, “This cup is the new covenant.” What he’s saying is that what my broken body and what my spilt blood represent, is my death on the cross and what it’s bringing about is this new covenant. Covenant means “an agreement” and there are several covenants in the Old Testament. There is a Noahic Covenant, attached to Noah, that God would never destroy the earth again. There’s the big covenant with Moses on Mt. Sinai and the giving of the law. There is Jeremiah 31:31-34—if you don’t know that passage be sure to write it down and read it; it’s a critical passage. Jeremiah the prophet prophesies by God that it that this old covenant is going to end and he is going to bring about a new covenant, a new relationship, a new way of relating to people. In the Jeremiah 31 passage he says that the law is not going to be written on stone, it’s going to be written on the heart, and it’s going to be a covenant in which there is going to be forgiveness of sins. The other passage that is tied to is in Ezekiel 36:22-32. Again if you’re not familiar with that please write that down and read it sometime. In the Ezekiel prophecy, God is saying that I am going to give my people a new heart, not a new heart of stone, but a new heart of flesh and he’s going to do that by giving us of his Spirit. When we have his Spirit in our hearts and our lives then we will be able to walk in obedience. These two promises in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 are the Old Testament basis for the New Covenant, what we have in the New Testament, testament’s the same thing, means an agreement. So what you have is Jesus saying this Passover use to go back and refer to God’s great act of salvation, taken the children of Israel out of Egypt, but now you are to celebrate it in remember of me and what I’m going to accomplish on the cross; the forgiveness of sins, the Spirit going out and indwelling, people having hearts of flesh and not hearts of stone. This is a central and important passage in Scripture.
Three Views on the Lord’s Supper
We need to spend some time on what this means, not just so that we can understand what we call the Lord’s Supper or Communion, but there is so much to what happened on the cross, and this is one of those central things that we have to understand. Let’s talk first of all about the phrase, “this is my body,” and what Jesus meant by that. There’s controversy, and it is a controversy that ever since the reformation, has divided denominations. It has divided reformers; it’s one of those things that divides the Protestant church from the Catholic church. So there’s a lot of controversy. Let me cover the 3 basic positions of what Jesus meant when he said, “this is my body.”
Transubstantiation and Automatic Forgiveness
The Roman Catholic church teaches a doctrine of transubstantiation—it’s just two Latin words, the substance and then trans is a preposition meaning to go over. The doctrine of transubstantiation is the doctrine that the bread and the drink physically become the body and the blood of Jesus. The substances actually morph; they actually change into flesh and they change into blood. You’ll notice in modern Roman Catholic tradition, when you go to get the wafer when the priest puts it on your tongue, because he doesn’t want to spill the body of Christ. In fact, as I understand it, they don’t even drink the cup they just hold the cup up. They are acting out their theology that they think it is physically the body and blood of Christ.
One of those really great goof-ups in my early years of ministry was serving communion with Steve. We had some friends in the church that had recently moved out of Catholicism and had become Christians and they started coming to the church where Steve and I were. I was really sensitive to it, and they were sitting about four rows back. One of the ushers handed me the plate with the wafers on it and I missed the table—I hit the front of it and spilled half of the body of Christ on the floor. Steve looked at me and shook his head, the whole front rows were laughing hysterically. I’m sitting there, and I need to explain to these new Christians, raised in a Catholic tradition, that while I didn’t mean to do that, that’s not Christ’s body sitting on the ground. I tried to do it and everyone on the back rows were going, “what is he talking about?” Anyway they understood that we believe something different. If I had been Catholic that would have been an absolutely horrible thing to have done.
What they believe about transubstantiation is even more than that though. They believe that God’s grace automatically goes to the participant—that God actually effects changes, by his grace, that he actually accomplishes something spiritual in the taking of mass. Wayne Grudem sites a Catholic theologian, actually all the way through the book, a guy name Ott. In a standard Catholic catechism, this is what they say, “As a propitiatory sacrifice,” and that means it is a sacrifice that accomplishes forgiveness, “the sacrifice of the mass effects the remission of sins and the punishment for sins.” So they believe that regardless of who you are or what you are, or anything like that, that if you take mass your sins are forgiven. That’s what we talk about when we talk about grace being automatically given, automatically effective in someone’s life. It is really important to understand that.
You notice that the Catholics think of mass as a sacrifice, they think it’s the physical body and blood of Jesus and that it accomplishes the forgiveness of sins by merely partaking of the mass. Have you ever noticed that Catholic crosses always have Jesus on them? That’s crucial to their theology. Here again, Ott, on page 408 in his book says, “the purpose of the sacrifice, meaning mass, is the same in the sacrifice of the mass as in the sacrifice on the cross. Primarily the glorification of God, secondarily, atonement, thanksgiving and appeal.” So in transubstantiation, there’s a lot more going on than that it becomes the physical body and blood of Jesus Christ. Catholic theology teaches a lot more is going on, specifically forgiveness.
In the reformation these are all doctrines that the reformers simply could not accept, but it was specifically one of those doctrines that Luther and Calvin, two of the greatest reformers, could not agree on. Luther taught a doctrine called consubstantiation. I believe Latin con means along side of or with. Luther taught that Christ’s physical body is present in, with, and under the bread. He wasn’t willing to say that it is just symbolic; Luther felt that in some way Christ’s body was physically present. The bread and the drink wasn’t turned into flesh and blood, but somehow Christ’s body and blood was physically present with the elements, elements being what you eat and what you drink.
Calvin on the other hand, and I don’t think there’s a technical term for this we call it the symbolic view, Calvin said, “No, no Luther. The bread and the wine simply symbolize Christ’s body and Christ’s blood.” In other words, they symbolize his death. Now Calvin taught that there is special spiritual presence of God present in communion, but nothing physical. By the way, we have all kinds of names for this, don’t we. We call it the Lord’s Supper because Jesus is sitting down with his disciples and having a meal together. We call it communion because it’s a time when the body of Christ shares. We call it Eucharist, the word meaning giving thanks, and then Catholicism calls it mass. All different words referring to the same basic, historical event. So Calvin taught the symbolic view; he would say there is in some spiritual sense Jesus is especially present.
Response to Transubstantiation and Consubstantiation
Now let me go through the arguments against the first two positions, and then a qualifier on the third. I’ll let you make up your own minds on that. I think the basic problem with both transubstantiation and consubstantiation is that they fail to see that Jesus is using a metaphor. It’s impossible for me to believe that Jesus was sitting there talking to eleven kosher Jews and everyone was alive and he hands them a piece of bread and he goes, “this is my body,” and expects them to believe that in some sense, it was his physical body. I think Jesus had to have intended for it to be metaphorical. Especially later on when he says, “this cup is the new covenant.” A cup isn’t literally a covenant, but the liquid in the cup represents the death that accomplishes the new covenant. I think it’s got to be a metaphor; it can’t be real flesh and blood.
Secondly, and specifically related to transubstantiation, there’s a much more serious argument and that is that transubstantiation ignores the doctrine of the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice. I’m going to talk more about this in a little detail when we actually get into the Atonement, but I believe the Bible and the reformers taught that the Bible clearly teaches the finality and the completeness of Jesus’s death, that when Jesus died on the cross and he said, “it is finished,” he meant it. His death actually accomplished everything that it was intended to accomplish and that is to be able to cover the sins of the world. Transubstantiation teaches that Jesus’s death on the cross wasn’t sufficient to pay the penalty for your sins and mine, but rather it has to be helped every day by going to mass and re-killing Jesus. That’s what mass is—it’s a sacrifice, and I think that doctrine is really not good.
Response to the Symbolic View
Let me say something about the third position symbolic. I think I know where I fall on this, but let me tell you what happened to me and then you can figure out where you fall on this. The symbolic view says that what you eat and what you drink physically represents Christ’s death and that it has no other significance other than that. I had a friend in grad school who took care of a Baptist church, and he and his wife had an apartment downstairs. This happened a lot in Scotland. One of their jobs was to get ready for communion and they were telling me this story one Sunday afternoon when I was eating with them. I asked them what they had to do to get free housing. They said, “One of the jobs I have to do is get communion bread ready. I get a loaf of white bread and I cut off the crust and I cut it in squares and that’s the communion bread that we use.” The wife said, “You know what I do with the left over stuff?” “What?” She said “You’re eating it.” She put it outside and let it dry and then spiced it up and used it for croutons in the salad. Theologically, I had to say, I believe the bread only symbolizes the body and blood of Christ, I never had spiced communion bread on salad before. It was weird, but theologically I had no objections and I ate my salad. Those are the different positions and what it means to take the Lord’s Supper, communion or the Eucharist.
Past, Present, and Future Aspects of Communion
Let me point out one other thing that I think is really important. I can still remember Dr. Julius Scott, one of my teachers, back in New Testament Survey covering this years ago. 1 Corinthians 11:26 says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” One of the really helpful ways for me as I’m processing communion, as I’m trying to think through it as we’re doing it, is to think of these three timeframes: past, present and future are represented in this verse. As for the past, when you and I take communion we’re looking back at Jesus’s death, we’re saying that he died on the cross for me, that’s what I’m celebrating. You’re saying that forgiveness and salvation only comes through what Christ did on the cross 2,000 years ago.
But there’s also a present aspect to communion. You are proclaiming the Lord’s death, that you are, by saying the words of institution, “this is my body, this is my blood” and by the physical action of taking, you are preaching. That’s what communion is, it is preaching about God and you’re proclaiming the death. And then there’s the future aspect, “until he comes,” that when you and I take communion, we are looking forward to that time when we will sit down at the great marriage supper of the Lamb that you have in Revelation 19 and eat again and drink again with Jesus. It’s pointing out that the basic orientation of believers is that while we are in this world and dealing with issues, our basic orientation is forward. We’re looking forward to that time, the great marriage feast, when we as the bride will marry the groom in Heaven. So that idea of past, present, future helps a lot.
Terms and Frequency
Let me cover a couple of other words and then we’ll take a break. We use the words ordinance and sacrament and the distinction is very important. I’ve already touched on this, but let me cover it. Catholicism and some of the mainline Protestant denominations talk about the Lord’s Supper as a sacrament. What they mean when they say that is that the sacrament in and of itself conveys grace. Without any faith or act of involvement on my part, God effects changes in me, he forgives me for example. So when they talk about a sacrament, that’s what’s behind that word. God is forgiving you and doing things in you without your participation. Most Protestants use the phrase ordinance, and all that we mean by ordinance is that God has ordained this ritual. Protestants have two ordinances, two rituals, that we were commanded to obey, the Lord’s Supper and baptism. Catholicism has, I believe, seven sacraments. The distinction in the words is important to notice.
Second, how often are you supposed to take communion? Some of those who have been around for a while know that this thing has split churches for hundreds and hundreds of years. Some have communion every week, some have it once a month, some have it four times a year, some have it once a year. I don’t think Scripture mandates how often we have communion. The early church had it very frequently, and I don’t want to say that the early church was wrong, but if someone were to press me on communion, this, I think, would be my position. When Jesus says, “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me,” what is this? Passover. Do this as often as you’re going to do Passover. Do it in remembrance of me, not of Moses and God fourteen or so hundred years ago, do it in remembrance of me. Passover is a yearly festival, it’s not a weekly, it’s not a monthly, it a yearly festival. Now I’m not going to say we can only have communion once a year, but that’s my little particular heresy that I keep pushing. Understanding communion will help us understand what happened on the cross, but it’s also such an important ritual in the church, and there’s a lot of division over it, so I wanted to spend some time on it.
Student Question: What would be your response to a pastor who would not take communion anywhere except his own church?
Response: I worked in a church for three years, and because I hadn’t been baptized in that church, I was not allowed to take communion. I think that’s built on a very incorrect understanding of what the church is. This is the church, those people down the street are the church as well, and it’s a defining of the body of Christ in a way that I can’t find any Scriptural basis for. When we have communion here, if you are a child of God you are invited because this is the church. It may have the name Shiloh Hills Fellowship, but it’s the church, and therefore if you are a child of God, you’re welcome. I really take issue with defining church as a non-profit entity within a certain physical location.
You notice in our Statement of Faith for the Biblical Training Institute, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances to be valued and observed, and now you know why I say that. We are told to be baptized certainly and we are told to partake of communion. They are visible signs representing spiritual truths: the death of Christ and its efficacy. They do not accomplish salvation, in other words, they are not sacraments, they are ordinances. The Lord’s Supper is the present proclamation of Christ’s atoning and sacrificial death and it looks forward to his return. There are the three time references.
The Final Events of Jesus’s Life
Ok, we move now into the final events of Jesus’s life and I’m going to go through these rather quickly, not because they are not important, but because we probably know much of this. Jesus foretells about Peter’s denial, telling Peter he’s going to tell people that he doesn’t even know Jesus.
The Garden of Gethsemane
They go down to the base of the Mt. Of Olives in the Kidron Valley to where the Garden of Gethsemane is and he prays. Look especially at 14:36. This is going to come up later on, but I wanted to mention it in context. His prayer was, “Abba, Father,” Abba is Aramaic for father, “all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” It’s a rather strongly worded request, the ESV brings it on a little stronger than most. Notice, “Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will.” One of the other Gospels that says it differently, “if it be possible.” If it be possible, remove this cup, this time of suffering from me. The fact that Jesus had to go through it tells us something about Jesus having to die. He says, if it’s possible, remove this cup from me. It evidently was not possible. Jesus had to die if you and I were going to be forgiven.
Judas comes and finds him when he’s alone, betrays him, they arrest him, they take him at night to the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling body, and put him on trial. It’s obviously a horrible trial, it’s totally illegal by Jewish law, there has to be time between accusation and trial; you can’t try people at night. There were false testimonies brought to Jesus. Two verses I want to point out are verses 61 and 62. All this was going on, “But he remained silent and made no answer.” That must have driven them nuts. “Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed (61)?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of Heaven (62).’” Jesus was giving them the evidence that they were looking for, making illusion to the Son of Man prophecy in Daniel, claiming to be the Son of Man, claiming to be God. That was all the evidence that they needed. He was taken to Pilate the next day. He did not defend himself. Part of that was because he was fulfilling prophecy. Isaiah 53:7 says, “he opened not his mouth,” so that was part of why he didn’t defend himself. Barabbas is released and Jesus is scourged, and while a recent movie that emphasizes the scourging might be helpful, Scripture passes over it rather quickly and moves on to his crucifixion.
I really believe that when Jesus was praying in the Garden, “if it be possible may this be taken from me” he wasn’t concerned about the scourging nearly as much as he was concerned with the fact that he was about to be made sin, all the sin of all the world, and to be separated for the first time in eternity from God the Father. I think that’s what he didn’t want to have to do, if there was any other way to do it. Thankfully the answer was no and he went ahead and he died for you and for me.
The Death of Jesus
The death of Christ is a tremendously important thing to understand. We’re right in the middle of the Gospel. I want to read Mark 15:33: “And when the sixth hour had come,” Jesus has been up on the cross for quite some time, “there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour (33),” from noon to 3:00. “And at the ninth hour,” 3:00, “Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani (34)?’” which is Aramaic, which was his mother tongue, “which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” He’s quoting Psalm 22:1 and it’s a fulfillment of prophecy. Probably what was going on is that he was wanting to express his intense pain in biblical language. He knows that God hasn’t abandoned him. I remember reading somewhere that someone said that what he may have been calling out is how long is this going to go on. It’s possible that Jesus did not know how long, that as he was carrying the sins of the world and God the Father was removed from him that Jesus didn’t know how long that was going to take. It took 3 hours. Some people say that the language means, “Shen is this going to be done, when is this going to be over.”
“And some of the bystanders hearing it said, ‘Behold, he is calling Elijah (35).’” This is not a biblical tradition, but a Jewish tradition of some sort I would guess. “And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying,” that would have been something to help numb the pain, “‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down (36).’ And Jesus uttered a loud cry,” and we know from the Gospel of John he cried out “it is finished!” “and breathed his last (37). And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom (38). And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God (39)!’” Remember the title of Mark, 1:1, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This is the final affirmation that Jesus was in fact the Son of God.
The tearing of the curtain is probably the most powerful metaphor for me in all the Scripture because the temple curtain was about a six-inch-thick curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from where they did their sacrifices. The Holy of Holies was where God’s presence used to live. The Jews thought that he still was there. Only the High Priest could go in and he could only go in once a year and so the curtain represented man’s separation from God. On the cross when Christ died, he ripped the curtain apart so you and I can go into the direct, unmediated presence of our God. The tearing of the curtain is tremendously powerful and symbolic of a very deep truth that we hold dear.
What actually is going on when Jesus is dying on the cross? The technical term is the Atonement. The Atonement is simply the doctrine of what happened on the cross. Again this is one of those events that has no parallel and so it’s hard to describe. You have to come at it from various angles because there is nothing of analogy to it, there’s nothing that is equal to it, so you try to describe it coming at it from different points of view. The Atonement is all of those things together.
What the Atonement Is
What actually is happening? God the Father was separated from Jesus for the first time in all eternity. Jesus, the Lamb of God, as John calls him, was paying the penalty for your sins and mine. I think the most powerful verse to describe what happened on the cross is 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him,” Jesus, “we might become the righteousness of God.” When we say that Jesus died for our sins that’s a gross understatement. It’s not wrong it’s just incomplete. It’s that in God’s mind, and that’s where truth and reality really exists, Jesus committed the sin that you and I committed. He was made to be sin, he was made to be your sin, he was made to be my sin. If you want to read some detailed discussion of this, Wayne Grudem has a marvelous discussion, and his discussion changed the way I talk about this. It’s not just that he paid the penalty for our sins, but he actually, in God’s mind, was made to be my sin. He had to be made to be my sin and your sin so that you and I could be made the righteousness of God. It’s not like God says, “I’m going to treat you as if you were righteous,”, but Christ’s righteousness is imputed to her, given to her, and she is righteous because it’s Christ’s righteousness, and God the Father takes it and gives it to Mary. That’s what going on on the cross, that’s why 2 Corinthians 5:21 is such a deep powerful verse. On the cross Jesus was made to be sin, he who knew no sin so that you and I could be made the righteousness of God.
Paul in Galatians 3:13 talks about Jesus becoming a curse for us. He took on the curse of the law in order to pay the penalty. Wayne Grudem, in his theology on pages 574-5, goes into some detail in talking about how God is pouring out his wrath on Jesus for the sin that you and I committed—the sin that he was made to be. So there was a lot going on in those three hours as Jesus was made to be sin, all the sin of the world so you and I can be made the righteousness of God.
In a theological sense, his death is more significant that the resurrection. In a theological sense, Friday is more important than Sunday. We’re going to talk about Sunday in a second, and it’s important, but it was on Friday that our sins were paid for. It was on Friday that he was made to be sin. At the deepest level of what it means to be a child of God, it happened on Friday. This is really an important time.
Terms that Describe the Atonement
There are various terms that we use to try to describe the Atonement. One we sometimes talk about the word that it was a “sacrificial” atonement. For example, Ephesians 1:7 says, “In him,” meaning in Jesus, “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” The Atonement was accomplished through his blood, it involved death, it involved the giving of life. So we talk about it being sacrificial. Sometimes we talk about the Atonement as being “vicarious.” Vicarious simply means it was for someone else. For example, Romans 5:8 says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That’s what vicarious means that it was done for us. A related word to vicarious is the word “substitutionary,” and it means that Jesus died in our place and there’s a slight difference between vicarious and substitutionary, but it’s the same basic idea.
Another word that is used to describe the Atonement is “propitiation.” Here are a couple different translations of it, since translations struggle with how to translate a word that is difficult. The ESV says, “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood.” The NIV is going to help a little: “God presented him as a sacrifice of Atonement through faith in his blood.” They are saying what the word propitiation means is that it is a sacrifice that accomplishes atonement. It’s a sacrifice that accomplishes forgiveness. The New Living, and again these are legitimate translations as we talked about earlier, just different philosophies of translation, says, “For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us.” The RSV uses the word expiation instead of propitiation, and the NLT is joining these two things. “For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins” is what expiation means. “To satisfy God’s anger against us” is what the English word propitiation means. It’s an important word, propitiation, because it is saying that on the cross God’s wrath was poured out on God/Jesus, and it was only because he was God, that he was able to bear the burden.
We also sometimes talk about redemption or ransom, the same basic idea. They’re metaphors that are from the slave market. If you were to see a slave and you wanted to buy that slave you, would redeem them, you would ransom them. The two ideas in redeem and ransom are that a price was paid and freedom was secured. On the cross Christ paid a price, his death, so that you and I could be set free from the mastery of sin. Revelation 5:9 says, “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you, meaning Jesus the Lamb, “‘to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Again this is another way to try to describe that a price was paid so that freedom could be secured, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin. Those words are all helpful and they are all hitting the cross from different angles trying to give us an appreciation for the fullness of what was actually happening.
Debates over Atonement
In the history of the church in the last one hundred fifty years, atonement has been a super hot topic. When liberalism attacked the church a hundred years ago, this was one of the areas that it really attacked. They would argue, for example, that it was barbaric to think that Jesus’s death satisfied God’s anger against sin and against us. For liberals, they usually think of atonement in terms of an example of self-giving love that motivates you and me to give ourselves as well to others. It truly is that. It is an example of sacrificial self-giving love, but that hardly scratches the surface, according to the Bible, of what actually happened on the cross.
Whenever I talk about the atonement, the idea of God becoming man and for three horrific hours being made to be the sin of the world, something that was so horrific that he asked his Father if there was any way for me to get out of this, and still provide forgiveness for creation, I would really not prefer to do this. I don’t think there’s any way that we can imagine the depths of suffering and anguish. I really don’t think that being whipped, as bad as that was, was anything compared to the pain that Jesus went through when he was made my sin and made your sin. It’s something you all are going to have to struggle with it as I do.
Let’s move onto the issues of heart and some more theological issues that are helpful to look at. The first is, what was God’s motivation for doing this? Why on earth would he die on the cross for your sin and mine? There are actually two motivations. There may be more in Scripture. The first is obviously love: “for God so loved the world that he gave his only son.” For some unfathomable reason God actually loves you and actually loves me and it’s a function of his mercy and it’s a function of his grace. Phil Yancey says grace means that I can’t do anything to make God love me more and I can’t do anything to make God love me less—he just loves me. So that’s the motivation.
There was a second motivation, and that was justice. This is an important thing to see. In Romans 3:25 at the heart of Romans and the heart of the Gospel and Paul’s talking about Jesus’s death, I’ll start reading at verse 23: “
A. Revelation 5:9 : Revelation 14:3; Psalm 33:3
B. Revelation 5:9 : Revelation 5:6
C. Revelation 5:9 : Revelation 14:3, 4; 2 Pet 2:1
D. Revelation 5:9 : Revelation 7:9; 11:9; 14:6; Dan 3:4
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Everyone has sinned, therefore making right with God, being justified is a gracious gift and the gift is made possible because Jesus was our propitiation, he was our atoning sacrifice. Then he continues in verse 25: “This was to show God’s righteousness (25),” in other words, the death of Christ was to illustrate the fact that God was a righteous God. Here’s what would have brought his righteousness into question: “because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” You’re not going to get this from Leviticus, but you’ll get if from Hebrews, where, when you’ve seen his fullness that the shedding of blood of bulls and goats has never taken away sin. What Jesus did, what God did through the sacrificial system, was in fact pass over their sins because he knew that his Son was going to die: “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he (26),” God, “might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Now, that compresses theology, but what he’s saying is that Jesus had to die. If Jesus had not died, then God would not have been just, he would not have been righteous at ignoring human sin. The shedding of the blood of bulls and goats never brought about forgiveness, only the death of God, who was man, could bring about the forgiveness of sins.
In once sense, Jesus did not have to come to earth and die, and God would have been totally loving and totally just to allow us to die in our sins and spend eternity in Hell. There’s nothing in reality that forced God to die for us, to forgive us. But once he decided to forgive us, then his justice demanded that the right sacrifice be made. If the right sacrifice is not made, then he is no longer just. The only sacrifice that could be made was the death of the God-man Jesus Christ. His love and his justice were the motivating factors in sending Jesus to die for our sins.
Second of all, certainly the Atonement emphasizes the seriousness of sin. Sin is so serious that God can’t ignore it. Think about that. There are a lot of things that you and I can blow off. But sin is so serious that if God was going to forgive us, God had to die for us. In Matthew 26:39, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” It’s not possible. If there’s going to be forgiveness, Jesus had to die. On the road to Emmaus in Luke 24, Jesus says to the disciples, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
A. Mark 14:36 : Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6
B. Mark 14:36 : Matt 19:26
C. Mark 14:36 : Mark 10:38
D. Mark 14:36 : John 5:30; 6:38; Phil 2:8
The answer is yes. That’s how serious sin is that it demanded the death of God in order for it to be forgiven. Woe unto us if we ever treat sin lightly because when you and I treat sin lightly we’re devaluing the death of God on the cross aren’t we.
Thirdly, and I mentioned this earlier, is the doctrine of the sufficiency of the cross. This is a tremendously important doctrine. The doctrine of the sufficiency of the cross says that Christ’s death on the cross is sufficient to cover the sins of the world. Now there are certain debates that are going to fine-tune that, but the point is that if you come to God in repentance, there is nothing that you can do that can put yourself outside of God’s ability to forgive you. His death was sufficient to cover the sins of all who would repent. I’m going to state it that way and if you don’t know what I’m dancing around that’s fine.
Let me give you an example. I’ve been dancing around it for the last three weeks of sermons too. In Hebrews 9:25-28, the writer is comparing Jesus to other things and he says about Jesus, “Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own (25),” he’s trying to show that Jesus’s death accomplished something beyond what any high priest could accomplish, “for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world (26).” In other words, if Jesus’s death was like the sacrifices that the High Priest offers, then Jesus’s death would have to be repeated all the time. “But as it is, he has appeared” (Jesus) “once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (27), so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, all who ask, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin (28),” because sin has already been dealt with, “but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” That’s one of the two pivotal passages on the sufficiency of Christ that Jesus appeared once, he took care of sin once, nothing else remains to be done.
The other passage is in Romans 5, and I don’t mean to be picking on Catholicism, but if you have friends in the Catholic church, this is one of the central doctrines, and you need to be able to expound it clearly, because it will be life-giving for them. It is freeing in a way that nothing else will free them. They need to hear that Christ’s death on the cross, once and for all, completely and totally covered the cost of their sins, the penalty of their sins. Jesus doesn’t have to keep dying and they don’t have to keep doing things. So the doctrine of sufficiency is important.
The other passage in Romans 5:18. Paul’s been qualifying himself all the way through this chapter so he won’t be misunderstood, and then he concludes in verse 18 that he’s been comparing Adam and Christ: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men” (Adam’s sin in the Garden), “so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men (18)” (Christ’s death on the cross), “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous (19). Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (20), so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (21).” Again densely compressed theology, but what he’s saying is that just as sin entered the world through one man’s sin and pervaded all people, so also through one man’s act of righteousness, the sins of all who would ask can be forgiven. These are important passages on the sufficiency of Christ.
Fourthly, there are many other things we could say about the Atonement, but certainly when someone comes to wrestle with the significance of Atonement, the uniqueness of Christ is obvious. When people devalue Christ, when they say all roads lead to God, or there’s other ways to have sins forgiven what they are doing is they are devaluing the work of Christ on the cross. They’re saying he didn’t have to die, because we can get there through the road of Buddhism, the road of Hinduism, or the road of knocking on doors. When you understand what the Atonement is, what you understand is that Christ is absolutely unique. The reason that you and I are exclusive in our belief that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and Life and no one else comes to the Father, but by him, is that only Jesus tore the veil, only Jesus died on the cross for sins, only Jesus was made to be sin so that you and I can be the righteousness of God. When you start to come to grips with what the Atonement is about, you’ll understand why Jesus is absolutely unique. The message of the Christian church is exclusive, because Jesus was the only one to do anything about sin. It’s impossible to earn salvation because it was Jesus and the cross and not me.
The Significance of Three Days
Let me say something about the resurrection because this is too critical and I can’t skip it. What was going on in the resurrection, three days later? Judaism taught that the spirit of a person hovered around for three days and then left, so if a body was in the grave over 3 days (this is not Old Testament theology it’s Jewish), the idea was he was totally dead—the spirit’s gone. I don’t know if there are other things going on in prophecy with the three days, but after three days, when no one would have expected him to get up he did rise from the dead.
The Purpose and Implications of the Resurrection
What was the purpose of the resurrection? First and foremost, the resurrection was there as public validation that Jesus’s death accomplished all that he said that it would. Jesus’s death would have paid the penalty for sin whether he rose from the dead or not, but the rising from the dead is a public validation that in fact he was sinless, that he had accomplished the work that he was sent to do, and it was a validation for you and for me that the tomb is now empty and the body is gone. Jesus had no sin of his own to die for, therefore, the body had to be released.
There are probably more than these four points, but secondly, the resurrection is the guarantee of our resurrection. When we look at the story of the resurrection what we are is guaranteed our own. 1 Peter 1:3 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth,” he has caused us to be born again, “into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” You and I will rise from the dead because Jesus rose from the dead. It’s his resurrection that becomes our guarantee. If you want to read an in-depth discussion on resurrection, it’s in 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul unpacks a lot about the resurrection. He says that there were some people in Corinth that were teaching that there’s no such thing as resurrection, and Paul says “if there’s no resurrection from the dead then Christ is not raised and if Christ is not raised then we are to be above all people most pitied.: So the resurrection is a fundamental doctrine in the Christian church and I do not believe you can be a Christian without believing in the resurrection.
Thirdly, the resurrection certainly was for our encouragement. This is related to the second point. Ephesians 1:19-20 makes the point that the power that raised Christ from the dead is the very power that is at work in you and in me. So whenever you feel powerless, you have in yourself, in the functioning of the Holy Spirit, the very power that gave life to a dead body and raised Jesus from the dead. That’s the power that you and I deal with, and shame on us when we think that God can’t do what God’s said he’s going to do.
Fourthly, there are some pretty strong ethical implications that are drawn out of the doctrine of the resurrection. You can read them in Romans 6:4, 11 and 1 Corinthians 15:8, but the idea is in the Romans passage, that just as Jesus was raised to a new life, so also you and I are raised in our conversion to a new life, a new life in which the mastery of sin has been broken and sin is not to play an ongoing role in our lives. There are verses like this, and the verse in 1 Corinthians 15:58, where the writers will talk about the resurrection and then draw implications about it out. That’s much too quick of a discussion of the doctrine of the resurrection, but we’re out of time.
We are through the end of Christ’s human life in Mark, with an emphasis on the Passover and the Atonement.