Summary: The story of the Passion of Christ in Mark's gospel is filled with paradoxes, i.e., "seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statements that, when investigated, prove to be true." This sermon explores "Passion Paradoxes" in Mark 15.
A pre-Easter sermon (e.g., Palm Sunday)
April 9, 2017
NOTE: A PowerPoint or ProPresenter 6 slide presentation is available for this sermon upon the request at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TEXT: Please turn in your Bibles to Mark 15
As I studied Mark 15 preparing for today’s sermon, a number of paradoxes jumped out at me. Webster’s defines a paradox as a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that, when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.
For instance, someone said, “Some of the biggest failures I ever had were successes.” Now a failure is, by definition, the opposite of success. But we understand that though technically that statement is self-contradictory, what may be a failure today might turn out to be something.
As I studied this passage, I realized that the paradoxes in this text help us see the crucifixion of Christ from God’s perspective, for what seems on the surface of the text to be true, in the light of God’s plan they are true on an entirely different level.
For instance, Tacitus, the Roman historian, recorded only a single short sentence about Judea during the whole life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus that simply said: “nothing of significance happened in that time during those days.”
What a paradox! The greatest historian of the era could say that nothing of importance happened in Judea when in reality, all of time and eternity pivots on what Jesus did in Judea in that day.
Let’s examine the many paradoxes of the cross this morning:
I. FIRST, WE SEE THE PARADOX OF STRENGTH OUT OF WEAKNESS.
Think about Jesus’s weakness on the way to Calvary, known as the Via Dolorosa.
In Mark 15:22-24 we read, “And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross. 22 And they bring him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull. 23 And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not.”
In this passage, Mark uses the vivid present tense in the Greek, so even though in the King James Version (what we refer to as the “KJV”) we find past tense words, Mark writes the story as if it is occurring before our own eyes. The Greek reads like this in this passage: “They carry Him, they crucify Him, they divide His garments, they are wagging their heads.”
Can you see it?; feel it?; experience it? This literary device was used by ancient writers to evoke the sense the reader being an eyewitness to the events recorded.
The words translated “bring him” in verse 22 in the KJV literally means “to bear Him” or to “carry Him,” not to bring or lead Him in the Greek. So in the Greek Mark is saying “they are bearing Him into the place Golgotha.” Jesus left Jerusalem carrying His cross, but on the way He staggered under it.
So verse 21 says that they pressed Simon of Cyrene into service to carry His cross. Having endured the agony in Gethsemane, having been up all night as he was judged by a kangaroo court, and having been whipped and tortured, Jesus was so weak by this point, that not only was Simon needed to carry the cross, but the soldiers had to “bear” or “carry” him along the rest of the way to Golgotha.
So here’s the first paradox of the Passion: He who bore all of our sins not only had to have someone else carry His cross but He Himself had to be carried along.
Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus upholds all things by the Word of His power. He who bears all things by the Word of His power, had Himself to be borne along on the way to the cross—the Via Dolorosa. He who carried the sins of the world had Himself to be carried. They bore Him who would bear the sins of the world in His own body.
In most artists’ conceptions of the crucifixion, Christ is painted as valiantly facing death standing straight, having a glow of light around Him. But this picture is not the one Mark paints. He paints one weaker than the weakest, fainter than the faintest, tireder than the tiredest, bleaker than the very bleakest.
But the weakness on the way to the cross was a willing weakness. We read in verse 23 that “Then they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it.”
Wine mingled with myrrh was a narcotic drink for those suffering the excruciating pain of the crucifixion. The words “they gave him” are in the Greek imperfect tense, meaning “they kept giving him wine mingled with myrrh,” not once, but repeatedly. But each time, Jesus steadfastly refused.