Summary: 6th Sunday in Lent, Year B.

Psalm 118:1-2, Psalm 118:19-29; Mark 11:1-11; John 12:12-16; Isaiah 50:4-9; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 15:1-47.

ANTICIPATING HOLY WEEK.

(A) Psalm 118:1-2; Psalm 118:19-29.

As the crowd approaches Jerusalem for the great annual feast, the mood is one of thanksgiving (Psalm 118:1-2).

The leader of the pilgrims cries out to the gateman of the Temple: “Open to me the gates of righteousness…” (Psalm 118:19). Jesus is the forerunner, gone into heaven on our behalf (cf. Hebrews 6:20). We too may “enter the gates of righteousness and give thanks (praise) to the LORD.”

The reply comes from within: “This is the gate of the LORD, into which the righteous shall enter” (Psalm 118:20). The righteous are those who have been rescued by the LORD: those who have been made ‘right with God through the Lord Jesus Christ’ (cf. Romans 5:1). It is Jesus who has ascended into heaven (Ephesians 4:8), and we in Him (Ephesians 2:6).

The lone voice is heard once more (Psalm 118:21). In effect - “Thank you, LORD, for hearing and answering my prayer: it is you who have saved me.” The sufferer acknowledges his deliverance; Jesus acknowledges the Father’s hand in overcoming death; and the repenting sinner embraces the full free salvation which is ours in Christ Jesus.

The use of this Psalm in Christian worship, and the association of these words with Jesus, is firmly underlined in Psalm 118:22-23, which is quoted extensively in the New Testament. The irony is that the One who was cast aside and left for dead, is the very One who holds the whole building together (Ephesians 2:20). “The stone which the builders rejected” who is made “head stone of the corner” is Jesus.

Jesus uses these words of Himself (Matthew 21:42). Peter argued for the resurrection from this text (Acts 4:10-12). It is the touchstone (no pun intended) which marks out the difference between those who believe, and the disobedient (1 Peter 2:6-8).

As the feast approaches, every day is acknowledged as the day of the LORD. To the Christian, every day is “the day that the Lord has made” (Psalm 118:24). Every day with the Lord is a season for rejoicing.

Our pilgrims prayed for a holistic salvation (Psalm 118:25; cf. 3 John 1:2). The gatemen welcomed them as those who came in the name of the LORD. The travellers received a benediction from out of the house of the LORD (Psalm 118:26).

The term “save now” (Psalm 118:25) - transliterated as ‘Hosanna’ - was used by the crowds who met Jesus as He entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:9). They recognised Him as the Messiah, and cried with this Psalm “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD” (Psalm 118:26).

It is the light of the LORD which has brought us thus far (Psalm 118:27). Jesus is the light (cf. John 8:12). Out of several possible translations of Psalm 118:27, we may surmise that “the procession is drawn to the altar with branches”, or that “the sacrifice is bound to the altar with cords”.

When the pilgrims entered Jerusalem for any of the festivals, the first place they would want to go is to the altar. When Jesus entered Jerusalem at the beginning of Passover Week, the palm-waving crowd (John 12:13) strew branches in the way before Him (Matthew 21:8). Yet He entered as the Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7), the full, final sacrifice for our sins.

It is only right that we should praise the LORD, and honour the name of Jesus (cf. Psalm 118:28). Our Psalm ends with the echo of its own refrain. “O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good: for His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 118:29).

(B) Mark 11:1-11.

Another group of pilgrims was arriving in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, and those already there were shouting the traditional welcome: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Mark 11:9). The words are from Psalm 118:26 – a Psalm which is often heard at this feast. It was a festive hope that perhaps ‘this year’ the ‘Son of David’ would arrive to conquer Israel’s enemies.

Pilgrims would usually enter the City on foot: so this one traveller was noticeable in that He came riding on a colt. A humble enough animal, but there was something about the man. Mark does not mention Zechariah 9:9, but other gospel writers do: could this be the King, humble and riding on a colt?

The crowd evidently thought so, as the traditional welcome went a stage further with not only the waving of branches purposefully taken down from the trees, but also the spreading of their garments in the way (Mark 11:8). The liturgy became pregnant with hidden meanings - “Blessed be the kingdom of our father David: Hosanna in the highest” (Mark 11:10). Hosanna means, ‘Save now’ – an appeal to God for deliverance, which is also used to express praise and adoration to God.

When Peter, James and John were in the mount of Transfiguration with Jesus (and Moses and Elijah), Peter had characteristically blurted out the first thing that came into his mind: ‘for he knew not what to say’ (Mark 9:6). Perhaps the crowd were doing this here: for who really knew who Jesus is, or what kind of salvation He had come to accomplish? Yet Jesus knew, and so would all who would eventually have faith in Him.

Jesus had spoken about His coming death on more than one occasion. Mark 10:33-34 explicitly mentions Jerusalem; and Mark 10:45 mentions the substitutionary character of His death. As the apostolic band passed through Jericho, Jesus healed another blind man who thereafter followed Jesus in the way (Mark 10:46-52) - demonstrating that there is still hope for those who have faith (cf. Hebrews 11:1).

Jesus was well aware of what awaited Him in Jerusalem, but was all the more determined to go there. The events of our current passage demonstrate that He remained in control of His own destiny. Every move was replete with Messianic undertones: even His approach toward the City from the direction of the Mount of Olives (Mark 11:1; cf. Zechariah 14:4).

The finding of the colt (Mark 11:4) was no coincidence: Jesus had demonstrated prophetic insight (Mark 11:2). The detail that the colt had not yet been broken in is significant, as it rendered the animal ceremonially clean. He even anticipated the challenge of the bystanders (Mark 11:5-6): and no doubt when the two disciples said, ‘the Lord has need of him’ (Mark 11:3), that settled the matter.

The disciples cast their own garments over the colt, and sat Jesus upon him (Mark 11:7). All was set for Messiah to make His triumphant entry into Jerusalem – but the sequel would not involve the planting of the Davidic banner in the City Centre and a Maccabean-like call to arms. Kings rode on colts to demonstrate their peaceful intentions - and whatever men may do to Jesus, He came to establish a ‘peace which passes all understanding’ (Philippians 4:7).

Mark’s masterful anti-climax is: Jesus entered into Jerusalem, went into the Temple, looked around; and when evening came, He returned to the Mount of Olives (Mark 11:11).

The Cross was already casting its shadow.

(C) John 12:12-16.

First, in this short passage, we see the sense of expectation of the people of God (John 12:12). We read that “much people” who were come to the feast, “heard” that Jesus was coming to the City. And hearing, they acted on it.

It is good to “hear” the preaching of the Gospel, but we must also learn how to make an appropriate response to it and act accordingly. Also, in the light of the teachings, warnings and signs of the second coming of Jesus, we also should be living in anticipation of that event. ‘When the son of man comes, shall He find faith on the earth?’ (Luke 18:8).

Second, John's is the only Gospel to tell us about the palm branches. Scholars tell us that palm trees did not grow in the mountainous region of Jerusalem: so, palm branches had quite possibly been imported from the lowlands around the River Jordan and were readily available for the Jewish feasts of Tabernacles and Passover. The occasion called for celebration: so, the people in our text acquired palm branches, and no doubt waved them as Jesus approached Jerusalem (John 12:13). What would happen if Jesus was coming to our town or city - or even church - today?

Their cry of “Hosanna” is a transliteration from Hebrew into Greek (into English). It comes from Psalm 118:25, and seems to mean, “Save now, please.” Although the people might not understand it yet, this is what Jesus had come to do (cf. Luke 19:10).

Psalm 118, which was part of the liturgy for the festival, continues, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD: we have blessed you out of the house of the LORD’ (Psalm 118:26). This was recognised as a Messianic verse, and no doubt the people who cried “Blessed is the King of Israel that comes in the name of the Lord” (John 12:13) at least hoped that Jesus was the One who would fulfil the dreams and expectations of Israel (cf. Luke 24:21). Old Simeon certainly had been waiting for the ‘consolation of Israel’ (Luke 2:25) and recognised the infant Jesus as ‘a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel’ (Luke 2:32).

Perhaps the enthusiastic crowd saw this “King” as a Maccabean-type character, who would drive the Romans out of the Holy Land? What they could not at this point anticipate, was that this “King” whom they acknowledged had come to be ‘enthroned’ upon a Roman Cross, with a superscription that at one and the same time acknowledged and mocked His Kingship. Suspended between two villains, His was, after all, a much greater, and a much more universal mission (cf. John 12:32).

Next, John mentions the donkey (John 12:14). I have observed before how Pontius Pilate would have entered Jerusalem about this time, on a charger. By way of contrast, the donkey is symbolic of Jesus’ humility (cf. Philippians 2:6-8).

John has been emphasising that Jesus’ time had not yet come (cf. John 2:4; John 7:6; John 7:8; John 7:30; John 8:20). Now Jesus deliberately exposes Himself, because ‘the hour is come that the Son of man should be glorified’ (John 12:23; cf. John 12:27). John emphasises that the entry of Jesus thus into Jerusalem is “as it is written” (John 12:14).

The passage cited in John 12:15 is Zechariah 9:9. However, there is no “fear not” in that Old Testament verse, but rather, ‘Rejoice greatly’. The “fear not” seems to come from Zephaniah 3:16, which is part of a much earlier prophecy (Zephaniah 3:14-17), which nevertheless provides a perfect commentary on Zechariah 9:9.

Now, John is at pains to tell us that the disciples did not understand these things at the first: but when Jesus was glorified (John 12:16). It is doubtful whether the disciples even understood what Jesus meant when He later spoke of being ‘glorified’ (cf. John 12:23); but they remembered afterward. We cannot understand everything straight away, but the Lord enlightens us in due time.

(D) Isaiah 50:4-9 - Third Servant Song.

Like the fourth Servant Song, Isaiah’s third Servant Song fits remarkably with some of the details of Jesus’ sufferings.

Jesus did not shrink from His task (Isaiah 50:5). His attitude to the Father who commissioned Him was, “not my will, but yours be done” (Matthew 26:42).

He allowed His back to be sorely whipped (Isaiah 50:6), and suffered the torments of the Roman soldiers. He faced the spiteful vindictive taunts and venomous spitting of his own people.

Jesus knew that the LORD would sustain Him. He set His face like a flint (Isaiah 50:7) so that He might cry “It is finished” (John 19:30) at the completion of the task for which He came to this earth.

In another of the Bible’s many courtroom dramas (Isaiah 50:8), the roles will one day be reversed. He who was the accused will be the judge at the final summons. Those who condemned Jesus will then have to face up to what they have done (Isaiah 50:9), as will those who kindle the fire of rebellion against Jesus (Isaiah 50:11).

Even in the midst of the contemplation of His sufferings, Jesus is calling us out of darkness into light (Isaiah 50:10). He continues to cry out to the weary (Isaiah 50:4) and heavy laden (Matthew 11:28). Put your trust in the LORD, and He shall sustain you (Psalm 55:22).

(E) Psalm 31:9-16.

The Psalmist was in a trap. Boxed in. Depressed.

We have all been there. I have been stuck down a pot-hole. Somebody else knows what it is like to feel all alone, abandoned. Others are slandered.

Terror is all around (Psalm 31:13). “But I trusted in you, O LORD: I said, ‘You are my God’” (Psalm 31:14)!

The Psalmist does not at first tell us what his trap is, but after the deliverance David speaks of ‘the marvelous kindness of the LORD in a besieged city’ (Psalm 31:21). Like I say, he has been boxed in.

There is much about this short passage which speaks to us of the Passion of Jesus, also.

His anguish in the Garden (Psalm 31:9-10). (Where we may have ‘iniquity’ in verse 10, He has, in another translation, ‘misery’). He is, after all, ‘a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief’ (cf. Isaiah 53:3).

The scorning of adversaries, the denial of friends, the dread of acquaintances; a fear to those without (Psalm 31:11; cf. Matthew 26:67-74).

The whispering, scheming, plotting of many - “terror all around!” (Psalm 31:13; cf. Matthew 26:14-16; Matthew 26: 59-60).

There is also the brokenness which we commemorate at Communion (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:24); the grave as well: “passed out of mind as one who is dead” (Psalm 31:12).

“But I trust in You, O LORD,” says Jesus. “You are my God” (Psalm 31:14). But even then, the scorners mock: ‘He trusts in God; let Him deliver Him now’ (Matthew 27:43).

Yet trust we must, for there is no other.

“My times are in your hand” (Psalm 31:15). What a blessed reassurance this is!

“I am trusting in you, O LORD,” I say. “You are my God” (Psalm 31:14).

In this trust, in this faith, we can call down upon ourselves the Aaronic blessing, no matter what befalls us (Psalm 31:16; cf. Numbers 6:24-26). The Lord Jesus has been there before us. In His grace, in His mercy, in His covenant love, the LORD will not fail to respond.

(F) Philippians 2:5-11.

I. THE HUMILITY OF CHRIST.

Jesus placed a little child in the midst of His followers telling them that they had to be like a little child in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. By this one symbolic act He teaches us to accept the kingdom of God with the humility and trust of children.

Jesus not only taught humility, but lived it. His journey to the Cross was the most selfless, self-giving, loving act ever performed. He who is the only begotten Son of God gave Himself as the full final sacrifice for the sins of His people. He suffered the wrath of God against sin in His own holy Person, with the ultimate indignity of separation from God the Father.

1. The Example of Humility (Philippians 2:6).

In teaching the Philippians the need for humility, the Apostle Paul takes Jesus Himself as his model.

Elsewhere Paul urges, “Be imitators of me” (1 Corinthians 4:16), and of course we must seek to be like the best of Christians because they are the most like Christ (Philippians 3:17).

Most importantly, we must follow the example of Jesus. After urging against self-interest (Philippians 2:4), Paul says “Let this mind be in you…” (Philippians 2:5). Paul goes on to describe the wonderful self-emptying of Jesus.

In heaven Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, could enjoy all the benefits of equality with God (Philippians 2:6). However, there came a juncture in the counsels of eternity when God the Father, looking at a world spoiled by sin and in need of a redeemer to put things right between God and man, asked “Whom shall I send?” Jesus uttered the historical answer of Isaiah: “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8).

In time Jesus would appear on the stage of history. Foreseen by King David, He uttered the words, “Lo I come; in the roll of the book it is written of me; I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:7-8 ).

He taught His disciples and us to pray, “Thy will be done.” He carried that attitude to the garden of Gethsemane, and the cross of Calvary, praying, “Not my will, but yours be done!”

2. The Self-Emptying of Christ (Philippians 2:7).

The incarnation of Christ involved Jesus holding back from the privileges of His Divine Son-ship in order to take upon Himself our frailties and weakness (but not our tendency to sin, as He remains God!) By becoming man, He was able to bring mankind into the Godhead. As one ancient writer said, “He became what He was not so that we might become what He is.”

We may never be equal with Jesus in His unique Son-ship. “But to all the people who received Him, He gave the right (the power, the authority) to become sons of God” (John 1:12). He did this so that His people might be allowed to partake of His privileges by entering into the family of God, male and female becoming entitled to the rights of sons. Paul describes this process as a self-emptying (Philippians 2:7).

Jesus emptied Himself of all that singled Him out as equal with God, so that sinners like you and I can have fellowship with the God whom we have offended. He was born of a woman, and laid in a manger. He lived as an ordinary man until the time came for His ministry to begin.

He knew what it was to suffer want, to be hungry, to be thirsty, to be tired. He knew pain, suffering and bereavement. He wept real tears. He loved and served His fellow man in every way that He could throughout His time on earth. In all things Jesus obeyed God, as no mere man can do.

3. The Obedience of the Cross (Philippians 2:8).

Jesus’ obedience reached beyond the keeping of commandments, to the ultimate indignity of “becoming sin for us, who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus being born and living a good life was not enough to secure salvation for mankind. A price had to be paid: the penalty of our sins.

In Jesus, God was paying that price. He gave His only-begotten Son to die for our sins. Only He could do it, because only He is untarnished by sin.

Jesus had to go all the way to the Cross (Philippians 2:8). This was the ultimate indignity. In Roman times crucifixion was reserved for the lowest of the low: those who were classed as slaves. In fact, when we are told that Jesus became a servant (Philippians 2:7), the Greek word used is the word we translate “slave!”

When Jesus died, all the sins of all His people were laid upon Him. He became sin for us, but was never a sinner like us!

4. The Sacrifice Accepted (Philippians 2:9-11).

Thankfully, the death of Jesus was not the end. Death could not hold Him, and the tomb had to expel Him as surely as the whale had to expel the prophet Jonah. On the third day He rose again. Risen, triumphant from the grave!

By His resurrection we can be sure that God has accepted the sacrifice, and that He will also accept us if we put our trust in Jesus. Death could not hold Him, and for us death has lost its sting. The wages of sin is death, spiritual and eternal death, which is the lot of us all without Christ.

The worst death of all is eternal separation from God. This we need not suffer because He has paid our debt to God, suffering all our hells in His holy Person. We are being offered the free gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus.

Jesus rose from the grave, ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From there He will return to judge the earth, and “every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11).

5. “Let This Mind Be in You…” (Philippians 2:5).

The reason for Jesus’ death was not primarily to set a good example. It was to pay the price of our sin. Yet it is, incidentally, the best example of humility ever displayed to humankind: “He loved us, and gave Himself for us” (Galatians 2:20).

So likewise, we should be loving and self-giving towards others. We need never re-enact what Jesus has done for us, the once-for-all sacrifice, but we must be ready to do whatever God may require of us in His service. He is exalted, and our labours of love for Him will not be without their reward.

II. THE ATTITUDE OF CHRIST.

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:5).

As we begin to evaluate this exhortation of the Apostle Paul, it is appropriate to ask some questions, not only of our text, but also of its context. Who is this Christ Jesus who is here held up as our supreme example? What did He do that is so exceptional? What was the result? And how, to what degree, and with what limitations, might we follow His example?

1. The Christ Jesus of our text is described in Philippians 2:6 as “the form of God.”

The Greek phrase suggests not a mere shadow or outline, but the outward manifestation of God. He is the Word made flesh; Immanuel, God with us; the same who was in the beginning with God, without whom nothing was made that is made; by whom all things were created, and by whom all things consist.

Jesus says to His disciples: “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). He is co-equal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit from all eternity; the eternally begotten Son of God, who “thought it not robbery to be equal with God” - equal in deity; equal in Godhood. Such truths have simply to be accepted - they are taught in the Bible, and what we may not explain by human reason, we must accept by faith.

2. This same Christ Jesus, who in virtue merely of who He is, is worthy of praise and adoration, is said in Philippians 2:7 to have “made himself of no reputation.”

The idea is that of a voluntary humbling of Himself, divesting Himself of the privileges of Godhead. In accordance with the language of the Servant songs of Isaiah, He now “took upon Himself the form of a servant,” of a slave - not just the visage of a slave, but making Himself lower than the low. At His incarnation, He was “made in the likeness of men” - not just an imitation, a phantom, but the reality.

He became flesh, and dwelt among us, as bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. He was conceived by the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and became actually and really a human being. He became what He had not been before, and so is, and continues to be, God and man in one Person forever.

It is mystery, a miracle of miracles: “God manifest in the flesh!”

3. Thus clothed in true manhood, we read in Philippians 2:8, our Lord “humbled himself.”

Born in a stable, raised in obscurity, rejected by His own people, yet Jesus was ever gentle and patient and long-suffering. In the upper room the most tender demonstration of His humility took place when he girded Himself with a towel, and washed the disciples’ feet. He “became obedient,” subjecting Himself to the law of God, demonstrating obedience to us as an example, and fulfilling obedience on our behalf. He was obedient to God, even “unto death” ; taking upon Himself the penalty of our sins, saving us from eternal death, and restoring us to God in this ultimate demonstration of God’s love. His death was even “the death of the Cross” - an accursed death to bear away the curse of our sin.

4. In the example set before us we see that it is not the end of the story, nor indeed can it be. Every sacrifice has its reward, and now Christ is elevated from the tomb to the throne: “God hath also highly exalted him” (Philippians 2:9).

The sealed sepulchre could not contain Him, He overcame death on our behalf, and countless were the witnesses to his resurrection. “He is not here, he is risen,” said the angel - and even now He is alive, seated, His work completed, at the right hand of God, ever interceding on our behalf.

5. His is the “Name above every name,” and He is ruling, with His enemies as a footstool - and even those who said, “We will not have this king to reign over us” must submit to Him eventually; for “every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,” as Philippians 2:10-11 tell us in essence.

6. “Let this mind be in you,” Christian friends.

The “you” in the Greek of Philippians 2:5 is plural. Let this mind be in each one of you individually. Let this mind be in you all, collectively. Although we may never, need never, could never, do all that Jesus has done in His unique Person, yet we must learn to be “living sacrifices” for God. Without the Cross, there is no crown. Without holiness, there is no heaven.

If we want to be first in God’s kingdom, we must learn to be the servant of all. Why? Because “even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

“Let THIS mind be in you.”

(G) Mark 15:1-47.

I. THE KING FORSAKEN.

After the Sanhedrin had delivered Jesus to Pilate, the first thing that Pilate asked Jesus was, “Are you the KING OF THE JEWS?” Jesus answered, “Thou sayest” (Mark 15:2). Beyond that, Jesus refused to answer any of the accusations brought against Him by His accusers.

Pilate had an arrangement with the crowd during the Passover, that he would release one prisoner to them. This was his opportunity to release Jesus without losing face. “Will ye that I release unto you the KING OF THE JEWS?” (Mark 15:9).

The chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them. “What would ye then that I should do (unto Him) whom ye call the KING OF THE JEWS?” (Mark 15:12). And they cried out, “Crucify Him.” “Why, what evil has He done?” No answer but to cry out all the more exceedingly, “Crucify Him” (Mark 15:13-14).

Now Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent, and that the chief priests had delivered Him out of envy. Pilate also knew that Barabbas was guilty but, willing to content the people, Pilate released Barabbas to them, and had Jesus scourged and handed over to be crucified. Amongst other abuses, the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, mockingly similar in shape to the royal diadem of Caesar, and thrust that upon the head of Jesus, and they began to salute Him, “Hail, KING OF THE JEWS” (Mark 15:18).

At the third hour (9 a.m.), they crucified Him. The superscription of His accusation read, “THE KING OF THE JEWS” (Mark 15:26). Jesus was crucified between two thieves, in fulfilment of the Scripture which says, “He was numbered with the transgressors” (Mark 15:28; cf. Isaiah 53:12).

Passers-by, priests, and scribes all now mocked Jesus. “Let CHRIST THE KING OF ISRAEL descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe” (Mark 15:32).

At the sixth hour (12 noon), darkness covered the whole land, for three full hours. Too long to be an eclipse. At the ninth hour (3 p.m.), Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?” (Mark 15:34; cf. Psalm 22:1).

This is the only time when Jesus addressed the LORD as “My God” rather than “Father.” It is known as the cry of dereliction. Yet it is remarkable that, deserted though He may have felt, Jesus still knew God as HIS God. Believers can draw great strength from this, even at times when we too may feel bereft of the felt presence of God with us.

We may well ask the same question, “Why?” Why did Jesus have to go through all this? Why this momentary break in communication between the Father and the Son?

The answer is that it was Necessary. It was impossible for man’s salvation to be procured in any other way. Remember Jesus’ prayer in the Garden: ‘O my Father, IF IT BE POSSIBLE let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt’ (Matthew 26:39). There was no other way, so it had to happen like this.

There was no other way by which a holy God might be both ‘just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus’ (Romans 3:26). It was a perfect exchange: Jesus ‘became sin for us,” “that we might become the righteousness of God in Him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). A holy God cannot look upon sin (Habakkuk 1:13) so, for that long moment in history, the Father could not look upon His beloved Son.

The wonder is that the forsaken-ness of Jesus unites us to God. As Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost, “the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” (Mark 15:37-38). Now, this veil was too large and heavy for any human hands to tear, and too high for them to reach. The fact that it was torn “FROM THE TOP TO THE BOTTOM” can only be by the hand of God Himself.

The significance of this is that this heavy curtain symbolised the barrier between God and man. No man might pass behind the veil in the Temple into the presence of God apart from the high priest, and that only once per year, on the Day of Atonement. Now the way into the very presence of God is opened to all, by the sacrifice of Jesus, once and for all and for ever.

As we step over the historical threshold represented by the rending of this veil, the first person to realise the full meaning of what has just happened was not one of the ‘religious’ people, but the Roman centurion. “Truly,” he announced, “THIS MAN WAS THE SON OF GOD” (Mark 15:39).

The Beloved Son was forsaken, but only for a season, that all might come in. There is no trial of His people in which He is not a present participant as THE way of escape (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13). To His Name be glory.

II. THE WITNESSES TO THE DEATH OF JESUS.

It would be wrong to say that there were only women around the Cross, since Joseph was near enough to be aware of the moment of Jesus’ demise (Mark 15:43) – and John was evidently there (John 19:26-27).

Nevertheless, the following account is very much about the women. In the first scene, they are “afar off” (Mark 15:40), attentive to all that is happening. In the second scene they take centre stage (Mark 16:1).

Then of course, in our list of characters, there is Pilate (Mark 15:43-45) – although by now he is falling into a shadowy background.

Yet the main character remains – Jesus. Or at least, His body, His corpse (Mark 15:45). Jesus was surely dead, and certified so by the authorities.