Summary: In this lesson we learn about the significance of the cross as well as various reactions to the cross.
Today is the fourth week of a seven-week series of messages based on a book that is titled Christianity Explored by Rico Tice and Barry Cooper, out of England.
The purpose of this series is to explore Christianity, primarily through the writing of Mark in his book we call The Gospel of Mark. On Sunday evenings from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. we are doing the Christianity Explored course. I encourage you to come back tonight again. My messages in the mornings are the same as the ones you will hear in the evenings, and that is by design. Some of you are not able to make it in the evenings, and I want all of you to be exposed to the same messages. And for those of you who are able to make it in the evenings, it is an opportunity to reinforce what you hear in the mornings.
Previously, we asked: Who Is Jesus? Mark asserts that Jesus is “the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). That is, Jesus is God in human form. Moreover, Mark gives five evidences that Jesus is God in human form because he shows us that Jesus has power and authority to teach, heal, calm storms, raise the dead, and (most importantly and significantly) forgive sin.
Secondly, we asked: Why did Jesus come? Mark teaches us that Jesus came to rescue rebels (Mark 2:17). Further, he teaches that we are all rebels (because of our sin), and that we are all in danger of facing God’s judgment (unless we accept God’s way of escape).
What is God’s way of escape? That is what we will learn about today. We will be looking at many texts, but let me draw your attention to Mark 15:33-39:
33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 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!” (Mark 15:33-39)
One of the biographies on my bookshelves is that of General Douglas MacArthur, the well-known general from World War II, which is titled American Caesar by William Manchester. Even though it is a big book with almost 800 pages, only 3 pages (which is less than 1%) are devoted to his death. Interestingly, that is about the same amount of space that is given to the deaths of most great leaders.
So, it is striking to read in the Gospels (the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the Bible) that about one third of each Gospel is given to the subject of Jesus’ death. Clearly, Jesus was an astonishing individual. But why spend so much time dwelling on his death?
And further, why is it that the mode of his death – the cross – has become the universally-recognized symbol of Christianity?
Christians might have chosen something different to symbolize Christianity. For example, they could have chosen:
• A manger – to symbolize his birth and incarnation, or
• A scroll – to symbolize his teaching, or
• A lamp – to symbolize his brilliant life lived in a dark world, or
• An empty tomb – to symbolize his resurrection.
But, instead, Christians chose a cross, which of course symbolizes his death. But why?
Why a cross to symbolize Christianity? No other world religion celebrates the death of its founder. Not only that, but the cross was a particularly horrendous form of execution by the Romans reserved only for criminals.
Imagine if a company started selling necklaces with a pendant that was shaped as a little electric chair. We would think that it was incredibly distasteful. Why would anyone want to wear a symbol of death that is reserved for the worst in our society?
Well, it was just like that in Jesus’ day. The cross was the way in which the worst in society were put to death.
But right after Jesus died Christians were not ashamed of the cross on which he died. In fact, they seemed proud of it. The Apostle Paul, another writer in the Bible, said this, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14a).