Slideshow image

“And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. 18 And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him. 

21 And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. 22 And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. 25 And it was the third hour when they crucified him. 26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. 29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him. 

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 15:16-39

The Beautiful and Wonderful, The Terrible and Tragic

There are many things in the world which we find beautiful and wonderful. At the most basic level these are items or commodities or influencers which you would share with a friend or family member in order to have them witness and appreciate the beauty and wonder of said item.

We do this with all sorts of things in life. We share music. We share food. We share information on vehicles and engines. We promote guns, and horses, and video games, and movies, and books, and athletes, and feats of strength, and clothing, and hiking locations, and places to vacation, and scientific wonders, and political leaders, and proposed state legislations, and ranching techniques, and parenting tips, and diets. The list could be much longer than this.

We speak positively about what we enjoy, appreciate, and admire. “You’ve got to try this.” “You’ve got to buy this.” “Isn’t this beautiful?” “Isn’t this wonderful?” We may not use the words “beautiful” and “wonderful”. We may call those things “good,” or “reliable” or “helpful” or “enjoyable” or “fun” or “delicious” or “valuable” or “worth it”. Those descriptions all represent the beautiful and the wonderful of life.

On the other hand, there are many commodities in the world which you find terrible, ugly, blameworthy, nasty, wasteful, worthless, or deceitful. These are terrible in the sense that you find the product or the person or the worldview or the food has failed you in some way. Maybe the product does not do what it claims it will. Maybe it does not deliver what it promises. Maybe you just don’t fancy it, you don’t enjoy it. All of us have had experiences in life which lead us to warn others. “Don’t buy that brand.” “You don’t want to visit that place.”

What About Jesus on the Cross?

Now I would ask you, which category would Jesus on the cross fall into? If Jesus were a commodity, if Jesus were a product you could buy off the shelf, when hanging on the cross, is Jesus to be seen as beautiful and wonderful or terrible and tragic?

Was the cross a beautiful event, praiseworthy? Was Jesus, hanging on the cross something to find wonderful? Was Jesus admirable in that moment? Or, was the cross a terrible event, blameworthy, something to turn your eyes from? Is the cross something to mock? Is Jesus hanging on the cross something to warn others about?

The Line of Mockers

Mark’s Gospel makes a point to highlight the utter shame Jesus endured through His crucifixion. One by one, the mockers line up, look upon Jesus, and declare, “This man is not beautiful and wonderful.”

The Guards mocked Jesus as a jester king, twisting a crown of thorns for His head and mockingly placing a robe upon his shoulders. They hailed King Jesus with beatings.

Those Passing by mocked Jesus and His prophetic claims. They misinterpreted His statements about the temple and concluded that a man hanging on a cross would be powerless to destroy and rebuild the temple in three days.

The Spiritual Leaders of the day, the Chief Priests and Scribes mocked Jesus. What kind of Christ, what kind of Savior cannot even save himself from a few nails?

Even the Robbers, the ones who were condemned to death, mocked Jesus for at least a moment. Of the least likely people to mock, you would think that condemned men would have other things on their mind. 

Finally, some of the Bystanders misunderstood Jesus’ cry to God as a cry to Elijah. They sought to revive Him with sour wine, possibly hoping the spectacle would result in Elijah returning to save this condemned man from the cross.

Each of these declare in one way or another that Jesus was not wonderful; He was not beautiful. Most of them saw Jesus on the cross as an abject failure. They saw a liar. They saw one who could not even save His own life (the most fundamental quality needed for a king to remain in authority). 

Some of the bystanders (if seen in the best light) saw Jesus on the cross as a mistake for God to correct. The contingent of bystanders (Mark 15:35-36) who thought that the great Old Testament prophet Elijah might arrive and miraculously save Jesus from death. However, if this statement is supportive of Jesus, it is not supportive of the cross. In the eyes of these bystanders the cross is a mistake for Elijah to correct. Jesus is not King. Jesus is not beautiful and wonderful. He is in need of aid. But, Elijah may come, and in saving Jesus from death Elijah may do something wonderful, something beautiful.

For nearly all of Mark’s onlookers, Jesus on the cross is not beautiful. Jesus on the cross is worthy of mockery or in need of correction. They have seen and witnessed Jesus, but concluded that He is not worth buying, visiting, following, hearing, tasting.

One Miraculous Witness

However, one man looks at Jesus on the cross and sees someone wonderful, someone beautiful. A centurion, a foreign soldier, while looking upon Jesus, saw the way that Jesus breathed His last and declared, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). Who did this centurion see?

  • He saw One rejected by the spiritual leaders, those who should be closest to God.
  • He saw One rejected by the crowds.
  • He saw One who suffered beatings, never opening His mouth in self-defense.
  • He saw One denying himself the pain relievers of wine mixed with myrrh.
  • He saw One mocked and shamed by nearly everyone, even mocked by the Roman soldiers as a jester King, possibly the very soldiers who this centurion commanded.
  • He saw One whose Crucifixion caused a supernatural midday darkness to fall on the land.
  • He saw One crying out to God as being forsaken.
  • He saw One who gave up His own life on the cross.
  • He saw One whose death caused the temple curtain to tear in two.

Terrible yet Wonderful

The centurion saw with his eyes a terrible event. And yet, he saw someone truly wonderful and beautiful. He saw in this shamed man, in this terrible sight, the very Son of God!

This is remarkable! Someone who should never have seen, saw Jesus truly. Of all the people who should have seen Jesus as the Son of God, a Roman centurion was the last who should have seen Jesus for who He truly is. It’s just another rebel to crucify. But this centurion sees that he is overseeing the death of the Son of God. The centurion had His own gods. He had his own culture. He had his own “son of god” (a title commonly given to the Roman emperors). Why would this centurion of all people see what no one else saw? 

Earlier in Jesus’ ministry, the disciples hailed Him as the Christ (see Mark 8:30), but at this moment on the cross there is no Gospel record that any of Jesus’ followers believed He would be victorious through death. Luke’s Gospel reveals that His disciples saw Jesus on the cross as a tragic ending. They said, “We had hoped [Jesus] would redeem Israel” (Luke 24:19-24).

Given Eyes to See

What did the centurion see in the moment of Jesus dying on the cross? We don’t know exactly what the centurion saw, what he saw to turn him from leading Jesus’ death squad to calling Jesus the Son of God. However, what we do know is that he truly saw Jesus.

A key to understanding the centurion’s discovery may be found in an earlier parable Jesus tells. In Mark 12:1-9 Jesus tells a story commonly known as the Parable of the Tenants. The parable goes like this:

“A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. 2 When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. 6 He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. 9 What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

Mark 12:1–9

The meaning of this parable is revealed in Jesus on the cross. In Jesus on the cross the tenants who had been given the vineyard have rejected their Owner's (their Creator’s, their King’s) Son. The tenants saw the Son’s arrival as a chance to kill Him and take the vineyard for themselves, to usurp the Owner and rule over their own lives.

But also, in Jesus on the cross, we see the first evidence of the vineyard, the Kingdom of God, being handed over, being graciously given to others (Mark 12:9). God, the owner of all things, the owner of salvation, in Jesus on the cross gives entrance into the vineyard, the Kingdom of God, to sinners, the least likely, the outsiders, even Roman centurions. 

How interesting is it then that in Jesus on the cross, a tragic moment, we see something beautiful and wonderful. A foreign man is given eyes to see Jesus for who He truly is, the Son of God. The centurion saw Jesus on the cross. In seeing this crucified rebel, he was given eyes to see that Jesus, in this terrible event, was the Son of God.

It was a “Good” Friday

Now, we may not have grounds from this passage to declare the centurion a Jesus follower at that moment. However, we can confidently confirm that the centurion said something objectively true and wonderful about Jesus. And he made this most appropriate and true declaration at a moment when that declaration seemed like the most inappropriate thing to say. A dead man on a cross was the Son of God.

But, the centurion says what God had declared from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The Father said to Jesus, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:10). God already confirmed this in Jesus, and now a foreigner, an outsider, an ‘other’ is publicly confessing Jesus. 

Jesus on the cross, is the Son of God, the Savior of the world. By God’s grace, Jesus is declared the Son of God by the most unexpected of witnesses.

This is one of many reasons to call this Friday, Good Friday.