24 Hours That Changed the World: “The Crucifixion” 
Mark 15: 25-39 NT Pg. No. 50
Rev. Sandy Johnson
March 29, 2015
I believe this message is both the most difficult to prepare for, and the most difficult to deliver. It is the one story that should bring us to our knees as we remember what Jesus Christ did for us that fateful Friday.
I remember years ago I watched the movie “The Passion of the Christ.” I had given up watching R rated movies years ago but broke my ban on this occasion because I believed I needed to watch it. A part of me wished I hadn’t, but part of me is glad that I did.
It was horrific, those of you who watched it I am sure would agree. To watch as Jesus was tortured, shamed, tormented and in agony as they carried out his death sentence, was simply more than I could handle. I broke down crying. It was like watching a loved one succumb to the most awful of abuses.
The past two years I have preached on Palm Sunday, the triumphal entry, the entrance of the King. It’s an easier story to share, right? The happy, joyous time of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, palms waving, people shouting “Hosanna, Hosanna.”
This year it’s time we reflect on the crucifixion, spend some time imagining what that event was really like for Jesus and his followers and those who were standing by. Let’s begin with prayer:
Prepare us O Lord for the message today. It’s one we wish we didn’t have to hear, one we wished we could skip, but we must hear the story, we must embrace the tragedy of the death penalty to experience the joy of the resurrection. Amen.
We come this morning to the cross. Crucifixion was a Roman death machine that was the cruelest and most disgusting penalty known to mankind. “Crucifixion was an extremely effective crime deterrent, (unlike our death penalty), since crucifixions took place along the main thoroughfares where people would see them.”
This fateful morning Jesus and the two criminals were forced to walk through town, taking the longest route, so that as many people would see them as possible. They had already been flogged so the mere act of carrying this hundred pound crossbeam was nearly impossible. We know that Simon of Cyrene, a passer-by was enlisted to carry Jesus’ cross beam when he was unable, so weak was he from the flogging. A soldier marched ahead of Jesus and the other accused men, holding a sign which stated the prisoner’s crime. Jesus’ said: “The King of the Jews.”
When the convicts arrived at Golgotha “the cross was laid flat on the ground. The prisoner was stretched upon it and his hands nailed to it.” Although we imagine the stake going through the center of the hand, it is more likely that it went through the wrists. You can almost hear the pounding, can’t you? (JJ to pound a large nail into wood)
It is now believed based on archaeological evidence that the victim’s feet were not staked in the front, only their hands. The feet would have been tied or possibly staked through the ankles on the side of the cross. Just below the feet there was a narrow shelf called the saddle. It was used to stand or balance on; to take some of the weight off the body, as the cross was raised up. If this saddle wasn’t there when the victim was placed upright “the nails would have torn through the flesh of the hands.”
The saddle would also be used to prolong the death, to extract the most torturous effect. The day Jesus was crucified they were trying to hurry things along to get the dead off the crosses before sundown, so they in fact broke the legs of the two criminals, but since Jesus died quickly, only taking a mere six hours, they left his legs intact.
Unlike the crosses we wear for jewelry, the real Roman cross, used in carrying out the death penalty was in the shape of a “T.” They were also not placed high above the ground. As a kid I always imagined the crosses high off the ground, but that isn’t so. It is believed that the “crosses were no more than nine feet tall. Allowing room at the top of the cross for the sign that was affixed detailing the victim’s crime, it is likely that the feet of the victim were at most three feet off the ground.” At that height we can imagine that Jesus and his mother were able to talk to one another, to look into each other’s eyes.
“The goal of crucifixion was to inflict the maximum agony for the longest possible time. Victims could hang on the cross for days before they finally died.” A horrific way to die; certainly not what we do today with our death penalty inmates. We strive to end their lives as quickly as possible. Not so in Jerusalem, the Romans were all about torture.
Most believed that death would come by asphyxiation. Hanging on a cross it was difficult to breathe without standing on the saddle, but the longer you hung, the more difficult it would become to raise up and gasp for a breath. Some however believe that death was caused by “a buildup of fluid around the heart” which would then cause “congestive heart failure. A loss of fluids and subsequent dehydration is also seen as a possible cause of death.” Even though we don’t know the exact cause of death, we know it was an “extremely effective way to torture someone for a great length of time. Jesus, bloodied and naked, hung that way for six hours.”
The priests and bystanders slung insults at him. They mocked him shouting:
“He saved others; (but) he cannot save himself.”
Hey you, “you who would destroy the temple and build it up in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!”
Then noon came and the sky became dark, menacing. It stayed that way until three o’clock. At three Jesus cried out in a loud voice:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Some who were watching thought for sure he was calling for Elijah. They were sure Elijah would come and take him down off the cross. But he didn’t come. “Hour after interminable hour, Jesus hung in agony on the cross; and during that time, God his Father was silent. As Jesus spoke, we hear not hope, but defeat.”
“These words are unsettling words to some. Did Jesus truly feel forsaken by God at that moment? Would God really forsake his son?
“Some have explained Jesus’ words by suggesting that at that moment, God placed upon him the sins of the world and then was forced to turn away because a holy God can’t look upon sin.” That may be true, but I don’t think that is really what was going on. I think there is more to it; it isn’t that literal of an explanation.
“I believe it more likely that God never removed his gaze from Jesus during those hours on the cross. God the Father suffered with the Son…What we are seeing in the words of Jesus is his humanity. He was experiencing what most of us face to a lesser degree in our lives: a moment when the silence of God is so deafening that we feel forsaken by him. Pain and doubt creep in and block out any sense of God’s presence. We do not see how God can make the situation turn out for good. God seems far away, and our prayers appear to go unanswered. The joy of God’s presence disappears.
How grateful I am that Jesus knows what it is to pray “Let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39); but how much more grateful I am that he came to a place where he felt compelled to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He knows what you and I feel at our times of despair because he experienced such despair himself. The fact that even Jesus felt such despair offers us some consolation when we go through it. And we find hope as we remember that Jesus ultimately experienced deliverance and that though he felt forsaken, he was not.”
Those who were with Jesus saw him in agony and they ran and got a sponge, filled with sour wine and held it up to his lips. “Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.” At that very moment, over in the temple the curtain inside that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was ripped in two, from top to bottom. The barrier between God and his people was forever dissolved. “The way to God was now wide open,” open to you and to me. “Now with the death of Jesus the curtain which hid God, was torn and men could see him face to face. No longer was God hidden.”
The moment Jesus breathed his last, God revealed himself to all of us. History was changed, never to be the same. The Gospel of John relates that Jesus last words were “It is finished.” These words sound to me like a cry of victory. “There is determination in these words. What Jesus came to do, he had now completed. A plan was fulfilled. A salvation was made possible, a love shown. He had taken our place. He had demonstrated both humanity’s brokenness and God’s love. He had offered himself fully to God as a sacrifice on behalf of humanity. As he died, it was finished. With these words, the noblest person who ever walked on the face of this planet, God in the flesh, breathed his last.”
The last thing I want you to see in this scene are the soldiers at the foot of the cross. They had passed the time waiting for these three men to die, by gambling for their belongings. But “one soldier “stood facing him,” heard his final words, and saw how he took his last breath. This soldier, having seen all that took place during those six hours at the Crucifixion, uttered these words: “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mark 15:39)”
Before we end, I want you to find yourself in this story. “Will you be like the soldiers who cast lots for Jesus’ clothing, who missed the power and mystery and wonder of the cross and whose only interest was in a few rags of clothing?” Will you finish this Lenten season “and go back to caring primarily about the things of the world – clothes, cars, vacations, status? Or will you be like the soldier who, having seen all these events that took place in the last hours of Jesus’ life, was moved to say, “Truly this man was God’s Son”?”
Let us pray: Gracious God, we have looked at the cross directly and hate what we see: your Son, suffering and dying for us. We don’t deserve it, can never earn it and we receive your gift with a grateful heart. Lead the way this week as we journey to the empty tomb and the celebration that will come on Resurrection morning. Before that day, give us the courage to feel the pain, to experience the agony and to not skip this important week to get to Easter. We ask this all in Jesus name. Amen.
 This sermon series is adapted from Adam Hamilton’s book, “24 Hours that Changed the World”
 Ibid, 96
 Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible Series, The Gospel of Mark, Revised Edition. 1975. Page 360.
 Mark 15:31
 Mark 15:29
 Hamilton, 108
 Hamilton, 108
 Hamilton, 109
 Mark 15:37
 Barclay, page 365
 Barclay, page 365
 Hamilton, 112
 Hamilton, 112
 Hamilton, 113
 Hamilton, 113