Two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul said this:
the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)
The cross splits the world. Either you look at the cross and think – that’s pathetic – or you look and you think – that’s powerful. It’s either pathetic or powerful. If you think it’s pathetic, Paul says “you are perishing.” The way milk perishes and goes off and soon it gets chucked away for good – that’s you if you think the cross is foolish. But if you think it’s the power of God, you are being saved. That means you have been plucked from the perishing crowd and set on a one-way street to heaven. But it’s one or the other.
The cross splits the world. And tonight we’re going to hear the message of the cross. If you have not become a Christian, the bible says that right now you are in the perishing camp. And you need to look again to find salvation. But you can, tonight, you can look at the cross and say “Wow! That is the power of God!” And you can go home saved from your perishing.
And if you are a believer already, you and I need the message of the cross daily. A few verses later in 1 Corinthians, Paul says “I’m determined to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). Christians grow in their faith as they contemplate the cross. So let’s look at the cross together, and let’s allow Mark’s Gospel to be our guide.
Turn to the beginning of Mark. Have a look at chapter 1, verse 1. And here’s where we need to begin with the cross. We need to begin by realizing WHO is hanging on the cross. Who is He? Mark 1:1
The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
So who is Jesus? Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Those are two different titles for Jesus. Christ means “The One Anointed with the Holy Spirit.” In Hebrew it’s the word “Messiah.” In Greek it’s the word “Christos.” In English we say Christ – but it’s all the same thing. Christ means, “The One Anointed with the Holy Spirit.” It means that Jesus is King, because KINGS are anointed. We usually think about “crowning” a King, but in the bible (and even in the British coronation service) you ANOINT kings. It means pouring oil on their head. The oil symbolized the Holy Spirit. The King would reign in the power of the Spirit.
So Jesus is THE Christ. THE King. THE Anointed One. And it’s not like Jesus has been anointed by mere men. Even before the universe began, Jesus has been the One anointed with the Holy Spirit. The One filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit. The One who has the most intimate and intense relationship with God the Spirit. That’s what it means that He is the Christ.
And He is also “the Son of God.” That means He has always called the Almighty God, Daddy. Before there was a universe, Jesus was always calling God Most High, Daddy. He’s the eternal Son of the Father.
This is Jesus: He is the Christ – He has the ULTIMATE relationship with the Spirit. And He is the Son of God – He has the ULTIME relationship with the Father. Jesus is one of the Trinity. He is God the Son, loved by God the Father and filled with God the Spirit. He is God filled by God with God. He is God filled by God with God – He is the Christ, the Son of God.
Now then, think, who is hanging on the cross?
He is God filled by God with God. He is the Lord of this world. He is our Maker. He is the Author of Life, the Centrepiece of all reality. And He is nailed to a piece of wood until He dies.
Here is the message of the cross: Does that sound powerful or does that sound pathetic?
God filled by God with God comes to planet earth. And we kill Him. And He lets us.
Does that sound powerful or does that sound pathetic?
God filled by God with God comes to planet earth. And we kill Him. And He lets us.
If that’s true then what are we like? And what is He like?
Well in the first 8 chapters Mark shows Jesus revealing Himself to the world. He heals the sick, He raises the dead, He forgives sins, He conquers evil, He commands creation – for anyone with eyes to see it, Jesus is clearly the King. He’s walking around like He owns the place, because He is the Christ, the Son of God. And finally in chapter 8, someone comes out and says the bleeding obvious. Turn to Mark 8, verse 27:
27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, "Who do people say I am?" 28 They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." 29 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ."
Finally Peter states the blindingly obvious. Jesus isn’t just a great prophet or a miracle worker back from the dead. As amazing as those things would have been Jesus is bigger. He is the Christ. He’s God anointed by God with God.
Finally someone gets it. How will Jesus react?
Look at verse 30:
30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. 31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.
Jesus says “Well done Peter. Yes I am the Christ – but shut up about me until you learn what kind of Christ I am!” And what is He like? Verse 31, He MUST suffer, MUST be rejected and He MUST be killed and after three days rise.
What kind of Christ is Jesus. He’s the Christ who MUST be crucified.
Does that sound powerful or does that sound pathetic?
Well at this stage it sounds pathetic to Peter.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."
Here’s how vital it is that Christ be crucified. Jesus says it’s SATANIC to suggest that He avoid the cross. The idea that Christ avoids the cross is straight from the pit of hell.
If you think Jesus should avoid the cross you’re thinking the things of men, and actually it’s satanic. You must be perishing to think that.
If you know that Jesus MUST be killed – if you realize that the cross is the POWER of God – well now, now you’re having in mind “the things of God”
From chapter 8 onwards Jesus is seen drilling it home to the disciples on every page. “He must, He must, He must, He must be crucified.”
What kind of Christ is He? He’s the Christ who MUST go to the cross.
Can you put those two truths together in your thinking: Christ… crucified. It’s something that turns all our thinking upside down. And in chapter 15 we see the incredible irony of Christ crucified.
Look at verse 16 – verse 16 is what you might call an anti-coronation. Here we are in a Palace, the perfect place for a coronation, the perfect place to proclaim that Jesus is King. What happen?
16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, "Hail, king of the Jews!" 19 Again and again they [anointed Him on the head? Kissed Him on the head? No…] struck him on the head with a staff and spat on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
When Christ comes to earth, we kill Him. And He lets us. What does it say about us? What does it say about Him?
Look on to verse 26 – here’s more horrific irony:
26 The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.
You know after coronation services in palaces, usually the King comes out to the people and is proclaimed King. Well here is the public proclamation: They lift up a massive sign “The King of the Jews.” John tells us that the sign was written in 3 different languages. It’s an international proclamation – Here is the King. And they lift it up on a cross. And they lift the King on the cross. And they hammer some of the nails through the sign. And they hammer some of the nails through the King.
It turns out the sign isn’t a proclamation after all. It’s an accusation. How dare Jesus claim to be the King! You know, that’s literally the cause of Christ’s execution. Do you know why He died? He died for being who He is. His great crime was BEING Christ. Jesus didn’t die for anything else except this that He WAS the Eternal Christ. And we don’t like His type around these parts. We don’t want the King to reign. We want to reign. So as far as the human race is concerned, Christ must die. And as far as Jesus is concerned: Christ must die.
Is this foolishness or is this the power of God?
Look at the cross and ask yourself: What are we like? And what is He like?
In verse 29 there are passers-by. Here’s the crowd at this anti-coronation. At coronations in the Old Testament people would shout GOD SAVE THE KING. Or LONG LIVE THE KING – depending on the translations.
At this anti-coronation they shout out an anti-God-save-the-king.
29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, "So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!" 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. "He saved others," they said, "but he can't save himself! 32 Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe." Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
There’s no long live the King or God save the King.
It was save yourself! You can’t can you? Let God save you then if you are the Christ. But He won’t will He?
The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. They can’t understand how they Christ can die. But Jesus insists the Christ MUST die.
As Jesus dies for the world He is not surrounded by appreciative worshippers. He’s surrounded by mockers delighting in His death.
But if the rejection of earth was painful for Jesus, what about verse 33
33 At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.
From noon till 3, darkness. You know the day Jesus died on? It was Passover. It was the celebration of how the Lord had saved the people from Egypt. He saved them by providing a Lamb. And the Passover Lamb died in the place of those under judgement. Passover was the Tenth Plague on Egypt. You know the Ninth Plague? Darkness. Darkness for 3 days. Exodus 10 calls is a thick darkness, a darkness you could feel. It was judgement.
Light means God’s favour and blessing. Darkness means judgement and curse. And here at the cross, 3 hours of darkness fell right before Jesus dies. Because this is the ultimate Passover. Jesus is the Ultimate Lamb dying.
[SLIDE – Lamb]
And so He endures the ultimate darkness. The cross is a scene of judgement. The cross is the altar of God and before Jesus is slain a terrible darkness falls. And Jesus cries out to a black and silent heaven, v34:
34 "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" --which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
What is happening?! Jesus is God filled by God with God. And He cries out “God don’t abandon me!”
John’s Gospel also tells us that Jesus cries out “I am thirsty” which in John has deep significance. The Spirit is described as the Living Waters and Jesus says if you have the Living Waters of the Spirit you will never thirst. On the cross, Jesus says “I’m thirsty.”
On the cross Jesus is Godforsaken and Parched. He doesn’t experience the Father’s Face or the Living Waters of the Spirit.
Here is God filled by God with God. And He’s Godforsaken and He’s Parched.
This cross really IS the altar of God. It’s the most fearful thing that ever has happened or could happen. The Christ, the Son of God perishes in the darkness.
Is this God’s power or is it pathetic?
The bystanders just think it’s silly.
They hear Jesus saying “Eloi” and, v35, they say "Listen, he's calling Elijah." I can’t figure out whether they’re idiots or whether this is more mockery. But it goes to show – Jesus did not die for good people did He? Jesus did not die for the worthy. He died precisely for the people who bayed for His blood.
But why did He do it?
37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
Here’s the explanation. You see v38 is such an odd detail to mention. We’ve been at the foot of the cross the whole time, and in v39 we will return to the cross. But in verse 38 the camera pans across to the other side of town. And we’re taken to the temple.
Now because Mark wrenches us away from the cross to the temple, that’s what we’re going to go for a couple of minutes. So let’s think about the temple.
The temple was an interactive multimedia teaching aid. It was a model of heaven and earth – and it dramatized for the Israelites how sinners can get to heaven.
Here’s how. The sinner brings their sacrifice to the priest who stands at the altar. The sinner lays their hands on the head of the animal and confesses their sin. They transfer their sins to the animal and then they kill the animal, a knife to the neck and the blood is spilt. The innocent sacrifice dies for its guilty owner.
And then on one day a year – the Day of Atonement – after a whole pile of sacrifices the High Priest would take the blood of those sacrifices and go through into the Holy Place, which only priests could enter.
And then with the blood of the sacrifice, one day a year they could go through this curtain into the Most Holy Place – the presence of God. Only one person could do this, only once a year and only on the basis of sacrifice.
This curtain was God’s “Keep Out” sign. It was not safe for sinners to come into God’s presence.
Well what happens when Jesus dies?
The curtain was torn in two from top to bottom. Can you imagine being a priest in the Holy Place on the day Jesus died? They’d have had kittens. The biggest KEEP OUT sign in the history of the world, destroyed. Why?
Because Jesus is the TRUE sacrifice – dying in our place. Jesus is the TRUE priest – who brings us to God. Jesus is the TRUE temple – He’s the meeting place of God and man. And on Good Friday Jesus died OUTSIDE the city gates. He was the Lamb of God slain for our sins – and His final words as recorded by John are “IT IS FINISHED.”
It’s accomplished. It’s done! Jesus has paid for our sins, once and for all. The curtain is torn and sinners, like you and me, can come into the presence of God.
The temple explains the cross. Let me put it like this. Imagine you are an ancient Israelite and you know you’re a sinner. So you bring your sacrifice to the temple. As you wait in the queue a voice comes from the Most Holy Place. It’s the LORD. And He says, “Get out!”
The priests hitch up their robes and start running, they usher you away to a safe distance. The LORD climbs down from His throne and strides out into the courtyard. You are terrified. There you are, confessing to be a sinner. And there He is, the Almighty LORD!
But amazingly, He doesn’t come to judge. Instead of flinging you on the altar, He lays Himself down upon it. The priests urge you forwards to put your hands on His head and confess your sins. Trembling, you do so and beat a hasty retreat.
Then, carrying all your wickedness, the LORD Almighty is slain for your sins. As His blood is spills down the way is opened into the presence of God, for free and forever.
That’s what happened at the cross. It’s the altar of God where the blood of God was shed for our forgiveness. You know our sins are so serious, they can’t be atoned for by animal blood, they can’t be atoned for simply by human – they are atoned for by the blood of God which He shed on the cross. And now the way is opened. Through Jesus you are welcomed into the presence of God, for free and forever.
So how about now? How do you see the cross? Pathetic or is it God’s power to save you.
If an OT worshipper wanted to come to God, they brought their sins and they brought a sacrifice. Well look at the cross, Christ is our sacrifice. So what do we need to bring? Just our sins. Just come as a sinner and trust in Jesus, the way is opened to the presence of God.
Charles Simeon was an English preacher in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. But earlier in life he was wracked with guilt and weighed down by a heavy sense of sin. Where could he find relief for his soul and forgiveness with God?
When he heard that Christ was offered as his Scapegoat, Simeon made the breakthrough:
“What! May I transfer all my guilt to another? Has God provided an offering for me, that I may lay my sins on His Head? Then, God willing, I will not bear them on my own soul one moment longer. Accordingly I sought to lay my sins upon the sacred head of Jesus.”
Have you laid your sins on the sacred head of Jesus? He died to bear them. Don’t carry them a moment longer. Call out to Jesus, give Him your sins, and you are welcomed forever into the presence of God.
What is the message of the cross? Foolishness or God’s power. Well in verse 39 there’s a stunning example of a person crossing over from perishing to salvation.
39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!"
That morning the centurion had punched Jesus. That morning he had spat on Jesus. That morning he led his men in mocking Jesus. That morning, most likely, he was the one who drove in the nails. But he looks again at Jesus. And everything in his world is turned upside down. The centurion is a man who deals in earthly power. He’s a military commander of 100 men, and he’s an executioner. He knows how to dispense earthly power. But he looks to Jesus and sees a stripped, bloody victim dissected before the world and hung up to die. And all of a sudden he says “This is the Son of God.”
Mark began by calling Jesus “the Christ, the Son of God.” Halfway through Mark, Peter half-got-it. He realized Jesus is the Christ but He couldn’t wrap His head around a Christ who’s crucified. Now at the end of Mark, the centurion has seen Christ crucified and he’s said “Surely this man is the Son of God.”
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who believe it is the power of God. (1 Cor 1:18)
The centurion had a revolution when he looked again at the cross. It changed him. Do you see what he saw?
If you still see the cross as foolish, silly, weird, pathetic, odd, you are still perishing. Keep looking to the cross, keep hearing the message of the cross, until you also confess “Surely this man is the Son of God.”
If you do see the cross as God’s power – you believe. Which means you have crossed over from perishing to being saved. Keep looking to the cross. Paul was determined to know nothing except Christ and Him crucified. When we take our eyes off Christ we imagine that the curtain remains, we start to imagine that we’re far from God and we wallow in sins and we wallow in feelings of being unforgiven. No, look again to the Christ the Son of God. He is God filled by God with God and He was slain on the altar to bring you in.
This the power of the cross
Son of God slain for us
What a love, what a cost
We stand forgiven at the cross.