We know that the squad of soldiers assigned the task of actually crucifying Jesus consisted of four soldiers, because the gospel of John tells us that they divided his clothes between them. However, there was also a centurion there at the cross. A centurion usually commanded between 60–100 soldiers. And he had been watching, and listening, all along.
Mark has just told us that Jesus has breathed his last. You might expect a deep spiritual reflection or a pause for contemplation. But that is not Mark’s way. He is a man of dramatic action. And Christ’s death was the most dramatic of all actions. That’s why Mark follows immediately with these words, which in their own way point us to the deepest of spiritual truths.
While the people mock and ridicule him, Jesus is accomplishing the salvation of the world. These next brief words seem to raise a universe of questions. Yet they represent the heart of the Gospel, the centre of redemption, the very core of the plan of salvation. With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. – Mark 15:37
Jesus has just cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” How you respond to that cry depends on your religious experience. And some of the Jews who were responded in what to us might seem a very strange way. When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” 36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. – Mark 15:34-36
There had been silence at the cross for three hours amid the darkness. When the darkness lifted, the voice of Jesus was heard again. What he said was his most enigmatic saying from the cross. The stage was set for the final scene. The darkness of the cross reflected the inner struggle of our Lord against the weight of the sin of the world. This is reflected in his anguished cry expressing the forsakenness felt by every child of Adam as a result of sin, because sin separates us from God.
While people have tried to explain this darkness as an eclipse or as other forms of natural phenomenon, this was no natural darkness. This was nature itself hiding in the shame of what created creatures had done to the Creator. This was, in reality, the darkest hour of Earth’s history, when the creatures tortured and killed their Creator. There were in fact, two different things happening at the very same time: what the world was doing to Christ and what Christ was doing to the world.
Traditionally, we’ve thought of the two men crucified with Jesus as a “good” thief and a “bad” thief, but this is a misunderstanding. Both initially insulted and mocked Jesus, and it’s likely they were more than common thieves; they may have been political or religious extremists. Their vicious insults highlight their moral depravity. This reminds us to reflect on times when we may have rejected or insulted Christ and to seek forgiveness or appreciate His grace if we’ve repented.
At the Cross, Jesus is mockingly called the “Messiah” and the “King of Israel,” challenging His divine role and power. Those present demand a miraculous escape as proof of His favor. This highlights the essence of faith – whether it’s rooted in blessings, signs, or an unwavering trust in Christ, even in the face of suffering on the Cross. It prompts us to reflect on the true basis of our faith, beyond mere circumstantial evidence.
Why did the crowd turn from praising Jesus to demanding His death? The Chief Priests influenced the fickle mob, who often follow leaders rather than principles. They shouted for Jesus’ execution despite Pilate’s attempts to prove His innocence. In our lives, the “they” of public opinion can lead us astray, urging us to question how we might unknowingly conform to the crowd rather than standing by our principles.
Crucifixion sites in ancient Rome were positioned prominently to serve as a potent form of propaganda, showcasing Rome’s power and the fate of those who resisted. The people of that time became accustomed to the sight of dying men on crosses as they went about their daily lives. In their view, a genuine Messiah wouldn’t be crucified, and He would have saved Himself first to save others. Paradoxically, Jesus became the world’s Saviour precisely because He didn’t save Himself. The crowd’s turning against Jesus illustrates the sway of religious leaders and authorities. This reminds us of the same risk in our lives, with various leaders vying for our loyalty. The question remains: Is our allegiance to Jesus above all else?