The Murder of the Great King


The Murder of the Great King

The Murder of the Great King

Mark 15:21-47

Main Idea: Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried for sinners.

  1. Jesus Was Crucified to Save Others, Not Himself (15:21-32).
    1. The great King was crucified naked (15:21-24).
    2. The great King was crucified with sinners (15:25-27).
    3. The great King was crucified amid ridicule (15:29-30).
    4. The great King was crucified to save others (15:31-32).
  2. Jesus Died Forsaken Even Though He Was God’s Son (15:33-41).
    1. The great King died in darkness (15:33).
    2. The great King died alone (15:34-36).
    3. The great King died and opened the way to God (15:37-39).
    4. The great King died with women looking on in love (15:40-41).
  3. Jesus Was Buried Because He Was Dead (15:42-47).
    1. The great King was buried in a rich man’s tomb (15:42-46).
    2. The great King was buried, and women saw where He was laid (15:47).

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was not an accident of human history. It was a divine appointment prophesied in Scripture. As Isaiah 53:10 says, “The Lord was pleased to crush Him severely.” And it was the fulfillment of numerous prophecies that had anticipated a day that was both tragic and glorious all at the same time:

1. Psalm 69:21

For my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

Mark 15:23 (also 15:36)

They tried to give Him wine mixed with myrrh.

3502. Psalm 22:18

They divided my garments among themselves, and they cast lots for my clothing.

Mark 15:24

Then they ... divided His clothes, casting lots for them.

3. Isaiah 53:12

He ... was counted among the rebels.

Mark 15:27

They crucified two criminals with Him, one on His right and one on His left.

4. Psalm 22:6-8

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by people. Everyone who sees me mocks me; they sneer and shake their heads: “He relies on the Lord; let Him rescue him; let the Lord deliver him, since He takes pleasure in him.”

Mark 15:29-32

Those who passed by were yelling insults at Him, shaking their heads, and saying, “Ha! The One who would demolish the sanctuary and build it in three days, save Yourself by coming down from the cross!” In the same way, the chief priests with the scribes were mocking Him to one another and saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself! Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, so that we may see and believe.”

5. Psalm 22:16

They pierced my hands and my feet.

Mark 15:24

Then they crucified Him.

6. Amos 8:9

And in that day—this is the declaration of the Lord God—I will make the sun go down at noon; I will darken the land in the daytime.

Mark 15:33

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.

7. Psalm 22:1

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Mark 15:43, 46

Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin ... bought some fine linen ... and wrapped Him in the linen. Then he placed Him in a tomb cut out of rock.

8. Isaiah 53:9

They made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man in His death.

Mark 15:34

My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?

What King Jesus endured on the cross took place right on schedule, exactly according to divine plan. The horror of it is also the glory of it. Jesus is dying the death we should have died that we might live now and forever.

351He is our Substitute. Jesus died our death. He is the Passover lamb (Exod 12) who saves us with His blood. He is the covenant keeper (Exod 24) who seals us with His blood.

He is our Propitiation. Jesus endured our condemnation and bears the full wrath of God on our behalf. The “cup” of the cross is not primarily physical suffering: it is mainly spiritual suffering (Mark 14:36; Ps 75:8; Isa 51:17). Jesus was not a martyr on the cross; He was a Savior who experienced divine wrath and satisfied the holiness and justice of God. “Before the cross, we were afraid of God; because of the cross, we are now friends of God” (Platt, “Centerpiece”).

He is our Reconciliation. Jesus suffered our separation that we might be brought back to God. The cry on the cross is a cry of physical agony, spiritual anguish, and most of all relational alienation from His Father. The curse of the cross is this: Jesus was cut off from the Father’s favorable presence; He endured the full penalty of our disobedience (2 Cor 5:21). Before the cross, we were separated from God’s presence; because of the cross, we are now given access into God’s presence (Mark 15:38).

Jesus Was Crucified to Save Others, Not Himself

Mark 15:21-32

Crucifixion was the cruelest, most painful, most humiliating form of capital punishment in the ancient world. And Rome had perfected the technique to ensure maximum suffering. The shame of such a death was so great that the Roman orator Cicero said, “The very word ‘cross’ should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes, and his ears ... the mere mention of them, that is unworthy of a Roman citizen and a free man” (Defense, 5, 16).

Two thousand years of church history have unfortunately domesticated and sanitized the cross for modern persons. The horror is gone. And our Gospels contain few details. Why? First, people in Jesus’ day were fully familiar with the gruesome rood; they had seen it. Second, it was not the suffering that was important but the One who was suffering—the Son of God taking away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

The Great King Was Crucified Naked (Mark 15:21-24)

Normally, a man condemned to crucifixion would carry the cross beam. It could weigh as much as one hundred pounds. Jesus began by carrying it (John 19:17), but He apparently fell and needed help. A man named352 Simon, from Cyrene in North Africa (see Acts 2:10), was enlisted to give aid. It is possible he was a black man.

Jesus was taken to a place called Golgotha, meaning “place of a skull.” This would have been outside the city walls and along a public highway. The Romans wanted to show how they handled criminals.

They offered Jesus “wine mixed with myrrh” (Mark 15:23; cf. Ps 69:21), a primitive drug that would dull the pain. Jesus refused; He would face the agony to come with full control of His mental faculties.

They stripped our Lord of His clothing and gambled to see who would go home with these meager prizes (cf. Ps 22:18). It is possible our Savior died completely naked. Maybe He was allowed to retain His loincloth. Either way, He was humiliated. John Calvin captures something of the theological import: “The Evangelists portray the Son of God as stripped of His clothes that we may know the wealth gained for us by this nakedness, for it shall dress us in God’s sight. God willed His Son to be stripped that we should appear freely, with the angels, in the garments of his righteousness and fullness of all good things” (Calvin, Harmony, 194).

The Great King Was Crucified with Sinners (Mark 15:25-27)

Jesus was crucified at the third hour, that is, around 9:00 a.m. As an act of further mockery, they nailed the charge against Him above His head: “The King of the Jews.”

“They crucified two criminals with Him, one on His right and one on His left.” As Isaiah 53:12 had promised, He “was counted with the rebels.” Ironically, James and John had asked to be on Jesus’ right and left “in Your glory” (Mark 10:37). Jesus informed them they did not know what they were asking. This is the hour when the Father will glorify the Son and the Son will glorify the Father (John 17:1). This is not the glory James and John had in mind.

The Great King Was Crucified amid Ridicule (Mark 15:29-30)

Jesus is again subjected to mockery and verbal abuse. Those walking past Him or hanging around for the show “were yelling insults at Him” continuously. They were also “shaking their heads” at Him in ridicule and sarcasm, and they taunted Him for His claim to “demolish the sanctuary and build it in three days.” Before He takes on that assignment, He might first consider His immediate problem: “Save Yourself by coming down from the cross!”

353This temptation to come down from the cross is the same one Satan threw at Him in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). It is the same temptation He faced just a few hours earlier in the garden of Gethsemane to forego the cup of suffering (Mark 14:36). Up to the last moment, the evil one is trying to persuade Jesus to reject the cross. He did not want Him there! He knew it would be his ruin and our redemption.

The Great King Was Crucified to Save Others (Mark 15:31-32)

The religious leaders could not resist getting in one last dig at the great King: “He saved others; He cannot save Himself!” They too challenged Him to come down from the cross; then they would believe. How ironic. If our Lord was to save others, Himself He could not save. And save Himself He would not do. These men claim they would have believed if He had come down from the cross, but we believe precisely because He stayed on it!

The two robbers who were crucified with Jesus “were taunting Him” repeatedly (v. 32). However, one of them will have a change of heart before the day ends (Luke 23:39-43). He saw something in Jesus that moved him from insulting Him to trusting Him. He would not be disappointed. He would meet the Lord after death in paradise. We must never forget: no sinner will be disappointed who flees to the crucified King. It is never too late!

Jesus Died Forsaken Even Though He Was God’s Son

Mark 15:33-41

Mark highlights six events as Jesus died: (1) the darkness (v. 33); (2) His cry of anguish (vv. 34-36); (3) a final cry and His death (v. 37); (4) the tearing of the temple curtain (v. 38); (5) the confession of the Roman centurion (v. 39); and (6) the witness of women (vv. 40-41).

When you consider all four Gospels, Jesus uttered “Seven Sayings from the Cross.”

  1. “Father, forgive them, because they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34 (Forgiveness)
  2. “I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.” Luke 23:43 (Salvation)
  3. “Woman, here is your son.” John 19:26 (Relationship)
  4. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34 (Abandonment)
  5. “I’m thirsty!” John 19:28 (Distress)
  6. “It is finished!” John 19:30; cf. Mark 15:37 (Triumph)
  7. “Father, into Your hands I entrust My Spirit.” Luke 23:46 (Reunion)

354Mark will only record the words of one (15:34) and the “cry” of another (15:37). His focus is the forsakenness of the great King.

The Great King Died in Darkness (Mark 15:33)

Jesus has been on the cross for three hours. Suddenly at about “noon,” darkness engulfed the whole land “until three.” This was not a solar eclipse, since the Passover was held at the time of a full moon. This is a miracle of God, a cosmic sign of God’s judgment on sin poured out on His Son (Isa 5:25-30; Amos 8:9-10; Mic 3:5-7; Zeph 1:14-15). The ninth plague in Egypt was a three-day period of darkness followed by the final plague, the death of the firstborn (Exod 10:22-11:9). Wiersbe notes, “The darkness of Calvary was an announcement that God’s firstborn and Beloved Son, the Lamb of God, was giving His life for the sins of the world!” (Be Diligent, 148-49).

The Great King Died Alone (Mark 15:34-36)

The cry of verse 34 may be the most heart-wrenching one in the whole Bible. It is a quote from Psalm 22:1, and it identifies Jesus as the righteous sufferer of that psalm. Our Savior cried out in Aramaic, His mother tongue, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” The cry was not one of physical pain, psychological confusion, or dread of death. No, it was the cry of the Son of God, who was now experiencing something He had never known in all of eternity: separation from and forsakenness by God. Tim Keller captures beautifully the transaction of the moment:

This forsakenness, this loss, was between the Father and the Son, who had loved each other from all eternity. This love was infinitely long, absolutely perfect, and Jesus was losing it. Jesus was being cut out of the dance.

Jesus, the Maker of the world, was being unmade. Why? Jesus was experiencing our judgment day. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It wasn’t a rhetorical question. And the answer is: For you, for me, for us. Jesus was forsaken by God so that we would never have to be. The judgment that should have fallen on us fell instead on Jesus. (Keller, King’s Cross, 202; emphasis in original)

Jesus’ cry and the darkness that covered the land declared the same truth: there was real abandonment from the Father as Jesus took on every sin of every man, woman, and child. As Isaiah 53:6 teaches, “The Lord has punished Him for the iniquity of us all.” This was the price He paid as “a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

355And why “My God” and not “My Father”? Because in this one moment in all of time and eternity, He views Himself and knows Himself not as the Father’s Son but as the sinner’s sacrifice.

Some standing by mistakenly thought He was calling out to Elijah. They waited, probably with additional ridicule, to see whether Elijah would come to take Him down. However, if the Father would not intervene to spare His Son, it is certain Elijah would not come. The great King would die alone as the sinner’s substitute.

God separated from God—who can understand? I may never understand it, but I will forever praise Him for it.

The Great King Died and Opened the Way to God (Mark 15:37-39)

“Jesus let out a loud cry” and died (v. 37). Almost certainly it was the cry recorded in John 19:30, “It is finished!” Atonement has been made, and the work of salvation is done. As tangible evidence, “the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two”—and do not miss this—“from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38). This was God’s doing. The significance of the tearing of the curtain that separates the holy place from the holy of holies is rich in symbolic allusions. Pastor Sam Storms notes at least three:

(1) It points to the complete, perfect, and altogether sufficient sacrifice for sins that Jesus has offered in himself on the cross. The sin that had created a barrier both spiritually and naturally between God and man has been atoned for. (2) It also points to the end of the Mosaic Covenant and its laws, which have been fulfilled in Christ. The “old order” has passed away! (3) It points to the fact that God in all his glory is now freely and fully accessible to all men and women who come to him by faith in Jesus Christ. For centuries before the coming of Christ, God had confined the revelation of his glory and majesty to the Holy of Holies. Now he bursts forth to dwell no longer behind a veil in a house built with wood and stone and precious jewels, but to dwell in the hearts of his people. See Hebrews 10:19-22. (Storms, “The Cross and the Cry”)

Now we arrive at the destination Mark has intended since 1:1. On the lips of a Gentile Roman Centurion, we hear the confession, “This man really was God’s Son” (15:39). It was not one of His marvelous miracles or tremendous teachings that evoked this confession; it was His passion. Like the centurion, Mark wants his readers to confess Jesus as the Christ. The question is, have you? Will you? It is a question only you can answer.

The Great King Died with Women Looking On in Love (Mark 15:40-41)


While no men are mentioned by Mark, he does note three women who were there: Mary of Magdala whom Jesus had delivered from demonic possession (Luke 8:2), a second Mary who had two sons named James and Joses, and Salome who is only mentioned by name in Mark (15:40; 16:1). This last was the mother of the disciples James and John, and probably the sister of Jesus’ mother (Matt 27:56).

Their presence establishes eyewitnesses to His death and burial (Mark 15:47). Further, they were true disciples who had followed Him and ministered to Him (v. 41). They, along with “many other women,” were faithful to Him to the bitter end. They may have watched the brutal events of the cross “from a distance,” but unlike His male disciples their devotion was not marked by absence. Their love and devotion to Jesus would not go unrewarded (16:4-8)!

Jesus Was Buried Because He Was Dead

Mark 15:42-47

Jesus is dead. John 19:34 tells us “one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear” just to be certain. Normally, a man who died by crucifixion would be left on the cross to rot or be eaten by dogs or birds of prey. What was left of the corpse would then be thrown into the Valley of Hinnom (see comments on Mark 9:43-48). Jesus, however, would be spared this humiliation because

(1) Jewish law demanded that even executed criminals receive a proper burial and that those hanged on a tree be taken down and buried before sunset (Deut 21:23), and (2) Joseph of Arimathea “boldly went in to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body” (Mark 15:43).

The Great King Was Buried in a Rich Man’s Tomb (Mark 15:42-46)

It is late Friday afternoon. Preparation for the Sabbath would already be underway so any decision as to what to do with the body of Jesus must be made quickly (v. 42).

Joseph of Arimathea, who (1) was “a prominent member of the Sanhedrin” and (2) “was himself looking forward to the kingdom of God ... asked for Jesus’ body” (v. 43). Luke 23:51 informs us he did not support the Council’s decision to seek Jesus’ execution. He may have even thought Jesus was the Messiah (John 19:38). As far as he and the others could tell, such hopes had now been lost. Still, his love for Jesus moved him to go public and make clear his affection for Jesus.

357Pilate was surprised to hear that Jesus “was already dead.” Often, a man would suffer several days on the cross. Receiving confirmation from the centurion that Jesus was in fact dead, “he gave the corpse to Joseph.”

Joseph purchased “some fine linen,” wrapped the Savior in it, and put Him in his own tomb. Then “he rolled a stone against the entrance.” Once again the Scripture was fulfilled, “They made His grave ... with a rich man” (Isa 53:9).

The Great King Was Buried, and Women Saw Where He Was Laid (Mark 15:47)

In addition to Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (see John 19:38-42), Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses “were watching where He was placed.” Thus the only people at His grave were two Pharisees and two women. The apostles, who had professed proudly that they would die for Him (Mark 14:31), are in hiding. By contrast those who once remained in the shadows or were hardly noticed by the “really important” people are there by His grave. They do not care who knows of their loyalty and love for Jesus.


And so it is over. He is finished. Or ... is He? I know it’s Friday. But Sunday is coming! S. M. Lockridge (1913-2000) was a powerful and passionate African-American preacher. He captured so well what just happened ... and what’s coming in just a few days.

It’s Friday. Jesus is praying. Peter’s a-sleeping. Judas is betraying. But Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday. Pilate’s struggling. The Council is conspiring. The crowd is vilifying. They don’t even know that Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday. The Disciples are running like sheep without a shepherd. Mary’s crying. Peter is denying. But they don’t know that Sunday’s a-comin’.

It’s Friday. The Romans beat my Jesus. They robe Him in scarlet. They crown Him with thorns. But they don’t know that Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday. See Jesus walking to Calvary. His blood dripping. His body stumbling. And His spirit’s burdened. But you see, it’s only Friday. Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday. The world’s winning. People are sinning. And evil’s grinning.

358It’s Friday. The soldiers nail my Savior’s hands to the cross. They nail my Savior’s feet to the cross. And then they raise Him up next to criminals.

It’s Friday. But let me tell you something: Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday. The disciples are questioning, what has happened to their King. And the Pharisees are celebrating that their scheming has been achieved. But they don’t know it’s only Friday. Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday. He’s hanging on the cross. Feeling forsaken by His Father. Left alone and dying. Can nobody save Him? Ooooh, it’s Friday. But Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday. The earth trembles. The sky grows dark. My King yields His spirit.

It’s Friday. Hope is lost. Death has won. Sin has conquered. And Satan’s just a-laughin’.

It’s Friday. Jesus is buried. A soldier stands guard. And a rock is rolled into place. But It’s Friday. It is only Friday. Sunday is a-comin’! (Lockridge, “It’s Friday”)

Reflect and Discuss

  1. How would you respond to someone who says that any man could have fulfilled these prophecies simply by manipulating events and doing certain things?
  2. Theologians use the terms “substitutionary atonement,” “propitiation,” and “reconciliation” to describe what Jesus accomplished. Should the church continue to use these terms? How would you explain these terms to a person not familiar with theological/biblical concepts?
  3. When you see a cross, do you think of it as “glorious” or “horrible”? Explain.
  4. What took place that showed the inhumanity and cruelty of crucifixion as a method of execution? Why did God ordain that this would be done to His Son?
  5. Could Jesus have avoided going to the cross? Was He capable of coming down from the cross? What kept Him there?
  6. How would you respond to someone who said the darkness that descended during the crucifixion was a natural phenomenon?
  7. Explain in your own words why Jesus exclaimed, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
  8. How might the Jews have responded to the tearing of the curtain in the sanctuary? What does it mean for Gentiles?
  9. How would you respond to those who theorize that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross? Why is this fact important?
  10. 359What is the significance in Mark reporting that, of all Jesus’ followers, only a few of the women were there during the crucifixion, and only they and two converted Jewish leaders were there at His burial?