|Pixabay (Public Domain)|
Faith, according to Hebrews is believing without seeing. Without that faith, the author goes on to say, it is impossible to please God. They are words that encourage but also words that condemn. They encourage us because they imply that we don't have to understand, we don’t have to see, for God to be faithful to the promises that He has made. He is Who He is, and He cannot lie. He will do what He has promised to do. Why and how and when He acts is way “above our pay grade” as the saying goes. We are simply called upon to believe, to have faith.
But the words condemn us as well because it is hard for us to believe without seeing. We fail the exercise all the time. So did those who walked and talked with Jesus. One of the example of that spirit of unbelief is found at the end of Mark, just before Jesus died.
25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the Jews.
27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left 28 and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “He was counted with the lawless ones.” 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 Messiah, 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.
To many of those who stood at the foot of the cross and watched the events of that day, the proof of Who Jesus was, which was what Mark was seeking to demonstrate in his record, was whether or not Jesus could save Himself from death. If He could come down from the cross then He must be Who He claimed. They wanted to see before they would believe. That they totally misunderstood the purpose of the cross is obvious to us. The cross was not a symbol of defeat; it was a symbol of victory—the ultimate solution to the problem that had begun in the Garden of Eden centuries before. You can’t have resurrection unless you have death.
But who would have thought that death would be victory? Paul describes it this way in 1 Corinthians 15:54-57, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Those who stood and mocked Him did not understand that what was happening before them was not only the ultimate, the last, sacrifice for sin that would ever be needed, but that it portrayed what happens when we accept the efficacy of that sacrifice for ourselves—we die to our old lives of sin, and are given new life that is then lived for God.
They wanted to see Jesus come down off the cross, but if He had they, and all of us, would have to perish on our own “cross” for our own sins. Jesus was asking them to believe without seeing, to have faith. And for the most part, they couldn’t.
But if they had difficulty believing because Jesus would not come down from the cross, what happened when He died should have helped. What was to happen was something that they could actually see. It would have been terrifying for those who witnessed it personally, and incredible to those who heard about it afterward.
33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
35 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.
37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.
From other accounts that we have in the Gospels, many strange things happened during these terrible moments in history. The sun was blotted out in the middle of the day. The earth shook. Graves sprang open and the dead came back to life and walked through the city. But perhaps nothing was as momentous, at least as far as the religious authorities were concerned than was what happened inside of the Temple.
“The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”
The Pulpit Commentary tells us that there were two veils - one before the holy place, and the other before the holy of holies. The holy place would correspond to what we call the nave of the church, in which the priests were continually present; the holy of holies would correspond to our chancel choir - the holiest part of the building. This was always kept closed; nor might any one enter it but the high priest, and that only once in the year, on the day of expiation. The veil which was rent at our Lord's death was that which was placed before the holy of holies…It was the duty of the officiating priest, on the evening of the day of preparation, at the hour of evening prayer, which would correspond to the time of our Lord's death, to enter into the holy place, where he would of course be between the two curtains, or veils…It would then be his business to roll back the κάλυμμα, or outer veil, thus exposing the holy place to the people, who would be in the. outer court. And then and there they would see, to their amazement, the καραπέτασμα, the inner veil, rent asunder from the top to the bottom. These veils or curtains, according to Josephus, were each forty cubits in height and ten in breadth, [20 feet long and 30 broad] of great substance, very massive, and richly embroidered with gold and purple.
No one except the High Priest was allowed in the Holiest of Holy. In the ripping of this huge curtain God was telling His people that there was no longer any need for this place. Christ had made atonement for sin. There was no longer any need for sacrifices to be made. There was no longer any need for a priest to stand between God and the people. Christ now stood between God and the people and only through Christ could man now approach the Father. Christ’s death put an end to all that the Jews had practiced for generations. What happened, the impossibility of it, must have terrified them. This destruction of the curtain made such an impression on people that it must have been the first step to what is recorded in Acts 6:7, “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”
If the authorities believed that killing Jesus would put an end to this “WAY” as it became known, they were sadly mistaken. The signs that came with it, coupled with the resurrection of Jesus, simply confirmed all that the Lord had been and said over the years that He walked the earth.
And all of these events, plus the events on the Day of Pentecost described in Acts, when the Spirit of God came to dwell permanently with the people of God, inspired the disciples to do what Mark records as the mission of Jesus from the time His ministry began.
Mark 16:19, 20
19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
Mark’s mission when he began to record the events of Jesus’ life was to present the gospel, the Good News, to tell people about Jesus, and to show Jesus as Who He was, the Son of God. When he began that record he introduced us to the first followers, the disciples of Jesus and recorded Jesus’ words to them: “Come, follow me…and I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). And they followed Him. As he comes to the end of his record, the events of three years have passed. Jesus has ascended and takes His place where He belongs—on the throne of heaven. Paul would later record that in this way: “…God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and in earth and under the earth. and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). This was prophetic. Jesus returned to heaven, exalted by His Father because He had completed the mission assigned to Him. But the ultimate exaltation will come when He returns the second time and every eye will see Him, and every knee will bow before Him. That has yet to come. Mark doesn’t record what happened when Jesus ascended but Luke tells us in Acts that as they stood looking up into heaven, two angels appeared and said to them, “Men of Galilee…why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
Mark is anxious to get on with the mission and simply records that the disciples did what Jesus had told them to do; they went out and became those fishers of men that Jesus had referred to them as when He called them to follow Him. They preached the Gospel. But what is wonderful is that last phrase: “…and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word…” He was gone, but He wasn’t. His presence through His Spirit, remained with them to accomplish His mission through them. They simply had to go and do what He said. They did what we read in Psalm 145: “…they will tell of your mighty acts. They will tell the glory of Your kingdom and speak of Your might, so that all men may know of Your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of Your kingdom” (Psalm 145:11, 12). And Mark himself, who had failed so pitifully in the beginning, was part of that band of wandering missionaries.
He learned that even those who stumble and fall can experience what other verses in Psalm 145 tell us: “The Lord is faithful to all His promises and loving toward all He has made. The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down” (Psalm 145:13b, 14). And the God Who is the same today as He was yesterday, continues to do the same for all those who look to Him.