By Collin Ross
For many inside the Church, these words have become too familiar. Many Bible readers come to the story of Christ’s crucifixion with later New Testament ideas in their mind that color the account in the language of justification and salvation. These themes, while certainly aspects of what happened at Golgotha, are not Mark’s primary message. It’s important that we listen to his words anew, and strive to hear what he wants to say.
Like a stone skipping across a river, Mark tells his story in a series of short, staccato scenes. Soldiers brutally mock Jesus, their biting tone escalating into a hail of blows. A bystander is forced to carry the wooden beam of the cross in lieu of the weakened Christ. Refusing the numbing wine, Jesus is stripped naked and nailed to the cross. The soldiers, the crowd, and even the condemned all hurl insults as His life wanes. Mark doesn’t linger on any of these scenes, but in his telling, there is a theme repeated again and again: Jesus is crucified because He is the King of Israel.
This is what the chief priests couldn’t understand. They called out to the dying Jesus, “Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, so that we may see and believe” (Mark 15:32). They couldn’t understand that it is because He is the King that He must remain on the cross. This is exactly what the King had come to do. This was His royal vocation. This is how the kingdom was to come.
Through the darkness of Christ’s pain, humiliation, and abandonment a new world was born. The curtain of the temple was torn in two, signaling that God’s presence was now open to all through the death of His Son. The temple’s purpose had been fulfilled once and for all by the Lamb of God upon the cross. The King’s task was now complete.
All of this is strange, wonderful, and entirely unexpected; but Mark isn’t finished. In the final scene we hear a familiar refrain. We heard it first in the opening of Mark’s Gospel, as Jesus is described as the Messiah, the Son of God. We heard it again at Christ’s baptism and transfiguration: Jesus is God’s beloved Son. Now for the first time, a human being calls Jesus the Son of God, and it’s not a priest, a disciple, or even a Jew. “When the centurion, who was standing opposite him, saw the way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39).
Making this declaration of belief is a violent man in a Roman uniform—a symbol to the Jewish people of everything that was wrong with the world. Mark’s message is clear: the kingdom has come, and a new age has begun. God has done something so wonderful that the most hardened of hearts will soften before the shadow of the cross. Out of the horror of His death, the King had ushered in new life.