Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ as written and recorded by John Mark. More specifically, today’s passage is found in verses thirty-three through forty-seven of the fifteenth chapter. When you come to this particular passage of scripture you will not find Jesus in the upper room enjoying fellowship and communion with His disciples. You will not find Jesus singing a gym with His disciples before heading to the mount of olives where He would prepare to enter into the garden. You will not find Jesus in the garden kneeling and prostrating himself before the Father in heaven wrestling with the will for His life upon the earth. You will not find Jesus betrayed by a kiss from Judas, nor will you find Jesus being seized and laid hold of by the insurgent Judas led into the garden to take hold of Jesus. As you come to this passage of scripture you will not find Jesus standing before His accusers and adversaries as He heard the false witness and testimony that was raised against Him. You will not find Jesus standing before the high priest of Israel at the time being asked to answer the accusations that were being raised against Him. You will not find Jesus being bound and led away in order that He might appear and stand before Pilate at the governors palace in the city of Jerusalem. What’s more, is you won’t even find Jesus being beaten, being spit upon, and being mistreated by those who were present among the Chief priests and elders of the people of Israel. What’s more is you won’t find Jesus standing before the Roman soldiers in the praetorium or hall where they plated a crown of thorns upon His head, dressed Him in a purple robe, and in mockery and scorn pretended to worship Him. You won’t find Jesus being scourged by the Roman soldiers, and you won’t find Him undoubtedly writing from the agony and pain of the beating He endured at the hands of the romans. When you come to this passage of scripture you won’t even find Jesus being nailed to the cross upon which He would hang and upon which He would die. This particular passage you find here in the gospel written by John Mark will present and bring you face to faith with a Jesus whom many die not expect to see—a Jesus hanging naked, battered and bruised upon a cross which He Himself has to carry along the road to Golgotha. When you come to this passage of scripture you will find Jesus not only being brought to “the place of the skull,” but you will find Jesus being crucified in the place of the skull.
As I sit here this morning I can’t help but be absolutely and completely struck with and by the fact that when you come to this passage of scripture you find the betrayal completed, you find the false accusation completed, you find the mistreatment completed, you find the suffering you completed. When you come to this passage of scripture you will find the suffering, the agony, the anguish which Jesus Christ experienced at the hands of the chief priests, as well as the Roman soldiers and guards having been brought to a close. When you come to this passage of scripture you will find Jesus having already endured the suffering before the cross, and even being forced to carry that cross to the place where He would be nailed and crucified before all those who would stand by and watch as they mocked and ridiculed Him. What I can’t help but think about and consider when I read this passage of scripture and as I read concerning the death and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, I can’t help but be gripped and captivated with and by the fact that before Jesus ever even saw the cross—before Jesus would ever be forced to carry the cross along the road which led to the place of the skull—there was suffering which was experienced and endured. THE SUFFERING BEFORE THE CROSS! I have to admit that there is something deeply profound about this passage of scripture, for there seems to be a tremendous and powerful indicator that there is at times a suffering which precludes and precedes the actual experience of the cross. As you read the words which are contained within this passage of scripture you will find that betrayal was the key that opened the door to the suffering, and ultimately to the cross upon which Jesus would die, but before Jesus ever saw or faced the cross He would first face and experience suffering—both at the hands of the chief priests, scribes and elders, and then at the hands of the romans. It’s worth noting that not only did Jesus face and experience suffering before at the hands of religion, but Jesus also found Himself facing and experiencing suffering at the hands of sinners who cared absolutely nothing, and those who were sadistic in their nature as men. Before Jesus would ever face and see the instrument of His death, He would first encounter and experience a tremendous degree, level and measure of suffering which would precede and preclude the actual experience of the cross upon which He would die.
THE SUFFERING BEFORE THE CROSS! I am sitting here this morning, can as I sit here I can’t escape the fact that before we even speak about the cross we must first speak about the suffering that is associated with the cross. Before we speak about the cross upon which Jesus Christ would not only be forced to carry, but also would ultimately be crucified upon we must first recognize and understand the reality that before the experience of the cross was even a reality there was first the suffering that preceded and precluded the cross. We are very familiar with the words which Jesus the Christ spoke unto His disciples after beginning to teach them that it must needs be that He be betrayed into the hands of the chief priests, the elders and the scribes, and to suffer many things, and to ultimately be crucified before being raised from death to life on the third day. We are aware that these words came immediately after the words which Jesus spoke unto His disciples when He first asked them whom men said that He the Son of man was, and then turned the tables and flipped the script and asked them whom they said that He the Son of man was. We are also aware of the words which Jesus the Christ spoke unto the disciples concerning those who wished and those who desired to follow Him—words which come directly on the heels of His beginning to teach the disciples that He must needs suffer at the hands of the scribes, the elders, and the chief priests, and ultimately be killed and crucified. In fact, if you turn and direct your attention to the sixteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ as written and recorded by the apostle Matthew you will find each of these three realities manifested. Beginning to read with and from the thirteenth verse of the sixteenth chapter you will find the following three realities which are manifested in sequential order within the gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ as written by the apostle Matthew. Consider if you will these three realities which were found to be present within this first New Testament gospel account of Jesus’ life and ministry:
“When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto Him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the Keyes of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Then charged He his disciples that they should tell no man that He was Jesus the Christ…”
“From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto His disciples, how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But He turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offense unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men…”
“Then said Jesus unto His disciples, If any man will come after me, let Him deny Himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul…” (Matthew 16:13-27)
Within this particular section of the New Testament gospel of Matthew we find three distinct realities which were manifested within the life of Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the disciples. On the one hand we find Jesus asking the disciples whom men said that He the Son of man was. This was immediately followed by Jesus the Christ then turning the tables and asking His disciples whom they said that He the Son of man was. This particular encounter between the disciples and the Master would begin with a matter of Jesus’ identity, and that which the disciples themselves believed concerning Jesus the Christ. Jesus the Christ emphatically spoke unto the disciples and asked them whom men said that He the Son of man was, and then immediately after praising Simon Peter’s response to this question, Jesus would then go on to teach the disciples how that He must suffer many things of the elders, and the chief priests, and the scribes, and ultimately be killed. What marks the words which Jesus speaks unto His disciples on this particular occasion so incredibly interesting and intriguing is the fact that Jesus seems to separate suffering from crucifixion. If you read the words contained within this passage of Scripture deliberately and intentionally, you will find Jesus seemingly drawing a distinction between the suffering He would face, experience and endure at the hands of the chief priests, scribes and elders of Israel, and his actually being crucified and killed. When teaching and speaking unto the disciples we find Jesus seemingly separating the reality of suffering at the hands of the chief priests, the scribes and the elders from the actual reality and manifestation of being killed and crucified as a direct result of the suffering. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand this particular reality, for it would have been very easy for Jesus to speak unto the disciples and declare unto them that He must needs be killed and on the third day rise again, however, that was not at all what Jesus did while speaking unto and teaching them. In all reality, I would dare say that when Jesus began teaching the disciples from this moment on, He not only began teaching and speaking unto them concerning His ultimate and inevitable death upon the cross, but He also began teaching and speaking unto them concerning the suffering He would experience and endure as a direct result of being at the mercy of the chief priests, the scribes and elders of Israel. There is not a doubt in my mind that not only within the words Jesus the Christ began teaching the disciples, but also in the very reality of His life that there was a clear and present distinction between the suffering and the cross, and that the two were intrinsically linked and connected to and with one another.
I am sitting here this morning and I cannot escape the reality that there is in fact a suffering which precedes and precludes the cross, and that while we speak of the cross and the death and crucifixion which ultimately ensues as a direct result of being nailed to it, we must first speak about the suffering which would take place before the cross even entered into the picture. WHEN THE CROSS FINALLY ENTERS INTO THE PICTURE! WHEN THE CROSS IS PRESENTED BEFORE YOUR FACE! WHEN THE CROSS IS PRESENTED BEFORE YOUR EYES! I can’t help but wonder what it was like for Jesus when He finally came face to face with the cross knowing exactly and precisely what it would mean for Him. What was it like when the Roman soldiers brought forth the part of the cross which He Himself would be forced to carry along the Via Dolorosa unto the place of the skull? What was it like for Jesus after having already faced, experienced and endured suffering at the hands of religion, as well as at the hands of sinners to then come face to face with the very instrument of His death? I can’t help but but be reminded of young Isaac who journeyed and traveled with his father Abraham unto the place which the Lord would show unto the father where he would ultimately and inevitably be offered up as a sacrifice and offering unto the Lord. What was it like when Isaac experienced the wood which he himself carried being removed from his shoulders and back, and as the wood was arranged upon the altar, and then his body being bound and placed upon the very wood which he carried? What was it like after Jesus had finished enduring the suffering which He faced, experienced and endured at the hands of the chief priests, the scribes and elders of Israel, as well as at the hands of the Roman soldiers to then come face to face with the very instrument of His death. INTRODUCING THE CROSS! THE INTRODUCTION OF THE CROSS! I would love to know what went through the heart and mind of Jesus Christ as He saw the cross being brought forth before Him knowing full well what the cross would actually mean for Him. I can’t help but wonder what it was like for Jesus when He had finished enduring the mockery, the scorn and the ridicule of all those who were present on that day, and then to ultimately and finally come face to face with the cross upon which He would die. He knew it was coming, and He knew there was absolutely no way to avoid it, and yet I can’t help but think to myself how there must have been certain thoughts and certain emotions that gripped and laid hold of His heart when He finally came face to face with the very instrument He knew would be the result and product of His death. When He finally saw the wood appear before Him, and when He finally saw the cross and instrument upon which He would die, what went through His heart, His mind and His soul knowing that it would be upon that very instrument He would die?
WHEN THE CROSS IS INTRODUCED! WHEN THE CROSS FINALLY ENTERS INTO THE PICTURE! WHEN THE CROSS FINALLY ARRIVES! What do you do in that moment when the cross which you knew was ultimately coming finally arrives and finally manifests itself within your heart and life? What do you do when the very instrument of your death was no longer a distant reality and a distant expectation but has now become a present reality within your life? What do you do when the very instrument you were living for your entire life finally appears and finally manifests itself within your life, and you come face to face with it before your eyes? How will you react, and how will you respond when you finally encounter and finally come face to face with the cross which you knew within your heart and soul was completely and utterly unavoidable? I can’t help but be gripped with the fact that once the cross manifests itself, and once the cross appears before your eyes and before your face there is literally and there is absolutely no going back. WHEN THE CROSS MANIFESTS ITSELF YOU HAVE REACHED THE POINT OF NO RETURN! WHEN THE CROSS MANIFESTS ITSELF THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO GOING BACK! I can’t help but be captivated with and by the fact that when the cross finally appeared and was manifested within the life of Jesus Christ manifested itself and appeared, there was absolutely no room or place for turning back. Once the cross manifests itself and appears before your face the fate which you knew you would face, experience and endure would finally appear and manifest itself within your life. We dare not miss and lose sight of this particular reality, for it brings us face to face with one of the strongest realities within our own hearts and lives. Jesus had already experienced tremendous suffering, agony and anguish at the behest of the chief priests, the scribes and the elders of Israel, and Jesus had already experienced a tremendous amount of suffering at the behest of the Roman soldiers, and now—once the suffering had drawn to an end—the only thing that was left for Him to face and experience was death, and death by the cross which would manifest itself once Pilate agreed and gave the order for Him to be killed. WHEN THE SUFFERING DRAWS TO A CLOSE THERE IS ONLY ONE REALITY THAT IS LEFT: DEATH! Within the account of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ you will find that Pilate could find no fault in or with Jesus, and that He did in fact intend to release Him seeing no wrong being committed by Him. Regardless of how much Pilate might have wanted to release Jesus the Christ, there was absolutely no avoiding that which was inevitable, that which was ordained, and that which was appointed by the Father who sits upon the throne. Once the suffering had drawn to a close you would think that there would be some sort of respite and some sort of reprieve, however, that simply is not the case. SUFFERING IS THE PRECURSOR FOR THE CROSS! SUFFERING POINTS TO THE CROSS! SUFFERING POINTS TO THE INSTRUMENT OF YOUR DEATH!
When you read the words which Jesus the Christ spoke unto the disciples on the same occasion as His beginning to teach them concerning His suffering, his death, and His resurrection, you will find that Jesus begins to personalize it for His disciples and declare that if any man would desire to come after Him, they must deny themselves, they must take up their cross, and they must follow Him. This is actually quite interesting and intriguing when you take the time to think about and consider it, for it brings us face to face with the reality that Jesus the Christ wasn’t the only one who would be called to carry and bear the cross—the instrument of death. Jesus wouldn’t be the only one who would be asked to carry the cross which would ultimately be the instrument of His death, for any and all those who wished and desired to come after Him would be asked to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Him. One of the dangers and temptations we face when we think about this particular reality is when we fail to recognize the fact that the cross is a byproduct of the suffering that would be experienced and endured within our hearts and lives. I absolutely love the account of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ, for the account of His life and ministry proves, demonstrates and reveals the awesome fact that while the cross was the ultimate reality within his life, it would come only after He had already faced, experienced and endured suffering—both at the hands of the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders, as well as the hands of the Roman soldiers who cared nothing for Him, but only that they might satisfy their sadistic nature. I cannot escape the fact that before the cross is introduced there is first a degree and measure of suffering which takes place, and that suffering is ultimately and inevitably a portent and sign of the cross which is to come within our hearts and lives. When we tend to think of the cross we tend to think of it as an isolated instrument of death, however, we fail to recognize and understand the fact that there is a suffering which can and must be experienced before the reality of the cross is even manifested within our hearts and lives. Jesus knew that the cross would ultimately enter into the picture within His life, however, that cross would not be introduced until after He had experienced the suffering which would take place at the hands of religion and sinners. AFTER SUFFERING AT THE HANDS OF RELIGION AND SINNERS—THE CROSS! The cross would and could not enter into the picture without and apart from Jesus facing, experiencing and enduring the suffering which would take place as He stood trial before the high priest, and ultimately Pilate who was appointed as governor of Jerusalem by Rome itself. The cross would not and could not even enter into the picture until Jesus stood before Pilate who was appointed as governor over Jerusalem by Rome itself, for only Rome used the practice of crucifixion as a means of capital punishment for those who were worthy of and those who deserved to die.
BEFORE THE CROSS—SUFFERING! BEFORE THE CROSS I MUST SUFFER! There would be many who would read the account of Jesus’ suffering, and ultimately His death and crucifixion, and would not truly understand and recognize the fact that there is a clear distinction esteem the suffering which Jesus experienced and endured prior to the introduction of the cross, and Jesus’ actual being crucified upon the cross. If you read the New Testament gospel account of the life of Jesus Christ—particularly and specially the account of His death and crucifixion—you will find that before the cross was ever introduced to Jesus, He had to face and endure a tremendous and inordinate amount of suffering at the behest of religion, as well as at the behest of sinners. In fact, if you read the gospel account of Jesus’ life as written and recorded by John Mark, you will find that Jesus wasn’t betrayed and then immediately faced the cross and was crucified on the cross before all those who would stand by and watch. As you read the words which John Mark wrote concerning the suffering and death of Jesus the Christ you will find that betrayal was the door that opened up to everything that took place thereafter, however, betrayal would not immediately lead to death and crucifixion upon the cross upon which Jesus would die. The cross would ultimately be the reality within the life of Jesus the Christ, but there would and there could be no cross and crucifixion without and apart from the suffering which would precede and preclude it. In fact, if you begin reading with and from the fifty-third verse of the fourteenth chapter you will find the following words which were written concerning the suffering of Jesus the Christ, and ultimately the introduction of the cross which would be the instrument of His death. Consider if you will the words which John Mark wrote concerning the suffering of Jesus Christ, and ultimately His death, beginning with the fifty-third verse of the fourteenth chapter:
“And they led Jesus away to the high priest: and with Him were assembled all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes. And Peter followed Him afar off, even into the palace of the high priest: and he sat with the servants, and warmed himself at the fire. And the chief priests and all the council sought for witness against Jesus to put him to death; and found none. For many bar false witness against him, but their witness agreed not together. And there arose certain, and bare false witness against him, saying, We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I wi lol build another made without hands. But neither so did their witness agree together. And the high priest stood up in the midst, and asked Jesus, saying, Answerest thou nothing? What is it which these witness against thee? But He held His peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses? Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? And they all condemned him to be guilty of death. And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say unto him, Prophesy: and the servants did strike him with the palms of their hands” (Mark 14:53-65).
“But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them. And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews? And they cried out again, Crucify him. Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify him. And so Pilate, willing to consent the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when He had scourged Him, to be crucified. And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band. And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head, and began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews! And they smote him on the head with a reed, and did spit upon him, and bowing their knees worshipped him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and led him out to crucify him. And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross. And they bring him unto the place of Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull. And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not. And when they had crucified him, they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take. And it was the third hour, and they crucified him. And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS. And with Him they crucifix two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left. And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And He was numbered with the transgressors” (Mark 15:11-28).
I am incredibly moved when I read the account of Jesus’ trial, Jesus’ suffering, and ultimately Jesus’ death and crucifixion upon the cross, for what we find when reading concerning them in the New Testament gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ is that suffering was the precursor, the portent, the sign of the death and crucifixion of Jesus the Christ. Before Jesus would ever come face to face with the cross, and before Jesus would ever be compelled to carry His cross unto the place of His death and crucifixion, He would first face and experience an ornate amount of suffering at the hands of religion and sinners. We dare not miss and lose sight of this, for suffering is ultimately a sign and a portent of that which proceeds and that which comes after it—namely, the introduction of the cross. It is true that we have been called to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, and to follow Jesus the Christ, and yet I can’t help but wonder if while it is true that we have called to take up our cross, there are many of us who have yet to come face to face with the cross. I would dare say that it is impossible to come face to face with the cross until that moment comes within our lives when we are ready and when we are prepared to die. I would dare say that the cross is not introduced into our lives until that moment comes when we are truly ready, truly willing, and truly prepared to die. I am convinced that the cross which Jesus would die upon would and could not come until the appointed time when He would be nailed to and crucified upon it. It is true that we are all called to take up our cross, and that we are all called to carry our cross, yet I can’t help but wonder if the cross can and even will be introduced into our lives before the appointed time—that time when we are truly ready and willing to surrender ourselves to the will of the Father, and to surrender ourselves to die upon the cross. It was true that Jesus was willing to surrender Himself to the will of the Father, and was willing to surrender Himself to the cross, however, the cross itself would and could not be introduced until that moment when there was absolutely no return. The cross would be introduced at the appointed time, and once the cross was introduced there was absolutely no room for turning back. Once the cross appears before our faces and before our eyes there is only one course of action that is left, and that is simply to be nailed to the cross, and to ultimately die upon it. Once the cross is introduced there is absolutely no room for turning back, and there is absolutely no avoiding it whatsoever within our hearts and lives, for once it is is introduced we are left with one reality and one reality alone—namely, to die upon the cross. Once the cross is introduced, we are left with one reality and one reality alone, and that reality is to be nailed to the cross, and to be crucified before the living God who sits upon the throne.
I have asked the question what you will do and how you will respond when the cross is introduced into your life, and I feel compelled to present you with that question once more. What will you do in that moment when you have faced, experienced and endured enough suffering—perhaps suffering at the hands of religion, and perhaps suffering at the hands of wickedness and sinners—and the cross appears before your face? How will you respond and how will you react when you have found the suffering has ceased, however, instead of that being the end of it, you discover that on the other side of the suffering is the cross. ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SUFFERING IS THE CROSS! ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE CROSS, HOWEVER, THERE IS THE RESURRECTION! As certainly and as surely as we must recognize and understand that on the other side of suffering is the cross, we must recognize and understand that on the other side of the cross is the resurrection after the hidden work of the grave takes place within our hearts and lives. When we read the account of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ we must understand and recognize that suffering was a precursor and a sign which pointed to the cross which would be the instrument upon which Jesus would die and be crucified. Oh that we would not lose sight of and miss this reality within our hearts and lives, for to do so would be to miss out on the intense and tremendous reality of the cross and suffering within our lives. It is true that we have been called to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, and to follow Jesus the Christ, however, the cross can only and will only be manifested when we have reached the point of no return. I would dare say that the true nature and the true reality of the cross cannot and will not be manifested within our hearts and lives until and unless we are willing to carry the cross along our own Via Dolorosa, and until and unless we are willing to be crucified upon it in the place of a skull. The cross can and will come within the lives of those who have been called to carry and bear it, however, I am convinced that the cross will only come once we have come to the point where there is no returning for us. Let me ask you this all important question within your own life—Have you reached the point of no return? Have you reached the point where there is no going back? Have you reached the place where there is nothing left for you to do but to completely and utterly surrender yourself to the cross, and to allow yourself to be crucified upon it? It is true you might have experienced a tremendous amount of suffering within your life, or even a degree and measure of suffering, yet the question that must be asked is whether or not the cross has actually manifested itself within your life. Jesus’ own life proves, demonstrates and reveals that it is possible to face and experience suffering, and yet not have the cross be manifested within your life just yet. Jesus would experience suffering at the hands of religion, and would then experience suffering at the hands of wickedness and sinners, and only after both of those realities within His life were manifested would the cross then be introduced—the very instrument upon which He would die and be crucified in the place of a skull. Oh that we would be brought to the place of no return where the only thing left for us to do—the only thing left for us to willingly and deliberately do—is to surrender to the cross, and to allow ourselves to be crucified upon it knowing full well that on the other side of the cross is resurrection and a completely transformed life, as those who are in Christ are new creations, for old things have passed away, and behold, all things are becoming and have become new.