“He Saved Others;
Himself He Cannot Save.”
“And so Pilate, willing to content 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 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 crucify 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. And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, Save thyself, and come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save. Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him. And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, he calleth Elias. And one ran and filled a spunge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down. And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:15-39)
If the Lord God wants Balaam to hear his word, he can speak as easily through Balaam’s ass as he can through a man or an angel. And, sometimes, in his infinite sovereignty, the Lord God uses lost, unregenerate, spiritually ignorant men to proclaim gospel truth as plainly and as powerfully as any inspired prophet. Those men remain as ignorant of the gospel as ever. Yet, they become voices by which God declares his truth. Numerous examples of this fact are given in the Book of God (John 11:47-52; Numbers 23:19-21; 1 Samuel 26:25). In the passage now before us the Spirit of God gives several more examples of God speaking glorious, gospel truths by men, who themselves knew nothing of the things they spoke. Repeatedly, those who mocked the Master in their jeers spoke plainly, declaring that the man hanging on the cursed tree between two thieves was and is “The King,” and most distinctly “The King of Israel.” Then, in verse 39 the centurion said, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!”
This is a matter of tremendous importance. The one through whom God speaks is nothing; but the message God speaks, the gospel of Christ, is the power of God unto salvation! Pastor Scott Richardson once said, “A preacher is a nobody trying to tell everybody about somebody who can save anybody.”
“Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save” (v. 31). In the angry, blood thirsty, jeering mob we hear the lost religious leaders of the day joining in the hellish revelry. Though they spoke with a hellish hatred for the Son of God, these chief priests and scribes spoke the plain truth of the gospel most clearly. — “He saved others; himself he cannot save.”
Because the Lord Jesus Christ came here to save his people from their sins, because he came to save us from the wrath of God, he could not save himself from being made sin for us, he could not save himself from the wrath of God. This is the very essence of the gospel. See that you understand it clearly. The holy Lord God could not save sinners apart from the satisfaction of his law and justice by the obedience and death of his own dear Son as our Substitute. God is absolutely sovereign. He did not have to save anyone; but, having chosen to save some, he cannot save any except in a manner that honors his law and justice (Job 33:23-24; Romans 3:23-26). If righteousness could come in any other way, then Christ died in vain (Galatians. 3:21).
Mark 15:15-39 sets before us the most wondrous, most glorious event in the history of the universe. Indeed, this is the reason why God created the world in the first place. We have before us the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus Christ as the sinners’ Substitute. Here the infinite love of God for sinners is set forth magnificently.
The sufferings described here would be astonishing, shocking to behold under any circumstances. Should we see any man endure such horror and grief, our hearts would be sick, deeply moved with compassion. But the man before us here is the eternal Son of God! I am astounded, amazed, lost in wonder as I read these words of Inspiration.
Here is something even more astounding. All that the Lord Jesus Christ endured, when he was made sin for us, he willingly, voluntarily endured. Even when he was made sin, it was by his own will that it came to pass. He willingly took upon himself our sins. He willingly went to the cross. He willingly died the shameful, ignominious death of the cross. He willingly became the object of his Father’s holy wrath and indignation. The Lord Jesus Christ willingly took the cup of wrath and, with one tremendous draft of love, drank damnation dry for us. Why? Because he loved us!
Here is “The love of Christ that passeth knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19). — “God commendeth his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). — “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). — “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16).
I want us to simply observe from the passage before us the things our Lord Jesus suffered, when he was made sin for chosen sinners. I want us to follow our Redeemer, step by step, from his condemnation to his death. There is deep meaning, spiritual instruction, and great consolation in everything our Substitute endured when he suffered the wrath of God in our place.
As we dwell upon these things, let us not forget, not even for a moment, that our sins and the salvation of our souls were the cause of all his agony. It was our hell that he endured! It was our death that he died. Child of God, the Holy Spirit here shows us the accomplishments of our great Surety and Substitute as he offered himself to God to make atonement for our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18).
“And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified” (v. 15). — Here we see the Son of God delivered into the hands of Roman soldiers, condemned to death, to be crucified as a common criminal. Here is that One before whom one day soon the whole world must stand in judgment. The great Judge, who shall summons all men before the great white throne in the last day, is here judged of men, sentenced to death and delivered up to be executed by the hands of wicked men.
Do you ask why? It was that he might deliver us from judgment, the pit of destruction, and the sentence of eternal death in hell. The Lord Jesus was made sin, judged guilty, and put to death for his people, so that believing sinners might never be judged for sin, so that he might present all the hosts of God’s elect before the presence of his glory, holy, unblameable, and unreproveable in his sight (Romans 4:8; 8:1, 33-34).
“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” (vv. 16-20).
“And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, Save thyself, and come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save. Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him” (vv. 29-32).
Jesus Christ the Righteous is here mocked, jeered, insulted and made a laughing stock before all the world. They clothed him with a purple cloth, put a crown of thorns on his head, and mockingly worshipped him. They cried, “Hail! King!” Then they beat him, spit on him, and laughed him to scorn. As they led him away to crucify him, he became the song of drunkards. Harlots and “holy” men, pimps and priests, sots and scribes joined in hellish revelry as they nailed him to the tree and watched him die. Even the two thieves who were crucified with him found relief from their torture by joining in the infamy. The Son of God was made to be utterly contemptible before men. He was made to be “the filth of the world and the offscouring of all things.”
Do you ask why? It was that we who are truly the filth of the world and off scouring of all things, we who are in truth vile and contemptible might have glory, honor, and eternal life by the merit of his blood, that we might stand before God without one spot of sin or wrinkle of infirmity in perfect holiness. He wore a crown of thorns, that we might wear a crown of glory forever. He wore the spit of man, that men might wear the kiss of God forever. He sunk in humiliation, that we might rise in triumph.
“And when they had crucified him, they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take” (v. 24). — The Lord Jesus was stripped naked before men, exposed in open shame to all his enemies.
Do you ask why? It was that we, who have no righteousness before God, might be clothed with his perfect righteousness. It was that we, who are naked and shameful, all defiled with sin, might wear the wedding garments of grace and sit side by side with the angels of God unashamed. It was that we might forever wear the white robe of his perfect righteousness, the garments of salvation, clean and white, before the great white throne of our God.
Numbered with Sinners
“And with him they crucify 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” (vv. 27-28). — The Holy One of God was reckoned a transgressor and a sinner. He who did no sin, in whose mouth was no guile, was “numbered with the transgressors.”
Do you ask why? Why was he numbered with the transgressors? It was because he was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21). The holy Lamb of God was made to be sin so that we, who are altogether unholy, might be made perfectly holy forever! He was pronounced guilty so that we might be pronounced righteous before God!
Forsaken of God
“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (v. 34) — The Son of God was forsaken by his Father. Try to grasp this. When our Surety, Jehovah’s righteous Servant, was at the height of his obedience, as he was performing the crowning work he was commissioned of God to do, he was abandoned, forsaken by his Father.
Do you ask why? It was because he was made to be sin; and the holy Lord God cannot look upon sin. Why was he forsaken of God? It was that we might hear the Lord God himself declare, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee!” Christ was forsaken because he was made sin for us. We can never be forsaken because he has taken our sins away!
Made a Curse
“And they bring him unto the place 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” (vv. 22-26).
The Lord of Glory was made a curse for us, crucified and hanged as a cursed thing upon Calvary’s tree. Death by crucifixion was reserved for only the most vile of felons. This shamefully horrid, ignominious, tortuous form of execution was designed to show the utter contemptibility of the one hanging upon the cross. The man hanging on the tree was counted accursed. The Lord Jesus died the cursed death of the cross.
Do you ask why? It was that we who were born accursed might be delivered from the curse of the law and stand forever blessed of God for Christ’s sake (Galatians 3:13-14).
A Voluntary Sacrifice
“And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost” (v. 37). — The Lord Jesus Christ, our Substitute, freely, voluntarily laid down his life; he gave up the ghost, for his people. He said, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep…As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:11, 15-18).
Do you ask why? — “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).
The Rent Veil
“And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” (v. 38). — By his blood atonement, by his death under the curse of God’s holy law, the Son of God ripped open the veil in the temple. When justice was satisfied, when sin was put away, when there was nothing left to separate the holy Lord God from his people, when the law of God was forever silenced, the symbol of separation was ripped apart.
Do you ask why? It was that redeemed sinners might come to God with the full assurance of faith, being accepted in the beloved (Hebrews 10:12-19).
Our Surety’s Shame
In all that is here recorded by the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit let us never lose sight of the fact that our Lord Jesus endured all this pain, shame, and ignominy in his death as our Surety. When the Lord God laid our sins upon him, our Savior’s glory was turned into shame (Psalm 4:2; Hosea 4:7). When he was made to bear our sin in his own body, what reproach, what shame, what cruelty he endured for us!
John tells us that Pilate scourged the Savior twice, once before this (John 19:1) and again here. Though it was forbidden among the Jews that any man be scourged so severely, “lest thy brother should seem vile” (Deuteronomy 25:3; 2 Corinthians 11:24), stripes were laid upon our Savior with savage cruelty. Christ our Brother was made vile and made to seem vile beyond imagination. Though we made ourselves vile with sin, with his stripes we are healed, made the righteousness of God in him.
Pilate delivered our Savior into the hands of the soldiers, calling together the whole band, to insult him. They clothed him with purple, crowned him with thorns, spit upon him, beat his head with a reed, mockingly knelt before him, and stripped him of the sham garments of mock royalty. Stripped of his own garments, he was now stripped even of the garments of mockery. What can be more shameful than to be stripped naked before a multitude? Yet, the Lord of Glory endured the shame for us. As in the Garden our first parents made themselves naked to their shame, if he would take away the curse, Christ Jesus must be put to shame.
The crown of thorns added cruelty to mockery. Thorns were chosen to make the mock crown that his head might be wounded as the sinners Surety (Psalm 68:21). The thorns of the curse (Genesis 3:18) pierced his brow who was made a curse for us. Though they knew it not, these tormenters of our blessed Redeemer were, by their cruel mockery, fulfilling both the decree of our God and the very words of prophecy. They intended nothing but insult and barbaric cruelty. Yet, they were all the while performing that which God had purposed from eternity; and their united testimony, “He saved others, himself he cannot save,” is exactly what the gospel of the grace of God reveals. He who saved us from our sins could not be saved from being made sin. He who saved us from the curse could not be saved from enduring the curse. He who saved us from the wrath of God could not be saved from all the fury of God’s holy wrath, when he was made sin for us!
What a deep sense we ought to have of the debt we owe to the Lord Jesus Christ. All that we have, all that we are, all that we hope for must be traced to the doing and dying of the Son of God for us. By his condemnation, we are acquitted. By his being made sin, we are made the righteousness of God. By his sufferings, we get peace. By his shame, we get glory. By his death, we have life! Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!” What assurance we ought to have of Christ’s great love for us! What a reasonable thing it is that we should unceasingly present ourselves a living sacrifice unto our God by Christ Jesus!
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