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A Good Death

The Voice of Sovereign Grace / Doug Agnew
The Truth Network Radio
May 28, 2023 7:00 pm

A Good Death

The Voice of Sovereign Grace / Doug Agnew

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May 28, 2023 7:00 pm

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If you have your Bibles with you today, please turn with me, if you would, to Gospel of Mark chapter 15. We're looking at verses 33 through 41. It's Elijah. There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, the young girl of Joseph, and Salome.

When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem. Bow with me as we go to our Lord in prayer. Heavenly Father, I lift up our sick today, and we have many. Continue to pray for Jeremy Carriker, who is with us today, and yet still suffering some effects from the stroke. We pray that you help him to heal, and Jim Belk. I pray for May Rainey.

She's going through the process of bone marrow transplant, and ask Father that you be with her and help her through that. Pray for Gerard Michaud, who has open surgery this coming Thursday, that you would help him to do well. Pray for Nicole Lohse and Susan Gray, that you continue to heal them. Father, today is our nation's Memorial Day. We pray for the families of our soldiers who gave their lives to ensure our freedom. We also want to pray for Wendy Crestar, who fell yesterday and aggravated the knee that was operated on just a couple of weeks ago.

Pray for Tracy Peck's dad, Mr. Bobencheck, that you'd be with him as he has several fractures in his back and was waiting for surgery. Heavenly Father, there are passages in the scripture that break our heart and thrill our heart at the same time. Today's passage is one of those. For several weeks now, we have been viewing the events that lead to Jesus' death. We have seen Jesus beaten, scourged, mocked, criticized, laughed at, and then crucified.

I would feel sorry for a criminal who had to experience such suffering, but Jesus was no criminal. He was the perfectly righteous, perfectly sinless Son of God, and yet he voluntarily died what I'm calling today a good death so that we could be given an assured eternal life. Father, today we study his death. May we have the same reaction that the centurion had when he looked at the dead body of Jesus on the cross and said, surely this man is the Son of God. We ask this prayer now in the precious and holy name of Jesus, amen.

You may be seated. The Africans in Kenya have a saying that I really like. They say, he died a good death. Now how would we as Americans describe a good death? We'd probably say, well, that means that he lived to a ripe old age. He died without pain.

There was no struggle. He just kind of, his breathing got shallow, and then he died very peacefully. By those standards, Dr. Kevorkian, who euthanized his patients by giving them heavy drugs until they finally quit breathing, they called that a good death. That's what most Americans would think.

Folks, that's not what the Africans in Kenya had in mind. They had in mind not necessarily an easy death, but a meaningful death, that this person died in hope, that he died courageously, that this person died encouraging those who he left behind. Remember seeing an old mafia movie several years ago, where these two mafia men went to a man's house who had betrayed the mafia boss, and they went into the house, broke in, they took the man, threw him down on the floor, tied him up with ropes, took him out to their car, threw him in the trunk. They rode out to a river, and they were on a bridge. They put his feet down in two buckets, filled them with cement, and the man was going crazy. He was weeping and crying like a baby. He was begging them for his life, telling them he'd do anything, he'd give anything if they would just spare his life. He was so scared, he wet his pants. He was so scared that his teeth were chattering, his hands were shaking, absolutely scared to death.

The two mafia men could have cared less about that. They took him, they threw his body right over the side of the rail, and then they watched it sink down into the deep, cold water. They waited for about three minutes, finally they saw bubbles coming up, and they knew that his life had ended. One of the mafia men turned to the other, and he said to him, what a sorry way to die. He died the same way that he lived, as a cowardly little weasel. Folks, that's not what the Africans would call a good death. They would call a good death something like this, the death of Simon Peter. And Peter said to his executioners, when you crucify me, crucify me upside down, for I am not worthy to be crucified like Jesus. A good death would be a death like an 80-year-old polycarp who was taken to the middle of the Roman Colosseum, said, you can live if you deny Christ. He said, I will not do that, and he would not do that, and they burned him at the stake. I think of Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, who were arrested in England for preaching the gospel. They were getting ready to burn them at the stake, and Hugh Latimer turned around to Nicholas Ridley and he said, play the man, Ridley. He said, perhaps today we will be the candles that God will light that will never go out in England. Philippians 1 20, the Apostle Paul said the following, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage and now as always, Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. After being thrown in the Mamertime prison in Rome, the Apostle Paul was told that he was going to be decapitated. He wrote the letter that we call 2 Timothy right before he died, and in chapter 4 verses 6 through 8, he gave his obituary.

He said this, for I am now ready to be offered in the time of my departures at hand. For I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day, and not to me only, but unto all them also who love his appearing. Folks, those are good deaths. They are deaths that glorify God and testify to the world. They're good deaths, but I want you to know they're not the greatest death. The greatest death that there has ever been is the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. I want to share with you 4 points this morning as we look at why Jesus' death was so great.

Number 1, darkness. Look in Mark 15 verses 33 through 36. And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land till the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour, Jesus cried with a loud voice, Eli, Eli alama sabachthani, which means my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Some of the bystanders hearing it said, behold, he's calling Elijah.

Someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed, and gave it to him to drink, saying, wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down. Our Lord Jesus had been nailed to the cross at 9 o'clock in the morning. Three hours had passed, and now it's midday. It's noontime. It's the day when the sun is the brightest in any other time of the day.

Jesus has already said to the thief on the cross, today you will be with me in paradise. Then it's noon, exactly noon, all of a sudden the darkness began to cover the land. If you read this in Luke's gospel, the scripture actually says this, that the sun's light failed. What does that mean? Does that mean that the sun quit shining?

I don't think it means that. I think it could mean that the Lord put his hand over the atmosphere of this earth, and so that it became completely dark. Maybe it came as a form of a real dark, thick cloud where the rays of the sun could not penetrate whatsoever, kind of like taking a flashlight that's on, putting your palm of your hand over it, and keeping the light from shining at all. I think that's exactly what the Lord did. He just kept any ray of sunlight from coming in and getting to this earth at that particular point in time. We're not sure exactly how God did it.

That's not what really matters. What matters is that we know that God did do it, and this shouldn't surprise us because this happened before. You remember back in about 1,300 years before in Egypt when God cast the plague of darkness on Egypt, it lasted for three full days, and folks, if we believe that this God we serve, if we believe that he had the power to create the sun by just saying the word, and it came into existence just like that at his word, then rest assured there was no problem for God to give three hours of darkness when Jesus died. Some have conjectured that it was simply a solar eclipse, couldn't have been a solar eclipse. A solar eclipse lasted just for a few minutes.

This lasted, darkness lasted for three hours. Beside that, this was Passover. At the Passover, there's the full moon.

That means the moon's on one side of the earth, sun's on the other side of the earth, could not have been an eclipse. But this miracle of darkness is recorded in Matthew and Luke, as well as Mark, which tells us that's very, very important. In the year 200 AD, Tertullian made a statement to his Roman readers that this miracle of darkness is recorded in the Roman annals and is preserved in the archives of Rome.

And then Origen and Eusebius quoted the secular historian Phlegon, who went into great details explaining the miracle that took place on the day that Jesus died, a miracle of three hours of darkness. So we have secular historians, as well as the Bible, telling us that darkness covered the land. This was not just physical darkness. It was also spiritual and symbolic darkness. What does darkness represent?

Well, let me share with you a few things. Number one, it represents evil. Jesus said to the religious leaders, this is your hour and the power of darkness. Satan is often referred to as the prince of darkness. The Lord allowed darkness to come on this earth for three hours to make a statement that this crime being committed on that day of killing Jesus was the greatest crime that the earth has ever or will ever see.

B, darkness was a sign of sorrow, of sadness and grief. In Amos chapter 8 verses 9 through 10, scripture says this, and on that day declares the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feast into morning and all your songs into lamentation.

I will bring sackcloth on every waist, baldness on every head. I will make it like the morning for an only sun and the end of it like a bitter day. I want you to notice the accuracy of Amos' prophecy, even the exact hour that the darkness would commence at noontime. It was like the sky began to weep because of Jesus' death. He was on that cross for three more hours from noon until three o'clock. He died at three o'clock and it was like the sky was crying and then there was an earthquake. It was like the earth was shaken and trembling with sorrow.

The timing of all this is absolutely perfect. At 12 o'clock noon, the slaughter of the Passover lambs began and so as the lambs in Jerusalem are being slaughtered, then here's Jesus over on Golgotha dying at the very same time. Steven Mansfield describes this scene. He says this, the noise of it all is deafening but it is due mainly to the lambs. Once the slaughters begin, the lambs begin to scream. They hear the cries of other lambs being sacrificed and they can smell the stench of blood which first reaches them outside of the temple. In the court which is only 230 by 66 feet, bodies crammed together, knives flash and blood spews, hides pile up on the floor and dung is thick and pungent.

Most men find that a siege of the senses is no wonder the lambs scream. The number of sacrifices is difficult to imagine. A lamb is offered for every family as many as 150,000 people are present.

This means nearly 5,000 lambs are sacrificed or 42 lambs a minute during the two hours allotted for the offerings on the day of preparation. All right, C, the darkness represented divine judgment. Jesus often described hell as a place of outer darkness. When God sent the plague of darkness on Egypt, it was a judgment sign.

It was a judgment against the false god Ra who was known as the sun god. And when God brought the darkness in, he was showing his sovereign power over this false deity. And the scripture said that it was a darkness that could be felt. In other words, the blind people in Egypt knew that it was dark, not because they could see that it was dark, but because they could actually feel it.

Those who could see it could not see their hand in front of their face. It was that dark. What is darkness? Darkness is the absence of light. The scripture says that God is light. In hell, there is total darkness forever.

Why is that? Because in hell, there will be no conscious presence of God. Jesus covered over the earth on that day for three hours from 12 until three o'clock in the afternoon.

Why? Because the father was pouring out his wrath on Jesus' son. Jesus for those three hours was suffering our hell for us. Let me ask you something.

How extensive is that? Well, when a person is suffering in hell, how long will he have to suffer? Ever and ever and ever. When will his sin debt be paid off? It will never be paid off. Why don't you take the length of eternity and then multiply it by the number of believers that have ever lived or will ever live from Adam all the way to that last child of God who comes to know Christ before the second coming. Take that, multiply it by eternity, and that's the extent of hell that Jesus suffered on the cross for three hours. Second Corinthians 5 21 says, for God made him to be sin for us who knew no sin that we might become the righteousness of God in him. Jesus did not just bear our sin. He became our sin in order that God might judge our sin. During those three hours when Jesus became sin, God the father, who is too holy to even look upon sin, had to turn his back on Jesus. And for the first time in all of eternity, God the father and God the son's fellowship was broken. And Jesus cried out, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani, my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

And at that point in time, there were bystanders that were watching. They even started mocking. And they said, oh, he's calling for Elijah. See if Elijah will come and take him down from the cross.

They were mocking him. Jesus wasn't crying out to Elijah. He was crying out to his father, my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? That's a quote right straight from Psalm 22.

First John chapter 2 verse 2 tells us that Jesus is our propitiation. What does that word mean? It comes from a Greek word, hiliastereon, that means mercy seat. It means appeasing the wrath of God. What can appease the wrath of a holy God? Only one thing, and that is the shed, precious, righteous blood of Jesus Christ. What did the wrath of God pour out on Jesus?

What did it do to him? Well, Scripture tells us in the Gospel of John that after Jesus died, a soldier came by with a spear. He took the spear, he jabbed it up into the side of Jesus, and water and blood gushed out of that open wound. And for years, nobody knew what that really meant and what really happened.

Doctors tell us now that they know, and that is that when the heart ruptures in the chest cavity, that if there's a deep wound that is brought into the body, that blood and pericardial fluid will flow very quickly because it's pushed out of that wound. Folks, that's exactly what happened to Jesus. Most of the time, it would take a person several days to die on the cross. They would die from a loss of blood. They would die from dehydration or asphyxiation, not being able to breathe. But Jesus, when he died, he died in six hours.

Why? He didn't die as a normal person dies on the cross. Jesus died of a ruptured heart. Folks, Jesus died because his heart broke. And what broke his heart? My filthy, vile, heinous sin broke his heart.

That's what did it. Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe. Sin has left a crimson stain.

He washed it white as snow. When you testify that Jesus died for you, don't testify glibly or nonchalantly. testify with tears in your eyes. For folks, we cannot imagine the hell that Jesus suffered for those last three hours on the cross. All right, point two, the tearing of the veil. Look at Mark 15, verse 38. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

An amazingly short sentence to describe one of the greatest events that's ever taken place in history. All of a sudden, the veil in the temple was ripped from the top to the bottom. This is a veil that separated two rooms in the temple. The holy place from the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place in the earth.

Now, the holy place was a place that only the priests could go. There were three things in it. There was a golden lampstand. There was a table of showbread. And there was the altar of incense.

The priests would go in every day. They would refill the oil in the lampstands. They would replace the bread on the table of showbread. And they would offer incense on the altar of incense. Folks, what we have there in those three things is a picture of Jesus. The lampstand says Jesus is the light of the world.

The table of showbread says Jesus is the bread of life. The altar of incense says that Jesus is our great high priest. The second room on the other side of the veil is called the Holy of Holies. There was one thing in the Holy of Holies, and that was the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was a two-and-a-half-foot-long box, and it was plated with pure gold.

And inside that box, there were three things. There was the two stone tablets that contained the Ten Commandments. There was the rod of Aaron that budded, and there was a jar of manna. On the top of that Ark of the Covenant, there was a lid called the Mercy Seat.

On the top of the Mercy Seat, there were two sculptured cherubim that had their wings up over their heads pointing toward each other. And at that time, no one but the high priest could go in to the Holy of Holies, and he could only go in one time a year, and that was on the Day of Atonement. He would walk back behind the veil with a basin of goat's blood in his hands.

He had a branch of hyssop. He would dip it down into the goat's blood. He would sprinkle it on the Mercy Seat, and when he did that, then the Shekinah glory of God, the glory cloud of God would come and hover between the wings of the cherubim, assuring the people that their sins had been forgiven for that year. In 586 B.C., the first temple was destroyed, and when the first temple was destroyed, the covenant, the Ark of the Covenant disappeared, and it was gone. And so in the second temple, there was no Ark of the Covenant.

When Jesus is being crucified, there was no Ark of the Covenant, and yet every year on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would slay the lamb and would take a basin of goat's blood, excuse me, and go back behind the veil and just sprinkle it in the Holy of Holies, but there was no Ark of the Covenant. The veil that separated the holy place from the Holy of Holies was 30 feet tall, and it was 30 feet wide, and it was the thickness of a man's hand, probably about an inch, very tightly woven. Now, as I said, when the curtain was torn, it was torn not from the bottom up, it was torn from the top down to let us know that it was God who did this.

I want to read you what Philip Ryken said. He said, the veil was torn in two from top to bottom, not from bottom to top, notice, but from top to bottom. The only way a human being could have done this was by getting a 25-foot ladder, hacking away at the curtain with a broadsword.

There were also priests in the holy place, worshiping the Lord both night and day. Anyone who tried to tear the curtain to the most holy place would have been seized instantly and then summarily executed for perpetrating a sacrilege. No, the ripping of the veil was something that only God could do and only by the miraculous power. Folks, when God ripped the curtain, what did that mean? That meant that the blood of Jesus opened the door for access to us, to the Father. The blood of bulls, goats, and lambs only temporarily covered sin, but the blood of Jesus washed that sin away. Folks, at the very time when that veil was being ripped, then God the Father, I mean Jesus on the cross, was making the second to the last statement that he made from the cross. And what was that?

It is finished, tetelestai, paid in full. In other words, the sacrificial system was over. Never again should a Passover lamb be offered for sacrifice. That should not happen. Never again should they kill a bull or a lamb or a goat in order to shed their blood to cover over sin. It was not needed.

Why? Because the blood of Jesus Christ was totally sufficient. Hebrews 9 26 says, Jesus has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

What does that mean? One commentator said this, we have entrance to the Almighty. What this means in practical terms is that we can go to him with our every need. We should never think that our problems are beneath his notice or that we have done something so terrible that God will never listen to our prayers again. On the contrary, the Bible says we can draw near to God with a true heart and full assurance of faith. Jesus has opened the way for us to be close to God.

Do you believe this? Many of the priests believed it. When they went into the holy place, they saw the holy veil miraculously torn in two. They sensed that God was doing something new. Later when they heard the good news about the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, they understood that the tearing of the veil was a sign of salvation.

Luke tells us the rest of this story in the book of Acts where we read that a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. That's true, but let me tell you what else happened and this blows my mind. There were others of the priests who saw that miracle happen.

It had to look like an invisible hand just reached up and ripped that veil from the top to the bottom. You know what they did? They went and they got a ladder and they sewed it back up. Folks, they continued, even though Jesus had died on the cross, to offer Passover lambs and to kill the goats and to kill the bulls and to sling the blood. They did that for 40 more years until God finally gave the okay to Titus of Rome. Titus of Rome came in 70 AD, destroyed the temple, and when he destroyed the temple, he destroyed the holy of holies. Is that not a picture of the hardness of man?

Is that not a picture? The world stands in defiance, shaking their fists with their faces red with anger because Jesus died on the cross. Point three, the last prayer of Jesus, I'm going to give you two scriptures here. Mark 15, 37, and Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last, in Luke 23, 46, and Jesus calling out with a loud voice said, Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.

Having said this, he breathed his last. This is an amazing prayer. We might call it the light at the end of the cross. Jesus is quoting a scripture here right straight from Psalm 31 verse 5 where David had been attacked and he was going through horrible pain and had just wracked his body and he cries out and he said, into thy hands I commit my spirit. Jesus uses the same words but he adds another word and that word is Father. Jesus knows what has happened to him. He's been abandoned.

He has been forsaken by God because he has become sin for us. He's felt the estrangement. He's experienced the wrath of God in his own body. He has tasted the very pit of hell but now it's over. Now it's done and it's almost like he's saying to his father, Father, hold me. Take me back into your sweet, wonderful presence. Like the smell of death and hell off of me, Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.

Wow. The last breath of air, inhale, Jesus exhaled and he went to be with his father. What about those words that he spoke? Would those be good words for us to speak in our last dying moment?

I think so. Those were the words that Stephen spoke as they were throwing rocks at him and putting him to death by stoning. Those were the words that Polycart spoke as he was being burned to death in the middle of the Roman Colosseum for his faith. Those are the words that Martin Luther spoke and Philip Melanchthon spoke as they died. Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.

Those are words that would be good for us to die with. My last point is the conversion of the centurion, verses 38 through 41. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom and when the centurion who stood facing him saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, truly this man was the son of God. Also women looking on from a distance among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James the younger of Joseph and Salome.

When he was in Galilee, they followed him, ministered to him, there were other also, there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem. This crowd walked away with a different attitude. They'd been to many crucifixions before, kind of like a spectacle, a show. They came to be entertained by the crucifixion, a lot of them brought picnic lunches to watch people crucified.

Well folks, this is different and they know it's different. All of a sudden the earth becomes totally dark, totally black. All of a sudden the earth begins to shake. They know that Jesus is experiencing unbelievable anguish and he himself is experiencing the wrath of God and they watched Jesus die, that horrible, terrible death. They watched Jesus suffer in our hell for us and I think they went home beating their chest and they went home probably begging God to forgive them for what they had said when they cried out, crucifying, crucifying, let him die for their entertainment. All of a sudden they knew that something special had happened.

They didn't understand exactly what it was but they knew that life could never be the same. A very odd thing happened here. One of the soldiers, we're not sure which one, could have been the one that scourged Jesus, could have been the one that took the crown of thorns and crushed it down into his brow, could have been the one that nailed the spikes to his hands and feet, it could have been the one that took the rope and hoisted the cross up in the air and let it drop down into the hole till all his bones jarred out of joint, could have been the one that was gambling for his clothes. We're not sure which one it was but we know this, he was cursing Jesus before and all of a sudden the cursing turned to praise. His torture turned to tenderness. His pride turned to praise. His hardness turned to holiness.

Stephen Mansfield said, the centurion and his men need only gather their gear and report their assignment done but the centurion himself has changed. He has seen the man he now believes to be the Son of God and he has said so before witnesses. It is treason and he knows his commander will hear of it. Dishonored perhaps even death may await him.

He did far more than simply declare that the Galilean rabbi, not Tiberius, is the Son of God. He found joy in it. A witness will later report that after the darkness of noon and the earthquake at three followed by the death cry of his prisoner, the centurion praised God.

Whatever comes next for him, his life will never be the same. Let me ask you something. Should Jesus have saved the man who crucified him? The blood of Jesus Christ says yes. Folks, that's where my hope is. My hope's not in my goodness. The scripture says that my good works are like filthy rags before God. I have only one hope and that hope is the precious shed blood of Jesus Christ. What shall wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Let's pray. Heavenly Father, with the death of Jesus fresh on our minds, what can we say?

Thank you seems way too little. Hallelujah's a little better. But Lord, hear our hearts this morning and not just our words. Jesus suffered as no one has ever suffered before or ever will suffer. And Jesus did that to give us eternal life. Father, help our thanks to be exchanged for our obedience. You are worthy of our love, our faith, and our obedience. Help us to be real and help our lives bring you glory and honor, for it is in the precious name of Jesus that I pray, amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-28 12:10:39 / 2023-05-28 12:23:21 / 13

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