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September 12, 2021 | Doug Sauder
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In this study guide, we’ll continue working our way through the Gospel of Mark with a discussion of Mark 15:1–41 as Pastor Fidel Gomez takes us through the events of the cross and gives us a portrait of Jesus’ unconditional love for us!
Below, you’ll find some key discussion point questions to reflect on and consider on your own, in your small group, with your family, or in your circle of friends, as well as some action points for the week and a look ahead.
Memory Verse of the Week: Mark 15:38–39 (NIV)“The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 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!’”
Icebreaker: What’s your favorite story—it could be a movie, book, TV show, musical, play, video game, etc.? What makes this story so great and compelling?
Getting the Conversation Going: Did you know the Bible is an epic love story? And like any good story, it has all the elements that draw you in. There’s a hero, a villain, action, high stakes, rich stories, powerful lessons, relatability, authentic characters, conflict, and resolution.
Here are a few verses to read and reflect upon which clearly show us how the Bible is a love story:
1 John 4:16 (NIV): “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”
1 John 4:19 (NIV): “We love because he first loved us.”
John 13:34–35 (NIV): “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John 3:16 (NIV): “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
In Mark 15, we see the crucifixion of Jesus take place. It is simultaneously the greatest picture of humanity’s sinfulness, evil, and hatred and God’s unconditional love for us. So, let’s ponder this picture of unconditional love through the eyes of various people within the story.
PILATE (Mark 15:1–5 (NIV); John 18:28–40 (NIV)): Jesus was brought before Pontius Pilate who asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” In John 18, we see Jesus respond by saying, “My kingdom is not of this world.” So, Pilate said, “You are a king, then,” to which Jesus responded, “You say that I am a king.”
After this, Jesus made no further response and never tried to defend Himself. This left Pilate amazed. Why? Likely because Pilate, in the same position, would have defended himself as fervently and convincingly as he could. But Jesus didn’t and Pilate couldn’t understand why. Could it be that Jesus didn’t answer because He didn’t have to defend Himself to Pilate because He wasn’t under his authority? Or could it be that Jesus didn’t answer because He knew about His Father’s plans, and His silence was an act of love and obedience to fulfill those plans for our good?
SIMON OF CYRENE (Mark 15:21–24): There’s an idiom that says, “Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.” That’s exactly what took place here! At least for part of the journey, Jesus carried His own cross (John 19:17). But somewhere along the way, He could no longer carry His own weight, let alone the cross, and thus had to be brought to Golgotha (Mark 15:22). So, the Romans forced a man named Simon, an innocent passerby who apparently knew nothing about Jesus Christ when the cross was laid on his shoulders, to help Jesus.
According to nineteenth century theologian Alexander MacLaren, “He would be reluctant to undertake the humiliating task . . .” Of course he would! No one would want to be seen or associated with carrying a Roman cross for any reason. Talk about walking a mile in someone’s shoes.
But here’s the thing about walking with Jesus: It changes you! You’re never the same after you’ve walked with Christ. In this completely unique and unheard of moment, man suffered with God! Simon suffered along with Jesus. He literally struggled with the weight of the cross that Jesus would soon die upon. No one else can say they did that. No one else can say they had the honor of carrying the wood for the offering of eternity alongside the Son of God. How can you NOT be changed by that? How can you walk away from that and still be the same person you were before? That mile—or however long it was—would ensure that Simon’s life, heart, and world would never be the same again. We know this because Mark referred to Simon as “the father of Alexander and Rufus.” And Rufus is mentioned by name by Paul in Romans 16:13!
Simon and Jesus didn’t speak; Jesus uttered no call or powerful teaching. Just like with Pilate, He didn’t defend Himself or seek to get Simon on His side. And yet, this encounter with Christ changed not only his life, but the lives of his family and possibly countless others.
Discussion Question 1: What stuck out to you about these two encounters? Why were their reactions to Jesus so distinct?
Discussion Question 2: How has your walk with Jesus changed your life? How has it impacted the lives of others?
THE THIEVES (Luke 23:26–43): As Jesus hung on the cross He was surrounded by two criminals. The interaction between Jesus and the criminals is quite the stark contrast. One of the criminals “hurled insults at Him” (Luke 23:39 NIV). The other thief was remorseful and repentant; he was broken, accepted his fate, and acknowledged his guilt. He rebukes the first criminal, saying, “Don’t you fear God . . . since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:40-41 NIV).
The contrast between these two men shows us the condition of their hearts and the kind of heart we must always have as we approach Jesus. The second man not only feared God, but he also took responsibility for his sins. He knew they were both getting what they deserved and he accepted his punishment. This is the truest test of humility before God, when we can look at ourselves honestly and clearly acknowledge that we’re sinners in need of saving, undeserving of salvation, and unworthy of God’s presence and favor. And when we see ourselves in the proper light, we can begin to see Jesus in all His glory.
This thief didn’t see the beaten, bruised, broken criminal everyone else was seeing . . . He saw the face of God as he looked into the eyes of our Savior who was hanging there for him—and us! So, what does he do? He simply says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42 NIV). There is something deeply touching about this appeal. The criminal didn’t ask for riches or an earthly rescue. Rather, he was content to simply be remembered by the King. And with the tenderness and compassion only found in Jesus, the Lord said, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43 NIV). In this indescribably beautiful moment, Jesus exchanged this man’s guilt for a peace and hopeful expectation that cannot be explained.
Discussion Question 3: What does the interaction between Jesus and these thieves show us about ourselves? How does it teach us about how we should approach God?
Unconditional Love on Full Display: God loves us so deeply, He didn’t leave us to our well-deserved fate! He sent His Son into the world to “give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 ESV) “in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live” (Galatians 1:4 NLT). “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV).
On that spring day 2,000 years ago, Jesus was beaten, insulted, scourged, wrongly condemned, forced to carry our cross, and then was nailed to it and died upon it! At that moment, Jesus uttered, “Tetelestai . . .” which means, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The debt was paid; the punishment had been fulfilled! God’s labor of love, His work of redemption for fallen man, was complete. Mission accomplished. The blood of “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29 NLT) had been poured out on the altar of eternity!
Jesus’ death on the cross paid the debt of sin for all mankind. He took all of our sins upon His shoulders and conquered sin at the cross. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NIV).
Discussion Question 4: How can all these stories help us in our interactions with people who don’t know Jesus?
This Week: If like Simon, or the repentant thief on the cross, you have received Jesus, then you know and have experienced the salvation, peace, and freedom that comes with a relationship with Him. This week, pray for the people around you who have not yet received Him, and pray the Lord will help you share the gospel with them!
In our next study, we’ll conclude our time through the Gospel of Mark with a discussion of Mark 15:42–16:20 covering the burial and resurrection of Jesus as well as a final commission to His followers!
Danny Saavedra has served on the staff of Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.