The Great Comission - Our Marching Orders
Take your Bibles with me and turn to Mark 15. Mark 15. I’m going to read verses 39 to 47 this morning.
39 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. 40 There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome; 41 (Who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem. 42 And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. 44 And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling [unto him] the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. 45 And when he knew [it] of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre. 47 And Mary Magdalene and Mary [the mother] of Joses beheld where he was laid.
There is this radio show I wish you all would listen to at least once. It’s been on forever and it plays late at night on just about every Christian radio station. Probably the easiest way to listen to it is to go to their website. It’s called “Unshackled.” How many of you have ever heard it?
Unshackled is an old fashioned radio drama. Background music. Sound effects. Multiple actors in a soundstage. It’s the kind of thing that was very popular 60 years ago but has just about completely disappeared. The premise behind “Unshackled” is really simple, in each episode of unshackled, the actors tell the true story of someone who trusted Christ. Some of the stories are fantastic, almost unbelievable. But they are all true.
The point of “Unshackled” is the same as the point of this sermon. I’m going to point out three people in our text this morning who encountered Jesus, who encountered the cross, and we’re changed because of it. When people encounter Jesus, He changes them.
2 Corinthians 5:17 says:
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
In John 3:3, Jesus said:
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
“A new creature.” “Born again.” “Become new.” That’s what God wants to do for you. He wants to change you. He wants to unshackle you, and He can. God is in the business of saving people and changing them through the cross.
I want to ask you something before I even get into the message this morning - what difference has Jesus made in your life?
If I were to come in here late and stand up here and say “I’m sorry I’m late, I was walking across the alley and a huge concrete truck was going 55 down the alley and hit me as I was walking to church.” You would know I was lying, because you’d hear it, and because there is nothing different about me. You don’t have an encounter with a speeding concrete truck and it not change you - right. But many of us claim we’ve had an encounter with Christ and our life looks no different.
In John 12:32 Jesus made this promise, He said:
And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. (John 12:32)
Jesus was lifted up on the cross and He is drawing all men to himself. Jesus wants to save people and change their life.
So we see three people in this story who I think Jesus changed.
The first person we see in verse 39:
39 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.
The first person I want to talk about today is the Centurion, who met Jesus and was changed from a mindset of fierceness to a mindset of faith.
Roman Centurions were professional soldiers. They were leaders. The term “centurion” means that he had at least 100 people underneath him.
There wasn’t a college graduating these centurions. You didn’t get to be a centurion in the Roman army just by training. You had to be picked because of your bravery in battle and because you’d proved your worth as a soldier and leader.
So that tells us a little about this guy. He’s a hardened soldier. A warrior who’s been in the business of breaking things and killing people for awhile. And here in this story he’s watching Jesus be crucified.
Now, I’ve told you that the Romans crucified thousands of people. It was very common. The Roman soldiers would have been carrying that out. Listen, we know this about this centurion - it wasn’t his first rodeo. He’d seen and probably been a part of lots of crucifixions before.
It’s likely that many times he’d nailed people to a cross and heard them say “I’m innocent, I’m innocent, I don’t belong here.” It’s just as likely that he said “sure you are” and kept on nailing. That’s the kind of person this man probably was. He’d have to be hardened by this kind of thing.
And yet several of the gospel records record that this centurion, upon witnessing Jesus on the cross, said “truly this was a righteous man.” and here in Mark “surely, this was the son of God.”
It wasn’t the crucifixion. This guy had seen lots of crucifixions, it was something about Christ’s crucifixion that made him cry out.
I think this story should encourage us. It would probably be hard to find anyone in Jerusalem less likely to believe in Jesus than a Roman Centurion. And yet this Roman Centurion saw Jesus on the cross, and it changed Him. It’s impossible to tell, but I think the man got saved eventually.
Listen, there are people all around us that we assume aren’t interest in God. We assume that they would never become a Christian. We assume they have their own thing. But never underestimate the power of the gospel to break through with people.
I’ll come back to that thought. Look at the second person in verses 40-41:
40 There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome; 41 (Who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem.
It's interesting that Jesus disciples had just about totally abandoned him, but these ladies didn't give up on Christ. It was these ladies who stood at the foot of the cross. It was these ladies who were going to the grave to help take care of his body. It was these ladies who would be the first to hear of Jesus' resurrection.
We'll talk more about them next week. But I want to focus on just one of these ladies Mary Magdalene and talk about how she met Jesus and He took her from demons to devotion.
There is a lot of misinformation about Mary Magdalene. Somehow, a lot of people think that she was some kind of prostitute, even though there is nothing in the Bible about that at all. There are even crazy conspiracy theories that say she was the wife of Jesus or Jesus' girlfriend. There is nothing in the Bible about either of those things and they are frankly blasphemous.
But we do know a little about Mary Magdalene. "Magdalene" wasn't a last name. It means "person from Magdala." There were several Marys running around and they had to identify them somehow, so this Mary became "Mary from Magdala" or Mary Magdalene.
Magdala was just a town on the shore of the sea of Galilee where Jesus ministered.
There is one detail the Bible tells us about Mary Magdalene I want you to see. Look at Luke 8:2:
And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, (Luke 8:2)
Here is what we know about Mary Magdalene - she had been demon possessed. She had seven devils living inside of her, torturing her, causing her to act in harmful ways towards herself and others.
Now, we don't know what she did when those devils lived inside of her, but we know what devils did to other people. Self-harm. Anti-social behavior.
Listen, you might be tempted to look at this and say "oh, how cute. This must be the Bible's way of talking about things they didn't understand back then like mental health problems." In other words the world hadn't been blessed with Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung and Carl Rogers yet so we didn't have a way of talking about this stuff.
That's exactly wrong. The Bible is very clear about the existence of real demons who indwell and torment people.
But I think a lot (not all) of what get's called "mental health problems" today are actually psychologists talking about things they don't understand. I think demon possession is still a thing.
Mary Magdalene was probably a lost cause. Seven devils. But then she met Jesus. And Jesus healed her and now she was extremely devoted to Him. So much so that she had to be at the foot of the cross and had to be involved in His burial.
I read this passage on Wednesday night but I think it fits here too. Turn to Isaiah 61. This is a messianic passage where Jesus is speaking. He actually quotes these verses in the gospels as himself. Look at the first three verses:
[Isa 61:1-3 KJV] 1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD [is] upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to [them that are] bound; 2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; 3 To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.
That's what Jesus had done in Mary's life, she was in bondage to Demons and Jesus set her free. She was brokenhearted and Jesus bandaged her up. Her life was ashes and Jesus turned it into beauty. She became a tree of righteousness.
Listen, if you follow Jesus, He'll do that for you too.
Let's look at one more character we see in verses 42-47:
42 And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. 44 And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling [unto him] the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. 45 And when he knew [it] of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre. 47 And Mary Magdalene and Mary [the mother] of Joses beheld where he was laid.
The last character I want to point out today who was changed by the cross is Joseph of Arimathaea. This one is very different from Mary Magdalene and very different from the centurion. He was a member of the Sanhedrin - like a modern version of a Senator. He was an insider. A politician.
And it's very surprising to see him pop up all of a sudden, because Jesus was tried before the Sanhedrin - Joseph's group - just a chapter ago, and there is no gospel that says anything about someone standing up to the High Priests or coming to Jesus defense. Joseph would have sat there. Quietly. Knowing it was all wrong but afraid to speak up because of the consequences.
He was a believer in Jesus, but afraid to identify as one, afraid to speak up. But then the cross happened. Joseph spent some time at the foot of the cross and Jesus changed him from his timid disguise to daring identity and action.
So Joseph sees Jesus die and knows the whole thing isn't right and God moves him to take extreme action. Joseph somehow gets in front of Pilate and asks for Jesus' body.
Now this was really risky. Pilate was probably pretty mad at the Sanhedrin right now. They had sort of forced his hand with Jesus. The Sanhedrin could have viewed what Joseph did here as an act of treason and voted him out or even put him in prison.
Plus, for Joseph to do this, He had to come out as a Christian. He had to admit to all of his uppity Pharisee and Sadducee friends that He was following Jesus now.
Then He had to go get a dying body, on the passover, and put it in his own tomb. He was giving up his valuable property - his tomb - where he probably intended his family to lie to rest and he was making himself ritually unclean right before the passover - the most important jewish holiday.
It was an extreme change that seemed to happen overnight. Suddenly, it seems, Joseph was a bold Christian, willing to stick his neck out there for Jesus, willing to give sacrificially for Jesus, willing to be identified with Jesus.
What happened? The cross happened. The cross changed him.