November 5, 2023

The Reason For The Cross (Sermon Notes)

Speaker: Joe Starks Series: Mark Passage: Mark 14:53–72

Why did Jesus have to die? It’s an important question, and if you have been a Christian for a while, it seems fairly basic.

But what seems obvious to some people is far less obvious to others. People have debated why Jesus died since the day he died. Some say he died as a moral example - showing  us how to love other people. Some say he died so that humans would no longer be slaves to Satan, as if somehow Jesus has ever answered to Satan. Some say that Jesus died in order to get some reward from God - and that salvation is simply Jesus passing that reward on to you. Just this week, a famous ex-Christian musician tweeted out that he is done trying to figure out why Jesus died on the cross and instead just enjoy God’s unconditional love. 

Which sounds nice. Until you actually look at the world around us - and you see a lot of things that you hope God does not approve of. All of this can be quite confusing, and we can find ourselves struggling with all these challenging theories.

Until we look at the Bible, God’s inspired book, and we see quite clearly that Jesus died for one reason.

Because we are sinners. We are rebels who have not loved and worshipped our King. We are in need of redemption. 

Main Idea: We are desperately in need of Jesus. 

Goal: For all of us to see both the weight of sin and the necessity of the cross. 


Jesus says something once during this passage. In fact, Jesus doesn’t say much for the rest of Mark.

In this passage, what really matters, what is front of mine, is what is happening to Jesus. 

 What is happening to Jesus is the self - the human desire to live for myself and my ways and my worlds - are colliding with Jesus’ divine love. 

So let’s look at that. We see two problems.

The Problem of Self-Righteousness

If you remember our story, Jesus has just been arrested, at night, in the Garden of Gethsemane. He is being led away to his trial. It is just before daybreak on Friday morning of the week of Jesus’ death. Passion week.

Jesus is being led to the chief priests and the scribes and the Pharisees. These are familiar foes of Jesus. They have had an increasing anger, an increasing tension, an increasing hatred of Jesus. These religious leaders were the ones who sent the crowd to arrest Jesus. They were the ones who paid Judas to betray Jesus. 

Why would they do that? These scribes, these Pharisees, were known for living according to their own righteousness. They were known for following their religious traditions meant to protect their man-made version of righteous living. They were strict followers of religion. These guys had a self-righteousness that would put you and me to shame. They knew that their works were pretty good, and they loved it. 

These were the same men that Jesus referred to in Luke 18 where a Pharisee stood up and prayed, “God, I thank you I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get.” Notice what he did not say in the prayer. God, thank you forgiving me. Thank you for adopting me. Thank you for being gracious to me. Thank you for loving me despite of me.

Self-righteousness is deceptive. We often think that we are better than we really are. Self-righteousness feels good. Our egos are stroked. We feel superior to others. We feel like God must be for us because why wouldn’t he be?

But what happens when self-righteousness meets actual righteousness. The self-righteous man freaks out. True righteousness makes the self-righteous man angry. It threatens him. 

So what do they do? They lie. They lie. Again and again and again.  Why? Surely, this court of religious leaders would desire the truth? These men are called to live according to the Law and teach the Law. They were men that were meant to be men of the one true God. Surely they should be concerned with the truth. 

Self-righteousness will embrace evil to defend its own self-righteousness. These Pharisees have come face to face with true righteousness enfleshed, and he has exposed them. They are terrified at how good he is because they are finally realizing how bad they are.

So in one final act of angry desperation, they drag him in front of their made-up court and start lying. They want some testimony against Jesus to put him to death. And they can’t find any. Because many were bearing false witness against Jesus, and their testimony did not agree. Sin is not just wrong; it is often stupid. In their eagerness to kill Jesus, they lost basic competence.

They even try to twist his words, claiming that Jesus said, “I will destory this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.” It’s close, and it’s clever. But we know they are wrong - Jesus never said that HE would destory the temple. He said, “Destory THIS temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus is the true temple - the site of God’s prescence dwelling among his people. And when he was destroyed, three days later, he was raised.

So these self-righteous men are lying, incompently, bear false witness about Jesus’ teachings. Demonstrating how self-righteouesness has made them ignorant. And dumb. And just plain evil. And they are stuck.

So the high priest tries one last time. He asks Jesus if he has any answer for these men. Will he speak to these things that are being testified against him? And he doesn’t. True righteousness doesn’t need to answer to self-righteousness. Truth is self-authenticating. It is just true and righteous and good. 

So the chief priest turns into the chief prosecutor, asking, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” You can hear the pride behind that question. Are you really the Son of the God of Israel? Are you the really the Christ? YOU?! Look at you right now.

Jesus simply answers (and this is one of the last times he says anything in the Gospel of Mark), “Ego eimi” - I am. That’s God language - dating back to Yahweh’s encounter with Moses from the Burning Bush. I am. And just to be clear - Jesus says that “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” The implication there is - Jesus is the Son of Man, and you will see him by the right hand of the Father. He is coming to claim victory over his enemies

And the Pharisees just flip out. They aren’t so glad that Jesus has finally clarified his identity. I mean, they know who the Messiah is now. They know who the Son of Man is now. They found the one they have been waiting for - the one meant to restore the kingdom and bring freedom and hope and deliverance.

And they freak out. Because their way of life is threatened. Their own sense of righteousness, their false idea of moral goodness, is overshadowed by genuine moral perfection. By real beauty, genuine glory, divne excellence found in Jesus Christ.

So they condem him. The one who should never be condemned. The one who had nothing to be condemned for. They called Jesus a blasphemer when he is God himself. 

Your self-righteousness will blind you to what is front of you. Your self-righteosness will certainly blind you to the glory of Jesus Christ. Take it from the Pharisees - you can’t be self-righteous and get your righteousness from Jesus at the same time. You have to choose. And that decision is big. It’s impact. The Pharisees chose self-righteousness over Jesus and they decided to kill him.

Self-righteousness is a problem, and it needs to be dealth with.

Finally, we see The Problem of Self-Protection.

Here, we are of course, focusing on Peter. We have followed Peter closely throughout the Gospel of Mark. He is really admirable in some moments and really dumb in others. He was the one who confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Most High. He is in Jesus’ inner circle - witnessing the Transfiguration, sitting with Jesus as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. But he also frequently misunderstood Jesus. He insisted that Jesus would never die after Jesus had just finished predicting his death. He insisted that the death of the Christ was impossibe when the Christ told him that it was necessary.

This is Peter. He was the one who said that he would never deny Jesus. That he would die with him if necessary. And now Jesus is being led away to his death. And this Peter’s chance to be Jesus’ friend. His loyal follower.

But remember, Jesus has already predicted that Peter would deny Jesus three times before the rooster crows twice. By the time the sun is up, Jesus predicts that Peter will have abandoned him.

So What is Peter going to do?

He follows Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest. He can go no further. It’s an early morning. It’s springtime. The air is crisp; Peter would have been cold. He goes to the fire to warm himself. He wants to know what is going to happen with Jesus.

A servant girl approaches, looks at Peter, and says, “You were one of the ones that are with that Nazarene, Jesus.” Peter denies it.  Maybe out of fear? Maybe out of a sense of pragmatism - why would I choose to suffer for Jesus when I could avoid suffering and then serve him all my life?

But at point, Peter had already set his trajectory. Once you choose a direction, it is very hard to get off it. The battle against your sin news to take place at the very beginning. 

So Jesus says, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” He feigns ignorance and walks away. And the rooster crows once.

The servant girl sees Peter again, involves some other people, and says, “this man is one of them.” He denies it a second time. After a while, the bystanders (no longer the little girl) say that “Surely, you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”

Your accent betrays you. We know that you came from the same area he did. 

You would think this is the moment that Peter makes his stand for Jesus. He doesn’t have much to lose other than his reputation as a truth teller. Make this the moment to stand firm.

But Peter denies Jesus the third time. He curses himself and swears, “I do not know of this man.” And immediate the rooster crows a second time. And Peter remembers the early words of Jesus. Peter realizes, “Jesus was right.” And it crushes him. He breaks down and weeps.

He failed to stand for Jesus. He failed to live for Jesus. He chose to deny Jesus in order to protect himself. You could argue that it was a sudden decision. That he blurted out the words. That he didn’t really mean it. That he was under immense pressure.

But that is the way sin works. Most of our sins are not these great deliberate acts of rebellion, but rather our quick, impulsive actions revealing the true nature of our character. For Peter, when his moment came, he chose to protect himself rather than protect Jesus. He looked out for himself rather than his Master. He chose self-protection and self-preservation rather than the interest of the kingdom. 

Where do you choose to protect yourself instead of living for Jesus in your life? Is it your fear of evangelism? Your proritizing comfort rather than the kingdom? Your relutence to confess that secret sin? Friend, choosing Jesus is always worth. Peter didn’t and it nearly broke him. Don’t make the same mistake.

You put the two stories together and you see the real problem - don’t you? The self-righteousness of the Pharisees and the self-proection of Peter shows how committed we are to living for ourselves rather than God. In our sin, we are deeply obsessed with ourselves. The very root of our sin is that we choose to worship created things over the Creator, we love inglorious things rather than our glorious God, we live for our own good rather than living for our Lord.

But then we must remember Jesus. For Jesus was someone who never chose to live for himself rather than living for his Father.  He never lived out of a false sense of self-righteousness because he was truly righteous. He was true and faithful and good and just, all the time. 

And he never chose to protect himself at the expense of the kingdom. He chose to live for the glory of his Father at all times, even when exposing himself to betrayal by his friends and mockery by selfish men. Ultimately, Jesus willingly chose to sacrifice himself for the good of people like us! Jesus died for the self-righteous and the self-protective so that we could be redeemed.

In a world obsessed with itself, Jesus chose to die for the world. This is our Savior. He sees your sin, just like he saw Peter’s. He knows the worst parts about you - the most selfish, the most ugly - and he still chose to redeem you. 

other sermons in this series

Nov 26


Jesus' Life and Our Response

Speaker: Joe Starks Passage: Mark 15:40– 16:8 Series: Mark

Nov 19


The Son of God and the Cross

Speaker: Joe Starks Passage: Mark 15:21–39 Series: Mark

Nov 12


The Innocent For The Guilty

Speaker: Joe Starks Passage: Mark 15:1–20 Series: Mark