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For Our Salvation: Dying on the Cross

Palm Sunday / The Sunday of the Passion – March 25, 2018

A Sermon on Mark 15:33-39 by Samuel Zumwalt

Mark 15:33-39 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]

33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36 And 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.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 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!”


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Whoever you are, baptized or not, longtime Christian or not, old or not, many degrees or not, rich or poor,extrovert or introvert,clergy or laity, pious or impious, sweet or sour, full or the Holy Spirit or full of something else: you suffer from the sin of pride…and so do I!

There was a time, not all that long ago, when the oldest and wisest among us would warn children, adolescents, and young adults about the sin of pride. But now, who, other than a few of us dour, old preachers ever mention the sin of pride? Aren’t we past all of that?

In a 1973 book by the same name, psychiatrist Karl Menninger raised the ante (as in poker) by famously asking: “Whatever became of sin?” It’s a lot worse than that, Karl.

In our day, pride is considered a good thing. Bolstered by false prophets who line their pockets with the dollars of those who seek to be told what they want to hear, sin-sick people (and that’s all of us!) are on the outside filled with pride but, then, very deep on the inside anyone with an ounce of self-awareness knows he or she is sin-sick. Don’t expect to hear the word “sin” or even “sin-sick” used, because it’s such a negative word.


It doesn’t feel good to admit there’s something wrong with me. I didn’t like it when my 7th grade principal, Mr. Taylor, confronted me with having used bad language. Doesn’t that sound rather tame today? A lot of us boys were using bad language, but I was absent from school on the day all the others got in trouble. I was conveniently blamed as the ringleader, and so, when confronted, I didn’t want to admit anything. But Mr. Taylor patiently sat there asking rational questions of me until I admitted my bad behavior. I received three swats on the backside with the principal’s wooden paddle. Today Mr. Taylor would be arrested for child abuse, excoriated by the national press, barred from ever again being a principal, and then sued by families seeking money for damages.

What’s the cure for sin-sickness when your pride keeps you from admitting you are wrong? Boys will be boys. Girls just want to have fun. I’ve got to be me. I’m OK.

In the 1960s, Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones sang of stressed out mothers: “…and though she’s not really ill. There’s a little yellow pill. She goes running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper and it helps her on her way, gets her through her busy day.”

But, now, the opioid crisis scares us, so it’s safer to pour a large glass of wine, reach for another beer, pour several fingers of a favorite distilled spirit. If it’s pricier stuff, or even locally produced, doesn’t that mean you don’t have a problem? If California or Colorado or other states say it’s legal, can pot be bad for you? They wouldn’t sell it, would they?

Isn’t it safe to confess the sins of others? Most journalists today are either little more than paid propagandists or purveyors of what used to be called tabloid journalism. Anxious to be employed, hot to be famous, clamoring for wild applause and hoots of laughter, too many folks in the media, and those purporting to be comedians or entertainers, would never be found by Diogenes. More like Pontius Pilate, these cynics ask: “What is truth?”

But, then, isn’t it safe for a preacher to confess the sins of others, too? You see, spiritual pride is the most damnable sin of all. Simon Peter says to Jesus, “Even if all the others leave you, it won’t be me. I will never deny you!” Judas greets Jesus with “Master,” and then he kisses him on the cheek as the soldiers move in to arrest Jesus. All those religious leaders condemn Jesus to death, mock Him on the cross, and, then, thank God they have disposed of another threat to God, Incorporated. “We are fine as we are Jesus. We don’t need to be saved anymore, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus, for making me sin-free?” Pride, dear sister or brother, spiritual pride is a damnable thing. It crucified Jesus. It’s a killer!

You may have been to the mountain top with Jesus, just like Peter, James, and John. You may have welcomed Jesus into your home and your heart like Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany. You may have loved Jesus so much, like John the son of Zebedee, that Jesus would have entrusted the care of His mother Mary to you. You may have been a pastor for longer than me or spread the Gospel like St. Paul. You may speak in thousands of tongues and have seen miracles the likes of which few others have seen. But, I say to you dear sister or brother, spiritual pride is a killer. Pride still goes before a fall. Pride is the devil’s favorite sin, because he wants to be like God. So, until you draw your last breath in your old body, even if it is when the Lord Jesus appears in glory, you are still in the flesh, still in bondage to a sin-sick body and soul, and you cannot free yourself. You need a Savior everyday, and, if you ever hear someone telling you different, shut your ears and say, “Help me, Jesus! Lord, have mercy on me, a poor, miserable sinner!” And He will!

If you or I could in any way cooperate with God in our salvation, He would not have sent His only-begotten Son Jesus to die on the cross for your sins and mine. Spiritual pride is a killer. It’s damnable, because we can be so on fire for the Lord and so ablaze with the Holy Spirit, that we start to think salvation is in our past. No, dear sister or brother, now is the day of salvation. Now is the acceptable hour. And it will remain that way until we draw our last breaths in these old sin-sick bodies. Look again at all those sincere religious leaders in the Sanhedrin who thought they were doing such good for God. Look again at James and John as young guys wanting to be great in the Lord’s eyes. Look again at dear Martha too busy to sit and listen to Jesus with her sister Mary, whom she resented for not helping to play hostess. Look again at Simon Peter so assured he could not fail or deny the Lord. Look again at Judas, who in his mind, must have convinced himself he was doing the right thing by stealing money from the ministry and betraying Jesus. And when you think you would have done better, or are presently doing better than all of these, stop and ask yourself what part of you doesn’t need saving. Stop and ask if you know you still need Jesus every hour of every day! If you honestly believe you’re fine, God help you!

One of our newer members from a different church background said, “I never heard about Baptism so much until I started worshiping at St. Matthew’s.” There’s a reason for that. Some people in their spiritual pride don’t want to recognize what the Scriptures teach. The only way to be born from above, to be born again, is to be joined to the Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection by being baptized. Our Lord says Baptism is necessary. In Holy Baptism, the “Holy” part is that God claims you, sets you apart, as His own through no effort or merit of your own. It is the mark of the new covenant, and that’s why early Jewish Christians understood Holy Baptism to be the replacement for circumcision.

St. Paul teaches the Ephesians there is one Baptism…not two and not several. You can be baptized again both young and old, in or not in dozens of different churches, and the only one that matters is the first time you were washed with water in the name of the one, true God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The only water Baptism that is not a valid Baptism is if you are baptized in a church body that does not believe there is one God in three persons. You may have what, since the Azusa Street Revival, has been called the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, namely, that you speak in ecstatic prayer language, which is a valid spiritual experience about which St. Paul warns against its excesses in 1 Corinthians 12-14. But there is only one Baptism with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the only thing you brought to that Baptism was your sin and your death.

If you trust Jesus and ask Him into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior, while praying the sinner’s prayer and confessing all your sins, please remember that all you brought to that experience was your sin and your death. And you still need to be baptized with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! It’s the only way to be joined to the death and resurrection of God’s beloved Son Jesus! That’s what Scripture teaches!

This is the holiest week of the year. This is the heart of the story. This is the basis for all our hoping in Christ. All this God’s Son Jesus has done for your salvation and mine. He went to the cross for your sins and mine. You need Jesus every hour. So do I. Believe it!

Now let me ask you plainly. Is there anything you need to do every day this week that is more important than walking with Jesus to His lonely cross…for us and our salvation?

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS

St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church

Wilmington, North Carolina USA

Bulletin insert

For Our Salvation: Dying on the Cross


“Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon Him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of His suffering, and also share in His resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 1087).


Mark 15:34    “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”

St. Augustine [late 4th – early 5th century Bishop of Hippo in North Africa]: “He is doubtless forsaken in the sense that his plea was not directly granted. Jesus appropriated the psalmist’s voice to himself, the voice of human weakness [Ps.22]. The benefits of the old covenant had to be refused in order that we might learn to pray and hope for the benefits of the new covenant. Among those goods of the old covenant which belonged to the old Adam there is a special appetite for the prolonging of this temporal life. But this appetite itself is not interminable, for we all know that the day of death will come. Yet all of us, or nearly all, strive to postpone it, even those who believe that their life after death will be a happier one” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Mark, 233).

Mark 15:37    “And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.”

St. Augustine [Doctor of the Western Church]: “Those robbers crucified next to him, did they breathe their last when they wanted to? They were held fast by the chains of the flesh because they were not the creators of the flesh. Fastened by nails, they were tormented for a long time because they were not masters of their infirmity. But the Lord took on flesh in the virgin’s womb when he wished it. He came forth to humanity when he wished it. He departed from the flesh when he wished it. This is a sign of pwoer, not of necessity” (234).

 Mark 15:38     “And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.”

St. Ephrem the Syrian [4th century deacon, theologian, and hymnographer]: “Because [the high priest] had torn his priesthood and had cast it from him, [the Spirit] also split the curtain apart. Or…just as the temple in which Judas had thrown down the gold was dissolved and rejected, so too [the Lord] pulled down and rent asunder the curtain of the door…Or, because they had stripped him of his garments that he rent the curtain in two. For the heart of the rock was burst asunder, but their own hearts did not repent” (235).

 Mark 15:39    “…the centurion, who stood facing him, saw… said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

St. Gregory of Nazianzus [4th century Patriarch of Constantinople]: “Many indeed are the wondrous happenings of that time: God hanging from a cross, the sun made dark and again flaming out; for it was fitting that creation should mourn with its creator. The temple veil rent, blood and water flowing from his side: the one as from a man, the other as from what was above man; the earth shaken, the rocks shattered because of the rock; the dead risen to bear witness to the final and universal resurrection of the dead…Yet no one of them can be compared to the miracle of my salvation. A few drops of blood renew the whole world, and do for all men what the rennet does for the milk [used in curdling milk for cheese]; joining us and binding us together” (235).


 Are you convinced that you need saving and that only Christ can do this for you?


 A Short Form of Confession (continued from last week)

“[Let the penitent confess whatever else he has done against God’s commandments and his own position].

If, however, someone does not find himself burdened with these or greater sins, he should not trouble himself or search for or invent other sins, and thereby make confession a torture. Instead, he should mention one or two that he knows: In particular I confess that I have cursed; I have used improper words; I have neglected this or that, etc. Let that be enough. But if you know of none at all (which hardly seems possible), then mention none in particular, but receive the forgiveness upon the general confession which you make to God before the confessor.

 Then the confessor shall say:

God be merciful to you and strengthen your faith. Amen.


Do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness? Yes, dear confessor.

Then let him say:

Let it be done for you as you believe. And I, by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, forgive you your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Go in peace.

A confessor will know additional passages with which to comfort and to strengthen the faith of those who have great burdens of conscience or are sorrowful and distressed. This is intended only as a general form of confession” (Luther’s Small Catechism).


 1.Pray for every unbaptized child and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.


  1. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.


  1. Please arrange your schedule to worship daily or more often during this Holy Week..


For Husbands and Wives


Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”