For a religion to mark its beginning with the crucifixion of its founder is exceedingly strange. But for the past two millennia the story of Christ's suffering and death has fascinated people all over the world. From every angle that people might look at the Passion story, it grabs them. In his massive work on The Death of the Messiah (p. viii), Raymond Brown illustrates the centrality and significance of the Passion narrative: Seen from the aesthetic side, there is nothing in the Gospels that has given us such glorious music, or has inspired such magnificent art, as the Passion story. From the literary point of view, this story has even entered our everyday language. People still speak of a "Judas kiss," of selling Christ for 30 pieces of silver, of washing our hands of an embarrassing situation - all found in the Passion story.
From the historical standpoint, no event in Christ's public life was seen by so many eye witnesses. From the first century up to the present, churches around the world have recited the Apostles Creed, in which they affirm that Christ "suffered under Pontius Pilate." The death of Christ is an unassailable historical event on which the Christian faith rests.
Seen from a theological point of view, the Passion story assures us that through the death of Christ our sins have been
atoned for, and that we have been delivered from death and despair through the death of an innocent substitute. That Jesus of Nazareth was crucified under Pontius Pilate can be discovered also from the Roman historian, Tacitus, but that he died for our sins is something only the gospel can tell us. Moreover, the Passion story has always been at the centre of Christian devotion and meditation, and the church loses much, if it overlooks the wonderful opportunity to proclaim the message of the cross, especially at Eastertide.
Preaching from narrative material, however, is not always easy, and the following chapters were written, in part, to illustrate how this moving story of Christ's suffering and death can be presented in sermon form. However, these meditations were written also with the Christian reader in mind, who may not have access to some of the rich literature that is available in this area of NT studies.
There is some disagreement among scholars over where precisely the Passion narrative begins. Not all would include, as I have, the anointing of Jesus at Bethany and the Last Supper. However, even though the actual sufferings of Christ began in Gethsemane, these accounts are an integral part of the Passion story. We will follow basically the Marcan account of Christ's suffering but weave in some materials from other Gospels to round out the picture.
It is our hope and prayer that these studies will serve as a handbook for teachers and preachers as they expound the Passion narrative. However, these reflections on the accounts of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection, may also be of help to serious Bible readers who are interested in a devotional approach to the biblical text. Although I have refrained from injecting bibliographical information into these studies, I am indebted to many scholars who have painstakingly examined Mark's account of our Lord's Passion.