Treasured Reactions at the Death of Christ (Mark 15:38-41)

Monday, May 4th, 2015
Sermon Series: Led to the Cross, Mark

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Treasured Reactions at the Death of Christ

Hopeful reactions immediately following the death of Christ

from the gospel of Mark 15:38 to 41

Air travel is more casual than it was in earlier decades, when people used to treat flying like going to the opera. But along with the increase in cheap fares has come an increase in bad behavior. Some of the tensions have been so high on some of my flights, I now make it a habit to greet every flight attendant with a smiley hello, and try to help them and other passengers as much as possible.

Currently, people are getting kicked off of planes for a variety of good reasons, and honestly I wish there were more. I’ve personally experienced the tapping on the seatback drummer, the singer, the toenail clipper, the drunk, the diapers under my seat, the gas me with your perfume, the refuse to stop texting, the body odor gag me, and the crusty sick cougher and nose blower.

But those are nothing compared to the famous actor who was told he could not use the restroom, so he urinated on the carpet. Or the 19-month-old and his mom who were removed from a flight because the toddler continually shout-talked through the entire safety speech. And though I’ve wished this at times–airlines are actually beginning to remove those who won’t purchase two seats to accommodate their abundant girth.

Like road rage, the airlines are experiencing increasing negative reactions to basic courtesy, politeness and safety. I’ve noticed though, that people still generally appreciate officials who deal with bad behavior and reward good reactions. Sometimes are you surprised by your reactions? I’m certain sometimes your reactions are very predictable.

Once I told Jean she was really curious. She said, “No I am not.” I waited about two hours, then said to her something like, “Oh Jean, I have something important to tell you. Oh, never mind.” She said, “What? What is it? Tell me–I have to know.” I said, “You’re curious.” She hit me. My bride is a great disciple of Christ—always learning.

We’ve been studying the incredibly powerful cross of Christ. The greatest moment in history. And in our study of the gospel of Mark, Christ has now died. And the reactions to this event are amazing and important. They’re not bad reactions, but actually wonderful reactions. Even at this lowest point for humankind in killing God incarnate, today you’ll see some treasured reactions to the death of Christ.

Please open your Bibles to Mark 15, and follow along with the outline they handed you at the door. Christ was up all night, put through six unjust trials, accused, beaten, mocked, scourged and tortured. He is led to the cross. He’s already demonstrated He could stop this process if He chose to. He’s already spoken a word and slammed men to the dirt. But this is all God’s plan to accomplish our salvation.

On His way to Golgatha, a random man named Simon is forced to carry the cross, and he later becomes a follower of Christ. During the first three hours on the cross, the heart of one of the mocking thieves is opened and he will spend eternity with Christ. At noon, the darkness of judgment falls on Christ as He bears the punishment for all the sins of His children in verses 33 to 37. And just now as Christ has died, there are also some treasured reactions to His death–as glorious as the character of God Himself, and as simple as A, B, C, which make up our outline. What are they?

#1  ACCESS  Verse 38

And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” At the moment of Christ’s death, a curtain was suddenly sliced in two from top-to-bottom. The aorist tense tells us the tear happened generally at 3pm, meaning the moment Christ dies this radical event occurs.

The Jewish-Roman historian Josephus describes this curtain as “55 cubits altitude and 16 in breadth”—that’s 82 feet high and 24 feet wide. He continues that it “was a Babylonian curtain; embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful. This mixture of colors …was a kind of image of the universe …scarlet = fire; flax = earth; blue = air, purple = the sea.” The thickness of the curtain corresponded to its size–most believe this drapery was six inches thick.

Yet all at once, verse 38, at 3pm this mighty curtain is torn in two–and that from top to bottom, as if some unseen hand had severed it, like you would a piece of paper, starting at the top. The two pieces fell apart and exposed the inner Holy of Holies to plain sight at the Temple Mount. At this very moment, hundreds of priests were present, as they were sacrificing thousands of lambs for the Passover feast, along with thousands of Jews preparing for Passover.

Literally thousands would hear the tearing, and witness the supernatural ripping of this sacred curtain. Picture it–as the priests were busy with the Passover sacrifices, there’s a sudden ripping of a curtain exposing that which previously had never been seen by anyone except the High Priest–that must have shaken them. Do you stare or look away? Plus, there’s no way patching up that veil could be kept from public knowledge.

All faithful Jews would hear about this tearing moment. God was making His presence known at the death of Christ. The tearing was not caused by the earthquake, since an earthquake would’ve shredded the curtain and caused damage to the Temple. The tearing was not from natural wear. It was simply, verse 38, “torn in two from top to bottom.” Like intentional surgery—“from top [where God is] to bottom [where man is].”

There were about twelve curtains in the Temple. But this was the most important drapery, because it separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. The Holy of Holies was the place no one could go but the High Priest once a year, to sprinkle blood on the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant, to make atonement for the nation on the Day of Atonement.

That’s what makes this tearing so significant–the curtain symbolized the sinner’s separation from God. The curtain demonstrated that you and I had no access to God. Even when the High Priest was allowed in once a year, they tied a rope to his ankle just in case he needed to be pulled out, since you couldn’t go in after him. The High Priest was supposed to get in quickly, sprinkle the blood quickly, and back out quickly.

But the moment the perfect sacrifice and final Passover lamb, Jesus Christ, died for us, the New Covenant of salvation was ratified. Christ paid the penalty in full for all who would ever believe. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon on that Friday in April, in the year A.D. 30, the Old Covenant was abolished. The Temple was nullified. The priesthood was voided. All sacrifices became pointless because the only true and saving sacrifice had been offered.

So when the veil was split from top to bottom, it was God’s exclamation point on the death of His Son. Gloriously, God was saying, “Now you have access! The way into the presence of God is wide open for anyone.” Hebrews describes the significance of this event–we can now boldly come into the presence of God because of Christ.

Hebrews 10:19, 20, 22, “Brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, …22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.” What does the death of the Lord accomplish? It opens the way. It obliterates the symbols and the ceremonies, and brings the reality of salvation to everyone who chooses to enter.

God’s holy, glorious presence is available to all in Christ, because the way has been opened by the death of Christ. Let us draw near with a confident heart in full assurance of faith. This tearing moment is the end of the High Priesthood. It’s the end of the Levitical Priesthood. It’s the end of the sacrificial system. It’s the end of the Temple. It’s the end of the Holy of Holies. The whole system at that moment is null and void.

That symbol of God’s presence was isolated and hidden, and protected by layer after layer of no access. But now it is thrown all the way open. The door separating us from Him has been torn open. At precisely 3 o’clock in the afternoon, when the priests began to slaughter tens of thousands of Passover lambs so the faithful could eat the Passover meal that evening–at that very hour, the Passover Lamb Himself had been slain by God. So now all other sacrifices are pointless.

By tearing the Temple veil in two, God is saying, “In the death of My Son, there is now total access into My holy presence. Christ paid the full price of sin for everyone who trusts in Him, and I now throw open My holy presence to all who will come in His name. You no longer can use a priest or a sacrifice–just Christ. You now have access. You don’t earn it or work for it–it’s given. You can now come into the presence of a Holy God! You have access.”

Now the gospel of Matthew tells us, there was another miracle that happened at the same time the veil was torn. Matthew 27:51 says, “and the earth shook and the rocks were split.” This earthquake was powerful enough to split rocks. I’ve been through a lot of earthquakes–I have actually seen a shock wave literally roll through a two-story brick wall. I watched the wave roll through the wall. It was enough to cause 400 men to leap from their seats and run in panic toward the door. But it’s not even close to splitting rocks–that had to be a frightening experience.

In the Bible, earthquakes are associated with God’s judgment. Psalm 68:8 says, “The earth shook at the presence of God.” Nahum 1:5 says, “Mountains quake because of Him and the hills dissolve; indeed the earth is upheaved by His presence, the world and all the inhabitants in it.” The Jews knew from Scripture earthquakes meant judgment. That is why in the book of Revelation, at the end, at the eschatological Day of the Lord there are earthquakes that’ll be beyond anything the world has ever experienced.

So here, with the tearing of the curtain and a mighty earthquake, God manifests His judgment over sin at the death of Christ. And Matthew 27:52 to 53 tells us of even another miracle happening at the death of Christ. Matthew 27:52, “The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.”

The veil is torn. The earth begins to shake. And then literal graves are opened up and dead people come back to life and proclaim the truth. WOW–you just buried Auntie Titi, and she’s ba-ack. You just go through massive grief over the death of a loved one, and they come knocking at your door—“Surprise!” Verse 53 says, “Those that came out of the graves appeared to many,” pre-figuring the coming resurrection.

And God is in all of this–He is in the darkness, the earthquake, the ripping of the veil and in opening the graves of dead saints. God is demonstrating how important the death of His Son is, and how powerful He truly is. So did some actually get the message? Yes! A for ACCESS, and now B for BELIEF.

#2  BELIEF  Verse 39

When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” Tradition tells us this Gentile Roman centurion was named Longinus. Most believe he comes to faith here beneath the Savior’s cross. Notice he says, “Truly,” meaning His confession was certain. Truly is in contrast with the Jewish unbelief and mockery here.

This is the Roman officer who supervised the details of the Lord’s crucifixion, and was directly accountable to Pilate. He was our Lord’s executioner. The Greek word centurion is from the Latin word for one hundred, making him a military officer in charge of a hundred men. These soldiers under this centurion’s command participated in Jesus’ scourging, placed the crown of thorns into His skull, mocking Him, beating Him, spitting on Him, and at Golgotha were the very ones who nailed Christ to the cross.

Someone under the centurion’s command hung the placard around His neck, then fixed it to the cross–“The King of the Jews”. To these soldiers, Jesus was no more than another insurrectionist who made a harmless claim to be some sort of religious king. They’re the ones who divided up the thieves’ and the Lord’s clothing.

And this man, this centurion, is in charge. He is a career soldier. He’s a good soldier, a trustworthy soldier, and a centurion was a battle-hardened soldier. He’s a boots on the ground kind of soldier, familiar with death, familiar with killing and rugged living. He’s been guarding Jesus. He’s overseeing the execution squad–probably played a key role in the arrest, scourging and torture. And he has been an eyewitness of everything, most likely from the arrest of Jesus in the early hours of Friday in the Garden, all the way to this final moment on Friday at 3pm.

This centurion had seen how Jesus conducted Himself in the midst of all the wicked taunts. The centurion heard the Jewish leaders scoff at Christ’s claim that He was the Son of God. Perhaps he heard Jesus say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Because he was near the cross, perhaps he heard Jesus say to the thief, “Today you’ll be with Me in Paradise.” And the centurion just heard, not a weak, about to die cry, but a loud cry–the cry of confidence. The cry of Christ voluntarily surrendering Himself to His Father.

This centurion saw it all. The mock trials, the abuse, the spitting, the punching, the slapping, the sneering, and the ridicule. The centurion saw Jesus take it all with no retaliation. He heard Pilate repeatedly declare Jesus as innocent. And the centurion concluded, “This is no ordinary man.” So now he comes to the right conclusion, that Jesus is the Son of God. Verse 39 tells us the centurion is standing right in front of Him. He is facing Christ, getting a full view of all that’s happened.

Matthew tells us his soldiers were standing guard and also witnessed these events. As the one responsible for what happened, the centurion would be one who’d keep an extra close watch. When it turned dark, they were especially wary and on guard, so in the darkness no one interfered with these crucifixions. Therefore, nothing escaped the centurion, and verse 39 says, “He saw the way He breathed His last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’”

Mark’s account stresses that the centurion was deeply impressed by the manner of Jesus’ death. Notice the “truly”–this marks the centurion’s expression as a firm conviction concerning Jesus, and not merely a random thought. Were there other factors that helped him come to that conclusion? Matthew 27:50 to 54 says yes.

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. 51 And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. [something very unique is happening] 52 The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; [something incredibly powerful is happening–I wonder if they witnessed the dead being raised at this moment?] 53 and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54 Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’”

The Greek word for “frightened” here in Matthew is phobeo, where we get phobia. These Roman Soldiers are in an absolute panic! The same Greek word was used in Matthew’s gospel to describe the initial response of Peter, James and John when they beheld the glory of our Lord at the Mount of Transfiguration. These events led them to a frightened response.

The implication of the Scripture here is this–they understood the link between these supernatural events and the death of Christ on the cross. The timing was more than coincidental. The centurion and the soldiers made a connection and realized that the darkness was tied to Christ, an earthquake so powerful, rocks were split, was linked to Christ, and the opening of tombs was connected to Christ—and all of it frightened them.

Mark, however, reveals another nugget the other gospel writers leave out. Look at verse 39, “When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” The darkness, earthquake, split rocks, the loud cry, and now the way “Jesus breathed His last” moved the centurion to say, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

We know from the Scripture and sound theology, the only way this centurion could ever make such a claim was through the divine work of the Spirit–much like when Peter said in Matthew 16:16 to 17, “’Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.’ Jesus said,Blessed are you, Simon, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.’”

Paul likewise reminded the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 12:3 that, “No one can say; ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Only God’s divine work could have awakened the centurion in order to confess Christ and praise God.

I don’t know how the centurion got all his information, but Paul on the road to Damascus was awakened in an instant by the sovereign hand of God and was converted in a moment. And the thief on the cross was given life by a sovereign Spirit, even in the midst of his ridicule of Christ. And here now, a Gentile soldier becomes the first convert to Christ after His crucifixion.

The centurion affirms Christ is God, equal to God, the God-man. And this Roman soldier actually praises God. Really? Luke 23:47 adds, “Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he began praising God, saying, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’”  Certainly this man was innocent is the Greek word for righteous. So this centurion praises God and declares Jesus is righteous in character, and affirms Jesus as God the Son.

And the centurion is not alone. The other soldiers with him had the same response. Tradition tells us these soldiers were from Germany–probably a Marco in there. Matthew informs us these soldiers under this centurion were also dramatically affected. Those with the centurion, his men, Matthew 27:54, before the earthquake had occurred with its effect on rocks and tombs, the soldiers had been mocking Christ. But these men who crucified Jesus have changed their minds. Like the thief, first they mocked, and now they’ve repented.

And until the centurion at the cross, no human, not even the Lord’s disciples had understood the meaning of “Son of God.” This was not by accident. Jesus had stifled speculation about His identity, because all such announcements were premature. But now at His death on the cross, everyone can now understand who Jesus is, and what “Son of God” means. As defined at the cross, the Son of God is He who (Mark 10:45), came to “give His life a ransom for many.”

The gospel of Mark reaches its climax with the confession of the centurion, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” This profession of faith, ironically, comes not from a disciple, relative, or a fellow Jew, but rather a Gentile outsider–the captain of the execution squad, and thus an enemy. It’s an enemy who is the first to declare Jesus as God’s Son.

The cross is the supreme revelation of Jesus as God’s Son. The cross is the birthplace of faith, for the centurion’s confession is a saving confession of Jesus as God’s Son. This Gentile came to faith beneath the dead Savior’s cross. The very one who shouted the orders to crucify is now numbered among those singing praise in Heaven.

Some wonderful things happened at Calvary . . . a Jewish blasphemer was saved–the thief. And a few Gentile blasphemers were forgiven–the soldiers. And the message is this–the grace of God in forgiveness and salvation is extended to the worst blasphemers. The worst person is not beyond the possibility of salvation.

On the other hand, Luke 23:48 tells us, “The crowds, when they observed what had happened, began to return, beating their breasts.” Hmmmm . . . Christ is not so funny anymore. No more mockery. No more, “Let’s see what Jesus does next,” jokes. It wasn’t so funny after the darkness and the intense earthquake scare them. It wasn’t so funny when they found out the veil had been torn from top to bottom.

It doesn’t say anything about them believing, but some of them did—later, in Acts 2, some of them must have been there on the Day of Pentecost when 3,000 were saved. And after that, thousands more. At the moment of Christ’s death, you already see His purpose to save repentant sinners–the Jew first, and then the Gentile. A for ACCESS, B for BELIEF, and now C. Around Christ, even at His death, you see great . . .

#3  COMMITMENT  Verse 40

There were also some women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Less and Joses, and Salome.” These women were no doubt crushed and perplexed at Christ’s death, but through it all they were faithful to Christ. Sure John the apostle was at Golgotha, but everyone else fled—except for these precious, faithful women who are following their Savior.

Verse 40 says, “There were also some women looking on from a distance.” The Roman soldiers witnessed these events as part of their duty, but these witnesses are here because of their devotion. They’ve come because they want to know what will happen, and they remain because of their strong affection for Christ.

Mark says in verse 40 they are “looking on”, which carries the picture of a spectator attentively viewing a scene with interest for the purpose of observing details. In spite of this tragedy, their love conquered all fear. And though they stood there with bleeding hearts, watching their Lord die, they refused to move.

Some say they were looking on from a distance because they are now hesitant, afraid and withdrawn. Others say they are looking on from a distance out of necessity. The soldiers maintained a no man’s land around the crosses for security and control. We know the wicked Sanhedrin crowded up as close as they could get to sneer at Christ, along with the mocking mob of people who came to see the spectacle.

I don’t believe it was fear that caused these women to stand some distance from the cross, but the situation in which they found themselves. We know that during a lull in the disturbance near the cross, when the wicked leaders had grown weary of mocking, Jesus’ mother, John and two other women got close to the cross and were not hindered by the soldiers. When Jesus said, “Behold your mother, behold your son,” and put Mary in the care of John and John in the care of Mary, they were close to the cross during that first three-hour period.

But now after darkness and at the end, these faithful heartbroken women are still bound by love to Christ. They’re still at Golgotha, though a little further back, looking on from a distance. Even as Christ suffered, their compassion for Christ could not be extinguished, even as the light of their hope dimmed. And even as Christ died, their care for Him did not wane.

Who are they? Mark identifies the names of three, though there are more. Verse 40, “among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Less and Joses, and Salome.” Mary Magdalene is obviously from Magdala on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, about three miles north of Tiberias. The earliest reference to her is Luke 8:2, where it describes how Jesus freed her of a severe case of demon possession. Except in John 19:25, Mary Magdalene is always named first in these lists of women. Apparently her dynamic personality gave her a position of leadership among the women, just like Peter is named among the twelve.

Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses (yo sAs) is distinguished from the other Marys by the names of her sons. In Matthew 27:61 she is simply called “the other Mary.” James the less and Joses were probably well known in the Early Church. Calling James the less apparently served to distinguish this James from other men named James. It probably refers to his short stature, though “the less” may describe his age or importance.

So it’s Mary, Mom of Shorty and Joses (yo sAs). Salome’s name only appears only in Mark’s gospel (15:40 and 16:1), but by comparing those verses with Matthew’s gospel, it is clear that Salome is the mother of Zebedee’s children, James and John. She is the mother of the sons of thunder. She’s the very same ambitious mom who asked Jesus if her sons could sit on the Lord’s right and left in the Kingdom. And from John 19:25, we believe she is also the sister of Jesus’ mother, Mary.

Yet in spite of their background, you can’t help but be grateful for their care to our Lord Jesus, even at this horrible moment. Look at verse 41, “When He was in Galilee, they used to follow Him and minister to Him.” All their resources, talents, generosity and hospitality all aided our Lord throughout His ministry. Not only did they follow Him from place to place, but they ministered to Him continually. Like deacons, they cared for the needs of Christ and His men.

Do you understand how shocking these statements are? The text says they were following Christ–that’s striking. The disciples flee in fear–these women faithfully follow. And verse 41 adds, “And there were many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem.” We know about the apostles–we’re familiar with them. But these unsung heroes who served Christ and followed Him since His days in Galilee are hardly known.

But now we know them to be proven faithful. They were with Christ at the start of His second year of ministry in Galilee–now they’re still serving Christ at the end of His third year. So these gals had followed Him for at least two years. They’re true disciples, lovers of Christ, and believers in the Savior. And though they may have that deer in the headlights look, they are still present at this dark moment.

All of them had come to Jerusalem for the Passover, but notice verse 41, “many other women who came up with Him”–with Him points to their personal attachment to Jesus. Like the men, they undoubtedly had expected Jesus to reveal Himself at Jerusalem as the long expected Messiah, and take steps to establish His Kingdom. But in spite of the death of their leader, and the death of this dream, their love for Christ compels them to stay.

They’re unique because they’re not apostles–they’re not the chosen twelve. They’re not men. And the Greek verbs tell us (in the imperfect tense) that these gals have been continually following Him and continually ministering to Him. And what blows me away is in the gospel of Mark–only two groups are ever said to have ministered to Christ. One are these women, and the other in Mark 1:13, the holy angels. These women are earth angels–just like the 50s song.

They’re not empowered like the apostles to do miracles. But they are truly precious, faithful followers of Christ. And while the apostles have forsaken Christ, these women have remained. As a result, these women will be the first eyewitnesses of His resurrection. They’ll be rewarded because they’ll be the first to see Christ on Sunday morning, when the sorrow of these faithful ladies will turn to great joy.

THREE QUESTIONS

ONE  Ladies, are you striving to be a GODLY woman?

Much of what that means from this passage is . . .

1  You are a SERVANT

From Galilee to Jerusalem, these women were regularly serving Christ and His men. All genuine Christians are servants–are you? Is it obvious?

2  You are FAITHFUL

For over two years, these women were faithful to serve the needs of Christ and His men, enabling them to minister to the people of Israel. Even when it was dangerous at the cross, they remained faithful to their Lord, no matter what. Nothing kept them from their faithful service.

3  You are COURAGEOUS

Apart from John, only these ladies were courageous enough to remain near Christ. Godly women are submissive, but they courageously stand for Christ.

4  You are BELIEVING

No matter what happened, and as dark as things looked, they believed in Christ and God rewarded them with being the first to see Him alive after the resurrection.

5  You are FREED

Mary Magdelene cooperated with, and was controlled by, the lowest evil on every level. But now that she is in Christ, she is completely freed from her past. Godly women stop carrying the memories of prostitution, abortion, and rejections of their past by following Christ with all their heart.

TWO  Disciples, are you enjoying INTIMACY with Christ?

The curtain was torn in two for a reason. The way to God is now wide to every man. And now you are able to intimately know God personally. Do you? Are you enjoying your privilege of intimacy? Or have you let your heart grow distant of late? Is Christ more personal to you than your best friend or spouse? Or is Christ more like a distant relative who visits twice a year, and you call occasionally when you have a need?

Listen friends, eternal life is knowing Christ. John 17:3, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

THREE  Attender, have you CONFESSED Christ as your God?

Do you affirm the centurion’s confession? Jesus is your Lord? Have you believed in Him? Have you denied yourself and embraced Him? Have you bowed your knee at the foot of the cross? You were made to be intimate with the God who made you. You will never know your purpose until you know Christ. Turn from your sin in repentance, depend upon Christ by faith, and be born again today–right now.

You don’t need to walk an aisle, you need to submit your heart, confess Christ as your God. Guilty, vile and helpless we, spotless Lamb of God was He. Full atonement! Can it be? Hallelujah, what a Savior!

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ABOUT THIS PREACHER

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.
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