The Passion of the Servant, Part Four
Topic: Gospels Passage: Mark 14:1–14:72
If you knew that you had but one week to live, how would you spend it?
We often hear of people creating “bucket lists” of things they would like to do before they die. Some of the items on those lists can be quite practical—such as spending more meaningful time with family and friends, or keeping a journal record of one’s life-journey. But others are anything but practical—like skydiving into the Grand Canyon or water skiing over Niagara Falls.
Truth be known, most “bucket lists” are not made when people are considering their own mortality. In fact, death is probably the furthest thing from their minds. Given the risk factor involved with many of the things on those lists, they might more appropriately be labeled, “Things I Might Like to Try if I Knew I Was Going to Live Forever.”
As you and I think about what we might want to do if we knew that we had but seven days to live, consider what Jesus did. Facing what He knew would be His final week, He took a ride on a borrowed donkey, turned over tables and cleansed the Temple, assumed the role of a slave by washing others’ feet, ate dinner with a group of misfits, predicted the betrayal and denial of His closest friends, prayed so intently that He sweat great drops of blood, and got Himself arrested, tried and crucified. I seriously doubt that any of those things would appear on our “bucket lists.”
This morning as we enter into the 14th chapter of Mark, we will be feasting on a rather large portion of Scripture. It is here that we begin focusing in on Jesus’ final hours. And as we shall see, the specter of the cross weighs heavily on His mind.
Mark devotes nearly forty percent of His Gospel to the last seven days of Jesus’ life. Recently, you and I have been retracing our Lord’s steps from His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Sunday to the destiny that awaited Him. On His final Monday we watched Him curse the fig tree and cleanse the Temple, two seemingly unrelated events in which the former illustrated the latter. Tuesday was his fullest and final day of public ministry. Following a series of encounters with the Jewish religious leaders, He walked out of the Temple never to return. Beginning with His memorable discourse on the Mount of Olives, He drew His closest followers around Him as He prepared them for His impending death.
Chapter 14 opens with the words, “It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.” It is, therefore, Wednesday and the clock is counting down His final forty-eight hours. On at least three occasions, Jesus has plainly told His disciples that death awaited Him in Jerusalem (cf. Mark 8:31, 9:31, and 10:33-34). It is not until this final week that those predictions began to be understood by them. As this Passion Week unfolds, there is a definite change of mood. But even then, the significance of the hour remained unclear. As thousands of worshipers flocked into the city to celebrate the great feast, the ultimate Passover Lamb is being prepared for sacrifice.
As you and I dive into this lengthy chapter, we are able to distinguish four major movements. There are also a number of subplots woven in along the way. As we survey them this morning, I believe we will see their common link.
In the first eleven verses we find an unforgettable act of worship sandwiched within two scenes of diabolical deception. It is...
The prologue of impending death in Bethany (verses 1-11)
With the Passover now just two days away, we are informed that the Jewish religious leaders were stepping up their plans to arrest Jesus and have Him put to death. The text tells us that they wanted to do this “by stealth” (“δολοs”). That word means “craftiness” or “deceit.” They hoped to “fly under the radar” in hatching their treacherous plot lest rumors circulate among the large crowds that had begun to gather for the feast. Riots are always a possibility among a people who are both politically and religiously oppressed. Verses 1 and 2 merely set the stage for the events that will transpire near the end of this chapter.
While Jesus’ opponents were conspiring to hatch a plan to rid themselves of Him, a completely different type of gathering was taking place a few miles away in Bethany in the house of a man simply identified as “Simon the leper.” You recall that Jesus and the Twelve had often found lodging in the home of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary whenever they traveled in that area of Bethany. Simon may have been a neighbor who lived nearby. He too had apparently also identified as a follower of Jesus. While there a meal was served.
As Jesus was “reclining at table” with His hosts and His friends, we are told that “a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head.” Mark doesn’t identify this woman, but John tells us that she is Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (cf. John 12:1-7). To us her action seems strange and unusual, especially when we are informed that the perfume was valued at “more than three hundred denarii.” That would have been equal to a year’s wages for a day laborer. It was an extraordinary sum, which explains why the disciples were “indignant” over what they considered “wasteful.” Verse 5 adds that some of them even “scolded (or rebuked) her,” suggesting that if she were going to rid herself of what was obviously her most-prized possession she might have at least considered selling it and giving the money to the poor. Wouldn’t that have been the practical thing to do?
But the worth of our Lord Jesus goes far beyond what is practical and expedient. Notice how His response in verses 6 through 9 puts everything into its proper context:
“But Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
By coming to the woman’s defense, Jesus sets her act in perspective. He recognized the generosity of her gift a beautiful expression of love which possessed an even deeper significance than she could have understood. It was an appropriate gift precisely because of the approaching hour of Jesus’ death. His praise of her involved at least three considerations.
First, Jesus praised her because of her loving motive. In 1 Corinthians we are reminded that gifts without love are worthless. It is the love that motivates our gifts and offerings that makes them praiseworthy and pleasing to God.
Second, Jesus praised her because she responded to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. John Calvin wrote that “she was guided by the breath of the Holy Spirit that in sure confidence she should do this in duty to Christ.” This wasn’t an impulsive, spur-of-the-moment act. It was led by the Spirit of God.
And third, Jesus praised her because her act was not dominated by practicality. It was simply done to and for Jesus with no thought of whether it was the practical or sensible thing to do. It was costly, to be sure, but no expense is too much to lavish upon the Savior.
One writer calls the woman’s act, “love’s extravagance.” It has been pointed out that Jesus has a lot of strange items in his treasury...items like widow’s pennies, cups of water, and broken perfume bottles. What does He have of yours? What “beautiful thing” have you offered in love to the Savior? Before you answer, let me remind you that our Lord commended Mary because she put Him above everything else. Complete sacrifice is the only adequate expression for a life that has been redeemed by God. The fragrance that is honoring to Him and refreshing to others does not come from giving part of ourselves to Him. Rather He requires complete surrender. Notice Jesus’ words: “She has done what she could.”
With the sweet smelling scent of perfume still lingering in the air, the scene again shifts suddenly in verse 10. John (12:4-6) tells us that Judas was among the most “indignant” over the woman’s apparent “waste.” He further relates that Judas did not care an iota about the poor, but as the group’s treasurer proved to be a thief. Often he would pilfer money for himself...money that had been collected in support of their ministry. That being so, Mark resumes his account in verses 11 and 12, writing, “Then (perhaps that very evening) Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray (Jesus) to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him.” Matthew (26:15) tells us that the amount Judas received for his betrayal was “thirty pieces of silver.” It was a paltry amount. But avarice doesn’t recognize true worth. How ironic that the life of the ideal Servant was considered of no greater value than that of a common slave. The contrast between the extravagance of Mary and the greed of Judas could not have been more clearly displayed.
Thursday has now arrived. It is unlikely that any of the disciples awakened that morning anticipating that their three-year apprenticeship with Jesus was about to come to a dramatic halt. Final events began to unfold during...
The Passover meal in the Upper Room (verses 12-31)
The synoptic writers devote less space to our Lord’s last supper than does John, but the details Mark includes are sufficient to prepare us for what is to come. As beautiful as Mary’s anointing of Jesus was, we must not forget that it was an act that symbolized His impending death.
Throughout the years there have been a number of eminent scholars who have believed that it is at this point when Jesus became a helpless victim to His circumstances. In his classic work, The Quest for the Historical Jesus, Albert Schweitzer portrays Jesus as a man possessing a “messianic complex,” genuinely convinced that His ministry would bring about the end of human history. According to his theory, Schweitzer believed that Jesus overplayed His hand and got mangled like a rag-doll in the merciless gears of history. He got caught up in His own grandiose plans that He was unable to fulfill. Nothing could be further from the truth. If there is anything on which Bible-believing Christians can agree it is that Jesus was in complete control of His destiny as He made His way to the cross.
Even with regard to the arrangements for His final meal, we are able to catch a glimpse of Jesus’ sovereignty. It would have been quite unusual for a man to be carrying a jar of water in that day. Normally that was a woman’s responsibility. But Jesus assured His disciples that when they entered the city they would find such a man. In verses 13 through 16 Jesus tells them to “Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” And so they did, finding both the man and the room “just as he had told them.” There is good reason to believe that this man may well have been Mark, and that the house he took them to was the one where he lived with his family (cf. Acts 12:12).
That evening He reclined at table with the Twelve, partaking of the Passover meal. As they were eating Jesus made an announcement that must have cast an uncomfortable silence over the gathering. All eyes would have been fixed upon Him as He said to those near Him, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The silence would have been broken only by their incredulity. Individually they asked if they might possibly be the one to betray Him.
Because of what we know from verses 10 and 11, you and I are aware that the culprit will be Judas. But Jesus’ next statement—at least as Mark records it in verses 20 and 21—seems to offer the disciples little hint: “He said to them, ‘It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.’” What a stunning statement! Jesus knew in His darkest hour who it was who would betray him, and that the traitor would succeed. He was anything but a rag-doll caught in the crush of history! In fact, He was the only man in history who was truly the Master of His fate and the Captain of His soul.”
Near the end of the meal, Jesus broke protocol by taking bread, blessing it, breaking it, and distributing it among His disciples. In doing so, He added the words—which must have been very enigmatic at that time, even as they remain that way to many today—“Take, this is my body.” After that, He took a cup of wine, gave thanks, and gave it to them to drink, saying, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” And then He added in verse 25, “Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
Of course, Jesus was not saying that the bread was literally His body or that the wine in the cup was literally His blood. But what did those figures mean? We might think of it this way: the bread represented the body and the life of Christ, and by partaking of it His disciples symbolized their participation in His righteous life. This is the significance of the unleavened bread and its close association with the Passover. Leaven often represents sin in the Scriptures, and Jesus lived a life that was “unleavened”...it was without sin. In the same way, the cup represented the blood and the death of Christ, and by partaking of it His disciples symbolized their participation in His sacrificial death. Just as the Passover lamb was slain annually and its blood sprinkled in atonement for the sins of people, so the blood of “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29)—Jesus Christ—would be shed once and for all, and would prove to be sufficient to take away the sins of those who believe.
It remains true today. When followers of Christ eat of the Bread and drink of the Cup, they are demonstrating by means of this visible parable that they have by faith become partakers of the righteous life of Christ, and that they have received the gift of forgiveness through the blood He shed on their behalf. You and I should ask God to bring these truths vividly to our minds whenever we gather at the Communion Table. To borrow the words of Paul from Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”
When the supper had ended, Jesus led the group out toward the Mount of Olives. His mood became even more solemn. He had already predicted that one of them would betray them, but now He shocks them even further, saying, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’” That was an Old Testament prophecy from Zechariah (13:7), and Jesus was applying it to Himself as His final hours became fewer. But even with that somber word, He adds an amazing and confident word of hope: “But after I am raised up (not ‘if I am raised’), I will go before you to Galilee,” implying, “I will see you again!”
Meanwhile, Peter had been processing the events of the last few hours and perhaps was beginning to understand that Jesus’ death was looming. With the best of intentions, he motioned toward the others and blurted out, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” Let’s be clear, Peter loved Jesus. He truly did. But He had no idea to what extent that love would soon be tested. I believe that it pained Jesus to have to say to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” Peter believed that he had what it took to remain loyal, as did all the disciples. But within hours they would be forced to face the limitations of their own abilities. In the hour of their Master’s greatest need, they would all flee from Him and leave Him to suffer alone.
That brings us to verses 32 and following...
The prayer and arrest in the Garden (verses 32-52)
“Gethsemane” was a garden located near the foot of the Mount of Olives. It was a place where Jesus and the Twelve would at times go to get away from the crowded city. On this particular evening they went there to pray. He told several of the disciples to remain at the edge of the Garden, while He took with Him Peter, James, and John. Verse 33 says that Jesus “began to be greatly distressed and troubled,” telling the three of them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” Then leaving them he went “a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.”
Let us make no mistake that although Jesus faced the cross voluntarily, He did so with intense agony. To pay for man’s sin cost the Son of God everything He had to give. When He asked the Father if He would “remove this cup” of suffering from Him, let us remember that amidst the anguish there was unconconditional surrender to the Father’s will. The Father would not take the “cup” away. Jesus would drink it fully, to the last bitter drop...the cup that was filled with the sins of men and the wrath of God!
Returning to the three disciples, He found them sleeping. Even Peter—self-confident Peter—could not stay awake and pray for a single hour! As he was beginning to discover, the flesh is weak and will ultimately fail. Three times Jesus would depart and return, and each time the result was the same. At last Jesus says, “It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.” What the phrase, “It is enough,” means is open to discussion, but it seems to be parallel with the rest of the verse. In other words, the pieces were now all in place for the condemnation of Jesus to be complete. Judas’ act of treachery had been carried out, and from this point forward there would be no turning back.
Just then, verse 43 tells us, “While he was still speaking, Judas came...and with him a crowd with swords and clubs from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.” How surreal the scene must have been. As the disciples looked on in confusion and fear, one of their own—Judas—stepped forth from the approaching mob and greeted Jesus a deceptive kiss. Before there was time to understand what had happened, Jesus was apprehended. John informs us that it was Peter who drew a sword and, in a clumsy effort to rescue His Lord, cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest. It was a well-intentioned but erroneous move, as Jesus’ response indicates. Rather than attempting to escape during the moment of confusion, Jesus stood His ground and willingly submitted to the predestined plan of God. As He was being led away, verse 50 sadly records, “They all left him and fled”...just as He had foretold. With all having deserted Him, we are brought face-to-face with the stark reality that Jesus faced His hour of crisis utterly alone.
Verses 51 and 52 insert a curious vignette about a young man who appeared to join the disciples in flight. When the guard attempted to seize him, the linen cloth that he had been wearing around his body came lose and he escaped into the night naked. Tradition suggests that this young man was Mark. If the Passover meal had indeed taken place within his home, then he had probably accompanied Jesus and the disciples throughout the evening. Therefore, the record he has left for us in this book was that of an eyewitness to the events he describes. What’s more, this scene is illustrative, inasmuch as each of us stands naked before the Lord in terms of our ability to ever do anything to assist Him. Instead, no matter how difficult it is for us to watch Him suffer, we can do nothing but observe as Jesus fulfills the eternal plan of God in coming to our aid by dying for our sins.
We have thus far considered the prologue to His impending death by His anointing in Bethany, we have watched Him observe the Passover meal with His disciples in the Upper Room, and we have witnessed His prayer and arrest in Gethsemane. Mark concludes this chapter with his account of...
The presentation before the Sanhedrin (verses 53-72)
It is now Friday, but the sun is still several hours from rising. The covert activities taking place under the cloak of darkness would have escaped the great majority of residents and visitors in the city, who by now are fast asleep in their beds. Isn’t it interesting how many diabolical deeds are carried out in the night?
While Peter continued attempting to muster courage to fulfill his vow to Jesus, the Lord is brought before the Sanhedrin—the Jewish council—to face trumped-up charges of blasphemy. As verses 55 through 59 report, there was no consistency found among the testimonies of the witnesses. At first, Jesus remained silent—just as Isaiah (53:7) the prophet had foretold that He would. But when pressed by the High Priest, whose name was Caiaphas (cf. Matthew 26:57), whether or not He claimed to be “the Christ, the Son of the Blessed,” He at last admitted it by applying the Divine title—“I am”—to Himself. And then He added the words that all but signed His death warrant: “And you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
Jesus might as well have said, “Tonight you are judging me, but one day I will judge you!” It was more than Caiaphas could take. He tore his garments and shouted, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” The Mosaic Law required death by stoning for blasphemy (cf. Leviticus 24:16). According to Mark, the vote was unanimous...“they all condemned him as deserving death.” But the Jewish council had a problem. A capital sentence could not be executed by the Jewish court because it existed under Roman authority. The Jewish leaders had to find a way to implicate Rome in their sinister plan.
The chronology of events over the next twelve hours can be difficult to follow. What we do know is that Jesus stood six separate trials before being formally sentenced to die at the hands of the Roman governor.
But for now, Peter stood in silent vigil in the courtyard below. As he attempted to blend with a crowd that had gathered there, he was confronted three times by those who are believed to have seen him with Jesus. And three times Peter denied it, with each denial becoming louder and more vehement. At last in verse 71, we read, “But he began to invoke a curse on himself and swear, ‘I do not know the man of whom you speak.’” Then Mark records, “And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And Peter broke down and wept.” What a solemn warning to us all that, as one writer expresses it, “a bold affirmation of fidelity does not guarantee faithfulness.” As we each must come to understand, we are not as strong as we think we are.
You and I are about to enter into the most difficult part of the Gospel story, the account of the brutal death of our Lord Jesus. For those who love the Savior, they will be hard words to read and mentally digest. To think of our Lord enduring all that He did on behalf of those whom He loved is almost impossible to imagine. It evokes from us a strange blend of sorrow and joy that we look upon these events. Because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross, nothing of God’s wrath can touch God’s elect because it has been fully exhausted, fully poured out on God’s Son.
So, let me again emphasize that everything Jesus suffered—all of the bitter accusations, the abuse He absorbed, the brutality He endured—He did it for the sake of those who would trust in Him. As Jesus stood before the Sanhedrin, we are reminded that every accusation leveled at Him was what we justly deserve to bear. As the old hymn says,
“Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place, condemned He stood.
Sealed my pardon with His blood;
Hallelujah, what a Savior.”
And yet, how often we deny Him. Do we truly believe that we possess greater spiritual fortitude during the hour of trial than did Peter, Jesus’ closest disciple? It is not until we come to the end of our ropes, so to speak, that we are in a position to recognize our abject need for a Savior like Jesus. Until then, He is little more than a “spiritual add-on” to our already self-sufficient lives. His grace is for those who are prepared to renounce self-dependence and are willing to depend—totally—on Him.
As we come to the events that close this chapter, where do you find yourself today. Do you deny Him, accuse Him, betray Him...or do you fall before Him and worship Him as Savior and Lord?