CRUCIFIXION EVE Mark 14
“The hour has come. Look, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Mark 14:41).The events of the night before Jesus was crucified are detailed in each Gospel. However familiar, each retelling speaks powerfully to our hearts.
Jesus was anointed with expensive perfume in Bethany (14:1–11). He shared a final supper with His disciples in Jerusalem (vv. 12–26). Afterward Jesus predicted Peter’s denial (vv. 27–31), and prayed at Gethsemane (vv. 32–42) where He was arrested (vv. 43–52) and taken before the Sanhedrin (vv. 53–65). In the yard outside, Peter denied his Lord (vv. 66–72).
Understanding the Text
“She did what she could” Mark 14:1–11. While Mark is the shortest of the Gospels, it often provides more graphic eyewitness details than the others. That’s the case here. Mark alone reported that some (another Gospel says the disciples!) were “indignant” and almost abusive. Yet the woman’s gift was both an act of love and an act of faith. In a sense, it was also a confession of futility. “She poured perfume on My body beforehand to prepare for My burial.” Nothing could alter the tragic course events must now take. But, in love and faith, she did what she could for Jesus. Often we feel deeply frustrated by our inability to help those we love. If we only could, we’d change so much. The agony of a loved one’s divorce. The uncertainty of his unemployment. The anxiety of her illness. Perhaps one reason the “beautiful thing” this woman did for Jesus is to be remembered is to encourage us. Heartbroken, she could not do more; she did what she could. And it was a “beautiful thing.” Let’s do whatever we can for others. Out of love, and though hurting for them and hurting that it cannot be more. Jesus’ defense of the woman of Bethany assures us that when we do what we can, we do enough. “And found things just as Jesus had told them” Mark 14:12–16. Some commentators have seen in this story evidence that Jesus had already made arrangements for the Last Supper room with its owner. Certainly at this time of year Jerusalem was overcrowded; many pilgrims at major festivals were forced to camp outside the city walls. What we should see, however, is another indication that God was superintending the events that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. Simply because bad things happen to good people, we should never assume God has withdrawn His sovereign hand. So we take comfort in the “chance” meeting of the disciples with a man (rather than the usual woman) carrying a jar of water, and the empty upper room available in his house. From it we learn that “chance” has no place in the believer’s experience. What we experience is not the result of circumstance, but a wise and good distribution from our loving Father’s hand. “One by one they said to Him, ‘Surely not I?’ ” Mark 14:17–21 I like the hesitancy and doubt expressed in the shaken disciples’ question. Each seems to have looked deep within himself, and despite his commitment to Jesus, sensed weakness enough to make him wonder. Could it be me? It’s much safer for us to ask this question than to make the kind of bold assertion these same disciples did later that night. When Jesus predicted Peter’s denial, that apostle confidently cried, “I will never disown You.” And Mark adds, “All the others said the same thing.” When we sense our weakness, you and I cling to the Lord for strength. But when we are victims of foolish self-confidence, we venture out on our own, and surely fail. “Jesus took bread . . . and gave it to His disciples” Mark 14:22–26. John’s Gospel tells us that before this simple ceremony, Judas slipped out to complete arrangements to betray Jesus. The gift of bread and wine then, was consumed only by the disciples, even as the broken body and blood of Jesus are appropriated only by those who have faith in Him as Saviour. In this sense our celebration of the Lord’s Supper is more than showing forth “the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). It is also an affirmation of a shared discipleship: the statement by a family of believers that in a unique way we belong to each other, for Christ belongs to each one of us. Perhaps this is why there is no hint in Scripture that the Lord’s Supper is ever to be celebrated alone. He offered it to all of them. The sacred meal is to be shared, in affirmation that Jesus Christ unites us to all who trust in Him. “Stay here and keep watch” Mark 14:32–42. Again Mark expanded an account found also in other Gospels (see Matt. 26:36–46, Reading 209). Mark too recorded Jesus’ anguished prayer. But Mark seemed to emphasize the drowsy disciples. Yes, it was late at night. They were tired. But Jesus had shared His heart with them, expressing His deep distress. “My soul is overwhelmed,” Jesus said, choosing powerful terms. “Overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” And then Jesus made a simple request: “Stay here and keep watch.” The word for “watch” is gregoreite, an imperative. This was no mere request. It was an urgent command. And yet despite Jesus’ poignant appeal and urgent command, the exhausted disciples fell asleep. When Jesus returned He found them there, apparently lying on the ground (v. 42). Jesus did say, “The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (v. 38). But this was no excuse made for the dozing disciples. It was a warning. Knowing that the flesh was weak, the disciples should never have laid down in the first place! Moved by the urgency of Jesus’ appeal, they should have stood to watch and pray. What a word for us. We too are weak. When we hear Jesus speak so passionately of His desires for us, we, His modern disciples, need to recognize our weakness, and avoid situations in which we are likely to fall. If we lie down, sleep may overcome us. Therefore we must be even more careful to stand. “He broke down and wept” Mark 14:66–72. If you don’t feel sorry for Peter at this point, I suspect you may be the judgmental type. After all, Peter truly did love his Lord. And, of all the disciples, Peter was apparently the only one with the courage to track the mob, and try to find out what was happening to Him. Peter didn’t set out to disown Jesus: not at all. And when Peter finally realized what he’d done in swearing, “I don’t know this Man,” he was heartbroken. As Jesus later showed, folks who are heartbroken over doing wrong are to be comforted, not condemned. But if we don’t learn from Peter’s betrayal, you and I miss the larger point of his experience. It’s better not to disown Jesus, and have nothing to bemoan, than to shed the most heartfelt of tears afterward. A little faith, a little courage, and we will have nothing to regret.
No Justice (Mark 14:43–65)
Our nine-year-old has three words we hear quite often. “It isn’t fair.” Not that she’s right. It’s just her way of saying she doesn’t like something she’s asked to do, or supposed to do. But in a larger sense, she is right. Life in this world isn’t fair. And we shouldn’t expect it to be. Life certainly wasn’t fair in Jesus’ case. One of his closest friends betrayed Him. Together the “chief priests, elders and teachers of the Law” constituted the Sanhedrin, the supreme religious and legal court in Judea. Yet those responsible to administer law plotted to seize Jesus secretly, and dragged Him off to an illegal nighttime trial (vv. 43, 53). The same court, responsible to hear evidence, sought to manufacture it (v. 55), and even recruited false testimony (vv. 56–59). When Jesus affirmed His deity He was immediately condemned, even though the Law then called for a full day to pass in a capital case between a finding of guilt and sentencing (v. 64). No, there was nothing fair at all in the trial or conviction of Jesus Christ. He came, He healed, He taught of God the Father’s love, and after the mockery of a trial His enemies took delight in spitting on Him and striking Him with their fists. It’s something to remember when we feel life is unfair to us. Life in this sin-warped world has never been fair, even to the Son of God. The Apostle Peter, remembering that night and the following day, wrote, “If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:20–21).
If you too suffer for doing good, it will not be fair. But it will be a blessing.
“Suffering is a short pain and a long joy.”—Henry Suso