Mark 14: Last Supper to Gethsemane

Application

As we’ve seen so often in the book of Mark, chapter 14 is another instance where there is simply too much going on to adequately cover it all. Starting out on Wednesday of Holy or Passion week, the chapter follows Jesus as He is anointed by a woman, possibly Mary Magdalene, while relaxing that evening in Bethany; celebrates the Passover lamb and last supper; is arrested at Gethsemane; subjected to the first trial before the Sanhedrin; and disowned three times by Peter, the man who had declared he would never leave Jesus.

To be perfectly honest, the sudden turn of events recorded in this chapter is almost overwhelming. And the crazy thing is that I honestly don’t think that most of us come even close to realizing just how dramatic – or traumatic – these events really were.

I mean, if we did grasp all that was going on in the lives and minds of Jesus and His disciples here, I really think that many of our faiths would be remarkably different. After all, how many of us have no problem being Christians when we’re hanging out with other believers and things are going well? And yet, when things go south – or maybe we’re just not around other believers for a minute or two – how many of us fail to stick it out?

Mark 14 records the extremes here. On Wednesday night, as the disciples relaxed with Jesus around the table, they knew that the kingdom of God was at hand. Yes, things had not gone exactly as they expected when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem and just looked around and left. Yes, they had not foreseen Jesus kicking out all the merchants from the temple courts and the confusion that would cause. Yes, they knew that the religious leaders were up to something, and they were keenly aware of the murmurs drifting through the crowds. But they had also seen, with their own eyes, Jesus heal the sick, cast out the demons, feed the multitudes, calm the storm, and raise the dead. In their minds, Jesus was simply waiting. For what, they didn’t know. But every fiber in their beings told them that, regardless of the events of the past three days, Jesus was about to name Himself king of the Jews.

So it was easy to kick back that night and relax. It was easy to worry about trivial matters such as the alabaster of perfume the woman “wasted” to anoint Jesus. It was easy to hang out with and acknowledge their Lord because He had everything under control. All was well.

In fact, even as the murmuring grew in intensity and Jerusalem grew even more tense on Thursday, when the disciples gathered again that evening for the Passover meal, things were still okay. That is, until Jesus revealed that someone would betray him. But even then, it wasn’t that bad because, surely, Jesus was bigger than one person’s betrayal.

And then came Gethsemane.

None of the disciples were prepared for what was to happen in the garden that night. They had all assumed that the murmuring was just murmuring. The plot was just a joke. Nothing bad was really going to happen. Mark tells us that they were so confident in this that they fell asleep while Jesus prayed. Not once, or even twice. Three times. But then the crowd, complete with soldiers and clubs, arrived. And in verse 50, we discover that “then everyone deserted him and fled.” In fact, these men, who just hours earlier had been so vocal in their support of Jesus, fled with such desperation that one of them – tradition identifies him as Mark, the writer of this very gospel – even “fled naked, leaving his garment behind” when they seized him.

For three years, these men had followed Jesus everywhere He went. They had listened to everything He had said, including the warnings about this very night. They had seen Him do miracles that no one – no one – could deny or explain. He was their friend, their teacher, and their God. If anyone should have been ready to stand with Jesus even as he was chained and shackled and hauled away, it should have been them. And yet, in His critical time of need, they all fled.

We all like to think that we’re ready to die for Christ. How many times has a preacher stood up and challenged the congregation to be prepared to lay their lives down for Jesus! And how many times have we each seen the entire sanctuary wave their hands high or even rise to their feet in response to such a call. But that’s exactly it. We were in the sanctuary, which is supposed to be, by definition, a safe place. We, just like the disciples, are quick to think and say that we’ll never fall away as long as we’re reasonably assured that Jesus is in control. But what happens when Jesus hands that control over to the crowd? What happens when there is finally no reconciling the circumstances around us the expectations that we had? What happens when it seems to us that Jesus is no longer in control?

I wish I could say with 100% certainty that I would not fall away. But I think that, if there is a lesson to be learned here in Mark 14, it’s that we should not presume to be absolutely faithful. We should not be so proud as to believe that we will never abandon Jesus. We should not be so naive as to think that we can’t succumb to Satan’s temptations.

Because it’s in those moments, when we do those things, that we are most vulnerable.

So be humble enough to know that, regardless of how spiritually mature (read that sanctified, pre-destined, etc.) you may think you are, you’re still not above temptation. Be realistic enough to recognize that, even though things may be going well right now, there is a time coming when it will seem that Jesus is out of control. Be wary enough to understand that, in that moment, Satan is going to hit you with absolutely everything that he has. And be resolved enough to affirm that, when he does, you will, in the words of the apostle Paul, “be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13 NIV).

Notes

  • (10) It is interesting that Judas is the one who betrays Jesus. In John’s version of this scene, it is Judas who protests. Maybe he’s frustrated that Jesus is always correcting the disciples? Maybe he’s anxious to see the party started. Maybe, as is suggested also by John, he’s simply after more money. (John indicates that Judas stole money from Jesus’ coffers in John 12:6.)
  • (12) If the pharisees’ plan to have Jesus arrested and killed, but not during the feast, is to succeed, it must be executed today, Thursday. Otherwise, there won’t be time to satisfy the Roman requirement for a trial, plus get him executed.
  • (18) The different gospels record this a bit differently. In other versions, we learn that Jesus pretty much pointed the finger at Judas and said it was to be him who was the betrayer.
  • (26) It is interesting to note that, while there is this reference to the disciples singing a “hymn” here, it was certainly not any of the hymns in our hymnals. Even the most classic/traditional hymns in our hymnals are dated centuries than this scene.
  • (29-31) Peter’s bold confidence is striking, but misplaced. We must never allow ourselves to become so confident in our faith that we deem ourselves incapable of falling.
  • (32-42) It is funny that, when the disciples thought they were going to die on the lake, Jesus fell asleep because he was confident they would survive. Now, when Jesus was so distressed, the disciples are the ones who fall asleep. Even after three years of following Jesus, they were not yet fully in tune with Jesus. We must pay attention to Jesus. Be calm when He is calm, and upset when He is upset. Adopt his perspective on things always.
  • (51-52) To be naked in public would have been a terrific shame, but such was the desperation of the disciples who had said only an hour or two earlier that they would never desert or betray Jesus to get away from him now.
  • (72) Such was the weight of Peter’s conviction that, once he realized what he had done, he wept. Imagine, a grown fisherman a la Deadliest Catch breaking down and weeping. This was the severity of the sin Peter had realized.
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