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( Mark 14 ) THE SHADOW OF THE CROSS
With chapter 14, we enter upon the last solemn scenes of the Lord's life, in which many hearts are revealed. The corruption and violence of the Jewish leaders, the love of a devoted woman, the treachery of the betrayer, and the failure of a true disciple, pass before us. Above all there shines forth the infinite love and perfect grace of Christ as He institutes the Supper, faces the agony of Gethsemane, and submits in silence to the insults of men.
(Vv. 1, 2). The chapter opens with a brief record of the deadly hostility of the leaders of the nation. Already they had compassed the Lord about with words of hatred, and fought against Him without a cause; they had rewarded Him evil for good and hatred for love ( Psa_109:2-5 ). At every step He had manifested perfect grace; on even hand He had wrought only good. He had healed the sick, clothed the naked, fed the hungry, forgiven sins, delivered from the devil and raised the dead. He had warned these men, pleaded with them, and wept over them, but all in vain.
Thou loved'st them, but they would not be loved,
And human hatred fought with love divine
They saw Thee shed the tears of love unmoved,
And mocked the grace that would have made them Thine.
Now, at last, the time has come when they are determined to take Him and put Him to death. To carry out their purpose they have to resort to craft, the sure proof that their motives were evil, and that though they may fear men, they have no fear of God. The people, if they had little sense of their personal need of Christ, could at least appreciate His goodness and the benefits of His miracles. Fearing any uproar, when crowds were gathered at Jerusalem for the passover, these leaders decide that they will not take the Lord on the feast day. God, however, had determined otherwise and, as ever, His will prevails in spite of the craft and plots of men.
(Vv. 3-9). With this brief reference to the leaders we pass to the beautiful scene in the home at Bethany. As the Lord sat at meat, in the house of Simon the leper, a woman, who we know from other accounts was Mary the sister of Martha, brought an alabaster flask of very precious ointment of spikenard and poured the contents on the Lord's head. Mary thus expresses her appreciation of Christ, her affection for Christ, and her spiritual insight. At the moment her intelligence appears to have exceeded that of the other disciples. Won by grace and attracted by love, she had, in other days, sat at His feet to hear His word. As one has said, "The grace and love of Jesus had produced love for Him, and His word had produced spiritual intelligence."
Her love to Christ made her sensible of the increasing hatred of the Jews. Her act was the witness of love's appreciation of Christ at the very moment when the plottings of men expressed their hatred of Christ. Alas! Mary's act of homage brings to light the avarice of some who were present. We know, from the account in the Gospel of John, that Judas was the leader of those who were indignant with Mary. That which was gain to Christ was loss to Judas. Men can appreciate beneficent acts for men, but can see little, if any, value in an act of homage that has only Christ as the object. In like spirit are we not, as Christians, in danger of being rightly active in preaching to sinners and in care of saints, while showing little appreciation for an act of worship that makes everything of Christ? Let us not forget that those who murmur at the devotedness of Mary, in reality put a light upon Christ. If Mary's act is mere waste, then Christ is not worthy of the homage of His people.
If, however, Man's act calls forth the indignation of men, it draws out the appreciation of Christ. The Lord delights to say, "She hath wrought a good work on Me." In Luke 10 , we read that Mary chose "that good part". Here, we learn, that she does "a good work." The good part is to sit at His feet and hear His word, the good work is work which has Christ for its motive. There may be much activity in service, but if Christ is not the motive it will have little value in the day to come. Moreover, the Lord not only commends Man's work on account of its pure motive, but also because she had done "what she could." In service for Christ it is not possible to overlook an opportunity for some comparatively small and obscure act of service, and aim rather at a great public work which, after all, may have the false motive of exalting self. Does not this fine scene encourage us to do what we can, however small the service, with the pure motive of exalting Christ?
Very blessedly, the Lord gives us the true spiritual significance of her act. She had come aforehand to anoint His body to the burying. Others, indeed, will come when it is too late with their sweet spices to express their true, but unintelligent appreciation of Christ. Mary, with greater spiritual intelligence expresses her love before the burial. So great is the value that the Lord sets upon Mary's act that He says, "Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her." Her act of love is to be used for all time as a beautiful example of the true and proper result of the gospel. Not only does the gospel bring to us the knowledge of salvation and the forgiveness of sins, but it wins the heart to Christ, so that He becomes the supreme object of life. We know that the Lord's Supper which has been celebrated throughout the ages is a continual memorial of the perfect Saviour and His infinite love to His people; but the one supper that took place at Bethany has become the lasting memorial of a devoted saint and her love to Christ.
(Vv. 10, 11). The "good work" of Mary is immediately followed by the evil work of Judas. Urged on by the enmity of the devil without, and the covetousness of the flesh within, Judas, without conscience toward God, went to the chief priests to betray the Lord into their hands. They, equally without conscience or fear of God, promised to give him money. To gain the bribe, Judas pursues his evil work of seeking to betray the Lord at a moment convenient to the chief priests.
(Vv. 12-16). Unmoved by the plottings of wicked men, the Lord pursues His course of perfect love for His own, and institutes the supper whereby we may all have the privilege of emulating Mary's act of worship. the incidents that prepare the way for the supper, though in themselves simple, bring into display the glory of the Person of the Lord. Two disciples are sent forward to prepare the feast. The Lord is going to death, but, none the less, He is the King with royal rights that can claim the guest chamber, and to whose sovereign will all must submit. Moreover, He is a divine Person to whom everything is known. The man with the "pitcher of water," "the goodman of the house," the "large upper room furnished," are all before His eyes. The disciples going forth to carry out His instructions find all things come to pass as He said unto them.
(Vv. 17-21). In the evening He cometh with the twelve and they sat down to partake of the Passover - the commemoration of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. The Lord was about to accomplish a far greater deliverance for His people. This eternal redemption necessitates His death which would be brought about through the betrayal of one of the twelve. The Lord, in His perfect love felt deeply that one of those who had lived in His holy presence, heard His words of grace, witnessed His infinite love and patience, should thus act. It was an expression of the anguish of His heart, when He said, "One of you which eateth with Me shall betray Me." The greater and the more perfect the love the greater the anguish in the presence of such a betrayal of love. Never had love in all its perfection been so expressed as in Christ, and never had one lived outwardly so near to Christ as Judas. Yet all in vain, for even if he had any appreciation of the love, he loved money still more. The heartlessness of the betrayal, and its utter wickedness is seen in that the one who was about to betray the Lord could dip with Him in the dish. The Lord would have others to share with Him in His sorrows. It has been said, "He does not proudly hide them," but desires to lay His sorrows as a Man in human hearts; love "counts upon love" (J.N.D.). The sorrows of the forsaking when upon the cross we cannot share, but these are the sorrows caused by men, into which as men we can, in our small measure enter. But the betrayal of Judas was long foretold: all was taking place "as it is written." But woe to the betrayer, for again it has been said, "The accomplishment of God's counsels does not take away the iniquity of those who fulfil them; otherwise how could God judge the world?" (J.N.D.).
(Vv. 22-24). The institution oft the Lord's Supper follows. The words "as they did eat" clearly distinguish between the Passover of which they were partaking and the Lord's Supper. In His supper the bread represents His body; the cup, His blood, shed not for Jews only but for many. It is a supper of remembrance. We are loved with such a love that the Lord values our remembrance of Himself. The blood of Christ in all its infinite value is ever before the eye of God, and He desires that it should ever be remembered by His people.
(V. 25). The Lord has used the cup as the symbol of His blood shed for many. Looking at the wine in its natural sense as the fruit of the vine, it would set forth earthly joy. The death of Christ breaks His links with earth and earthly, until at last the Kingdom of God is established on the earth. Today the believers' links are with a heavenly Christ Who has suffered on earth; they wait for the future Kingdom to share with Christ in the glories and joys of the earthly Kingdom.
(V. 26). After the supper, having sung a hymn, "they went out into the mount of Olives." The two things are so marvellous. We could understand better His singing a hymn, and remaining in the Upper Room, or going forth without singing. But to sing a hymn when going forth to meet His enemies, the betrayal, the denial, the agony of Gethsemane, and the Forsaking of the cross, would prove a calmness of spirit that was surely the outcome of having the Father's will in view and the joy that was set before Him beyond the cross.
(Vv. 27-31). The very circumstances, however, that reveal the perfection of the Lord disclose the weakness of the disciples. They can sing together in the presence of the Lord, and yet, that same night, when out of His presence they will be offended and scattered. Alas! how solemnly they set forth what has happened amongst the Lord's people. It is only in His presence with every heart engaged with Himself that we can sing together, as the prophet can say, "With the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye" ( Isa_52:8 ). It is only when every eye is fixed on Him that we shall see eye to eye. Out of His presence we easily become offended because of Christ, and offended with one another, and offended saints will soon part company and become scattered sheep. Never again will the dispersed of Israel, or the scattered and divided church, sing together until they all meet around the Lord and see Him face to face.
But, blessed be His name, He never fails; therefore the scattering will end and the gathering time will come. So in their day the disciples would find, for after He was risen they would learn that the Lord was unchanged in all the love and grace of His heart. He, the great Shepherd of the sheep, would go before them and once again His sheep would follow Him.
The Lord has given the word of warning, followed by a word of encouragement. Alas! like Peter we, too often, are heedless of His warnings, and miss the blessing of His words of encouragement, because of our self-confidence. Ignorant of our weakness we think that we are safe though others may fail. So Peter says, "Although all shall be offended yet will not I." They would all be offended, but the one who takes the lead in expressing his self-confidence would have the greatest fall. We break down in the very thing about which we boast. Peter boasts that he will never be offended. The Lord says, "This night . . . thou shalt deny Me thrice."
This forecast of his coming failure, only makes Peter more vehement in his protestation of devotedness to the Lord. He says, "If I should die with Thee, I will not deny Thee in anywise." Doubtless Peter was sincere, but we have to learn that sincerity is not enough to keep us true to the Lord. We need to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus if we are to overcome the weakness of the flesh, escape the wiles of the devil and be delivered from the fear of man. All that the devil needs to encompass the fall of an Apostle, when out of touch with Christ, is the simple question of a young girl. Peter's boasting, in which all the disciples join, calls forth no further word from the Lord. Evidently there are occasions when the statements of believers are so manifestly in the flesh that it is useless and needless to attempt any reply. There is a time to be silent and a time to speak.
(Vv. 32-42). It was a deep sorrow to the Lord that the nation were plotting to put Him to death, that one of the twelve was about to betray Him, that another was going to deny Him, and all would be offended because of Him, but in Gethsemane the Lord faces the far deeper sorrow that He was about to endure at the cross when, made sin, He would be forsaken by God. In the presence of this great sorrow, as in all the other trials of His perfect life, He gave Himself to prayer. But, whatever relief prayer may bring, the immediate effect is to make the trial more acutely felt. Prayer brings all the circumstances into the presence of God, there to be realised in all their true character. The ruin of Israel, the treachery of a Judas, the weakness and failure of His own, the power and enmity of Satan, the reality of judgment, the righteous requirements of a holy God, were surely felt and entered into by our Lord in the presence of the Father.
The Lord takes with Him into the Garden, Peter, James and John - those who in due time will have a special place as pillars in the church. Already they had been the chosen witnesses of His glories on the Mount; now they are given the opportunity to share His sorrows in the Garden. The actual forsaking on the cross, none could share, but in the exercise of soul in anticipation of the cross others can, in their measure, have part. For Him, death was, as our holy substitute the bearing of the penalty of sin, therefore He can say, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death." Having borne the penalty of death, He has for the believer robbed death of its terrors. Stephen can rejoice in the prospect of death, and Paul can say it is far better to depart and be with Christ. It was part of His perfection to deprecate the cross, and therefore He can say to the Father, "All things are possible to Thee; take away this cup from Me." But it was equally part of His perfection to submit to the cross and carry out the Father's will; therefore He can add, "Nevertheless not what I will, but what Thou wilt."
The sorrows of the Garden were too deep, as before the glories of the Mount were too great for poor weak human nature. On both occasions the disciples find relief in sleep. Peter who had gone beyond others in boasting of his devotedness to the Lord, is specially addressed by the Lord when He comes to these sleeping saints and asks, "Simon sleepest thou? Couldest not thou watch one hour?" Prayer, which expresses our dependence upon God, will alone prepare us for coming temptation. The self-confidence of nature leaves us, too often, with little dread of temptation and therefore with little sense of our need of prayer. Yet, with tender compassion the Lord owns the reality of their love for Himself while recognising their weakness; "The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak."
Again, He went away and prayed, only to find when He returned to His disciples that they were still asleep. The Lord's warnings had been unheeded, for their eyes were heavy with sleep. The third time the Lord returns to the disciples, He has to say, "Sleep on now and take your rest." They had missed the opportunity of watching with the Lord and proved their own weakness, and the Lord has to say, "It is enough." The time for watching and praying had passed; the time of trial had come; the betrayer was at hand, and the One who had watched and prayed, can now say in confidence and dependence upon God, "Rise up, let us go."
(Vv. 43-45). In the solemn betrayal scene that follows, we see the evil of our own hearts when left to ourselves and hardened by Satan. Apart from the grace of God how easily we can indulge the flesh, and, giving way to our lusts, come under the power of Satan, leading even to the betrayal of Christ. Thus, with Judas, he can say to the enemies of the Lord, "Take Him and lead Him away safely." It would seem that Judas was mocking them when he said, "Lead Him away safely." Apparently he had counted upon the Lord passing through the midst of His enemies, as on former occasions, and thus the Lord would deliver Himself from His enemies, while Judas would secure the money that he coveted. Knowing nothing of the counsels of God or the perfection of the obedience of the Lord, he was lot prepared for the submission of the Lord to His enemies in order to carry out the will of the Father according to the words just uttered in the Garden, "Not what I will but what Thou wilt."
Thus, absorbed with the gratification of his own lust, and blind to the glory of Christ, Judas dares, not only to betray the Lord, but to do so with a kiss. A little later the enemies of the Lord will spit in His face; but with equal grace the Lord submits to the awful hypocrisy of the betrayer hat kisses Him, as to the insulting contempt of enemies that spit upon Him. Wonderful Saviour that endured the contradiction of sinners!
(Vv. 46, 47). But if Judas, the betrayer, was not prepared for the submission of the Lord to His enemies, neither was Peter, a true disciple. His name is not mentioned but we know that it was Peter who drew his sword and smote a servant of the high priest. Moved by lust, Judas betrays the Lord; moved by love, Peter defends the Lord. Nevertheless, in spite of his sincerity, actually Peter was opposing the path of the perfect Servant of Jehovah. No mention is made of the healing of the wound in this gospel, as the leading thought is not so much to present the power of the Lord, but rather His submission as the perfect Servant.
(Vv. 48, 49). The covetousness of Judas has been exposed, and also the fleshly energy of Peter, who was ready enough to fight, if not to pray. Now the cowardice and meanness of these Jewish leaders is exposed. They could have taken the Lord daily in the temple in an open way, for the Lord had taught openly and publicly, but their cowardly fear of the people, and lack of all principle, led them to act as if they were dealing with a thief. They understood a thief, and how to deal with a thief, but the infinite perfections of Christ were beyond their comprehension.
(Vv. 50-52). Further we see the weakness of the disciples. "They all forsook Him, and fled." One, however, ventures still to follow, only in the end to retreat with greater shame.
(Vv. 53-65). In submission to the Father's will, the Lord allows Himself to be led away to appear before the Jewish council. Peter with true love to the Lord, "followed Him;" but, acting in self-confidence, he does so without the mind of the Lord, and so follows "afar off." Thus, as too often with ourselves, following without divine guidance, he enters into temptation without divine support, only to learn the utter weakness of the flesh.
In the scene that follows we see, in the chief priests and their council, to what depths of wickedness religious flesh can sink. Already they had determined to put Christ to death; therefore, the trial that follows was not to enquire if He had done anything worthy of death, but rather a horrible device to cover murder with a show of justice. With malice in their hearts, they seek not the truth, but for witnesses "against Jesus to put Him to death." Failing to discover such, they fall back on false witnesses only to find that they will not serve their purpose, for these false witnesses condemned themselves by contradicting one another.
Finally the high priest has to appeal to Christ, Himself. In the presence of all this enmity and malice the Lord "held His peace, and answered nothing." Peter, who was a witness of these solemn scenes, can in later years tell us that "when He was reviled" He "reviled not again." "As a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth" ( Isa_53:7 ). To the accusations of malice He had nothing to say; but when challenged as to the glory of His Person, He witnesses to the truth, without hesitation, cost what it may - the perfect example for all His servants. Having failed to carry out their wicked purpose by malicious lies, they now seek to condemn the Lord for witnessing to the truth. All the devil succeeded in doing was to bring to light the truth as to the glory of the Person of Christ and expose the utter wickedness of religious flesh, which if allowed for the moment to accomplish its wicked ends, is only an instrument to carry out God's "counsel determined before to be done."
The Lord Jesus was indeed the Christ, the Son of the Blessed, but He was also the Son of Man who hereafter will be seen sitting on the right hand of power, and returning to earth in glory. Rejected as the Son of God, according to Psalm 2 , He takes the place of Son of Man according to Psalm 8 .
In the eyes of these leaders, blinded by unbelief, the truth appears as blasphemy, and without a dissenting voice "they all condemned Him to be guilty of death." In perfect submission to the Father's will, the One who will soon be exalted to the right hand of power, and come again in glory, offers no resistance to the outrages of those who spit in His face and smite Him with their hands.
(Vv. 66-72). Alas! the Lord has not only to meet the insults of wicked men, but also the denial of Himself by a disciple. The self-confidence of Peter had made him heedless of the Lord's warnings, and neglectful of the Lord's exhortations to watch and pray. The flesh has led him into temptation in which it cannot support him. While the Lord was silent in grace in the presence of the malice of His enemies, Peter was silent in fear as he warmed himself at the world's fire in the company of the Lord's enemies. When the Lord speaks to confess the truth, Peter speaks to deny it. In his self-confidence, Peter had said, "If I should die with Thee, I will not deny Thee." When put to the test by the simple question of a maid, without any suggestion of harm coming to him, still less of death, he scents danger and denies the Lord. But conscience will not allow him to remain in the company of those to whom he has lied. He goes into the porch, and immediately, according to the Lord's warning words, he hears the cock crow. But again the maid sees Peter, and remarks to those that stood by, "This is one of them." For the second time Peter denies the Lord. A little later, others said to Peter, "Surely thou art one of them." Peter not only denies the Lord for the third time, but does so with curses and oaths. How little Peter knew, what we too are so slow to recognise, that "the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked." Deceived by his own self-confidence he failed to realise that such was the desperate wickedness of his heart that cursing and swearing and denial of his beloved Master were there ready to break forth if the occasion arose.
How solemn is Peter's course in these solemn scenes, recorded, not that we should dwell upon his failure to belittle a devoted servant of the Lord, but rather that we may learn the evil of our own hearts and take heed to ourselves. When the Lord warns Peter of his coming denial, Peter, in self-confidence, contradicts the Lord and boasts in his devotedness. When, a little later, the Lord is watching and praying, Peter is sleeping. When, in the presence of His enemies the Lord is dumb, like a lamb before her shearers, Peter is actually smiting with a sword. When the Lord is witnessing the good confession before the high priest, Peter is denying the Lord before a simple maid.
Peter has broken down; but the Lord remains, and the Lord is the Same. The sufferings He endured through being rejected by the nation, betrayed by a false disciple, denied by a true disciple, and forsaken by all could not turn the Lord from His own or wither up the love of His heart. As Peter hears the cock crow for the second time, he calls to mind the word that Jesus had said, "Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny Me thrice." These words broke poor Peter's heart and led to tears of repentance. "When he thought thereon he wept." It has been well said, "While watchfulness and prayer are ever needed, he only will be blameless, and shameless, and without offence, who walks in the solemn conviction that he has to fear the outbreak of the foulest sins, unless his soul be occupied with Jesus." We do not know the deceitfulness of our own hearts, for the same passage that tells us it is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, goes on to ask, "Who can know it?" Immediately, the prophet gives the answer, "I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins" ( Jer_17:9 ). The One who searches and knows is the One who alone is able to keep us from falling, and restore us when we fall. Thus, the restored Peter is brought to confess on resurrection day when he owns, "Lord, Thou knowest all things." No more will he talk about his own heart, and boast about what he will do and not do, but rather will he leave himself in the hands of the One who knows all things - all the evil of our hearts and all the power of the enemy - and who alone can keep us from falling.
O keep my soul, then Jesus,
Abiding still with Thee,
And if I wander, teach me
Soon back to Thee to flee
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Mark 14". "Smith's Writings". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26