Please return to your seats and open your Bible to the Gospel According to Mark. We will be in Chapter 14 today.
As we hear Ricky read the scripture passage this morning…
Mark 14:41–65 (ESV)
Do you like movies where the plot line leads toward an unstoppable collision or tragedy? I watched one recently, aptly named, Unstoppable. In it, a huge freight train (that’s 1/2 mile long), through some very simple and avoidable human errors, ends up unmanned and racing down a curvy track toward a major city. Of course it is filled with thousands of gallons of diesel fuel and eight freight cars full of toxic chemicals, and if it isn’t stopped in some way, will cause the suffering and death of thousands of people.
Over and over again, the efforts to stop this locomotive from certain disaster fail, making the coming tragedy more and more sure.
It’s too heavy. It has too much momentum. The collision is unavoidable.
Jesus has been warning his disciples that tragic collision is coming. The disciples just can’t believe it. They feel the momentum of the train as they approach Jerusalem. It’s picking up steam. It feels like Jesus will finally overthrow the Roman occupiers as well as the stodgy religious leaders who won’t get on board.
In our text today, though, something goes terribly wrong. What they thought would be a collision that would run over their enemies now appears to be a collision course that will destroy everything they’ve been working toward for the last three years (or the last four centuries).
Surely something will be able to stop the current disastrous trajectory! In our text we will see four failures to get the train back on the seemingly right track.
Then we will look at what the tragedy really means.
Mark already introduced us to Judas’ betrayal in v. 10, when Judas accepted money from the chief priests in return for providing an opportunity to arrest Jesus quietly away from the crowds. As we observed a few weeks ago with that passage, this betrayal was the culmination of Satanic instigation, human failure, and fulfilled prophecy. I doubt, though, that this is what comes into the mind of the disciples at this point.
At the first mention of betrayal, however, we aren’t sure exactly when this betrayal will happen. Now we know. The betrayer and the mob are on their way even as Jesus is wrestling in prayer in Gethsemane. As Jesus is sweating drops of blood in the Garden, alone, Judas is leading a mob with swords and clubs from the chief priests to arrest him. Though Mark doesn’t mention it, John’s gospel tells us that Judas had with him a band of soldiers as well.
Though there had been plenty of opposition to Jesus and his disciples before this moment, this feels different. There had been plenty of confrontations with the Scribes and Pharisees and other religious leaders. Jesus had taught them to expect persecution.
Matthew 5:11–12 (ESV) — “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
But now, it seems, perhaps for the first time to them, that something may go terribly wrong with their plan. And all that, because one of their own—one of the Twelve—betrays them into the hands of the Gentile soldiers! Jesus had warned them, just hours ago, that the betrayal was coming, but they all swore never to deny him. “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.”
Suddenly, the train feels like it has shifted to a different track—one that will lead to tragedy for their leader and ultimately to them as well.
All of this, because twelve select men couldn’t remain loyal to the most noble, true, kind, and righteous man that had ever walked on the face of the earth.
Proverbs 20:6 (ESV) — Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?
The betrayal is sharp enough by itself—do you feel it? But is honed to a dagger point by the sign of the betrayal. A kiss. The kiss of loyal fealty from a disciple to his master; the kiss of homage and respect. No—the kiss of betrayal. One of the themes all the way through Mark’s crucifixion narrative is the mocking that Jesus endured. It begins here, with the mocking kiss of betrayal.
We do not know why this was the sign—the gospel writers do not tell us. We do know, however, that it would have been very dark in the garden. No low-voltage, solar-charged lighting to give visibility in the middle of the night.
Why here? Why now? We know that the chief priests were concerned about the crowds. They knew Jesus was popular at the Feast. They dared not cross them.
Though Judas’ betrayal is the keenest example of a failure of loyalty, unfortunately, it is not the only example. Look at verse 50.
So understated, but so terrible.
Peter (at least we know it’s Peter from another Gospel) makes some attempt at sticking with Jesus by going after the servant of the chief priest with a sword. But, he is ultimately rebuked by Jesus.
Now we get a strange short detail in the story in verses 51-52.
Though we can’t know for certain, I think there is a good chance that this is Mark himself. It’s likely that the Passover meal was at his house. It seems he might have hears what was going on in the garden and dressed hurriedly to go see. The point, sadly, is that he too fled and left Jesus alone.
The loyalty of Jesus’ followers will not save him from the tragedy that is coming.
Next, let’s notice the failure of religion to stop the coming tragedy.
“What do you mean, John, by ‘religion’?” In this case, I simply mean the spiritual rules, organization, and leaders of the Jewish people. I’m not referring to the pure and undefiled religion that the Apostle James speaks of—to care for widows and orphans in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. Nor do I mean the simple pursuit of obedience to God and his Word. I’m speaking of the religious infrastructure that is so easily corrupted by human sinfulness and atrophy.
We would, of course, hope that the religious leaders in Jesus’ day would know the word of God, listen to the Spirit of God, pursue obedience to God, and recognize the Son of God. But, these religious leaders are subject to the same corruption as those in our own day. Many of them had given themselves over to selfish ambition or the pursuit of power and wealth. We must work hard to guard ourselves against these same temptations.
We do know that there were some religious leaders of the day eager to hear the words of Christ and eventually to put their faith in him.
But, the religious infrastructure had often been at odds with Jesus for the duration of his public ministry.
Though we are saddened by the conflict between the religious leaders and Jesus, we are no longer shocked.
But as we consider all of the things that should have helped avert the coming crucifixion of Jesus, it should have been the religious leaders who were shepherding the people of Israel during this trying time of Roman occupation. They should have been living by faith and looking for the true Messiah.
This makes the trial before the chief priests, scribes, and elders that much more tragic. Here is where we would hope to observe wisdom, reason, and justice, but find none.
Mark 14:53–56 (ESV)
Mark puts it right out there for us to see in vs. 55. “The chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus, to put him to death.”
I realize that we are used to seeing the religious leaders at odds with Jesus, but we ought not be okay with this sham.
According to the Mishnah, twenty-three members of the Sanhedrin were necessary to judge capital cases, with reasons for acquittal preceding reasons for conviction. In capital cases, a verdict of guilty required a second sitting the following day. Both sittings had to take place during daytime, and neither on the eve of Sabbath or a festival (m. Sanh. 4:1). Witnesses were to be warned against rumor and hearsay (m. Sanh. 4:5). A charge of blasphemy could not be sustained unless the accused cursed God’s name itself, in which case the punishment prescribed was death by stoning, with the corpse then hung from a tree (m. Sanh. 7:5).
- James R. Edwards, Pillar, 442–443.
In other words, the Jewish religious leaders were breaking many of their own rules in order to expedite the conviction of Jesus.
After all of the false witnesses were getting no where, at last the high priest stood up and confronted Jesus directly.
Mark 14:61–62 (ESV)
To this point, Jesus had maintained silence. But now he will answer. The High Priest asks a great question, and Jesus answers directly, fully, and with confidence. The Messianic Secret from earlier in Mark is no longer a secret, but now declared openly.
Don’t miss one important aspect of the High Priest’s question, and of Jesus’ answer. He is not asking merely if Jesus is Messiah. This would not necessarily rise to the level of blasphemy, since the Jewish leaders expected a man to come as the Messiah.
The real zinger in the question and Jesus’ answer is the second part. “Are you the Son of the Blessed?” The Priest wouldn’t even use the name of God here out of reverence.
Jesus’ answer is unambiguous and a clear claim to be the Son of God.
When Jesus claims to be the Son of God, they simply can’t take it. This is too much. They tear their clothes in protest and swiftly condemn Jesus to death for blasphemy, since he is clearly making a claim to divinity.
Now we have another “all” statement. We read earlier in vs. 50 that “they all left him and fled.” Now we read of the council in vs. 64 that “they all condemned him as deserving death.” We don’t know exactly how many of the Sanhedrin were here at this hearing, but all of them chose to condemn Jesus to death.
So far, we’ve seen that neither the loyalty of Jesus’ disciples nor the collective wisdom of the religious establishment will be able to thwart the coming crucifixion of the Son of God.
Our third failure to consider this morning is a failure of resolve. This is connected to the failure of loyalty in point 1, but deserves its own focus here.
Each one of us is familiar with this failure. I’m sure many of you have given up on even making New Year’s Resolutions. But, at some point you probably tried resolve as a path to personal change. But, our common human experience is that resolve is not enough. It will not keep us off the wrong track or on the right track. It will ultimately fail us.
Mark takes quite a bit of time to illustrate this with Peter’s denials.
We only have to go back a few hours in time to hear Peter say emphatically “if I must die with you, I will not deny you” (vs. 31).
After all of the disciples fled, we get some information about Peter.
Mark 14:54 (ESV)
We don’t really know why Peter is following at a distance. We simply know that after he used his sword and fled, he followed the entourage of the mob, soldiers, and Jesus to the house of the High Priest.
Mark 14:66–68 (ESV)
This is all going on at the same time that Jesus is being accused and tried by the council. So much has changed in the last few hours. It is now likely around 1am in the morning after the Passover Feast with Jesus.
A simple statement from a servant girl prompts first denial of Jesus. As we’ll see each denial escalates in seriousness. After Peter acts like he doesn’t know what she is talking about he moves on to avoid further inquiry.
Mark 14:69–71 (ESV)
Peter moves from acting like he doesn’t know what she’s talking about, to denying being one of Jesus’ disciples outright, to cursing and swearing, saying he doesn’t even know Jesus at all.
Peter’s resolve fails him. It is not enough for the moment. Even after a direct warning from Jesus just hours earlier, along with promises to follow Jesus to the end, his resolve still fails.
Why does Mark spend so much time in the narrative describing Peter’s denials? Perhaps it is because his readers in Rome are also enduring extremely difficult circumstances that tempt them to deny their own association with Christ. It is important for them (and for us) to consider the grievous nature of Peter’s denials, but also to witness his repentance and ultimately Christ’s restoration of him.
Mark 14:72 (ESV)
Loyalty was not enough. Religion was not sufficient. The resolve of Jesus’ followers is not enough to stop the tragedy of what is about to take place.
The train is speeding down the track and is not… slowing… down.
Finally, let’s consider the Failure of human justice. Just like the failure of resolve, we are intimately acquainted with the failure of human justice. We learn this early in life—“that’s NOT FAIR!!” Parent responds…”Life isn’t fair; get used to it!”
As we get older the stakes are higher. Perhaps a teacher or a boss wrongly assumes you were guilty of some offense. Or a police officer or judge or jury lets the guilty go free or wrongly convicts the innocent. the Bible, history, and our own experience tells us that human justice is flawed. We long for better laws, righteous judges, and just outcomes.
The trial of Jesus takes this to a new level. As the readers, we know Jesus is innocent. But even in the narrative, it seems obvious that Jesus is innocent as well.
The religious leaders gather again in the morning at daybreak to deliver Jesus over to Pilate for a political trial. Though they have condemned Jesus to death, at this point in history, the Jews do not have the legal right to practice capital punishment under the Roman rule.
Mark 15:2–5 (ESV)
We don’t have a transcript of the entire trial before Pilate. The other gospel writers give a bit more detail, but Mark tells us the main question he asked. “Are you the King of the Jews.” Among many other accusations, the Jews were making a political accusation before Pilate that Jesus was a threat to Rome.
But, Pilate is not persuaded by the Jews that Jesus is guilty. In fact, Mark tells us that Pilate was amazed at Jesus’ response. By verse 14, Pilate responds to the crowd’s demand, “Why, what evil has he done?”
Pilate himself even claims to have the power to stop the train of injustice in John’s account.
John 19:10–11 (ESV) — So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”
I don’t want to make Pilate out to appear more righteous than he is. Instead of acting on what he believed—Jesus’ innocence and the Jewish Leaders’ jealousy—he looks for a political solution.
At first, he hopes this political solution will end up with the release of Jesus. He knows the Jewish leaders were working against the popularity of Jesus, so he appeals to the crowd for help. He offers to the crowd to release Jesus—perhaps more to spite the chief priests than to work out justice for Jesus. But, to his surprise (and ours) the crowd asks for someone else and cries out that Jesus should be crucified.
With this, Pilate capitulates to the Jews and to the crowd. And justice fails. Not only the authoritative, governmental justice, but even democratic justice, if we can say it that way. It is hard to imagine the crowd being so easily manipulated by the Jewish leaders.
We really don’t want to believe that the same crowd that welcomed Jesus to the city with palm branches and praise the Sunday before could now so easily condemn him to a brutal death.
Perhaps it actually wasn’t the same crowd at all. Perhaps this is still the mob of thugs that the Jewish leaders sent to arrest Jesus in the garden, and word hasn’t really gotten around to Jesus’ followers. It is very early in the morning, after all.
Nevertheless, we know that the majority can be wrong and fail true justice terribly.
It seems that our unstoppable train is heading for its collision after all. Jesus is now on his way to the cross to suffer the most terrible injustice the world has ever witnessed.
But, unlike the 1/2 mile long locomotive in our movie with no engineer on board, this one is being directed by Wisdom and and powered by Mercy.
We have witnessed many failures in our narrative. Yet, at a higher level all is going according to plan, and success beyond our imagination is just around the corner. In the midst of all of this human failure and depravity—failures of loyalty, religion, resolve, and justice, God is doing something unimaginable and amazing to bring about eternal salvation for His people. This is no mere deliverance from Roman rule or from corrupt religious leaders, but something far greater.
Mark has forewarned us what would happen. Jesus told his disciples on at least three occasions what would take place.
Mark 10:33–34 (ESV) — saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”
And Jesus had prayed just hours before that “if it were possible, this hour might pass from him.”
The Providential answer seems to be that there is no other way to accomplish God’s plan to offer mercy to sinners.
Peter (now restored) will preach this a a few short weeks after the crucifixion.
Acts 2:23 (ESV) — this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
This is not meant to diminish the shock and horror we should experience at knowing Jesus unjustly tortured and killed. It is meant to lead us to repentance.
We have seen over and over again in Mark’s gospel that putting our confidence in man will fail. We must not base our confidence or happiness or faith or success in man.
Jesus did not put his trust in man, for he knew what was in man. His confidence was in His Father, who knows all things and works all things according to his purpose and will.
From a human perspective Jesus’ journey to the cross is a tragedy at every turn. It should not have happened. But, God was working something for his own glory and our good beyond measure.
In whatever situations we find ourselves, we must take the cross into account. God is still working for his glory and our good through painful circumstances.
Romans 8:31–32 (ESV) — What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
I didn’t forget about Barabbas in our passage.
Mark 15:6–15 (ESV)
At the height of the deliberations over Jesus, Pilate releases a murderer and delivers Jesus to be crucified.
Remember Barabbas. We are Barabbas.
But, there is one who died in Barabbas’s place. There is one who died in our place. Jesus, the perfect Son of God who gave his righteous life for our sins, so that we might experience the mercy of God.
God’s plan to show mercy to his people is Unstoppable.
The collision was inevitable and costly.
Put your faith in him.
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