AS WE OPEN this chapter, we come back to historical details, and reach the closing moments of our Lord's life. Verses 1-11 provide us with a very striking introduction to the last scenes. In verses 1 and 2, crafty hatred rises to its climax. In verses 10 and 11, the supreme exhibition of heartless treachery is briefly recorded. The verses between tell a story of devoted love on the part of an insignificant woman-its beauty enhanced by the story standing between the record of such hatred and such treachery.
The hatred of the chief priests and scribes was equalled by their craft, yet they were but tools in the hands of Satan. They said, "Not on the feast," yet it was on the feast: and again, "Lest there be an uproar of the people," yet there was an uproar of the people, only it was in their favour and against the Christ of God. They little knew the power of the devil to whom they had sold themselves.
The woman of Bethany-Mary, as we know from John 12-may not herself have fully understood the import and value of her act. She was moved probably by spiritual instinct, realizing the murderous hatred that was surrounding the One she loved. She brought her very precious ointment and expended it upon Him. Her action was misunderstood by "some"-Matthew tells us that these were disciples, and John adds that Judas the traitor was the originator of the censure-who were thinking about money and the poor, particularly about the former. The Lord vindicated her, and that was enough. He accepted her act and valued it according to His understanding of its significance and not according to her intelligence, even though she was, as we suppose, the most intelligent of the disciples. We may see in this a sweet forecast of the gracious way in which He will review the acts of His saints at the Judgment Seat.
His verdict was, "She hath done what she could," which was very high praise. Moreover He ordained that her act should be her memorial where-ever the Gospel is preached. Her name is known and her act remembered by millions today-nineteen centuries after-with all honour, just as also Judas is known in dishonour, and his name has become a synonym for baseness and treachery.
These opening verses show us then that as the moment of crisis approached everybody came out in their true light. The hatred and the treachery of the opponents became blacker: the love of the true was kindled, though none expressed it as did Mary of Bethany. In verse 12, however, we pass to the preparation for the Last Supper, during the course of which the Lord gave far more impressive witness to the strength of His love for His own. There was some testimony to their love for Him, but it was nothing in the presence of His love for them.
The Lord Jesus had no home of His own, but He knew well how to put His hand on all that was needed for the service of God. The owner of the guest-chamber was doubtless someone who knew and reverenced Him. The disciples knew the sufficiency of their Master. They attempted nothing on their own initiative, but simply looked to Him for direction, and acted on it. Hence the One who had not where to lay His head had no lack of suitable accommodation for the last meeting with His own.
For many centuries the Passover had been celebrated, and those who ate it knew that it commemorated Israel's deliverance from Egypt; few, if any, realized that it looked forward to the death of the Messiah. Now for the last time it was to be eaten before it was fulfilled. What filled the minds of the disciples we know not, but evidently the mind of the Lord was centred on His death, and to it He turned their thoughts in announcing that His betrayer was amongst them, and that a woe rested upon him. Then He instituted His own Supper.
Brevity characterizes Mark's record all through, but nowhere is it more pronounced than in his account of the institution of this. The essentials however are all here: the bread and its meaning, the cup and its significance and application, which causes it to be designated by Paul, "the cup of blessing which we bless." For the Lord Himself the fruit of the vine, and what it symbolized, earthly joy, was all past: no more would He touch it until in the kingdom of God He would taste it in a new way altogether. All earthly hopes and joys on the old basis were closed for Him.
The lesson that we have to learn is in keeping with this fact. God may in His gracious providences permit us to enjoy on earth many things that are happy and pleasant, yet all our proper joys as Christians are not of an earthly order but of a heavenly.
From the upper chamber, where He had instituted His supper, the Lord led forth His disciples to Gethsemane. A hymn or psalm was sung-Psalms 115-118 being the usual portion, it is said. It was for the disciples just the customary thing, no doubt; but what must it have been for the Lord? To sing, as He went forth to fulfil the Passover type by becoming the sacrifice; and Psalm 118, towards the end, speaks of binding "the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar." He went forth to suffering and death, bound by the cords of His love; and the disciples to failure, defeat and scattering.
He warned them of what was before them, referring them to the prophecy of Zechariah, which foretold the smiting of Jehovah's Shepherd and the scattering of the sheep. But the prophet proceeded to say, "and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones," and this answers to verse 28 of our chapter. Those who were His sheep nationally were scattered, but the "little ones," elsewhere called by Zechariah "the poor of the flock," were regathered on a new basis, when once the Shepherd was risen from the dead. Hence He was to meet them not in Jerusalem but in Galilee.
Peter, filled with self-confidence, asserted that he would not stumble though all the others might do so, and this in the face of the most explicit declaration by the Lord, foretelling his fall. The others did not wish to be outdone by Peter and so committed themselves to a similar assertion. What accounted for it was the unholy rivalry that existed amongst them, as to who should be the greatest. Mark makes this manifest with especial clearness, as may be seen if we compare, Mark 9: 33, 34; Mark 10: 35-37, and 41. Peter no doubt felt that now had come the opportunity in which he might demonstrate once and for all that he was head and shoulders above the rest. And the rest were not willing for him thus to forge ahead; they had to keep up with him. Peter's fall seemed to come very suddenly, but all this shows us that the secret roots of it went back a long way into the past.
Peter's bold words were soon to be tested, and first of all in Gethsemane which was reached immediately after. He and his two companions were only asked to watch for an hour. This they could not do; though only to Peter, who had been so particularly boastful, did the Lord address His gentle words of remonstrance, using his old name of Simon. This was appropriate, for he was not true at that moment to his new name, but rather displaying the characteristics of the old nature that was still in him. Their Master was "sore amazed" and "very heavy," and "exceeding sorrowful unto death," and yet they slept, not once merely but thrice.
Against the dark background of their failure, however, the perfection of their Master only shone the more brightly. The reality of His Manhood comes before us very strikingly in verses 33 and 34, and the perfection of it too. Being God, He knew in infinite fulness all that would be involved in dying as the Sin-bearer. Being perfect Man, He possessed every proper human sensibility untarnished-our sensibilities have been blunted by sin, but in Him was no sin. Hence He felt everything in infinite measure, and fervently desired that the hour might pass from Him. And yet again, having taken the Servant's place, He was perfect in His devotion to the will of the Father, and so though desiring that the cup might be taken from Him, He added, "Nevertheless not what I will, but what Thou wilt."
We may summarize it all by saying, that being perfect God He had infinite capacity for knowing and feeling all that the approaching hour of death meant for Him. As perfect Man He entered fully into the sorrow of that hour, and could do no other than pray for that cup to be taken from Him. As perfect Servant He presented Himself to the sacrifice in wholehearted subjection to His Father's will.
Three times did our Lord thus commune with His Father, and then He returned to face the betrayer with his band of sinful men. We may remember that three times was He tempted of Satan in the wilderness at the outset, and it seems certain, though not mentioned here, that the power of Satan was also present in Gethsemane, for when going forth from the upper chamber He had said, "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me" (John 14: 30). This also helps to account for the extraordinary somnolence of the disciples. The power of darkness was too great for them, as it ever is for us, except we are actively supported by Divine power. Let us take note that not only does the power of Satan sometimes rouse believers to wrongful actions, it sometimes just sends them to sleep.
In saying to Peter, "The spirit truly is ready," the Lord evidently acknowledged that there was in His disciples that which He could appreciate and recognize. Yet "the flesh is weak," and Satan just then was terribly active, so that nothing but watchfulness and prayer would have met the situation. Let us take the word home to ourselves. As the end of the age approaches Satan's activities are to become more rather than less, and we need to be awake with every spiritual faculty alert, and also to be filled with the spirit of prayerful dependence upon God.
Verses 42-52, occupy us with His arrest by the rabble sent by the chief priests under the leadership of Judas. They were, of course, not Roman soldiers but servants of the temple and of the ruling classes amongst the Jews. What a story it is! The multitude with their violence, expressed in their swords and staves: Judas with the basest treachery, betraying the Lord with a kiss: Peter springing to sudden and carnal activity: all the disciples forsaking Him and fleeing: an unnamed young man attempting to follow, but ending only in flight with shame added to his panic-violence, treachery, false and mistaken activity, fear and shame. Again we say, What a story! And such are we when brought face to face with the power of darkness, and out of communion with God.
As to Peter, this was step number three on his downward road. First came his entanglement in the ruinous competition for the first place amongst the disciples, which worked out into self-confidence and self-assertion. Second, his lack of watchfulness and prayer, which led to his sleeping when he should have been awake. Third, his carnal anger and violence, followed by abject flight. The fourth step, which brought things to a climax we have at the end of the chapter.
As to the Lord Jesus, all was calmness in perfect submission to the will of God, as expressed in the prophetic Scriptures. His light shone as ever without the smallest flicker.
"Faithful amidst unfaithfulness,
'Mid darkness only light."
Verses 53-65, summarize for us the proceedings before the Jewish religious authorities. All were assembled to sit in judgment upon Him, and so the thing as far as they were concerned was not done in a corner. This shows strikingly what depth of feeling had been aroused. A crowded council, and it was at the dead of night! The fire burned in the courtyard, and we are permitted to see Peter creeping in amongst the foes of his Lord for the sake of a little warmth.
There was no thought of an impartial trial. His judges were unblushingly seeking such witness as would enable them to pronounce on Him the sentence of death. However the power of God was at work behind the scenes, and every attempt to fasten on Him the trumped-up charges came to nothing. Many efforts were made; a sample of them is given us in verse 58, and we recognize a distortion of His utterance which is recorded in John 2: 19. Accusation after accusation broke down by the perjurors falling into confusion and contradicting one another. It seems as though God enveloped their ordinarily acute minds in a fog of confusion.
Driven to desperation, the high priest stood up to examine Him, but to his first question Jesus answered nothing-evidently for the sufficient reason that there was as yet nothing to answer. When challenged as to whether He was the Christ, the Son of God, He at once answered, saying, "I am." Both question and answer lacked nothing in definiteness. There stood the Christ, the Son of God, by His own plain confession; and not only this but He asserted that as Son of Man He would have all power in His hand, and that He would come again in glory from heaven. On this confession He was condemned to death.
The prophet Micah had predicted that "the Judge of Israel" should be made subject to human judgment. This came to pass: yet it is most striking that when the great Judge was brought into human judgment every attempt to convict Him upon human evidence failed: all human witnesses fell into confusion. They condemned Him on the ground of the witness He bore to Himself; and even in doing this they broke the law themselves. It was written: "He that is the high priest among his brethren . . . shall not . . . rend his clothes" (Lev. 21: 10). This the high priest ignored, so agitated was he in the presence of his Victim, so transported with anger and hatred.
The storm of hatred burst upon the Lord as soon as they had discovered a pretext upon which to condemn Him; but in their buffetings and spittings they were but unconsciously fulfilling the Scriptures. The mock trial before the Sanhedrin ended in scenes of disorder, just as confusion had been stamped upon their earlier proceedings-confusion made the more conspicuous by His serene presence in their midst. The only word He uttered as far as Mark's account is concerned, is recorded in verse 62.
Verses 66-72, give us in a parenthesis the climax of Peter's failure: the earlier steps which led to it we have already noticed. He was now warming himself in company with those who served the adversaries of his Lord, and three times he denied Him. Satan was behind the testing, as Luke 22: 31 shows us, and this accounts for the skilful way in which the remarks of the different servants drove him into a comer. The first asserted that he had been "with" Jesus. The second that he was "one of them," evidently meaning one of His disciples. The third reaffirmed this, and claimed that he had proof of it in his dialect, and this one apparently was kinsman to Malchus, whose ear Peter had cut off, as John records.
As Peter saw the net of evidence with its fine meshes dosing in around him, his denials became more violent: first, a pretence that he did not understand; second, a flat denial; third, an avowal that he did not even know the Lord, accompanied with curses and swearing. They were unwilling to accept his protestations of "unfaith," but they must have been convinced by the sad "works" he produced, that Jesus was to him quite unknown. We have to contemplate the warning with which Peter furnishes us, and see to it that we have faith which expresses itself in the appropriate works.
But if Satan was at work in regard to Peter so also was the Lord, according to Luke 22: 32. He had prayed for him, and His action brought back to Peter's fevered mind the very words of warning that He had uttered. The remembrance of them smote his conscience and moved him to tears; and in that work in his heart and conscience lay the beginnings of his recovery. When any saint is permitted so to fail, that his sin becomes public and a scandal, we may be sure that it has roots of a secret sort which go back into the past. We may be sure also that the journey back to full recovery is not taken all in a moment.
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