When You Have Difficult Decisions
Explore the Bible Series
February 21, 2010
Background Passage: Mark: 14:1-72
Lesson Passage: Mark 14:32-39, 41-50
In Chapters Fourteen through Sixteen, the gospel of Mark reaches its crescendo in the account of Jesusí death and resurrection.† In a sense, the entire narrative has led the reader to this point, and the meaning of the first thirteen chapters crystallizes as we hear of the passion of Jesus.† Again, I encourage a Christocentric approach to the study of Chapter Fourteen, thus centering attention on the redemptive work of the Savior.† Several other characters play important roles in this drama (Mary of Bethany, Judas Iscariot, the Twelve, Simon Peter, and the Sanhedrin), but the story recounts, primarily, the approaching death of Jesus on the cross.† Indeed, some people made poor decisions, as recorded in this section, but the narrative focuses on the decision of Christ to obey the Fatherís redemptive design to die for the sins of the world.†
Observe, for instance, the actions of the unnamed woman who anointed Jesus with spikenard (The Gospel of John indentifies her as Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus). To the disciples (Judas, in particular, see John 12:4), Maryís action seemed wasteful and extravagant, but Mark makes clear that her behavior mirrored well the circumstances leading to Jesusí death and burial.† Maryís story just seems like an eccentric sidelight unless seen against the backdrop of the Lordís passion.
William Lane, in his useful commentary on the Gospel of Mark, rightly concludes that the author brings together, in this chapter, several of the motifs and themes introduced earlier in the Gospel.† For example, the opposition of the religious authorities is a thread that runs through the entire narrative.† This antagonism began in Mark 2:1f, and it culminates in the conspiracy of the Sanhedrin in Chapters Fourteen and Fifteen.† In fact, the charge of blasphemy resurfaces in this part of the story (See 14:63f). Also, the betrayal by Judas Iscariot, in collusion with the Sanhedrin, was anticipated as early as Mark 3:19.
Those accustomed to modern biographical materials might find curious the inordinate attention to the passion; however, we must recall that the Gospels are not biographies, in the modern sense.† This book, like the other Gospel accounts, served a liturgical, didactic, and missionary purpose that transcended mere biography.†
I. The Anointing at Bethany (vv. 1-9): Mark juxtaposed remarks about the conspiratorial opposition of the scribes with the costly act of worship by the woman of Bethany.† This opening paragraph depicts Jesus as a polarizing figure, hated by many and beloved by others.
A. The renewed opposition of the chief priests and scribes (vv. 1-2): Under normal circumstances these two groups did not get along; yet, when it came to Jesus, they found themselves in perfect agreementóJesus had to die.
B. Maryís act of costly worship (vv. 3-): Jesus had friends in the village of Bethany, and one of these followers hosted Jesus during Passover week.† Perhaps Jesus had healed Simon of his leprosy, and the grateful man opened his home to the Lord and the Twelve.† As he enjoyed a feast with his host, a woman interrupted the meal and anointed Jesus with spikenard, a very precious unguent. The Gospel of John identifies the woman as Mary, sister of Lazarus and Martha, and Matthew recounts that the criticism of her actions arose primarily from Judas.† Jesus, in opposition to the critical disciples, commended the woman and observed that her actions foreshadowed the Lordís death and burial.
II. The Last Supper (vv. 10-21): Again, Mark contrasts the actions of Judas with the wonderful and meaningful observance of the Passover.
A. Judasí plot to betray Jesus (vv. 10-11): We cannot know the motives that persuaded Judas to betray the Lord.† Perhaps he grew disillusioned with the Jesusí refusal to engage and address the political situation with the Romans; or, maybe he saw an opportunity to ingratiate himself to the ruling council.† Whatever the case, he sold the Lord for thirty pieces of silver, a fraction of the cost of Maryís alabaster flask of nard.
B. The observance of the Passover (vv. 12-25)
1. Preparation for the Passover (vv. 12-16): Apparently Jesus had already made arrangements for the sacred meal.† Two of the disciples were sent by Jesus to look for a man carrying a large water jar.† Men, under normal circumstances, did not carry water in pots (this task usually fell to women). The man, Jesus said, would lead the disciples to a suitable venue for the Passover.†
2. The Passover meal (vv. 17-25): Comparison of the Synoptic Gospels with the Gospel of John creates some problems for Bible students.† What meal, in the Jewish liturgy, did Jesus observe with his disciples?† As I understand the practice, the Jews marked the Passover meal on Friday evening (by modern reckoning), but these events, as recorded in Mark, seem to occur on Thursday night. This outline does not afford opportunity for a detailed analysis of the interpretive problems, but †William Lane provides a helpful discussion for those interested in additional study (See The Gospel According to Mark, in The New International Commentary, pp. 500-510). However we resolve these difficulties, the Jewish liturgy was led by the head of the household, and it followed a carefully prescribed pattern.† It involved a commemorative meal, Scripture recitation (from Psalms 113-118), and a series of cups of wine (four, as I recall). During the meal, celebrants dipped unleavened bread into a bowl of specially prepared bitter herbs, and Jesus used this observance as an opportunity to predict the betrayal of Judas.† As the apostles reached the third cup of wine, Jesus infused the commemoration with a new and deeper meaning, and the supper became, for Christians, a permanent ordinance. As I see it, the early church centered Lordís Day worship on the Lordís Table.† This practice helped guarantee the centrality of the cross to early Christian worship, and modern believers marginalize the gospel message when they neglect communion (See, for instance, the account of early worship as reflected in the writings of Justin Martyr).
III. Events in Gethsemane (vv. 26-52)
A. Prediction of Peterís denial (vv. 26-31): After the meal, Jesus and the disciples walked to the Garden of Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives. Here, Jesus anticipated the scattering of the disciples and his resurrection from the dead. Peter, impetuous as always, protested that he would not fall away; so, Jesus predicted that Simon would deny the Lord three times before morning.
B. Jesusí prayer in Gethsemane (vv. 32-42): The hour had grown late, and Jesus withdrew for a time of prayer.† His humanity longed for fellowship with his friends, in this critical moment, but the disciples failed to grasp the gravity of the situation.† As Jesus faced the cross, he found himself essentially alone except for the consolation of the Father.† We do not know how the Gospel writers knew of the content of Jesusí prayer, since they slumbered; however, the Bible records the solitary struggle of the Savior as he stood at the threshold of his passion.† After a season of prayer, Jesus faced Judasí betrayal resolutely.
C. The arrest of Jesus (vv. 43-52): Judas had arranged to identify Jesus to a violent posse led by the chief priests, and, after the Lordís arrest the disciples fled in a panic.† Some commentators believe the young man (vv. 51-52) was Mark, the author of this Gospel
IV. Jesusí in the Court of Caiaphas (vv. 53-72)
A. Trial in the court of Caiaphas (vv. 53-65): The Sanhedrin served as the Jewish ruling council and was made up of seventy-one members. The high priest presided over this ruling body. The Romans granted the Sanhedrin considerable autonomy, but the council did not have the authority to execute transgressors.† False witnesses brought spurious testimony against Jesus, and the judicial ruling of the council seemed a foregone conclusion.† Finally, Caiaphas asked Jesus about the Lordís messianic identity, and Jesus answered clearly and unmistakably.† Again, the religious leaders accused Jesus of blasphemy, and the guards proceeded to violently mock the Lord.
B. The denial of Simon Peter (vv. 66-72): Just as Jesus had anticipated, Peter denied the Lord three times. According to Mark, Peterís interrogation began with the accusations of a slave girl.† Peter, profoundly agitated by the accusations of the girl, resorted to profanity as he denied his connection with Jesus.