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
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
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
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
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.