Mary’s Devotion (Mark 14:1-9)
Events now moved on rapidly to the consummation, when our blessed Lord was to die on the cross as the great sin-offering. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is seen as the trespass offering, restoring that which He took not away (Psalm 69:4). In Mark’s account we see Jesus giving up His life to meet all God’s claims against sin. Sin here is viewed not only as actual trespass, but also as that which is innate in the heart of fallen man who displays his hostility to God in acts of rebellion. The steps leading directly to the cross are all intensely solemn and deeply instructive.
We note the ever-increasing enmity of the chief priests and scribes in Mark 14:1-2. These wily hypocrites were too crafty to risk arresting Jesus openly on the feast day. There would be too many of the common people in Jerusalem at that time. So they plotted secretly, waiting for a propitious hour in which to carry out their nefarious plans.
Meantime a little group of those who loved Jesus sought to honor Him in a special way. The home at Bethany, where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived was for our blessed Lord one of the brightest spots on earth. It was one place where He was always welcome and where His mission was understood to a large extent. Mary perhaps comprehended His thoughts better than the others, for she learned at His feet what may have been hidden from her busier sister and even from Lazarus himself. To these three the Lord Jesus could allow His affection to go out in a way He could not always allow it to go out to others. We read that Jesus “loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus” (John 11:5), and it is very evident that they appreciated and reciprocated that affection. When Lazarus was ill, the sisters thought it was quite sufficient to send a messenger to Jesus to say to Him, “He whom thou lovest is sick” (John 11:3).
It is interesting to note how the Holy Spirit speaks of Bethany as “the town of Mary and.. .Martha” (John 11:1). Doubtless many important people lived in that suburban city so near to Jerusalem, and one might have identified Bethany more naturally with them than with this quiet unassuming family. But to God it was their town, because they loved and believed in His Son. Is not this the way the Lord looks on our cities and villages today? He values them not as the places of residence of those who are great in the eyes of the world, but rather as the dwelling places of some of His saints—the “quiet in the land” (Psalm 35:20); the poor of this world, rich in faith (James 2:5); those unknown to men, yet well known to God (2 Corinthians 6:9).
We know nothing about Simon the leper, but the presumption is that he had been a leper and had been cleansed by Jesus. Some have supposed he was the husband of Martha; others that he was father of the three who were such intimate friends of Jesus.
I know that some take it for granted that there are two different women involved in the varying accounts of the anointing of the Lord in Bethany (see Matthew 26:6-13 and John 12:2-8). But this idea seems utterly preposterous in view of the fact that practically the same conversation is given in each account. In each instance the disciples object to the waste of the ointment, on the ground that it might have been sold for three hundred pence and the money given to the poor. In each case the Lord defends the woman for what seemed to them like waste and expresses His personal appreciation of her action. To me His words prove conclusively that it was Mary of Bethany—the sister of Martha and Lazarus—who anointed the Lord, and only she. She considered nothing too precious for Jesus upon whose head and feet also (as John tells) she poured the spikenard as He reclined at the table. Her anointing of Jesus was a beautiful tribute to the One whom she recognized as the promised Messiah.
“Why was this waste of the ointment made?” asked some. Judas, we know from John’s account, was the prime spirit in this murmur of discontent. It indicated how little he and the rest understood of the events soon to take place, though Jesus had foretold them again and again. Mary anointed His body beforehand for its burial (Mark 14:8).
“It might have been sold for… three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor.” The Roman penny (denarius) was a silver coin of a little less value than our twenty-five cent piece, but the penny had far greater purchasing power and was the ordinary daily wage of a laboring man in those times. According to the computation of Judas, the ointment represented a full year’s wages if the sabbath and special feast days were omitted. This amount seemed too much to lavish on Jesus, but true love knows no limit on what it delights to give and do for the beloved. The suggestion that the money might rather have been used in almsgiving did not mean that Judas cared for the poor. We are told he objected “because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare away what was put therein” (John 12:6, literal rendering).
Jesus always appreciated every evidence of sincere affection and He placed a high value on Mary’ s act of devotion. Nothing is wasted that is lavished on Jesus our Lord. He deserves the best we have. He gave all for us. Mary’ s act of worship was an apt illustration of what we read in Song of Solomon 1:12. She recognized in Jesus Israel’s true King.
“Ye have the poor with you always… me ye have not always.” It is ever right and proper to minister to the needy, who can always be found if we desire to help them. Such ministry is commendable at all times. But Jesus was about to leave this world, and Mary seemed to realize this.
“She hath done what she could.” There can be no higher commendation than this. All cannot do great things for Christ, but each one should do what he can as unto the Lord Himself. Mary had no thought that day that her kindly expression of love for the rejected King was to make her name known throughout the entire world. Her story is told in three of the Gospels and has been carried throughout every land where Christ is preached.
These three friends of Jesus illustrate three qualities that should characterize all believers in Him. In Martha we see service, which is at its best when free from worry and anxiety and done as unto the Lord Himself. In Mary we see discipleship and worship. She delighted to take the place of a learner at the feet of Jesus and to pour out her choicest treasure upon Him. Lazarus, who dined with Him (John 12:2), speaks of communion or fellowship. Blessed it is when all these characteristics are seen in any one individual!
The Last Passover (Mark 14:10-21)
Judas Iscariot was apparently the only one of the twelve who was not a Galilean. Iscariot (Ish-Kerioth) means a “man of Kerioth,” a city of Judah. As treasurer of the apostolic company (John 12:6) he was trusted by the rest, but all the time he was unrenewed in heart and life (John 6:70). Professing to be a son of God (Acts 1:17) he was really “the son of perdition” (John 17:12), destined because of his own sins to a lost eternity in endless woe. This was “his own place” (Acts 1:25). Though so highly privileged, it would have been better for him had he never been born (Matthew 26:24).
The Pharisees promised to pay him for the betrayal of Jesus. Covetousness, the love of money, is a root from which every form of evil may spring (1 Timothy 6:10). Covetousness led Judas to betray his Master to those who sought His death.
Simeon said of the Lord Jesus Christ, when he took the holy baby in his arms at the presentation in the temple, that through Him the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed (Luke 2:35). Jesus Christ is the touchstone of all hearts. Everything depends on our attitude toward Him. Judas, who accompanied Him for some three years, basely betrayed Him. Peter, true in heart yet filled with the spirit of cowardice, denied any connection with Him. Pilate, convinced of His innocence, weakly gave in to those who clamored for His death and sentenced Him to the cross. These three representative men set forth the various ways in which people still act toward the Christ of God.
When the day came that the Passover lamb was to be sacrificed, the disciples inquired as to where they should keep the feast with their Master. As visitors in Jerusalem they had no home of their own in which to observe this sacred rite. But it was customary for many households to provide a guest room that strangers in Jerusalem might use freely in order to carry out the directions given in the law regarding the Passover.
Jesus had foreseen the need for a room. He sent two of His disciples into the city with specific instructions to look for a man carrying a pitcher of water. It was the women who ordinarily carried the water in earthenware pitchers or ewers on their heads or shoulders, so a man carrying water would be easily identified. When the man met the disciples, they were to follow him into whatever house he entered and were to say to the host of that home, “The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?” The host would immediately show them a large furnished upper room in which they were to arrange the paschal meal. Following the instructions given, the two disciples went into the city and found everything exactly as Jesus had said and they prepared the Passover feast.
In the evening, which was the beginning of the fourteenth of Nisan (the same day on which Jesus was to die as the antitypical paschal lamb), He came with His twelve disciples, including the traitor Judas. They sat or reclined at the table on which were placed the various dishes that were appointed in the law, and the cups of wine that had become customary.
As they observed the feast in solemn silence Jesus spoke saying, “Verily I say unto you, One of you which eateth with me shall betray me.” Startled by what seemed incredible, the eleven questioned Him with honest hearts asking, “Is it I?” Judas hypocritically made the same inquiry. Jesus replied, “It is one of the twelve, that dippeth with me in the dish.” Then He added “The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born.” One might think that statement would have touched the hardest heart.
What were the feelings of Judas as he heard these words? We are not told and it is useless to speculate. But a little later when Jesus turned to Judas and said, “That thou doest, do quickly,” he arose and went out immediately into the night (John 13:27).
The Lord’s Supper (Mark 14:22-31)
The Passover feast, the annual memorial of Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage, was about to close when Jesus inaugurated another feast. It became the memorial of His death and the redemption accomplished thereby. (Apparently the Lord’s supper was instituted after the exit of Judas.)
Jesus took one of the flat unleavened Passover loaves and after giving thanks broke it and gave it to the disciples. He said, “Take, eat: this is my body.” Certainly no one there dreamed for one moment that Jesus meant that the bread was transubstantiated into His actual flesh. While they could not know all that was involved in that simple act, they at least knew that He meant the bread symbolized His body.
Later Jesus took the cup which held the fruit of the vine, the blood of the grape. After giving thanks for this also, He passed the cup to the eleven and they all drank of it. He explained, “This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.” And He added, “Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” They could not understand the meaning of His words at the time, but later all would be made plain.
The Greek word rendered “testament” in the King James version is also translated “covenant.” The disciples knew God had promised to make a new covenant with Israel and Judah—a covenant of pure grace. The first covenant at Sinai was confirmed by the sprinkling of blood. The cup of which the disciples partook spoke of the blood whereby the new covenant was to be sealed.
“When they had sung an hymn.” This was, in all probability, what was known then as “the little hallel,” consisting of Psalms 113-118. Think of Jesus, with the cross so near and to Him so visible, leading the praises of the little company! When the memorial feast had ended, they left the upper room and wended their way to Gethsemane.
As they moved slowly along the way from the house in which they had eaten the Passover, out through the gate of the city, and across the viaduct to the mount of Olives, Jesus warned the disciples of their coming defection. He, the Shepherd, was to be smitten, as Zechariah had prophesied. They, the sheep of His flock, were all to be scattered (Zechariah 13:7). But He gave again the promise of resurrection, and He reminded them that He would then go before them to meet them in Galilee.
Self-confident and knowing not his own weakness, Peter declared, “Although all shall be offended [or stumbled], yet will not I.” Jesus told him that before the cock would crow twice he would three times deny any knowledge of the One he had owned as Master. In the other Gospels it is reported that He said, “Before the cock crow.” There is no contradiction. Cock-crowing was a definite time—three o’clock in the morning. In Mark 14:30 we learn that Jesus also indicated the crowing twice of a specific cock.
Unimpressed, Peter vociferated, “If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise.” The other ten made the same affirmation.
The Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-52)
At last Jesus and the disciples reached Gethsemane, the garden where He had often gone to pray and commune with His Father. He left eight of the disciples near the entrance and asked them to sit there while He went on to pray. He took Peter, James, and John with Him into the garden, and they saw a great change come over Him. His usual calm gave place to agitation of spirit. They realized He was entering some great crisis, but they could not understand even when He declared, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death.” Jesus asked the three to wait there and watch while He went farther into the depths of the olive grove.
In anticipation of drinking the cup of wrath that our sins had filled, Jesus prayed in agony that, if it were possible, the hour and the cup might pass from Him. His holy soul shrank from the awfulness of being made sin. It was not death but the divine anger against sin— the imputation of all our iniquities to Him—that filled His soul with horror. There was no conflict of wills. He was in all things submissive as He prayed, “Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.”
In this supreme test of His subjection to the Father’s will, Jesus proved Himself to be the obedient Son who always did those things that pleased His Father. But He could not have been the holy Man He was if He could have contemplated the cross and the bitter cup of judgment against sin with equanimity. The holier one is the more he suffers from imputation of sin.
Returning to the three disciples He found them sleeping. Addressing Peter who had made such protestations of loyalty, He gently reproved him: “Couldest not thou watch one hour?” Then He implored them all to watch and pray lest they enter into temptation, for while their spirits were willing, their flesh was weak.
Once more Jesus went on into the darkness and prayed as before. He returned the second time and found the three asleep again. He prayed a third time and came again to them. His agony having passed, He looked sorrowfully on the disciples and said, “Sleep on now, and take your rest.” Then He added, “It is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.” He then bade them rise up, as the betrayer was at hand.
Already a multitude led by Judas were making their way through the garden to the try sting place that he knew so well. He told them that he would identify the One they sought by greeting Him with a kiss. As he came to where Jesus was waiting quietly, Judas stepped up to Him and said, “Master, master”—that is, “Rabbi, Rabbi.” Judas kissed Him repeatedly, as the original implies.
The soldiers laid hands on Jesus and bound Him in order to lead Him away. At the sight of his Master thus betrayed and ill-treated, Peter’s spirit was stirred and he began slashing about with his sword. But all he accomplished was to slice off the ear of Malchus, a servant of the high priest—an act that might have cost Peter his life later. However, we learn in Luke 22:51 that Jesus put forth His hand and healed the wounded man.
Turning to the armed rabble He inquired, “Are ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and with staves [or rods] to take me?” Jesus reminded them that He had taught openly in the temple. Why had they not arrested Him on one of those occasions? But all was permitted by God that the prophetic Scriptures might be fulfilled.
Realizing something of the seriousness of the situation, all the disciples fled panic-stricken, leaving Jesus alone with His captors.
There was one unnamed youth who followed Jesus closely. The youth was dressed only in a linen cloth wound around his body. Some in the company of the captors sought to lay hold on him also, but he too fled, leaving the cloth in their hands and disappearing naked among the trees of the garden. Who was this young man? Was it John Mark himself, the author of this Gospel? Many have thought so because of the fact that he alone mentioned the incident, and did so without identifying the youth. We will never know for certain until we stand at the judgment seat of Christ.
The infamous behavior of Judas in betraying Jesus to the leaders of Israel fills us with indignation. We are angry when we realize that one so favored could behave so abominably, but his behavior was simply the exemplification of what is in all our hearts if unrestrained by divine grace. Jesus endured the betrayal with quiet dignity and with no evidence of anger or ill-will toward the one who was treating Him so wickedly.
Jesus’ Accusers (Mark 14:53-65)
The first terror over, at least two of the disciples—John and Peter—returned and followed the crowd to the house of the high priest where Jesus was to have His first hearing, if such it could be called. Mark did not tell of John, who was related to the house of Caiaphas and who ventured boldly inside the house (John 18:15-16). But Peter followed at a distance until all were either inside the palace proper or in the porch.
The arrest of the Lord Jesus Christ in the night and His being dragged to the court of the high priest before dawn was illegal. But the Jewish leaders, ordinarily so punctilious about obeying the traditions of the elders, forgot all such details in their desire to get rid of Jesus Christ.
“Peter followed him afar off…and he sat with the servants.” Peter’s declension began months before when he dared to rebuke the Lord Jesus (Matthew 16:22). He may have become exalted because of the very gracious commendation of Jesus a little earlier (Matthew 16:17-19). From that time on we see one evidence of failure after another. Now he who had boasted that he would never forsake his Lord followed at a distance and sat in the company of the ungodly. Yet it was love for his Lord that drew him back and led him to follow, though afar off, that he might see the end of the affair that was so contrary to all his hopes and expectations.
In vain the leaders looked for proof of any perfidy on the part of Jesus. Although they had suborned conscienceless false witnesses to accuse Him, their testimony was so contradictory that it could not be used to discredit Him. Finally Caiaphas challenged Jesus as to why He did not reply or seek to clear Himself of these false accusations, but there was no answer.
Nonplused but determined to find some reason to convict the prisoner, the high priest inquired, “Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus replied with perfect calmness, “I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” This answer implied that He was the Son of man spoken of in Daniel 7 who was to receive the kingdom from the Ancient of Days.
Filled with indignation and appearing to be horror-stricken, Caiaphas forgot the law that forbade a high priest to rend his garments, and he tore his robe. He declared that there was no need for any further witnesses, for all had heard the blasphemy uttered by the lips of Jesus. What did such a One deserve? Unanimously they condemned Him to death.
Then ensued a shameful scene that would have disgraced any court, were the prisoner ever so guilty. Some spat on His sacred countenance. Others blindfolded Him, and as they slapped Him insultingly they cried derisively, “Prophesy,” asking that He name those who were so mistreating Him. But no word came from His holy lips.
The betrayal, mock trial, and condemnation to death of our blessed Lord form together the most colossal miscarriage of justice in all history. Yet everything was foreseen by God and all was in accord with the sure word of prophecy. Little though they realized it, those who participated in this infamous crime were playing parts long since predicted. It is not that they were foreordained to act as they did. They were free moral agents in one sense because they acted deliberately according to their own wills. But they were slaves of Satan, the great archenemy of God and man, who led them on to do what God Himself had declared would be done. There is a difference between His foreknowledge and His foreordination—a difference that Peter made clear at Pentecost when he declared, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23). Every adverse actor in that most awful drama of the ages was individually responsible for his behavior toward the holy Savior, even though it was by means of their actions that He was brought to the cross where He offered up Himself as a propitiation for our sins.
Peter’s Denial (Mark 14:66-72)
As Jesus was being disgraced, Peter met his great test and failed as he had been forewarned only a few hours before. “Peter was beneath in the palace.” His rightful place would have been in the company with his Lord, but fear kept him from openly identifying himself with the Savior in this hour of testing.
One of the maidservants accused him of following Jesus. Evidently she had seen him in the company of the Lord Jesus on some other occasion. “He denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest.” This complete disavowal of all knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ came from the lips of one who had made such great protestations of loyalty. Then Peter was recognized by another servant-girl. She immediately pointed him out to others as a follower of Jesus, but a second time the fearful disciple disowned all knowledge of Christ.
Then others led by a relative of Malchus, whose ear Peter had cut off as he slashed about with his sword (John 18:26), accused him. They even called attention to his rough Galilean accent as evidence that he belonged to the band of those who were known to be disciples of Christ. “He began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak.” Terrified, Peter reverted to the language of his unconverted days and declared with oaths that he did not know the Lord Jesus Christ at all. To what depths may the believer fall if he gets out of fellowship with his Lord!
The crowing of a cock (the second time that early morning) brought Peter to his senses and he remembered with grief the words of the Lord Jesus, who had forewarned him of this very failure.
The difference between apostasy and backsliding is illustrated clearly in the records concerning Judas and Simon Peter. Apostasy is a complete rejection of the truth and hence of Him who came to proclaim it and who is Himself the way, the truth, and the life. One may profess faith in Christ and give outward adherence to His teaching without ever being born again. In the hour of severe temptation such a one may apostatize, completely repudiating all he once professed to believe. For the apostate there is no promise of restoration. Backsliding, on the other hand, is a lowering of one’s spiritual experience until in the hour of testing there is no strength to stand and so failure may come in to mar one’s testimony. But the Lord says He is married to the backsliding one and He will bring about restoration eventually (Jeremiah 3:14). Peter was a backslider. Though he fell into grievous sin, he soon realized his wretched plight and returned in deep penitence to the Lord he had denied.