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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Mark 14

 

 

Verse 3

MARY OF BETHANY’S OFFERING

‘And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster bor of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the bor, and poured it on His head.’

Mark 14:3

Matthew and Mark say, a little mysteriously, that this feast was given in the house of Simon the leper. John makes no mention of Simon the leper, a name which does not occur elsewhere; and it is clear from his narrative that the family of Bethany were in all respects the central figures at this entertainment. Martha seemed to have had the entire supervision of the feast, and the risen Lazarus was almost as much an object of curiosity as Jesus Himself.

The feast was also remarkable for the wonderful incident recorded in the text. Mary, as she sat there in the presence of her beloved and rescued brother, and her yet more deeply worshipped Lord, could no longer restrain her feelings. She arose and fetched an alabaster cruse of Indian spikenard, and came softly behind Jesus where He sat, and broke the alabaster in her hands, and poured the genuine, precious perfume first over His head, then over His feet, and then she wiped those feet with the long tresses of her hair, while the atmosphere of the whole house was filled with the delicious fragrance.

I. In grateful remembrance.—Was not a grateful remembrance of that deed of love in raising her brother, the sympathy manifested, the soothing effect of His words, the tears that He shed over the grave of His friend, the mighty words of recall, the great moving impulse to this act? And this motive marks a difference between the narrative and the story of the anointing recounted by Luke. While Mary of Bethany brought a grateful, the woman who anointed our Lord in the house of Simon the Pharisee came with a broken, penitent, and contrite heart. How varied are those motives which lead to acts like these, expressive as this was alike of her veneration and her affection for her Lord! Well is it for us if a view of our temporal blessings produces in us some open, public, avowed or secret, silent, but real, expression of our attachment and reverence for the Saviour. For this was more than an avowal of gratitude. Gratitude will honour the giver of a blessing, and gratitude will love the generous bestower of needful gifts.

II. A token of the estimation in which she held our Lord.—She had not sat at the feet of our Lord and drunk in His sayings for nothing, without understanding more and more of the beauty of our Lord’s character. In this respect how forcibly does the contrast strike us between the depth of character in Mary and the superficiality of the disciples! And she is courageous in her expression of her honour of the Lord. Let it only be considered that even the Jews were plotting His ruin; that not long before He had been driven from Jerusalem by the hatred of the Jews. But the stony stare of the indifferent and the more open hatred of the inimical did not stop Mary’s open and avowed confession of Christ.

III. The generosity of her love.—Does true love exist without generous self-sacrifice? No! It is then only a hollow pretence, a meretricious sham, mere veneer covering the commonest material. Love will find expression in acts of self-sacrifice, in gifts, in open expressions of its approval. Is there real love to Christ and Christianity where there is no effort at its benevolent expression; where a goodly income is spent on mere show and parade; where increase of wealth is accompanied by no increase of generosity and gifts to all works of charity, especially those concerned in the support of the Church of God? True love is a ‘living sacrifice.’


Verse 4

A CAPTIOUS QUESTION

‘Why was this waste of the ointment made?’

Mark 14:4

The incident from which our text is taken is distinguished above all others by the fact that Jesus mentions it as one that shall be held in world-wide and undying remembrance (Mark 14:9). What is there said has been realised wherever missions have been established.

But, unfortunately, the obvious moral of the story has not prevented the application to foreign missions of a question, oft repeated and loud sounding, which amounts almost in so many words to the question of Judas, ‘Why was this waste?’

I. Its apparent justification.—(a) In the face of home needs, is it not a waste that millions are spent yearly on missions to the heathen? (b) In face of the great mortality in Africa and elsewhere, is it not a waste to be constantly sending out missionaries to these fever-stricken countries? (c) In face of the great dearth of faithful pastors at home, is it not a waste to send so many capable and trained clergy to places where their services are not appreciated?

II. Its absolute injustice.—(a) The motive of the question is entirely wrong, as shown by Judas himself, who was not concerned on account of the poor, but was a thief (John 12:6). Some opponents of missions are actuated by selfishness, and so ask this question simply out of a spirit of narrowness, not because of their zeal for the glory of God’s kingdom. (b) The very idea itself is wrong, viz. that Mary’s offering was lost, wasted, and thus profitless. The most convincing instance of this is the life, sufferings, and death of Jesus Himself; thirty years in the quiet of Nazareth, only three years of public life, hidden away in a little corner of the earth—what a waste of a beautiful life! But see John 12:24. Through Mary’s example is every similar so-called waste in God’s service justified. (c) The question is especially wrong when asked in connection with missions to the heathen. While the amount spent in this way is compared with other objects of expenditure—war, luxuries, vice—it is a mere trifle, and it must be remembered it brings a fruitful return in increased scientific knowledge, commerce, and colonial extension. The support of foreign missions has a beneficial effect on the Church at home by deepening the feeling of devotion, and the rich blessings of all sorts reflected.

III. Similarly as to the deaths of missionaries in the field.—(a) No one exclaims against a man who accepts a lucrative trade or official appointment to a pestilential climate, or is ordered off on military service to a post of danger. (b) The number of missionary deaths is as nothing compared with the losses in even a minor war. (c) The deaths of missionaries stimulate the devotion of the Church; e.g. How many men and women have been led to give themselves to God’s work at home as well as abroad by such deaths as those of Livingstone, Patteson, and Hannington?


Verse 6

AN OPPORTUNE WORK

‘She hath wrought a good work on Me.’

Mark 14:6

It would be easy enough to make out a ‘good case’ against Mary for this impulsive act of hers. Censoriousness, not to speak of malignity, would readily discover a troop of reasons why it should have been left undone. But our Lord threw over it and over her the shield of His kind and strong defence. He called it a ‘good work.’ Mary’s act was one of gratitude and of homage; more than that, it was opportune.

I. An opportune work.—The occasions for serving Jesus Christ were now narrowing fast; a few days and He would be in the grave, and all opportunity would be over; it might be said to be ‘now or never.’

II. Christ’s need of sympathy.—The hour of His severest trial was at hand, and any human sympathy shown Him now was becoming peculiarly precious. This was the thought at the heart of our Lord’s plea on her behalf (Mark 14:12). Who shall say how valuable to Him in those last days of spiritual struggle and of mysterious sorrow were the kindnesses He received at human hands? (See Mark 14:38.) Ministry shown to the Master then, love outpoured upon Him then, may have been to His tender and responsive spirit of inestimable value.

Any good work we do becomes good indeed, reaches a high mark of value and of virtue when it is specially opportune; rendered as opportunity is expiring, or when the Church or the disciple is in emergency or distress.


Verse 8

THE GIFT AND ITS MOTIVE

‘She is come aforehand to anoint My body to the burying.’

Mark 14:8

It is difficult to suppose that Mary had any very distinct intention when she poured out her costly ointment upon Christ. She could hardly have had a special focus; and yet this is exactly what Christ gave it. He determined an end and fixed a motive. And in thus localising and concentrating the motive, it is evident that Christ immensely elevated the whole gift and deed.

I. How does He do now?—Exactly the same. You do some large act of kindness—as exceeding large for you as that woman’s was for her—to some one. Christ does not look on the largeness, though He loves it—at least, He does not gauge the gift by that, but by the motive which prompted it, which He loves much more. You did it with a vague wish and intention to be kind, and to do something pleasing to God; but He makes it much more; He allocates it, He gives it a point and a purpose, He causes it to work a thing you never thought of. You were good to His servant who was weary. He, remembering Sychar, sweetly applies it to His own weariness, and is Himself refreshed. You minister to a fellow-creature’s infirmities—He receives the ministrations as done to Himself.

II. Christ using the gift.—And you, you who do your large-hearted acts—and forget them almost before they are done—you little conceive what Christ may be working with that act, or what may be the part it takes in the sublimest histories, or how Christ, in His wonderful appropriation of them, mingles them with His sufferings and blends them into His glory.

—Rev. James Vaughan.


Verse 10-11

BETRAYED FOR MONEY

‘And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray Him unto them. And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money.’

Mark 14:10-11

It is impossible to conceive a more striking proof of the lengths a man may go in a false profession of religion than the history of Judas Iscariot. If ever there was a man who at one time looked like a true disciple of Christ, and bade fair to reach heaven, that man was Judas. He was so like his fellow disciples that they did not suspect him of being a traitor. And yet this very man turns out at last a false-hearted child of the devil—departs entirely from the faith—assists our Lord’s deadliest enemies, and leaves the world with a worse reputation than any one since the days of Cain.

I. How can this conduct of Judas be accounted for?—There is only one answer to that question. ‘The love of money’ was the cause of this unhappy man’s ruin. That same grovelling covetousness which enslaved the heart of Balaam, and brought on Gehazi a leprosy, was the destruction of Iscariot’s soul.

II. The need of humility.—Learn from this melancholy history to be ‘clothed with humility,’ and to be content with nothing short of the grace of the Holy Ghost in our hearts. Knowledge, gifts, profession, privileges, church-membership, power of preaching, praying, and talking about religion are all useless things if our hearts are not right.

III. Above all, ‘beware of covetousness’ (Luke 12:15).—It is a sin that eats like a canker, and once admitted into our hearts may lead us finally into every wickedness. Let us pray to be ‘content with such things as we have’ (Hebrews 13:6). The Christian ought to be far more afraid of being rich than of being poor.


Verse 19

‘IS IT I?’

‘And they began to be sorrowful, and to say unto Him one by one, Is it I? and another said, Is it I?’

Mark 14:19

In this question of each of the disciples we see—

I. Self-recognition of the possibility of sin.

(a) This self-recognition is better than self-confidence. Had St. Peter been uniformly possessed with this spirit; had he humbly recognised the possibility of denial rather than boldly say out, ‘Though all men should deny Thee, yet will not I,’ would not this very fear have been a preservative?

(b) This self-recognition may be roused in various ways. Here it was by our Lord’s express challenge. ‘One of you shall betray Me.’ Such a challenge, thrown out under any circumstances without a hint of the quarter whence the traitor should arise, would naturally produce self-questioning. Sometimes it may be on reading, hearing, or seeing another’s sin. In the humble mind the inquiry may be well started, ‘Am I not capable of this very fault I am compelled to witness and condemn in others?’ Will not this tinge all our judgments on others with mercy? Perhaps the question may arise when we are ourselves overtaken in a fault. Is this I? Then we feel that deep down in our nature there is the possibility of even worse.

II. The recognition of Christ’s knowledge of the human heart. ‘Is it I?’ It is the same admission as St. Peter’s, ‘Thou knowest all things.’

(a) The Saviour knows our characters. How very diverse were those of these few disciples, all dipping in the same Passover dish of charosheth, and partaking of it with the bitter herbs! But all were known to Him. ‘I know My sheep.’

(b) The Saviour knows our capabilities, the good and bad possibilities within us. Was Judas chosen as a disciple and ordained to be with Him as an apostle other than for the growth and development of the good in him, that he might be really Judas, i.e. ‘the praise of God’?

(c) The Saviour knows our future. The knowledge of His Cross, the minute predictions with reference to this very Passover preparation, are all so many proofs of His intimate knowledge of futurity. He told St. Peter what he should do; He now reveals to Judas what deed he was about to commit; and when the foul traitor saw that he was discovered, the devil entered into him.


Verses 22-24

THE HOLY COMMUNION

‘And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is My body. And He took the cup, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them: and they all drank of it. And He said unto them, This is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.’

Mark 14:22-24

A few words on our Holy Communion, before we pass to the reception of it, will not be unfitting. Not that we may enter into controversy—God forbid! for no preparation could be worse—but rather to take our minds away from argument, and clothe them, if we may, with a humble, holy, loving simplicity, such as becomes the guests of Jesus.

I. Is not it strange and sad that this, our Holy of holies, should ever have been wrapped in such clouds of mystery; and that that which ought to shine out the clearest should have been so darkened by the defiling touch of human bickering? Is it because it is the stronghold of faith that Satan, knowing its value, loves to draw the battle there?

II. If you worship, why do you not also communicate?—You say, The responsibility is greater, and the qualifications are higher. Is it so? Where is that in the Bible? You answer, ‘He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself.’ Well, now, hear the whole passage: ‘He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation,’—a loss, a chastening—‘to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep’—that is the damnation. ‘For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged,’—chastened—‘we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.’

III. It is a very simple thing to take the Holy Communion. It only wants that you should feel that you are a sinner, and that Christ is your Saviour; that you should so hate the sins that you have determined to give them up, and so love Christ that you wish to love Him better. Then, coming in that dependence upon Christ, which is the wedding garment, you are a welcome guest; and the worse you feel yourself, and the more sensible you are of your need of Christ, the more welcome.

IV. But is not the responsibility very great?—The responsibility is great indeed to come to church, it is very great indeed to pray, or to approach God in any way. It is a very responsible thing to have been baptized; it is a very responsible thing to be called a Christian. The responsibility to come to the Lord’s Table is exactly of the same kind. And you enable yourself for all your other responsibilities by taking upon yourself the responsibility of being a communicant. And do let me ask you, Can you really be a Christian, can you love Christ, if you do not come to the Lord’s Supper? Do not tell me of the affection, or the reality of the profession, of that man who goes on disregarding what I asked him, with my dying lips, to do for love of me!

V. Come as little children.—You come to meet Christ, you come to receive Christ. Do not stop to confuse yourselves with endless questions and metaphysical subleties—how you meet Him, and how you receive him. Be more a child; just feel that you take Christ into your heart of hearts, into your very being, in the way, whatever it be, which He shall please to come and impart Himself to you. As you eat the bread and drink the wine, do not refine upon it, do not go into what you can never fathom, but only think and know this,—Now I join Christ to myself, and myself to Christ, as all my life, and all my strength, and all my joy.

VI. A feast of love.—That there is mystery in the Holy Communion we cannot for a moment doubt. The service calls itself ‘these holy mysteries.’ Only, this is the simplest of all simple things—it is all love. Of the whole circumference of love, this is the centre. There Jesus tells me His love to me, and there I tell Jesus my love to Him. There the departed ones, and we who linger still, the saints in heaven and the saints on earth, angels and archangels, the whole Church in all worlds—all that is dear and beautiful and holy—meet, and we are one. It is one bread and one body, one sweet brotherhood of souls, one Christ and one hope, one Spirit in every heart, one heaven and one home, ‘one God and Father of all.’


Verse 32

IN GETHSEMANE

‘And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane.… My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch.’

Mark 14:32; Mark 14:34

A mere intellectual solution of the mystery of this Divine sorrow over human guilt and woe is impossible. There are depths here which such lines can never fathom, which human insight can never penetrate. The sacred wonder has commanded the sympathetic, heart-broken gaze of all the ages; and they have each been arrested, moved, renewed, cleansed by the great mystery of the suffering of the Christ—a suffering which characterised His whole earthly life, but was gathered up, concentrated, intensified in this one last experience.

I. Our Lord’s longing for human sympathy.—Christ took with Him the favoured three who had been with Him on the Mount of Glorification; but it was not that, as then, they might witness to the future Church concerning these scenes of deep, mysterious agony, but that they might be nigh at hand, as human helpers, if, indeed, any human help were possible. He felt the need of some soothing presence, supporting sympathy, and human comfort and cheer. ‘Tarry ye here, and watch with Me!” What a deep and touching pathos there is in such a human cry, and in such a desire to clasp the hand of loving friends in this last extremity of human sorrow! His pure humanity is thus made manifest. In all our affliction He is afflicted. He suffers as we suffer. He is tried as we are tried. He hath borne our griefs—the very same griefs—and carried our sorrows. He is our brother in tribulation, and in all the woe of crushed and bruised and bleeding hearts!

II. The sacredness of human sorrow and Divine communion.—‘He saith to His disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray.’ There is a close connection between the inner and the outward life, but all the deeper experiences of the inner are necessarily secret. There are things which those closest to us can neither share nor even know. The Saviour met His foes with lion-hearted courage. He never felt a tremor of the heart amid their maddest rage. He never crouched or bent before purpled iniquity, or brutal lawlessness, or priestly hate. His was the nobleness and dignity of triumphant innocence amid the scornful villainy of those who pronounced false sentences, which the future was sure to reverse. But the secret of His matchless silence and imperturbable repose is here. Gethsemane was needful to nerve and invigorate the moral nature. He paid His tribute to human weakness, to human dependence, to human suffering there, that He might be the hero and play the noble part in presence of His enemies. He brought heaven to His aid by prayer and fellowship there, that His strength might be equal to the strain put upon it when He met the onset of the foe. It is a natural necessity; it is a human condition of triumph. The fullness of life and its noblest ongoings and victories depend upon secret prayers and secret discipline. He said, even to those on whose sympathy He most depended, ‘Sit ye here, while I shall pray.’

III. The overwhelming depth and fullness of the Redeemer’s sorrow.—The character of this overwhelming sorrow is what we must here mainly contemplate. It is a revelation of the innermost—the spiritual elements of the Atonement for sin. We should be involved in nameless perplexity about the possible meaning of His own words of hope and comfort if we supposed that it was merely death, or even premature and cruel death on the Cross, which was here so greatly troubling Him. No! this was not shrinking from death. The experience was unique, and it was intensely and exclusively spiritual. He was here agonised and overborne by His contact with the sin of the people. This was the bearing in His own spirit of the consequences of the sin of the world. He was suffering, though guiltless, because He was ‘reckoned with the transgressors,’ and must suffer the results of sin which was not His own. He was bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows—the griefs and sorrows born of sin. There is nothing more marvellous and heart-moving than the Divine protest against human sin which is made and expressed in the fact that the Divine Christ was involved in the experience of its deepest and bitterest woe.

Illustration

‘There was nothing to correspond to this intense shrinking in the stoning of St. Stephen; nothing in St. Paul’s bright anticipation of a death which he knew must be that of martyrdom; nor in the unshrinking courage of St. Polycarp; nor in the last hours of a thousand others who have laid down their lives for the Master’s cause. No, to hint even that it was physical pain which drew from His lips that exceeding bitter cry is to degrade Him below the level of the Christian martyr.… The Agony finds its explanation alone in the one great cardinal truth of the Christian faith; that He made His soul an offering for sin, that God laid upon Him the iniquity of us all; that He gathered up as it were the sins of the whole world, and then, as though He were Himself the sinner, by an inexplicable mystery which we shall never fathom, but before which we must bow the head in awe, “was made a curse for us,” “was wounded for our transgressions.”’


Verse 34

IN GETHSEMANE

‘And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane.… My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch.’

Mark 14:32; Mark 14:34

A mere intellectual solution of the mystery of this Divine sorrow over human guilt and woe is impossible. There are depths here which such lines can never fathom, which human insight can never penetrate. The sacred wonder has commanded the sympathetic, heart-broken gaze of all the ages; and they have each been arrested, moved, renewed, cleansed by the great mystery of the suffering of the Christ—a suffering which characterised His whole earthly life, but was gathered up, concentrated, intensified in this one last experience.

I. Our Lord’s longing for human sympathy.—Christ took with Him the favoured three who had been with Him on the Mount of Glorification; but it was not that, as then, they might witness to the future Church concerning these scenes of deep, mysterious agony, but that they might be nigh at hand, as human helpers, if, indeed, any human help were possible. He felt the need of some soothing presence, supporting sympathy, and human comfort and cheer. ‘Tarry ye here, and watch with Me!” What a deep and touching pathos there is in such a human cry, and in such a desire to clasp the hand of loving friends in this last extremity of human sorrow! His pure humanity is thus made manifest. In all our affliction He is afflicted. He suffers as we suffer. He is tried as we are tried. He hath borne our griefs—the very same griefs—and carried our sorrows. He is our brother in tribulation, and in all the woe of crushed and bruised and bleeding hearts!

II. The sacredness of human sorrow and Divine communion.—‘He saith to His disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray.’ There is a close connection between the inner and the outward life, but all the deeper experiences of the inner are necessarily secret. There are things which those closest to us can neither share nor even know. The Saviour met His foes with lion-hearted courage. He never felt a tremor of the heart amid their maddest rage. He never crouched or bent before purpled iniquity, or brutal lawlessness, or priestly hate. His was the nobleness and dignity of triumphant innocence amid the scornful villainy of those who pronounced false sentences, which the future was sure to reverse. But the secret of His matchless silence and imperturbable repose is here. Gethsemane was needful to nerve and invigorate the moral nature. He paid His tribute to human weakness, to human dependence, to human suffering there, that He might be the hero and play the noble part in presence of His enemies. He brought heaven to His aid by prayer and fellowship there, that His strength might be equal to the strain put upon it when He met the onset of the foe. It is a natural necessity; it is a human condition of triumph. The fullness of life and its noblest ongoings and victories depend upon secret prayers and secret discipline. He said, even to those on whose sympathy He most depended, ‘Sit ye here, while I shall pray.’

III. The overwhelming depth and fullness of the Redeemer’s sorrow.—The character of this overwhelming sorrow is what we must here mainly contemplate. It is a revelation of the innermost—the spiritual elements of the Atonement for sin. We should be involved in nameless perplexity about the possible meaning of His own words of hope and comfort if we supposed that it was merely death, or even premature and cruel death on the Cross, which was here so greatly troubling Him. No! this was not shrinking from death. The experience was unique, and it was intensely and exclusively spiritual. He was here agonised and overborne by His contact with the sin of the people. This was the bearing in His own spirit of the consequences of the sin of the world. He was suffering, though guiltless, because He was ‘reckoned with the transgressors,’ and must suffer the results of sin which was not His own. He was bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows—the griefs and sorrows born of sin. There is nothing more marvellous and heart-moving than the Divine protest against human sin which is made and expressed in the fact that the Divine Christ was involved in the experience of its deepest and bitterest woe.

Illustration

‘There was nothing to correspond to this intense shrinking in the stoning of St. Stephen; nothing in St. Paul’s bright anticipation of a death which he knew must be that of martyrdom; nor in the unshrinking courage of St. Polycarp; nor in the last hours of a thousand others who have laid down their lives for the Master’s cause. No, to hint even that it was physical pain which drew from His lips that exceeding bitter cry is to degrade Him below the level of the Christian martyr.… The Agony finds its explanation alone in the one great cardinal truth of the Christian faith; that He made His soul an offering for sin, that God laid upon Him the iniquity of us all; that He gathered up as it were the sins of the whole world, and then, as though He were Himself the sinner, by an inexplicable mystery which we shall never fathom, but before which we must bow the head in awe, “was made a curse for us,” “was wounded for our transgressions.”’


Verse 36

HARMONY OF WILL

‘Nevertheless not what I will, but what Thou wilt’

Mark 14:36

As a man, Christ clung closely to the Father. He did not lose the consciousness of His Sonship in these trying moments of dark agonising burden and sorrow. It was Father still, amid the heart-crushing grief. Jesus and the Father had not two wills between them in relation to a single element of this dark experience. The Divine and the human were at one. The union was complete—the acquiescence perfect.

I. The self-emptying.—But the harmony of the wills—the perfect union of the Divine and human—is not all. Christ freely said, ‘Not what I will, but what Thou wilt,’ to His Father. This expresses a perfect act of self-emptying. The sorrow was met with a willing mind—a resigned heart. It was His life-long attitude. This was only the climax of the moral triumph. This was only obedience unto death. He bare the sins of the transgressors. He ‘offered Himself without spot unto God’; and thus, through atoning sacrifice, He condemns sin, secures pardon, and opens the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.

II. Gethsemane has its lessons and influences for all our hearts.

(a) How it condemns sin! Who can think of this unutterable woe and suppose that human sin is a matter of indifference to God? Who can think of Gethsemane, and not feel rising within an unutterable revulsion from it?

(b) How it reveals the chiefest human virtue and the power by which it may be attained! Identity of will with the will of God is the foundation, and the sum, and the crown of human excellence in this and in all worlds. ‘Thy will be done’ involves in our case—what it did in Christ’s—ready obedience and perfect, unmurmuring submission.

(c) How Gethsemane brings the Father close to our hearts in their sorrow and extremity!


Verse 37

WAKEFULNESS

‘Couldest not thou watch one hour?’

Mark 14:37

‘This story has no special meaning for my particular trouble of sleeplessness; in fact, my trouble is just the opposite to that of the disciples. I cannot sleep: they could not keep awake. How, then, does the story—how do the words of the text—appeal to me?’ So some say.

I. There is a special application.—Forgoing the sleep which nature demands is sometimes a difficult thing, and sometimes a painful one. In the case of the disciples it was difficult; in your case it is painful. But if Jesus could appeal to the disciples to watch with Him in spite of the difficulty, surely He can appeal to you to do so in spite of the pain. If the Cross, which forms the test of discipleship, is laid upon you in this particular form, and that not for one hour only, but for weary night after weary night, do not refuse it; do not chafe under it and bear it grudgingly and impatiently, simply because you have to; take it up, and carry it after your Master.

II. ‘He giveth His beloved sleep.’—Perhaps your doing so may result in its being removed sooner, for, though I do not say that it is so with you, I am sure many people suffer in this way more than they need through the unhappy manner they have of bearing this burden. What I mean is that if, as the natural time for sleep draws near, you habitually begin to toss and fret and say, ‘You quite believe you are going to have another sleepless night tonight,’ and so on, you have gone some way towards ensuring the fulfilment of your prediction; whereas, if you thought to yourself, ‘Well, I am in God’s hands whether I sleep or wake. “He giveth His beloved sleep,” if He sees well to do so; but sometimes He bids them rather watch with Him. Let Him choose for me, while I trust myself quietly in His hands,’ you have done a good deal to secure that calm frame of mind which makes sleep more probable.

III. Remember your blessings.—When the weariness of the long, wakeful hours oppresses you, just picture yourself alone on some bleak moor, utterly weary, suffering intensely from cold, with many miles between you and the nearest possible place of rest and shelter, and a driving rain or snow and piercing wind to add to your misery. How, in such a position, you would envy the people who were lying awake in bed! ‘Ah!’ you would think, ‘I would not mind about sleeping, if only I could be there.’ Why, the condition which you now find it so difficult to support cheerfully would then appear to you to be the perfection of comfort. And should not this have an effect upon your gratitude to the good Father Who has at least provided you with so many things favourable to your comfort, which you are apt to overlook because He withholds one thing?

IV. This watching, to which you have for a time been called, may be made very truly a watching with the Saviour. For not only does it give you a great opportunity of communing with Him and drawing nearer to Him personally, but it may also be made the occasion of prayer for His sufferers, His tempted and sinning ones, His workers, which may have a far more potent influence in the fulfilment of His blessed will than in our present state we can at all comprehend. Think of yourself as a member of a great brotherhood of sleepless and suffering ones, and pray for them all.

Rev. R. L. Bellamy.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

UNDER THE OLIVES

I. Here is loneliness.—‘Couldest thou not watch one hour?’ Friendship is the sweet bond of love, and Christ bitterly felt the desertion.

II. Here is restlessness.—It was the restlessness of great sorrow. Any one who has had any great sorrow knows only too well what this restlessness means. Yet we know only a part. We know what human sorrow is, and we can understand what we have ourselves experienced. But Christ’s was a Divine Sorrow which is too deep and too high for us to enter into.

III. Here is resignation.—‘Not what I will, but what Thou wilt,’ turned the desert into Paradise, and made Gethsemane the gate of heaven.

IV. Here is the ministering angel (Luke 22:43).—Every Christian life has its Gethsemane. Each one of us must surrender his will to God. But every Gethsemane has its angel.

Rev. F. Harper.

Illustration

‘Ever when tempted, make me see,

Beneath the olive’s moon-pierced shade,

My God, alone, outstretched, and bruised,

And bleeding, on the earth He made.

And make me feel it was my sin,

As though no other sins were there,

That was to Him Who bears the world

A load that He could scarcely bear!’


Verse 38

CHRIST’S EXHORTATION

‘Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.’

Mark 14:38

A special exhortation, addressed to particular persons, but it has a general meaning. Consider the circumstances set out in the text. What is its practical application?

I. The precept is one, but the idea is twofold—(a) preparation, (b) expectancy. The Lord tells disciples to watch, to look out for something they have reason to expect. He also tells them to pray—not vague prayer, but prayer with a purpose. Prayer should be the attitude of the Christian while he is awaiting the conflict.

II. Its reason—‘that ye enter not into temptation.’ Not the same thing as ‘being tempted’—that is often necessary and wholesome. But that they should not dally with temptation, pushing themselves into dangerous situations from a false confidence in themselves.

III. These lessons specially applicable at Lenten season. The natural tendency of man is to neglect watchfulness and prayer, and so the Church very wisely sets sets apart a time when these duties are forced upon our attention. Is Lent as well observed as it might be? The whirl of modern life has made devotion and meditation far more difficult than they used to be; it is, therefore, doubly necessary that stated times should be set apart for consideration of our spiritual concerns.

—Rev. Barton R. V. Mills.

Illustration

‘To watch implies not to be taken up with other things. If the porter sleeps, fire may break out. If the sentinel’s attention is diverted (2 Timothy 2:4), the enemy arrives, unexpected. Worldly cares, riches, honour, pleasure, must be so kept under that spiritual sight and hearing be not deadened. Asleep, off his guard, taken up with this life, the Christian is an easy prey.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

WORDS FROM GETHSEMANE

Let us consider the suitability of the command to those exposed to temptation.

I. The two parts together form the safeguard.—Watching supplies materials for prayer. Prayer makes watching effectual. To pray only is presumption. To watch only is to depend on self.

II. The command also suits us because of the enemy’s subtlety.—We need to discover his wiles by watching. We pray for wisdom to discern his specious assaults.

III. And because of our own weakness.—Compare Mark 14:29; Mark 14:31; Mark 14:67-68.

IV. It is also suitable in consequence of our Lord’s appointment.—The battle is His. He appoints its laws. And He has said, ‘Watch and pray.’

The command speaks thus to true disciples. What does it say to those who are careless and unbelieving? ‘If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?’

Rev. W. S. Bruce.

Illustration

‘Here are we all to suffer, walking lonely

The path that Jesus once Himself hath gone;

Watch thou this hour in trustful patience only,

This one dark hour before the eternal dawn:

And He will come in His own time from Heaven,

To set His earnest-hearted children free;

Watch only through this dark and painful even,

And the bright morning yet will break for thee.’


Verse 46

BETRAYED AND FORSAKEN

‘And they laid their bands on Him, and took Him.’

Mark 14:46

I. Betrayed by a kiss.—Of all preconcerted signs possible, this was the one selected; as if to show what sin has in it, and what sin can do. In Judas the sin of humanity culminates. The kiss of Judas removed whatever awe might have stricken the soldiers, and whatever reluctance they might have felt to going on with their task. They instantly laid their hands on Him Who had been thus indicated, and began to bind Him in their own merciless fashion.

II. Forsaken by friends.—He who forsakes Christ forsakes perfection. It was not out of calm, set, deliberate purpose that they forsook their Lord. They were in a brief madness, and knew not what they did. Their souls were suddenly stormed, and the strength by which they had hitherto been kept was for the moment, and for their eventual good, withdrawn. ‘Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.’

Illustration

‘Think of the conduct of our Lord’s chosen Apostles, and see if it is possible for us to be like them. One betrays Him with a kiss. You belong to the band of Christ’s disciples—chosen by Him, pledged to serve Him, professing to love Him. See that you are not tempted to give Him up. No sin so hateful to man as treachery; and nothing so painful to Christ as when those who profess to be His go over to the enemy. All forsake Him. Although all had declared they would die with him (Mark 14:31), their courage failed; thought only of their own safety; showing how weak man is. If they had watched and prayed they would have been prepared. See how important that we should be ready. Only by watching and praying can we stand up for Jesus.’


Verse 63-64

‘I AM’

‘Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses? Ye have heard the blasphemy: what thing ye?’

Mark 14:63-64

Christ Himself asserted His Godhead in a manner which could not possibly be misunderstood. He allowed Himself to be put to death on a charge of blasphemy. The conclusion is inevitable. A denial of the Godhead of Christ involves consequences from which we should most of us shrink—consequences which affect the nature and the character of Deity itself.

I. On the supposition that Christ was a mere man, or a created being, who allied Himself with human nature, the further supposition becomes inevitable, that in the bygone eternity God dwelt in a lonely and uncompanionable isolation.

II. The denial of the Godhead of Christ limits and impairs the Divine capability of manifesting love to man. If Jesus Christ were just a perfect man, and not the eternal Son of the Father, what did it cost God to part with Him? Nothing, that I can see. The self-sacrifice consisted in the surrender of His Son.

III. If Christ be not God, I cannot avoid the inference that God has done everything in His power to transfer my affection from the Creator to the creature.

The heart must be chilled towards God which does not recognise in Jesus Christ the eternal Son of the eternal Father.

Rev. Prebendary Gordon Calthrop.

ST.


Verse 72

PETER’S FALL

‘And Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny Me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept.’

Mark 14:72

There is no more painful incident in the whole Bible than St. Peter’s fall. What are its lessons? It contains a threefold warning.

I. Against self-confidence.—This was St. Peter’s weakness, and through it he fell. ‘Though all should deny Thee, yet will not I.’ How often we see this. As if I could fall into this error. As if I should leave that duty, or weakly give way to this temptation. I with my bringing up and my advantages, my education and my training. And yet some of the most grievous falls of professing Christians have been from self-confidence.

II. Against unwatchfulness.—This was St. Peter’s error. In the face of warning and of past experience, he was unwatchful. It is when we are off our guard that the enemy is most likely to attack us. And watch most of all against your constitutional failing. Your faults of temperament; sloth, pride, etc. Even against the good points in your disposition and character you must be on your guard. Constitutional tendency, remember, is no excuse for failure in Christian duty.

III. Against cowardice.—This was St. Peter’s sin. His sword is sheathed now. He is following ‘afar off.’ He is keeping well out of sight, lest detection should lead to his arrest. Is this the man who said: ‘Lord, I am ready to go with Thee both to prison and to death’? ‘Though I should die with Thee, I will not deny Thee in anywise’? Ah! he was ashamed of his connection with Jesus. ‘A seen religion is not always real; but a real religion is always seen.’

—Rev. Prebendary Eardley-Wilmot.

Illustration

‘St. Peter was in a dangerous situation. Dangerous, however, in another sense than he supposed. He was in fear of bodily peril; danger to his soul he did not think about, and yet this was very near. “It is always dangerous when a follower of Christ is sitting among Christ’s enemies without letting it be known what he is.” “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.” St. Peter joined the throng of the enemies of Jesus. Profane jest and ribald laughter, derisive glee at the capture of their victim, met his ears on every side. And St. Peter was silent, if not worse than silent. The rest is soon told. He did not confess Jesus Christ, and he ended by denying Him, and denying Him with oaths and curses. And then, the shrill crow of the cock pierces the babel of voices and reaches St. Peter’s ear; and from the inner room where the captive stands, “the Lord turned and looked upon Peter.” Then St. Peter remembered; then he knew his weakness and his sin; then he felt the folly of his self-reliance; and full of shame and grief and repentance, he wept.’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Mark 14:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/mark-14.html. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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