THE LAST ACT BEGINS (Mark 14:1-2)
14:1-2 The Feast of the Passover and of Unleavened Bread was due in two days' time. And the chief priests and experts in the law were trying to find some way to seize Jesus by some stratagem and to kill him, for they said, "This must not be done at the Feast itself in case there should be a disturbance of the people."
The last crowded act of Jesus' life was now about to open. The Feast of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were really two different things. The Feast of the Passover fell on 14th Nisan, that is, about 14th April. The Feast of Unleavened Bread consisted of the seven days following the Passover. The Passover itself was a major feast and was kept like a sabbath. The Feast of Unleavened Bread was called a minor festival, and, although no new work could be begun during it, such work as was "necessary for public interest or to provide against private loss" was allowable. The really great day was Passover Day.
The Passover was one of the three compulsory feasts. The others were the Feast of Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. To these feasts every male adult Jew who lived within 15 miles of Jerusalem was bound to come.
The Passover had a double significance.
(a) It had an historical significance (Exodus 12:1-51 ). It commemorated the deliverance of the children of Israel from their bondage in Egypt. God had sent plague after plague on Egypt, and, as each plague came, Pharaoh promised to let the people go. But, when each plague abated, he hardened his heart and went back on his word. Finally there came a terrible night when the angel of death was to walk through the land of Egypt and slay every first-born son in every home. The Israelites were to slay a lamb. Using a bunch of hyssop they were to smear the lintel of the door-post with the blood of the lamb, and when the angel of death saw the door-post so marked, he would pass over that house and its occupants would be safe. Before they went upon their way the Israelites were to eat a meal of a roasted lamb and unleavened bread. It was that "passover," that deliverance and that meal that the Feast of the Passover commemorated.
(b) It had an agricultural significance. It marked the ingathering of the barley harvest. On that day a sheaf of barley had to be waved before the Lord (Leviticus 23:10-11). Not till after that had been done could the barley of the new crop be sold in the shops or bread made with the new flour be eaten.
Every possible preparation was made for the Passover. For a month beforehand its meaning was expounded in the synagogue, and its lesson was taught daily in the schools. The aim was that no one should come ignorant and unprepared to the feast. the roads were all put in order, the bridges repaired. One special thing was done. It was very common to bury people beside the road. Now if any pilgrim had touched one of these wayside tombs he would technically have been in contact with a dead body and so rendered unclean and unable to take part in the feast. So, before the Passover, all the wayside tombs were white-washed so that they would stand out and the pilgrims could avoid them. Psalms 120:1-7; Psalms 121:1-8; Psalms 122:1-9; Psalms 123:1-4; Psalms 124:1-8; Psalms 125:1-5; Psalms 126:1-6; Psalms 127:1-5; Psalms 128:1-6; Psalms 129:1-8; Psalms 130:1-8; Psalms 131:1-3; Psalms 132:1-18; Psalms 133:1-3; Psalms 134:1-3 are entitled Psalms of Degree, and it may well be that these were the psalms which the pilgrims sang on their way to the feast, as they sought to lighten the road with their music. It is said that Psalms 122:1-9 was the one which they actually sang as they climbed the hill to the Temple on the last lap of their journey.
As we have already seen, it was compulsory for every adult male Jew who lived within 15 miles of Jerusalem to come to the Passover, but far more than these came. It was the one ambition of every Jew to eat at least one Passover in Jerusalem before he died. Therefore from every country in the world pilgrims came flocking to the Passover Feast. During the Passover all lodging was free. Jerusalem could not hold the crowds, and Bethany and Bethphage were two of the outlying villages where pilgrims lodged.
A passage in Josephus gives us an idea of how many pilgrims actually came. He tells that Cestius, governor of Palestine round about A.D. 65, had some difficulty in persuading Nero of the great importance of the Jewish religion. To impress him, he asked the then High Priest to take a census of the lambs slain at the Passover in one year. The number, according to Josephus, was 256,500. The law was that there must be a minimum party of ten people to one lamb, so that there must have been close on 3,000,000 pilgrims in Jerusalem.
It was just there that the problem of the Jewish authorities lay. During the Passover, feeling ran very high. The remembrance of the old deliverance from Egypt made the people long for a new deliverance from Rome. At no time was nationalist feeling so intense. Jerusalem was not the Roman headquarters in Judaea. The governor had his residence and the soldiers were stationed in Caesarea. During the Passover time special detachments of troops were drafted into Jerusalem and quartered in the Tower of Antonia which overlooked the Temple. The Romans knew that at Passover anything might happen and they were taking no chances. The Jewish authorities knew that in an inflammable atmosphere like that, the arrest of Jesus might well provoke a riot. That is why they sought some secret stratagem to arrest him and have him in their power before the populace knew anything about it.
The last act of Jesus' life was to be played out in a city crammed with Jews who had come from the ends of the earth. They had come to commemorate the event whereby their nation was delivered from slavery in Egypt long ago. It was at that very time that God's deliverer of mankind was crucified upon his Cross.
LOVE'S EXTRAVAGANCE (Mark 14:3-9)
14:3-9 While Jesus was in Bethany, while he was reclining at a table in the house of Simon the leper, there came a woman who had a phial of ointment of pure nard. She broke the phial and poured it over his head. Some of them said indignantly to each other, "To what purpose is the waste of this ointment? This ointment could have been sold for more than ten pounds, and the money could have been given to the poor." And they were angry at her. Jesus said, "Let her be! Why do you trouble her? It is a lovely thing that she has done to me. You have always got the poor with you, and you can do something for them any time you like, but you have not got me always. She has done what she could. She has taken my body and anointed it beforehand against my burial. This is the truth I tell you--wherever the good news shall be proclaimed throughout the whole world, the story of what she has done will be told, so that she will always be remembered."
The poignancy of this story lies in the fact that it tells us of almost the last kindness that Jesus had done to him.
He was in the house of a man called Simon the leper, in the village of Bethany. People did not sit to eat; they reclined on low couches. They lay on the couch resting on the left elbow and using the right hand to take their food. Anyone coming up to someone lying like this would stand well above him. To Jesus there came a woman with an alabaster phial of ointment. It was the custom to pour a few drops of perfume on a guest when he arrived at a house or when he sat down to a meal. This phial held nard which was a very precious ointment made from a rare plant that came from far-off India. But it was not a few drops that this woman poured on the head of Jesus. She broke the flask and anointed him with the whole contents.
There may be more than one reason why she broke the flask. Maybe she broke it as a sign that all was to be used. There was a custom in the East that if a glass was used by a distinguished guest, it was broken so that it would never again be touched by the hand of any lesser person. Maybe there was something of that in the woman's mind. But there was one thing not in her mind which Jesus saw. It was the custom in the East, first to bathe, then to anoint the bodies of the dead. After the body had been anointed, the flask in which the perfume had been contained was broken and the fragments were laid with the dead body in the tomb. Although she did not mean it so, that was the very thing this woman was doing.
Her action provoked the grudging criticism of some of the bystanders. The flask was worth more than 300 denarii. A denarius was a Roman coin worth about 3 p which was a working man's daily wage. It would have cost an ordinary man almost a year's pay to buy the flask of ointment. To some it seemed a shameful waste; the money might have been given to the poor. But Jesus understood. He quoted their own scriptures to them. "The poor will never cease out of the land." (Deuteronomy 15:11.) "You can help the poor any time," Jesus said, "but you have not long to do anything for me now." "This," he said, "is like anointing my body beforehand for its burial."
This story shows the action of love.
(i) Jesus said that it was a lovely thing the woman had done. In Greek there are two words for good. There is agathos (Greek #18) which describes a thing which is morally good; and there is kalos (Greek #2570) which describes a thing which is not only good but lovely. A thing might be agathos (Greek #18), and yet be hard, stern, austere, unattractive. But a thing which is kalos (Greek #2570) is winsome and lovely, with a certain bloom of charm upon it. Struthers of Greenock used to say that it would do the church more good than anything else if Christians would sometimes "do a bonnie thing." That is exactly what kalos (Greek #2570) means; and that is exactly what this woman did. Love does not do only good things. Love does lovely things.
(ii) If love is true, there must always be a certain extravagance in it. It does not nicely calculate the less or more. It is not concerned to see how little it can decently give. If it gave all it had, the gift would still be too little. There is a recklessness in love which refuses to count the cost.
(iii) Love can see that there are things, the chance to do which comes only once. It is one of the tragedies of life that often we are moved to do something fine and do not do it. It may be that we are too shy and feel awkward about it. It may be that second thoughts suggest a more prudent course. It occurs in the simplest things--the impulse to send a letter of thanks, the impulse to tell someone of our love or gratitude, the impulse to give some special gift or speak some special word. The tragedy is that the impulse is so often strangled at birth. This world would be so much lovelier if there were more people like this woman, who acted on her impulse of love because she knew in her heart of hearts that if she did not do it then she would never do it at all. How that last extravagant, impulsive kindness must have uplifted Jesus' heart.
(iv) Once again we see the invincible confidence of Jesus. The Cross loomed close ahead now but he never believed that it would be the end. He believed that the good news would go all round the world. And with the good news would go the story of this lovely thing, done with reckless extravagance, done on the impulse of the moment, done out of a heart of love.
THE TRAITOR (Mark 14:10-11)
14:10-11 Judas Iscariot, the man who was one of the Twelve, went away to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. When they had listened to his offer, they were delighted, and they promised to give him money. So he began to search for a convenient method of betraying him.
It is with consummate artistry that Mark sets side by side the anointing at Bethany and the betrayal by Judas--the act of generous love and the act of terrible treachery.
There is always a shudder of the heart as we think of Judas. Dante sets him in the lowest of all hells, a hell of cold and ice, a hell designed for those who were not hot sinners swept away by angry passions, but cold, calculating, deliberate offenders against the love of God.
Mark tells the story with such economy of words that he leaves us no material for speculation. But at the back of Judas' action we can distinguish certain things.
(i) There was covetousness. Matthew 26:15 actually tells us that Judas went to the authorities and asked what price they were prepared to pay and drove a bargain with them for thirty pieces of silver. John 11:57 drops a hint. That verse tells us that the authorities had asked for information as to where Jesus could be found so as to arrest him. It may well be that by this time Jesus was to all intents and purposes an outlaw with a price upon his head, and that Judas knew it and wished to acquire the offered reward. John is quite definite. He tells us that Judas was the treasurer of the apostolic band and used his position to pilfer from the common purse (John 12:6).
It may be so. The desire for money can be a terrible thing. It can make a man blind to decency and honesty and honour. It can make him have no care how he gets so long as he gets. Judas discovered too late that some things cost too much.
(ii) There was jealousy. Klopstock, the German poet, thought that Judas, when he joined the Twelve, had every gift and every virtue which might have made him great, but that bit by bit he became consumed with jealousy of John, the beloved disciple, and that this jealousy drove him to his terrible act. It is easy to see that there were tensions in the Twelve. The rest were able to overcome them, but it may well be that Judas had an unconquerable and uncontrollable demon of jealousy within his heart. Few things can wreck life for ourselves and for others as jealousy can.
(iii) There was ambition. Again and again we see how the Twelve thought of the Kingdom in earthly terms and dreamed of high position in it. Judas must have been like that. It may well be that, while the others still clung to them, he came to see how far wrong these dreams were and how little chance they ever had of any earthly fulfilment. And it may well be that in his disillusionment the love he once bore to Jesus turned to hate. In Henry the Eighth Shakespeare makes Wolsey say to Thomas Cromwell:
"Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition;
By that sin fee the angels; how can man then,
The image of his Maker, hope to win by it?
Love thyself last."
There is an ambition which will trample on love and honour and all lovely things to gain the end it has set its heart upon.
(iv) Minds have been fascinated by the idea that it may be that Judas did not want Jesus to die at all. It is almost certain that Judas was a fanatical nationalist and that he had seen in Jesus the one person who could make his dreams of national power and glory come true. But now he saw Jesus drifting to death on a cross. So it may be that in one last attempt to make his dream come true, he betrayed Jesus in order to force his hand. He delivered him to the authorities with the idea that now Jesus would be compelled to act in order to save himself, and that action would be the beginning of the victorious campaign he dreamed of. It may be that this theory is supported by the fact that when Judas saw what he had done he flung the accursed money at the feet of the Jewish authorities and went out and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5). If that is so, the tragedy of Judas is the greatest in history.
(v) Both Luke and John say quite simply that the devil entered into Judas (Luke 22:3, John 13:27). In the last analysis that is what happened. Judas wanted Jesus to be what he wanted him to be and not what Jesus wanted to be. In reality Judas attached himself to Jesus, not so much to become a follower as to use Jesus to work out the plans and desires of his own ambitious heart. So far from surrendering to Jesus, he wanted Jesus to surrender to him; and when Jesus took his own way, the way of the Cross, Judas was so incensed that he betrayed him. The essence of sin is pride; the core of sin is independence; the heart of sin is the desire to do what we like and not what God likes. That is what the devil, satan, the evil one stands for. He stands for everything which is against God and will not bow to him. That is the spirit which was incarnate in Judas.
We shudder at Judas. But let us think again--covetousness, jealousy, ambition, the dominant desire to have our own way of things. Are we so very different? These are the things which made Judas betray Jesus, and these are the things which still make men betray him.
PREPARING FOR THE FEAST (Mark 14:12-16)
14:12-16 On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when they were sacrificing the Passover Lamb, Jesus' disciples said to him, "Where do you wish us to go and make the necessary preparations for you to eat the Passover?" He despatched two of his disciples, and said to them. "Go into the city, and there will meet you a man carrying an earthen pitcher of water. Follow him, and wherever he enters in, say to the householder, 'The teacher says, "Where is my room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?"' He will show you a large upper room, furnished and prepared. There get things ready for us." So the disciples went away, and they came into the city, and found everything just as he had told them. And they got everything ready for the Passover Feast.
It may seem an unusual word to use in connection with Jesus, but, as we read the narrative of the last week of his life, we cannot help being struck with his efficiency of arrangement. Again and again we see that he did not leave things until the last moment. Long before, he had arranged that the colt should be ready for his ride into Jerusalem; and here again we see that all his arrangements had been made long beforehand.
His disciples wished to know where they would eat the Passover. Jesus sent them into Jerusalem with instructions to look for a man carrying an earthen pitcher of water. That was a prearranged signal. To carry a water-pot was a woman's duty. It was a thing that no man ever did. A man with a water-pot on his shoulder would stand out in any crowd as much as, say, a man on a wet day with a lady's umbrella. Jesus did not leave things until the last minute. Long ago he had arranged a last meeting-place for himself and for his disciples, and had arranged just how it was to be found.
The larger Jewish houses had upper rooms. Such houses looked exactly like a smaller box placed on top of a bigger box. The smaller box was the upper room, and it was approached by an outside stair, making it unnecessary to go through the main room. The upper room had many uses. It was a storeroom, it was a place for quiet and meditation, it was a guest-room for visitors. But in particular it was the place where a Rabbi taught his chosen band of intimate disciples. Jesus was following the custom that any Jewish Rabbi might follow.
We must remember the Jewish way of reckoning days. The new day began at 6 p.m. in the evening. Up until 6 p.m. it was 13th Nisan, the day of the preparation for the Passover. But 14th Nisan, the Passover day itself, began at 6 p.m. To put it in English terms, Friday the 14th began at 6 p.m. on Thursday the 13th.
What were the preparations that a Jew made for The Passover?
First was the ceremonial search for leaven. Before the Passover every particle, of leaven must be banished from the house. That was because the first Passover in Egypt (Exodus 12:1-51 ) had been eaten with unleavened bread. (Unleavened bread is not like bread at all. It is like a water-biscuit.) It had been used in Egypt because it can be baked much more quickly than a loaf baked with leaven, and the first Passover, the Passover of escape from Egypt, had been eaten in haste, with everyone ready for the road. In addition leaven was the symbol of corruption. Leaven is fermented dough, and the Jew identified fermentation with putrefaction, and so leaven stood for rottenness. The day before the Passover the master of the house took a lighted candle and ceremonially searched the house for leaven. Before the search he prayed,
"Blessed art thou, Jehovah, our God, King of the Universe, who
hast sanctified us by thy commandments, and commanded us to
remove the leaven."
At the end of the search the householder said,
"All the leaven that is in my possession, that which I have seen
and that which I have not seen, be it null, be it accounted as the
dust of the earth."
Next, on the afternoon before the Passover evening, came the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb. All the people came to the Temple. The worshipper must slay his own lamb, thereby, as it were, making his own sacrifice. But in Jewish eyes all blood was sacred to God, because the Jew equated the blood and the life. It was quite natural to do so because, if a person or an animal is wounded, as the blood flows away, so does life. So in the Temple the worshipper slew his own lamb. Between the worshippers and the altar were two long lines of priests, each with a gold or silver bowl. As the lamb's throat was slit the blood was caught in one of these bowls, and passed up the line, until the priest at the end of the line dashed it upon the altar. The carcase was then flayed, the entrails and the fat extracted, because they were part of the necessary sacrifice, and the carcass handed back to the worshipper. If the figures of Josephus are anywhere nearly correct, and there were more than a quarter of a million lambs slain, the scene in the Temple courts and the blood-stained condition of the altar can hardly be imagined. The lamb was carried home to be roasted. It must not be boiled. Nothing must touch it, not even the sides of a pot. It had to be roasted over an open fire on a spit made of pomegranate wood. The spit went right through the lamb from mouth to vent, and the lamb had to be roasted entire with head and legs and tail still attached to the body.
The table itself was shaped like a square with one side open. It was low and the guests reclined on couches, resting on their left arms with their right arms free for eating.
Certain things were necessary and these were the things the disciples would have to get ready.
(i) There was the lamb, to remind them of how their houses had been protected by the badge of blood when the angel of death passed through Egypt.
(ii) There was the unleavened bread to remind them of the bread they had eaten in haste when they escaped from slavery.
(iii) There was a bowl of salt water, to remind them of the tears they had shed in Egypt and of the waters of the Red Sea through which they had miraculously passed to safety.
(iv) There was a collection of bitter herbs--horse radish, chicory, endive, lettuce, horehound--to remind them of the bitterness of slavery in Egypt.
(v) There was a paste called Charosheth, a mixture of apples, dates, pomegranates and nuts, to remind them of the clay of which they had made bricks in Egypt. Through it there were sticks of cinnamon to remind them of the straw with which the bricks had been made.
(vi) There were four cups of wine. The cups contained a little more than half a pint of wine, but three parts of wine were mixed with two of water. The four cups, which were drunk at different stages of the meal, were to remind them of the four promises in Exodus 6:6-7,
"I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
I will rid you of their bondage.
I will redeem you with an outstretched arm.
I will take you to me for a people, and I will be your God."
Such were the preparations which had to be made for the Passover. Every detail spoke of that great day of deliverance when God liberated his people from their bondage in Egypt. It was at that feast that he who liberated the world from sin was to sit at his last meal with his disciples.
LOVE'S LAST APPEAL (Mark 14:17-21)
14:17-21 When it was evening, Jesus came with the Twelve. As they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, "This is the truth I tell you--one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me," They began to be grieved, and to say to him, one by one, "Surely it cannot be I?" He said to them, "One of the Twelve, one who dips his hand with me into the dish. The Son of Man goes as it stands written about him, but woe to that man through whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It had been good for him, if that man had not been born."
The new day began at 6 p.m., and when the Passover evening had come, Jesus sat down with the Twelve. There was only one change in the old ritual which had been observed so many centuries ago in Egypt. At the first Passover Feast in Egypt, the meal had been eaten standing (Exodus 12:11). But that had been a sign of haste, a sign that they were slaves escaping from slavery. In the time of Jesus the regulation was that the meal should be eaten reclining, for that was the sign of a free man, with a home and a country of his own.
This is a poignant passage. All the time there was a text running in Jesus' head. "Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted his heel against me." (Psalms 41:9.) These words were in his mind all the time. We can see certain great things here.
(i) Jesus knew what was going to happen. That is his supreme courage, especially in the last days. It would have been easy for him to escape, and yet undeterred he went on. Homer relates how the great warrior Achilles was told that if he went out to his last battle he would surely be killed. His answer was, "Nevertheless I am for going on." With a full knowledge of what lay ahead, Jesus was for going on.
(ii) Jesus could see into the heart of Judas. The curious thing is that the other disciples seem to have had no suspicions. If they had known what Judas was engaged on, it is certain that they would have stopped him even by violence. Here is something to remember. There may be things we succeed in hiding from our fellow-men. But we cannot hide them from Jesus Christ. He is the searcher of the hearts of men. He knows what is in man.
"Our thoughts lie open to thy sight;
And naked to thy glance.
Our secret sins are in the light
Of thy pure countenance."
Blessed indeed are the pure in heart.
(iii) In this passage we see Jesus offering two things to Judas.
(a) He is making love's last appeal. It is as if he is saying to Judas, "I know what you are going to do. Will you not stop even yet?"
(b) He is offering Judas a last warning. He is telling him in advance of the consequences of the thing that it is in his heart to do. But we must note this, for it is of the essence of the way in which God deals with us--there is no compulsion. Without a doubt Jesus could have stopped Judas. All he had to do was tell the other eleven what Judas was planning, and Judas would never have left that room alive.
Here is the whole human situation. God has given us wills that are free. His love appeals to us. His truth warns us. But there is no compulsion. It is the awful responsibility of man that he can spurn the appeal of God's love and disregard the warning of his voice. In the end there is no one but ourselves responsible for our sins.
In Greek legend two famous travellers passed the rocks where the Sirens sang. The Sirens sat on these rocks and sang with such sweetness that they lured mariners irresistibly to their doom. Ulysses sailed past these rocks. His method was to stop the sailors' ears so that they could not hear and order them to bind himself to the mast with ropes so that, however much he struggled, he would not be able to answer to that seductive sweetness. He resisted by compulsion. The other traveller was Orpheus, the sweetest musician of all. His method was to play and sing with such surpassing sweetness as his ship passed the rocks where the Sirens were, that the attraction of the song of the Sirens was never even felt because of the attraction of the song he sang. His method was to answer the appeal of seduction with a still greater appeal.
God's is the second way. He does not stop us whether we like it or not, from sin. He seeks to make us love him so much that his voice is more sweetly insistent to us than all the voices which call us away from him.
THE SYMBOL OF SALVATION (Mark 14:22-26)
14:22-26 As they were eating, Jesus took a loaf and gave thanks for it, and broke it and gave it to them and said, "Take this. This is my body." And, after he had given thanks, he took a cup and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And he said to them, "This is the blood of the new covenant which is being shed for many. Truly I tell you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God." And, after they had sung the Psalm, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
We must first set out the various steps of the Passover Feast, so that in our mind's eye we can follow what Jesus and his disciples were doing. The steps came in this order.
(i) The cup of the Kiddush. Kiddush means sanctification or separation. This was the act which, as it were, separated this meal from all other common meals. The head of the family took the cup and prayed over it, and then all drank of it.
(ii) The first hand washing. This was carried out only by the person who was to celebrate the feast. Three times he had to wash his hands in the prescribed way which we have already described when studying Mark 7:1-37 .
(iii) A piece of parsley or lettuce was then taken and dipped in the bowl of salt water and eaten. This was an appetizer to the meal, but the parsley stood for the hyssop with which the lintel had been smeared with blood, and the salt stood for the tears of Egypt and for the waters of the Red Sea through which Israel had been brought in safety.
(iv) The breaking of bread. Two blessings were used at the breaking of bread. "Blessed be thou, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who bringest forth from the earth." Or, "Blessed art thou, our Father in heaven, who givest us to-day the bread necessary for us." On the table lay three circles of unleavened bread. The middle one was taken and broken. At this point only a little was eaten. It was to remind the Jews of the bread of affliction that they ate in Egypt and it was broken to remind them that slaves had never a whole loaf, but only broken crusts to eat. As it was broken, the head of the family said, "This is the bread of affliction which our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt. Whosoever is hungry let him come and eat. Whosoever is in need let him come and keep the Passover with us." (In the modern celebration in strange lands, here is added the famous prayer, "This year we keep it here, next year in the land of Israel. This year as slaves, next year as free.")
(v) Next came the relating of the story of deliverance. The youngest person present had to ask what made this day different from all other days and why all this was being done. And the head of the house had thereupon to tell the whole story of the history of Israel down to the great deliverance which the Passover commemorated. The Passover could never become a ritual. It was always a commemoration of the power and the mercy of God.
(vi) Psalms 113:1-9; Psalms 114:1-8 were sung. Psalms 113:1-9; Psalms 114:1-8; Psalms 115:1-18; Psalms 116:1-19; Psalms 117:1-2; Psalms 118:1-29 are known as the Hallel (Hebrew #1984), which means the praise of God. All these psalms are praising psalms. They were part of the very earliest material which a Jewish boy had to commit to memory.
(vii) The second cup was drunk. It was called the cup of Haggadah (compare Hebrew #5046), which means the cup of explaining or proclaiming.
(viii) All those present now washed their hands in preparation for the meal.
(ix) A grace was said. "Blessed art thou, O Lord, our God, who bringest forth fruit from the earth. Blessed art thou, O God, who has sanctified us with thy commandment and enjoined us to eat unleavened cakes." Thereafter small pieces of the unleavened bread were distributed.
(x) Some of the bitter herbs were placed between two pieces of unleavened bread, dipped in the Charosheth and eaten. This was called the sop. It was the reminder of slavery and of the bricks that once they had been compelled to make.
(xi) Then followed the meal proper. The whole lamb must be eaten. Anything left over must be destroyed and not used for any common meal.
(xii) The hands were cleansed again.
(xiii) The remainder of the unleavened bread was eaten.
(xiv) There was a prayer of thanksgiving, containing a petition for the coming of Elijah to herald the Messiah. Then the third cup was drunk, called the cup of thanksgiving. The blessing over the cup was, "Blessed art thou, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who hast created the fruit of the vine."
(xv) The second part of The Hallel (Hebrew #1984)--Psalms 115:1-18; Psalms 116:1-19; Psalms 117:1-2; Psalms 118:1-29 --was sung.
(xvi) The fourth cup was drunk, and Psalms 136:1-26, known as the great Hallel (Hebrew #1984), was sung.
(xvii) Two short prayers were said:
"All thy works shall praise thee, O Lord, our God. And thy saints,
the righteous, who do thy good pleasure, and all thy people, the
house of Israel, with joyous song, let them praise and bless and
magnify and glorify and exalt and reverence and sanctify and
scribe the Kingdom to thy name, O God, our King. For it is good
to praise thee, and pleasure to sing praises to thy name, for from
everlasting unto everlasting thou art God."
"The breath of all that lives shall praise thy name, O Lord, our
God. And the spirit of all flesh shall continually glorify and
exalt thy memorial, O God, our King. For from everlasting unto
everlasting thou art God, and beside thee we have no king,
redeemer or saviour."
Thus ended the Passover Feast. If the feast that Jesus and his disciples sat at was the Passover it must have been items (xiii) and (xiv) that Jesus made his own, and (xvi) must have been the hymn they sang before they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Now let us see what Jesus was doing, and what he was seeking to impress upon his men. More than once we have seen that the prophets of Israel resorted to symbolic, dramatic actions when they felt that words were not enough. That is what Ahijah did when he rent the robe into twelve pieces and gave ten to Jeroboam in token that ten of the tribes would make him king (1 Kings 11:29-32). That is what Jeremiah did when he made bonds and yokes and wore them in token of the coming servitude (Jeremiah 27:1-22 ). That is what the prophet Hananiah did when he broke the yokes that Jeremiah wore (Jeremiah 28:10-11). That is the kind of thing that Ezekiel was continually doing (Ezekiel 4:1-8, Ezekiel 5:1-4). It was as if words were easily forgotten, but a dramatic action would print itself on the memory.
That is what Jesus did, and he allied this dramatic action with the ancient feast of his people so that it would be the more imprinted on the minds of his men. He said, "Look! Just as this bread is broken my body is broken for you! Just as this cup of red wine is poured out my blood is shed for you."
What did he mean when he said that the cup stood for a new covenant? The word covenant is a common word in the Jewish religion. The basis of that religion was that God had entered into a covenant with Israel. The word means something like an arrangement, a bargain, a relationship. The acceptance of the old covenant is set out in Exodus 24:3-8; and from that passage we see that the covenant was entirely dependent on Israel keeping the law. If the law was broken, the covenant was broken and the relationship between God and the nation shattered. It was a relationship entirely dependent on law and on obedience to law. God was judge. And since no man can keep the law the people were ever in default. But Jesus says, "I am introducing and ratifying a new covenant, a new kind of relationship between God and man. And it is not dependent on law, it is dependent on the blood that I will shed." That is to say, it is dependent solely on love. The new covenant was a relationship between man and God not dependent on law but on love. In other words Jesus says, "I am doing what I am doing to show you how much God loves you." Men are no longer simply under the law of God. Because of what Jesus did, they are forever within the love of God. That is the essence of what the sacrament says to us.
We note one thing more. In the last sentence we see again the two things we have so often seen. Jesus was sure of two things. He knew he was to die, and he knew his Kingdom would come. He was certain of the Cross, but just as certain of the glory. And the reason was that he was just as certain of the love of God as he was of the sin of man; and he knew that in the end that love would conquer that sin.
THE FAILURE OF FRIENDS (Mark 14:27-31)
14:27-31 Jesus said to them, "You will all fall away from me, for it stands written, 'I will smite the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.' But after I have been raised to life again, I will go before you into Galilee." Peter said to him, "All the others may fail away from you, but I will not." Jesus said to him, "This is the truth I tell you--today, this night, before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times." Peter began to insist vehemently, "If I must die with you I will not deny you." So, too, they all said.
It is a tremendous thing about Jesus that there was nothing for which he was not prepared. The opposition, the misunderstanding, the enmity of the orthodox religious people, the betrayal by one of his own inner circle, the pain and the agony of the Cross--he was prepared for them all. But perhaps what hurt him most was the failure of his friends. It is when a man is up against it that he needs his friends most, and that was exactly when Jesus' friends left him all alone and let him down. There was nothing in the whole gamut of physical pain and mental torture that Jesus did not pass through.
Sir Hugh Walpole wrote a great novel called Fortitude. It is the story of one called Peter, whose creed was, "It isn't life that matters, but the courage you bring to it." Life did everything that it possibly could to him. At the end, on his own mountain top, he heard a voice, "Blessed be pain and torment and every torture of the body. Blessed be all loss and the failure of friends and the sacrifice of love. Blessed be all failure and the ruin of every earthly hope. Blessed be all sorrow and torment, hardships, and endurances that demand courage. Blessed be these things--for of these things cometh the making of a man." Peter fell to praying, "Make of me a man...to be afraid of nothing, to be ready for everything. Love, friendship, success...to take it if it comes, to care nothing if these things are not for me. Make me brave. Make me brave."
Jesus had supremely, more than anyone who ever lived, this quality of fortitude, this ability to remain erect no matter with what blows life assaulted him, this serenity when there was nothing but heartbreak behind and torture in front. Inevitably every now and then we find ourselves catching our breath at his sheer heroism.
When Jesus foretold this tragic failure of loyalty, Peter could not believe that it would happen. In the days of the Stewart troubles they captured the Cock of the North, the Marquis of Huntly. They pointed at the block and the axe and told him that unless he abandoned his loyalty he would be executed then and there. His answer was, "You can take my head from my shoulders but you will never take my heart from my king." That is what Peter said that night.
There is a lesson in the word that Jesus used for "fall away." The Greek verb is skandalizein (Greek #4624), from skandalon (Greek #4625) or skandalethron which meant the bait in a trap, the stick on to which the animal was lured and which snapped the trap when the animal stepped on it. So the word skandalizein (Greek #4624) came to mean to entrap, or to trip up by some trick or guile. Peter was too sure. He had forgotten the traps that life can lay for the best of men. He had forgotten that the best of men can step on a slippery place and fall. He had forgotten his own human weakness and the strength of the devil's temptations. But there is one thing to be remembered about Peter--his heart was in the right place. Better a Peter with a flaming heart of love, even if that love did for a moment fail most shamefully, than a Judas with a cold heart of hate. Let that man condemn Peter who never broke a promise, who never was disloyal in thought or action to a pledge. Peter loved Jesus, and even if his love failed, it rose again.
THY WILL BE DONE (Mark 14:32-42)
14:32-42 They came to a place the name of which is Gethsemane. Jesus said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." He took Peter and James and John with him, and began to be in great distress and trouble of mind. He said to them, "My soul is sore grieved even to death. Stay here and watch." He went on a little farther and fell on the ground and prayed that, if it was possible, this hour might pass from him. He said, "Abba, Father, everything is possible to you. Take this cup from me--but not what I wish, but what you wish." He came and found them sleeping and he said to Peter, "Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not stay awake for one hour? Watch and pray lest you enter into some testing time. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." And again he went away and prayed in the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were weighed down with sleep. And they did not know how to answer him. And he came the third time and said to them, "Sleep on now. Take your rest. It is enough. The hour has come. See! The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us be going! He who betrays me has come!"
This is a passage we almost fear to read, for it seems to intrude into the private agony of Jesus.
To have stayed in the upper room would have been dangerous. With the authorities on the watch for him, and with Judas bent on treachery, the upper room might have been raided at any time. But Jesus had another place to which to go. The fact that Judas knew to look for him in Gethsemane shows that Jesus was in the habit of going there. In Jerusalem itself there were no gardens. The city was too crowded, and there was a strange law that the city's sacred soil might not be polluted with manure for the gardens. But some of the rich people possessed private gardens out on the Mount of Olives where they took their rest. Jesus must have had some wealthy friend who gave him the privilege of using his garden at night.
When Jesus went to Gethsemane there were two things he sorely desired. He wanted human fellowship and he wanted God's fellowship. "It is not good that the man should be alone," God said in the beginning. (Genesis 2:18.) In time of trouble we want someone with us. We do not necessarily want him to do anything. We do not necessarily even want to talk to him or have him talk to us. We only want him there. Jesus was like that. It was strange that men who so short a time before had been protesting that they would die for him, could not stay awake for him one single hour. But none can blame them, for the excitement and the tension had drained their strength and their resistance.
Certain things are clear about Jesus in this passage.
(i) He did not want to die. He was thirty-three and no one wants to die with life just opening on to the best of the years. He had done so little and there was a world waiting to be saved. He knew what crucifixion was like and he shuddered away from it. He had to compel himself to go on--just as we have so often to do.
(ii) He did not fully understand why this had to be. He only knew beyond a doubt that this was the will of God and that he must go on. Jesus, too, had to make the great venture of faith, he had to accept--as we so often have to do--what he could not understand.
(iii) He submitted to the will of God. Abba (Greek #5) is the Aramaic for my father. It is that one word which made all the difference. Jesus was not submitting to a God who made a cynical sport of men. Hardy finishes his novel Tess, after telling of her tragic life, with the terrible sentence, "The President of the Immortals had finished his sport with Tess." But Jesus was not submitting to a God who was an iron fate.
"But helpless pieces of the game he plays,
Upon this chequer board of nights and days,
Hither and thither moves and checks and slays--
And one by one back in the closet lays."
God was not like that. Even in this terrible hour, when he was making this terrible demand, God was father. When Richard Cameron, the covenanter, was killed, his head and hands were cut off by one Murray and taken to Edinburgh. "His father being in prison for the same cause, the enemy carried them to him, to add grief unto his former sorrow, and inquired if he knew them. Taking his son's head and hands, which were very fair (being a man of a fair complexion like himself) he kissed them and said, 'I know them--I know them. They are my son's--my own dear son's. It is the Lord. Good is the will of the Lord, who cannot wrong me nor mine, but hath made goodness and mercy to follow us all our days.'" If we can call God father everything becomes bearable. Time and again we will not understand, but always we will be certain that "The Father's hand will never cause his child a needless tear." That is what Jesus knew. That is why he could go on--and it can be so with us.
We must note how the passage ends. The traitor and his gang had arrived. What was Jesus' reaction? Not to run away, although even yet, in the night, it would have been easy to escape. His reaction was to face them. To the end he would neither turn aside nor turn back.
THE ARREST (Mark 14:43-50)
14:43-50 And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve arrived, and with him a crowd with swords and cudgels from the chief priests, and the experts in the law, and the elders. The betrayer had given them this sign. "Whom I shall kiss," he said, "that is he. Seize him and take him away securely." So when he had come, immediately he stepped forward. "Rabbi!" he said--and kissed him as a lover would. They laid hands on him and seized him. One of those standing by drew his sword and struck the High Priest's servant and cut off his ear. Jesus said to them, "Have you come out with swords and cudgels to arrest me as you would come against a brigand? Daily I was with you teaching in the Temple precincts, and you did not seize me--but, let it be, that the scriptures may be fulfilled." And they all left him and fled.
Here is sheer drama and, even in Mark's economy of words, the characters stand out before us.
(i) There is Judas, the traitor. He was aware that the people knew Jesus well enough by sight. But he felt that in the dim light of the garden, with the darkness of the trees lit in pools of light by the flare of the torches, they needed a definite indication of who they were to arrest. And so he chose that most terrible of signs--a kiss. It was customary to greet a Rabbi with a kiss. It was a sign of respect and affection for a well-loved teacher. But there is a dreadful thing here. When Judas says, "Whom I shall kiss, that is he," he uses the word philein (Greek #5368) which is the ordinary word. But when it is said that he came forward and kissed Jesus the word is kataphilein (Greek #2705). The kata- (Greek #2596) is intensive and kataphilein (Greek #2705) means to kiss as a lover kisses his beloved. The sign of the betrayal was not a mere formal kiss of respectful greeting. It was a lover's kiss. That is the grimmest and most awful thing in all the gospel story.
(ii) There is the arresting mob. They came from the chief priests, the scribes and the elders. These were the three sections of the Sanhedrin and Mark means that they came from the Sanhedrin. Even under Roman jurisdiction the Sanhedrin had certain police rights and duties in Jerusalem and had its own police force. No doubt an assorted rabble had attached itself to them on the way. Somehow Mark manages to convey the wrought-up excitement of those who came to make the arrest. Maybe they had come prepared for bloodshed with nerves taut and tense. It is they who emanate terror--not Jesus.
(iii) There is the man of the forlorn hope who drew his sword and struck one blow. John (John 18:10) tells us that it was Peter. It sounds like Peter, and Mark very likely omitted the name because it was not yet safe to write it down. In the scuffle no one saw who struck the blow; it was better that no one should know. But when John wrote forty years later it was then quite safe to write it down. It may be wrong to draw a sword and hack at a man, but somehow we are glad that there was one man there who, at least on the impulse of the moment, was prepared to strike a blow for Jesus.
(iv) There are the disciples. Their nerve cracked. They could not face it. They were afraid that they too would share the fate of Jesus; and so they fled.
(v) There is Jesus himself. The strange thing is that in ill this disordered scene Jesus was the one oasis of serenity. As we read the story it reads as if he, not the Sanhedrin police, was directing affairs. For him the struggle in the garden was over, and now there was the peace of the man who knows that he is following the will of God.
A CERTAIN YOUNG MAN (Mark 14:51-52)
14:51-52 And a certain young man was following him, clothed in a linen sheet over his naked body. And they tried to seize him, but he left the linen sheet and escaped naked.
These are two strange and fascinating verses. At first sight they seem completely irrelevant. They seem to add nothing to the narrative and yet there must be some reason for them being there.
We saw in the introduction that Matthew and Luke used Mark as the basis of their work and that they include in their gospels practically everything that is in Mark. But they do not include these two verses. That would seem to show that this incident was interesting to Mark and not really interesting to anyone else. Why then was this incident so interesting to Mark that he felt he must include it? The most probable answer is that the young man was Mark himself, and that this is his way of saying, "I was there," without mentioning his own name at all.
When we read Acts we find that the meeting place and head-quarters of the Jerusalem church was apparently in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12). If that be so, it is at least probable that the upper room in which the Last Supper was eaten was in that same house. There could be no more natural place than that to be the centre of the church. If we can assume that there are two possibilities.
(i) It may be that Mark was actually present at the Last Supper. He was young, just a boy, and maybe no one really noticed him. But he was fascinated with Jesus and when the company went out into the dark, he slipped out after them when he ought to have been in bed, with only the linen sheet over his naked body. It may be that all the time Mark was there in the shadows listening and watching. That would explain where the Gethsemane narrative came from. If the disciples were all asleep how did anyone know about the struggle of soul that Jesus had there? It may be that the one witness was Mark as he stood silent in the shadows, watching with a boy's reverence the greatest hero he had ever known.
(ii) From John's narrative we know that Judas left the company before the meal was fully ended (John 13:30). It may be that it was to the upper room that Judas meant to lead the Temple police so that they might secretly arrest Jesus. But when Judas came back with the police, Jesus and his disciples were gone. Naturally there was recrimination and argument. The uproar wakened Mark. He heard Judas propose that they should try the garden of Gethsemane. Quickly Mark wrapped his bed-sheet about him and sped through the night to the garden to warn Jesus. But he arrived too late, and in the scuffle that followed was very nearly arrested himself.
Whatever may be true, we may take it as fairly certain that Mark put in these two verses because they were about himself He could never forget that night. He was too humble to put his own name in but in this way he wrote his signature, and said, to him who could read between the lines, "I, too, when I was a boy, was there."
THE TRIAL (Mark 14:53; Mark 14:55-65)
14:53,55-65 They took Jesus away to the High Priest, and all the chief priests and experts in the law and elders assembled with him.... The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were trying to find some evidence against Jesus, in order to put him to death, and they could not find any, for there were many who bore false witness against him, but their evidence did not agree. Some stood up and bore false witness against him. "We heard him saying," they said, "'I will destroy this Temple made with hands and in three days' time I will build another not made with hands'." But not even so did their evidence agree. So the High Priest stood up in the midst and questioned Jesus. "Do you give no answer?" he said. "What is the evidence that these men are alleging against you?" Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the High Priest questioned him, and said to him, "Are you God's Anointed One, the Son of the Blessed One?" Jesus said, "I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated on the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven." The High Priest rent his garments. "What need," he said, "have we of witnesses? You have listened to blasphemy. How does it seem to you?" And they all adjudged him to be liable to death. And some began to spit upon him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say to him, "Prophesy!" And the servants received him with blows.
Things were moving quickly to their inevitable end.
At this time the powers of the Sanhedrin were limited because the Romans were the rulers of the country. The Sanhedrin had full power over religious matters. It seems also to have had a certain amount of police court power. But it had no power to inflict the death penalty. If what Mark describes was a meeting of the Sanhedrin it must be compared to a Grand Jury. Its function was not to condemn, but to prepare a charge on which the criminal could be tried before the Roman governor.
There is no doubt that in the trial of Jesus the Sanhedrin broke all its own laws. The regulations for the procedure of the Sanhedrin are in one of the tractates of the Mishnah. Naturally enough some of these regulations are rather ideals than actual practices but, even allowing for that, the whole procedure of this night was a series of flagrant injustices.
The Sanhedrin was the supreme court of the Jews and was composed of seventy-one members. Within its membership there were Sadducees--the priestly classes were all Sadducees--Pharisees and Scribes, who were experts in the law, and respected men who were elders. It appears that any vacancies in the court were filled by co-option. The High Priest presided over the court. The court sat in a semi-circle in such a way that any member could see any other member. Facing it sat the students of the Rabbis. They were allowed to speak on behalf of the person on trial but not against him. The official meeting place of the Sanhedrin was the Hall of Hewn Stone which was within the Temple precincts, and the decisions of the Sanhedrin were not valid unless reached at a meeting held in that place. The court could not meet at night, nor could it meet at any of the great feasts. When evidence was taken, witnesses were examined separately and their evidence to be valid must agree in every detail. Each individual member of the Sanhedrin must give his verdict separately, beginning from the youngest and going on to the eldest. If the verdict was a verdict of death, a night must elapse before it was carried out, so that the court might have a chance to change its mind and its decision towards mercy.
It can be seen that on point after point the Sanhedrin broke its own rules. It was not meeting in its own building. It was meeting at night. There is no word of individually given verdicts. A night was not allowed to elapse before the penalty of death was inflicted. In their eagerness to eliminate Jesus, the Jewish authorities did not hesitate to break their own laws.
At first the court could not get even false witnesses to agree. The false witnesses accused Jesus of having said that he would destroy the Temple. It may well be that someone had overheard him speaking as he did in Mark 13:2, and had maliciously twisted the saying into a threat to destroy the Temple. There is an old legend which tells how the Sanhedrin could get plenty of the kind of evidence they did not want, for man after man came forward saying, "I was a leper and he cleansed me. I was blind and he made me able to see. I was deaf and he made me able to hear. I was lame and he made me able to walk. I was paralysed and he gave me back my strength."
At last the High Priest took the matter into his own hands. When he did, he asked the very kind of question that the law completely forbade. He asked a leading question. It was forbidden to ask questions by answering which the person on trial might incriminate himself. No man could be asked to condemn himself, but that was the very question the High Priest asked. Bluntly he asked Jesus if he was the Messiah. Clearly Jesus felt that it was time that the whole wretched business was ended. Without hesitation he answered that he was. Here was a charge of blasphemy, insult against God. The Sanhedrin had what it wanted, a charge which merited the death penalty, and they were savagely content.
Once again we see the two great characteristics of Jesus emerge.
(i) We see his courage. He knew that to make that answer was to die, and yet unhesitatingly he made it. Had he denied the charges they would have been powerless to touch him.
(ii) We see his confidence. Even with the Cross now a certainty, he still continued to speak with complete confidence of his ultimate triumph.
Surely it is the most terrible of tragedies to see him who came to offer men love denied even bare justice, and humiliated by the crude and cruel horse-play of the Sanhedrin servants and guards.
COURAGE AND COWARDICE (Mark 14:54; Mark 14:66-72)
14:54,66-72 And Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the High Priest's house, and he was sitting there with the servants, warming himself at the fire.... When Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the maidservants of the High Priest came up, and when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. "You, too," she said, "were with the Nazarene, with Jesus." He denied it. "I do not know," he said, "or understand what you are saying." He went out into the porch, and the cock crew. The maidservant saw him and again began to say to the bystanders, "This man was one of them." But he again denied it. Soon afterwards the bystanders said to Peter, "In truth you are one of them, for you are a Galilaean." He began to curse and to swear, "I do not know the man you are talking about." And immediately cockcrow sounded. And Peter remembered the word, how Jesus had said to him, "Before the cock crow twice you will deny me three times." And he flung his cloak about his head and wept.
Sometimes we tell this story in such a way as to do Peter far less than justice. The thing we so often fail to recognize is that up to the very last Peter's career this night had been one of fantastically reckless courage. He had begun by drawing his sword in the garden with the reckless courage of a man prepared to take on a whole mob by himself. In that scuffle he had wounded the servant of the High Priest. Common prudence would have urged that Peter should lie very low. The last place anyone would have dreamed that he would go to would be the courtyard of the High Priest's house--yet that is precisely where he did go. That in itself was sheer audacity. It may be that the others had fled, but Peter was keeping his word. Even if the others had gone he would stick to Jesus.
Then the queer mixture of human nature emerged. he was sitting by the fire, for the night was cold. No doubt he was huddled in his cloak. Maybe someone poked the fire or flung a fresh log upon it, and it flared up with a fitful flame and Peter was recognized. Straightway he denied all connection with Jesus. But--and here is the forgotten point--any prudent man would then have left that courtyard as fast as his legs could carry him--but not Peter. The same thing happened again. Again Peter denied Jesus and again he would not go. It happened once more. Again Peter denied Jesus, Peter did not curse Jesus' name. What he did was to swear he did not know Jesus and to call down curses on himself if he was not telling the truth. Still it seems he did not mean to move. But something else happened.
Very probably it was this. The Roman night was divided into four watches from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. At the end of the third watch, at three o'clock in the morning, the guard was changed. When the guard was changed there was a bugle call which was called the gallicinium, which is the Latin for the cockcrow. Most likely what happened was that as Peter spoke his third denial, the clear note of the bugle call rang out over the silent city and smote on Peter's ear. He remembered and his heart broke.
Make no mistake--Peter fell to a temptation which would have come only to a man of fantastic courage. It ill becomes prudent and safety-seeking men to criticize Peter for falling to a temptation which would never, in the same circumstances, have come to them at all. Every man has his breaking-point. Peter reached his here, but nine hundred and ninety-nine men out of every thousand would have reached theirs long before. We would do well to be amazed at Peter's courage rather than to be shocked at his fall.
But there is another thing. There is only one source from which this story could have come--and that is Peter himself. We saw in the introduction that Mark's gospel is the preaching material of Peter. That is to say, over and over again Peter must have told the story of his own denial. "That is what I did," he must have said, "and this amazing Jesus never stopped loving me."
There was an evangelist called Brownlow North. He was a man of God, but in his youth he had lived a wild life. One Sunday he was to preach in Aberdeen. Before he entered the pulpit a letter was handed to him. The writer recounted a shameful incident in Brownlow North's life before he became a Christian and stated that if he dared to preach he would rise in the church and publicly proclaim what once he had done. Brownlow North took the letter into the pulpit with him. He read it to the congregation. He told them that it was perfectly true. Then he told them how through Christ he had been forgiven, how he had been enabled to overcome himself and put the past behind him, how through Christ he was a new creature. He used his own shame as a magnet to draw men to Christ. That is what Peter did. He told men, "I hurt him and I let him down like that, and still he loved and forgave me--and he can do the same for you."
When we read this passage with understanding, the story of Peter's cowardice becomes an epic of courage and the story of his shame becomes a tale of glory,
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
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Barclay, William. "Commentary on Mark 14". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany