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CHAPTER: 14:1-9 (Mark 14:1-9)
THE CRUSE OF OINTMENT
"Now after two days was the feast of the passover and the unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him with subtlety, and to kill Him: for they said, Not during the feast, lest haply there shall be a tumult of the people. And while He was in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster cruse of ointment of spikenard very costly; and she brake the cruse, and poured it over His head. But there were some that had indignation among themselves, saying, To what purpose hath this waste of the ointment been made? For this ointment might have been sold for above three hundred pence, and given to the poor. And they murmured against her. But Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on Me. For ye have the poor always with you, and whensoever ye will ye can do them good: but Me ye have not always. She hath done what she could: she hath anointed My body aforehand for the burying. And verily I say unto you, Wheresoever the gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, that also which this woman hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her." Mark 14:1-9 (R.V.)
PERFECTION implies not only the absence of blemishes, but the presence, in equal proportions, of every virtue and every grace. And so the perfect life is full of the most striking, and yet the easiest transitions. We have just read predictions of trial more startling and intense than any in the ancient Scripture. If we knew of Jesus only by the various reports of that discourse, we should think of a recluse like Elijah or the Baptist, and imagine that His disciples, with girded loins, should be more ascetic than St. Anthony. We are next shown Jesus at a supper gracefully accepting the graceful homage of a woman.
From St. John we learn that this feast was given six days before the Passover. The other accounts postponed the mention of it, plainly because of an incident which occurred then, but is vitally connected with a decision arrived at somewhat later by the priests. Two days before the Passover, the council finally determined that Jesus must be destroyed. They recognized all the dangers of that course. It must be done with subtlety; the people must not be aroused; and therefore they said, Not on the feast-day. It is remarkable, however, that at the very time when they so determined, Jesus clearly and calmly made to His disciples exactly the opposite announcement. "After two days the Passover cometh, and the Son of Man is delivered up to be crucified" (Matthew 26:2). Thus we find at every turn of the narrative that their plans are over-ruled, and they are unconscious agents of a mysterious design, which their Victim comprehends and accepts. On one side, perplexity snatches at all base expedients; the traitor is welcomed, false witnesses are sought after, and the guards of the sepulcher bribed. On the other side is clear foresight, the deliberate unmasking of Judas, and at the trial a circumspect composure, a lofty silence, and speech more majestic still.
Meanwhile there is a heart no longer light (for He foresees His burial), yet not so burdened that He should decline the entertainment offered Him at Bethany.
This was in the house of Simon the leper, but St. John tells us that Martha served, Lazarus sat at meat, and the woman who anointed Jesus was Mary. We naturally infer some relationship between Simon and this favored family; but the nature of the tie we know not, and no purpose can be served by guessing. Better far to let the mind rest upon the sweet picture of Jesus, at home among those who loved Him; upon the eager service of Martha; upon the man who had known death, somewhat silent, one fancies, a remarkable sight for Jesus, as He sat at meat, and perhaps suggestive of the thought which found utterance a few days afterwards, that a banquet was yet to come, when He also risen from the grave, should drink new wine among His friends in the kingdom of God. And there the adoring face of her who had chosen the better part was turned to her Lord with a love which comprehended His sorrow and His danger, while even the Twelve were blind -- an insight which knew the awful presence of One upon His way to the sepulcher, as well as one who had returned thence. Therefore she produced a cruse of very precious ointment, which had been "kept" for Him, perhaps since her brother was embalmed. And as such alabaster flasks were commonly sealed in making, and only to be opened by breaking off the neck, she crushed the cruse between her hands and poured it on His head. On His feet also, according to St. John, who is chiefly thinking of the embalming of the body, as the others of the anointing of the head. The discovery of contradiction here is worthy of the abject "criticism" which detects in this account a variation upon the story of her who was a sinner. As if two women who loved much might not both express their loyalty, which could not speak, by so fair and feminine a device; or as if it were inconceivable that the blameless Mary should consciously imitate the gentle penitent.
But even as this unworthy controversy breaks in upon the tender story, so did indignation and murmuring spoil that peaceful scene. "Why was not this ointment sold for much, and given to the poor?" It was not common that others should be more thoughtful of the poor than Jesus.
He fed the multitudes they would have sent away; He gave sight to Bartimaeus whom they rebuked. But it is still true, that whenever generous impulses express themselves with lavish hands, some heartless calculator reckons up the value of what is spent, and especially its value to "the poor;" the poor, who would be worse off if the instincts of love were arrested and the human heart frozen. Almshouses are not usually built by those who declaim against church architecture; nor is utilitarianism famous for its charities. And so we are not surprised when St. John tells us how the quarrel was fomented. Iscariot, the dishonest purse bearer, was exasperated at the loss of a chance of theft, perhaps of absconding without being so great a loser at the end of his three unrequited years. True that the chance was gone, and speech would only betray his estrangement from Jesus, upon Whom so much good property was wasted. But evil tempers must express themselves at times, and Judas had craft enough to involve the rest in his misconduct. It is the only indication in the Gospels of intrigue among the Twelve which even indirectly struck at their Master’s honor.
Thus, while the fragrance of the ointment filled the house, their parsimony grudged the homage which soothed His heart, and condemned the spontaneous impulse of Mary’s love.
It was for her that Jesus interfered, and His words went home.
The poor were always with them: opportunities would never fail those who were so zealous; and whensoever they would they could do them good,--whensoever Judas, for example, would. As for her, she had wrought a good work (a high-minded and lofty work is implied rather than a useful one) upon Him, Whom they should not always have. Soon His body would be in the hands of sinners, desecrated, outraged. And she only had comprehended, however dimly the silent sorrow of her Master; she only had laid to heart His warnings; and, unable to save Him, or even to watch with Him one hour, she (and through all that week none other) had done what she could. She had anointed His body beforehand for the burial, and indeed with clear intention "to prepare Him for burial" (Matthew 26:12).
It was for this that His followers had chidden her. Alas, how often do our shrewd calculations and harsh judgments miss the very essence of some problem which only the heart can solve, the silent intention of some deed which is too fine, too sensitive, to explain itself except only to that sympathy which understands us all. Men thought of Jesus as lacking nothing, and would fain divert His honor to the poor; but this woman comprehended the lonely heart, and saw the last inexorable need before Him. Love read the secret in the eyes of love, and this which Mary did shall be told while the world stands, as being among the few human actions which refreshed the lonely One, the purest, the most graceful, and perhaps the last.
CHAPTER 14:10-16 (Mark 14:10-16)
"And Judas Iscariot, he that was one of the twelve, went away unto the chief priests, that he might deliver Him unto them. And they, when they heard it, were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently deliver Him unto them. And on the first day of unleavened bread, when they sacrificed the passover, His disciples say unto Him, Where wilt Thou that we go and make ready that Thou mayest eat the passover? And He sendeth two of His disciples, and saith unto them, Go into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him; and wheresoever he shall enter in, say to the goodman of the house, the Master saith, Where is My guest-chamber, where I shall eat the passover with My disciples? And he will himself shew you a large upper room furnished and ready: and there make ready for us. And the disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as He had said unto them: and they made ready the passover." Mark 14:10-16 (R.V.)
IT was when Jesus rebuked the Twelve for censuring Mary, that the patience of Judas, chafing in a service which had grown hateful, finally gave way. He offered a treacherous and odious help to the chiefs of his religion, and these pious men, too scrupulous to cast blood-money into the treasure or to defile themselves by entering a pagan judgment hall, shuddered not at the contact of such infamy, warned him not that perfidy will pollute the holiest cause, care as little then for his ruin as when they asked what to them was his remorseful agony; but were glad, and promised to give him money. By so doing, they became accomplices in the only crime by which it is quite certain that a soul was lost. The supreme "offense" was planned and perpetrated by no desperate criminal. It was the work of an apostle, and his accomplices were the heads of a divinely given religion. What an awful example of the deadening power, palsying the conscience, petrifying the heart, of religious observances devoid of real trust and love.
The narrative, as we saw, somewhat displaced the story of Simon’s feast, to connect this incident more closely with the betrayal. And it now proceeds at once to the Passover, and the final crisis. In so doing, it pauses at a curious example of circumspection, intimately linked also with the treason of Judas. The disciples, unconscious of treachery, asked where they should prepare the paschal supper. And Jesus gave them a sign by which to recognize one who had a large upper room prepared for that purpose, to which he would make them welcome. It is not quite impossible that the pitcher of water was a signal preconcerted with some disciple in Jerusalem, although secret understandings are not found elsewhere in the life of Jesus. What concerns us to observe is that the owner of the house which the bearer entered was a believer. To him Jesus is "the Master," and can say "Where is My guest-chamber?"
[NOTE: Carrying water was women’s work; a man carrying a pitcher of water would be unusual.]
So obscure a disciple was he, that Peter and John require a sign to guide them to his house. Yet his upper room would now receive such a consecration as the Temple never knew. With strange feelings would he henceforth enter the scene of the last supper of his Lord. But now, what if he had only admitted Jesus with hesitation and after long delay? We should wonder; yet there are lowlier doors at which the same Jesus stands and knocks, and would fain come in and sup. And cold is His welcome to many a chamber which is neither furnished nor made ready.
The mysterious and reticent indication of the place is easily understood. Jesus would not enable His enemies to lay hands upon Him before the time. His nights had hitherto been spent at Bethany; now first it was possible to arrest Him in the darkness, and hurry on the trial before the Galileans at the feast, strangers and comparatively isolated, could learn the danger of their "prophet of Galilee." It was only too certain that when the blow was struck, the light and fickle adhesion of the populace would transfer itself to the successful party. Meanwhile, the prudence of Jesus gave Him time for the Last Supper, and the wonderful discourse recorded by St. John, and the conflict and victory in the Garden. When the priests learned, at a late hour, that Jesus might yet be arrested before morning, but that Judas could never watch Him any more, the necessity for prompt action came with such surprise upon them, that the arrest was accomplished while they still had to seek false witnesses, and to consult how a sentence might best be extorted from the Governor. It is right to observe at every point, the mastery of Jesus, the perplexity and confusion of His foes.
And it is also right that we should learn to include, among the woes endured for us by the Man of Sorrows, this haunting consciousness that a base vigilance was to be watched against, that He breathed the air of treachery and vileness.
Here then, in view of the precautions thus forced upon our Lord, we pause to reflect upon the awful fall of Judas, the degradation of an apostle into a hireling, a traitor, and a spy. Men have failed to believe that one whom Jesus called to His side should sink so low.
They have not observed how inevitably great goodness rejected brings out special turpitude, and dark shadows go with powerful lights; how, in this supreme tragedy, all the motives, passions, moral and immoral impulses are on the tragic scale; what gigantic forms of baseness, hypocrisy, cruelty, and injustice stalk across the awful platform, and how the forces of hell strip themselves, and string their muscles for a last desperate wrestle against the powers of heaven, so that here is the very place to expect the extreme apostasy. And so they have conjectured that Iscariot was only half a traitor. Some project had misled him of forcing his Master to turn to bay.
Then the powers which wasted themselves in scattering unthanked and unprofitable blessings would exert themselves to crush the foe. Then he could claim for himself the credit deserved by much astuteness, the consideration due to the only man of political resource among the Twelve. But this well-intending Judas is equally unknown to the narratives and the prophecies, and this theory does not harmonize with any of the facts. Profound reprobation and even contempt are audible in all the narratives; they are quite as audible in the reiterated phrase, "which was one of the Twelve," and in almost every mention of his name, as in the round assertion of St. John, that he was a thief and stole from the common purse. Only the lowest motive is discernible in the fact that his project ripened just when the waste of the ointment spoiled his last hope from apostleship, -- the hope of unjust gain, and in his bargaining for the miserable price which he still carried with him when the veil dropped from his inner eyes, when he awoke to the sorrow of the world which worketh death, to the remorse which was not penitence.
One who desired that Jesus should be driven to counter-measures and yet free to take them, would probably have favored His escape when once the attempt to arrest Him inflicted the necessary spur, and certainly he would have anxiously avoided any appearance of insult. But it will be seen that Judas carefully closed every door against his Lord’s escape, and seized Him with something very like a jibe on his recreant lips.
No, his infamy cannot be palliated, but it can be understood. For it is a solemn and awful truth, that in every defeat of grace the reaction is equal to the action; they who have been exalted unto heaven are brought down far below the level of the world; and the principle is universal that Israel cannot, by willing it, be as the nations that are round about, to serve other gods. God Himself gives him statutes that are not good. He makes fat the heart and blinds the eyes of the apostate. Therefore it comes that religion without devotion is the mockery of honest worldlings; that hypocrisy goes so constantly with the meanest and most sordid lust of gain, and selfish cruelty; that publicans and harlots enter heaven before scribes and Pharisees; that salt which has lost its savor is fit neither for the land nor for the dung-hill. Oh, then, to what place of shame shall a recreant apostle be thrust down?
Moreover it must be observed that the guilt of Judas, however awful, is but a shade more dark than that of his sanctimonious employers, who sought false witnesses against Christ, extorted by menace and intrigue a sentence which Pilate openly pronounced to be unjust, mocked His agony on the cross, and on the resurrection morning bribed a pagan soldiery to lie for the Hebrew faith. It is plain enough that Jesus could not and did not choose the apostle through foreknowledge of what they would hereafter prove, but by His perception of what they then were, and what they were capable of becoming, if faithful to the light they should receive.
Not one, when chosen first, was ready to welcome the purely spiritual kingdom, the despised Messiah, the life of poverty and scorn. They had to learn, and it was open to them to refuse the discipline. Once at least they were asked, Will ye also go away? How severe was the trial may be seen by the rebuke of Peter, and the petition of "Zebedee’s children" and their mother. They conquered the same reluctance of the flesh which overcame the better part in Judas. But he clung desperately to secular hope, until the last vestige of such hope was over. Listening to the warnings of Christ against the cares of this world, the lust of other things, love of high places and contempt of lowly service, and watching bright offers rejected and influential classes estranged, it was inevitable that a sense of personal wrong, and a vindictive resentment, should spring up in his gloomy heart. The thorns choked the good seed. Then came a deeper fall. As he rejected the pure light of self-sacrifice, and the false light of his romantic daydreams faded, no curb was left on the baser instincts which are latent in the human heart. Self-respect being already lost, and conscience beaten down, he was allured by low compensations, and the apostle became a thief. What better than gain, however sordid, was left to a life so plainly frustrated and spoiled? That is the temptation of disillusion, as fatal to middle life as the passions are to early manhood. And this fall reacted again upon his attitude towards Jesus. Like all who will not walk in the light, he hated the light; like all hirelings of two masters, he hated the one he left. Men ask how Judas could have consented to accept for Jesus the blood-money of a slave. The truth is that his treason itself yielded him a dreadful satisfaction, and the insulting kiss, and the sneering "Rabbi," expressed the malice of his heart. Well for him if he had never been born. For when his conscience awoke with a start and told him what thing he had become, only self-loathing remained to him. Peter denying Jesus was nevertheless at heart His own; a look sufficed to melt him. For Judas, Christ was become infinitely remote and strange, an abstraction, "the innocent blood," no more than that. And so, when Jesus was passing into the holiest through the rent veil which was His flesh, this first Antichrist had already torn with his own hands the tissue of the curtain which hides eternity.
Now let us observe that all this ruin was the result of forces continually at work upon human hearts. Aspiration, vocation, failure, degradation -- it is the summary of a thousand lives. Only it is here exhibited on a vast and dreadful scale (magnified by the light which was behind, as images thrown by a lantern upon a screen) for the instruction and warning of the world.
CHAPTER 14:17-21 (Mark 14:17-21)
"And when it was evening He cometh with the twelve. And as they sat and were eating, Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, One of you shall betray Me, even he that eateth with Me. They began to be sorrowful, and to say unto Him one by one, Is it I? And He said unto them, It is one of the twelve, he that dippeth with Me in the dish. For the Son of man goeth, even as it is written of Him: but woe unto that man through whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had not been born." Mark 14:17-21 (R.V.)
IN the deadly wine which our Lord was made to drink, every ingredient of mortal bitterness was mingled. And it shows how far is even His Church from comprehending Him, that we think so much more of the physical than the mental and spiritual horrors which gather around the closing scene.
But the tone of all the narratives, and perhaps especially of St. Mark’s, is that of the exquisite Collect which reminds us that our Lord Jesus Christ was contented to be betrayed, and given up into the hands of wicked men, as well as to suffer death on the cross. Treason and outrage, the traitor’s kiss and the weakness of those who loved Him, the hypocrisy of the priest and the ingratitude of the mob, perjury and a mock trial, the injustice of His judges, the brutal outrages of the soldiers, the worse and more malignant mockery of scribe and Pharisee, and last and direst, the averting of the face of God, these were more dreadful to Jesus than the scourging and the nails.
And so there is great stress laid upon His anticipation of the misconduct of His own.
As the dreadful evening closes in, having come to the guest chamber "with the Twelve" -- eleven whose hearts should fail them and one whose heart was dead, it was "as they sat and were eating" that the oppression of the traitor’s hypocrisy became intolerable, and the outraged One spoke out. "Verily I say unto you, one of you shall betray Me, even he that eateth with Me." The words are interpreted as well as predicted in the plaintive Psalm which says, "Mine own familiar friend in whom I trusted, which did also eat of My bread, hath lifted up his heel against Me." And perhaps they are less a disclosure than a cry.
Every attempt to mitigate the treason of Judas, every suggestion that he may only have striven too willfully to serve our Lord by forcing Him to take decided measures, must fail to account for the sense of utter wrong which breathes in the simple and piercing complaint "one of you . . . even he that eateth with Me." There is a tone in all the narratives which is at variance with any palliation of the crime.
No theology is worth much if it fails to confess, at the centre of all the words and deeds of Jesus, a great and tender human heart. He might have spoken of teaching and warnings lavished on the traitor, and miracles which he had beheld in vain. What weighs heaviest on His burdened spirit is none of these; it is that one should betray Him who had eaten His bread.
When Brutus was dying he is made to say --
"My heart doth joy, that yet, in all my life,
I found no man, but he was true to me."
But no form of innocent sorrow was to pass Jesus by.
The vagueness in the words "one of you shall betray Me," was doubtless intended to suggest in all a great searching of heart. Coming just before the institution of the Eucharistic feast, this incident anticipates the command which it perhaps suggested: "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat." It is good to be distrustful of one’s self. And if, as was natural, the Eleven looked one upon another doubting of whom He spake, they also began to say to Him, one by one (first the most timid, and then others as the circle narrowed), Is it I? For the prince of this world had something in each of them, -- some frailty there was, some reluctance to bear the yoke, some longing for the forbidden ways of worldliness, which alarmed each at this solemn warning, and made him ask, Is it, can it be possible, that it is I? Religious self-sufficiency was not then the apostolic mood. Their questioning is also remarkable as a proof how little they suspected Judas, how firmly he bore himself even as those all-revealing words were spoken, how strong and wary was the temperament which Christ would fain have sanctified. For between the Master and him there could have been no more concealment.
The apostles were right to distrust themselves, and not to distrust another. They were right, because they were so feeble, so unlike their Lord. But for Him there is no misgiving: His composure is serene in the hour of the power of darkness. And His perfect spiritual sensibility discerned the treachery, unknown to others, as instinctively as the eye resents the presence of a mote imperceptible to the hand.
The traitor’s iron nerve is somewhat strained as he feels himself discovered, and when Jesus is about to hand a sop to him, he stretches over, and their hands meet in the dish. That is the appointed sign: "It is one of the Twelve, he that dippeth with Me in the dish," and as he rushes out into the darkness, to seek his accomplices and his revenge, Jesus feels the awful contrast between the betrayer and the Betrayed. For Himself, He goeth as it is written of Him. This phrase admirably expresses the co-operation of Divine purpose and free human will, and by the woe that follows He refutes all who would make of God’s fore-knowledge an excuse for human sin. He then is not walking in the dark and stumbling, though men shall think Him falling. But the life of the false one is worse than utterly cast away: of him is spoken the dark and ominous word, never indisputably certain of any other soul, "Good were it for him if that man had not been born."
"That man!" The order and emphasis are very strange. The Lord, who felt and said that one of His chosen was a devil, seems here to lay stress upon the warning thought, that he who fell so low was human, and his frightful ruin was evolved from none but human capabilities for good and evil. In "the Son of man" and "that man," the same humanity was to be found.
For Himself, He is the same today as yesterday. All that we eat is His. And in the most especial and far-reaching sense, it is His bread which is broken for us at His table. Has He never seen traitor except one who violated so close a bond? Alas, the night when the Supper of the Lord was given was the same night when He was betrayed.
CHAPTER 14:22-25 (Mark 14:22-25)
BREAD AND WINE
"And as they were eating, He took bread, and when He had blessed, He brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take ye: this is My body. And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks, He gave to them: and they all drank of it. And He said unto them, This is My blood of the covenant, which is shed for many. Verily I say unto you, I will no more drink of the fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." Mark 14:22-25 (R.V.)
HOW much does the Gospel of St. Mark tell us about the Supper of the Lord? He is writing to Gentiles. He is writing probably before the sixth chapter of St. John was penned, certainly before it reached his readers. Now we must not undervalue the reflected light thrown by one Scripture upon another. Still less may we suppose that each account conveys all the doctrine of the Eucharist. But it is obvious that St. Mark intended his narrative to be complete in itself, even if not exhaustive. No serious expositor will ignore the fullness of any word or action in which later experience can discern meanings, truly involved, although not apparent at the first. That would be to deny the inspiring guidance of Him who sees the end from the beginning. But it is reasonable to omit from the interpretation of St. Mark whatever is not either explicitly there, or else there in germ, waiting underneath the surface for other influences to develop it. For instance, the "remembrance" of Christ in St. Paul’s narrative may (or it may not) mean a sacrificial memorial to God of His Body and His Blood. If it be, this notion was to be conveyed to the readers of this Gospel hereafter, as a quite new fact, resting upon other authority. It has no place whatever here, and need only be mentioned to point out that St. Mark did not feel bound to convey the slightest hint of it. A communion, therefore, could be profitably celebrated by persons who had no glimmering of any such conception. Nor does he rely, for an understanding of his narrative, upon such familiarity with Jewish ritual as would enable his readers to draw subtle analogies as they went along. They were so ignorant of these observances that he had just explained to them on what day the Passover was sacrificed (ver. 12).
But this narrative conveys enough to make the Lord’s Supper, for every believing heart, the supreme help to faith, both intellectual and spiritual, and the mightiest of promises, and the richest gift of grace.
It is hard to imagine that any reader would conceive that the bread in Christ’s hands had become His body, which still lived and breathed; or that His blood, still flowing in His veins, was also in the cup He gave to His disciples. No resort could be made to the glorification of the risen Body as an escape from the perplexities of such a notion, for in whatever sense the words are true, they were spoken of the body of His humiliation, before which still lay the agony and the tomb.
Instinct would revolt yet more against such a gross explanation, because the friends of Jesus are bidden to eat and drink. And all the analogy of Christ’s language would prove that His vivid style refuses to be tied down to so lifeless and mechanical a treatment. Even in this Gospel they could discover that seed was teaching, and fowls were Satan, and that they were themselves His mother and His brethren. Further knowledge of Scripture would not impair this natural freedom of interpretation. For they would discover that if animated language were to be frozen to such literalism, the partakers of the Supper were themselves, though many, one body and one loaf, that Onesimus was St. Paul’s very heart, that leaven is hypocrisy, that Hagar is Mount Sinai, and that the veil of the temple is the flesh of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:17; Philemon 1:12; Luke 12:1; Galatians 4:25; Hebrews 10:20). And they would also find, in the analogous institution of the paschal feast, a similar use of language (Exodus 12:11).
But when they had failed to discern the doctrine of a transubstantiation, how much was left to them. The great words remained, in all their spirit and life, "Take ye, this is My Body . . . this is My Blood of the Covenant, which is shed for many."
(1) So then, Christ did not look forward to His death as to ruin or overthrow. The Supper is an institution which could never have been devised at any later period. It comes to us by an unbroken line from the Founder’s hand, and attested by the earliest witnesses. None could have interpolated a new ordinance into the simple worship of the early Church, and the last to suggest such a possibility should be those skeptics who are deeply interested in exaggerating the estrangements which existed from the first, and which made the Jewish Church a keen critic of Gentile innovation, and the Gentiles of a Jewish novelty.
Nor could any genius have devised its vivid and pictorial earnestness, its copious meaning, and its pathetic power over the heart, except His, Who spoke of the Good Shepherd and of the Prodigal Son. And so it tells us plainly what Christ thought about His own death. Death is to most of us simply the close of life. To Him it was itself an achievement, and a supreme one. Now it is possible to remember with exultation a victory which cost the Conqueror’s life. But on the Friday which we call Good, nothing happened except the crucifixion. The effect on the Church, which is amazing and beyond dispute, is produced by the death of her Founder, and by nothing else. The Supper has no reference to Christ’s resurrection. It is as if the nation exulted in Trafalgar, not in spite of the death of our great Admiral, but solely because he died; as if the shot which slew Nelson had itself been the overthrow of hostile navies. Now the history of religions offers no parallel to this. The admirers of the Buddha love to celebrate the long spiritual struggle, the final illumination and the career of gentle helpfulness. They do not derive life and energy from the somewhat vulgar manner of his death. But the followers of Jesus find an inspiration (very displeasing to some recent apostles of good taste) in singing of their Redeemer’s blood. Remove from the Creed (which does not even mention His three years of teaching) the proclamation of His death, and there may be left, dimly visible to man, the outline of a sage among the sages, but there will be no longer a Messiah, nor a Church. It is because He was lifted up that He draws all men unto Him. The perpetual nourishment of the Church, her bread and wine, are beyond question the slain body of her Master and His blood poured out for man.
What are we to make of this admitted fact, that from the first she thought less of His miracles, His teaching, and even of His revelation of the Divine character in a perfect life, than of the doctrine that He who thus lived, died for the men who slew Him? And what of this, that Jesus Himself, in the presence of imminent death, when men review their lives and set a value on their achievements, embodied in a solemn ordinance the conviction that all He had taught and done was less to man than what He was about to suffer? The Atonement is here proclaimed as a cardinal fact in our religion, not worked out into doctrinal subtleties, but placed with marvelous simplicity and force, in the forefront of the consciousness of the simplest. What the Incarnation does for our bewildering thoughts of God, the absolute and unconditioned, that does the Eucharist for our subtle reasonings upon the Atonement.
(2) The death of Christ is thus precious, because He Who is sacrificed for us can give Himself away. "Take ye" is a distinct offer. And so the communion feast is not a mere commemoration, such as nations hold for great deliverances. It is this, but it is much more, else the language of Christ would apply worse to that first supper whence all our Eucharistic language is derived, than to any later celebration. When He was absent, the bread would very aptly remind them of His wounded body, and the wine of His blood poured out. It might naturally be said, Henceforward, to your loving remembrance this shall be My Body, as indeed, the words, As oft as ye drink it, are actually linked with the injunction to do this in remembrance. But scarcely could it have been said by Jesus, looking His disciples in the face, that the elements were then His body and blood, if nothing more than commemoration were in His mind. And so long as popular Protestantism fails to look beyond this, so long will it be hard pressed and harassed by the evident weight of the words of institution. These are given in Scripture solely as having been spoken then, and no interpretation is valid which attends chiefly to subsequent celebrations, and only in the second place to the Supper of Jesus and the Eleven.
Now the most strenuous opponent of the doctrine that any change has passed over the material substance of the bread and wine, need not resist the palpable evidence that Christ appointed these to represent Himself. And how? Not only as sacrificed for His people, but as verily bestowed upon them. Unless Christ mocks us, "Take ye" is a word of absolute assurance. Christ’s Body is not only slain, and His Blood shed on our behalf; He gave Himself to us as well as for us; He is ours. And therefore whoever is convinced that he may take part in "the sacrament of so great a mystery" should realize that he there receives, conveyed to him by the Author of that wondrous feast, all that is expressed by the bread and wine.
(3) And yet this very word "Take ye," demands our cooperation in the sacrament. It requires that we should receive Christ, as it declares that He is ready to impart Himself, utterly, like food which is taken into the system, absorbed, assimilated, wrought into bone, into tissue and into blood. And if any doubt lingered in our minds of the significance of this word, it is removed when we remember how belief is identified with feeding, in St. John’s Gospel. "I am the bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall not hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst . . . He that believeth hath eternal life. I am the bread of life." (John 6:35; John 6:47-48.) If it follows that to feed upon Christ is to believe, it also follows quite as plainly that belief is not genuine unless it really feeds upon Christ.
It is indeed impossible to imagine a more direct and vigorous appeal to man to have faith in Christ than this, that He formally conveys, by the agency of His Church, to the hands and lips of His disciples, the appointed emblem of Himself, and of Himself in the act of blessing them. For the emblem is food in its most nourishing and in its most stimulating form, in a form the best fitted to speak of utter self-sacrifice, by the bruised corn of broken bread, and by the solemn resemblance to His sacred blood. We are taught to see, in the absolute absorption of our food into our bodily system, a type of the completeness wherewith Christ gives Himself to us.
That gift is not to the Church in the gross, it is "divided among" us; it individualizes each believer; and yet the common food expresses the unity of the whole Church in Christ. Being many we are one bread.
Moreover, the institution of a meal reminds us that faith and emotion do not always exist together. Times there are when the hunger and thirst of the soul are like the craving of a sharp appetite for food. But the wise man will not postpone his meal until such a keen desire returns, and the Christian will seek for the Bread of life, however his emotions may flag, and his soul cleave unto the dust. Silently and often unaware, as the substance of the body is renovated and restored by food, shall the inner man be strengthened and built up by that living Bread.
(4) We have yet to ask the great question, what is the specific blessing expressed by the elements, and therefore surely given to the faithful by the sacrament. Too many are content to think vaguely of Divine help, given us for the merit of the death of Christ. But bread and wine do not express an indefinite Divine help, they express the body and blood of Christ, they have to do with His Humanity. We must beware, indeed, of limiting the notion overmuch. At the Supper He said not "My flesh," but "My body," which is plainly a more comprehensive term. And in the discourse when He said "My Flesh is meat indeed," He also said "I am the bread of life . . . He that eateth Me, the same shall live by Me." And we may not so carnalize the Body as to exclude the Person, who bestows Himself. Yet is all the language so constructed as to force the conviction upon us that His body and blood, His Humanity, is the special gift of the Lord’s Supper. As man He redeemed us, and as man He imparts Himself to man.
Thus we are led up to the sublime conception of a new human force working in humanity. As truly as the life of our parents is in our veins, and the corruption which they inherited from Adam is passed on to us, so truly there is abroad in the world another influence, stronger to elevate than the infection of the fall is to degrade; and the heart of the Church is propelling to its utmost extremities the pure life of the Second Adam, the Second Man, the new Father of the race. As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive; and we who bear now the image of our earthy progenitor shall hereafter bear the image of the heavenly. Meanwhile, even as the waste and dead tissues of our bodily frame are replaced by new material from every meal, so does He, the living Bread, impart not only aid from heaven, but nourishment, strength to our poor human nature, so weary and exhausted, and renovation to what is sinful and decayed. How well does such a doctrine of the sacrament harmonize with the declarations of St. Paul: "I live, and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me." "The Head, from whom all the body being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increaseth with the increase of God" (Galatians 2:20; Colossians 2:19).
(5) In the brief narrative of St. Mark, there are a few minor points of interest.
Fasting communions may possibly be an expression of reverence only. The moment they are pressed further, or urged as a duty, they are strangely confronted by the words, "While they were eating, Jesus took bread."
The assertion that "they all drank," follows from the express commandment recorded elsewhere. And while we remember that the first communicants were not laymen, yet the emphatic insistence upon this detail, and with reference only to the cup, is entirely at variance with the Roman notion of the completeness of a communion in one kind.
It is most instructive also to observe how the far-reaching expectation of our Lord looks beyond the Eleven, and beyond His infant Church, forward to the great multitude which no man can number, and speaks of the shedding of His blood "for many." He, who is to see of the travail of His soul and to be satisfied, has already spoken of a great supper when the house of God shall be filled. And now He will no more drink of the fruit of the vine until that great day when the marriage of the Lamb having come and His Bride having made herself ready, He shall drink it new in the consummated kingdom of God.
With the announcement of that kingdom He began His gospel: how could the mention of it be omitted from the great gospel of the Eucharist? or how could the Giver of the earthly feast be silent concerning the banquet yet to come?
CHAPTER 14:26-31 (Mark 14:26-31)
"And when they had sung a hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives. And Jesus saith unto them, All ye shall be offended: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered abroad. Howbeit, after I am raised up, I will go before you into Galilee. But Peter said unto Him, Although all shall be offended, yet will not I. And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, that thou today, even this night, before the cock crow twice, shalt deny me thrice. But he spake exceeding vehemently, If I must die with Thee, I will not deny Thee. And in like manner also said they all." Mark 14:26-31 (R.V.)
SOME uncertainty attaches to the position of Christ’s warning to the Eleven in the narrative of the last evening. Was it given at the supper, or on Mount Olivet; or were there perhaps premonitory admonitions on His part, met by vows of faithfulness on theirs, which at last led Him to speak out so plainly, and elicited such vainglorious protestations, when they sat together in the night air?
What concerns us more is the revelation of a calm and beautiful nature, at every point in the narrative. Jesus knows and has declared that His life is now closing, and His blood already "being shed for many." But that does not prevent Him from joining with them in singing a hymn. It is the only time when we are told that our Savior sang, evidently because no other occasion needed mention; a warning to those who draw confident inferences from such facts as that "none ever said he smiled," or that there is no record of His having been sick. It would surprise such theorists to observe the number of biographies much longer than any of the Gospels, which also mention nothing of the kind.
The Psalms usually sung at the close of the feast are Psalms 115:1-18 and the three following. The first tells how the dead praise not the Lord, but we will praise Him from this time forth forever. The second proclaims that the Lord hath delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. The third bids all the nations praise the Lord, for His merciful kindness is great and His truth endureth forever. And the fourth rejoices because, although all nations compassed me about, yet I shall not die, but live and declare the works of the Lord; and because the stone which the builders rejected is become the head stone of the corner. Memories of infinite sadness were awakened by the words which had so lately rung around His path: "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.;" but His voice was strong to sing, "Bind the sacrifice with cords, even to the horns of the altar;" and it rose to the exultant close, "Thou art my God, and I will praise Thee: Thou art my God, I will exalt Thee. O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever."
This hymn, from the lips of the Perfect One, could be no "dying swan-song." It uplifted that more than heroic heart to the wonderful tranquillity which presently said, "When I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee." It is full of victory. And now they go unto the Mount of Olives.
Is it enough considered how much of the life of Jesus was passed in the open air? He preached on the hillside; He desired that a boat should be at His command upon the lake; He prayed upon the mountain; He was transfigured beside the snows of Hermon; He oft-times resorted to a garden which had not yet grown awful; He met His disciples on a Galilean mountain; and He finally ascended from the Mount of Olives. His unartificial normal life, a pattern to us, not as students but as men -- was spent by preference neither in the study nor the street.
In this crisis, most solemn and yet most calm, He leaves the crowded city into which all the tribes had gathered, and chooses for His last intercourse with His disciples, the slopes of the opposite hillside, while overhead is glowing, in all the still splendor of an Eastern sky, the full moon of Passover. Here then is the place for one more emphatic warning. Think how He loved them. As His mind reverts to the impending blow, and apprehends it in its most awful form, the very buffet of God Who Himself will smite the Shepherd, He remembers to warn His disciples of their weakness. We feel it to be gracious that He should think of them at such a time. But if we drew a little nearer, we should almost hear the beating of the most loving heart that ever broke. They were all He had. In them He had confided utterly. Even as the Father had loved Him He also had loved them, the firstfruits of the travail of His soul. He had ceased to call them servants and had called them friends. To them He had spoken those affecting words, "Ye are they which have continued with Me in My temptations." How intensely He clung to their sympathy, imperfect though it was, is best seen by His repeated appeals to it in the Agony. And He knew that they loved Him, that the spirit was willing, that they would weep and lament for Him, sorrowing with a sorrow which He hastened to add that He would turn into joy.
It is the preciousness of their fellowship which reminds Him how this, like all else, must fail Him. If there is blame in the words, "Ye shall be offended," this passes at once into exquisite sadness when He adds that He, Who so lately said, "Them that Thou gavest Me, I have guarded," should Himself be the cause of their offense, "All ye shall be caused to stumble because of Me." And there is an unfathomable tenderness, a marvelous allowance for their frailty in what follows. They were His sheep, and therefore as helpless, as little to be relied upon, as sheep when the shepherd is stricken. How natural it was for sheep to be scattered.
The world has no parallel for such a warning to comrades who are about to leave their leader, so faithful and yet so tender, so far from estrangement or reproach.
If it stood alone it would prove the Founder of the Church to be not only a great teacher, but a genuine Son of man.
For Himself, He does not share their weakness, nor apply to Himself the lesson of distrustfulness which He teaches them; He is of another nature from these trembling sheep, the Shepherd of Zechariah, "Who is My fellow, saith the Lord of Hosts." He does not shrink from applying to Himself this text, which awakens against Him the sword of God (Zechariah 13:7).
Looking now beyond the grave to the resurrection, and unestranged by their desertion, He resumes at once the old relation; for as the shepherd goeth before his sheep, and they follow him, so He will go before them into Galilee, to the familiar places far from the city where men hate Him.
This last touch of quiet human feeling completes an utterance too beautiful, too characteristic to be spurious, yet a prophecy, and one which attests the ancient predictions, and which involves an amazing claim.
At first sight it is surprising that the Eleven who were lately so conscious of weakness that each asked was he the traitor, should since have become too self-confident to profit by a solemn admonition. But a little examination shows the two statements to be quite consistent. They had wronged themselves by that suspicion, and never is self-reliance more boastful than when it is reassured after being shaken. The institution of the Sacrament had invested them with new privileges, and drawn them nearer than ever to their Master. Add to this the infinite tenderness of the last discourse in St. John, and the prayer which was for them and not for the world. How did their hearts burn within them as He said, "Holy Father, keep them in Thy name whom Thou hast given Me." How incredible must it then have seemed to them, thrilling with real sympathy and loyal gratitude, that they should forsake such a Master.
Nor must we read in their words merely a loud and indignant self-assertion, all unworthy of the time and scene. They were meant to be a solemn vow. The love they professed was genuine and warm. Only they forgot their weakness; they did not observe the words which declared them to be helpless sheep entirely dependent on the Shepherd, whose support would speedily seem to fail.
Instead of harsh and unbecoming criticism, which repeats almost exactly their fault by implying that we should not yield to the same pressure, let us learn the lesson, that religious exaltation, a sense of special privilege, and the glow of generous emotions, have their own danger. Unless we continue to be as little children, receiving the Bread of Life, without any pretense to have deserved it, and conscious still that our only protection is the staff of our Shepherd, then the very notion that we are something, when we are nothing, will betray us to defeat and shame.
Peter is the loudest in his protestations; and there is a painful egoism in his boast, that even if the others fail, he will never deny Him. So in the storm, it is he who should be called across the waters. And so an early reading makes him propose that he alone should build the tabernacles for the wondrous Three.
Naturally enough, this egoism stimulates the rest. For them, Peter is among those who may fail, while each is confident that he himself cannot. Thus the pride of one excites the pride of many.
But Christ has a special humiliation to reveal for his special self-assertion. That day, and even before that brief night was over, before the second cockcrowing ("the cock-crow" of the rest, being that which announced the dawn) he shall deny his Master twice. Peter does not observe that his eager contradictions are already denying the Master’s profoundest claims. The others join in his renewed protestations, and their Lord answers them no more. Since they refuse to learn from Him, they must be left to the stern schooling of experience. Even before the betrayal, they had an opportunity to judge how little their good intentions might avail. For Jesus now enters Gethsemane.
CHAPTER 14:32-42 (Mark 14:32-42)
IN THE GARDEN
"And they come unto a place which was named Gethsemane: and He saith unto His disciples, Sit ye here, while I pray. And He taketh with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly amazed, and sore troubled. And He saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death: abide ye here, and watch. And He went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass away from Him. And He said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto Thee: remove this cup from Me: howbeit not what I will, but what Thou wilt. And He cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest thou not watch one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. And again He went away, and prayed, saying the same words. And again He came, and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they wist not what to answer Him. And He cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough; the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Arise, let us be going: behold, he that betrayeth Me is at hand." Mark 14:32-42 (R.V.)
ALL scripture, given by inspiration of God, is profitable; yet must we approach with reverence and solemn shrinking, the story of our Savior’s anguish. It is a subject for caution and for reticence, putting away all over-curious surmise, all too-subtle theorizing, and choosing to say too little rather than too much.
It is possible so to argue about the metaphysics of the Agony as to forget that a suffering human heart was there, and that each of us owes his soul to the victory which was decided if not completed in that fearful place. The Evangelists simply tell us how He suffered.
Let us begin with the accessories of the scene, and gradually approach the center.
In the warning of Jesus to His disciples there was an undertone of deep sorrow. God will smite Him, and they will all be scattered like sheep. However dauntless be the purport of such words, it is impossible to lose sight of their melancholy. And when the Eleven rejected His prophetic warning, and persisted in trusting the hearts He knew to be so fearful, their professions of loyalty could only deepen His distress, and intensify His isolation.
In silence He turns to the deep gloom of the olive grove, aware now of the approach of the darkest and deadliest assault.
There was a striking contrast between the scene of His first temptation and His last; and His experience was exactly the reverse of that of the first Adam, who began in a garden, and was driven thence into the desert, because he failed to refuse himself one pleasure more beside ten thousand. Jesus began where the transgression of men had driven them, in the desert among the wild beasts, and resisted not a luxury, but the passion of hunger craving for bread. Now He is in a garden, but how different from theirs. Close by is a city filled with foemen, whose messengers are already on His track. Instead of the attraction of a fruit good for food, and pleasant, and to be desired to make one wise, there is the grim repulsion of death, and its anguish, and its shame and mockery. He is now to be assailed by the utmost terrors of the flesh and of the spirit. And like the temptation in the wilderness, the assault is three times renewed.
As the dark "hour" approached, Jesus confessed the two conflicting instincts of our human nature in its extremity -- the desire of sympathy, and the desire of solitude. Leaving eight of the disciples at some distance, He led still nearer to the appointed place His elect of His election, on whom He had so often bestowed special privilege, and whose faith would be less shaken by the sight of His human weakness, because they had beheld His Divine glory on the holy mount. To these He opened His heart. "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death; abide ye here and watch." And He went from them a little. Their neighborhood was a support in His dreadful conflict, and He could at times return to them for sympathy; but they might not enter with Him into the cloud, darker and deadlier than that which they feared on Hermon. He would fain not be desolate, and yet He must be alone.
But when He returned, they were asleep. As Jesus spoke of watching for one hour, some time had doubtless elapsed. And sorrow is exhausting. If the spirit do not seek for support from God, it will be dragged down by the flesh into heavy sleep, and the brief and dangerous respite of oblivion.
It was the failure of Peter which most keenly affected Jesus, not only because his professions had been so loud, but because much depended on his force of character. Thus, when Satan had desired to have them, that he might sift them all like wheat, the prayers of Jesus were especially for Simon, and it was he when he was converted who should strengthen the rest. Surely then he at least might have watched one hour. And what of John, His nearest human friend, whose head had reposed upon His bosom? However keen the pang, the lips of the Perfect Friend were silent; only He warned them all alike to watch and pray, because they were themselves in danger of temptation.
That is a lesson for all time. No affection and no zeal are a substitute for the presence of God realized, and the protection of God invoked. Loyalty and love are not enough without watchfulness and prayer, for even when the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak, and needs to be upheld.
Thus, in His severest trial and heaviest oppression, there is neither querulousness nor invective, but a most ample recognition of their good will, a most generous allowance for their weakness, a most sedulous desire, not that He would be comforted, but that they should escape temptation.
With His yearning heart unsoothed, with another anxiety added to His heavy burden, Jesus returned to His vigil. Three times He felt the wound of unrequited affection, for their eyes were very heavy, and they wist not what to answer Him when He spoke.
Nor should we omit to contrast their bewildered stupefaction, with the keen vigilance and self-possession of their more heavily burdened Lord.
If we reflect that Jesus must needs experience all the sorrows that human weakness and human wickedness could inflict, we may conceive of these varied wrongs as circles with a common center, on which the cross was planted. And our Lord has now entered the first of these; He has looked for pity but there was no man; His own, although it was grief which pressed them down, slept in the hour of His anguish, and when He bade them watch.
It is right to observe that our Saviour had not bidden them to pray with Him. They should watch and pray. They should even watch with Him. But to pray for Him, or even to pray with Him, they were not bidden. And this is always so. Never do we read that Jesus and any mortal joined together in any prayer to God. On the contrary, when two or three of them asked anything in His name, He took for Himself the position of the Giver of their petition. And we know certainly that He did not invite them to join His prayers, for it was as He was praying in a certain place that when he ceased, one of His disciples desired that they also might be taught to pray (Luke 11:1). Clearly then they were not wont to approach the mercy seat hand in hand with Jesus. And the reason is plain. He came directly to His Father; no man else came unto the Father but by Him; there was an essential difference between His attitude towards God and ours.
Has the Socinian ever asked himself why, in this hour of His utmost weakness, Jesus sought no help from the intercession of even the chiefs of the apostles?
It is in strict harmony with this position, that St. Matthew tells us, He now said not Our Father, but My Father. No disciple is taught, in any circumstances to claim for himself a monopolized or special sonship. He may be in his closet and the door shut, yet must he remember his brethren and say, Our Father. That is a phrase which Jesus never addressed to God. None is partaker of His Sonship; none joined with Him in supplication to His Father.
CHAPTER 14:34-42 (Mark 14:34-42)
"And He saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death: abide ye here, and watch. And He went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass away from Him. And He said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto Thee: remove this cup from Me: howbeit not what I will, but what Thou wilt. And He cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest thou not watch one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. And again He went away, and prayed, saying the same words. And again He came, and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they wist not what to answer Him. And He cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough; the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Arise, let us be going: behold, he that betrayeth Me is at hand." Mark 14:34-42 (R.V.)
SKEPTICS and believers have both remarked that St. John, the only Evangelist who was said to have been present, gives no account of the Agony.
It is urged by the former, that the serene composure of the discourse in his Gospel leaves no room for subsequent mental conflict and recoil from suffering, which are inconsistent besides with his conception of a Divine man, too exalted to be the subject of such emotions.
But do not the others know of composure which bore to speak of His Body as broken bread, and seeing in the cup the likeness of His Blood shed, gave it to be the food of His Church for ever?
Was the resignation less serene which spoke of the smiting of the Shepherd, and yet of His leading back the flock to Galilee? If the narrative was rejected as inconsistent with the calmness of Jesus in the fourth Gospel, it should equally have repelled the authors of the other three.
We may grant that emotion, agitation, is inconsistent with unbelieving conceptions of the Christ of the fourth Gospel. But this only proves how false those conceptions are. For the emotion, the agitation, is already there. At the grave of Lazarus the word which tells that when He groaned in spirit He was troubled, describes one’s distress in the presence of some palpable opposing force (John 11:34). There was, however, a much closer approach to His emotion in the garden, when the Greek world first approached Him. Then He contrasted its pursuit of self-culture with His own doctrine of self-sacrifice, declaring that even a grain of wheat must either die or abide by itself alone. To Jesus that doctrine was no smooth, easily announced theory, and so He adds, "Now is My soul troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour. But for this cause came I unto this hour:" (John 12:27).
Such is the Jesus of the fourth Gospel, by no means that of its modern analysts. Nor is enough said, when we remind them that the Speaker of these words was capable of suffering; we must add that profound agitation at the last was inevitable, for One so resolute in coming to this hour, yet so keenly sensitive of its dread.
The truth is that the silence of St. John is quite in his manner. It is so that he passes by the Sacraments, as being familiar to his readers, already instructed in the gospel story. But he gives previous discourses in which the same doctrine is expressed which was embodied in each Sacrament, -- the declaration that Nicodemus must be born of water, and that the Jews must eat His flesh and drink His blood. It is thus that instead of the agony, he records that earlier agitation. And this threefold recurrence of the same expedient is almost incredible except by design. St. John was therefore not forgetful of Gethsemane.
A coarser infidelity has much to say about the shrinking of our Lord from death. Such weakness is pronounced unworthy, and the bearing of multitudes of brave men and even of Christian martyrs, unmoved in the flames, is contrasted with the strong crying and tears of Jesus.
It would suffice to answer that Jesus also failed not when the trial came, but before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession, and won upon the cross the adoration of a fellow-sufferer and the confession of a Roman soldier. It is more than enough to answer that His story, so far from relaxing the nerve of human fortitude, has made those who love Him stronger to endure tortures than were emperors and inquisitors to invent them. What men call His weakness has inspired ages with fortitude. Moreover, the censure which such critics, much at ease, pronounce on Jesus expecting crucifixion, arises entirely from the magnificent and unique standard by which they try Him; for who is so hard-hearted as to think less of the valor of the martyrs because it was bought by many a lonely and intense conflict with the flesh?
For us, we accept the standard; we deny that Jesus in the garden came short of absolute perfection; but we call attention to the fact that much is conceded to us, when a criticism is ruthlessly applied to our Lord which would excite indignation and contempt if brought to bear on the silent sufferings of any hero or martyr but Himself.
Perfection is exactly what complicates the problem here.
Conscious of our own weakness, we not only justify but enjoin upon ourselves every means of attaining as much nobility as we may. We "steel ourselves to bear," and therefore we are led to expect the same of Jesus. We aim at some measure of what, in its lowest stage, is callous insensibility. Now that word is negative; it asserts the absence of paralysis of a faculty, not its fullness and activity. Thus we attain victory by a double process; in part by resolutely turning our mind away, and only in part by its ascendancy over appreciated distress. We administer anodynes to the soul. But Jesus, when He had tasted thereof, would not drink. The horrors which were closing around Him were perfectly apprehended, that they might perfectly be overcome.
Thus suffering, He became an example for gentle womanhood, and tender childhood, as well as man boastful of his stoicism. Moreover, He introduced into the world a new type of virtue, much softer and more emotional than that of the sages. The stoic, to whom pain is no evil, and the Indian laughing and singing at the stake, are partly actors and partly perversions of humanity. But the good Shepherd is also, for His gentleness, a lamb. And it is His influence which has opened our eyes to see a charm unknown before, in the sensibility of our sister and wife and child. Therefore, since the perfection of manhood means neither the ignoring of pain nor the denying of it, but the union of absolute recognition with absolute mastery of its fearfulness, Jesus, on the approach of agony and shame, and who shall say what besides, yields Himself beforehand to the full contemplation of His lot. He does so, while neither excited by the trial, nor driven to bay by the scoffs of His murderers, but in solitude, in the dark, with stealthy footsteps approaching through the gloom.
And ever since, all who went farthest down into the dread Valley, and on whom the shadow of death lay heaviest, found there the footsteps of its Conqueror. It must be added that we cannot measure the keenness of the sensibility thus exposed to torture. A physical organization and a spiritual nature fresh from the creative hand, undegraded by the transmitted heritage of ages of artificial, diseased and sinful habit, unblunted by one deviation from natural ways, undrugged by one excess, was surely capable of a range of feeling as vast in anguish as in delight.
The skeptic supposes that a torrent of emotion swept our Savior off His feet. The only narratives he can go upon give quite the opposite impression. He is seen to fathom all that depth of misery, He allows the voice of nature to utter all the bitter earnestness of its reluctance, yet He never loses self-control, nor wavers in loyalty to His Father, nor renounces His submission to the Father’s will. Nothing in the scene is more astonishing than its combination of emotion with self-government. Time after time He pauses, gently and lovingly admonishes others, and calmly returns to His intense and anxious vigil.
Thus He has won the only perfect victory. With a nature so responsive to emotion He has not refused to feel, nor abstracted His soul from suffering, nor silenced the flesh by such an effort as when we shut our ears against a discord. Jesus sees all, confesses that He would fain escape, but resigns Himself to God.
In the face of all asceticisms, as of all stoicisms, Gethsemane is the eternal protest that every part of human nature is entitled to be heard, provided that the spirit retains the arbitration over all.
Hitherto nothing has been assumed which a reasonable skeptic can deny. Nor should such a reader fail to observe the astonishing revelation of character in the narrative, its gentle pathos, its intensity beyond what commonly belongs to gentleness, its affection, its mastery over the disciples, its filial submission. Even the rich imaginative way of thinking which invented the parables and sacrament, is in the word "this cup."
But if the story of Gethsemane can be vindicated from such a point of view, what shall be said when it is viewed as the Church regards it? Both testaments declare that the sufferings of the Messiah were supernatural. In the Old Testament it was pleasing to the Father to bruise Him. The terrible cry of Jesus to a God who had forsaken Him is conclusive evidence from the New Testament. And if we ask what such a cry may mean, we find that He is a curse for us, and made to be sin for us, Who knew no sin.
If the older theology drew incredible conclusions from such words, that is no reason why we should ignore them. It is incredible that God was angry with His Son, or that in any sense the Omniscient One confused the Savior with the sinful world. It is incredible that Jesus ever endured estrangement as of lost souls from the One Whom in Gethsemane He called Abba Father, and in the hour of utter darkness, My God, and into whose Fatherly hands He committed His Spirit. Yet it is clear that He is being treated otherwise than a sinless Being, as such, ought to expect. His natural stand-place is exchanged for ours. And as our exceeding misery, and the bitter curse of all our sin fell on Him, Who bore it away by bearing it, our pollution surely affected His purity as keenly as our stripes tried His sensibility. He shuddered as well as agonized. The deep waters in which He sank were defiled as well as cold. Only this can explain the agony and bloody sweat. And as we, for whom He endured it, think of this, we can only be silent and adore.
Once more, Jesus returns to His disciples, but no longer to look for sympathy, or to bid them watch and pray. The time for such warnings is now past: the crisis, "the hour" is come, and His speech is sad and solemn. "Sleep on now and take your rest, it is enough." Had the sentence stopped there, none would ever have proposed to treat it as a question, "Do ye now sleep on and take your rest?" It would plainly have meant, "Since ye refuse My counsel and will none on My reproof, I strive no further to arouse the torpid will, the inert conscience, the inadequate affection. Your resistance prevails against My warning."
But critics fail to reconcile this with what follows, "Arise, let us be going." They fail through supposing that words of intense emotion must be interpreted like a syllogism or a lawyer’s parchment.
"For My part, sleep on; but your sleep is now to be rudely broken: take your rest so far as respect for your Master would have kept you watchful; but the traitor is at hand to break such repose, let him not find you ignobly slumbering. Arise, he is at hand that doth betray Me.’"
This is not sarcasm, which taunts and wounds. But there is a lofty and profound irony in the contrast between their attitude and their circumstances, their sleep and the eagerness of the traitor.
And so they lost the most noble opportunity ever given to mortals, not through blank indifference nor unbelief, but by allowing the flesh to overcome the spirit. And thus do multitudes lose heaven, sleeping until the golden hours are gone, and He who said, "Sleep on now," says, "He that is unrighteous, let him be unrighteous still."
Remembering that defilement was far more urgent than pain in our Savior’s agony, how sad is the meaning of the words, "the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners," and even of "the sinners," the representatives of all the evil from which He had kept Himself unspotted.
The one perfect flower of humanity is thrown by treachery into the polluted and polluting grasp of wickedness in its many forms; the traitor delivers Him to hirelings; the hirelings to hypocrites; the hypocrites to an unjust and skeptical pagan judge; the judge to his brutal soldiery; who expose him to all that malice can wreak upon the most sensitive organization, or ingratitude upon the most tender heart.
At every stage an outrage. Every outrage an appeal to the indignation of Him who held them in the hollow of His hand. Surely it may well be said, Consider Him who endured such contradiction; and endured it from sinners against Himself.
CHAPTER 14:43-52 (Mark 14:43-52)
"And straightway, while He yet spake, cometh Judas, one of the twelve, and with him a multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now he that betrayed Him had given them a token, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that is He; take Him, and lead Him away safely. And when he was come, straightway he came to Him, and saith, Rabbi; and kissed Him. And they laid hands on Him, and took Him. But a certain one of them that stood by drew his sword, and smote the servant of the high priest, and struck off his ear. And Jesus answered and said unto them, Are ye come out, as against a robber, with swords and staves to seize Me? I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and ye took Me not: but this is done that the scriptures might be fulfilled. And they all left Him and fled. And a certain young man followed with Him, having a linen cloth cast about him, over his naked body: and they lay hold on him; but he left the linen cloth, and fled naked." Mark 14:43-52 (R.V.)
ST. Mark has told this tragical story in the most pointed and the fewest words. The healing of the ear of Malchus concerns him not, that is but one miracle among many; and Judas passes from sight unfollowed: the thought insisted on is of foul treason, pitiable weakness, brute force predominant, majestic remonstrance and panic flight. From the central events no accessories can distract him.
There cometh, he tells us, "Judas, one of the Twelve." Who Judas was, we knew already, but we are to consider how Jesus felt it now. Before His eyes is the catastrophe which His death is confronted to avert -- the death of a soul, a chosen and richly dowered soul for ever lost -- in spite of so many warnings -- in spite of that incessant denunciation of covetousness which rings through so much of His teaching, which only the presence of Judas quite explains, and which His terrible and searching gaze must have made like fire, to sear since it could not melt -- in spite of the outspoken utterances of these last days, and doubtless in spite of many prayers, he is lost: one of the Twelve.
And the dark thought would fall cold upon Christ’s heart, of the multitudes more who should receive the grace of God, His own dying love, in vain. And with that, the recollection of many an hour of loving-kindness wasted on this familiar friend in whom He trusted, and who now gave Him over, as he had been expressly warned, to so cruel a fate. Even toward Judas, no unworthy bitterness could pollute that sacred heart, the fountain of unfathomable compassions, but what speechless grief must have been there, what inconceivable horror. For the outrage was dark in form as in essence. Judas apparently conceived that the Eleven might, as they had promised, rally around their Lord; and he could have no perception how impossible it was that Messiah should stoop to escape under cover of their devotion, how frankly the good Shepherd would give His life for the sheep. In the night, he thought, evasion might yet be attempted, and the town be raised. But he knew how to make the matter sure. No other would as surely as himself recognize Jesus in the uncertain light. If he were to lay hold on Him rudely, the Eleven would close in, and in the struggle, the prize might yet be lost. But approaching a little in advance, and peaceable, he would ostentatiously kiss his Master, and so clearly point Him out that the arrest would be accomplished before the disciples realized what was being done.
But at every step the intrigue is overmastered by the clear insight of Jesus. As He foretold the time of His arrest, while yet the rulers said, Not on the feast day, so He announced the approach of the traitor, who was then contriving the last momentary deception of his polluting kiss.
We have already seen how impossible it is to think of Judas otherwise than as the Church has always regarded him, an apostate and a traitor in the darkest sense. The milder theory is at this stage shattered by one small yet significant detail. At the supper, when conscious of being suspected, and forced to speak, he said not, like the others, "Lord," but "Rabbi, is it I?" Now they meet again, and the same word is on his lips, whether by design and in Satanic insolence, or in hysterical agitation and uncertainty, who can say?
But no loyalty, however misled, inspired that hasting and inadequate epithet, no wild hope of a sudden blazing out of glories too long concealed is breathed in the traitor’s Rabbi!
With that word, and his envenomed kiss, the "much kissing," which took care that Jesus should not shake him off, he passes from this great Gospel. Not a word is here of his remorse, or of the dreadful path down which he stumbled to his own place. Even the lofty remonstrance of the Lord is not recorded: it suffices to have told how he betrayed the Son of man with a kiss, and so infused a peculiar and subtle poison into Christ’s draught of deadly wine. That, and not the punishment of that, is what St. Mark recorded for the Church, the awful fall of an apostle, chosen of Christ; the solemn warning to all privileged persons, richly endowed and highly placed; the door to hell, as Bunyan has it, from the very gate of Heaven.
A great multitude with swords and staves had come from the rulers. Possibly some attempt at rescue was apprehended from the Galileans who had so lately triumphed around Jesus. More probably the demonstration was planned to suggest to Pilate that a dangerous political agitation had to be confronted.
At all events, the multitude did not terrify the disciples: cries arose from their little band, "Lord, shall we smite with the sword?" and if Jesus had consented, it seems that with two swords the Eleven whom declaimers make to be so craven, would have assailed the multitude in arms.
Now this is what points the moral of their failure. Few of us would confess personal cowardice by accepting a warning from the fears of the fearful. But the fears of the brave must needs alarm us. It is one thing to defy death, sword in hand, in some wild hour of chivalrous effort -- although the honors we shower upon the valiant prove that even such fortitude is less common than we would fain believe. But there is a deep which opens beyond this. It is a harder thing to endure the silent passive anguish to which the Lamb, dumb before the shearers, calls His followers. The victories of the spirit are beyond animal strength of nerve. In their highest forms they are beyond the noble reach of intellectual resolution. How far beyond it we may learn by contrasting the excitement and then the panic of the Eleven with the sublime composure of their Lord.
One of them, whom we know to have been the impulsive Simon, showed his loss of self-control by what would have been a breach of discipline, even had resistance been intended. While others asked should they smite with the sword, he took the decision upon himself, and struck a feeble and abortive blow, enough to exasperate but not to disable. In so doing he added, to the sorrows of Jesus, disobedience, and the inflaming of angry passion among His captors.
Strange it is, and instructive, that the first act of violence in the annals of Christianity came not from her assailants but from her son. And strange to think with what emotions Jesus must have beheld that blow.
St. Mark records neither the healing of Malchus nor the rebuke of Peter. Throughout the events which now crowd fast upon us, we shall not find him careful about fullness of detail. This is never his manner, though he loves any detail which is graphic, characteristic, or intensifying. But his concern is with the spirit of the Lord and of His enemies: he is blind to no form of injustice or insult which heightened the sufferings of Jesus, to no manifestation of dignity and self-control overmastering the rage of hell. If He is unjustly tried by Caiaphas, it matters nothing that Annas also wronged Him. If the soldiers of Pilate insulted Him, it matters nothing that the soldiers of Herod also set Him at nought. Yet the flight of a nameless youth is recorded, since it adds a touch to the picture of His abandonment.
And therefore he records the indignant remonstrance of Jesus upon the manner of His arrest. He was no man of violence and blood, to be arrested with a display of overwhelming force. He needed not to be sought in concealment and at midnight.
He has spoken daily in the temple, but then their malice was defeated, their snares rent asunder, and the people witnessed their exposure. But all this was part of His predicted suffering, for Whom not only pain but injustice was foretold, Who should be taken from prison and from judgment.
It was a lofty remonstrance. It showed how little could danger and betrayal disturb His consciousness, and how clearly He discerned the calculation of His foes.
At this moment of unmistakable surrender, His disciples forsook Him and fled. One young man did indeed follow Him, springing hastily from slumber in some adjacent cottage, and wrapped only in a linen cloth. But he too, when seized, fled away, leaving his only covering in the hands of the soldiers.
This youth may perhaps have been the Evangelist himself, of whom we know that, a few years later, he joined Paul and Barnabas at the outset, but forsook them when their journey became perilous.
It is at least as probable that the incident is recorded as a picturesque climax to that utter panic which left Jesus to tread the winepress alone, deserted by all, though He never forsook any.
CHAPTER 14:53-65 (Mark 14:53-65)
"And they led Jesus away to the high priest: and there come together with him all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes. And Peter had followed Him afar off, even within, into the court of the high priest; and he was sitting with the officers, and warming himself in the light of the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council sought witness against Jesus to put Him to death; and found it not. For many bare false witness against Him, and their witness agreed not together. And there stood up certain, and bare false witness against Him, saying, We heard Him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands. And not even so did their witness agree together. And the high priest stood up in the midst, and asked Jesus, saying, Answerest Thou nothing? what is it which these witness against Thee? But He held His peace and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked Him, and saith unto Him, Art Thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven. And the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What further need have we of witnesses? Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? And they all condemned Him to be worthy of death. And some began to spit on Him, and to cover His face, and to buffet Him, and to say unto Him, Prophesy: and the officers received Him with blows of their hands" Mark 14:53-65 (R.V.)
WE have now to see the Judge of quick and dead taken from prison and judgment, the Preacher of liberty to the captives bound, and the Prince of Life killed. It is the most solemn page in earthly story; and as we read St. Mark’s account, it will concern us less to reconcile his statements with those of the other three, than to see what is taught us by his especial manner of regarding it. For St. Mark is not writing a history but a Gospel, and his readers are Gentiles, for whom the details of Hebrew intrigue matter nothing, and the trial before a Galilean tetrarch would be only half intelligible.
St. John, who had been an eye-witness, knew that the private inquiry before Annas was vital, for there the decision was taken which subsequent and more formal assemblies did but ratify. He therefore, writing last, threw this ray of explanatory light over all that the others had related. St. Luke recorded in the Acts (Acts 4:27) that the apostles recognized, in the consent of Romans and Jews, and of Herod and Pilate, what the Psalmist had long foretold, the rage of the heathen and the vain imagination of the peoples, and the conjunction of kings and rulers. His Gospel therefore lays stress upon the part played by all of these. And St. Matthew’s readers could appreciate every fulfillment of prophecy, and every touch of local color. St. Mark offers to us the essential points: rejection and cruelty by His countrymen, rejection and cruelty over again by Rome, and the dignity, the elevation, the lofty silence and the dauntless testimony of his Lord. As we read, we are conscious of the weakness of His crafty foes, who are helpless and baffled, and have no resort except to abandon their charges and appeal to His own truthfulness to destroy Him.
He shows us first the informal assembly before Caiaphas, whither Annas sent Him with that sufficient sign of his own judgment, the binding of His hands, and the first buffet, inflicted by an officer, upon His holy face. It was not yet daylight, and a formal assembly of the Sanhedrin was impossible. But what passed now was so complete a rehearsal of the tragedy, that the regular meeting could be disposed of in a single verse.
There was confusion and distress among the conspirators. It was not their intention to have arrested Jesus on the feast day, at the risk of an uproar among the people. But He had driven them to do so by the expulsion of their spy, who, if they delayed longer, would be unable to guide their officers. And so they found themselves without evidence, and had to play the part of prosecutors when they ought to be impartial judges. There is something frightful in the spectacle of these chiefs of the religion of Jehovah suborning perjury as the way to murder; and it reminds us of the solemn truth, that no wickedness is so perfect and heartless as that upon which sacred influences have long been vainly operating, no corruption so hateful as that of a dead religion. Presently they would cause the name of God to be blasphemed among the heathen, by bribing the Roman guards to lie about the corpse. And the heart of Jesus was tried by the disgraceful spectacle of many false witnesses, found in turn and paraded against Him, but unable to agree upon any consistent charge, while yet the shameless proceedings were not discontinued. At the last stood up witnesses to pervert what He had spoken at the first cleansing of the temple, which the second cleansing had so lately recalled to mind. They represented Him as saying, "I am able to destroy this temple made with hands." -- or perhaps, "I will destroy" it, for their testimony varied on this grave point -- "and in three days I will build another made without hands." It was for blaspheming the Holy Place that Stephen died, and the charge was a grave one; but His words were impudently manipulated to justify it. There had been no proposal to substitute a different temple, and no mention of the temple made with hands. Nor had Jesus ever proposed to destroy anything. He had spoken of their destroying the Temple of His Body, and in the use they made of the prediction they fulfilled it.
As we read of these repeated failures before a tribunal so unjust, we are led to suppose that opposition must have sprung up to disconcert them; we remember the councilor of honorable estate, who had not consented to their counsel and deed, and we think, What if, even in that hour of evil, one voice was uplifted for righteousness? What if Joseph confessed Him in the conclave, like the penitent thief upon the cross?
And now the high priest, enraged and alarmed by imminent failure, rises in the midst, and in the face of all law cross-questions the prisoner, Answerest Thou nothing? What is it which these witness against Thee? But Jesus will not become their accomplice; He maintains the silence which contrasts so nobly with their excitement, which at once sees through their schemes and leaves them to fall asunder. And the urgency of the occasion, since hesitation now will give the city time to rise, drives them to a desperate expedient. Without discussion of His claims, without considering that some day there must be some Messiah, (else what is their faith and who are they?) they will treat it as blasphemous and a capital offense simply to claim that title. Caiaphas adjures Him by their common God to answer, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? So then they were not utterly ignorant of the higher nature of the Son of David: they remembered the words, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee. But the only use they ever made of their knowledge was to heighten to the uttermost the Messianic dignity which they would make it death to claim. And the prisoner knew well the consequences of replying. But He had come into the world to bear witness to the truth, and this was the central truth of all. "And Jesus said, I am." Now Renan tells us that He was the greatest religious genius who ever lived, or probably ever shall live. Mill tells us that religion cannot be said to have made a bad choice in pitching on this Man as their ideal representative and guide of humanity. And Strauss thinks that we know enough of Him to assert that His consciousness was unclouded by the memory of any sin. Well then, if anything in the life of Jesus is beyond controversy, it is this, that the sinless Man, our ideal representative and guide, the greatest religious genius of the race, died for asserting upon oath that He was the Son of God. A good deal has been said lately, both wise and foolish, about Comparative Religion: is there anything to compare with this? Lunatics, with this example before their eyes, have conceived wild and dreadful infatuations. But these are the words of Him whose character had dominated nineteen centuries, and changed the history of the world. And they stand alone in the records of mankind.
As Jesus spoke the fatal words, as malice and hatred lighted the faces of His wicked judges with a base and ignoble joy, what was His own thought? We know it by the warning that He added. They supposed themselves judges and irresponsible, but there would yet be another tribunal, with justice of a far different kind, and there they should occupy another place. For all that was passing before His eyes, so false, hypocritical and murderous, there was no lasting victory, no impunity, no escape: "Ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven." Therefore His apostle Peter tells us that in this hour, when He was reviled and reviled not again, "He committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously" (1 Peter 2:23).
He had now quoted that great vision in which the prophet Daniel saw Him brought near unto the Ancient of Days, and invested with an everlasting dominion (Daniel 7:13-14). But St. Matthew adds one memorable word. He did not warn them, and He was not Himself sustained, only by the mention of a far-off judgment: He said they should behold Him thus "henceforth." And that very day they saw the veil of their temple rent, felt the world convulsed, and remembered in their terror that He had foretold His own death and His resurrection, against which they had still to guard. And in the open sepulcher, and the supernatural vision told them by its keepers, in great and notable miracles wrought by the name of Jesus, in the desertion of a great multitude even of priests, and their own fear to be found fighting against God, in all this the rise of that new power was thenceforth plainly visible, which was presently to bury them and their children under the ruins of their temple and their palaces. But for the moment the high-priest was only relieved; and he proceeded, rending his clothes, to announce his judgment, before consulting the court, who had no further need of witnesses, and were quite content to become formally the accusers before themselves. The sentence of this irregular and informal court was now pronounced, to fit them for bearing part, at sunrise, in what should be an unbiased trial; and while they awaited the dawn Jesus was abandoned to the brutality of their servants, one of whom He had healed that very night. They spat on the Lord of Glory. They covered His face, an act which was the symbol of a death sentence (Esther 7:8), and then they buffeted Him, and invited Him to prophesy who smote Him. And the officers "received Him" with blows.
What was the meaning of this outburst of savage cruelty of men whom Jesus had never wronged, and some of whose friends must have shared His superhuman gifts of love? Partly it was the instinct of low natures to trample on the fallen, and partly the result of partisanship. For these servants of the priests must have seen many evidences of the hate and dread with which their masters regarded Jesus. But there was doubtless another motive. Not without fear, we may be certain, had they gone forth to arrest at midnight the Personage of whom so many miraculous tales were universally believed. They must have remembered the captains of fifty whom Elijah consumed with fire. And in fact there was a moment when they all fell prostrate before His majestic presence. But now their terror was at an end: He was helpless in their hands; and they revenged their fears upon the Author of them.
Thus Jesus suffered shame to make us partakers of His glory; and the veil of death covered His head, that He might destroy the face of the covering cast over all peoples, and the veil that was spread over all nations. And even in this moment of bitterest outrage He remembered and rescued a soul in the extreme of jeopardy, for it was now that the Lord turned and looked upon Peter.
CHAPTER 14:66-72 (Mark 14:66-72)
THE FALL OF PETER
"And as Peter was beneath in the court, there cometh one of the maids of the high priest; and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked upon him, and saith, Thou also wast with the Nazarene, even Jesus. But he denied, saying, I neither know, nor understand what thou sayest: and he went out into the porch; and the cock crew. And the maid saw him, and began again to say to them that stood by, This is one of them. But he again denied it. And after a little while again they that stood by said to Peter, Of a truth thou art one of them; for thou art a Galilean. But he began to curse, and to swear, I know not this man of whom ye speak. And straightway the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word, how that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny Me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept." Mark 14:66-72 (R.V.)
THE fall of Peter has called forth the easy scorn of multitudes who never ran any risk for Christ. But if he had been a coward, and his denial a dastardly weakness, it would not be a warning for the whole Church, but only for feeble natures. Whereas the lesson which it proclaims is this deep and solemn one, that no natural endowments can bear the strain of the spiritual life. Peter had dared to smite when only two swords were forthcoming against the band of Roman soldiers and the multitude from the chief priests. After the panic in which all forsook Jesus, and so fulfilled the prediction "ye shall leave Me alone," none ventured so far as Peter. John indeed accompanied him; but John ran little risk, he had influence and was therefore left unassailed, whereas Peter was friendless and a mark for all men, and had made himself conspicuous in the garden. Of those who declaim about his want of courage few indeed would have dared so much. And whoever misunderstands him, Jesus did not. He said to him, "Satan hath desired to have you (all) that he may sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for thee (especially) that thy strength fail not." Around him the fiercest of the struggle was to rage, as around some point of vantage on a battlefield; and it was he, when once he had turned again, who should stablish his brethren (Luke 22:31-32).
God forbid that we should speak one light or scornful word of this great apostle! God grant us, if our footsteps slip, the heart to weep such tears as his.
Peter was a loving, brave and loyal man. But the circumstances were not such as human bravery could deal with. Resistance, which would have kindled his spirit, had been forbidden to him, and was now impossible. The public was shut out, and he was practically alone among his enemies. He had come "to see the end," and it was a miserable sight that he beheld. Jesus was passive, silent, insulted: His foes fierce, unscrupulous and confident. And Peter was more and more conscious of being alone, in peril, and utterly without resource. Moreover sleeplessness and misery lead to physical languor and cold,  and as the officers had kindled a fire, he was drawn thither, like a moth, by the double wish to avoid isolation and to warm himself. In thus seeking to pass for one of the crowd, he showed himself ashamed of Jesus, and incurred the menaced penalty, "of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh." And the method of self-concealment which he adopted only showed his face, strongly illuminated, as St. Mark tells us, by the flame.
If now we ask for the secret of his failing resolution, we can trace the disease far back. It was self-confidence. He reckoned himself the one to walk upon the waters. He could not be silent on the holy mount, when Jesus held high communion with the inhabitants of heaven. He rebuked the Lord for dark forebodings. When Jesus would wash his feet, although expressly told that he should understand the act hereafter, he rejoined, Thou shalt never wash my feet, and was only sobered by the peremptory announcement that further rebellion would involve rejection. He was sure that if all the rest were to deny Jesus, he never should deny Him. In the garden he slept, because he failed to pray and watch. And then he did not wait to be directed, but strove to fight the battle of Jesus with the weapons of flesh. Therefore he forsook Him and fled. And the consequences of that hasty blow were heavy upon him now. It marked him for the attention of the servants: it drove him to merge himself in the crowd. But his bearing was too suspicious to enable him to escape unquestioned.
The first assault came very naturally, from the maid who kept the door, and had therefore seen him with John. He denied indeed, but with hesitation, not so much affirming that the charge was false as that he could not understand it. And thereupon he changed his place, either to escape notice or through mental disquietude; but as he went into the porch the cock crew. The girl however was not to be shaken off: she pointed him out to others, and since he had forsaken the only solid ground, he now denied the charge angrily and roundly. An hour passed, such an hour of shame, perplexity and guilt, as he had never known, and then there came a still more dangerous attack. They had detected his Galilean accent, while he strove to pass for one of them. And a kinsman of Malchus used words as threatening as were possible without enabling a miracle to be proved, since the wound had vanished: "Did I myself not see thee in the garden with Him?" Whereupon, to prove that his speech had nothing to do with Jesus, he began to curse and swear, saying, I know not the man. And the cock crew a second time, and Peter remembered the warning of his Lord, which then sounded so harsh, but now proved to be the means of his salvation. And the eyes of his Master, full of sorrow and resolution, fell on him. And he knew that he had added a bitter pang to the sufferings of the Blessed One. And the crowd and his own danger were forgotten, and he went out and wept.
It was for Judas to strive desperately to put himself right with man: the sorrow of Peter was for himself and God to know.
What lessons are we taught by this most natural and humbling story? That he who thinketh he standeth must take heed lest he fall. That we are in most danger when self-confident, and only strong when we are weak. That the beginning of sin is like the letting out of water. That Jesus does not give us up when we cast ourselves away, but as long as a pulse of love survives, or a spark of loyalty, He will appeal to that by many a subtle suggestion of memory and of providence to recall His wanderer to Himself.
And surely we learn by the fall of this great and good apostle to restore the fallen in the spirit of meekness, considering ourselves lest we also be tempted, remembering also that to Peter, Jesus sent the first tidings of His resurrection, and that the message found him in company with John, and therefore in the house with Mary. What might have been the issue of his anguish if these holy ones had cast him off?
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Mark 14". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter