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15. A Follower’s Test - Mark 14:1-52

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My daughters are not only beautiful, but they are proving to be exceptionally smart. The other day my wife and I took our girls out to eat at the type of restaurant that features those small paper ketchup cups that you fill at the dispenser. While we sat waiting for our food, I began to play a game with our nine-month-old. I hid a cheerio (her absolute favorite food) beneath one of two upside-down empty ketchup cups and, after showing her where the cheerio was, I challenged her to pick which one covered the cheerio. Imagine my delight when she successfully passed the test, lifting the appropriate ketchup cup and revealing the cheerio beneath it. For a moment, I knew I was in the presence of genius. The moment ended, however, when my brilliant daughter began to eat the paper ketchup cup rather than the cheerio.

I love tests. I did fairly well in college and graduate school because I am by-and-large a good test taker. As a teacher, my students did not appreciate my affinity toward tests since they were the benefactors of my affection. Are you a good test-taker?

I believe that you and I undergo occasional tests that are custom made for us by God Himself. Are you a good test-taker? God tests us to reveal our true character, primarily so that you and I can realize our weaknesses and those areas of our character that still need desperate work.

In this lesson of Mark, the disciples undergo four tests, and they fail each of them. If the Gospel of Mark was written to evoke a lasting response in word and deed to the true identity of Jesus, this chapter teaches us how the disciples respond when the heat is turned up. Remember to pay particular attention to the responses of those witnessing the action in this story. Mark enjoys painting the overall scene for his reader.

Let’s look at the disciples’ four tests:

A Test Of Priority (14:1-11)123

14:1 Two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the chief priests and the experts in the law were trying124 to find a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 14:2 For they said, “Not during the feast, so there won’t be a riot among the people.”

14:3 Now while Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of costly aromatic oil from pure nard. After breaking open the jar, she poured it on his head. 14:4 But some who were present indignantly said to one another, “Why this waste of expensive ointment? 14:5 It could have been sold for more than three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor!” So they spoke angrily to her. 14:6 But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a good service for me. 14:7 For you will always have the poor with you, and you can do good for them whenever you want. But you will not always have me. 14:8 She did what she could. She anointed my body beforehand for burial.125 14:9 I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

14:10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus into their hands. 14:11 When they heard this, they were delighted and promised to give him money. So Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray him.

This bottle of costly oil was worth about a year’s wages. That’s a lot of money to pour out! I’ve often read this story and reacted with these onlookers: What a waste! How much good could have been accomplished if only the oil had been sold and the money properly budgeted? In fact, the Gospel of Matthew tells us that those who were disgruntled about the seeming waste were the disciples themselves (26:8).

Judas Iscariot was the designated treasurer of the Twelve and Jesus, according to John’s Gospel. The record of his betrayal of Jesus immediately follows the incident of the “wasted” perfume in Mark and Matthew, leading many to conclude that the two were related incidents. He, representing the disciples’ misplaced priorities, was overly financially minded. And they all failed to realize a person of Jesus’ true stature deserved more than flavored water. The God-man was worthy of even more than this expensive oil.

This unnamed woman responded appropriately to the true identity of Jesus, though His closest followers did not. She alone passed the test of her priorities. She was preoccupied with Jesus alone, evidenced by her eagerness to sacrifice such a valuable commodity for Him.

There are many good things vying for our preoccupation. The disciples were preoccupied with the poor, wanting to sell the oil and care for the poor with the proceeds. What good things threaten to steal your preoccupation away from your Lord? Are you preoccupied with the poor? Your family? Education? Evangelism? The Bible? These are all very good things, but, as Christians, we have only one top priority: the Lord Jesus Christ. Preoccupation with anything else indicates that our priorities, like those of the disciples, need rearranging.

A Test of Pride (14:12-31)

14:12 Now on the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, Jesus’ disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 14:13 He sent two of his disciples126 and told them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14:14 Wherever he enters, tell the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ 14:15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” 14:16 So the disciples left, went into the city, and found things just as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover.

14:17 Then, when it was evening, he came to the house with the twelve. 14:18 While they were at the table eating, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, one of you eating with me will betray me.” 14:19 They were distressed, and one by one said to him, “Surely not I?” 14:20 He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who dips his hand with me into the bowl. 14:21 For the Son of Man will go as it is written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would be better for him if he had never been born.”

14:22 While they were eating, he took bread, and after giving thanks127 he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take it. This is my body.” 14:23 And after taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 14:24 He said to them, “This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many. 14:25 I tell you the truth, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” 14:26 After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

14:27 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written,

‘I will strike the shepherd,

and the sheep will be scattered.’128

14:28 But after I am raised, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” 14:29 Peter said to him, “Even if they all fall away, I will not!” 14:30 Jesus said to him, “I tell you the truth, today—this very night—before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 14:31 But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I must die with you, I will never deny you.” And all of them said the same thing.

In this passage, Jesus and the disciples celebrate the Last Supper. The Last Supper is a celebration of the Passover, which involved a sacrifice of blood so that the Lord would not pour out His wrath. The Lord’s Supper or Communion is a commemoration of the Last Supper. In some traditions, the Lord’s Supper or Communion is sometimes labeled “Eucharist,” derived from Jesus’ offering of “thanks” (Greek, εὐχαριστέω ) in Mark 14:23. Tradition has it that the Last Supper was hosted in the home of Mark’s father.

Dipping the hand in the bowl (v. 20) was like an appetizer—it took place before the meal itself. In this first century Jewish culture, those you ate with were regarded as your closest friends. Jesus was claiming that someone allegedly very close to Him would betray Him.

Four cups were imbibed at the traditional Passover meal, each representing a different aspect of God’s unfolding plan of redemption. The cup mentioned in our text was the third cup of the meal. Exodus 6:6-7 gives the four-fold outline for the four cups:

a. “I will bring you out”

b. “I will rid you of bondage”

c. “I will redeem you”

d. “I will take you for my people and I will be your God.”

After singing a hymn, the group retires outside, where Jesus claims that all will “fall away” (Greek, σκανδαλίζω, meaning they will desert Him because they are offended by Him; see Mark 4:17; 6:3; 9:42-47). The essential meaning, virtually every time this word is used in the New Testament, is that something happens that negatively affects one’s walk with Christ, or reveals that there was no relationship to begin with. It is the same word used in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 on how to carefully handle your weaker brother so as not to cause him to stumble. With a scandal, we are offended and refuse to participate.

Peter takes issue with Jesus’ prediction. Peter’s pride blinded him from recognizing that Jesus was telling the truth. Jesus perfectly foresaw that Peter and John would find the arrangements for the Passover meal. Jesus had been right in everything He had foretold to this point. Peter had no reason to doubt Him, but his pride got in the way. You’re right Peter. You will not deny me once; you will deny me three times. Probably, Peter thought that remaining with Jesus and not denying Him meant fighting for Him. Peter was ready to fight, but certainly not willing to be arrested. Previously, Peter refused to believe Jesus when Jesus told Peter that He would be killed. Here Peter once again mistrusts Jesus when he is told that he would fall away. You’d think he would learn. But he failed the test of overconfidence. In the previous test, they didn’t know Jesus; here they don’t know themselves.

Why do you think the Last Supper is couched immediately between Jesus’ predictions of betrayal and abandonment by the disciples? What is the relationship? Jesus’ sacrifice—symbolized in the Passover meal—is the solution to their problem of falling away. In fact, Mark 14:28 is a verse of ultimate forgiveness. Just as Jesus had predicted that all would fall away, with this verse He predicts that He will reunite with His deniers after He is raised from the dead.

When it comes to trusting in God or yourself, which will you choose?

A Test of Preparation (14:32-42)

14:32 Then they went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 14:33 He took Peter, James, and John with him, and became very troubled and distressed. 14:34 He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to the point of death. Remain here and stay alert.” 14:35 Going a little farther, he threw himself to the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour would pass from him. 14:36 He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 14:37 Then he came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Couldn’t you stay awake for one hour? 14:38 Stay awake and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 14:39 He went away again and prayed the same thing. 14:40 When he came again he found them sleeping; they could not keep their eyes open. And they did not know what to tell him. 14:41 He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough of that! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 14:42 Get up, let us go. Look! My betrayer is approaching!”

As hard as it was going to be, Jesus was thoroughly prepared to obey the will of the Father. Let’s contrast this with the behavior of His disciples.

Jesus knows that it is impossible to cram for this type of a test. He knew He had to prepare beforehand. The disciples, on the other hand, were remiss in their preparation. The greatest test of their lives would take place the next day, and they could not stay up to prepare.

Cramming for tests can sometimes prove helpful in the short run, but dangerous in the long run. In college, I would occassionally stay up all night and cram for the next day’s test. Sometimes I would actually do well, but in the long run I would forget virtually everything I’d learned during those wee hours of the morning. Fortunately, I was not a premed student! Imagine a medical student who crams for their tests and medical boards but forgets most information in the long run! The disciples fail their test of preparation, and they all fall away the following day.

A Test of Perseverance (14:43-52)

14:43 Right away, while Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived. With him came a crowd armed with swords and clubs, and sent by the chief priests and experts in the law and elders. 14:44 (Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I kiss is the man. Arrest him and lead him away under guard.”) 14:45 When Judas came, he went to Jesus immediately and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. 14:46 Then they took hold of him and arrested him. 14:47 One of the bystanders drew his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, cutting off his ear. 14:48 Jesus said to them, “Have you come with swords and clubs to arrest me like you would an outlaw? 14:49 Day after day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, yet you did not arrest me. But this has happened so that the scriptures would be fulfilled.” 14:50 Then all the disciples left him and fled. 14:51 A young man was following him, wearing only a linen cloth. They tried to arrest him, 14:52 but he ran off naked, leaving his linen cloth behind.129

Peter (according to John 18:10) pulls his sword in an effort to defend Jesus. However, his demeanor changes when he learns that Jesus is going to go peacefully. Peter is willing to fight for Jesus, but he is not willing to go to trial for him.

Notice the contrast between the beginning of this section and the end. At the beginning, the disciples were confident by His side, enjoying a meal without a care in the world. At the end, Jesus is alone.

Even though they maintained the best of intentions, when put to the test every last disciple abandoned Jesus. What would it take for you to fall away (Greek, σκανδαλίζω, “scandalize”) from Jesus? A “scandal” is an offensive thing in which we refuse to participate. What are you unwilling to do for God? What area of weakness would prevent you from persevering in your faith and finishing strong? Fear, pride, lust, greed, money?

Meditation Verse

We conclude each lesson with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: meditate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for this lesson is Mark 14:27:

Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’”

123 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.

124 The verb here is an iterative imperfect, meaning the religious leaders “kept trying” to find a way to apprehend Jesus. The religious leaders did not want to apprehend Jesus publicly because the crowd thought that He—like John (11:32)—was a prophet.

125 This is the second time in Jesus’ public ministry that He is anointed. The first was an act of worship; this one is in preparation for His death.

126 Just like He sent the two to locate for Him a fowl for the Triumphal Entry, now He sends two (Peter and John; see Luke 22:8) to make arrangements for the Passover meal. They noticed the “sign”—a man did not customarily carry water jars, only women.

127 The better translation in 14:22 is “blessed” not “gave thanks.”

128 A quotation from Zechariah 13:7.

129 Tradition has it that the young man who fled naked was Mark.

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