January 29: The Fourth Lord’s Day after the Epiphany

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.

And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter 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 did not know what to answer him. And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” 

And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.” And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. And they laid hands on him and seized him. But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” And they all left him and fled. 

And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked. –Mark 14:26-52  

The passage copied above is relatively long compared to what we usually take at one time. However, it is integrated as Mark, yet again, uses a “sandwich story” form. The first/top part is about Jesus’ ominous prophecy that all the disciples will “fall away” with Peter’s emphatic protest, which inadvertently shows he has not been listening very well. The last/bottom part is a continuation of this strain with Judas “immediately” (Mark’s favorite word) betraying Jesus along with His arrest and “circumcision” of the high priest’s servant’s ear. Sandwiched in the middle is the central story of Jesus in the Garden with the disciples who wouldn’t stay awake during His great distress.

The first thing not to be missed here is that they sang a hymn right after the ritual supper in the upper room. Christians have followed this practice all the centuries since. It’s as if the communion section of the liturgy does not end until the following hymn is complete. I wonder what it sounded like in that room with those 13 men. Did Judas sing? What was the text? Would the melody sound to us like something from another world? Did they harmonize? Were they good singers? I sure do wish I could have heard it.

Curiously Mark says that “they went out to the Mount of Olives.” This is a second journey to the Mount in just the last few days. The first time three of the disciples asked the question about the destruction of the temple and what would be the signs that it’s about to happen. In that answer we heard that true Israel (those who follow Jesus, and thus know when to flee) will be scattered as they, quite literally, head for the hills. This time Jesus again tells of a scattering of His people, except His people are specifically the disciples! Nonetheless, they become the foundation stones of the Church (Mt. 16:18; Eph. 2:19; Rev. 21:14).

The scattering of the disciples parallels the future destruction of the Temple so that no one stone is left upon another. We already know that Jesus will Himself be destroyed and raised as the true Temple. And so their scattering along with His destruction is the way He’ll be reconstructed, and by the Spirit the living stones (1 Pet. 2:5) will be regathered around Him as their chief cornerstone (1 Pet. 2:6). Provocatively, though consistent with His work and agenda, He tells them that the reconstruction will not take place on Mt. Zion, but “after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” The old order of things is finished. But, behold, Jesus has come to make all things new. And that’s the gospel! Come hear it preached and enacted in the supper with Jesus this Sunday.

And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” –Mark 14:12-25

The theme of the Temple looms large in the last third of Mark’s gospel. All of chapter 12 is devoted to Jesus’ arrest and condemnation of the Temple. It contains parables and riddles all about the failure and consequent future of the Temple. All of chapter 13 is devoted to answering the question of when the Temple will be destroyed, along with the signs this is about to happen. It contains apocalyptic language that sounds like the end of the world for those living in the few years prior to 70AD. Mark begins chapter 14 (vv. 1-11) with a grand prelude or large canvas getting us ready for what is about to come, which is the arrest and condemnation of Jesus (the True Temple).

Do you remember when Jesus had need of the colt or donkey to make His triumphal entry into Jerusalem? He sent out two disciples to get it for Him. Now, in the passage above, we see that once again two disciples are sent out and, just like last time, strangers need only be told that Jesus has need of it and they willingly give it. This time it is a room that is needed for Jesus’ last Passover. The triumphal arrival of the King into His holy city requires a royal feast as well.

It might seem at first blush that the Temple theme is moving to the background, but there is a powerful connection with this scene in the passage above. In both the OT and the NT there are texts that hint at a new Temple. For instance, Jesus’ parable of the wicked tenants refers to a new cornerstone in just such a structure. So, what exactly will replace the Temple once it is gone? Here we find the answer. Right after sending two disciples again, Jesus enacts a meal using sacrificial language. Here is the heart of the rite, a ritual meal, that will replace and improve the old Temple system. Jesus stops the sacrifices in the old Temple because He is the new sacrifice.

No longer will His people go to a stone Temple in Jerusalem, but “my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” is the blood that truly takes away sins. We wouldn’t want to make the mistake of thinking that before Jesus came, sins were removed by the blood of bulls and goats and sheep. Even King David living well within that system states plainly, “You will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.” The blood of these sacrifices was a memorial to remind God, like the rainbow was to remind God, of His covenant promises. He promised to send a Son who would indeed redeem us by His precious blood. We have our Temple (Him) and the blood that puts our sins as far as the east is from the west. And that’s the gospel! Come hear it preached and enacted in the supper with Jesus this Sunday.

It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.”

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him. –Mark 14:1-11

All through the Gospel According to Mark we’ve see Mark use what NT scholars often call “sandwich stories.” This is a brilliant literary device where a story or train of thought is interrupted by a seemingly unrelated story “sandwiched” in the middle. The center story is not a rabbit trail or losing focus, however, but purposefully put there to help the reader understand the outside story. In other words, they depend on each other, and if you miss the literary connection, you’ll miss the deeper meaning Mark intended. Some of these are plainly obvious after someone points them out to you, while others are not quite as clear but still identifiable. The passage above is yet another example.

Mark’s train of thought beginning in chapter 14 is mainly about Jesus’ death, and right out of the gate we see how Mark sandwiches the arrangement of Jesus’ death around His anointing by “a woman” with “very costly” ointment (nearly a year’s wages!). There arose a pious protest to the woman’s “wasting” the ointment on Jesus. It “‘could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.’ And they scolded her.” Jesus, as usual, is hawkish about ostentatious displays of piety: “For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them.” If I were to paraphrase, it might sound like this: “If you guys care so much for the poor, then go give your own money to the poor. You take care of your money, and let this woman take care of hers.”

So we begin to see that there is a money theme emerging. Then in the “bottom” part of the sandwich, we are introduced to “Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve.” And look what he had in mind as he “went to the chief priests in order to betray [Jesus]…and they…promised to give him money.” They were “glad” or “delighted” with the deal, and so was Judas, because Mark indicates that Judas hopped right to it: “And he sought an opportunity to betray [Jesus].

Mark does not explicitly tell us that Judas was one of the pious critics of the woman, but John 12:6 gives us the confidence we need to know that he was one of them: “[Judas] said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.” What a scoundrel! There this woman is giving the best she had to honor Jesus. She gave herself to Him, and there is Judas condemning her for misusing money while getting ready to get paid to send Jesus to the cross. If he can’t sell the perfume for himself, then there is another way he can get his coin purse filled. No wonder Matthew records Jesus saying that it would have been better for Judas not to have been born!

All of chapter 13 is Jesus’ way of declaring that the Temple will be destroyed, and in chapter 14 we find Judas arranging to destroy Jesus (the true Temple). And Judas was successful—for a while. Of course, the Temple and Judas are nowhere to be found very shortly after this scene, all the way to today, but Jesus has been seen coming (to God) on the clouds. And that’s the gospel! Come hear it preached and enacted in the supper with Jesus this Sunday.