We have been greatly blessed by the births of several babies this past year. The only drawback that I can see is that so far none of the families has given in to my campaign to name their baby after me. No Shane or Shania or Shanita or Shaniqua or anything!
Lots of people like to consult baby name books to select names, and some of the most popular right now are straight from the Bible, like Joshua or Rachel. But one name that is not on any list of favorites is Judas. His name is so synonymous with treachery that no one wants to pin that name on his/her child.
Anytime you take a strong stand on an issue you are bound to face opposition, maybe even enemies. That is just the price you pay to be a person of conviction. But to have one of your friends, one of the people you thought stood side by side with you, to have one of them turn on you is just devastating. We have respect for our enemies; we have nothing but disdain for traitors.
In today’s study in Mark 14, we are going to read about the evening when Judas earned the infamy of history – exactly as Jesus had predicted.
I. Jesus Foretells Desertion and Denial (14:26-31)
A. Jesus predicts the disciples’ failure (14:26-28)
Mark tells us that Jesus and the disciples left the city of Jerusalem and walked across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives (14:26), the same place where just a few days earlier He had predicted the fall of the city of Jerusalem. This time, Jesus predicts the fall of the disciples themselves.
Mark 14:27 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.’
Jesus has pointed out over and over in this final week that everything taking place was foreseen by the prophets.
• In 12:10-11 He framed His rejection by the Jewish leaders in terms of the stone rejected by the builders in Psalm 118:22-23.
• In 14:21 He said that the Son of man would be betrayed “as it is written of him.”
• And now in 14:27 Jesus tells the disciples that even their own desertion was foretold in the Bible, in the prophet Zechariah 13:7.
In the OT the “shepherd” was one of the rulers of the people (king, priest, prophet), and the people were the sheep. Jesus of course taught that He was the great shepherd, and that God’s people are the sheep (John 10). But just as the death of a king in battle could demoralize his people and send them in panicked flight, Jesus tells His sheep that God is going to strike Him, and that they are going to scatter.
But just as Zechariah’s vision was not entirely hopeless, neither is Jesus’ prediction. In Zechariah, after the shepherd is struck down, the prophet says:
Zech. 13:9 And I will put this third into the fire,
and refine them as one refines silver,
and test them as gold is tested.
They will call upon my name,
and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’;
and they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’ ”
And Jesus sees a time when His sheep, having been refined by fire, will return to the fold.
Mark 14:28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.
Later, in Mark 16:7 the angel at the empty tomb repeated this message to the women to pass on again to the disciples.
B. Peter’s denial of the denial (14:29-31)
We already know how quick Peter is to speak, even to contradict Jesus (8:33). And Jesus’ flat assertion that “you will all fall away” was too much for Peter to tolerate.
Mark 14:29 Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.”
Not that long ago Jesus caught the disciples arguing over who the greatest was (9:34), so none of them hesitate to place themselves above the others. And remember that in 14:19 their response to Jesus’ prediction that one of them would betray Him was “surely not I” (NIV). So given his own impetuous nature, combined with the arrogance and self-absorption that plagued all of the disciples, Peter pledges emphatically that he will never fall away.
How unbelievable it must have been for Peter to hear Jesus’ response, which was not simply, “No, Peter, you are wrong, you will deny Me,” but that he would do so three times – within the same night!
Mark 14:30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.”
This is unimaginable to Peter, and indeed, it is unthinkable to all of the disciples.
Mark 14:31 But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.
Luke says that it was Jesus’ custom to go up to the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:39). This is why Judas knew he could deliver Jesus in secret, because he knew a secluded spot Jesus regularly went to when He was in Jerusalem. But as the eleven made their way up the mount, their trip was about to take an unimaginable turn.
II. In Gethsemane (14:32-42)
Mark 14:32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”
Gethsemane means “olive press,” and the Mount of Olives would be an obvious place to set up presses to produce olive oil. Lots of people like to pray out in nature, especially in flower gardens, enjoying the beauty of creation. But that is not the scene here in Mark. This was a dark and foreboding night of desperate prayer.
A. Instructions to the disciples (14:32-34)
All of the disciples went with Jesus, but three of them, Peter, James and John, He took with Him away from the others (14:33a). Why these three? One thing they all have in common is absolute confidence in their loyalty to Jesus and their abilities as disciples. We just heard Peter say that even if all others failed Jesus, he never would. And in Mark 10:39, when Jesus asked James and John (who requested the seats of honor in His glory) if they were able to drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, they declared, “We are able.” Maybe Jesus took these three to be closer to Him because He knew that they were the most brash members of a very prideful group of disciples.
I don’t know if James, John and Peter really believed they were the towers of strength they claimed to be, or if they were just trying to mask deep insecurities with foolish bravado, but regardless of the reasons for their cockiness, the end of 14:33 presents a completely different picture of their Master. He began to be “greatly distressed and troubled.” The words here in Greek mean “to be thrown into terror or amazement.” And Jesus did not boast about how great He was or how impregnable His faith was. Instead, He confided in the disciples, “My soul of very sorrowful, even to death” (14:34a).
Jesus “was in the grip of shuddering horror as He faced the dreadful prospect before him” (Garland), but He did not try to hide this from His disciples.
Before going a little further into the garden to pray, He told Peter, James and John, “Remain here and watch” (14:34b). This raises an important question – why did Jesus bring the disciples with him, and why did He tell them, especially these three, to watch – and later to watch and pray (14:38).
For a long time I just assumed that Jesus brought them with Him because He needed support, because He wanted His friends to be with Him and pray with Him to give Him the encouragement He needed to finish His mission. But I really don’t think that is the case. I don’t think Jesus brought them because it was something He needed; it was something they needed. This is made clear in Luke’s account: “And when he came to the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation’” (Luke 22:40).
In other words, even in this deep moment of profound grief and dread, Jesus was still teaching His disciples – teaching them by example that we must never trust in ourselves, but in the hour of trial we need to throw ourselves at God’s mercy and plead for help.
B. Jesus’ prayer (14:35-42)
And “pleading” may be too mild to describe Jesus’ prayer. Mark 14:35 says He “fell on the ground.” The writer of Hebrews elaborated on Jesus’ prayer in the garden, saying that
Heb. 5:7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears
Jesus begged the Father to see if there was a way to avoid the grim fate that awaited Him, that if possible “the hour might pass from him” (14:35).
When we read the account of Jesus’ prayer to His Father, we are witnessing a level of communication that completely transcends anything we can relate to. It is mind-boggling to me that the gospels allow us access into this sacred, intimate moment. And it was intimate, because Jesus uses a term in His prayer that as far as we know, no Jews in early Judaism had ever used in prayer before – “Abba, Father” (14:36). “Abba” is a term of affection, almost like what a small child would call his father. Never in history had anyone ever used this term to address God, until Jesus, and until this moment.
Jesus’ specific request was for God to “remove this cup from me” (14:36). What cup is Jesus talking about? Remember that in His conversation with James and John in Mark 10 Jesus talked about a “cup” that He had to drink, one that someday they would drink, an obvious allusion to sharing in His suffering.
But in light of the OT, there may have been a very specific kind of suffering Jesus had in mind. Over and over in the OT the prophets used the imagery of a cup to describe divine judgment which the wicked would partake in, or drink (just as we might say “a bitter pill to swallow”).
Psa. 75:8 For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup
with foaming wine, well mixed,
and he pours out from it,
and all the wicked of the earth
shall drain it down to the dregs.
Is. 51:17 Wake yourself, wake yourself,
stand up, O Jerusalem,
you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD
the cup of his wrath,
who have drunk to the dregs
the bowl, the cup of staggering.
Jer. 25:15 Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.
Jesus came to bear our sins, to take our place, to receive the punishment we deserve. And that punishment is the wrath of God. I don’t believe Jesus was so horrified at the prospect of just the beating, the scourging, or even the crucifixion. But for someone who was sinless, in pristine holiness, to come face to face with the wrath of God whose fellowship He had enjoyed as a young child tenderly calling to a Father, no wonder Jesus prayed for the cup of divine judgment to pass.
This was not a selfish spoiled son throwing a tantrum, demanding that his father get him what he wants. This was the perfect Son, the obedient son, whose prayer was fervent and heartbreaking, but who understood that what mattered most was doing the will of God. “Yet not what I will but what you will” (14:36b).
What an amazing lesson in humility, in selflessness, in commitment to God! A lesson the disciples desperately needed, but which was lost on them.
Mark 14:37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?
Mark 14:38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
This is even more evidence that Jesus brought the disciples for their benefit, not His. “Watch and pray that YOU may not enter into temptation.” Jesus was giving His disciples the perfect model of vigilant prayer in the face of testing, but it was a lesson they slept through.
This happened again.
Mark 14:39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words.
Mark 14:40 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him.
If you turn back to 9:6, this is exactly the same reaction Peter and the disciples had to the Transfiguration, another special moment of intimate communication between heavenly Father and Son. But just as then, the disciples had a bad case of heavy eyes and hard hearts.
A third time Jesus left them to pray, and a third time He found them sleeping (14:41). And with that, the time to prepare was exhausted (14:42), and Jesus was about to leave the Mount of Olives and descend into the valley of the shadow of death.
III. Jesus Arrested ( 14:43-52)
A. The betrayal (14:43-45).
Mark 14:43 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.
In 8:31 Jesus said He would be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes. In 9:32 He said He would be “delivered into the hands of men.” Now Judas and the rulers of the people are coming to fulfill what Jesus said would happen.
Because it was at night Judas arranged a signal to positively identify Jesus for these goons, a kiss. Normally a sign of affection as well as respect the ancient world, this kiss becomes the kiss of death.
Mark 14:44 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.”
Mark 14:45 And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him.
Mark 14:46 And they laid hands on him and seized him.
B. The arrest (14:47-52).
The disciples of Jesus panic, then try to mount a defense of their Master.
Mark 14:47 But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear.
John tells us that the swordsman was none other than Peter; that the unfortunate victim was named Malchus (18:10). I don’t think Peter was just trying to wing him, either. He was going for a fatal blow to the heard, which in the chaos of the moment was just a glancing blow to Malchus. Peter’s violence, and the mob’s numbers and weaponry, indicated that neither Peter nor the mob understood the kind of person Jesus was. The mob thinks that Jesus is some kind of criminal, who will put up a fight and resist arrest. And Peter thinks that Jesus is the King who will conquer all of Israel’s enemies, and is happy to volunteer to be the first soldier in line. Both were wrong.
Mark 14:48 And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me?
Mark 14:49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.”
Perhaps it was this non-resistance that completed the demoralization of the disciples. They had seen Jesus cast out demons, feed thousands, silence storms with just a word. Surely He can brush off a few of the flunkies of the corrupt priesthood! But when He makes it clear that they are not to resist, their courage breaks, and “they all left him and fled” (14:50).
As the account of Jesus’ arrest ends, there is this curious footnote.
Mark 14:51 And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him,
Mark 14:52 but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.
First of all, who was this young man? From very early on in church history many people came to believe this was John Mark himself. After all, we know that his family loved in Jerusalem, that they were friends with Peter (Acts 12:12). Maybe this was Mark’s cameo appearance, like Alfred Hitchcock’s cameos in his movie.
There is no way to identify this young man. But the fact that even this young bystander ran away makes Jesus’ isolation even more compelling. There was no one with Him; everyone ran away.
IV. Some Lessons for Us
This morning you and I have the opportunity to learn the lessons from Jesus’ example that the disciples failed to learn because of physical and spiritual lethargy. Don’t let these lessons slip by you!
A. First, there is a great lesson for us to learn from Jesus about prayer.
God wants us to pray to Him, to throw every care we have on His shoulders. And what should excite all of us about prayer is that because of our relationship with Christ, we can have the same deeply intimate fellowship with God that Jesus did, because in two different places the Bible says we can refer to God as Abba Father.
Gal. 4:6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (also Rom. 8:15).
So God wants us call out to Him to with the sweet knowledge that He is our tender Father who will answer our prayers. But that is not primarily what prayer is about. Prayer is not about us; it is not about what we want. It is about what God wants. “Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Here is the difference between self-centered prayer and God-centered prayer:
• God-centered prayer humbly acknowledges that God’s will is paramount; self-centered prayer never takes into account that God’s plans might be different from ours.
• God-centered prayer focuses not just on what we want God to do but also takes time to thank Him for what He has done; self-centered rarely if ever takes time to express in a deep and thorough way gratitude for God’s blessings.
• God-centered prayer always leaves a sense of peace, knowing that our will has been aligned with and reconciled to God’s will; self-centered prayer leaves us just as discouraged and confused as before we prayed because we haven’t centered our prayer on God who is the only source of peace.
Please don’t misunderstand. Go to God expectantly and ask Him to supply your every need, just as Jesus asked God to remove the cup. Go to Him persistently, just as Jesus prayed three times. But go to God in prayer selflessly, convicted that what matters more than anything else is that His will, not yours, is done.
B. We need to watch and pray because the flesh is weak.
A second lesson we can learn from Jesus’ prayer is that we must watch and pray because “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (14:38).
What did Jesus mean when He said that the flesh is weak? He does not mean that our bodies are somehow inherently contaminated, because God created us to have physical bodies, and everything God made was good.
But we don’t live in a world exactly like the one God created. Our world has been invaded by sin, and the doorway sin uses to attack each of us is the lust of the flesh, and once we yield to the flesh to gratify our sinful desires, the Devil exploits that opening again and again and again. We don’t come into this world totally depraved as some dogmas assert, but we are depraved, through our own repeated choice to give in.
The problem is that like the disciples, we can become spiritually groggy, when we need to snap awake to the deadly danger of temptation, and do what Jesus said: “watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
C. By God’s grace, falling away does not have to be final.
Here is the final lesson I think we need to deeply press on our mind, and that is that falling away does not have to be permanent. Just as surely as Jesus knew that His disciples would all fall away, He also knew that they would meet Him in Galilee (14:27-28).
Everyone, that is, except Judas. This is the last we read of him in Mark. We know from the gospels that Judas was almost instantly grief-stricken at what he had done, and took his own life.
So what made the difference? Why did the other disciples return to Jesus, why was their falling away only temporary, while Judas’ was eternal? I think this passage from 2 Corinthians may shed some light:
2 Cor. 7:10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
Worldly grief is the grief of the person who is sad because they got caught. Godly grief is the sorrow of a person heartbroken they have disappointed God. Judas was not living for God; he was a thief, living for what little bit he could wring out of the chief priests. For all their faults, the eleven knew that even though Jesus was often perplexing and challenging, He was God’s anointed. With just that bit of faith, their godly grief drove them to repentance.
Today would have been my Mom’s 67th birthday. My Mom had a period of her life, from her early 20s until her early 40s, when she had fallen away. I’m not sure I will ever know all the reasons she became unfaithful, but she did. I remember many times pouring my heart out to God for her to return to Him, but after a few years of this I kind of gave up. But the Lord did not. His mercies are new every morning, and one summer during a gospel meeting my Mom came back to her Lord.
There are all kinds of ways to fall away. Dramatically, like the disciples. In Mom’s case, she was completely out of service to the Lord. But some of you may fall into the category of those who by outward appearances are “faithful,” you come to church every now and then, put on a good show. But in the private recesses of your heart, you too have stopped following Christ.
But whatever your state, I want you to know that just as Jesus promised to meet the disciples again, Jesus will meet you again! If you will come to Him and confess your sins, “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Have you ever wondered if you had been with Jesus if your reaction that dreadful night in Gethsemane would have been any different? I am convinced that I would have ran just like all of them did. Because “all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Isa. 53:6).
The crucial question is not what we would have done back then, but what will we do today?