The book of Mark is disproportionately divided. The first half covers the first 33 years of his life, while the latter half covers the final week. Mark 14, which we are going to look at today, records for us the last hours of Jesus' life. In the final hours of his life, he was still in control, and he spends it with his friends. We're going to look at 3 different friends, and how they treated Him when He reaches the cross.
(A) Judas Iscariot: the friend who betrayed Jesus for gain (v.10-11)
We learn of Judas' identity from the passage. Verse 10 tells us that he was "one of the twelve". Who were these 12? In Jesus' ministry in the early part of Luke's gospel, we are told that there were at least 72 people that were with him, and out of the 72 were 12. These were 12 that were called to leave everything behind to follow Jesus and they spent 3 years with Him daily. Judas was one of the group, and was in charge of the money in their group. He was one of the closest people to Jesus (v.10). Yet, Mark 14:10-12, we are told that Judas planned to betray Him. There was nothing passive about his actions. Mark specifically told us that he went to the chief priests with a clean intention to betray Him, to intentionally exploit the tension between Jesus and the religious leaders ("he sought an opportunity to betray him"). In doing so, he was actually fulfilling a messianic prophecy mentioned in Ps 41:9, where the psalmist describes a close friend betraying the Messiah. Zec 11:12-13 points out the price of the betrayal. Here, the gospel writers all go to great lengths to show how what was predicted in the OT and even mentioned by Jesus came through.
But why did Jesus have to be betrayed? Psalm 97 shows us the greatness and glory of God, so what kind of God would come into this earth, make friends, and also allow Himself to be betrayed by His friends? Why would He, with all the foreknowledge that we've read of just in chapters before, allow Himself to be hurt? Do you see how this God would enter into the petty details of our lives, and also experience heartache, disappointment and betrayal by His friends, like how we do.
“Why did it have to be a friend who chose to betray the Lord?
Why did he use a kiss to show them that’s not what a kiss is for?
Only a friend can betray a friend, a stranger has nothing to gain
And only a friend comes close enough to ever cause so much pain.”
(Michael Card, Why?)
Jesus needed to suffer the full extent of pain. This Savior bought our salvation by pain, not just physical pain but also relational. Do you see this or have you become numb to the betrayal of Jesus by Judas?
(B) Peter: the friend who denied Jesus for security (v.26-31, 66-72)
Next, we turn our attention to another of Jesus’ closest disciples, Peter. In verse 27, Jesus quotes from Zec 13:7 and predicts that when he the shepherd is struck, they, the sheep will be scattered. Peter hears this and declares that even if the others fall away, he would not. Notice the way in which Peter says it. He elevates himself above the rest of the disciples, and professes his undying loyalty and devotion. His boastful demeanor is obvious to us, but notice also how much he really loves Jesus. In verse 31, he declares his allegiance emphatically again, and promises that even if it meant death, he will not leave Jesus. What about you? But before we gloss over Peter's words and mock him for his shallowness, let us consider our own love for Christ. Would you declare that you will not leave Jesus, even if it means death?
Jesus is first betrayed, then all the disciples left him (v.50). In v.66-72, we read of Peter's denial where he sought desperately to reject all association with Jesus not once, but 3 times, just as Jesus predicted. Peter does not merely deny, but also invoked a curse on himself (v.71). By doing so, he brought God into the picture. He called God to be his witness and judge, and if he does indeed know Jesus, God would deal with him. To Peter, the threat to his security there and then was greater than to face the wrath of God for his lies. He would rather deny Jesus Christ than to have any association with Him and face the crowd in the courtyard. Thus, at that point, Jesus is left utterly alone by even the ones who have spent the most time with Him.
Peter's rejection and denial was in a sense a fulfilment of something long predicted in the OT, and slowly displayed in Jesus' life and ministry.
- Isa 53:5 spoke of His rejection by men
- Zec 13:7 showed the rejection by His own sheep
- Jn 1:11 tell us that even His own people rejected Him
- Mk 6:4 revealed how those from His hometown and His kinsmen also rejected Him
- Matt 26:31 showed us clearly the rejection by His disciples
- Mk 15:34, where finally, even God
The rejection of Jesus takes on a sharper focus as we move from the OT to the NT, and moves right up until the cross, when we see how Jesus was forsaken by God. Friend, today, do you feel like nothing is going your way and do you struggle with loneliness? Yet, do you see how this passage reminds us that at least we have God? There is only one man who was forsaken by God, so that we would never be left alone. Ps 88 has been referred to as the darkest Psalm in the Bible by Bible scholars, because it lacks an upward turn, and the words of the Psalm weigh heavy on the hearts of all who read it. Ps 88:13-18 are very likely the words of Jesus! This Psalm can only ever be really prayed by one man.
What does this mean for us today? What can we learn from Peter and his response? If you are a Christian who has ever professed faith in Christ, even on your absolute worst day, you are never alone, because God will never forsake you! He has also provided for all Christians a community of fellow redeemed sinners, anchored and united only by the blood of Christ. This passage also serves as a warning for us. As 1 Cor 10:12 goes, "Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall". If Peter, who loved Jesus that much could fall, what about us? It is also so important for us to sing, pray and cling on to the words of the hymn that we often sing -- "prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the Lord I love. Take my heart, Lord, take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above". These are honest confessions of the real state of our hearts, and also prayers to ask God for the grace to walk with Him.
(C) Disciples of Jesus: friends who failed Jesus in weakness (v.32-41, 50)
A third group of friends are referred to in verses 32-33. Here, they were in Gethsemane, and Jesus wanted them to sit there while he prays (v.32). Mark tells us about Jesus' spiritual state. We are told that Jesus was very sorrowful, "even to death" (v.34). This is the kind of struggle and pain described in Ps 88. Yes, even the perfect man Jesus felt it. He did not deny His emotions. Jesus, the perfect man, was about to enter into a period of intense spiritual turmoil. He knew it, and wanted the support of His friends. Their mere presence would bring Him some comfort, and he mentioned it twice, with the first time in verse 32. He then reiterated his request for them to "remain here and watch" (v.34). Notice how he did not ask them to pray, but really wanted them to be there with Him. Only in verse 37, after 2 requests and after praying for 1 hour, does Jesus ask them to pray. Peter and the disciples fell asleep while Jesus agonised in prayer (v.37, 40). How could they? The disciples rested, because they felt secure in the moment. They did not understand the tension, anxiety and pain of the situation. They did not see how eternity hangs in the balance, and what lay ahead for Jesus.
In the final hours of His life, even as He struggled with what obedience to the Father's will meant, He continued to reach out to His friends. But, the ones that were closest to Him forsook Him completely. Like Job, friends that were meant to bring comfort did not do so eventually. But unlike Job, God did not vindicate Him in His life. It was only after His death, at His resurrection, that Jesus was vindicated. Like Abraham's son, Jesus was obedient to the will of the Father. But unlike Isaac, there was no ram that took His place, and Jesus had to bear the full cost of obedience. Jesus was utterly forsaken, so that we could not be. Our redemption and hope came at the price of his rejection. Every blow that hits Jesus is a blow that did not hit us. Every friend that left Jesus brings us peace. Even today, when we struggle with life and feel that it is full of trouble and strife, we have a hope that will not be taken away from us, and a confidence that cannot be shaken, that He will not forsake us.
Jesus was betrayed, denied and failed. His friends betrayed him for gain, for security and because of their weakness. What hope is there for them? Jesus promises his neverending, constant presence which satisfies us, and frees us from a love of money (Heb 13:5). Jesus promises to be be faithful, even though we are faithless (2 Tim 2:13). Jesus was betrayed and forsaken and died on the cross, but He was resurrected and is now alive forevermore. He has overcome the grave, and declares that there is therefore no need for us to fear (Rev 1:17).
What kind of a friend are you? Have you given Him up for personal gain? Have denied Him for personal comfort and security? Have you failed Jesus in moments of weakness? We have all done so, and will continue to struggle with these. Today, our hope lies not in what we an do, but in who He is, and what He has done. The gospel says that though we betrayed Him, Jesus is loyal; though we denied Him, Jesus is faithful; when we fail Him, Jesus is full of comfort and forgiveness. Our only hope is that He is faithful when we are faithless, that He is mighty when we are weak. What a Friend we have in Jesus!