[November 14, 2010] Here we begin the final section of the Gospel according to Mark in which Jesus remains faithful to God throughout His ordeal of betrayal, arrest, mistreatment, oppression and death, an ordeal in which He suffers under the awful judgment of God that ought to fall on the world, and from which He arises in resurrection and glory. In that vindication He commissions His disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all creation, empowered by His presence in and among them.
In the last few weeks, when we discussed Mark 12:38—14:11, we saw Jesus set forth the context of the disciples until His coming again. It is the same pattern as what He will go through now on our behalf. In chapter 13 we saw the outward pattern of treachery and persecution (verses 5-13), judgment (14-23) and glory and vindication (24-37). In the two stories that frame this (12:38-44 and 14:1-11), we see the inner pattern of the heart’s devotion in the midst of treachery. In the midst of Jesus’ own experience of betrayal and treachery and mistreatment, torment and death is His own heart’s devotion to God, the pouring out of His vial of alabaster. His was a willing pouring out of His soul—a self-giving of love unto death—that exceeds anything that we could ever offer. Indeed, it exhausted the limit of what even sinless humanity could possibly give.
This story is told in a third context, that of those to whom it was first told. These were the believers in Rome who even as they listened to Peter’s recounting of these events were themselves being persecuted unto death by the Roman emperor, betrayed by others, arrested, tried and tortured to death or thrown to the lions. They were living the experiences described in Mark 13:5-13 and they could readily identify with the ordeal of the Lord Jesus. Then, as Mark composed these words and published them, the Jewish Revolt was taking place and the Roman legions were laying Jerusalem under siege. The judgment of the Temple that Jesus predicted was about to take place, a judgment that Jesus in the Gospel according to John compared to the destruction of His own body on the cross.
So all these things come together here—the experience of those early believers struggling to be faithful in the midst of their own ordeal, the struggle of the church throughout the ages until the Lord’s coming again, and the Lord’s own ordeal. But the focal point that defines everything, the vessel which contains it all and makes it meaningful, is the Lord’s own experience and His faithfulness to God in the midst of it, the pouring out of His precious soul unto death, and God’s vindication of Him in the victory of life and His assumption of glory, the glory of the divine nature. That is what we want to see now as we step onto this sacred ground.
Jesus’ Passover Readiness (14:12-17)
The section begins with Jesus sending two disciples (Peter and John in Luke 22:8) ahead to meet the householder of the upper room where they will eat the Passover meal, the Seder, and to make the preparations.
There is confusion among students of the Bible about whether the Passover Seder was eaten on Thursday or Friday of that week, and whether the Last Supper was the Seder or was eaten the evening before. The confusion comes from what seems to be the different accounts in the synoptic tradition (Matthew, Luke and Mark) and the Gospel according to John, John’s gospel seeming to place the Seder on Friday. Most favor what seems to be John’s version, but I am not persuaded. I think the accounts can be better reconciled if the Passover Seder takes place on Thursday and that the celebration of the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (by inclusion also called the Passover—hence the confusion) is what takes place on Friday. The Gospel according to Mark assumes a Diaspora and Gentile milieu and does not assume its readers are familiar with the particulars of the Palestinian context nor does it labor over the details.
The passage here resembles 11:1-7 where Jesus likewise sends ahead two disciples to find the colt and to prepare it for His royal entry into Jerusalem. The two stories are almost identical in form, using much of the same phrasing in the same order, and both report that the disciples found everything as Jesus had said. Both stories begin a new section.
What both these stories show us is Jesus’ readiness for the events that follow down to the preparation of small details. While the disciples are often surprised and bewildered, Jesus seems to be in full possession of the events that unfold. The events that happened in Jerusalem in the past few days were no surprise to Jesus. Nothing happened by accident. The same is true now.
While Jesus made preparations ahead of time for the disciples to meet the householder and for the Seder to be prepared, this readiness of Jesus does not just indicate His leadership and planning skills, they suggest to us that God is in charge. The disciples act on Jesus’ word. They did not know where the meal was to be held, but they follow Jesus’ instructions, and things turn out as He said. In the same way, we often are in the dark. We do not know the big picture. We just follow Jesus’ instructions and take the next step. This is a matter of trust. Jesus knows the big picture, as we begin to see as events unfold, and His instructions to us prepare us for that.
In the things that follow on this night and the following day, everything takes place according to the divine plan. Just as Jesus planned for the Seder meal, God is masterminding the ordeal that Jesus is about to go through. Nothing happens by accident. All the details are by divine arrangement.
This is no less true in the trials that we experience as believers and as the church. However much it seems as though God has forgotten us, and however much it seems as though the enemies of God are in control, everything in fact takes place according to God’s own design. We do not have to take our own bewilderment seriously, or our own doubts and confusion. We do not have to believe ourselves. We can trust ourselves to God’s hands, and leave the results for Him to work out. Here is where we can distance ourselves from ourselves, “let go” of our fears which assuredly are real. We can let go of our souls, for our souls—our swirling minds and tumultuous feelings—do not know the truth. This is faith.
(What we might call “blind faith” is simply a rash assertion of the soul in defiance of the facts. What we are talking about here is a letting go of the soul in order to rely on the spirit. The spirit knows God, not in a cognitive or propositional way but in a person-to-person, face-to-face way. Faith is to follow the heart in its trust in God.)
The Betrayer (14:18-21)
The betrayer and those he colludes with think that they act in secret, that they will catch Jesus by surprise. But Jesus is fully aware of Judas’ secret. While someone is attempting His downfall, this “surprise” is already part of God’s plan, and Jesus is not stumbled by it. Here however He warns the other disciples, for they would be stumbled.
The fact of betrayal is not passed over as a mere circumstance. Jesus emphasizes the fact that the betrayer is one of the Twelve, one of the inner circle whom He has chosen, one in whom He has placed His trust. “One of you will betray Me,” one who has accompanied Me this far, one who share My meals, “who dips with Me in the dish.”
In 13:12 Jesus said, “Brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against their parents and put them to death.” We can easily be scandalized by those on the inside. We can scandalize each other. Others in the church might betray Jesus. This is different than Peter’s denial, which was an act of cowardice and weakness. This does not excuse Peter, but his act was different than Judas’. People in the church may be weak and cowardly. They may compromise out of fear of failure, or fear of what the world may think or how it might react. But to betray Christ, or to betray His believers, is a step further. The first is a step of withdrawal away Christ out of shame, the other is a step forward—towards complicity with the enemies of Christ. They both are pernicious and sinful, but one is worse than the other.
If we betray Christ, if we join forces with His enemies in deliberate opposition, “It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” We can repent, and we pray that we would. Thank God that He will not even then turn His back on us! But as long as we are in that condition, we share the fate of Christ’s enemies. We are subject to the judgment of God as the conclusion of our life, as the wrapping up and tallying of our whole being. The judgment of God is nothing other than abandonment by God; it is for us to be left with our soul but without life, without love, and without light, without personhood. Because God hates us? This “hatred” is not God’s, except in terms of impersonal affect. It is what will happen if God leaves us to our own choice. It is we who have turned our back on Him. No one need ever stay in that condition. Whoever turns to the Lord and calls on Him can find mercy, grace and forgiveness.
But while Jesus warns Judas so that he would repent, He also warns His disciples so that they would realize that in spite of the offence of our fellow believers, the Son of Man is still the Son of Man who will overcome all that opposes God. The Kingdom of God will be established by the Son of Man even by means of this and other betrayals. The Son of Man is going away, even as it is written concerning Him. It is all part of God’s plan.
Our faith is sometimes tried because Christians behave so badly in the world. Sometimes we are tried because believers are so hypocritical, or so worldly, or because they are so easily manipulated, or so defiant. Sometimes those who call themselves Christians are betrayers. We can be scandalized because so many of those who call themselves Christians abandon the faith in cynicism and scorn. We doubt ourselves. Our faith totters. But Jesus here tells us to keep our eye on Him. Trust Him. Trust in God who arranges all things. Do you believe because of Jesus or because of those who profess His name? We can remain faithful to Him not because of others but because of Him and Him alone. (Nevertheless, we wish to always have the support of others.)
I Will Be With You (14:22-25)
All this (verses 12-21) is just the introduction. The section that covers Jesus’ arrest and death and resurrection Jesus Himself introduces by giving us the gift of His Supper.
In the Passover Seder itself we recognize that Jesus is the Lamb that was slain to deliver us from our bondage in spiritual Egypt and from the angel of death that brings Egypt under the judgment of God. The blood of the Lamb smeared on the doorposts of the house protects us from the wrath of God. And within the house we eat the Lamb. We identify with Him, take Him into ourselves, and enjoy Him for our own nourishment, satisfaction, and strengthening for the journey of liberation that lies ahead of us.
During the meal itself Jesus gives us the bread and tells us to eat it as His own body. Not only do we know Jesus objectively by hearing the Gospel, but we need to take Him into our spirit subjectively by faith and make Him our own, and feed on Him in our hearts and metabolize Him into our souls. The point is not some sort of idolatry by which we eat magical bread that we worship. The point is rather that He Himself makes Himself present to us in the Supper. He is present to us in all that He is, even bodily present for our bodies, but also in all His soul and spirit, in His whole history of birth, living, death, resurrection and ascension, in all His virtues and attainments, in all that He has obtained for us, and even in His divine nature with all its perfections. In all this He is present in our midst as real as we remember Him in the Gospel and receive Him by faith in the Supper. And He continues to be present in us and with us—among us—as the church.
He gives us the cup to drink and tells us to drink His own blood. His blood was shed for us to become the blood of the covenant, the blood that redeems us and makes us God’s own, the blood that washes away our guilt. In thankfulness we come into and live in God’s presence. The Father of Jesus is our Father.
So the bread is first then the cup. For it is only by receiving Christ by faith, by His giving us new birth and dwelling in us by the Holy Spirit that we then know our redemption and the forgiveness of our sins. This is in terms of our experience. From God’s point of view, the cup comes first and then the bread—for He can only give us new birth and the gift of the eternal life because He has redeemed us.
So Jesus, on the night He offered up His soul to the Father in Gethsemane, the night of His arrest, gives us the gift of the Supper that we might remember and know that He is with us—as His church—in all that He has gone through. In the Supper we remember His death until He comes. All that follows from this point on, we participate in: for when He returns to us in resurrection and participates in us, He participates in us with all that He went through. That lives in us by His presence in us. That lives among us as the church by His presence in the midst of us. As the early Christians and countless Christians since underwent persecution, and as we learn to let go of our soul, to lay it down in the death of self-denial, of self dis-identification, He abides in us as the source of our ability to do so, of our strength to do so, and as the fruition of what happens as a result. It is the Supper—its meaning and purpose (whether or not we have the opportunity of it)—that makes us the church.
In this sense, the church itself is the sacrament. The word sacrament means mystery. Paul says, “This mystery is great, but I speak with regard to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). The mystery that is the church is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). The church is the sacrament in that Christ Himself is really present in the church. He dwells personally in the church. We are in Him and He is in us—the reality of that makes us the church. When we speak of the Body of Christ, we mean by it no metaphor. We are His body in as much as the church is Christ by virtue of His real presence within and among us.
He is present among us through the Word that we hear. Christ “rides” the word of the Gospel into our spirit and souls, as the Holy Spirit reveals Him to us. Inasmuch as He is revealed to us in our spirits, He is present within us and among us. The Holy Spirit inhabits us through that revelation. Inasmuch as Christ dwells in the Holy Spirit—and He dwells completely (His divinity and humanity) in the Holy Spirit—He comes to us through the Word and dwells in us.
When Jesus says, “I shall by no means drink of the product of the vine anymore until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God,” He is anticipating His coming again. As the Son of Man, when He comes He will establish God’s kingdom. The kingdom is when all that is symbolized by the abundant food in the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey will be fulfilled. The kingdom is compared to a great banquet at which all who participate can enjoy. In the New Testament the kingdom is called the wedding feast of the Lamb. There will be satisfaction and fullness and joy forever.
So when we partake in the Supper as we gather together, we are anticipating the age to come when in the resurrection we will fully participate in all that Christ is. “When He is manifested, we will be like Him for we will see Him even as He is” (1 John 3:2). When that Day comes, we will enjoy all that He has obtained for us, and we will enjoy within us all that He has attained for us. He will be our feast.
On that Day, however, He will also find satisfaction in us, for He speaks of His drinking at the feast. We will no longer be as disappointing as we are now. But when all that He has striven for and attained and obtained for us comes to fruition in us, He will be satisfied. The hymn that we sang last week says that our love for Him anticipates that Day, as Mary’s love did in Mark 14:8: “Drink, dear Lord, from my heart’s flowing fountain, till I rest fore’er in Thine embrace … Quickly come, our love is waiting for Thee; Jesus Lord, Thou wilt be satisfied” (Living Stream Ministry, 2002: Hymns, 1159).
When we celebrate the Supper, we express our love for the Lord and anticipate that Day when we will be saturated with Him and He will be fully satisfied with us. When we eat the bread we anticipate our fullness and when we drink the cup we anticipate the joy of our fellowship. This anticipation, however, is not an empty symbol of an idea or concept. It is a real participation in what is to come. Through the Holy Spirit we already have the fullness of Christ present within and among us. Through His out-poured blood we already have full and free communion with the Father as His own dear children. As we enjoy Him, He too already enjoys—and satisfies Himself with—us.
May our attitude of love and joy in Him ever grow as we learn to celebrate the Supper more fully.