Mark 14:43-52

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 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. 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.” 45 And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 46 And they laid hands on him and seized him. 47 But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48 And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” 50 And they all left him and fled. 51 And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.

You would not know to look at it, but this painting was actually considered extremely controversial when it was painted.  In fact, when it appeared the artist was summoned before the Inquisition to explain himself.  I am talking about Paolo Veronese’s 1573 painting, “The Feast at the House of Levi.”  Actually, that was not his original title.  He renamed the painting after the Inquisition gave him three months to change it.  Originally it was entitled, “The Last Supper.”

feast-at-the-house-of-levi-by-paolo-veronese-1573

What was it that upset the Inquisition so much about the painting?  If you look closely at it you will see the traditional elements of last supper paintings:  Jesus in the middle of the table and the disciples flanking Him on either side.  But what was surprising and, to some, upsetting, were the extra elements that Veronese added.  For instance, the Inquisition seems to have been irked at the fact that there is a dog standing in front of the Lord’s Supper table.  (Veronese reveals in the transcript of his exchange with the Inquisition that somebody suggested he paint Mary Magdalene over the dog but he declined for the reason that she would look very strange indeed positioned right there in the painting.)  Also, Veronese included an image of a dwarf, an image of a man with a bloody nose holding a rag, a man dressed like a “buffoon” with a parrot on his arm, and maybe most provocatively, some men dressed as Germans wearing swords.  This was upsetting to the Inquisition because in the 1500’s in Germany the Protestant Reformation was exploding and they were offended by what they might have seen as a nod to the Reformation in the painting.  What is more, Peter, in the painting, is carving lamb to put on people’s place, an image that was certainly not traditional.[1]

In short, some were offended by Veronese’s painting because it put Jesus in the midst of a situation that looked too real, too raw, too earthly, too worldly!  Dogs and men with bloody noses and heretics with swords, and some guy with a parrot, and Peter cutting up lamb:  all of this is just too much for folks who want their Jesus captured in a moment of soft light, religious piety, pretty colors, and a romanticized gloss.

But I like Veronese’s painting!  In fact, I love it.  Why?  Because Jesus did not come to the earth to star in some first century version of a Hallmark Channel movie.  He did not come for the gloss and the feel-good story.  He came to step into the midst of the rabble of humanity where dogs roam around the table and where people have bloody noses and where the weird guy with the parrot is just wondering around the room and where the dangerous people with swords are and where people are doing commonplace things and heretical things and dangerous things and disturbing things.  This is the world into which Jesus stepped!  He came into the mud and the muck of raw everyday humanity.

More than that, he stepped into the darkness of human sinfulness.  He stepped among us rebels and prodigals and scoundrals—that is to say, among all of us!—in order to call us home!  Chapter 39 of Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22 is entitled “The Eternal City.”  In this chapter, Yossarian walks through the streets of Rome and behold numerous horrible scenes of violence and excess.  Then Joseph Heller writes this:

The night was filled with horror, and he thought he knew how Christ must have felt as he walked through the world, like a psychiatrist through a ward full of nuts, like a victim through a prison full of thieves.  What a welcome sight a leper must have been![2]

Indeed!  And nowhere does the contrast between the ways of man and the ways of God become more evident than in these scenes at the end of the gospels as we approach the cross.  Mark 14 has shown us the Lord’s Supper and now we are in the garden.  Jesus has groaned under the weight of the burden of the coming cross but He has not turned away.  He has not been unfaithful.  He still holds true to the task.

Now, Judas comes.  The soldiers come.  Peter lashes out.  The disciples flee.  In other words, now we see the ways of man and the ways of God in shocking contrast.  Now we see that Veronense was right to paint what he painted, for God in Christ stepped not into a “Precious Moments” display case.  He stepped into the nightmare of man and brought with Him the light of glory.

Let us observe the contrast between the way of man and the way of God.

The way of man.

The scene in that Garden of Gethsemane is instructive not only in the way that it unfolds the critical events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus but also in the way that the various men present in the garden surrounding Jesus demonstrate, in a microcosm, the whole sad story of mankind.  As the action in the scene explodes with the arrival of Judas and all that comes quickly on the heels of his betrayal, we can see the various ways that mankind moves against and away from God Himself.

A kiss of hypocrisy

We begin with Judas.

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. 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.” 45 And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 46 And they laid hands on him and seized him.

I have long been struck by the beauty and wisdom of Michael Card’s handling of this hypocritical kiss in his song, “Why?”

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[3]

He is right.  That is not what a kiss is for.  Judas’ kiss must be the single most audacious example of treachery, of cruelty, and of religious hypocrisy the world has ever seen.  He kisses Jesus and hails Him “Rabbi!”  Of course, he had made prior arrangements with the Roman guards that this was to be the sign that here was the one they were to arrest.

Behold the hypocrisy of man!  How often we mask the wickedness of our own hearts with outward signs of piety!  How often we feign love when we mean hatred!  Judas’ kiss is reenacted whenever and wherever people put on a show of devotion while knowing beforehand that they will not follow Jesus, that they have no intention of truly being part of His way.  This is the kiss of hypocrisy.

A reaction of violence

The way of man is also the way of violence.

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 18 fills in a number of the details.

10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

Peter draws his sword and strikes off Malchus’ ear.  In doing so, Peter reveals that he is still ensconced in the ways of man.  Violence is instinctive to us. Violence is the natural language of man.  It seems perfectly reasonable to us to fight swords with swords.  This tendency barely even needs to be taught.  We are, in our fallen state, hardwired to react with anger, with rage, with violence to perceived wrongs and threats.  And there is no comfort in being able to say that we have never actually killed somebody.  Jesus dealt with that hollow dodge in Matthew 5.

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

There are many ways to kill somebody, be it with a sharp sword or a sharp word.  In relationships one of the most violent things we can do is actually withdraw from one another, turn away from one another.  I am speaking of the cruelty of passive aggressive silence, of not allowing another to even talk with you about making it right.  This too is one of the many ways we are violent towards one another.  But such is not the way of Jesus!  “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

The sword is not the way of the kingdom. Jesus came to embrace the cross by submitting to the cruelty of man but only in service of submitting to the will of the Father.  In doing so He undercut violence with love. His people must do the same!

Beware the kiss of hypocrisy!  Beware the sword of violence!

Cowardly self-preservation

Mark also provides us with a fascinating if enigmatic example of the ultimate way of man:  cowardly self-preservation.

50 And they all left him and fled. 51 And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.

The identity of this young man has been debated for two millennia.  It will not be known until glory.  But that is not really the point, is it?  The point is rather that Jesus’ disciples were so eager to get away from him that one of them actually ran out of his clothes to do so!  The point is the shocking, eager, cowardly abandonment of Jesus by His disciples who were enslaved to the ways of man.

This is the way of man!  Self-protection, self-advancement, the avoidance of suffering even for the truth:  this is the heart of mankind.  Do not miss the irony.  Soon Roman soldiers will be gambling over Jesus’ clothes as he hangs upon the cross.  Jesus’ clothes are seized because of his obedience.  This young man’s clothes are seized because of his cowardice.  Jesus is stripped bare but clothed in righteousness.  This young man is stripped bare and clothed in fear.

Here too there are many ways to run naked away from Jesus.  That cowardly silence in the workplace when you know God is telling you to speak is one example.  That turning away from the opportunity to speak the gospel to a person God has put in your path is another.  That changing of the subject at the dinner table when gospel truth is what is needed is yet another.

Many and varied are the ways that we run naked from Jesus!  This is the way of man:  to stay safe, secure, unharmed, uncriticized.  The way of man is to avoid the cross.  How different this is from the way of God!

The way of God.

The way of God is the way of righteous self-giving love!

48 And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.”

Jesus shames their show of force.  Was he hiding from them?  Was he amassing an army?  No! Had he done anything other than stand in their midst and speak the truth?  Even so, Jesus says, “let the Scriptures be fulfilled.”  That is, “Let what God has decreed happen!  I am ready.  I am here.  I embrace it.  Not my will by Thy will be doing!”  Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1:

15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

He came for this!  He will not turn away from it.  He will not shun the cross, the pain, the rejection, the loneliness.  In Jesus Christ we see the definitive contrast between the way of man and the way of God.  Against the hypocrisy of Judas, Jesus stands in ultimate and unflinching integrity and union with the Father.  Against the violence of Peter, Jesus shuns force and submits Himself to the violence of His enemies.  Against the self-preservationist instinct of the fleeing disciples, Jesus moves towards the cross.

Jesus, in shunning the wicked selfishness of man, demonstrates His perfect holiness and oneness with the Father and reveals His divine nature yet again.  In doing so, He showed Himself the only hope of lost and fallen humanity.  The way of God in Christ is the only hope for wayward man.

In Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, he writes:

I believe there is nothing lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic and more perfect than the Saviour; I say to myself with jealous love that not only is there no one else like Him, but that there could be no one…There is in the world only one figure of absolute beauty:  Christ.  That infinitely lovely figure is as a matter of course an infinite marvel.[4]

Amen and amen!  Behold the faithfulness, the love, the courage, the holiness, the deity, and the grace of Jesus Christ!  His arms are open wide to you.

 

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/10663746/How-Veronese-outwitted-the-Inquisition.html Also see the transcript of Veronese’s exchange with the Inquisition here: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/high-ren-florence-rome/late-renaissance-venice/a/transcript-of-the-trial-of-veronese

[2] Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (New York, NY: Everyman’s Library, 1995), p.514

[3] http://www.metrolyrics.com/why-lyrics-michael-card.html

[4] Quoted in Calvin Miller, The Book of Jesus.  (Simon and Schuster), p.52.

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