One day I was coming home from Bible School in my black Volkswagen beetle. I was just driving into Oak Bluff when a car coming toward me in the other lane, suddenly began to drift into my lane. He tried to steer and I braked, but it was too late and we collided head on. No one was hurt but as we exchanged information, we wondered “how did this happen?” The answer was not difficult to find. There had been a storm and snow plows had pushed high banks of snow on either side of the road, so there was nowhere to turn to avoid a collision. The highway was slippery and we were on a banked curve and the other car was unable to keep from sliding into my lane.
Last week we began a journey to the cross and one of the questions which we might be asking is, “how did this happen?” Jesus was popular and was doing good things. People were being healed. He was being revealed as the one whom all the Jews were waiting for. How was it that such a good man was on the road to the cross? This is one of the questions answered in Mark 14:1-26, which is our text for today. We will learn the human factors but we will also be reminded that there was, as we saw last week, a divine necessity to this journey. This passage is clearly aimed at the cross. It helps us understand how Jesus came to die but also reveals a number of other preparations for the passion which is the story of Christ’s crucifixion.
I. The Set Up For His Death
A. The Intent To Kill Him 14:1, 2
Even though Jesus was popular, we know from Mark 3:6 that the religious leaders intended to kill him. There we read, "Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus."
That intent was expressed fairly early in Jesus’ ministry and in the intervening years their determination only intensified. In Mark 11:18 we read that, "The chief priests and the teachers of the law … began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching." Now in Mark 14:1 this intent is once again expressed.
But notice that they wanted to find a sly way to do it. They knew that Jesus was popular and that if they tried anything while such a large crowd was in Jerusalem they would have a riot on their hands and they did not want that, so they had to find a deceptive way to arrest Him. That is why they did not want to do it during the annual feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread, which were on at that time. People came to celebrate this festival from all across the country and from wherever Jews lived. Some estimates suggest that Jerusalem swelled to five times its usual population during the celebrations. Many of those who had come would have been from Galilee and would have known Jesus well because he had had such a long and successful ministry there. So we can understand why they did not want to make the arrest of Jesus a public matter. But their intent was firm, they were resolved to kill Him.
B. Preparation for Burial 14:3-9
Meanwhile Jesus was in Bethany at a dinner. He was surrounded by his disciples, other followers and it is interesting that he was also in the company of those who, in other settings, would not have been invited – Simon the leper and a woman.
This woman, who is not identified in Mark, broke open an expensive jar of ointment and poured it on Jesus head. Talk about a socially awkward moment! Some of those at the meal immediately pounced on her verbally and began to berate her. They accused her of wasting this expensive perfume. Nard was a product imported from India. The text says that it was worth more than a year’s wages. If we assume that it was a year’s wages for a day laborer and if we calculate using Manitoba’s minimum wage, which is $9.00 an hour that would make it worth about $18,000. The most expensive perfume in the world today is worth $2,150/oz. so this perfume could easily have been worth more than the most expensive perfume you can get today. They complained that her act was wasteful. Their concern was for the poor, which is a noble thought. It was customary to care for the poor during Passover, and perhaps that was in their minds. Jesus had taught much about caring for the poor and perhaps His teaching was in their minds. Such an extravagant act would clearly be out of step with everything Jesus had taught, so they began to “rebuke her harshly.”
But Jesus surprised them and told them to “leave her alone.” He went on to explain that the extravagant gift was not inappropriate, but was very much in sync with the direction which Jesus was heading.
He said “She has done a beautiful thing to me.” What she did was not in violation of the principles of Jesus, but was a wonderful act of great love and devotion. One writer suggests that she could have opened the bottle and poured out a little bit, but when she broke the bottle, it had to all be used at that time and so she poured it all on his head. You don’t give such an extravagant gift unless you truly love someone and she evidently loved Jesus a great deal. Her act of extravagant love raised the question for the other followers of Jesus and raises the question for us, “Do we love Jesus that much?” To love Him is a beautiful thing and to act on that love in extravagant ways is a good thing.
Jesus also pointed out that her timing was perfect. He was not against caring for the poor. Far too much of His teaching had already revealed His heart on the matter. But there was another important reality present that, in spite of all the announcements Jesus had made, most had not really caught. He was not going to be around much longer. Jesus said in Mark 14:7, “…you will not always have me.” The opportunity to minister to Jesus would not last much longer and so her act was done at just the right time.
Jesus went on to indicate that she had prepared his body for burial. Once again we see that things are pointing towards his death, but what Jesus said shows that this act was doing more than pointing to his death, it was actually preparing for his burial. The anointing of a body for burial was a common practice. It would have been their way to express honor for the deceased person much the same way we honor and treat a deceased person’s body with dignity. It is interesting, however, that when Jesus was buried, in Mark at least, there is no indication that he was anointed for burial. Perhaps because he died on Sabbath or perhaps because He died as a criminal the anointing didn’t happen. The intent of the women who accompanied Him was to anoint his body for burial after the Sabbath. But when the women went to anoint Jesus for burial, he wasn’t there anymore, so this anointing was the only anointing for burial that Jesus received. Geddert suggests that in this sense this anointing actually even points to the resurrection.
By anointing His body for burial she is acting in accord with the announcements of his death. Three times Jesus had told the disciples that he was about to die and three times they seemed to be in denial. By her act she acknowledged His death and prepared Him for it.
C. The Betrayer 14:10, 11
The outline which Mark presents to us in this chapter is very interesting. In the first story we have an account of people who wanted to kill Jesus. Then we have an account of one who loved Jesus and sacrificed for Him. Then we have the third account of one who was prepared to sacrifice Jesus in order to gain money. This setting causes the reader to ask, “Where do I stand? Am I for Jesus and willing to sacrifice for Him or am I against Jesus?”
So when Judas went to the religious leaders and offered to betray Jesus to them, he played into their hands. This was the “sly way” in which they would be able to carry out their plot. But in another way it did not quite play into their hands. Geddert points out, “The religious leaders want to avoid taking Jesus during the coming festival. When the traitor, Judas, makes a deal with them, they throw caution to the wind and arrest Jesus without waiting for the feast days to end.” This shift in their plan is a hint that things are not entirely going the way the religious leaders are plotting, but rather in the way that God is planning. Jesus was killed in connection with the Passover to make a point about his being the Passover lamb bringing the New Covenant relationship with God. The Jewish leaders did not plan that, but God did and so in spite of the horror of human evil which is present in the story, we continue to see God’s hand overruling and bringing about His purposes.
So in these stories we have various incidents related to the preparation for the death of Jesus. We understand that it came about by the evil purposes of the religious leaders and by the cooperation of one of the disciples of Jesus. We see all the worst in humankind in the way things played out and we begin to understand how such a thing could have happened from the human point of view. But we also see that God had a plan in this. We begin to understand that Jesus was preparing for death because it was a divine necessity.
II. The Meaning of His Death
In the next section these purposes of God are further explained.
A. Passover Preparation 14:12-16
There is a problem with the dating of the Passover. In Mark, it seems that the Passover was celebrated before Jesus was killed, whereas in John 18:28, 39 it appears that Jesus was crucified on the Passover. Various solutions have been given. One is that although the Passover lamb was killed on this day, the meal which Jesus had with his disciples was not a Passover meal, but another meal. On the other hand, when John places the death of Jesus on Passover this would emphasize even more that Jesus died as the Passover Lamb to redeem people from their sins and prepare the way for the new covenant. I am not sure that I have a good explanation for this difference; therefore, I would rather simply accept the way Mark has presented the material and learn from it. From all that is written in Mark 14:12ff, it seems that this was a Passover meal. We have already observed that a plot was well underway. If this was a movie, then throughout this section the scary music would be playing and we need to understand that that reality was present. Jesus knew that his death was only a short time away. The Jews had their plan in place and Judas was looking for the opportunity to enact it. That is scary stuff.
In preparing for the Passover meal, one almost gets the idea that Jesus deliberately did things to maintain secrecy about where he was. The Passover meal had to be held in Jerusalem, which was enemy territory for Him. The two who prepared for the Passover were sent to find a man carrying a water jug and to follow him. A man did not usually carry a water jug - that was woman’s work. Was this a secret signal which Jesus had pre-arranged to keep things quiet so that He would not be arrested before the right time?
So the two disciples prepared all things for the meal and Jesus and his disciples gathered to eat what may well have been the last meal Jesus and his disciples ate together.
B. A Broken Covenant 14:17-21
There was a Passover protocol to follow, but that isn’t what was emphasized as Jesus and the disciples began this meal. What is described emphasizes that this text is moving in the direction of the death of Jesus. This is what was in His mind and this is the direction of the meal. As Jesus ate this traditional meal with his disciples, He explained the purpose of His death and we understand not only why such a thing could have happened, but the meaning of it.
One of the most profound things we read in this section is that twice Jesus announced that one of the disciples would betray Him. In Mark 14:18, we read, "While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.’” Then all the disciples, one by one, with grief asked Jesus “not I!?” Without actually identifying Judas, Jesus said again in Mark 14:20, “’It is one of the Twelve,’ he replied, ‘one who dips bread into the bowl with me.’” Because Jesus said twice that one of the twelve would betray Him the importance of this phrase cannot be missed. It is a reminder of Psalm 41:9 where we read, "Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me."
It is very sad and also very important. Geddert says, “Mark’s concern is to highlight the treachery of the betrayer. By doing so in the context of a covenant meal, he pictures the deed in all its stark horror.” By focusing on the betrayal in this way, Jesus emphasized the broken covenant. Judas had been a disciple and by eating with Jesus, He was saying, “I am with you.” Repeating twice that the betrayal would be by one who was eating with Him, Jesus emphasized that Judas was breaking covenant. He was saying to Jesus in the most horrible way possible, “I am not with you.” Perhaps the meaning of the broken covenant of this betrayal goes even deeper. The Passover meal was a covenant meal. Eating this meal was a way by which the people of Israel had always acknowledged their relationship with God. When Judas broke covenant with Jesus he also symbolized that this covenant with God was now broken.
Jesus explained this brokenness by saying that “The Son of Man will go just as it has been written about Him.” As He does so, we are reminded once again that the death of Jesus was God’s plan. He was heading to the cross not only because Judas betrayed Him, but because it was written in Scripture that it must happen in this way. But even though this is true, Judas was doomed because of his part in it. So the plan of God would move to its conclusion, but that did not remove responsibility from Judas for his evil part in it. Is it possible that this was a warning to Judas that he should not do what he planned to do? Was Jesus offering him a way out? God’s plan would not be prevented if Judas did not betray Jesus and perhaps Judas could be spared. But it was not to be that way and Judas went forward with the betrayal.
Hare says, “The implicit contrast is between Jesus, who fulfills Scripture by willing obedience to God’s will, and Judas, who fulfills Scripture by willful disobedience. It is a necessary characteristic of divine providence that God can turn evil into good.”
C. A New Covenant 14:22-26
As we mentioned earlier, this meal was a Passover meal. Once again, however, the meal did not progress according to traditional protocol. Instead of explaining the meaning of the lamb or the herbs and spices, Jesus reinterpreted the Passover to reflect the New Covenant which was about to be inaugurated by His death on the cross. In so doing, He opened their eyes to the reason behind the divine necessity.
First of all, Jesus took bread and broke it and said to them, “Take it, this is my body.” In the Passover meal, the unleavened bread would have symbolized the haste with which they had to leave Egypt. Now Jesus was pointing to a new meaning. With the bread, they were to remember His body, which was broken for them. The picture of breaking bread was intended to point to His broken body. The offer of bread given to all of them was to remind them that His body had been offered to them for their sustenance and life.
As He poured out the cup, He once again re-interpreted the meaning of the red wine. In Mark 14:24 we read, “This is my blood of the covenant.” That imagery would have reminded them of what happened when God made a covenant with the people of Israel. Exodus 24:8 says, "Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.’” When Moses sprinkled the blood on the people he established a covenant by blood. But what Jesus was doing was establishing a new covenant, also by blood. Finally we have a clear explanation of the meaning of what Jesus had been hinting at and pointing at. It would take later Biblical writers to explain this more clearly. For example, Hebrews 9:15 says, "For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant." In eternity Jesus will be praised for this sacrifice. In Revelation 5:9 we have such a song of praise, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation." Geddert writes, “Drinking blood would have been a horrible thing for any Jew…some horror should remain in the symbolic act, for the horror of Jesus’ death can never be fully erased. Those who identify with it, identify both with its horror and with its victory.”
And so a new meal was enacted. Judas symbolized the breaking of the Old Covenant by eating with Jesus and then betraying Him. Jesus explained the divine necessity by pointing to the new covenant and inviting His disciples to eat together in remembrance of that new covenant.
But Jesus would not eat that meal with His disciples again. He told them “I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.” Earlier in this text he had said, “…you will not always have me” by which he pointed to His coming death. As Jesus enacted the new covenant meal He indicated that he would “drink it anew in the kingdom” and so gave hope for what was yet to come. The necessity of His death was not the end of the story, but leads to a new story.
This whole passage is about the preparation for Jesus death and it is good for us to spend time meditating on His death.
In this story we see, plot and betrayal but also that at the right place, at the right time, on the right day God’s will was carried out. We see the human trajectory which led to His death, but also how the divine necessity became reality. In these things, we can rejoice that God is sovereign and we can give thanks for the divine necessity which has established the new covenant by which we live and in which we are comforted with eternal hope.
As we see people taking sides: The disciples, Judas, the Jewish leaders and the woman, we are invited to think about which side we are on. Like the Jewish leaders, are we against Him and do we want Him out of our life? Are we like Judas who portrayed support at first, but then in the most terrible way possible broke covenant with Jesus? Are we like the disciples who followed Jesus, but struggled to truly understand and believe what He was saying? Are we like the woman, who deeply loved Jesus and sacrificed in order to express love for Him?
As we draw nearer to Easter, which is only a few weeks away, let us take the time to meditate on and think deeply about the death of Jesus.