The Trials of Jesus and the Disciples
Mark 14:27 – 15:15
What tremendous pressure there must be on athletes at the Olympics! I am thinking particularly of the pressure on skips in curling. Whatever has happened before, they throw the final rock and if they miss, then no matter how well the others on the team have done, they could win or lose the end or even the game. Twice in the gold medal game in women’s curling Cheryl Bernard had the opportunity to win the game. If she made her shot, her team would win and it would be victory not only for her, but for her whole team and even for the country. Twice she missed her shot by a very small margin, but just enough that she lost the end and ultimately the game. I am still proud of her and the Canadian team for doing a great job and winning silver, but in that moment the pressure was on her to make the shot, not only for herself, but for the whole team, the whole nation.
We have been talking about the journey to the cross and the text we will look at today continues on that journey. The text is Mark 14:27-15:15. In this section, there is a lot at stake. We know that it is the plot of the Jewish leaders to kill Jesus. We know that Judas has agreed to facilitate the arrest of Jesus. Arrest must be followed by a trial. Officials don’t just murder someone but must do things in a legal way, or at least appear to be legal. In this section, we read about the trials of Jesus which bring us from 14:21where we read, “…the son of man will go” to 15:15 where we read that he “handed him over to be crucified.” In these trials, the pressure is on Jesus. If he gets through these trials the whole team will win. If he fails in these trials, the consequences for the universe are devastating.
But the trial of Jesus is not the only trial going on here. The disciples are also on trial and we find that they fail miserably.
Interestingly, the two trials are bound together. If the one, Jesus, fails, all fail. If all fail, but Jesus succeeds, all can succeed. How does all this happen?
I. The Trials of Jesus
A. The Trial in His Soul
The first trial of Jesus is not his trial before the Jewish leaders or the Roman leader. The first trial which Jesus must go through is the trial within his own soul.
After the time he had spent with his disciples at the meal in Jerusalem, he went out with his disciples to the garden of Gethsemane which is near the foot of the Mount of Olives. All the disciples were there except Judas and Jesus took three of his disciples, Peter, James and John and went a little further and invited them to accompany Him while he prayed.
The language of Mark 14:33-36 reveals to us the great depth of horror which Jesus faced on His journey to the cross. When we read the announcements of his death which he had given to the disciples, they may perhaps seem somewhat “matter of fact.” He seems to be simply and coolly saying, “This is what is going to happen” and we don’t sense that it was difficult. In Hebrews 12:2, we read “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross” and the emphasis seems to be focused on joy and victory and we are inclined to deemphasize that he endured the cross. But in Mark 14:33-36, we cannot escape the depth of the difficulty of going to the cross Him.
First of all we read, “…he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.” There was a powerful agony in the depth of his soul. In the next verse we sense the anguish when we hear Jesus say, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” It is hard to know what to say about such a thing, but we need to allow these expressions to speak for all they are worth. We see even more of his deep grief when we read in verse 35, “he fell to the ground.” What is happening in your heart and mind when you are driven to throw yourself to the ground? This was crisis time for Jesus, it was a severe trial and we understand that when we read His prayer in which he asks, “Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.” Jesus had agreed to leave heaven and come to earth. Jesus had lived as a human child, worked as a human man and now for three years He had proclaimed the kingdom of God. At this time all He had come to do was coming to a head. He was about to enter upon the final act, which would seal the victory planned from the beginning of time. The pressure was on and it was almost too much. Jesus was on trial in the depth of His soul. Would he go through with it? Would He be faithful? How would He come through this trial?
In the very next line we read, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Jesus succeeded in the trial within His soul when in spite of the deep anguish of it he agreed to follow the Father’s plan.
B. The Arrest and Trial before the Sanhedrin
The second trial happened before the Jewish leaders.
After Jesus finished praying, we read that Judas came with a whole mob of people with swords and clubs to arrest Jesus. How horrible when we read that Judas identified Jesus with a kiss. The Greek word used for friendship love is “phileo” and the word for kiss which is used here is the same word. A kiss implies love and Judas used a sign of friendship love to betray Jesus. How awful!
Jesus highlighted the injustice of the arrest when he commented in verses 48, 49 that they could have arrested him any day. But he knew that they were looking for a sly way and this was it. He was arrested at night, in a secluded garden. He was arrested unjustly as the Scriptures say.
They took Jesus to the house of the high priest and all those who wanted to get rid of him, who from Mark 3:6 on had plotted to kill him, gathered to find a “legal” way to justify their action. Jesus was on trial before the court of the Jewish leaders. What would the trial reveal?
They found some who were prepared to accuse him of saying that he would “destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.” Jesus never said that. He never said that “he” would destroy the temple, rather He said “destroy this temple” meaning if others would destroy it. Was there an element of truth to the accusation? Yes. He had said that if the temple was destroyed He would build another, pointing to the temple of His own body and indicating that the physical temple would no longer be the place where God dwelt, but His body would be the manifestation of God’s presence. But he never defended himself on these charges. He remained silent.
Other false accusations were made but none of them were sufficient to find cause to put him to death.
Finally the high priest asked him directly in Mark 14:61, 62, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” and Jesus replied "“I am…And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Now the whole Sanhedrin thought they had their cause to judge him worthy of death.
In actual fact they did not. What Jesus said was not technically blasphemy. Furthermore, what Jesus said was actually true. He was the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One. He would sit at the right hand of God and He would come on the clouds of heaven. But the Jewish leaders did not accept that. They understood what Jesus was saying, but did not accept it.
Did Jesus succeed in this trial or not? When he was sentenced to death, we might think that He did not succeed, but in fact He did. Jesus was successful in this trial because in it, His true identity was clearly explained. He succeeded because He died as God, which is exactly what God’s plan was. This was the divine necessity of which Jesus had spoken.
C. The Trial before Pilate
Having achieved a verdict that Jesus was worthy of death, they brought Him to Pilate in order to achieve a sentence of death. But a strange thing happened in this next trial of Jesus. The accusation changed. The Jewish leaders had charged him with blasphemy. Now, before Pilate, they charged him with being the “king of the Jews.” Ironically, once again, they got it exactly right.
When confronted by this charge before Pilate, Jesus answered and the NIV translates his answer as, “Yes, it is as you say.” The Greek is not that clear. In Greek it simply says, “you say.” Good News Bible captures this well when it translates, “So you say.” We need to keep the answer Jesus gives as an evasive answer. Is Jesus king of the Jews? Most certainly He is. But what did Pilate understand about such a statement? It was what the Jewish leaders wanted him to understand. He would have thought that Jesus was king in the sense that he was a threat to Roman rule and would try to establish a kingdom on earth to rival the Roman Empire. Jesus has already revealed in the rest of Mark that His kingdom is a secret kingdom. It is a kingdom that comes in a completely different way. It is an eternal kingdom and although a threat to the Roman Empire and every other kingdom on earth, not in the sense that Pilate and the Jewish leaders were thinking. Jesus answer was evasive because He did not want to affirm a wrong understanding what it meant that He was king of the Jews.
While this conversation was taking place, a crowd was gathering before the palace. Pilate lived in Caesarea, but had come to Jerusalem for the festival. It was a custom each year at the festival that he would grant release to a prisoner as a gesture of good will to the Jewish people. The crowd that was gathering was not a crowd that was there because of Jesus. They may not even have known much about Jesus. Rather, it was a crowd of people who were strongly pro Jewish and likely sympathetic to rebellion against Rome. They had come early on the morning of the day on which they knew that Pilate would release a prisoner in order to get him to release the one they wanted. They already had someone in mind and were hoping for the release of Barabbas.
It is interesting to see the political maneuvering that was going on here. Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent and that the Jewish leaders had requested him to be sentenced out of envy. So he thought that perhaps he could get this crowd which did not know about all that the Jewish leaders were intending to agree to the release of Jesus. The crowd which had gathered did not fully grasp what was going on. They had only one goal in mind – to get Barabbas released and so when the offer was made by Pilate, they were prompted by the Jewish leaders to reject it and stick with their original plan. They chose Barabbas not because they had anything against Jesus, but because they wanted Barabbas set free. Three men were set to be crucified that day – all three criminals and rebels. But when the crowd chose Barabbas instead of Jesus, the three who were crucified were two rebels and one innocent man.
Once again we ask, “Was Jesus successful in his trial?” He was sentenced to be crucified and so we would think that He was not, but that would be to misunderstand what was happening. Jesus was successful in his trial. He was successful because He died as an innocent man in place of one who was guilty. When Jesus took the place of Barabbas on the cross, we understand the substitutionary death of Jesus who took not only the place of the guilty Barabbas, but also each one of us. He died for us – the innocent in place of the guilty.
Jesus succeeded in this trial because He became the substitutionary sacrifice for our sins.
II. The Trials of the Disciples
But as I have said, the trial of Jesus was not the only trial that was going on that day. The disciples were also on trial.
Going back to the beginning of the text, we see how Jesus had the compassion to warn the disciples that they were not as ready for the trials they would face as they thought.
Jesus warned them, “You will all fall away.” Falling away had been predicted in Zech 13:7 and Jesus reminded them of that.
But they were pretty sure that they would not fall away. They had seen all that Jesus had done. Perhaps they were beginning to get it. Jesus had demonstrated his power by healing and feeding the people. When they were in the boat, terrified by the wind and the waves, they had seen him still the water. At that time they were frightened, but with all they had experienced, perhaps they were beginning to understand that Jesus could do anything. Perhaps they believed that nothing bad would happen to Jesus because He would triumph in His great power. Every time Jesus had told them that He would be rejected and killed, they had denied such a possibility. So now again, they are very bold and confirmed that they would stand firm. Peter was the most vocal of all. He almost seemed to say that even though it was likely that others would fall, he would not. But Jesus warned him that not only would he fall, but he would be the most vocal in his fall. He would deny Jesus three times before the rooster crowed twice.
When they arrived at the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus took three, who interestingly had been rebuked by Jesus previously. He gave them a special opportunity to accompany Him on this terrible journey. He asked them to be with Him as He agonized before the Father in His trial of the soul. But He also warned them once again. He told them in Mark 14:38, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” In so doing, knowing they would fall, He gave them the only strategy for victory in the coming trial. He pointed the way for them to succeed in the trial about to happen to them.
B. The Failure of All
When Jesus was arrested, the trial of the disciples began. They had been warned and they had been given the means of victory, but now the trial came. How did they do?
1. All Desert
The disciples had been bold because they believed in the power of Jesus and in the victory He had come to bring. But when the hour of trial came, when Jesus was arrested, their courage melted away. They became afraid that perhaps the power of Jesus was not enough to overcome this danger.
The text tells us “Then everyone deserted him and fled.” The trial came and they failed miserably and dropped their obligation as disciples, which was to follow Jesus.
Judas had already fallen when he chose to betray Jesus. This is mentioned because as Geddert says, “Mark thus highlights the possibility of a disciple ultimately falling from faithfulness.”
He was the first to desert Jesus, but now another ten also leave.
2. The Young Man Flees
Next we read about a young man who fled naked. Why, at such a serious time when the most horrible thing in the universe was happening, would Mark talk about a young man running away naked. There have been many suggestions, but the most acceptable and also the oldest explanation is that the young man who fled was Mark himself.
Why did he mention what would have been an embarrassing thing? Probably the best explanation is that he was identifying with all the rest and, in fact, letting us all know, “I ran away too.” This would not be his last failure. Later when he was involved in mission work, we read in Acts 13:13 that Mark abandoned Paul and Barnabas. Why would he mention this? Why talk about something that must have been a painful memory? So we find that the writer of this gospel also failed his trial.
3. Peter Denies
Eleven have fallen. Judas betrayed Jesus. The other ten abandoned Jesus, but Peter was still in the picture. We read in Mark 14:54 that “Peter followed Him at a distance.” Inside the high priests house the trial of Jesus was going on. In the courtyard outside, the trial of Peter began.
Three times he was given the test question and asked if he was connected with Jesus. The first time he denied knowing Jesus. Then the rooster crowed. I wonder if the crow of the rooster gave Peter pause to think about his denial and about what Jesus had said? It didn’t help though because both the second and the third times he was asked if he knew Jesus he denied it and the third time he actually began to swear and call down curses to strongly affirm that he did not know Jesus. Then the rooster crowed again and this time Peter remembered and broke down and wept.
All deserted Jesus. All fell away from Him. The disciples failed miserably in their trials.
III. The Promise of Hope
We identify with the disciples. We also fail. When we have an opportunity to make Jesus known, we are silent. When we have a chance to trust Jesus to see us through a crisis, we worry. When we are wronged and can really follow the Jesus way, we indulge in self pity. Is there any hope for the long history of failure as disciples which each of us shares?
Hope comes not because we have succeeded because the truth is we have not. Hope comes because Jesus succeeded.
Already in Mark 14:28 Jesus offered the disciples hope beyond failure. After telling them that they would all fall away he said to them, “But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
Jesus succeeded in all of his trials and because He did, His death became the atonement for our sin. Because He succeeded, God received Him and raised Him from the dead. Because He succeeded, the offer of restoration for the failure of His disciples is now gladly extended.
The mention of Galilee is important. In Mark 16:7 this same invitation was mentioned again and a special invitation was given to Peter. Galilee was the starting point of the ministry of Jesus. It was also the starting point of the discipleship journey for those who followed Jesus. When Jesus said that they would all return to Galilee, He was inviting them to return to the starting point. He was indicating that forgiveness and renewal were possible.
This was why the young man who fled naked, Mark, could speak of this embarrassing moment. He knew that he had been restored and included the incident to say that even though he failed, he had been restored. Mark includes this incident to tell us that if we have failed, restoration is possible. Even though all the disciples had failed in their discipleship journey, Jesus had not failed and so opened up the possibility to find restoration and to begin the journey again.
When we fail in the trials of life, we can start again as well. Jesus succeeded and because He did, repentance and starting over and renewal are possible. The invitation this time is to follow the one who was successful.
In our journey to the cross, we have now been able to begin to see both the depth of suffering which Jesus experienced but also the tremendous victory which he brought. It is worth spending much time meditating on the trial of Jesus and recognizing the importance of it. This must not just be an academic exercise, however, because as we meditate on the trials of Jesus, we will also need to think about the trials of the disciples and realize that we experience things much as they did. When we look at these trials in this way, our cause for rejoicing becomes even greater because we know that the victory of Jesus in His trials means that we can start over and find restoration and renewal because Jesus succeeded in His trials. When we take that personal journey, probably more than once in our life, as Mark did, we must come over and over again into the presence of Jesus with deep gratitude and joy because when the pressure was on Him in a trial that had implications for the whole world, He won!