This reading is the narrative of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection; the last few days of His life. The plot by the leading priests and teachers of religious law to kill Jesus now comes to a climax. We lead off with the account of Jesus being anointed by a woman in Bethany. )Luke’s account looks different and might be a different event.) Bethany was two miles east of Jerusalem on the lower eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. It seems that Jesus stayed there when He was in Judaea. The home belonged to Simon who had been a leper and it is quite probable he had been healed by Jesus. They were reclining as they ate which means this was a banquet of some sort. A woman broke the neck of a sealed alabaster jar of perfume, pure nard, and poured it all on Jesus’ head. See exodus 29:4-7. The value of this perfume was said to be a years wages. The complaint was that this could have been sold and the money given to the poor. It was obligatory to remember the poor during Passover. Jesus defended the woman and told the disciples that there would always be poor among them. Jesus was not minimizing the poor. The opportunity to minister directly to Jesus was limited. Only hours remained. This woman chose the best thing she could do with her perfume. She had anointed Jesus’ body in preparation for His burial. Mark does not tell us her name but her deed is remembered throughout the world.
In contrast to this woman’s loving act for Jesus we have Judas Iscariot, who offered to betray Jesus for money. Jesus sent the disciples to prepare the Passover meal and joined them when it was ready. The weight He was carrying already must have been staggering. The Passover meal includes the lamb, roasted over an open fire, unleavened bread, a bowl of salt water, bitter herbs, and a bowl of fruit purée. Enough wine mixed with water was needed so that each of them could drink four cups to celebrate God’s four fold blessing. See Exodus 6:6-7. The Passover was eaten in a reclining position as were other banquet meals. There is a specific liturgy that is associated with the Passover meal. The Passover lamb reminded them of the blood of the sacrificial lambs whose blood was painted on the Israelite homes to protect them from the angel of death that passed over the night they left Egypt. Unleavened bread recalled the haste in which they left Egypt, not having time for their bread to rise. Salt water reminded them of the tears of their bondage and their crossing of the Red Sea. The bitter herbs, their slavery. The four cups of wine acknowledged God’s fourfold blessing promised in Exodus 6:6-7. The terrible deed of betraying Jesus was more heinous because the betrayer was one of those eating with them. When Jesus announced that one of them would betray Him, each asked, am I the one, even Judas. Jesus maintained the betrayer’s anonymity. Jesus fore knew this betrayal as part of the divine plan but His betrayer was condemned. Jesus and the gospel writers do not explain how God’s sovereignty and Judas’s human response can coexist, but both are stated without compromise. In the midst of the Passover meal Jesus took elements from that meal and made them represent something else, His body broken and His blood shed. Jesus will not drink wine again until He returns and fully establishes the kingdom of God. Once they had sung a song Jesus and the disciples, minus Judas headed to the garden of Gethsemane to spend the night. While they walked along Jesus told them that there would be a point where all of them would desert Him. Scripture predicted this saying they will strike the shepherd and the sheep would be scattered. The disciples completely missed the next words from Jesus. He told them that after He was raised from the dead, he would meet them in Galilee. There they would be forgiven and restored.
When they arrived in the garden Jesus took His inner circle, Peter, James, and John farther into the garden, wanting those closest to him close to Him. Jesus went to pray, falling to the ground because of His deep distress. And,the disciples fell asleep. Jesus addressed God as abba, daddy or father, indicating their close relationship. He asked that this cup He was to drink could be taken from Him…is there some other way we can do this? But there was also a point where Jesus aligned His will to the Father’s. Many believe this is really when salvation was won. Jesus resisted the temptation to walk away or call down legions of angels. Three times Jesus went to pray and three times the disciples fell asleep. And then Judas arrived. Judas had been in cahoots with the religious authorities and found a time to seize Jesus that was apart from the people. They wanted to avoid a crowd and as much conflict as they could. Judas had the audacity to call Jesus Rabbi and greet Him with a kiss. The garden would have been dark and most of those who had come to arrest Him would not have recognized Him. Hence the kiss. Peter tried to defend Jesus but everything was unfolding just as it was supposed. Scripture was being fulfilled. The account of Jesus’ arrest ends with an unnamed young man and many believe this was Mark himself.
Jesus’ trial was illegal. The Sanhedrin met. Peter followed the soldiers with Jesus to the high priests house. They didn’t want to meet in their usual place because that would have aroused suspicions. They looked for eyewitnesses to testify but there were none. They even looked for false witnesses. In the end, false witnesses gave false testimony about what Jesus said regarding the destruction of the temple; but it was enough for the authorities. From the beginning, the readers of the gospel of Mark has known that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. This was acknowledged by demons, by God, and by the disciples. But, this is the first time that Jesus openly and publicly acknowledged that He was the Messiah. And to make matters even worse, Jesus’ reply was that He would sit in the place of power at the right hand of God, which foretold His resurrection and ascension, plus His triumphal coming on the clouds of heaven to judge the world. At Jesus’ return the roles would be reversed. Those judging the Son of Man will be judged by Him.
The high priests tore his clothing at Jesus’ response. This was a judicial act that indicated a guilty verdict said signified that there was no need to find another witness. The rest of the Sanhedrin agreed that Jesus was guilty and deserved to die. The challenge for the Sanhedrin was that they could not pronounce a death sentence. They had to enlist the help of the Romans to be able to do that. Jesus would be led all over the city, from the high priests house to Pilate, to Herod and back to Pilate. At each trial there was more abuse. In the middle of it, Peter denied Jesus three time, and Jesus was beaten within an inch of His life. Referring to Jesus as Jesus of Nazareth was most likely a title of contempt here because Judeans had a very low view of Galileans. And then there is Peter. He was brash and bold, vocal and often impetuous. But the night Jesus was arrested, Peter was nervous and scared. Three times he was pointed out as being a follower of Jesus, and three times he denied it, once vehemently. And then the rooster crowed, just like Jesus said it would. And Peter wept.
Roman trials usually began at dawn. The Sanhedrin had done all they could to implicate Jesus and now He was taken to Pontus Pilate, the Roman governor. Pilate ruled from 26-36 A.D. Pilate wasted no time, asking Jesus right off the bat if He was indeed the king of the Jews. King of the Jews is the Gentile equivalent of King of Israel. Jesus’ answer is the same in all four gospels, “you have said it.” Jesus clearly understood Himself to be a King, and it was this charge that Pilate eventually used to crucify Jesus. However, Pilate also understood that Jesus was not a political threat. Other than that one response Jesus stood silent before Pilate, which baffled Pilate. This custom of the governor, releasing one prisoner during the Passover celebration is unknown outside the four gospel accounts. The crowd chose Barabbas who had committed murder in an uprising. Pilate’s willingness to release him probably meant that he hadn’t killed any Roman citizens or soldiers. It is clear that Pilate wanted to release Jesus but the priests had riled the crowd up such that there was no hope of that. So, in order to protect his job, Pilate ordered a completely innocent man to be crucified. Flogging was preliminary to crucifixion and was done with leather strips tipped with metal, stone, and bits of sharp bones. This had a tendency to flay one’s skin open and sometimes it was severe enough that the person being flogged died before they
were hung on their cross. Jesus prediction in 10:34 was now being fulfilled. The crucifixion account is one of the most historically certain accounts in ancient history. Only the most naïve would credit the early church with creating a story in which the object of their faith was crucified. This story was and still is offensive to the Jews and absurd nonsense to the Gentiles. The entire regiment that was called to the governor’s headquarters numbered 600 men. After the abuse Jesus suffered He didn’t need any guard other than someone to keep Him safe from the crowds. The purple robe was made out of expensive material, probably an out of service robe of a centurion. More abuse and mocking followed and then Jesus was led away, paraded through the streets of Jerusalem. The crowds were enormous. Crucifixion had become a spectator sport. Because of the severe abuse Jesus suffered there was a point where He could not carry the crossbeam of His cross any longer. The Roman soldiers pulled Simon of Cyrene, which is in Northern Africa, to carry it for Jesus. This Simon was the father of both Alexander and Rufus, who were most likely known to Mark’s readers. Golgotha is Aramaic, meaning place of the skull. In Jesus’ day Golgotha was outside the city walls of Jerusalem.
Once nailed to the cross Jesus was offered a drink of wine drugged with myrrh. It may have been done in kindness but it it’s just as likely it was done in mockery. Jesus refused because He had committed Himself to drink all of the cup that God had given Him. Just a side note on myrrh. Not only was it used in preparing a body for burial it was also used in Jesus’ time to treat wounds and infections, and for digestive ailments. Crucifixion went back to the Persians and Medes in the 600’s B.C. It was slow, torturous, and shameful. Sometimes the victims lived for days and carrion birds would feed on the victims before they died. As Jesus hung on the cross the Roman soldiers divided his few possessions among themselves. It was one of the few perks of their gruesome jobs. Mark records Jesus’ crucifixion as occurring at the third hour, or 9:00 in the morning. John on the other hand tells us it was at the sixth hour, or noon. The Romans always affixed a sign atop the crosses with the victims crime written on it. Jesus’ said King of the Jews. It was intended to be a mockery but for Mark it was accurate and meaningful. Because Jesus was the most important victim of the three, He was hung in the middle. As the victims hung there people were free to come right up to the crosses and hurl insults, spit and mock them. Even the criminals who hung there with Jesus mocked Him, until one realized that Jesus was who the people said He was.
At noon darkness came over the whole land for three hours. The darkness was both literal and symbolic. It revealed the sinister nature of what was happening…the prince of darkness, the evil one, was reigning, and it is a taste of the judgement Jesus said would come upon Israel. Of the seven cries of Jesus from the cross, this one is the most passionate. Quoting psalm 22:1 Jesus expressed the agony of being abandoned by His Father as He alone bore the sins of the world. Jesus spiritual agony was intense, yet He still addressed His Father personally as My God. This was Jesus’ divine purpose, to give His life as a ransom for many, and it was now being realized. The Aramaic term Eloi and it’s Hebrew equivalent Eli sound sufficiently close to to Elijah that some bystanders thought Jesus was calling for Elijah to rescue Him. Verse 37 is stark in its description of Jesus death. As Jesus died the temple curtain was torn in two. Just as the heavens were torn in two for Jesus to reveal His direct access to God, His death now extended this access to His followers. The Roman centurion joined God, the demons, Mark, and Jesus Himself as one who announced Jesus as the Son of God.
The women who had gathered at the foot of the cross had followed Jesus and some had supplied Him with financial support. They were present at the burial, at the empty tomb, and were the first to see the resurrected Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea was from a village about 20 miles northwest of Jerusalem. He was an honored member of the high council and a secret disciple of Jesus who was waiting for the kingdom of God to come. He courageously went to Pilate and requested the body of Jesus for burial. The
Romans didn’t know him so couldn’t associate Joseph with the disciples. Therefore Rome was ok granting his request. It was Joseph who prepared Jesus’ body for burial and placed Him in his own tomb. At the end of the sabbath, at sunset, the shops reopened and the women were able to buy burial spices to anoint Jesus’ body. Their purpose was not to embalm the body but to alleviate the stench that accompanied a decaying body. The women were not anticipating Jesus’ resurrection. Their primary worry that Sunday morning was how they would roll the heavy stone away from the entrance of the tomb. God had already taken care of that! Picture yourself coming to the tomb and finding it empty. An angel in the form of a young man was sitting in the tomb, clothed in a bright white robe. Listen in as this angel said the most amazing words ever. “Don’t be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here. He is Risen!!! Come see the place where they laid Him.” The women were instructed to go tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus had gone ahead of them to Galilee. The original manuscript ends with the women fleeing from the tomb, trembling, bewildered, and frightened. They said nothing to anyone.
Verses 9-20 were not part of the original manuscripts and scholars are fairly certain they were added by someone other than Mark, though it seems strange that Mark would end his gospel so abruptly. Some scholars believe the original ending may have been torn off, lost, or never finished. In any case, the proclamation of Jesus resurrection was recorded by Mark, just like the other gospels.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W