Friday, January 12, 2018

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 73, Jesus Is Arrested

When we concluded yesterday we found Jesus telling the disciples that His betrayer was approaching. Today Mark tells us, "Just as He was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders." (Mark 14:43)

I think there's something very important in the way Mark words verse 43. He could have simply said Judas appeared. He doesn't need to give any additional description because we all know who Judas is. But he adds this identifier: "one of the Twelve". Mark wants to drive home the point that it's one of Jesus' inner circle of friends who betrays Him. Mark is saying something like, "Judas appeared---yes, Judas, one of the Twelve!---and brought with him an armed crowd to seize Jesus, the man who has been his rabbi and friend."

None of the gospel accounts tell us that Jesus made Judas aware beforehand where He would be following the Last Supper. He didn't have to, for the Apostle John tells us, "Now Judas, who betrayed Him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with His disciples." (John 18:2) Nothing is sacred to Judas, not even the familiar place where Jesus liked to teach His disciples and pray with them. The places where Jesus taught the disciples should have been regarded by all of them as holy ground, but Judas thinks nothing of interrupting a quiet time of prayer to fulfill the wicked contract he's made with the enemies of Jesus.

"Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: 'The one I kiss is the man; arrest Him and lead Him away under guard.'" (Mark 14:44) In public Jesus is easily recognizable because He is usually thronged by an enormous crowd made up of followers, curiosity-seekers, and those needing healing. Wherever He goes, people gather. But in the deep darkness of the garden it's difficult for the armed men to tell which man is which. It's hard for us to imagine in our streetlit world how dark the garden would have been, but Jesus and the eleven disciples with Him all look pretty much the same to men who are trying to see by torch light.

Jesus stands out in daytime crowds because of what He does and says, not because of how He looks. Jesus is not described as a King Saul who was so tall he stood head and shoulders above his countrymen. Jesus is not described as a King David who was so handsome and brave that women swooned over him. I think Jesus looked just like any other man of His social class. I think He was average in height, average in looks, and average in apparel. He once avoided death, or at least serious bodily harm, by blending back into a crowd of people who wanted to kill Him for offending them in a synagogue at Nazareth. (Luke 4:30) If anyone at Jerusalem were asked to describe Jesus, they would probably have said, "Well, He's about average height and average weight. He has long dark hair and a beard. He wears the same kind of clothes as most of the men walking down the street right now." That wouldn't be much help, would it? Those words could describe most any middle-aged Jewish man of lower income in first century Jerusalem. When planning the arrest of Jesus, the armed men must have been concerned that in the darkness and confusion of the garden they might grab hold of the wrong man, so Judas offered to point Him out by greeting Him with a kiss. Judas knows Jesus so well that he can easily recognize Him even in the darkness of the garden. Let's meditate on that for just a second, the fact that a person who lived so closely with Jesus for three years finds it in him to betray Him. Many a night Judas sat by a campfire or by lantern light and listened to Jesus teaching the Scriptures. Many a night Judas probably knelt with Jesus in Gethsemane or some other garden and prayed with Him. Yet his heart is so cold and so untouched by everything he's seen and heard that he is willing to lead an armed band of men to his rabbi and friend for thirty pieces of silver.

"Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, 'Rabbi!' and kissed Him. The men seized Jesus and arrested Him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear." (Mark 14:45-47) The Apostle John tells us it was Peter who tried to defend Jesus with a sword, at which time Jesus says to Peter, "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given Me?" (John 18:10-11) Peter probably intended to lop off the head of the servant of the high priest but missed. Peter is an expert fisherman, and will soon become an expert "fisher of  men" by preaching the gospel (Matthew 4:19), but he is no swordsman. Luke the physician tells us that Jesus orders the disciples not to resist His arrest and then touches the man's ear and heals it. (Luke 22:51) Some commentators are of the opinion that Jesus has no choice but to heal the man's ear or else Peter would also have been arrested and crucified. This is the last miracle Jesus performs. From this point on He lays aside all the powers available to Him as the Son of God and submits to torture and death.

Jesus asks the armed men, "'Am I leading a rebellion,' said Jesus, 'that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture Me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest Me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.'" (Mark 14:48-49) Jesus makes note of their hypocrisy and cowardice. He has been available for arrest every day since He arrived at Jerusalem for Passover week. He has kept Himself out in the open, teaching boldly in the temple courts, and none of His enemies laid hands on Him. These men want to perform their dirty work in secret where the crowds can't attack them on Jesus' behalf. It's quite likely that the crowds would have attacked them and rescued Jesus from their clutches, but then the Scriptures would not have been fulfilled. Jesus cannot go free or else you and I could never be set free from our sins. Jesus makes note of the hypocrisy and cowardice of His enemies, but He recognizes the need for things to take place in exactly this way because "the Scriptures must be fulfilled".

When the disciples see that Jesus intends to submit to arrest, they think they will be arrested along with Him. Fear catches them in its grip. "Then everyone deserted Him and fled." (Mark 14:50) We will see later on that Peter and John manage to gain control over their fears in order to follow Jesus to His trial before the Sanhendrin. Peter will remain outside while John, who is known to the high priest, is allowed into the courtyard.

Mark concludes today's passage with this strange account, "A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind." (Mark 14:51-52) It has long been assumed by many well-respected scholars over the centuries that the person who flees naked is Mark himself. He is the only gospel writer who mentions this incident and it's hard to imagine why he would add such an odd and seemingly unrelated detail to his gospel account unless it meant something to him personally. He refers to this person as "a young man" which could mean he was as young as thirteen, because this is the age at which a Jewish male celebrates his Bar Mitzvah and makes the declaration, "Today I am a man." Bible scholar William Barclay suggests Mark may have been quite young indeed, and because he was fascinated with Jesus, he slipped out of his house in his nightshirt and listened in on the garden scene. Barclay states, "This would explain where the Gethsemane narrative came from. If the disciples were all asleep, how did anyone know about the struggle of soul that Jesus had there? It may be that the one witness was Mark as he stood silent in the shadows, watching with a boy's reverence the greatest hero he had ever known."

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