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Bible Commentaries

J.D. Jones's Commentary on the Book of Mark

Mark 14

 

 

Verses 1-9

The quotations at the head of Chapters are from the Authorised Version. Quotations in the body of the Commentary are mainly from the Revised Version.

Chapter1.
Mary and Her Alabaster Box

"After two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by craft, and put Him to death. But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the people. And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on His head. And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her. And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on Me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but Me ye have not always. She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint My body to the burying. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her."Mark 14:1-9.

Our Lord at Simon"s House.

A Striking Contrast.

Whenever John"s account of the sequence of events differs from the account given by the Synoptics, my own inclination is always to accept John"s account as the more accurate. For John wrote his Gospel last, when the three other Gospels were already widely known throughout the Church; and I cannot conceive of John giving a different account from that with which the Church was already familiar unless it was with the deliberate intention of correcting the accounts already current. Accordingly I accept John"s date for the feast in Simon"s house. From its position in Mark"s narrative we might gather that it took place just two days before our Lord"s Passion. But John in his record of the same feast, in chapter xii. of his Gospel, states definitely that it took place six days before the Passover: that is to say, according to John"s chronology, it took place before the Triumphal Entry. If that be Song of Solomon , Mark does not give the story quite in its proper setting. But what an eye for artistic effect that Evangelist had when he placed side by side these two scenes—the chief priests plotting in the palace and Mary breaking her alabaster box in Simon"s house! I do not mean to suggest that Mark"s choice and arrangement of subjects were dictated simply by considerations of artistry. Nevertheless, if he had been a literary artist, intent mainly upon effect, he could not have grouped his incidents more admirably than he has done here. These two brief paragraphs give us a couple of contrasted pictures, and the effect of each is heightened by its contiguity to the other. The bitter hate of the chief priests appears all the more malignant by contrast with Mary"s devoted and enthusiastic love; and Mary"s devoted and enthusiastic love shines out the more splendidly against the black and bitter hate of the priests.

Christ as a Divider.

It is the contrast between the two scenes that suggests the first thought to which I wish to call your attention. With what varied feelings different people regarded Christ! Simeon, when he took the young child in his arms in the Temple, in words that must have struck a chill to the heart of the proud young mother, prophesied that He would become a divider and a sunderer. He was set, he said, for the "falling and rising up of many in Israel" ( Luke 2:34). All would not love Him. All would not be drawn to Him. Some would oppose and antagonise Him. He was to be a "sign which is spoken against." And our Lord when He entered upon His ministry, took up Simeon"s parable and reaffirmed his prophecy about Himself only in plainer and more emphatic language still. "Think not," He said, "that I came to send peace on the earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law" ( Matthew 10:34-35). He was to become a principle of division; and because of controversies and disputes and differences about Him, the closest and dearest of humanities would be snapped and severed.

A Prediction fulfilled.

That prophecy was fulfilled to the letter. The whole of Palestine was divided about Jesus. He drew some: He repelled others. He moved some to deepest devotion: He stirred others to wellnigh ungovernable rage. And that division of feeling with which men regarded Christ is all flashed upon us within the limits of these nine verses. Here you have, side by side, bitter hate and passionate love; blind fury and utter devotion; the high priests plotting and Mary anointing.

The Plot against Jesus.

Look at the first picture. "And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him with subtilty and kill Him." The chief priests and scribes—they were the religious leaders of the nation! Here is a strange occupation for ministers of religion—they were busy plotting murder. And it was near Passover time! Passover was the feast which reminded the Jews of the great deliverance which God had wrought out for them. And the chief priests and scribes gathered together on the eve of that glad and blessed season. For what? For prayer? For thanksgiving? No. "They sought how they might take Him with subtilty and kill Him." You may measure the intensity of their hate by the fact that they were planning murder even in Passover time. For times of gladness and rejoicing naturally dispose men"s hearts to clemency and kindness. So in Palestine even the stern and impartial Roman law relaxed a little at the Passover season. To be in harmony with the prevailing spirit of rejoicing it was the custom of the Roman governor to release one prisoner at the feast. But the near approach of Passover did not move the hearts of these people to pity or kindness toward Christ. They hated Him with a hate as cruel as the grave. "The chief priests and scribes sought how they might take Him with subtilty and kill Him."

Causes of the Plot.

What stirred this cruel and deadly hate? Probably several reasons combined. I am willing to believe that some of the plotters honestly thought Christ a deceiver. They had been brought up to expect a certain type of Messiah, and their prejudices prevented them from seeing the "Desire of Nations" in Jesus. They thought that Christ was an impostor, leading the people astray; and Song of Solomon , like Saul at a later date, they thought they ought—that they were under obligation—"to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth" ( Acts 10:9). But this does not apply to the great majority of those who now gathered together to plot the death of Christ. If you ask me why these people wanted to get rid of Christ, I answer that the reason is to be discovered in the history that Mark has narrated for us in the preceding chapters. Recall it. First of all, Christ swept the mob of traffickers out of the Temple court. By so doing He placarded the priests who permitted it as desecrators of the Temple, and at the same time interfered with their ill-gotten gains. Further, on the great day of questioning, again and again by His answers He humbled them in the sight of all the people. Then followed that tremendous indictment, in which Christ denounced these people as hypocrites, men whose religion was a deceit and a sham. Looking back over these chapters, I am not surprised they hated Him. It was the hate of men whose wickedness had been publicly exposed. It was the hate of bad men for a good Man.

Some of the Plotters.

In spite of the fact that these men were the religious leaders of their day, many of them were bad men. Dr Geikie, in his Life of Christ, describes some of the persons who were probably present at this murder council. Caiaphas would preside; and Caiaphas was known amongst the people as "the Oppressor." Annas, his father-in-law, and those five sons of his who all occupied the high-priestly office in succession one to another, were present. To Annas and his family for their cruel craftiness the people had given the nickname of "the vipers." And other priests were there equally infamous. Is it any wonder that men of this type wanted to put Christ out of the way? The mere presence of a good man is an offence to a bad man.

The Foes of the Just.

When Aristides was ostracised from Athens, one man who voted for his exile gave as his reason that he was tired of hearing him always spoken of as "Aristides the Just." Perhaps a better illustration still is to be found in the trial of Faithful in Vanity Fair as John Bunyan tells it for us. You remember the list of the Jurymen—Mr Blindman, Mr No-Good, Mr Malice, Mr Love-lust, Mr Live-loose, Mr Heady, Mr High-mind, Mr Enmity, Mr Lyar, Mr Cruelty, Mr Hate-light, and Mr Implacable. Is it any wonder that such a Jury condemned Faithful to death? Why, his very existence was an offence and an irritation to them. "I hate the very looks of him," said Mr Malice. "Away with such a fellow from the earth," said Mr No-good. "I never could endure him," said Mr Love-lust. "Nor I," said Mr Live-loose, "for he would always be condemning my way." And in Christ we have Faithful"s Captain and Lord; and in these chief priests and scribes we have the High-mind and Heady, and Love-lust and Live-loose and Malice and No-good of that day. What wonder that they hated Him? What wonder that they "sought to take Him with subtilty and kill Him?" They never could endure Him—for He was always condemning their way.

—Self-Condemned.

But notice this, that in hating Christ and seeking to kill Him these people pronounced their own condemnation. "This is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light, for their works were evil" ( John 3:19). In Jesus light had come into the world, purity had come, truth had come, love had come, absolute goodness had come. When these men plotted to kill Jesus it was proof that they had in their souls no love of truth and holiness and goodness. There could be no severer judgment. Thereby they declared to the world that their works and their hearts were evil. And that is why Scripture insists upon it that a man"s destiny is settled by his attitude to Christ. There is nothing arbitrary or irrational about it. It is an infallible criterion of judgment. For, as Simeon said, Christ came "that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed." The bias of the soul declares itself. Christ is the great touchstone of character. All who love goodness and purity will love Him. If men hate Him, it is because in their hearts they have said, "Evil, be thou my good."

The Master"s Friends.

Now turn to the other and contrasted picture. If Christ repelled some, He attracted others. If He filled some with cruel and malignant hate, He inspired others with uttermost and enthusiastic love. If in Jerusalem chief priests and scribes were plotting to kill Him, there were in Bethany lowly hearts who counted no honour too high to pay Him. There were some to whom Christ was the altogether lovely. There were some who kept the warmest place in their hearts for Him. There were some who reckoned their homes most blest when He was the honoured guest. And first and chiefest of these who loved Christ and honoured Christ and were ready to give their best to Christ was the little household at Bethany. Brother and sisters—they were Christ"s dear friends. "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus." And so while chief priests and scribes plot Christ"s death in Jerusalem, kindly loving hearts make a great feast for Him in Bethany.

Simon and His Feast.

I ought, however, to say that behind this feast and Mary"s sacrificial deed there was more than ordinary love—there was love intensified by gratitude for supreme mercies given. The feast was spread in the house of Simon the leper. Now various ingenious guesses have been made as to the relationship between Simon and Lazarus and his sisters. Some commentators suggest that he may have been Martha"s husband. But all such guesses are futile, as Scripture gives us no indication of what the relationship was or indeed that any relationship at all existed. We had better be satisfied with what is told us. Simon had been a leper. "Had been," I say, for of course a feast at his house would have been impossible had he been a leper still. He had once suffered from that most loathsome of all diseases and had been cured of it. We are not told so in so many words, but I will hazard the guess, which with me is not a guess but a conviction, that Simon was one of the many lepers whom Jesus healed. And this feast of his was a feast inspired by gratitude to the Healer.

A Work of Love and Gratitude.

Behind Mary"s sacrificial offering, again, there lay the memory of a great and unspeakable mercy. If you want to understand this lavish and splendid deed you must read again that eleventh chapter of St John"s Gospel which tells how Lazarus sickened and died; and how at the call of the sisters Jesus came back out of Peraea, whither He had gone to seek shelter, and not only sympathised with the sisters but restored Lazarus to them alive and well, after he had been in the grave four days. Ever since that never-to-be-forgotten day, this was the question the one sister had put to the other, "What shall we render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward us?" Nothing was too great or good for this mighty Friend Who had done such great things for them. And this paragraph tells us their passionate gratitude sought to express itself.

Mary"s Offering.

The busy, energetic Martha served at this great feast. But Mary did a far more startling and amazing thing. While the feast was in progress, she stole up to the couch upon which the Master lay, with an alabaster cruse of ointment of spikenard, very costly, in her hand, and broke it over the Lord"s head and "feet," says John. Now in describing an act like this one would wish to eschew prosaic details. But a word or two must be said to make clear the sacrificial character of this deed. Anointing the head with oil was a common practice in the dry and hot East. It was a little attention which, like water for the feet, hosts were in the habit of paying to their guests. But this was no ordinary anointing oil. The cost of the ordinary anointing oil would not have been more than the widow"s mite. This was spikenard ointment—the most costly of all the fragrant oils of the world. Except in drops, it was only used by kings and the richest classes, says Dr Sloon, and was costly enough to be made a royal present. Mary had bought an alabaster cruse of this ointment; she must have paid for it, said Judas, at least three hundred denarii—or shillings—let us say, taking money at its present value—about £60. And it was not a drop or two only of the costly oil which she used. She broke the cruse; she emptied its whole contents. Nothing of it was reserved for commoner use. And it was not upon the Lord"s head alone she poured this precious ointment—she anointed His sacred feet with it as well—an unusual Acts , says Dr Salmond, a token of deepest humility and veneration, reserved for the greatest, and said not to have been known even among the Roman emperors till Nero"s time. All this must be borne in mind if we would appreciate the full significance of Mary"s Acts , the worship implied in it, the sacrifice involved in it.

The Master"s Tribute.

The deed stirred some of those sitting at the feast to indignant remonstrance. "To what purpose hath this waste of the ointment been made?" they said. But it stirred Jesus to thanksgiving and praise. "Let her alone," He said to her critics; "she hath, wrought a good work," or rather, "a beautiful deed, on me." A beautiful deed! "Verily I say unto you," He added, "Wheresoever the gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, that also which this woman hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her." What a eulogy! With the widow of the two mites, Mary of Bethany received the noblest praise ever bestowed by Christ on man or woman. It is as if He held her out to the notice of the wide world, and said, "This is what I want."

The Love behind the Offering.

What was it in Mary"s act that drew this eulogy? Not the fact that the ointment was costly but the lavish, enthusiastic, sacrificial love of which that costly ointment spoke. "What a wanton waste," said Judas. Yes, but then real love is always lavish, and, if you like, wasteful. Real love knows nothing of the "nicely calculated less or more." Real love never enters into a profit and loss account. Prudence may enter into minute reckonings as to how much will suffice, but love always wants to give to the utmost. If Mary had just used the few drops necessary to fulfil the obligations of hospitality, this story would not have been in the New Testament. Her gift would then have meant nothing beyond the fulfilment of the demands of etiquette. But this lavish offering bore witness that behind it there was a loving and consecrated heart. And that made it a "beautiful deed" in Christ"s eyes. For it is love Christ wants. "Simon, son of Jonas," was His three-fold question to the penitent Peter, "lovest thou Me" ( John 21:15-16, John 21:17). " Song of Solomon , daughter," He says to you and to me, "give Me thine heart."

Is it "Waste?"

"What waste!" That is what they said of Henry Martyn when, Senior Wrangler though he was, he went out to India as a missionary. "What waste!" That is what they said about a brilliant young teacher in the United States, who, after the conclusion of the Civil War, felt it to be her duty to go and teach the emancipated slaves; who, after a few months of toil, sickened and died far away from home. "What waste!" But it is lavish, prodigal, wasteful love like that, that Christ wants! "I will most gladly spend and be spent out!" says the Apostle Paul ( 2 Corinthians 12:15, R.V. Margin). This willingness to be spent out is the proof of a genuine love. Does such a love dwell in us? Are we so enthusiastic in the cause of Christ, so prodigal of strength, and labour, and money, that the world criticises us and says, "What waste!"? Is not this the mischief with us today, that our love is so cold; that we are so prudent and calculating in all our religious service? There is no suggestion of abandonment in our love. This is the prayer for us—"Warm our coldness we implore." For it is when we begin to "spend" ourselves "out" that Jesus says, "They have wrought a good work."

Where are We?

The high priests plotting murder: Mary lavishing love. These are representations of the two classes into which Jesus divides mankind. Some hate Him; some love Him. Some reject Him; and some worship Him. There is no third class. When Christ is presented to us we inevitably take our place in one or other of these two classes—His deniers or His lovers. In which class do we stand? "Blessed is Hebrews ," said our Lord, "whosoever shall not be offended in Me."


Verse 4

Chapter2.
Judas" Criticism

"And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made?— Mark 14:4.

The Contagion of Evil.

"A man is tried by his praise" ( Proverbs 27:21). His character is revealed by his admirations. It would be equally true to say, "A man is known by his blames"; by the things he dislikes and censures. These too reveal his character; and Judas" character stands revealed to us—sharp-cut and clear—in the criticisms he passed upon Mary. It is from John"s account ( John 12:4-5) that we know Judas to have been the chief critic of Mary"s act. Indeed, from John"s account we might gather that the grumbling was confined to Judas. But there is really no contradiction between John and Mark. What happened, I imagine, was this. The grumbling began with Judas: his was the evil heart that Mary"s deed filled with malice and rage. Then his plausible excuse of care for the poor stirred other disciples with some sort of indignation against the lavishness and extravagance of the deed. If this be Song of Solomon , the "indignation" of the others was all the result of Judas" evil influence upon them. And here I find an illustration of a solemn truth. There is contagion in evil. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. It is in the power of one bad man to corrupt the company in which he is placed. Put one suspicious, evil-minded, censorious person in the midst of a knot of average men and women, he can infect all of them with his own censorious and suspicious spirit. The presence of one faultfinder is often enough to disturb the harmony of a Church. There is a natural tendency in us all to be suspicious and fault-finding. This is one convincing evidence of original sin that our bias is to put the worst construction on things. We are always ready to think and believe the worst. And one evil man acting on that natural tendency of ours may work endless mischief.

Flee the Censorious Spirit.

One word of homely counsel: eschew the grumbling spirit. Do not be a faultfinder. Ask for the love that hopeth all things and believeth all things. Do not harbour suspicions, and, as you love your soul, do not insinuate your suspicions into the minds of others. Here is a word that ought for ever to silence every ugly insinuation, every evil suspicion, every sinister interpretation before it finds expression by our lips. "It must needs be that offences come, but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh ( Matthew 18:7).

The Motive of Judas.

In the case of Judas, not only was the criticism essentially false but it sprang from a bad motive. "This ointment," he said, "might have been sold for three hundred shillings and given to the poor." Now that sounds, at first hearing, a kindly and thoughtful thing to say. It is not known that Judas had himself been conspicuous in his concern for the poor up to this point. Possibly, when a beggar made an appeal to him, he tightened his purse-strings. But all of a sudden, when he saw the ointment poured over Christ"s head and feet, he was seized with a tremendous sympathy for the poor. "Think of all the poor people the money that ointment cost would have helped!" he said, fuming with indignation. And the other disciples—good, kindly men—were deceived by it, and began to grumble against Mary"s devoted act.

Selfishness.

The concern of Judas for the poor was a deceit and a sham. That was not the real reason why Judas was angry with Mary. The real reason was too ugly to be mentioned. But John tells us the naked truth. "Now this he said," remarks John , with a sort of burning contempt in his speech, "not because he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and" (I quote the Twentieth Century New Testament translation) "being in charge of the purse, used to take what was put in it." There you get the ugly root from which Judas" indignation sprang. It was not the poor he was thinking about, but himself. If only those three hundred shillings had been put into the common purse of which he had charge, some of them would have stuck to his own fingers. It is not the concern of the philanthropist you have here, but the rage of a disappointed thief, parading itself as the concern of a philanthropist. In truth, there are actions men do, the real motives of which, they dare not confess to the world; they scarcely dare confess them to themselves. So they try to dress vice up in the cloak of virtue so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. They seek to cover the real meanness and baseness of their acts by making a parade of generous motives. Demetrius raised a riot against the Apostle Paul in Ephesus. His real reason was that the Christian preaching had interfered with business: his profits were decreasing: his craft was in danger. But in the public square Demetrius says not a word about his trade. You would never have thought that such a mercenary consideration had ever crossed his mind. In public, Demetrius is only moved by a great concern for the honour of religion—and so he and his fellow-craftsmen for three hours together cried, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians." The cry of "religion in danger" was far more respectable than the cry of "diminishing profits."

Examine your Motives.

It will do us good to analyse frankly and honestly the motives that lie behind our actions. Let us get right down to the naked facts. However plausible may be the excuses we may advance to the world, if the real reasons for any proposed action are base and mean, leave it alone! For it is not what the world thinks of any action, but what God thinks, that really matters. And the Lord knoweth the heart! In the last resort the character of an act will be appraised not by its assigned, but by its real motive. "How kind," some of the bystanders, I have no doubt, said about Judas. But all this indignation of his went down in the great account books as the malice and spite of an evil and sinful heart.

Christ and the Poor.

Again, doubt any criticism that sets Christ and the poor, religion and philanthropy, in antagonism one with another. The whole point of Judas" criticism is this—that if Mary had done less for Christ she might have been able to do more for the poor. The criticism was as false as false could be. I wonder which of these two did most for the poor, Judas the critic or Mary the criticised. No man ever did less for the poor because he did more for Christ. No man ever neglected philanthropy because he was too much taken up with religion. As a matter of fact, Christ will not allow any friend or disciple of His to forget the poor. He Himself "came to preach good tidings to the poor." He was the friend of publicans and sinners. He went about healing the sick and doing good. Philanthropy is a necessary result of religion. If a man really loves Christ he must also serve and help the poor.

An Assumed Antagonism.

And yet Judas" criticism is repeated in these days of ours. In some respects it represents the temper of the day. For instance, people object to the missionary cause, they object to spend money on extending the kingdom of Christ, on the ground there is so much poverty and need at home. "What waste!" they say about our missionary subscription lists. "Think what that money would do at home!" "Less for Christ; more for the poor"—that is their cry. But it does not appear that those who speak of missionary work as "waste" are the leaders in philanthropic effort at home. My own experience is that those who give of their substance to spread Christ"s kingdom abroad are just the people who minister most generously to the poor and needy at home. Or take another illustration, social reform is in these days being set in some sort of opposition to religion. We give, it is said, too much of our time and money to puny religious purposes and too little to the amelioration of human conditions. But does any one imagine that if we spent less upon religion the cause of social betterment would be advanced? Take the churches of this town with which I am most familiar—they represent the money we have spent on the cause of Jesus Christ. Has it been "waste," as far as the social well-being of Bournemouth is concerned? Would it have been better that all the money had been given to the poor and no churches had been built at all? Would the poor of Bournemouth be better off if all that has been expended on church and chapel building had been set aside for them, and Bournemouth were today a churchless town? The question answers itself.

Religion the Mother of Philanthropy.

There is nothing so shallow and so utterly and wholly false as the opinion so popular today, that if only we spent less on religion we should spend more on philanthropy. Again I ask, are the people who spend nothing on religion the people who spend most on philanthropy? Is it secularism that builds hospitals and orphanages and homes? Is it atheism that is foremost in caring for the little child? Look around over those great charitable institutions that are the glory of our land. The answer is there. Let us, as Carlyle used to say, clear our minds of cant and face the facts frankly. The universal testimony of history and experience is that religion is the mother of philanthropy, that from the philanthropic point of view no money is ever wasted that is spent on Christ. The Church has been all down the centuries the best friend of the poor—you only damage the cause of the poor themselves when you exalt philanthropy at the expense of religion. "He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord," says the wise man ( Proverbs 19:17). And that is beautifully true. The Lord reckons every act of kindness done to the poor as done to Himself. But I could alter that proverb and make it read like this, "He that lendeth to the Lord hath pity on the poor," and it would be every whit as true. All that we do for Christ comes back in blessing upon men. The more we do for our Lord, the more we are moved to do for our brother also. No! what we spend on Christ is not waste. In the interests of the poor themselves, it is the best of all investments. Mary is always a better friend to the poor than Judas. The man who loves God is always the man who loves and serves his brother.

The Son of Waste.

Judas, when laying the charge of "waste" against Mary, was accusing her of a fault of which he himself was guilty. "What waste!" Judas said, when Mary lavished her love upon the Lord. But it was not waste; it was wisdom. Mary"s love was laying up for her treasure in heaven and making her rich to all eternity. The "waste," the real "waste" was on the part of Judas himself. "Not one of them perished," said Jesus, speaking of His disciples, "but the son of perdition" ( John 17:12). Or as it might be translated, "Not one of them is lost save the son of loss." The "Son of Loss" or the "Son of Waste"—no other name fitted this man who seemed the very incarnation of worldly wisdom. The "Son of Loss!" What had he lost? What had he wasted? Opportunity, light, grace, character. He had lived for three years in closest fellowship with Jesus, the Incarnate goodness and truth. Yet all the splendid opportunities of those years were thrown away upon Judas. His opportunities of knowing the truth, of growing in grace, of winning heaven—he wasted them all. This man Judas—like Peter and James and John—might have had his name graven on the foundation of the new Jerusalem. Instead of that, this was his end—"He went away and hanged himself" ( Matthew 27:5). He was a "Son of Loss."

Loss and Gain.

Men make the same mistake still. Men allow their hearts to become absorbed with the love of the things of this life as Judas did. They regard devotion and worship and Christian zeal as "waste." They are practical men, and they sweat and strain after the more tangible rewards which this world offers! Men talk of them as rich. But are they really rich? There is nothing we need more than to revise our notion of loss and gain. A young lady of brilliant intellectual achievements went out to China as a missionary and died within the twelve months. "What waste!" Was it waste? "He that saveth his life shall lose it." On the other hand I read of men who were rich and increased with goods and in need of nothing. What wisely ordered lives! Were they? I read of a rich man who said to his soul, "Soul, thou hast much goods... eat, drink, be merry." He had made the best of life. But the Lord said, "Thou foolish one" ( Luke 12:19-20). He was not rich at all. He was "a son of loss." How can we sum up our lives? In terms of loss or gain? Are we laying hold of the good part, which shall never be taken away from us, or are we sons of waste? The only abiding wealth is the wealth of the soul. "Thou foolish one," said Christ of the rich man who thought of everything but his soul. And he added, "So is he that... is not rich toward God" ( Luke 12:21).


Verse 8-9

Chapter3.
Mary"s Praise

"She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint My body to the burying. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the world whole, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her."Mark 14:8, Mark 14:9.

In the previous chapter we considered the criticisms of the disciples, and especially of Judas, upon Mary"s devoted act. In this we will look at the eulogy Christ pronounced upon the same loving deed.

Contrasted Judgments.

How amazingly people will differ in their judgments upon one and the self-same deed. Look at the marked contrast in this narrative. Mary came in and broke her alabaster box and the disciples said, "What waste!" while their Master said, "She hath done a beautiful deed." They saw precisely the same thing—but they formed absolutely contrasted judgments. The fact Isaiah , we see the things we have the faculty of seeing. Or, to put it in another way, it is not the eye but the heart which is the true organ of vision, at any rate in the region of the spirit. The scientist sweeps the heavens with his telescope, examines the rocks with his hammer, analyses a flower beneath his microscope, and may find a soulless universe. The pure in heart will go out into the same world, and in the skies and the rocks and the meanest flower that blows he will see God. The man of selfish, cynical soul is always passing harsh judgments; the man who is in himself bad cannot believe that anybody else is good. But a man of honest, kindly, loving heart always hopes the best and believes the best.

The Heart of Jesus Christ.

Now Jesus had a heart as pure as the driven snow, a heart untouched by evil, a heart overflowing with tenderness and grace; and the consequence was none judged so kindly, so tenderly, so gently as He did. A bruised reed He never broke and smoking flax He never quenched. He saw good where no one else saw anything but evil. He had an unerring eye for every sign or promise of holiness. That was why he became the friend of publicans and sinners. That was why He named the unstable Simon—Peter, the Rock. That was why He spoke of Zachaeus as a son of Abraham. And that really accounts for the difference in judgment upon Mary"s deed. The disciples with their materialistic temper only thought of the money it cost, and they said, "What waste!" Jesus—with that clear vision which is born of a pure soul—saw the love for which it stood, and said, "What a beautiful deed!"

The Beauty of Sacrifice.

"A beautiful deed," and of course it was the love expressed in it that made it beautiful in our Lord"s eyes. Not the cost of it; not the rarity of the ointment; but the love it implied. We are inclined to be impressed by mere cost in these days. We give our admiration to offerings that strike us by their size. We applaud the £1000 offering; we let the five shilling gift pass by unnoticed. But mere size, mere cost is nothing to Jesus. It is the love that counts with Him. Here is His praise of a gift that cost in our money about £60—three hundred shillings. But lest we should imagine that it was the costliness of the gift that delighted our Lord, the Evangelist has already told us the story of another woman and another gift, which brought equal pleasure to our Lord"s heart. It was not £60 the poor widow gave, but two mites, which make a farthing. Yet the gift gladdened our Lord"s soul. Mary and the poor widow stand very much in the same category. They won from our Lord"s lips very much the same kind of eulogy. The one gift, I am almost tempted to say, was as splendid as the other. When it comes to the love and sacrifice involved, I do not know which of the two gifts was the greater. For what did this three hundred shillings represent to Mary? All her savings, I believe. "She hath done what she could," Jesus said. And what did the two mites, which make a farthing, represent to the poor widow? All she had, even all her living. It was the sacrifice involved in Mary"s gift that made it so grateful to Christ.

—Found in its Motive.

Yes; but not the sacrifice only; there was the love behind the sacrifice. For our Lord takes no pleasure in sacrifice for sacrifice"s sake; but only in sacrifice which stands for love. There is no virtue in the mere act of forsaking father and mother. But when we give up father and mother for His sake and the Gospel"s, with such a sacrifice Christ is well pleased. It is the love that counts with Christ. Love has the power of making the simplest act rich and glorious. Three of his soldiers heard David one day utter a wish for some of the water from the well by Bethlehem"s gate. That night they determined they would risk their lives to give David his desire. So they crept down to Bethlehem, guarded as it was by watchful foes, and brought back a cup of the water of the old well and presented it to their chief. But what a sacred and beautiful thing that cup of water was to David! "Is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives?" he said. It was too precious for David to drink; he poured it out before the Lord. Love that risked all and dared all transfigured even the cup of water into a thing beautiful and divine. And that was what made Mary"s act "a beautiful deed"—the deep, passionate, whole-hearted love that inspired it. The precious ointment refreshed Christ"s body, but Mary"s love refreshed and cheered and strengthened His soul.

"What she Could."

Encouragement.

"She hath done what she could," said Jesus about Mary and her beautiful deed. It was not every kind of service that Mary was equal to. She could not, for instance, have taken her sister Martha"s place, or have done her work; but what she could, she gladly and willingly did. "What she could." I find in this little phrase a hint as to the kind of service Christ expects of us. I find it from one point of view a word of encouragement. Christ does not expect from every one the same amount or the same kind of service. He is no unreasonable Master; He does not expect as much from the man of one talent as He does from the man who has five. The service He expects from us is service "according to our several ability." Here is the word of cheer for the man who knows he only possesses humble and commonplace gifts. All Christ expects is that such an one should do what he can. And nobody who has done what he could—however insignificant his service may seem—shall miss the reward.

—And Challenge.

But I find also in this commendation a word of rebuke and searching challenge. "What she could." Mary did all that lay in her power. She gave up to the very hilt of her ability. She spent herself to the uttermost. "What she could": and I confess that I feel a stab at my conscience as I read the little phrase. How many of us can say that? How many of us are fit to stand with Mary? How many of us will our Lord set in the same class with her, because like her we did all we could? This is a question we may well put to our conscience: Are we doing all we can? Are we making the best of our powers? Do we buy up every opportunity of service? Do we give to the point of feeling? Think of China and India in their urgent need today; have we done and given all we can? Or think of the need at home, the bitter cry of the city slum, the call there is in every department of Christian service for workers, the urgent demand there is—in view of the appalling indifferentism and irreligion—for bold and unashamed Christian witnessing—have we done all we can? Have we honestly done all in our power to further Christ"s cause? Is it not a fact that we all lie in the same condemnation? We are all constrained to confess, "We have left undone... things that we ought to have done." And that is why Christ"s kingdom lags and tarries. The happy and blessed day of our Lord"s enthronement would not be long in coming if only all Christ"s people had Mary"s love and devotion and did what they could.

Mary"s Sympathy.

"She hath done what she could," said our Lord. "She hath anointed My body beforehand for the burying." And what are we to make out of this strange sentence? Is this a case of our Lord"s putting upon Mary"s act a meaning which she did not herself intend, interpreting her deed in the light of what He knew was so soon to happen? Or are we to take it that Mary herself had some foreshadowing of the doom that was so quickly to fall upon the Lord? I am myself inclined to adopt the latter view. Christ had often spoken solemn words about His dying, but as far as His disciples were concerned, they had fallen upon deaf ears. Mary, however, heard—and understood. Her love gave her sympathy and insight. She felt the silent sorrow of her Lord. She was conscious of the deepening shadows gathering around His path. She knew about the hate of the priests, and, with the prophetic instinct of love, she felt that death was coming. Remember, it is always those who love most who see furthest. And so while the Twelve were still dreaming about their thrones, she came with her alabaster box of ointment of spikenard, very precious, and anointed Him beforehand for His burying. She might not save Him from the death that was awaiting Him; she might not stand by His side when Jerusalem raged against Him; but at any rate she could show her love for Him. It was in no unhonoured grave He should lie—the fragrant ointment of kings should be His—so beforehand she broke her alabaster box over His head and feet.

—Looking Forward.

"She hath anointed My body aforehand for the burying." "Aforehand." Mary showed her love for her Lord, while as yet He was alive to be comforted and strengthened by it. What a lot of human appreciation comes too late! We delay our appreciations until our friends are dead; then we say all sorts of kindly things about them and heap the coffin lid with flowers. Perhaps it would have been a rare help and encouragement to some of them if we had only given expression to the appreciation we felt while they were still alive to hear it. But Mary did not wait till Jesus was dead to declare her adoring gratitude and love for Him. She anointed His body "aforehand." Nicodemus and Joseph brought a hundred pounds" weight of spices to anoint Jesus" body when He was dead. It would have helped the Lord if only they had declared their faith and devotion sooner. But Mary appreciated in time. She expressed her devotion while Christ was alive to be refreshed by it. "She anointed His body aforehand for the burying."

Mary"s Memorial.

That was the great service Mary rendered the Lord by her devoted deed at Simon"s feast. By the outpouring of her love she refreshed and strengthened Christ"s soul. For I must remind you that in face of the Cross, our Lord"s soul was exceeding sorrowful nigh unto death. It was a hard and bitter way to tread, and heart and flesh cried out against it. And by her act in Simon"s house Mary cheered her Lord as He trod that toilsome, way and strengthened Him in His great resolve that He would taste death for every man. Verily, it was "a beautiful deed." Therefore, said Jesus, in the gratitude of His soul, "Wheresoever the Gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, that also which this woman hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her." And so it has come to pass. Mary has won her immortality. Wherever the Gospel is preached Mary"s name is known. The whole world has been filled with the fragrance of that ointment which first filled the room in Simon"s house, and Mary and her alabaster box are for ever coupled together.

—And the Lord"s Remembrance.

For all who display Mary"s spirit and do what they can for the succour and help of their Lord, a similar remembrance is ensured! For still, Christ waits to be refreshed and strengthened by our love! Still He waits to be cheered by our devotion. Still we can come to the help of the Lord against the mighty. We can do "our bit" in Christian service. We can minister to Christ"s little ones. And every such act He reckons as done to Himself and He never forgets. Men often have a short memory for benefits. "Yet," I read in the Old Book, "did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him." But there is no danger of Christ forgetting. "The righteous shall be held in everlasting remembrance." Not the smallest act of love will be overlooked or forgotten. "Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple, verily, I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward."

The Legend of Mary"s Translation.

Mary, according to the legend, in the days that followed the Resurrection, was with Martha and Lazarus driven by persecution out of Palestine, and with them sailed the sea until together they reached Massilia in Gaul. For thirty years, the story goes, she lived her beautiful and saintly life amongst the people of that land, and then one day she disappeared. She did not die, they said. She was carried to heaven by the angels. Song of Solomon , it may be truly said of those who, like Mary, do their very best for the Lord, and offer Him not a broken alabaster box, but their broken, consecrated and devoted hearts. They never see death. The angels of God escort them through the valley and across the river, and all the trumpets sound for them on the other side.


Verse 10-11

Chapter4.
Judas" Crime

"And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray Him unto them. And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently betray Him."Mark 14:10, Mark 14:11.

Remembrance of the Just and the Unjust.

We pass now from Mary and her devoted act to Judas and his treachery. In the last clause of the previous paragraph, Jesus, speaking of Mary, had declared that her name and her deed should never be forgotten: "Wheresoever the Gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, that also which this woman hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her." But there are two kinds of remembrance: there is a remembrance of honour and glory; there is also a remembrance of infamy and shame. It was the former remembrance Christ promised to Mary, and she is enjoying it today. But the remembrance of her arch-critic Judas is just as sure. Only while it is an immortality of honour that Mary enjoys, an immortality of infamy and shame is the portion of Judas. Wherever the Gospel goes, the name of Judas goes too, to be remembered with loathing and contempt. He and his traitor"s deed are for ever coupled together. Just as we never think of Mary without thinking also of her broken alabaster box, so we never think of Judas apart from his crime. He is always Judas Iscariot, "which also betrayed Him."

The Start—and the Finish.

Judas and Mary are as the poles asunder. The one illustrates the heights to which love can rise: the other the depths to which hate can stoop. Dr Bruce says somewhere in his Training of the Twelve that he would be compelled to believe in heaven and hell if only to find a place for Mary and Judas respectively. And he is right. Mary and Judas are types of heaven and hell; for heaven is love, and hell is hate; and Mary is the incarnation of love, while Judas is the incarnation of hate. Nevertheless, though in these verses Mary and Judas are as far as the poles asunder, as far apart as heaven and hell, they may have been much alike at the start.

Both were blessed with similar advantages in their upbringing: and both at the start had their feet set in the same direction. For did Mary love to sit at the Lord"s feet and hear His word? Judas too was sufficiently earnest in his devotion to Jesus to be chosen as one of the Twelve who should be with Him, the Twelve whom He would send forth to preach His Gospel. And yet there was all the difference between heaven and hell separating them at the finish. Mary for love brought her alabaster box and broke it; Judas in his hate went away unto the chief priests, that he might deliver his Master unto them.

Together—Apart.

This is no isolated instance. Every age and every walk of life will furnish illustrations of men who started from the same mark but who finished far asunder. There were two famous brothers in the last century—John Henry Newman and Francis W. Newman—whose intellectual development worked out in precisely opposite directions. They began together; but one became the advocate of authority and the other of freedom, until they ended up with all the difference between Romanism and agnosticism between them. In the highest realm of all—in the region of morals and the spiritual life—the same amazing differences are to be found. Out of the very same household there will issue a Jacob and an Esau: a Reuben and a Joseph.

The Divide.

As you ride by rail between Dolgelley and Bala you come to a point in the hills which forms the watershed. And just at that point two streams take their rise. They have, it is practically true to say, the very same birthplace—but one tiny stream turns to the right and the other turns to the left and so the Dee and the Mawddach, born together, are the entire breadth of Wales apart at the finish. One falls into the sea facing the cold, grey north; the other ends its course facing the golden west. And that is how it is with men. They start together and the divergence sets in and they finish far apart.

"So from the heights of will,

Life"s parting stream descends

And as a moment turns its slender rill,

Each widening torrent bends.

From the same cradle side,

From the same mother"s knee,

One to long darkness and the frozen tide,

One to the peaceful sea.

The Decisive Factor.

I dwell upon this to emphasise once again the old point—human destiny is not at the mercy of conditions. Environment is not the decisive factor, else men starting alike should finish alike, sharing the same advantages they should meet with a like success. Man himself is the decisive factor. You remember that verse in Omar Khayyam:

"I sent my soul through the Invisible,

Some letter of the after-life to spell;

And by and by my soul return"d to me

And answer"d "I myself am Heav"n and Hell."

Yes, that is true. "I myself am Heav"n or Hell." It is from the height of will life"s parting stream descends. Life is a sort of raw material. The stuff of devilry and the stuff of sainthood are both in it. And it depends on ourselves—on the set of our wills—whether we end with Mary or with Judas—in heaven or in hell: amongst those who win eternal glory and renown, or amongst those who have a portion of shame and everlasting contempt.

The Way of the Fall.

"And Judas Iscariot, he that was one of the Twelve, went away unto the chief priests." He flung himself out of Simon"s house with a fierce and bitter anger in his heart. Christ"s commendation of Mary and His implied rebuke of Himself were the last straw. There and then Judas made up his mind to renounce his allegiance and to go over to the camp of Christ"s enemies and foes. It was "the last straw"; for the perversion and apostasy of Judas were not sudden and unexpected. A whole train of circumstances led up to the betrayal. There is a history of moral deterioration behind Judas" appalling crime. The fact Isaiah , that a man becomes neither a saint nor a devil all at once. "Heaven is not reached at a single bound," says J. S. Holland.

"But we build the ladder by which we rise

From the lowly earth to the vaulted skies,

And we climb to its summit round by round."

And the story of every saint illustrates the truth of those lines. Sainthood is no sudden attainment. It is by little and little we get the victory over our sins. It is by little and little we grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. And if men do not leap into sainthood at one bound, neither do they fall into devilry by one appalling and awful lapse. Behind every shameful apostasy and fall there is a history of deterioration and degeneration.

The Way of Judas.

There is such a history behind Judas" fall. The presence of Judas among the Twelve at all is a mystery. It presents problems difficult if not impossible to solve. I reject absolutely the suggestion that Christ chose Judas to be one of the Twelve just because He foreknew that he would eventually become a traitor—that is to introduce an element of artificiality that is altogether alien to the character of Jesus. I reject absolutely also the suggestion that Judas deliberately became a follower of Jesus with treacherous intent. In spite of the difficulties with regard to our Lord"s knowledge of man which the view I hold involves, I believe that Judas, when he became a disciple, was as much in earnest as either Peter or John. I believe more; I believe that Jesus saw in him the material out of which an Apostle might have been made—the clay out of which a vessel unto honour might have been shaped. "Of Judas even in his darkest hour," says Professor Tasker in a most illuminating article, "the words of Lavater are true: he "acted like a Satan, but like a Satan who had it in him to be an Apostle.""

The Motives of Judas.

But how was it that the man who had in him the makings of an Apostle became a Satan? How was it that this Judas who had in him the makings of a saint sank so low that the gentle Jesus said of him, "he hath a devil"? I dismiss entirely as unworthy of serious notice the suggestion that Judas was inspired by good motives in his dealings with the priests; that his real purpose was, not to betray Jesus Christ to death, but to hasten on His Messianic triumph by constraining Him to declare Himself. That theory owes its popularity to De Quincey, and it has been reproduced in our own day in the writings of perhaps the most widely-read lady novelist. But while the theory may do for a work of fiction, it is absolutely impossible to one who takes the Gospel seriously. To hold the belief that Judas was an honest but misguided man you must brush aside the Gospel story, and the stern and solemn words of our Lord Himself. Assuming then, as beyond dispute, that the betrayal was a deed of deliberate wickedness, I want to ask what were the motives that prompted Judas to do it. How was it that the man who might have been a saint became a devil? I agree with Professor Tasker that the answer is not to be given in a single word. This appalling deed had more than one evil root. The Gospels perhaps lay the most emphasis upon Judas covetousness. But that was not the only evil passion at work in Judas" heart. In and by itself it scarcely accounts for the heinousness of Judas" deed. In addition to covetousness ambition and jealousy ran riot in Judas" soul, and it was as the result of the joint action of covetousness and ambition and jealousy that Judas was hurried into the crime of history.

—His Covetousness.

First of all, the Gospels assert that Judas was a covetous man. In his early days, he had perhaps been known as a hard business man remarkably keen at a bargain. Under the spell of Christ"s speech, a "new affection" sprang up in Judas" soul, and for the time it expelled his selfish greed and made Judas willing like the rest of the disciples to leave all and follow Christ. But though for the moment subjugated and overcome, Judas" love of money was not wholly eradicated. His heart was like the thorny ground Christ spoke of in the parable—good ground enough, but not clean. The thorn root of covetousness was hidden there. And by and by as Luke says, as he went on his way his heart was "choked" with the cares and riches of this life. The Apostles made him Treasurer of their little band, and Judas" temptation came to him along the line of his duty. The handling of money stirred up the latent passion for money. There began a system of petty pilfering. He used to take what was put there. He became a thief. The thought of the opportunities of aggrandisement that would have been his if Mary had only put her300 shillings into the purse of which he had the custody—angered him and maddened him. He went immediately off to the high priests to make money out of his Master. First a covetous heart; then the pilfering from the bag; then the selling of his Master for thirty pieces of silver—a slave"s ransom—that is the story of Judas" crime.

As a matter of fact, Mammon is a mighty power, and for money, men still deny and betray their Lord, and crucify Him afresh and put Him to an open shame.

—His Ambition.

But covetousness was not the only passion at work in Judas" heart. If money had been his one and only aim, he would have demanded a bigger price for his Lord"s life. These high priests cherished so deadly a hatred of Jesus that they would have been ready to pay any price he had asked. But all he asked apparently was thirty pieces of silver—about £4—a slave"s ransom. There was something almost contemptuous in the price asked. At any rate it makes it impossible for us to think that money was the only motive. And so alongside covetousness I see, first of all, ambition. To say that Judas was ambitious is to say about him no more than could be truly said of all the other disciples. Their motives in following Christ were not unmixed and pure. Mingled with a genuine love for Christ, there was a certain hope of reward. They were continually talking about thrones. They believed that when Jesus established His Messianic kingdom, they would all be princes in it. "What shall we have?" was a question often on their lips. In all these ambitious hopes Judas shared. The difference between the eleven and Judas was this, that while in the case of the eleven their love for Christ became stronger than their ambition—in Judas ambition got the better of love. When Jesus began to talk not of triumph but of death, not of a throne but of a Cross, Judas in heart became a deserter. When Mary anointed His head and feet, Jesus had said that it was against His burying she had done it. The word laid in ruins all Judas" ambitions of place and power. Death and a grave—were they to be the end? Then every hope he had cherished had proved to be delusive and vain. It was defeat and extinction that was in store for Jesus. Why stick any longer to a Person Who had cheated him? And so enraged at the disappointment of his ambitions Judas went away to the high priests and covenanted to deliver Him unto them.

—His Jealousy.

With ambition I will set down jealousy as one of the motives that hurried Judas into this wicked deed. The wording of this passage is peculiar and significant. The R.V. translates it, "he that was one of the Twelve," but the Greek of the R.V. literally translated reads like this: Judas Iscariot "the one of the Twelve." The one! And this, according to a distinguished Biblical scholar, can only mean "the first of the Twelve." Perhaps that translation is scarcely justified; yet as Professor Tasker says, the phrase may preserve a genuine reminiscence of a time in the earlier ministry of Jesus when Judas, the treasurer of the Apostolic company, had a kind of priority. Judas, the leader of the Twelve—the foremost man in the little company—that is how he started. But precedence in the kingdom is settled by character, and gradually Judas saw Peter and James and John admitted into an intimacy with Jesus from which he was excluded. He saw the last become first, and himself—once the first—become last! And Judas became furious with malice and envy. Now jealousy Isaiah , we say, as cruel as the grave. In Judas it combined with his covetousness and his ambition to drive him into the murder of the Son of God. It is a tragic story. There are almost fathomless mysteries in it. Explain it wholly perhaps we never can. But this we can say with Dr Bruce, "He was bad enough to do the deed of infamy, and good enough to be unable to bear the burden of its guilt. Woe to such a man! Better for him, indeed, that he had never been born."

Lessons for Ourselves.

As for the lessons we may take to our own hearts from the story of Judas" tragic career, they are many. I confine myself to two. (1) Judas is a solemn warning of the dangers of an incomplete conversion. That was the mischief with Judas. He was only half converted. He did not give his Lord an undivided heart. He did not count all things but loss. He did not slay utterly. He left roots of covetousness and ambition in his soul. And this tragedy was the result. (2) And Judas is a solemn illustration of privileges abused. Look at the phrasing of the text: "He that was one of the Twelve." That constitutes the peculiar enormity of the crime. He was one of the Twelve. Christ was wounded in the house of His friends. It would not have been surprising if one of the priests or scribes or elders had set his mind on betraying Christ. But it was one of the Twelve! Judas had lived in the fellowship of Christ, in the company of Christ; he had enjoyed the unspeakable privileges of hearing Christ"s speech and seeing His wonderful deeds, and yet this was the man who went out and betrayed Him. Opportunities were wasted upon him. Privileges were abused by him. And there he stands a flagrant and terrible example of the failure of the favoured. We are highly favoured even as he. We have the Bible, we have the place of prayer, we have the preaching of the Gospel, we have the knowledge of Christ! If it were in the power of privilege to save, we ought all of us to see salvation. And yet all these privileges may go for nothing: in many cases do go for nothing. Men sin against the light! They misuse the favour and goodness of God. What about our use of these privileges? Are they the savour of life unto life or of death unto death. If the salt hath lost its savour wherewith shall it be seasoned? It is fit neither for the land nor for the dunghill. Men cast it out.


Verses 12-16

Chapter5.
The Goodman of the House

"And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, His disciples said unto Him, Where wilt Thou that we go and prepare that Thou mayest eat the passover? And He sendeth forth two of His disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him. And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guest-chamber, where I shall eat the passover with My disciples? And he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us. And His disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as He had said unto them: and they made ready the passover."Mark 14:12-16.

The Date of the Last Supper.

I am not going to discuss at length the difficult question of the exact date of the Last Supper and the Resurrection. I think—in spite of all the efforts of commentators to harmonise the accounts—that John gives a different date from that of the Synoptists. If we were left to the Synoptists, we should conclude that the feast to which Jesus and the Twelve sat down together in the Upper Room was the actual Passover Feast, and that Jesus was crucified on the following day. But John is quite clear and emphatic that the feast Christ ate with His disciples anticipated the real Passover Feast by four and twenty hours, and that the Crucifixion took place on the day on which the lamb was sacrificed. As John wrote last, and with the three other Gospels before him, I am driven to believe that all his corrections are intentional and deliberate; and as there is something beautifully congruous in the thought of Christ dying on the day the Paschal lamb was sacrificed, I incline to accept John"s account as being the one which is chronologically correct. But I do not know that we need to trouble to try and settle that vexed controversy. It is sufficient for us to know that Jerusalem was all astir with preparations for the Passover; and it was ordained that at that feast, when men offered a lamb in sacrifice in memory of their deliverance from bondage and death in Egypt, the Lamb of God should offer Himself up in sacrifice for the sins of the world.

The Lord and the Means of Grace.

I say, Jerusalem was all astir with preparations for the Passover. It was natural therefore that the disciples should come to Jesus and say, "Where wilt Thou that we go and make ready that Thou mayest eat the Passover?" You notice the form of the question: "Where wilt Thou that we make ready?" They do not ask Him if He means to observe it. They take that for granted. All they ask is as to the room He has arranged for its observance. All of which throws an interesting side-light upon the character and habits of Jesus. The fact that the disciples took it for granted that Jesus would observe the Passover shows that He had been in the habit of observing it. Jesus paid scrupulous respect to the forms and rites of the Jewish faith. He kept the Sabbath. He attended the synagogue. He observed the Passover. He did not brush them aside as mere empty forms. He "fulfilled all righteousness." He showed respect for the outward means of grace. He recognised that they were means of grace, and that they ministered to the life of the soul.

—An Example for His People.

In all this we may learn a lesson from our Lord. I know it is easy to make too much of forms. But it is possible also to make too little of them. Perhaps this latter is our particular peril. We say that the spirit is the essential thing, that God is a spirit, and that they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. That is all true enough; but, if we make the spirituality of religion an excuse for neglecting the forms and offices of religion, we seriously hurt and impoverish ourselves. For while it is true that you may have the form without the spirit—as in the case of the Pharisees of old—it is important to remember the complementary and balancing truth, that there can be no religious life without some measure of form. So let us follow our Lord in His respect for the means of grace. Let us cultivate the assembling of ourselves together, let us frequent the assemblies of the Church for prayer; above all things when the Table of the Lord is spread let us remember His dying love until He come. The preaching of the word, united worship, the sacraments—they are all designed for the nourishment of our spiritual life and that life inevitably suffers by their neglect.

The Chosen Place.

"Where wilt Thou that we go and make ready that Thou mayest eat the Passover?" asked His disciples. Instead of giving a direct answer and naming the house at which He had arranged to celebrate the feast, Jesus sent two of them (probably Peter and John) off into the city with these mysterious instructions—they were to go to a certain public fountain and there they would find a man bearing a pitcher of water. There would be no chance of failing to identify him—for water-carrying was, as a rule, a woman"s business, and a man bearing a pitcher was always a more or less conspicuous object. This man they were to follow to the house to which he returned. Arrived there, they were to ask the goodman of the house for the guest-chamber he had promised to Christ. In the Upper Room which he would show them they were to make all the needful preparations for the observance of the feast.

—Prearranged.

Now it is obvious from all this that there had been an arrangement made between Jesus and this unknown friend of His. They had come to an understanding even as to this little plan by which the disciples were to be led to the chosen rendezvous. The goodman of the house had promised to send one of his servants to this particular fountain, and Jesus on His part arranged to send two of His disciples to follow him from that spot home. There was nothing haphazard or accidental about the meeting at the fountain. There was certainly nothing accidental about the choice of house. All had been planned and arranged beforehand between Jesus and His unknown host.

The Reason.

But the question at once arises—why was all this mystery made about the rendezvous? Why could not Christ have named the street and the house at which He had arranged to eat the feast? Why all this secrecy? Dr David Smith suggests the true answer. There was a traitor amongst the Twelve. Judas was on the look out for an opportunity to deliver Christ to His foes. Had Judas known exactly where Christ had determined to eat the feast, he might have arranged with the priests to seize Him in the very midst of the supper. But Jesus purposed to observe this feast with His disciples undisturbed. So with the goodman of the house He settled His plan. Judas got no clue from Christ"s orders to Peter and John and he dared not track the messengers. That was the reason for the secrecy. Jesus was so beset with foes, that He could only secure these brief hours for quiet converse with His disciples, as it were by stealth!

The House and the Host.

The two disciples went and they found it even as the Master had said. There at the fountain was the slave with his pitcher of water, obviously watching and waiting for some one. As soon as he caught sight of Peter and John (for no doubt he would know them) he took up his pitcher and made straight for his master"s house and there the disciples found "the large Upper Room furnished" which in some private conversation with Jesus the goodman of the house had already offered. Many are the guesses that commentators have made as to the identity of this goodman of the house. Some guess Nicodemus, some Joseph of Arimathea, and others, with greater probability, John Mark. But who he really was we shall never surely know till that great day when all secrets are revealed. One thing however is quite obvious from the narrative—and that Isaiah , that he was one of the Lord"s friends and disciples. Look at the wording of Mark 14:14. "The Master saith—where is My guest-chamber?" "The Master" saith! Such language could only be addressed to one who acknowledged Christ"s authority and rule. "Where is My guest-chamber?" Such language could only be addressed to one who looked upon all that he possessed as belonging to Jesus Christ. Song of Solomon , whoever he was, it is as plain as daylight that he was a friend and a disciple.

Christ"s Unknown Friends.

The goodman, then, was one of Christ"s unknown friends. There are two classes of Christ"s friends, as Dr John Watson suggests. There are those who may be called His public friends and there are those who may be called His private friends. The public friends of Christ were the twelve disciples. They were always at Christ"s side. Wherever He went, they went too. In the public eye they were inseparably identified with Christ"s cause. But in addition to these public friends, Jesus had private friends of whom the Sanhedrim and even His disciples knew nothing. And amongst those private friends were Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night, and the goodman of the house, who gladly placed his best room at the disposal of the Lord and His disciples. I daresay when the disciples asked the question, "Where wilt Thou that we go and make ready that Thou mayest eat the Passover?" they wondered whether in all Jerusalem a house could be found to open its doors to Jesus, for by this He was indeed the despised and rejected of men. By this, priests and elders were bent upon His death! And they doubted whether in all Jerusalem there was one who would care to run the risk of being known as their Master"s friend. But Jesus has always more friends in the world than we are inclined to think. Elijah thought he was the only faithful soul left in the whole of Israel. But God knew better. In many a quiet country home, there were humble but brave and loyal folk who had never turned their backs upon their father"s God. "I have yet seven thousand in Israel," He said to His discouraged and despairing servant, "who have not bowed the knee to Baal." Paul thought Corinth was barren soil. He was out of heart because he could count, as he thought, the Christians in Corinth upon his fingers. But his Lord knew better. He appeared to His desponding servant in a vision by night with the message, "Be not afraid... for I have much people in this city." And so in Jerusalem—full of deadly hate as it was—when even His disciples doubted whether a single house would receive Him, Jesus had this goodman for His friend who counted it a joy and an honour to welcome Him to his Upper Room.

—His Undistinguished Friends.

It is like that still! Christ has more friends in the world than we think. For we do not exhaust the list of Christ"s friends when we mention our religious leaders and those who are prominent in Church life. Thank God for these people who take their stand in the high places of the field; but let us not forget that Christ has other friends than these. There are modest, retiring, silent people in the world—people who have never taken part in a meeting in their lives, who have never offered a prayer in public in their lives, who have never held office in a Christian Church in their lives. Their very names are unknown to the leaders of our Churches; and yet among these humble, retiring, shrinking folk Christ has His friends, His staunch, loyal and trusty friends; and the first of all such was the goodman of the house, who, most probably had not the gifts of an Apostle or a preacher, but showed His love for Christ by offering Him a room.

The Goodman: A Brave and Trusty Friend.

How this friendship between Christ and the goodman of the house began the Scriptures do not tell us—but this brief story makes it clear that he was not only a friend, he was one of the bravest and staunchest of friends. Dr Watson in his beautiful little book The Upper Room, remarks that the times when Christ"s public friends withdraw and disappear, are often the seasons when His private friends show themselves. It was so in this last and awful week. Judas, one of the Twelve, betrayed Him; but Nicodemus prepared spices for His burying. Peter cursed and swore he did not know Him; but Joseph owned Him before the Sanhedrim, went boldly to Pilate and asked for His body and buried Him in his own new grave. And; in much the same way, in our Lord"s hour of peril, this goodman of the house showed himself His friend. "A friend in need," we say in our old proverb, "is a friend indeed." Well, this man was a "friend indeed" to Jesus, for he was a friend "in need." In the days of our Lord"s popularity men like Simon the Pharisee were quite ready to open their doors to Christ. But in these closing days, not a Pharisee amongst them wanted Jesus for his guest. Then came forward this goodman of the house and said, "Be a guest in my house. The best I have to offer is Thine." The stars, they tell me, shine even during the day, but at high noon, in the full blaze of the sunshine, they are hidden, obscured, dazzled out of sight. But when the sun disappears, and darkness creeps over the sky, then the mild but beautiful stars steal out. There were quiet unobtrusive friends of Christ, who were hidden away in the background, and buried in obscurity when our Lord was in the full blaze of His popularity, but when the dark days came, when the crowd turned their backs upon Him, then these friends stole out of their modest hiding-places and stood loyally by His side. And the goodman of the house was one of them, for, when every other door in Jerusalem was closed against the Lord, he flung his wide open; and when it had become perilous to confess oneself a disciple he stood boldly by the Lord"s side, delighting to avow himself His friend.

A Generous Friend.

The goodman showed himself not only a brave and trusty friend, but he fulfilled the office and function of friendship. For is this not the mark of a true friendship—that it keeps nothing back, that it does its best for the loved one? This goodman of the house showed himself a generous friend for he did his very best for Christ. Unless the Greek of this passage entirely misleads me, he did for Christ more than He asked. When Christ sent Peter and John to this unknown friend of His, it was with this message, "Where is My guest-chamber where I may eat the Passover with My disciples." Now the word translated guest-chamber, means primarily an inn, and is so translated in the narrative of Christ"s birth. But the word "inn" suggests to us more than the original implies. It would denote no more than the place where the beasts of burden were unloaded, shoes and staff or dusty garment put down, if an apartment at all, only one opening out on to the courtyard and certainly not the best. That was all Christ asked for. But it was not to this shelter that the unknown friend showed the disciples, but the Upper Room, the most retired and honourable room in the house, the best and chiefest apartment and that heavily and richly furnished with tables and couches and cushions. He was not content to give Christ merely what He asked: a place in the caravanserai; he gave the very best he had to give—not the hall, but the Upper Room.

The Offering of True Friendship.

This is ever the mark of a true and genuine friendship. It gives its best. Its question is not how little need it do, but how much can it do. And this suggests to me the question. Have we fulfilled the office and function of friendship? We profess to be Christ"s friends; have we given Him the chief place, the Upper Room? Yes, I know we have most of us, if not all of us, given some sort of hospitality to Christ. But with many of us, it is the mere lodging we have given, not the "Upper Room." We like to have some connection with Christ, but we do not let Him in very far. We keep Him on the outside, near the door, down in the hall. It is a poor external apartment we have set aside for His occupation. But He wants to live not in the hall but in the Upper Room. Not on the outside but in our heart of hearts. " Song of Solomon , daughter, give Me thine heart," and it is a plea for the Upper Room. Have we given it to Him?

The Reward of Friendship.

This goodman of the house showed himself a friend of Christ. What a rich reward he has reaped! "Verily, verily, I say unto you," our Lord remarked one day, "whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, he shall in no wise lose his reward." Not the smallest kindness ever done to Christ fails of recompense. Think of the reward this goodman reaped. First of all, he is known throughout the world as the friend of Jesus. Whereever the Gospel is preached this also that he did is spoken of as a memorial of him. It is said of the famous Lord Holland, that he wished to be remembered as "the friend of Charles James Fox." This man has a far nobler memorial. He is known as the man who in a time of mortal peril befriended Jesus Christ. Think what a train of events the granting of this Upper Room led to. I have been in some great houses and have been shown bedrooms, magnificently decorated and furnished, which are regarded with pride by the owners of the houses because some great person or other once slept in them. I remember for instance being shown in "Burleigh House," the room in which our Maiden Queen once slept. It was never used. It was kept like a sacred place and shown to visitor"s as Queen Elizabeth"s room. In one sense it would have been honour enough that the goodman should have been able to say of his Upper Room that this was the room in which Jesus ate the Supper with His disciples, and spoke those wonderful words which John has preserved for us.

—A Sacred Room.

But a whole train of consequences followed the use of the Upper Room for this feast. It was to that Upper Room the disciples instinctively made their way after the crucifixion; it was in that Upper Room that the risen and victorious Christ appeared again to the disciples saying, "Peace be unto you." It was in that Upper Room He showed Himself to Thomas saying, "Reach within thy finger and see My hands; and reach within thy hand and put it into My side." And it was in that same Upper Room that the miracle of Pentecost happened, when the disciples were baptised with the Holy Ghost and with fire. "Christ pays richly for His entertainment," says quaint old Matthew Henry. "Men gain—not lose—by giving Christ their best," says Dr Glover.

The Great Reward.

But the best reward of all came, as Dr Watson suggests, when the "goodman of the house" found an Upper Room prepared for him by Christ"s own hands in the Father"s house of many mansions. The reward for this man"s welcome to Christ in the day of His trouble and distress was a welcome from Christ in the day of His exaltation and glory. Thousands and tens of thousands have found an entrance into the Celestial City, but none received gladder welcome than this man who first gave Christ His heart and then provided Him with a home. The hospitality of the heart is always repaid by the hospitality of heaven. If we ask Christ to sup with us today, the day will surely come when we shall sup with Him. The welcome we shall receive depends on the welcome we give. Have you asked the Lord to come into your Upper Room? Then surely you shall at the last take your place with the goodman of the house, and all the saints who have been the friends of Christ, and have done their best for Him, at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.


Verses 17-21

Chapter6.
The Announcement of the Betrayal

"And in the evening He cometh with the twelve. And as they sat and did eat, Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, One of you which eateth with Me shall betray Me. And they began to be sorrowful, and to say unto Him, one by one, Is it I? and another said, Is it I? And He answered and said unto them, It is one of the twelve, that dippeth with me in the dish. The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of Him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born."Mark 14:17-21.

We come now to that paragraph, that poignant little paragraph, which tells how, when Christ and the Twelve had taken their places for the festal meal, He made the announcement that it was one of the chosen band who should betray Him.

The Context.

But before I begin the study of the paragraph itself, let me say again that Mark"s account is not a complete account of what happened in the Upper Room. Mark"s is the briefest of all the Gospels. He picks out what seem to him the salient parts of the story, and these he narrates for us in an incomparably vivid way. But if you want the complete story, an accurate scheme of the sequence of events, you must compare Mark"s Gospel with the other three, and insert here and there with his abbreviated narrative various scenes and incidents passed over by him but preserved for us in the records of the other evangelists. At this point, e.g. the announcement of the betrayal follows immediately upon the verse in which Mark describes their assembly in the Upper Room. Had we been left to Mark we should have concluded that this was the very first thing that happened when they had gathered together in that quiet chamber. But, when we compare the accounts of the other evangelists, we find Mark has passed over without notice a good many things, such, e.g. as the strife among the disciples as to which of them was greatest, and that most moving and pathetic incident of the washing of the disciples" feet. You must insert all that between Mark 14:17 and Mark 14:18 if you would have the full and complete sequence of events before you.

The Things Unrecorded.

It must also be remembered, as Dr Glover points out, that a good many things had happened which are mentioned by none of the evangelists. They had gathered in that Upper Room for the Paschal meal, and the Paschal meal was observed with a certain amount of fixed and definite ritual. Jesus, no doubt, had taken His place at the head of the table as the Master of the Feast. Following the usual practice He had explained the significance of the Passover, and spoken of the mighty deliverance of which it was the memorial—with what thoughts of that grander and more glorious Exodus which He was about to accomplish for all mankind on the morrow who shall tell? And then they had sung some of the appointed Psalm—Psalm breathing of gratitude and rest and hope. Very likely they had already passed round that cup which was so essential a part of the Passover celebration. All these things had happened in the Upper Room, before there fell from the lips of Christ this tragic announcement which changed their festal gladness into grief and fear.

The Prediction of the Betrayal.

Why did Christ make the announcement at all? Some commentators suggest that He had a design in making it. He was just about to institute the feast of the Supper. "He had gathered the Twelve in the Upper Room," says Dr David Smith, "not merely that He might eat the Passover with them, but that He might institute a sacred rite which should perpetuate the remembrance of His immortal love." Now the Supper is the family feast, at which only those who really and sincerely love the Lord have any right to sit. That is the reason why the Apostle says, "Let a man prove himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup" ( 1 Corinthians 11:28). It is no feast in which a traitor has any right to participate. Our Lord could not celebrate that first Passover with Judas present, and so He makes this fateful announcement in order to be freed from Judas" oppressive presence, and to be at liberty to celebrate His love-feast with those who were really and sincerely His own. There is a good deal of plausibility about the suggestion, but personally I do not feel inclined to accept it. For you have to assume that Judas left before the Supper, which is itself a very doubtful point. And it seems to me to artificialise the whole narrative.

Not a Disclosure but a Cry.

If you ask how I think this tragic announcement came to be made, I reply, Christ could not bear the awful burden a moment longer. I do not think there was any design in it. I do not think it was meant to cure the pride of the disciples. I do not even think it was meant to give Judas a glimpse of the perdition before him and thus awake repentance. I think Dr Chadwick comes nearest the truth when he says this was not so much a disclosure as a cry! A cry from the Lord"s bruised and wounded spirit! He could not help Himself! After all, our Lord was not only "very God" but also "very Prayer of Manasseh ," a man with an exquisitely sensitive soul! And just as when He came in sight of Jerusalem, the pity of His heart showed itself in tears which He could not suppress, so now the sorrow of His soul broke out in this agonising cry. Dr David Smith suggests that at the very moment He may have had the bitter herbs of the Passover Feast in His hand. And the bitter herbs in His hands reminded Him of the bitterness in His soul. And as He thought of it, it was more than He could bear, and this cry, involuntarily almost, broke from His lips, "Verily I say unto you, One of you shall betray Me, even he that eateth with Me."

The Sorrow of Lost Opportunities.

And that is the first thing I find in this bitter cry. I find in it a hint of the measureless sorrows of the Lord. You can find other things in it I know. Read it like this: "One of you shall betray Me," and I think I could preach a sermon from it upon opportunities lost and privileges abused. "One of you!" It was not one of Christ"s foes who was to do this thing! It was not one of the Scribes or Pharisees with whom He had been so often in conflict. It was not one of the priests whose anger He had incurred by His exposure of their evil deeds. It was not one of the indiscriminate multitude who had only seen Christ from afar and had never felt the compelling power of His goodness or the charm of His love. It was "one of you!" One of the Twelve men who had been chosen to be Christ"s intimates, who had seen Him at close quarters, who knew best how good and holy and gracious He was! "One of you!" Judas spent two years in close company with Christ and turned traitor at the finish! Privileges will save no man. Opportunities and privileges were wasted upon Judas. "One of you shall betray Me."

The Sorrow of Wilful Sin.

Read it again like this, "One of you shall betray Me," and from that text I think I could preach a sermon upon the awful and unspeakable lengths to which human wickedness can go! "Shall betray Me!" It was not some man of evil life that Judas was selling to the priests; it was not some one whose influence was a blight; it was not a political malefactor; it was not a disturber of the nation"s peace. "One of you shall betray Me!" Me! the Man Who had never done an evil deed, or spoken an evil word! The Man Who had gone about doing good! The Man Who had carried a blessing with Him whithersoever He had gone! The Man Who had given cleansing to the leper, and sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf, and power to the palsied, and life to the dead! The Man Who had blessed innumerable homes, and brought new hope and courage into innumerable lives! Sin a light thing? This is the length of wickedness to which sin can go—it can sell and scourge, and kill the Christ! But it is neither of these things that I see primarily and chiefly in this startling and tragic announcement.

The Sorrow of the Lord.

I see in it—above everything else—the sorrow of the Lord. The vision of that overwhelming sorrow allows me to see scarcely anything else in this bitter cry. You remember the old prophetic word in which Jeremiah bids the people turn aside and see if there was any sorrow like unto his sorrow. Well, the sorrow of Jeremiah , no doubt, was deep and bitter, for he too was rejected and despised by his own; but the deep unfathomable sorrow of the world is not the sorrow of Jeremiah but the sorrow of Christ. There was not a single ingredient of bitterness left out of His bitter cup. It was not, as Dr Chadwick says in his commentary, the physical sufferings of our Lord that constituted His immeasurable Passion. We have thought too much perhaps of the scourging, and the thorn crown, and the nails, and the agonising thirst. What hurt Christ most—the really unfathomable sufferings of our Lord—were His sufferings of soul. And amongst those sufferings of soul was that inflicted by the treachery of one of His chosen friends. It bit deep. It wounded to the quick. "One of you shall betray Me, even he that eateth with Me." Our Lord passed through that bitter experience of the Psalmist, "Mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of My bread, hath lifted up his heel against me" ( Psalm 41:9). There are two passages in Shakespeare"s great play of "Julius Caesar" which illustrate by contrast the bitterness of being betrayed by a friend. The first is a sentence Shakespeare puts into the mouth of Brutus himself. Brutus had seen his cause overwhelmed with disaster and he was just upon the point of falling upon his sword. But with ruin overtaking him and death staring him in the face he had one deep source of joy. "Countrymen," he said,

The Bitter Thought

"My heart doth joy that yet in all my life,

I found no man but he was true to me."

Now turn by way of contrast to the scene in which Shakespeare describes the assassination of great Caesar himself. You remember how, under pretence of presenting a petition, the conspirators crowded round Caesar"s seat. Decius, Cassius, Casca—they were all there. When the petition was refused, Casca gave the sign for attack by saying, "Speak, hands, for me." He aimed his dagger at Caesar"s breast; and at once Decius and Cassius, and China had their daggers out too. Caesar resisted for a time until he saw Brutus—one of the most cherished of his friends—also with his dagger raised to strike. But when he saw Brutus—his friend—he ceased to struggle. "Et tu, Brute," he cried, "And thou, Brutus.—Then fall Caesar." And through that bitter experience our Lord had to pass. He had not the joy of feeling that however much his enemies might rage, his friends had been true to Him. It was a friend who betrayed Him: it was a friend who sold Him. It was one who ate His bread who lifted his heel against Him. The very thought of it wrung Christ"s heart with anguish, and provoked this cry from His lips. "One of you shall betray Me, even he that eateth with Me." "Behold, and see, if there be any sorrow like unto My sorrow" ( Lamentations 1:12).

Does Judas stand Alone?

I am tempted, before I pass on, to ask a question like this—"Is Judas the only friend who has ever betrayed the Lord?" Is he the only one who has eaten the Lord"s bread, and then lifted up his heel against Him? Of course I know that there is a sense in which the crime of Judas can never be again committed. Never again can Christ be betrayed into the hands of men. Never again can He be sold to the shame of the whipping-post and the tree. And yet, from another point of view, He is not beyond the reach of wounds and treachery and shame. Why, one of the sacred writers declares that it is in our power to "crucify Christ afresh." And we do it. Yes, we often do it; we, His Song of Solomon -called friends crucify Him afresh and put Him to an open shame. What Christ suffers from most, is not the attacks of his foes. There are certain miserable people in the world who make it their business to attack Christ. They fight against Him and His cause. They stand at street corners and vilify Him. They write in the papers, and caricature and blaspheme Him. But these are not the people who do Christ harm. The blasphemies of Hyde Park orators, the coarse caricatures of the Free-thinker—these are not the things that impede the progress of Christianity. We can afford to laugh at them. They do not count. They are beneath contempt. But I will tell you what it is that injures Christ and impedes His cause—not the attacks of His foes but the failures of His friends. We profess to belong to the circle of His disciples, and there out in the world yonder we deny Him, and sell Him, and betray Him. We call Him Lord, and then we turn our backs upon Him. We come to His table and eat His bread, and then we lift up our heel against Him. Christ suffers still from treachery and betrayal. The most grievous wounds which He ever endures, are the wounds which He receives in the house of His friends.

The Fear of the Disciples.

And now let me ask you to notice the effect of this solemn announcement upon the disciples. "And they began to be sorrowful," says Mark. Up to that moment they had been a glad and happy company—but upon this announcement their sunshine went out in dark and bodeful gloom. Their hearts were filled with a chilly sense of fear and dread. And one by one with blanched lips and tremulous voices they began to say to Christ, "Is it I? Is it I?" Now it seems almost callous to analyse this heartbreaking question. But I see two things in it that are infinitely to the credit of these disciples. I see first of all their trust and hope for one another, and I see in the second place their fear and distrust of themselves. I see, first of all, their trust and hope for one another. Not a man apparently suspected Judas! I know it speaks volumes for the circumspectness and prudence with which Judas must have conducted himself. But it speaks volumes for those disciples too. They never suspected Judas. They thought Judas every whit as good a disciple as themselves. They never suspected any one of their little band. We have often had occasion to notice faults and failings in these disciples of our Lord. We shall have to notice many a fault and failure still. They were indeed full of faults and failings. But here is something that must be set down to the credit side of their account. They had a splendid faith in one another. They believed the best of one another. Not a man of them had dreamed that another could turn traitor. These disciples blundered often—they were proud, they were self-seeking, they were materialistic in their notions; but when I hear them cry, "Lord, is it I?" suspecting no one but themselves, I am quite sure they had caught from their Lord some of that "love which suffereth long and is kind; which is not easily provoked and thinketh no evil; which rejoiceth not in iniquity but which rejoiceth in the truth, which beareth, believeth, hopeth and endureth all things."

—Their Fear of Themselves.

I see, secondly, in this question their fear and distrust of themselves. When the Master said, "One of you shall betray Me," these disciples did not cast their eyes round their little company to try and discover who of their number looked most like a traitor. They did not listen—as we often do—for somebody else. They did not try to fit the cap on to somebody else"s head. They listened for themselves. They took the warning home to their own souls. When Christ said, "One of you shall betray Me," every man of them looked into his own heart. And it was what they saw there, that brought this cry to their lips, "Lord, can it be I?" For when they looked within, they saw the prince of this world had something in every one of them—there was weakness there and timidity there and cowardice there, and love of the world and of life there! And the sight struck terror to their souls. "Lord," they cried in broken accents, "Can it be I?" And this distrust of themselves is also to be set down to the disciples" credit. I like them better distrusting themselves like this, than when boasting that neither prison nor death can daunt them. I have more hope for them when taking this humble estimate of themselves than when bragging of their courage and their constancy. He that humbleth himself shall be exalted; he that exalteth himself shall be abased. Mr Fearing wins his way at last to the Heavenly City but the last sight we get of Presumption is lying fast by the heels in a hollow far from the journey"s end.

A Question for All.

"Lord, is it I?" it is a question that often leaps to the lips of a man who has looked into his own heart. Who really knows the enormities of which he may be guilty? Who knows what possibilities of evil lie latent within? This much I know; we find it easy still to sell Christ; we sell Him in order to succeed in business; we sell Him for pleasure; we sell Him for social position. We crucify Him afresh and put Him to an open shame by forgetting Him, repudiating His authority, bringing disgrace upon His name. "One of you," He says to us in these latter days "shall betray Me." I cannot treat that warning as if it did not concern me. Like the disciples, knowing my own weakness, I know that one may be myself. All I can do is to give myself and this treacherous heart of mine into the keeping of Almighty Love, and say with the Psalmist, "Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me; then shall I be upright and I shall be innocent from the great transgression ( Psalm 19:13).


Verses 22-25

Chapter8.
The Last Supper—II

"And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is My body. And He took the cup, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them: and they all drank of it. And He said unto them, This is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God."Mark 14:22-25.

The Lord"s Supper is primarily, as His words show, a memorial of Christ"s dying; but it is also something more, and it is with that something more I want to occupy myself in this chapter. What is it more than a memorial feast?

The Sacrament of Friendship.

I answer first it is the sacrament of friendship. Dr David Smith reminds us in his Life of Christ of the sacredness attached in the East to the common meal. It constitutes, he says, a solemn and indissoluble bond. He tells a story of the lengths to which the Arabs carry this idea that when men have broken bread with one another, they become perpetual friends. "Zail-al-khail, a famous warrior in the days of Mohammad," so the legend runs, "refused to slay a vagabond who carried off his camels because the chief had surreptitiously drunk from his father"s milk-bowls before committing the theft." We have a little of that feeling even in these more prosaic Northern regions. If we accept the hospitality of another, we feel bound at any rate to keep within the conventional obligation of friendship. "A breach of hospitality" is regarded as an ugly and hateful thing even in England. Now, the supper was a common meal. Jesus invited these men to accept His hospitality. They broke the bread and shared the cup with Him. It was a sacrament of friendship. The one disciple who was no friend but a traitor in disguise, had probably gone out to do his nefarious deed, but the eleven who remained, whatever their faults, were brave and loyal souls, and when they shared this meal with their Master, He declared Himself their friend, and they declared themselves His friends, and pledged themselves, that, come weal come woe, He should always have the love of their devoted and loyal hearts. Do you know what I have been reminded of as I thought of Christ and that little company of eleven sharing this meal together? I have been reminded of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. The presence of the Knights, at that table was the outward sign and symbol that they had pledged allegiance to Arthur. You remember how Tennyson makes them sing,

"The King will follow Christ and we the King

In whom high God hath breathed a sacred thing,

Fall battleaxe and flash brand! Let the King reign!"

And these eleven disciples were to Jesus what his Knights were to Arthur. When they sat at His table they pledged themselves to His service.

A Double Tie.

It was a beautiful sacrament of friendship. And that is what the Supper is still. It is only for the friends of Christ. In it Christ offers us His hospitality, and when we accept it, we proclaim ourselves His friends and pledge ourselves to His cause. It is an ugly thing to sit at the Lord"s table, and then to deny Him. It is a base thing to accept His hospitality and then betray Him! Better never eat the bread and drink the cup at all, than eat and drink and then by our life repudiate our Lord. That is why Paul says that every man ought to examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For this common meal is a sacrament of friendship, of Christ"s friendship for us, and our friendship for Him, and only the friends of the Lord have a right to participate in it. And let me add this word, this common meal is not only a sacrament of friendship between Christ and those who share in it, but it is a sacrament of friendship between one disciple and another. When we sit down to this meal together it means that we are not only all of us friends of the Lord, it means also that we are friends of one another. We all eat of the same bread and drink of the same cup in token that we all share in the same life. We "commune" not simply with our Lord, but also with one another. I wonder whether this aspect of the Supper is not often forgotten or ignored by us. The Supper is the family meal, the perpetually recurring reminder that we are all members of one great household. It always strikes me as a strange and pitiable thing that men and women can sit down together at the table of the Lord and clean forget one another outside; that there is so much distance, lack of sympathy, absence of friendship between members of the same Church. It would alter the climate of many a Church, and bring cheer into many a lonely heart if we only remembered that this blessed feast is a sacrament of friendship with one another. Shall we try to remember? Shall we try henceforth to enter into one another"s joys and sorrows? To bear one another"s burdens? And to show special love to them that are of the household of faith? You will remember the Supper is a "communion of Saints" as well as a communion of the body and blood of Christ. It is a sacrament of friendship with one another as well as with Him. The man who sits down to the Supper and then neglects his brother has denied the faith.

Christ, the Giver of the Feast.

I pass on next to say that this is a feast of which Christ is the giver and we are the recipients. There is a beautiful and significant sequence of verses in one of the most familiar of Psalm that runs like this, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits towards me?" asks the Psalmist. And he answers his own question by Baying, "I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord." I had read those two verses scores and hundreds of times and not noticed their point. It was my friend, Mr Elvet Lewis, who first called my attention to the beauty of the sequence. Here is a Psalmist overwhelmed by a sense of God"s infinite goodness, and as he thinks of it, in a perfect transport of gratitude he cries, "What shall I render to the Lord? What shall I give to Him? What shall I pay back to Him for all His benefits?" And in the answer he gives to his own question, I find nothing about paying back, giving, rendering to God. He talks of taking once again. "What shall I render?... I will take the cup of salvation." Taking yet again is the only way of rendering to God. Receiving once again is the only way of paying back to God. Opening the heart still wider to the reception of His blessings is the only way of thanking Him for blessings already given. And this is all illustrated in the Supper. No one can think of the mighty sacrifice of Christ, of the Exodus He accomplished, of the deliverance He won, without being constrained to say, "What shall I render?" You remember how Isaac Watts, facing the Cross, bursts out into that impassioned verse,

Man Receives and Repays.

"Were the whole realm of Nature mine,

That were a present far too small.

Love so amazing, so Divine,

Demands my life, my soul, my all."

We all feel like that when we stand before the Cross and realise its meaning. What shall we give is our dominating thought. And instead of giving we are asked to take once again. "What shall I render unto the Lord," we cry, "for all His benefits toward me?" And the Lord Himself answers us and says, "Take ye, this is My body." And He hands to us the cup saying, "This is My blood of the covenant, which is shed for many." Instead of paying back we are asked to receive once again. Indeed the only payment the Lord asks of us is that we should be willing to receive the yet larger grace He is willing to bestow. "As they were eating He took bread, and when He had blessed it, He brake it and gave to them and said, Take ye, this is My body. And He took a cup and when He had given thanks, He gave to them. And they all drank of it. And He said unto them, This is My blood of the new Covenant which is shed for many," "Take ye," He says. Christ in this feast is the Giver. We are the recipients.

The Giver of Himself.

What is it He gives? His body and blood under the symbols of bread and wine. Now, I dislike even glancing at controversial topics in connection with a theme so sacred as this. And yet I should be scarcely a faithful minister, I should not be declaring the whole counsel of God, if I did not refer to certain misunderstandings of these words which have had disastrous consequences for the Christian Church. The doctrine of Transubstantiation is based upon a literal interpretation of the words, "This is My body," and "This is My blood." Now, if this were the time I think I could prove that the doctrine of Transubstantiation has been the source of much harm. It has externalised the Sacrament. It has converted it from a spiritual Communion with a living Christ, into a magical rite. It has made the virtue of the Sacrament to depend upon the act of participation, quite apart from the spiritual condition of the receiver. It has, as a result, been inimical, not to say fatal, to deep, earnest, serious religious life. But I am not concerned at the moment with its evil results, what I want to emphasise just now is that there is absolutely no Scriptural or rational ground for the doctrine.

Christ"s Language.

To understand this phrase, "This is My body," literally, is to forget that the words were spoken by Christ Himself to eleven men who were sitting at table with Him. The eleven never for one moment imagined that the bread was changed into Christ"s body or the wine into His blood, for there their Lord was living, breathing, talking to them. Then, to take these words literally is to forget the Eastern fondness for vivid, figurative language. Christ was in the habit of speaking in this bold and vivid way. He said among other things, "I am the Door." "I am the True Vine." There is as little reason for interpreting the phrase, "This is My body," literally, as there would be for interpreting, "I am the Door," literally. And then, finally, as if specially to guard against this from a materialistic interpretation of His words, our Lord uttered an express warning against it. All commentators are agreed that for the interpretation of what Christ means by "taking His body," and "drinking His blood," we must turn to that great chapter in St John"s Gospel in which He speaks of Himself as the Bread of Life. The "bread," He proceeds to explain, is His own flesh which He is to give for the life of the world. The Jews like the Romanists made the mistake of taking Him literally, and asked, "How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?" Then Jesus, seeing the mistake which the Jews and some of His own disciples were making, after asserting once again that His flesh was meat indeed, and His blood was drink indeed, adds this word, "It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing." It is as if the Lord foresaw the mistake so many in His Church have made and forewarned them against it. The mere physical participation in the bread and the wine of itself profits nothing; we gain no benefit from the Supper until we enter into spiritual communion with the Christ, and especially, the suffering and dying Christ of Whom the bread and the wine speak.

Spiritual Feeding on Christ.

But if on the one hand the Romanists are guilty of asserting about this feast more than is true, I think sometimes we Protestant folk, and especially Free Church folk, are apt to assert of it less than is true. I mean that so many are content to regard the Supper as a memorial feast and nothing more. The bread and the wine help us to remember how on Calvary"s Hill Christ gave His body to be broken and His blood to be shed for our redemption. But the feast is more than that. We do not simply remember Christ. He gives Himself to us. We impoverish the meaning of the feast if we forget this truth. He gives, we receive, at this feast. He gives Himself to us for our sustenance and support. The bread and the wine signify, He says, His body and blood. Body and Blood again together signify His life—His human life. And the meaning of the Sacrament is that Christ"s life is to us, what bread and wine are to the physical existence. Bread and wine are the emblem, as Dr Chadwick says, of food in its most nourishing and its most stimulating form. And in the same way—such is the teaching of the Sacrament—the life of Christ, the body and blood of Christ, the sacrificed and distributed life of Christ, nourishes and sustains the soul. And He gives Himself to us at this feast.

The double aspect of the rite.

"If," says St Paul ( Romans 5:10), "while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Song of Solomon , much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by His life?" That great verse always seems to me to throw light upon the double aspect of the Supper. In the first limb of the verse there is the remembrance of Calvary. The sacrifice of Calvary was an Acts , accomplished and done. By that act something was effected. The reconciliation was won. The redemption of the race was achieved. Forgiveness was made open and free for the race. From that point of view, it is true to say that Calvary is the ground of man"s acceptance with God. But that mighty act in the past does not in and by itself save a man. It clears the way for his salvation. It wipes out his guilt. As Paul would say, it justifies him. But then I believe Christ"s death did that for every one. As far as God is concerned, redemption, forgiveness, reconciliation have been won for every one. But every one is not saved. Saving man means more than cancelling his debt, absolving him from guilt, blotting out his past sin. Saving a man means delivering him not only from the penalty but also from the power of sin, emancipating him from the dominion of lust and passion, and helping him to a clean, sober, righteous manhood. And what does that is the power and presence and life of Christ in a man. Christ in us is the hope of glory. We are reconciled to God by Christ"s death, but we are saved, enabled to triumph over lust and passion and sin, by His life. And this feast does more than remind us of the death by which we were reconciled. Christ here bestows upon us Himself, offers to us His life by means of which we are saved. Christ is a giver at this feast. He gives Himself to us for our sustenance and support and salvation.

I find it difficult to explain; perhaps because it is a thing to be felt rather than demonstrated. But I imagine the experience of many is like mine, when I say that when I have come to the Table of the Lord and humbly and gratefully eaten of the bread and drunk of the cup, somehow or other the Master seems specially near. I clasp Him here with firmer faith. I feel He gives Himself to me as I partake of the emblem. New tides of hope and power seem to flood my soul. I rise from the Table refreshed with might in my inner man. I go forth better able to stand in the evil day. I thank God humbly for the Cross on which atonement was made for my sin. But I thank God more that Christ did not leave it there; that having died for my reconciliation, Christ now gives me this life for my salvation.

Prayer of Manasseh , the Recipient.

Christ is the Giver. Man is the Receiver at the feast. But before the feast profits us in the least we must consciously, deliberately co-operate in the Sacrament. "Take ye," said the Lord. And the bread and the wine will profit us not at all unless we take. Christ"s offer of His life to strengthen and save us will profit us not at all unless we appropriate it and receive it. This feast does not profit all and sundry. The mere partaking of it does not ensure for any one the blessing of it. "All the wicked and profane in the land were admitted to the Communion," was the complaint the first Separatists made against the Church of their day. The "wicked and profane" went to the Sacrament in the vain hope that mere participation in it would save them from the results of sin and win them all the benefits of the death of Christ. But it was a futile hope. This feast is not a bit of pagan magic transferred into the Christian Church. The benefit of it depends upon the state of the Recipient. It profits nobody unless received with faith. If a man discriminate not the body of the Lord, says St Paul, he simply eateth and drinketh judgment to himself. If we are to receive the benefits of the Supper, there is a preparation of the soul through which we need to pass. Prayer, desire, an expectant faith, an open heart—these are the conditions of blessing. If we come to the Table and receive no blessing it is not because Christ has been unwilling to give, it is because we have been unfit to receive. But if we come in faith, with hearts opened to receive Him we shall never come in vain. We shall always "see the Lord." He will give us Himself. We shall be saved by His life.

The Anticipated Triumph.

Verily, He said to His disciples, when the Supper was over, "I will no more drink of the fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God." He ended the Supper which commemorated His dying with a confident anticipation of His triumph. The morrow, when the Cross was reared, looked like the triumph of evil. But with calm and unruffled confidence Christ looked beyond the black to-morrow and foresaw the triumph of the Kingdom of God. And in that Kingdom of God He would drink another and a better sort of cup with His disciples to celebrate His complete and final victory. And the feast remains still a prophecy of the better things to come. However dark today is and to-morrow promises to be, there is glory ahead. Our Lord must reign till He has. put all His enemies under His feet. This is the prayer we ought all to offer, that we who sit at His table here below may be amongst those, who, having loved Him loyally and served Him faithfully, may sit down at the marriage Supper of the Lamb, and drink of the new cup in the Kingdom of God.


Verses 27-31

Chapter14.
The Great Denial

"And Jesus saith unto them, All ye shall be offended because of Me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered. But after that I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee. But Peter said unto Him, Although all shall be offended, yet will not I. And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny Me thrice. But He spake the more vehemently, If I should die with Thee, I will not deny Thee in any wise. Likewise also said they all. And Peter followed Him afar off, even into the palace of the high priest: and he sat with the servants, and warmed himself at the fire. And as Peter was beneath in the palace, there cometh one of the maids of the high priest: And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him, and said, And thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth. But he denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest. And he went out into the porch; and the cock crew. And a maid saw him again, and began to say to them that stood by, This is one of them. And he denied it again. And a little after, they that stood by said again to Peter, Surely thou art one of them: for thou art a Galilean, and thy speech agreeth thereto. But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak. And the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny Me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept."Mark 14:27-31, Mark 14:54, Mark 14:66-72.

The Story of the Fall.

The first thing to be done in studying the pitiful account of Peter"s fall is to reconstruct the actual story. For there are considerable differences in the Gospel narratives; though when sceptical writers try, by magnifying these differences, to cast doubt upon the whole episode, they clean over-reach themselves. There is perhaps no event in the whole of the Gospel story which is more clearly and fully attested. The evangelists tell the story from their own special points of view, and with slight variations; but upon the fact that, in the high priest"s palace, Peter did three times deny his Lord they are all agreed. The variations can practically all be harmonised, and in any case they detract nothing from the reliability of the narrative, they rather add to it. They only show how wide-spread and familiar the story was in the very earliest days of the Christian Church.

The Boldness of Peter and John.

Comparing Gospel with Gospel, the course of events seems to have been something like this. First there is the Lord"s solemn announcement, "All ye shall be offended because of Me this night," followed by Peter"s confident assurance of his own loyalty. Then the prophecy of Peter"s fall, and his vehement protest. The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane is swiftly followed by the arrest. After this, sudden panic seems to have seized the disciples. "They all left Him and fled." But in the case of at any rate two out of the eleven, the panic does not seem to have lasted very long. Peter and John seem to have recovered some measure of courage, and instead of running away, they followed the procession as it made its way to the house of Annas. They followed "afar off" says Mark , no doubt keeping themselves in the shadow of the houses and the trees in order to avoid detection. When the procession arrived at the house of Annas (where many hold that the denial took place) John passed in with Jesus and the soldiers into the high priest"s hall. John was in some way or other known to the high priest, and had the entree into his house. But Peter had no such privilege, and when the procession passed through the gateway, he remained without. John , Peter"s inseparable comrade, did not like to think of his friend being left outside there in the darkness. So he went and spoke to the portress and persuaded her to open the door and let him in. It was done with the best motives in the world, but John , unthinkingly, did a disservice to Peter that night. He introduced his friend without knowing it into a perfect furnace of temptation. "The best of friends," says Dr Stalker, "may do this sometimes to one another, for the situation into which one man may enter without peril may be dangerous to another." John saw no risks in the high priest"s palace; Peter wellnigh lost his soul.

The Danger Zone.

In order to understand the sequence of events, observe the arrangement of a great house such as that into which Peter entered. The houses of the rich in the East are built quadrangular fashion, and the windows all look in upon the courtyard in the middle. Facing the road there is often just a blank wall, with a great gate in it, through which admission is gained. The gate opens upon a passage leading to the courtyard which is open to the sky. Round the courtyard, and raised a little above it, are the reception rooms and the living rooms. When Jesus was brought in by the traitor band, He was taken promptly to one of these rooms off the courtyard, there to be examined by Annas. But the soldiers and the servants who had been the instruments of the arrest, stayed in the open courtyard, and as the night seems to have been bitterly cold, for their greater comfort they kindled a fire. Now that was the disposition of things when John begged the portress to admit Peter. Jesus was in one of the private rooms undergoing examination, the soldiers and servants were gathered in a noisy group about the fire.

Suspicion Aroused.

When the portress let Peter in she scrutinised him, and something in his manner made her a trifle suspicious. However, the probability Isaiah , she said nothing at the moment, but allowed Peter to pass unchallenged. He at once made for the group sitting round the fire, partly because Hebrews , too, wanted to share in the grateful warmth, and partly because he thought that by mingling with the crowd he would be less likely to bring suspicion upon himself. John seems to have passed on immediately to the room in which Jesus was undergoing examination.

The First Challenge.

But the place which Peter imagined promised him safety, proved his undoing. As I said, something in Peter"s manner had aroused the suspicion of the girl at the gate as he passed in. But it was not till the light of the fire fell full upon Peter"s face that her suspicion was changed into something like certainty. Leaving the gate for a moment and running to the group around the fire, she challenged Peter and said, "Thou also wast with the Nazarene Jesus." The challenge took him clean by surprise. He felt himself in a trap. Besides, he had compromised himself. For while he had been sitting there at the fire he had tried to pass himself off as one of the crowd. I daresay they had been jesting about Jesus, making coarse jokes about Jesus, and Peter had listened to it all without protest, and perhaps affected to laugh with the rest. What could he do now he was thus challenged? What could he do but try to keep up the deception? And so he pretended that he did not understand. The agitation, the sheer terror of the man is reproduced in his answer, as it is rendered in the margin of the R.V. "I neither know, nor understand; thou, what sayest thou?"

The Second Challenge.

At the moment Peter does not seem to have been pressed any further. But he came to the conclusion that the glare of the fire was a thing he ought to avoid. And so he took the first opportunity of withdrawing into the shade of the porch, perhaps intending to slip out as soon as ever the great door should open. But in the porchway, the same maid, or another maid to whom she had communicated her suspicions, or possibly both together, returned to the charge and said to the servants lounging near, "This man is one of them." And again Peter denied, and to escape the attention of the maid, sought once more to hide himself in the crowd at the fireside.

The Final Challenge.

But the whole company was now on the alert, and Peter"s agitation and distress were obvious. He had no sooner taken his place amongst the servants by the fire, than a man took up the work of baiting the Apostle. He had plunged into the conversation in order to give an impression of ease, and to divert suspicion. But it only made matters worse. "Of a truth," said this Prayer of Manasseh , "without doubt thou art one of them, for thou art a Galilean." Peter"s rough accent betrayed his Galilean origin. And what should a Galilean be doing there in that company if he was not one of the Galilean followers of Jesus! And then to bring things to a climax, another of the servants, a kinsman of Malchus, scrutinising Peter"s face, remembered he had beneath the flash of torches seen those features in the Garden. "Did I not see thee in the Garden with Him?" he said.

The Denial and the Reminder.

Peter was now fairly in the toils, and, frantic with fright, he began to curse and to swear that "he knew not the Man of Whom" they spake. And possibly this final denial had its effect—for these soldiers and servants knew at any rate as much as this about the servants of Jesus, that profane speech never issued out of their mouths. They did not believe Peter"s assertion, as Dr Stalker puts it, but they could not help believing his sins. This cursing and blaspheming man could be no disciple of Him Who was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners. The "swearing" was probably only the resurrection of a bad old habit that had lain dormant for the last two or three years. But it silenced Peter"s accusers, and they made no attempt to stop him when he rose to go. Then at that moment something happened, or rather two things happened. "Straightway the second time the cock crew." And Peter remembered! Remembered his own proud and foolish boasting; remembered the Lord"s tender and solemn warning. And the remembrance filled him with contrition and shame.

Conviction and Remorse.

And then something else happened. It chanced that at that very moment Jesus was being conducted, with hands pinioned behind His back, through the courtyard on His way to the judgment hall of Caiaphas. Perhaps He had heard these wild and frantic curses with which Peter accompanied his last denial. Anyhow, He knew what had happened, knew the depths of shame and apostasy to which His chosen Apostle had sunk—knew it all. And as He was led through the courtyard He turned round and looked full in the face of His conscience-stricken Apostle. The cock-crowing had made him realise his sin; the Lord"s look broke his heart. "When he thought thereon," when he remembered his Lord"s warning, and realised the meaning in that look, "he began to weep." Or, as the Greek might be translated to bring out its exact force, "he wept and he wept," "he kept on weeping." He wept as if he could never stop. Peter as he flung himself shame-stricken and heartbroken out of the house of Annas in the early dawn of that tragic day could have taken those familiar lines of Toplady"s hymn into his lips and they would have expressed the feelings of his guilt-laden soul

"Could my zeal no respite know,

Could my tears for ever flow,

All for sin could not atone,

Thou must save and Thou alone."

Lessons of the Story.


Warning to the Strong.

Now sceptics and cynics have poured floods of cheap scorn over what they are pleased to call the cowardice of Peter. But I agree entirely with Bishop Chadwick—this is not the story of the breakdown of a coward. We miss its significance if we do not realise this is the story of the breakdown of one of the bravest and the best. This story is a warning, not to the weak, but to the strong. It is addressed not simply to the Fearings, but to the Great-hearts of the Christian host. For spite of this calamitous failure, Peter was a brave man. His boast that he was ready to die with Christ was no vain and empty boast. Remember how he drew sword in the Garden, and would have defended his Lord, one man against a multitude! If Peter had had his way in the Garden, the soldiers would only have laid hands on Jesus over his own dead body. This is not the story of the failure of the coward; it is a story of the breakdown of the brave. And the solemn warning it sounds across the centuries is this: "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."

—And against Self-Confidence.

Now the initial mistake that Peter made, the fons et origo of all these calamitous denials was this, he was so absolutely sure of his own steadfastness and strength. Self-confidence is always the peril of the strong man. It was Peter"s peril. You remember how he boasted of it, only a few hours before. He could conceive of all his fellow disciples turning traitor, but he could not imagine himself turning coward. "Though all should deny Thee, yet will not I." He was so absolutely sure of himself that he had felt no need of watching and praying in the Garden. And that self-confidence led directly to his fall. For it was self-confidence that made him enter the high priest"s hall in the first instance. He deliberately thrust himself into temptation. He ventured into the danger-zone and he fell. There is one verse in Peter"s first Epistle which always seems to me to be written not with common ink but with the Apostle"s own life-blood, for it embodies the lesson learnt from the most humbling and shameful experience of his life. It is this, "Be sober, be watchful, your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour." It is the warning of a strong man who fell through over-confidence to other strong men against committing the same fatal mistake.

The Danger of Compromise.

Now, notice what a series of calamitous blunders Peter committed since he put himself in the way of temptation by entering Annas" house. He made his first blunder when he went and joined the group by the fire and tried to pass himself off as one of them. It was fear that made him do it. He sought to divert suspicion from himself by pretending to be just one of the crowd that had joined in the arrest of Christ. But instead of diverting suspicion he fatally compromised himself. For as I suggested a moment ago, the talk around the fireside had all been about Jesus. It had very likely been coarse and scurrilous talk. And Peter had made no protest of any sort. On the other hand he tried to look as like one of the scorners himself as he could. So doing, he put himself between the devil and the deep sea. Either he had openly to confess himself a cheat, or else he had to maintain the deception by denying all knowledge of Jesus. The one safe course for Christian folk to take is boldly to avow themselves as Christ"s followers. The man who begins by being ashamed of Christ is almost sure to end by betraying Him. There is only one way of being a Christian—be strong and very courageous.


Verses 32-42

Chapter10.
Christ in the Garden

"And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and He saith to His disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray. And He taketh with Him Peter and James and John , and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy; and saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch. And He went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto Thee; take away this cup from Me: nevertheless not what I will, but what Thou wilt. And He cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour? Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak. And again He went away, and prayed, and spake the same words. And when He returned, He found them asleep again (for their eyes were heavy), neither wist they what to answer Him. And He cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise up, let us go; lo, he that betrayeth Me is at hand."Mark 14:32-42.

The discussion of the central significance of the Agony by no means exhausts the lessons this paragraph has to teach. First of all, let us study reverently the conduct of our Lord in the Garden.

Christ and Solitude.

And herein notice our Lord"s use of solitude. This was in accord with His custom. He often resorted to secret and solitary prayer. "When thou prayest," such was His counsel to His disciples, "enter into thine inner chamber and pray to thy Father Who seeth in secret." And this counsel He gave to others He practised Himself. Night after night He would steal away to the mountain to pray. During the whole of Passion Week He had sought out Gethsemane. "Judas knew the place," the Fourth Evangelist says, "for He oft resorted thither with His disciples." So that, from one point of view, it was in accordance with His usual habit that, on the night in which He was betrayed, He should resort to the Garden to seek strength in private prayer. But I do not think I am fanciful in thinking that there was a special solitariness about Christ in the Garden. He took the eleven with Him to Gethsemane. But He left eight of them somewhere near the gate. He took Peter and James and John , the three who came nearest to Him, a little further on; but even them He had to leave. "He went forward a little," says Mark. "He parted from them about a stone"s cast," says Luke. Even the three chosen disciples could not share in His prayer, could not sympathise with His purposes, could not bear the least little bit of His burden. Jesus was absolutely solitary in His trial. He trod the winepress alone and of the peoples there was no man with Him.

The Loneliness of the Great.

The great are of necessity lonely. Their greatness carries a certain amount of loneliness along with it. The mountain that flings its peak high up above the surrounding hills, pays for its exaltation with a certain solemn and terrifying solitude. The man who in character, vision and ideal, out-tops his fellows, pays for his pre-eminence in the same way. He cannot find, in the same degree as others, companions, associates, sympathisers, friends. There is no one on his level; he is of necessity a lonely man. But there was none who towered over men as Jesus did. What Wordsworth says of Milton could be applied with ten-fold truth to Jesus. "His soul was like a star and dwelt apart." He was lonely in His own home, for His own brothers did not believe in Him. He was lonely even when the crowds were thronging Him and pressing Him, for the multitude had absolutely no sympathy with Him and followed Him only for what they could get. He was lonely even in the circle of the chosen Twelve. They continually misunderstood Him, and upon the things that lay nearest His heart, He could not even speak. The loneliness became intensified as the Cross drew near. When Jesus talked about dying, Peter took Him and began to rebuke Him. He was "homeless" in the Garden. Even Peter and James and John could not help Him. There was only One in the wide universe Who understood Him and that was His Father. And to that Father in the Garden He betook Himself. "Abba, Father," He cried, "all things are possible unto Thee; remove this cup from Me; howbeit not what I will, but what Thou wilt."

Christ"s Prayer.

Filial Submission.

I pass now from our Lord"s loneliness to His prayer. It is almost too sacred to discuss, and I shall only dwell on one feature of it. It is the filial submissiveness of it all that impresses me. Filial confidence is revealed even in the petition that the bitter cup might pass. Christ had no secrets from the Father. He told every desire of the soul to His Father. If there were some other way of accomplishing the Divine purpose other than by the Cross, Christ would have welcomed it; but there is nothing that detracts from His perfection in this. His frank and unreserved utterance of the feelings of His soul, only shows how entirely filial was His relationship with His Father. For that is the perfect relationship between Father and child when perfect confidence obtains between them; and the innermost desires of the soul are laid bare. Our Lord would have been less than perfect only if He had peremptorily refused the cup; if He had set up His own will in opposition to His Father"s. But there is nothing of that in our Lord"s prayer. The very spirit of filial submission breathes through it. He knows God"s will is good, and God"s way is best. "Father, all things are possible with Thee; remove this cup from Me; howbeit not what I will, but what Thou wilt." "The cup which the Father hath given Me to drink," He said when Peter impulsively pulled out his sword and tried to save Him by force from the impending doom, "the cup that the Father hath given Me to drink, shall I not drink it?" That is the last word in our Lord"s prayer, simple trust in God"s goodness, a simple and unreserved acceptance of His will.

Our Example in Prayer.

In all this, this prayer of our Lord"s Agony is a model prayer. Prayer should be entirely frank and unreserved. The tendency in these days is to emasculate and impoverish prayer. Some one wrote to the papers the other day suggesting that the only prayer we have really any right to offer is the prayer that we may be willing to accept the will of God. But prayer must not be limited and circumscribed in that way. Prayer is speech between Father and child. A perfect confidence, an unreserved confidence is the mark of the perfect prayer. I am not ashamed or afraid to tell my Father about all my anxieties and cares, yes, even about my temporal anxieties. I know that He is interested in everything that touches His child. I know that what concerns me, concerns Him! I know that nothing is too small for His regard. But while prayer to be filial must be unreserved and frank, prayer also to be filial must be trustful and submissive. It is right to tell God everything; but the real mark of the filial spirit is this, that when we have spread our petitions before Him and told Him our own desires we should add, "Howbeit not what I will, but what Thou wilt." The very spirit of adoption is in that sentence. That is the victory of faith to be able to say as Christ did, "The cup which the Father hath given Me to drink, shall I not drink it?"

The Reward of Prayer.

—Power and Peace.

Observe also the reward of prayer as illustrated by our Lord"s experience in the Garden. He was a sorrowful, troubled Christ at the beginning of His hour of agonising prayer; He was a calm and majestic Christ at the finish. Compare His first word to His disciples and His last. "Simon," He said the first time, "sleepest thou? Couldest thou not watch one hour?" That is the appeal of the sorrowful. "Sleep on now and take your rest," He said, when He came the last time. And that is the word of One Who has conquered, and has gained a strength which lifts Him above all need of human succour. And that was the result of Christ"s prayer in the Garden. I do not know that the fashion of His countenance became altered and His raiment became white and glistening as on the Holy Mount. But I believe that there was some wonderful glory about Him that made the soldiers when they advanced to seize Him, go backward and fall to the ground. But the transformation was not so much outward as inward. The mighty change was not in our Lord"s appearance but in His spirit. When He came forth from the olive trees, He came "content with death and shame." "They that wait upon the Lord," says the Prophet, "shall renew their strength." That is what happened in the Garden. Our Lord renewed His strength. He received from God a new baptism of power. That is how Luke expresses it—"there appeared unto Him an angel from heaven, strengthening Him." Power was given Him for His mighty task. And that is the reward of all earnest and believing prayer still—we renew our strength. We find ourselves made equal to tasks and duties from which we shrink. Victorious strength comes to us as we touch the hand of God. We are called to tread rough ways, steep ways, forbidding ways still. But if we wait, upon the Lord, we shall renew our strength and shall walk and not faint.

Suffering and Perfection.

There is a relation between this dread experience in the Garden and the perfected character of our Lord. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews speaking of our Lord"s Agony in the Garden, says, "He learned obedience by the things which He suffered." He learned some of the cost of obedience in the temptations of the Wilderness; He learned its uttermost cost in the Agony of the Garden. When He awoke His disciples, saying to them, "Behold He that betrayeth Me is at hand," and advanced with majestic step to meet Judas and his traitor band, the last lesson in obedience had been learned. And "obedience" was not the only lesson that He learned! In another place that same writer says that He was made "perfect through sufferings." We love Him all the better that He suffered thus. He suffered being tempted. It cost Him something to obey. And it is this that makes Him perfect—as a friend, a sympathiser, a high priest for sinful men. When temptations come and the fight goes hard; when duty points one way and inclination pulls in another—we may comfort ourselves with this assurance, He knows! He suffered being tempted. He learned obedience. He knows all about the struggle and the cost. And if sometimes we falter and fail, He knows! He has been through it. This experience has enriched Him. It has made Him the perfect Friend. "Wherefore it behoved Him in all things to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted."


Verses 43-60

Chapter11.
The Arrest

"And immediately, while He yet spake, Judas cometh, one of the twelve, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. And he that betrayed Him had given them a token, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is He; take Him, and lead Him away safely. And as soon as He was come, he goeth straightway to Him, and saith, Master, master; and kissed Him. And they laid their hands on Him, and took Him. And one of them that stood by drew a sword, and smote a servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear. And Jesus answered and said unto them, Are ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and with staves to take Me? I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and ye took Me not: but the scriptures must be fulfilled. And they all forsook Him and fled."Mark 14:43-60.

The Traitor.

All the disciples had not followed Christ to the Garden. His little circle of chosen associates numbered twelve, but there were only eleven with Him in the hour of His desolation and sorrow. One had left the Upper Room some time before Jesus and the rest sang their hymn and set their faces towards the Mount of Olives. At a certain stage in the proceedings in the Upper Room Judas Iscariot had left the little company. Nobody save Jesus knew why or whither he had gone. They had heard Christ say to him, "That thou doest, do quickly," and they had inferred that as Treasurer of the Apostolic band Judas had some purchases to make for the feast, or some charities to distribute to the poor. But it was upon no such kindly errand that Judas was bent when he left the Upper Room. There was treachery and a deadly purpose in his soul. Avarice and ambition had played havoc with Judas. Whatever enthusiasm or love he had had for Jesus at the start had died out of his heart and had given place to sullen and embittered resentment. Already in this bitter resentment he had made a bargain with the priests to betray Jesus to them. And when he left the Upper Room it was to go to the priests to tell them that he was prepared to carry out his bargain that very night. Song of Solomon , while Jesus was speaking to the eleven disciples who were left those matchless words of love and comfort which we find in the fourteenth and subsequent chapters of St John"s Gospel, we must think of Judas as in conspiracy with the priests and elders planning the arrest of Christ.

The Plot.

First of all, they arranged the force that was to seize Christ in the Garden. It consisted for the most part of the Temple Guard, with servants of the priests. And these were armed with cudgels and small swords. But, partly because they were conscious that Christ possessed some mysterious power, and partly because they wished to conciliate Pilate, who would have resented resort to force by followers of Jesus in Passion week, they asked for reinforcements in the shape of a detachment of garrison soldiers. The negotiations with Pilate probably took some little time, but at length a detachment was sent and everything was ready for the arrest. One thing only remained to arrange, and that was a sign by which the soldiers should know whom to seize. For it is not at all probable that the soldiers were acquainted with the lineaments of Jesus; and there were eleven other men with Him at the Garden. With only the light of the moon, and under the dark shadows of the olive trees, it would have been easy to make a mistake, and to arrest the wrong man. So the sign Judas arranged with his following was this (and there was a refinement of cruelty and a depth of baseness in it almost beyond words), "Whomsoever I shall kiss, that is He; take Him and lead Him away safely."

—Its Execution.

And so at length the traitor"s band, with Judas himself at its head, set forth. Altogether it was a huge company, for in addition to the soldiers, there was a "multitude from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders," and (judging from what the other evangelists say), even some of the high priests and temple captains and elders, in their eagerness to see Christ taken, followed in the wake of the throng. They carried lanterns in their hands and so marched through the streets of Jerusalem. Many a sleeper must have awaked as he heard the tramp of the soldiers" feet, and like the young man of whom the next verses speak rushed out to see what it all meant. When they came near to the Garden, Jesus Himself was the first to notice their approach. When He came back to His disciples the third time He said, "The hour is come; behold the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Arise, let us be going: behold he that betrayeth Me is at hand." For He had seen the flash of the lanterns through the trees, and heard the tramp of approaching feet, before His disciples, heavy with sleep, had noticed either.

Christ, it is clear, did not wait till His foes, after search, discovered Him; He strode forth to meet them. He anticipated His fate. "Arise, let us be going," He said to the three who were with Him in the inner recesses of the Garden; not "Let us go into the farthest corner, let us hide, let us seek to escape"; but "Let us be going to meet them." There was no need of the lanterns, no need for zealous search. It was not the traitor and his band that found Jesus, it was Jesus Who found them.

Mark"s account of our Lord"s arrest is not complete. If you want to know everything that happened in the Garden, you must compare his narrative with those of the other evangelists, and supply Mark"s deficiencies by their additions. What Mark does is to seize upon the salient points and set these down for us. Let us in turn pick out some of the chief lessons which Mark"s pregnant and vivid narrative suggests, taking to ourselves the warnings and consolations they convey.

The Sorrow of Treason.

"And straightway, while He yet spake, cometh Judas, one of the twelve." "One of the twelve!" That was the peculiar bitterness of the arrest. It was one of the Twelve that led the way! You remember the complaint the Psalmist makes—"It was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it; neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him; but it was thou, a man mine equal, my companion and my familiar friend. We took sweet counsel together, we walked in the house of God with the throng" ( Psalm 55:12-14). The sorrows of the Psalmist suggest the sorrows of One still greater. And, even in the presence of the acute physical suffering of our Lord, we can see that this sorrow was a real one. An injury that we can take philosophically when inflicted by a foe wellnigh breaks our heart when inflicted by a friend. Hard words, that would not give us even a twinge if uttered by an opponent, cut to the very quick when spoken by a comrade and colleague. And our Lord suffered that added ignominy and sorrow. He was wounded in the house of His friends; betrayed by one whom He had Himself chosen and called; delivered to His foes by one of His own company.

The Sorrow of a Lost Soul.

It was Judas "one of the twelve" that led the traitor band. His Master was about to die to save men from their sins. And here in Judas" crime, as Dr Chadwick puts it, He is confronted with the very tragedy which He was sacrificing Himself to avert, the loss of a soul—lost in spite of multiplied privileges, in spite of repeated pleadings, in spite of all that love could do, in spite of plain and searching appeals. Do you not think that the sight of Judas, at the head of the traitor band, would suggest to Christ the thought, the chilling and almost heartbreaking thought, of the multitudes who would receive the grace of God in vain, to whom the Cross would make no appeal, and who would spurn and reject His own dying love? That was the supreme sorrow of our Lord! That is His supreme sorrow still. The Lord has died for men! And they go on their way unmoved, untouched. They pass the Cross by as if it did not concern them.

The Meekness of Christ.

The second thing to notice is the meekness of Christ. It was said by the Prophet ( Isaiah 53:7), speaking by the Spirit of the suffering of our Lord, that, though He was oppressed yet He would humble Himself and open not His mouth: that He should be led as a lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep that before her shearers is dumb, so He would open not His mouth. And all that was fulfilled in an amazing and touching way in the Garden. When Judas came up to Him he called Him Rabbi, and kissed Him. Kissed Him effusively, the Greek suggests. A man knowing the treachery in Judas" heart, knowing the kiss was a lying and poisoned kiss, would have shrunk from it in repugnance and horror. But Jesus submitted even to that loathsome kiss! He made no attempt to push Judas away. He flung at him no angry or indignant word. "Betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss?" He said; and that was all! Song of Solomon , too, when the soldiers seized Him and were handling Him roughly, He had no harsh speech for them. Only a word of high and solemn remonstrance—"Are ye come out as against a robber with swords and staves to seize Me?" Here is meekness in its perfect bloom! He had said Himself in His great sermon, "Resist not him that is evil, but whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also" ( Matthew 5:39). It is a hard and difficult precept to obey, but in the Garden our Lord practised what He preached. We look at Him then, submitting to be kissed, "bearing shame and insult rude," when He might have summoned twelve legions of angels to His help had He wished, and we know what meekness is. Those who witnessed His behaviour in the Garden never forgot it. It burned itself into the memory of Peter for example, and in his Epistle, with the Garden in his mind, he recalls how Jesus when He was reviled, reviled not again, when He suffered threatened not, but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously (1Peter ii, 23). And in nothing is Jesus more divine than in His meekness. It would have been human to reproach and denounce and resist. It was divine to bear and endure and suffer without a word. If I had to construct an argument for the divinity of Christ, I would base it in part upon His meekness.

The Courage of Christ.

Observe, too, the courage of Christ as illustrated in His behaviour at the arrest. How calm and collected He was! He was the only calm, collected, unruffled person in the Garden! The traitor having offered his treacherous kiss, slunk into the background and went his way out of the Garden, a tortured soul. Mark says no more about him. But the other Gospels tell us, how Judas never knew what peace was after that night, and how in a brief space of time he put an end to an existence that had become unbearable, and so went to "his own place." The soldiers were flurried and excited. When Jesus calmly asked them whom they sought, and, in answer to their reply, said, that He was the object of their search, struck by some mysterious terror they all went backward and fell to the ground. The disciples in their excitement first wanted to fight and then ran away. The one person absolutely calm and serene was Jesus Himself. He takes command of the proceedings. He hands Himself over to the trembling soldiers. He bids His disciples put their swords back into their sheaths. He begs the soldiers as it was Himself they were in search of to let the disciples go away. Calm, serene, absolutely unruffled, our Lord moves through this scene. Now consider the behaviour of the disciples.

The Men and the Swords.

When the disciples saw their Master in the hands of His foes, they were at first for making a fight of it. Perhaps we have been too hard on these disciples. It is true that the story ends with this shameful sentence, "They all forsook Him and fled." But they were not cowards. I have almost come to the conclusion that it was not fear that prompted their flight, but despair. I believe they would have fought for Christ and died for Him if He had fulfilled their expectation as to the Messiah. But when they saw Jesus meekly surrendering Himself, their faith in Him as Messiah collapsed. That was the cause of their flight. Their faith was shattered. But they were not cowards, these men. They had only two swords amongst them, but with those two swords they would have faced the soldiers and the Temple mob in defence of their Lord. "Lord," they cried, "shall we smite with the sword?" And before Jesus had had time to reply, Peter"s sword was out of its scabbard; he had struck an uncertain and excited blow, and had cut off the high priest"s servant"s ear. It was done in a moment. But swift upon the blow came the word of Christ. "Put up again thy sword into its place, they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." Violence had no place in Christ"s scheme of things. The sword was a useless weapon to further His interests. The weapons of His warfare were not carnal but spiritual.

Compulsion and Faith.

Christ"s rebuke is for us as well as for Peter, and the Law is as binding upon the Church of today as it was upon the prince of the Apostles. Christ"s Kingdom is not to be advanced by the sword. In the affairs of the Kingdom force is no remedy. It is a lesson the Church of Christ has been slow to learn. Again and again the Church has invoked the help of the secular arm. She has again and again used pressure and compulsion to advance her interests. In the early days of the Arian controtroversy the power of the Roman Empire was used to crush out heresy. In our own England here the conversion of one of the old Saxon kings was signalised by the compulsory conversion of all his people. Again and again the Church has used fire and prison and scaffold. Often, no doubt, it was done honestly and sincerely. But it was all very pitiful and tragic. It was a repudiation of Christ"s own teaching. Religion is free, the response of the soul to God. A forced religion is a contradiction in terms.

The Better Way.

"Allow me just to move My right hand," said Jesus. And He used it to restore the ear of the injured servant. That was the last miracle Christ performed—a gracious act of mercy to a foe. That is the way to advance Christ"s Kingdom, not by imitating the violence of Peter, but by imitating the gentleness, mercy and healing ministry of the Lord.


Verse 51-52

Chapter12.
The Young Man in the Linen Cloth

"And there followed Him a certain young Prayer of Manasseh , having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked."Mark 14:51, Mark 14:52.

Why is he Recalled?

The insertion of this story of the young man with the linen cloth needs accounting for. Mark omits many important details in the story of Christ"s arrest, apparently in the interests of brevity. But this same evangelist, who in his passion for brevity omits items of importance, inserts this story about the young man with the linen cloth, though it is trivial in itself, and in no way affects the course of events. Why did this stern economist of words spare two verses in his brief and pregnant Gospel to tell this irrelevant story about some unknown young man? There must have been some strong reason operating on Mark to induce him to insert it.

A Personal Interest.

The usual way of accounting for its insertion is by saying that the little incident must have had some special interest for Mark himself; indeed that he himself was the young man of whom he speaks. If that supposition is right, we can understand how the story came to be inserted. If Mark was the young man in question, the incident was not trivial to him. The act that brought him even into momentary contact with Christ on that dread and bitter night would be one of supreme interest and importance. There are other guesses as to the identity of this young man. Some commentators, for example, think that he was James , the brother of our Lord; others, the son of that unknown friend of Christ"s who lent Him the Upper Room; whilst Dean Plumptre and Ian Maclaren make the ingenious guess that he was Lazarus. But all fail to account for the insertion of this trivial incident in the narrative. The one supposition that has real plausibility and likelihood is the one most often adopted, namely, that the young man was Mark himself.

After the Gospel Manner.

Let me indicate some of the things that lead me to think this young man was the evangelist himself. (1) I begin with this, that Mark should introduce himself into his narrative in this anonymous way is exactly in keeping with the Gospel manner. Take the Fourth Gospel for illustration. In that Gospel John has to narrate many incidents in which he himself took part, but he never once mentions himself by name. He speaks of himself, half shyly as it were, as "the disciple whom Jesus loved," or "that other disciple." It often happened that artists would introduce their own portraits into the pictures they were painting. But they always put their own portraits in the background. And one had to be familiar with the painters" features to recognise them at all. It was so with the evangelists. If they have to come into the picture, they keep to the background; they stow themselves away in some inconspicuous corner. They introduce themselves anonymously, and for Mark to speak of himself in this way as "a certain young man" is exactly in keeping with evangelic usage.

The Touch of an Eye-witness.

(2) The vivid detail of the narrative seems to suggest the eye-witness. Speaking broadly, this Gospel is Peter"s Gospel. The uniform account of tradition is that Mark was Peter"s "interpreter," and amanuensis, and that he wrote down the various details of his Gospel as he heard Peter narrate them. Now Peter could not have given him this story. For Peter had taken flight and had not yet recovered from his flight. And even when he did recover, it was "from afar" that he followed, and he was not in a position to know what happened in the near vicinity of Christ Himself. But, if Peter did not give Mark this story, whence did he get it? The almost irresistible conclusion is that Mark puts in here a little bit "on his own." The detail of it, as I say, suggests the personal narrative. And the detail comes out specially in the use of the Greek word which is translated "linen cloth." The evangelist specifies a costly kind of linen cloth, a "sindon" which, according to Edersheim, "no doubt corresponds to the Sadin or Sedina which, in Rabbinic writings, means a linen cloth, or a loose linen wrapper, though, possibly, it may also mean a night-dress." Apparently it had been used as a coverlet for the bed. That the evangelist should specify in this way, should be so minute and exact, and should crowd so much detail into the account, all points to the conclusion that he was writing of something which happened to himself.

Mark"s Circumstances

(3) Once again, all that we know about the evangelist"s circumstances favours the idea that the young man was Mark himself. First of all, we know that Mary, Mark"s mother, lived in Jerusalem. It is quite possible her house may have been situated in one of the streets through which the procession marched on its way from the Garden to the Judgment Hall. Furthermore, we know that Mary"s house was a large house, sufficiently large to accommodate the prayer-meetings of the Church. It was in her house that the Church had met for prayer when Peter lay in his prison, and it was to her house that Peter made his way on his release. We infer that people who live in large houses are possessed of ample means, and so we conclude that Mary, Mark"s mother, was a well-to-do woman. This is supported by the fact that one of her connections, Barnabas, was a landed proprietor and a rich man. If Mary was the well-to-do woman we have every reason to think she was, then we can understand how it was that it was a sindon in which her son wrapped himself when he made his hurried rush into the street.

Mark"s Character.

(4) Moreover, everything that we know of Mark"s character fits in exactly with the description of the young man here given. Mark is referred to, as you will remember, more than once in the Acts. He accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. All went well while they were in Cyprus. But when they crossed over to the mainland of Asia Minor, and were about to face the notorious dangers of the Pamphylian mountains, Mark suddenly deserted the mission and returned to Jerusalem. That is exactly the same kind of person as this young Prayer of Manasseh , who, with headlong enthusiasm championed Christ, but when he found his championship of Christ"s cause brought him into trouble, left the linen cloth in the soldier"s hands and fled.

Mark , the Stump-fingered.

(5) And, finally, I call your attention to the curious epithet by which Mark was distinguished in the early Church. He was called Mark "the Stump-fingered." We are not told why he was so called. But may not the explanation be found, as Dr David Smith suggests, in this incident? Perhaps the incident, after all, may not have been quite so trifling as Mark"s account would lead us to suppose. Perhaps he lost more that night than his linen cloth. The Roman soldier was in no mood to brook interference, and it may well have been that Mark"s interposition on behalf of Christ was rewarded with a sword slash which whipped off his finger.

The Impulse.

And now let us just look at Mark"s exploit on this dark betrayal night. We must think of Jesus as being led through the streets of Jerusalem from the Garden to the high priest"s palace. The passing of the procession caused considerable uproar; the torches the soldiers carried flashed light into many a darkened room and wakened many a sleeper. Some, I have no doubt, got up to see what was astir. Mark was not content simply to get up, he went out, simply casting about him the first article on which he could lay his hands, which happened to be this "linen cloth," this fine linen garment. When he got into the street, he found that a prisoner was being led away for judgment. A second look, as the glare of the torch fell on his face, told him this prisoner was none other than Jesus—the Man about Whom all Jerusalem was talking; the Preacher to Whom Hebrews , along with thousands of others, had listened with such keen delight in the Temple: yes, and I can go further, the Jesus in Whom he and his mother had already begun to trust as the promised Messiah, the Man Who had won their souls. Wishing to know what Jesus had done, and why He was being dragged along by the soldiers and the high priest"s servants, Mark , undressed as he was, followed with the crowd, keeping as near to Jesus as he could.

The Test.

I will believe that, as he walked, love for the Christ and indignation at the treatment meted out to Him, was filling Mark"s soul. At a certain stage of the journey something happened, some insult was offered to Christ, some rough and brutal deed was done to Him by the soldiers who held Him on either side, and at last the indignation that was swelling and surging in John Mark"s soul became vocal. He made vehement and passionate protest. And upon that, some of the other soldiers in the band, promptly proceeded to lay hands on Mark himself, meaning to drag him off along with Jesus. But that was more than Mark had bargained for. At the rough grasp of the soldier"s hand and at the flash of his sword, Mark"s heat quickly cooled, and concern for Jesus gave way to anxiety for himself. He had no intention of standing in the dock as a prisoner side by side with the Lord. So by a sudden wrench he extricated himself from the soldier"s grip, and leaving behind his "linen cloth," and possibly his finger, he fled naked.

That is the story. And from that story we may gather a lesson or two for life today. Mr Spurgeon has, I believe, a sermon on this incident, which he divides into two heads. (1) Here is Hasty Following. (2) Here is Hasty Running Away. Those are the two thoughts which the story inevitably suggests.

Hasty Following.

Here is hasty following. Everything about Mark in this midnight adventure betokens inconsiderateness and haste. If he had thought for a moment, if he had meant to follow Christ to the bitter end, he would not have been content with the linen cloth about his naked body. That was no garb in which to face danger and peril for the Lord"s sake. The "linen cloth" in a sense is symbolic and characteristic of a merely temporary discipleship. For that headlong zeal that made Mark "follow with Christ," when He was in the hands of the soldiers, and all His disciples had fled, I have nothing but admiration. There is something generous, unselfish, noble about it. I only wish we had more of it in our Christian life and our Christian service today, for nobody can say that the modern Church suffers from excess of zeal. What I criticise is not the enthusiasm, but the hastiness of it. It was not a reasoned, considered, steady enthusiasm. The "linen cloth" which was his only garment carries "temporariness" stamped upon it. And a Temporary, at the time, Mark turned out to be. At the touch of the soldier"s hand and the sight of the naked sword, Mark"s enthusiasm fizzled out. "He left the linen cloth and fled naked."

—Its Peril.

What does Tennyson say about "haste"? Is not it this? "Raw haste, half-sister to delay." Raw haste is half-sister to delay, and unthinking enthusiasm is half-sister to desertion. As I read the Gospels I am almost driven to believe that Christ feared haste as much as anything. He knew the Christian service and the Christian life were not lightly to be embarked upon. He knew there were difficulties to be encountered, and hardships to be endured, and perils to be faced. He knew that the difficulties and the hardships and the perils lasted the whole way. The Christian life was a long and arduous campaign. A mere fit of enthusiasm would Garry no man through it. It would need courage, not simply dash, but steady courage, a fixed and resolute will to enable a man to endure to the end. And so our Lord would have no man become a disciple in a hurry. He was constantly bidding would-be disciples stop and think. He bids men sit down first and count the cost. For in the Christian life it is not the first step only which costs, it costs all the way through. And it is only he who can endure to the end who gets saved. And because Christ is anxious that no follower of His should turn deserter, He bids us still stop and think before we embark upon His service. It is not to ease Christ calls us, but to labour. It is not peace he sends, but a sword. It is not to comfort He invites us, but to a campaign. A "linen cloth" is no equipment for this business. No, if we mean to see it through, we shall have to take to ourselves the whole armour of God, the breastplate of Righteousness, the shield of Faith, the helmet of Salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. For the men Christ wants are not the men who follow Him today and desert Him to-morrow, but men who will be faithful unto death and so receive the Crown of Life.

Hasty Desertion.

Hasty following in John Mark"s case issued in hasty running away. It may be, as Dr Watson suggests, that the thought of the appearance he would make arrayed before the Jewish Court with only this linen cloth about him, had something to do with his flight. That makes no difference to the truth I am now trying to enforce. Even if it were modesty and not fear that lay at the root of his desertion, it remains true that it was his haste in following, that led to his haste in running away. And the one generally ends in the other. Our Lord in His parable of the seed warned us of this tragic and disappointing sequence. The seed sown on the rock, He said, represented those who, when they heard the word, straightway with joy received it. But when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word straightway they are offended. They were in a hurry to begin, they were in a hurry to give up. There is not a Church in the land, there is not a Christian minister in the land who does not know of men and women who began but were not able to finish, who did run well but who are not on the course today. What of ourselves, have we faltered? Are we of them that draw back?

The Changed Man.

I have talked of Mark"s hasty following and his equally hasty running away. But that was not the end of Mark"s Christian career. Had it been so this Gospel that bears his name would never have been written. I am not going to trace his history, but to remind you of one little fact about Mark. Venice boasts of Mark as its patron saint, and there, close to the Grand Canal, you can see the pillar dedicated to his name. And on the top of the pillar a lion. The lion of St Mark! That is Mark"s symbol in Art—the lion! He does not shape much like a lion in this incident. The timid hare would seem to us a fitter symbol of this man who ran away at the first onset of danger. But the Church is right. The lion is Mark"s legitimate symbol. For this man got the better of his timidities and fears, and developed into a brave and dauntless soldier of the Cross. Christ changed him, Christ transformed him, and Mark , the runaway, at Alexandria laid down his life for his Lord.


Verses 53-65

Chapter13.
The Ecclesiastical Trial

"And they led Jesus away to the high priest: and with Him were assembled all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes. And Peter followed Him afar off, even into the palace of the high priest: and he sat with the servants, and warmed himself at the fire. And the chief priests and all the council sought for witness against Jesus to put Him to death; and found none. For many bare false witness against Him, but their witness agreed not together. And there arose certain, and bare false witness against Him, saying, We heard Him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands. But neither so did their witness agree together. And the high priest stood up in the midst, and asked Jesus, saying, Answerest Thou nothing? what is it which these witness against Thee? But He held His peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked Him, and said unto Him, Art Thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses? Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? And they all condemned Him to be guilty of death. And some began to spit on Him, and to cover His face, and to buffet Him, and to say unto Him, Prophesy: and the servants did strike Him with the palms of their hands."Mark 14:53-65.

There are a great many omissions in Mark"s account of the trial of our Lord. Those details mattered little to the people to whom Mark originally addressed His Gospel; but every little detail in the story matters to us, and we like to follow our Lord step by step along the sorrowful way that led from Gethsemane to the bitter Cross. And so I propose, before beginning the exposition of this paragraph, to trace what seems to have been the actual course of events after Jesus was arrested in the Garden.

The Two Trials.

One broad fact stands out plain and clear as we read and compare the various Gospel narratives, namely that there were two stages in the trial of Jesus. There was an ecclesiastical trial when His judges were the priests and the elders; and there was a civil trial when His judge was Pilate. The reason for the double trial was this. Rome dealt very leniently, not to say generously, with conquered and subject nations. She allowed them a very large measure of what we should call "Home Rule." And especially was Rome generous in the matter of religion. She never attempted to interfere with any local religion so long as the religion in no way menaced her imperial power. The consequence was that Rome did not interfere with Judaism, nor did she attempt to destroy the Sanhedrin—the supreme Jewish court. The Sanhedrin was allowed to try and to punish religious offenders; only, if offence was a capital one, the case had again to be tried before the Roman Governor, for the capital sentence could only be inflicted by the supreme authority of all. The chief priests and elders would gladly have settled the whole matter in their own court, but they would be satisfied with nothing save the death punishment, and to get that they had to secure the assent of Pilate.

The Two Charges.

That is why, too, the ground of accusation in the civil trial differs so much from the ground of accusation in the ecclesiastical trial. In the ecclesiastical trial, as we shall shortly see, the offences charged against Jesus were religious offences. He was charged with threatening the Temple; He was charged with making divine claims for Himself. But if His accusers had come with such accusations into Pilate"s court he would probably have brushed them aside, as Gallio did subsequently at Corinth, saying that it was none of his business to interfere in their religious disputes. So when they appear before Pilate they shift their ground and charge Him with a State offence, namely, that of conspiring against Caesar. Or, to express it slightly differently, the ground on which the Sanhedrin condemned Him was blasphemy; the actual charge for which He was sentenced to the Cross was high treason. Pilate crucified the Lord, not because He said He was the Son of God, but because He said (or rather they said that He said) that He was King of the Jews.

The Ecclesiastical Trial: First Stage.

Of these two trials of course, the ecclesiastical trial took place first. It was as a result of the Sanhedrin"s condemnation of Him that our Lord was brought before Pilate at all. The next thing to be noticed Isaiah , that in the ecclesiastical trial there were three distinct stages. It is in tracing these successive stages of the trial that we need to supplement Mark"s account by the accounts of the other evangelists. After our Lord"s arrest, He seems to have been taken first of all to Annas. Annas was father-in-law to Caiaphas the high priest. Some years previously he had been high priest himself, and he enjoyed this unique distinction, that, after his own deposition from that high office, four of his sons and his Song of Solomon -in-law held it. All of which is sufficient to show that Annas was a man of enormous power and prestige. Caiaphas was the titular head of the Sanhedrin, but Annas was the power behind the throne. To him then Jesus was first taken, for a kind of preliminary examination in which the old priest seems to have tried to trick Christ into some kind of damaging confession. But his attempts proved utterly fruitless, and so Jesus was sent on bound to Caiaphas the high-priest.

—Second Stage.

Then followed the second stage of the trial, namely, the trial before the Sanhedrin—the supreme Jewish court. The members of this Court, who knew what was afoot, had, many of them, in their eagerness, followed the soldiers to the Garden in order to see the arrest take place. They were, therefore, on hand ready to take part in this midnight meeting of the Sanhedrin, and the hour spent by Jesus in Annas" house in that preliminary examination by Annas, gave ample time to summon all the rest. So under cover of night the Sanhedrin met for the trial of Jesus. It was in one sense an "informal" trial, for the legal sittings of the Sanhedrin, could not be held till after daybreak. Still, it was at this "informal" sitting that the real business was done. It was then that the witnesses were summoned and their evidence examined; it was then that Christ bore witness to His own Messiahship; it was then that He was pronounced to be worthy of death. It is this second stage of the trial that Mark gives us in this paragraph, for this was the critical and vital stage.

The Third Stage.

The third stage in the trial took place immediately after daybreak, when the Sanhedrin became a legal and regularly constituted court. But the proceedings at that legal session were brief and purely formal. Mark dismisses it all in one verse, at the beginning of the next chapter. All the Sanhedrin did at its legal sitting was to confirm the decision already arrived at in the more prolonged, but informal, investigation held during the small hours of the morning. It was, however, the second trial which really settled Christ"s doom. Let us look for a minute or two at Mark"s account of what happened.

The Denial of Justice.

I have called it a trial. Perhaps I ought to withdraw that word. A "trial" suggests gravity, dignity, the careful weighing of evidence, a strict and rigid impartiality. But there is no suggestion of impartiality about this trial. This was no case of doing justice; it was a case of making a mock of justice. The judges were themselves the prosecutors. Instead of carefully weighing the evidence, they themselves procured it. "The chief priests and the whole council sought witness against Jesus to put Him to death." Indeed, in their determination to make an end of Jesus, they flung to the winds the very show of legality. They disregarded and violated the forms of their own court. With a keen sense of the value of human life the Jewish Law had laid down certain stringent regulations as to the conduct of capital trials. These men, thirsting for the blood of Christ, ignored and outraged every one of them. For instance, the Law laid it down that the witnesses for the defence should be summoned first, and that the witnesses for the prosecution before they gave evidence should be warned of the solemnity of their position and enjoined to speak nothing but what were matters of certain knowledge. Instead of that these bloodthirsty and cruel men themselves hunted up false witnesses against Christ, and called never a one to speak a word on His behalf. They further indulged in interrogation of the accused which the Law declined to sanction, and they ended with a demand for a confession which the doctors of the Law expressly forbade; and then for a climax to their wickedness, they disregarded the rule which interposed delay between an accusation and a sentence, and huddled trial and sentence all into a few brief hours. "Such a process," says Mr Taylor Innes, the great Scotch jurist, "had neither the form nor the fairness of a judicial trial."

The Sin of the Judges.

"By oppression and judgment was He taken away," says the prophet, that is to say, by a judgment which was itself an oppression, a travesty and denial of justice. They condemned Him not because He had done anything worthy of death, not because any charge had been proved against Him. They condemned Him because, like Mr Malice in the trial of Faithful in the Pilgrim"s Progress, they hated the very look of Him, and because, as Mr Live-loose confessed, He was always condemning their way. What a revelation of human wickedness this Isaiah , these men sitting in judgment on the Holy One and the Just, and sticking at nothing, not even at perjury, in their resolve to have Him put to death! "The heart of Prayer of Manasseh ," says the old Book, "is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." If you want commentary upon that view and confirmation of its truth, think of these priests and elders at their dastardly and devilish work in the dark hours of this particular morning. "There are depths in human nature into which," as Dr Stalker says, "it is scarcely safe to look. It was by the very perfection of Christ that the uttermost evil of His enemies was brought out."

Savourless Salt.

Those enemies were an illustration of corrupt religion. New religion is the best thing a man can have; it is the thing that binds him to God, and makes him a partaker of the divine nature; but a corrupt religion is the worst of all things. A religion which has degenerated into a formalism is worse than no religion. For the form of religion has a way of searing the conscience and deadening the soul. The crime of history has to be laid to the account, not of the men who were openly and notoriously bad, but of men who observed the forms of Godliness and denied the power thereof, of men who paid tithes and said prayers but neglected mercy and truth. Let us never forget that solemn word which declares that, while religion when real and true is the savour of life unto life, the same religion when nothing but a cloak and an empty form becomes the savour of death unto death!

The Majesty of Christ.

Now consider the conduct and behaviour of Christ while He stood before the Sanhedrin. He observed throughout the proceedings a grave and majestic silence. I will not have it, that, as some suggest, it was a silence of "proud disdain." His silence was rather the silence of obvious and unchallengable innocence. There was no need to speak. The accusations these suborned witnesses conjured up fell harmless to the ground. They destroyed each other. Even the garbled account of what He had said about destroying the Temple and raising it again in three days came to nothing. There was no evidence against Him. He stood there in the midst obviously harmless, holy, undefiled, separate from sinners. There was no need to speak. His appearance, His bearing, His record all spoke for Him.

The Claim of Christ.

At last in despair the high priest put Him on His oath, and challenged Him to give him a plain answer—"Art Thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" And thus challenged, Christ answered plainly. He kept His Messiahship veiled in the days of His popularity, when to reveal it might have meant an attempt to set Him on the throne; but now that He was in the hands of His foes, and the confession of His Messiahship would mean death, He made no concealment at all. Jesus replied, "I am." Silence at such a moment would have been, as the commentators say, a dereliction of all His claims and a betrayal of His mission. "I Amos ," He said, and then looking round about upon them, dressed in their little brief authority, He said, "And ye shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven." The high priest had his answer, and in a simulated frenzy of indignation he rent his clothes and said, "What further need have we of witnesses, ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye?" And they all condemned Him to be worthy of death.

Why Christ was Condemned.

There are two other points which call for notice.

(1) If there is one thing absolutely certain it is this—Jesus was condemned to death by the Sanhedrin for claiming to be the Son of God. People in these days try to eliminate all Christ"s great claims for Himself. They try to reduce Him to the limits of a mere man. They speak of Him as the Carpenter of Nazareth, the meek and lowly Jesus. They would have us believe that Christ"s self-consciousness was merely a human self-consciousness. They rule out all the mighty assertions of the Fourth Gospel as being the product of a later age, the result of a process of deification which set in after Jesus had left the earth. But this view of Jesus entirely fails to account for the facts. Even supposing for the moment we leave the Fourth Gospel out of our view, it entirely fails to account for the claims Christ made for Himself in the Synoptics. And amongst other things it entirely fails to account for His death. I repeat once again, if anything is certain it is this, that Christ died because of the assertion of His Messiahship. He was condemned by the Sanhedrin because He claimed to be the Son of God.

The Triumph of the Cross.

(2) The second thing is this: Jesus in the shadow of His Cross foresaw His triumph. "Be of good cheer," He said to His disciples just before His betrayal when the clouds were looming up darkly in His sky, and strange forebodings and fears were filling the hearts of the Twelve. "I have overcome the world." And the same spirit is His now, as He faces these men who had sunk the judge in the accuser. It was the hour of their seeming triumph. They had Him in their hands. And yet He knew the victory was not to rest with them. "Ye shall see," He said to Caiaphas and the exultant priests, "the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven." The hate and fury of men avail nothing against the purposes of God. "The kings of the earth set themselves and their princes take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed." "He that sitteth in the heaven shall laugh, the Lord shall have them in derision." They may put His Son to death on the cruel tree, and yet, in spite of them, God will set Him as King upon His Holy hill of Zion. How true this is we can in part already see. Caiaphas and the priests availed nothing. They could not put an end to Christ. His Cross became His throne, and as we gaze upon the Son of Man today that is how we see Him—"sitting at the right hand of power." And from the past triumph of the Cross of Christ let us take heart and hope. We have our reactions and set-backs no doubt. But nothing can avail against Christ, or frustrate the purposes of God. Christ must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. Christ"s words to His judges were both a warning and appeal. They passed unnoticed by them. Are they to pass unnoticed by us? In a fashion Christ stands before us for judgment today. But never forget that we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and then the question will be what Christ will do with us. And what He will do with us depends on what we do with Him. May we have grace to receive Him and to accept Him and to confess Him, that we may be amongst those who love His appearing.


Verse 54

Chapter14.
The Great Denial

"And Jesus saith unto them, All ye shall be offended because of Me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered. But after that I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee. But Peter said unto Him, Although all shall be offended, yet will not I. And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny Me thrice. But He spake the more vehemently, If I should die with Thee, I will not deny Thee in any wise. Likewise also said they all. And Peter followed Him afar off, even into the palace of the high priest: and he sat with the servants, and warmed himself at the fire. And as Peter was beneath in the palace, there cometh one of the maids of the high priest: And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him, and said, And thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth. But he denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest. And he went out into the porch; and the cock crew. And a maid saw him again, and began to say to them that stood by, This is one of them. And he denied it again. And a little after, they that stood by said again to Peter, Surely thou art one of them: for thou art a Galilean, and thy speech agreeth thereto. But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak. And the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny Me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept."Mark 14:27-31, Mark 14:54, Mark 14:66-72.

The Story of the Fall.

The first thing to be done in studying the pitiful account of Peter"s fall is to reconstruct the actual story. For there are considerable differences in the Gospel narratives; though when sceptical writers try, by magnifying these differences, to cast doubt upon the whole episode, they clean over-reach themselves. There is perhaps no event in the whole of the Gospel story which is more clearly and fully attested. The evangelists tell the story from their own special points of view, and with slight variations; but upon the fact that, in the high priest"s palace, Peter did three times deny his Lord they are all agreed. The variations can practically all be harmonised, and in any case they detract nothing from the reliability of the narrative, they rather add to it. They only show how wide-spread and familiar the story was in the very earliest days of the Christian Church.

The Boldness of Peter and John.

Comparing Gospel with Gospel, the course of events seems to have been something like this. First there is the Lord"s solemn announcement, "All ye shall be offended because of Me this night," followed by Peter"s confident assurance of his own loyalty. Then the prophecy of Peter"s fall, and his vehement protest. The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane is swiftly followed by the arrest. After this, sudden panic seems to have seized the disciples. "They all left Him and fled." But in the case of at any rate two out of the eleven, the panic does not seem to have lasted very long. Peter and John seem to have recovered some measure of courage, and instead of running away, they followed the procession as it made its way to the house of Annas. They followed "afar off" says Mark , no doubt keeping themselves in the shadow of the houses and the trees in order to avoid detection. When the procession arrived at the house of Annas (where many hold that the denial took place) John passed in with Jesus and the soldiers into the high priest"s hall. John was in some way or other known to the high priest, and had the entree into his house. But Peter had no such privilege, and when the procession passed through the gateway, he remained without. John , Peter"s inseparable comrade, did not like to think of his friend being left outside there in the darkness. So he went and spoke to the portress and persuaded her to open the door and let him in. It was done with the best motives in the world, but John , unthinkingly, did a disservice to Peter that night. He introduced his friend without knowing it into a perfect furnace of temptation. "The best of friends," says Dr Stalker, "may do this sometimes to one another, for the situation into which one man may enter without peril may be dangerous to another." John saw no risks in the high priest"s palace; Peter wellnigh lost his soul.

The Danger Zone.

In order to understand the sequence of events, observe the arrangement of a great house such as that into which Peter entered. The houses of the rich in the East are built quadrangular fashion, and the windows all look in upon the courtyard in the middle. Facing the road there is often just a blank wall, with a great gate in it, through which admission is gained. The gate opens upon a passage leading to the courtyard which is open to the sky. Round the courtyard, and raised a little above it, are the reception rooms and the living rooms. When Jesus was brought in by the traitor band, He was taken promptly to one of these rooms off the courtyard, there to be examined by Annas. But the soldiers and the servants who had been the instruments of the arrest, stayed in the open courtyard, and as the night seems to have been bitterly cold, for their greater comfort they kindled a fire. Now that was the disposition of things when John begged the portress to admit Peter. Jesus was in one of the private rooms undergoing examination, the soldiers and servants were gathered in a noisy group about the fire.

Suspicion Aroused.

When the portress let Peter in she scrutinised him, and something in his manner made her a trifle suspicious. However, the probability Isaiah , she said nothing at the moment, but allowed Peter to pass unchallenged. He at once made for the group sitting round the fire, partly because Hebrews , too, wanted to share in the grateful warmth, and partly because he thought that by mingling with the crowd he would be less likely to bring suspicion upon himself. John seems to have passed on immediately to the room in which Jesus was undergoing examination.

The First Challenge.

But the place which Peter imagined promised him safety, proved his undoing. As I said, something in Peter"s manner had aroused the suspicion of the girl at the gate as he passed in. But it was not till the light of the fire fell full upon Peter"s face that her suspicion was changed into something like certainty. Leaving the gate for a moment and running to the group around the fire, she challenged Peter and said, "Thou also wast with the Nazarene Jesus." The challenge took him clean by surprise. He felt himself in a trap. Besides, he had compromised himself. For while he had been sitting there at the fire he had tried to pass himself off as one of the crowd. I daresay they had been jesting about Jesus, making coarse jokes about Jesus, and Peter had listened to it all without protest, and perhaps affected to laugh with the rest. What could he do now he was thus challenged? What could he do but try to keep up the deception? And so he pretended that he did not understand. The agitation, the sheer terror of the man is reproduced in his answer, as it is rendered in the margin of the R.V. "I neither know, nor understand; thou, what sayest thou?"

The Second Challenge.

At the moment Peter does not seem to have been pressed any further. But he came to the conclusion that the glare of the fire was a thing he ought to avoid. And so he took the first opportunity of withdrawing into the shade of the porch, perhaps intending to slip out as soon as ever the great door should open. But in the porchway, the same maid, or another maid to whom she had communicated her suspicions, or possibly both together, returned to the charge and said to the servants lounging near, "This man is one of them." And again Peter denied, and to escape the attention of the maid, sought once more to hide himself in the crowd at the fireside.

The Final Challenge.

But the whole company was now on the alert, and Peter"s agitation and distress were obvious. He had no sooner taken his place amongst the servants by the fire, than a man took up the work of baiting the Apostle. He had plunged into the conversation in order to give an impression of ease, and to divert suspicion. But it only made matters worse. "Of a truth," said this Prayer of Manasseh , "without doubt thou art one of them, for thou art a Galilean." Peter"s rough accent betrayed his Galilean origin. And what should a Galilean be doing there in that company if he was not one of the Galilean followers of Jesus! And then to bring things to a climax, another of the servants, a kinsman of Malchus, scrutinising Peter"s face, remembered he had beneath the flash of torches seen those features in the Garden. "Did I not see thee in the Garden with Him?" he said.

The Denial and the Reminder.

Peter was now fairly in the toils, and, frantic with fright, he began to curse and to swear that "he knew not the Man of Whom" they spake. And possibly this final denial had its effect—for these soldiers and servants knew at any rate as much as this about the servants of Jesus, that profane speech never issued out of their mouths. They did not believe Peter"s assertion, as Dr Stalker puts it, but they could not help believing his sins. This cursing and blaspheming man could be no disciple of Him Who was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners. The "swearing" was probably only the resurrection of a bad old habit that had lain dormant for the last two or three years. But it silenced Peter"s accusers, and they made no attempt to stop him when he rose to go. Then at that moment something happened, or rather two things happened. "Straightway the second time the cock crew." And Peter remembered! Remembered his own proud and foolish boasting; remembered the Lord"s tender and solemn warning. And the remembrance filled him with contrition and shame.

Conviction and Remorse.

And then something else happened. It chanced that at that very moment Jesus was being conducted, with hands pinioned behind His back, through the courtyard on His way to the judgment hall of Caiaphas. Perhaps He had heard these wild and frantic curses with which Peter accompanied his last denial. Anyhow, He knew what had happened, knew the depths of shame and apostasy to which His chosen Apostle had sunk—knew it all. And as He was led through the courtyard He turned round and looked full in the face of His conscience-stricken Apostle. The cock-crowing had made him realise his sin; the Lord"s look broke his heart. "When he thought thereon," when he remembered his Lord"s warning, and realised the meaning in that look, "he began to weep." Or, as the Greek might be translated to bring out its exact force, "he wept and he wept," "he kept on weeping." He wept as if he could never stop. Peter as he flung himself shame-stricken and heartbroken out of the house of Annas in the early dawn of that tragic day could have taken those familiar lines of Toplady"s hymn into his lips and they would have expressed the feelings of his guilt-laden soul

"Could my zeal no respite know,

Could my tears for ever flow,

All for sin could not atone,

Thou must save and Thou alone."

Lessons of the Story.


Warning to the Strong.

Now sceptics and cynics have poured floods of cheap scorn over what they are pleased to call the cowardice of Peter. But I agree entirely with Bishop Chadwick—this is not the story of the breakdown of a coward. We miss its significance if we do not realise this is the story of the breakdown of one of the bravest and the best. This story is a warning, not to the weak, but to the strong. It is addressed not simply to the Fearings, but to the Great-hearts of the Christian host. For spite of this calamitous failure, Peter was a brave man. His boast that he was ready to die with Christ was no vain and empty boast. Remember how he drew sword in the Garden, and would have defended his Lord, one man against a multitude! If Peter had had his way in the Garden, the soldiers would only have laid hands on Jesus over his own dead body. This is not the story of the failure of the coward; it is a story of the breakdown of the brave. And the solemn warning it sounds across the centuries is this: "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."

—And against Self-Confidence.

Now the initial mistake that Peter made, the fons et origo of all these calamitous denials was this, he was so absolutely sure of his own steadfastness and strength. Self-confidence is always the peril of the strong man. It was Peter"s peril. You remember how he boasted of it, only a few hours before. He could conceive of all his fellow disciples turning traitor, but he could not imagine himself turning coward. "Though all should deny Thee, yet will not I." He was so absolutely sure of himself that he had felt no need of watching and praying in the Garden. And that self-confidence led directly to his fall. For it was self-confidence that made him enter the high priest"s hall in the first instance. He deliberately thrust himself into temptation. He ventured into the danger-zone and he fell. There is one verse in Peter"s first Epistle which always seems to me to be written not with common ink but with the Apostle"s own life-blood, for it embodies the lesson learnt from the most humbling and shameful experience of his life. It is this, "Be sober, be watchful, your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour." It is the warning of a strong man who fell through over-confidence to other strong men against committing the same fatal mistake.

The Danger of Compromise.

Now, notice what a series of calamitous blunders Peter committed since he put himself in the way of temptation by entering Annas" house. He made his first blunder when he went and joined the group by the fire and tried to pass himself off as one of them. It was fear that made him do it. He sought to divert suspicion from himself by pretending to be just one of the crowd that had joined in the arrest of Christ. But instead of diverting suspicion he fatally compromised himself. For as I suggested a moment ago, the talk around the fireside had all been about Jesus. It had very likely been coarse and scurrilous talk. And Peter had made no protest of any sort. On the other hand he tried to look as like one of the scorners himself as he could. So doing, he put himself between the devil and the deep sea. Either he had openly to confess himself a cheat, or else he had to maintain the deception by denying all knowledge of Jesus. The one safe course for Christian folk to take is boldly to avow themselves as Christ"s followers. The man who begins by being ashamed of Christ is almost sure to end by betraying Him. There is only one way of being a Christian—be strong and very courageous.


Verses 66-72

Chapter14.
The Great Denial

"And Jesus saith unto them, All ye shall be offended because of Me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered. But after that I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee. But Peter said unto Him, Although all shall be offended, yet will not I. And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny Me thrice. But He spake the more vehemently, If I should die with Thee, I will not deny Thee in any wise. Likewise also said they all. And Peter followed Him afar off, even into the palace of the high priest: and he sat with the servants, and warmed himself at the fire. And as Peter was beneath in the palace, there cometh one of the maids of the high priest: And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him, and said, And thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth. But he denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest. And he went out into the porch; and the cock crew. And a maid saw him again, and began to say to them that stood by, This is one of them. And he denied it again. And a little after, they that stood by said again to Peter, Surely thou art one of them: for thou art a Galilean, and thy speech agreeth thereto. But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak. And the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny Me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept."Mark 14:27-31, Mark 14:54, Mark 14:66-72.

The Story of the Fall.

The first thing to be done in studying the pitiful account of Peter"s fall is to reconstruct the actual story. For there are considerable differences in the Gospel narratives; though when sceptical writers try, by magnifying these differences, to cast doubt upon the whole episode, they clean over-reach themselves. There is perhaps no event in the whole of the Gospel story which is more clearly and fully attested. The evangelists tell the story from their own special points of view, and with slight variations; but upon the fact that, in the high priest"s palace, Peter did three times deny his Lord they are all agreed. The variations can practically all be harmonised, and in any case they detract nothing from the reliability of the narrative, they rather add to it. They only show how wide-spread and familiar the story was in the very earliest days of the Christian Church.

The Boldness of Peter and John.

Comparing Gospel with Gospel, the course of events seems to have been something like this. First there is the Lord"s solemn announcement, "All ye shall be offended because of Me this night," followed by Peter"s confident assurance of his own loyalty. Then the prophecy of Peter"s fall, and his vehement protest. The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane is swiftly followed by the arrest. After this, sudden panic seems to have seized the disciples. "They all left Him and fled." But in the case of at any rate two out of the eleven, the panic does not seem to have lasted very long. Peter and John seem to have recovered some measure of courage, and instead of running away, they followed the procession as it made its way to the house of Annas. They followed "afar off" says Mark , no doubt keeping themselves in the shadow of the houses and the trees in order to avoid detection. When the procession arrived at the house of Annas (where many hold that the denial took place) John passed in with Jesus and the soldiers into the high priest"s hall. John was in some way or other known to the high priest, and had the entree into his house. But Peter had no such privilege, and when the procession passed through the gateway, he remained without. John , Peter"s inseparable comrade, did not like to think of his friend being left outside there in the darkness. So he went and spoke to the portress and persuaded her to open the door and let him in. It was done with the best motives in the world, but John , unthinkingly, did a disservice to Peter that night. He introduced his friend without knowing it into a perfect furnace of temptation. "The best of friends," says Dr Stalker, "may do this sometimes to one another, for the situation into which one man may enter without peril may be dangerous to another." John saw no risks in the high priest"s palace; Peter wellnigh lost his soul.

The Danger Zone.

In order to understand the sequence of events, observe the arrangement of a great house such as that into which Peter entered. The houses of the rich in the East are built quadrangular fashion, and the windows all look in upon the courtyard in the middle. Facing the road there is often just a blank wall, with a great gate in it, through which admission is gained. The gate opens upon a passage leading to the courtyard which is open to the sky. Round the courtyard, and raised a little above it, are the reception rooms and the living rooms. When Jesus was brought in by the traitor band, He was taken promptly to one of these rooms off the courtyard, there to be examined by Annas. But the soldiers and the servants who had been the instruments of the arrest, stayed in the open courtyard, and as the night seems to have been bitterly cold, for their greater comfort they kindled a fire. Now that was the disposition of things when John begged the portress to admit Peter. Jesus was in one of the private rooms undergoing examination, the soldiers and servants were gathered in a noisy group about the fire.

Suspicion Aroused.

When the portress let Peter in she scrutinised him, and something in his manner made her a trifle suspicious. However, the probability Isaiah , she said nothing at the moment, but allowed Peter to pass unchallenged. He at once made for the group sitting round the fire, partly because Hebrews , too, wanted to share in the grateful warmth, and partly because he thought that by mingling with the crowd he would be less likely to bring suspicion upon himself. John seems to have passed on immediately to the room in which Jesus was undergoing examination.

The First Challenge.

But the place which Peter imagined promised him safety, proved his undoing. As I said, something in Peter"s manner had aroused the suspicion of the girl at the gate as he passed in. But it was not till the light of the fire fell full upon Peter"s face that her suspicion was changed into something like certainty. Leaving the gate for a moment and running to the group around the fire, she challenged Peter and said, "Thou also wast with the Nazarene Jesus." The challenge took him clean by surprise. He felt himself in a trap. Besides, he had compromised himself. For while he had been sitting there at the fire he had tried to pass himself off as one of the crowd. I daresay they had been jesting about Jesus, making coarse jokes about Jesus, and Peter had listened to it all without protest, and perhaps affected to laugh with the rest. What could he do now he was thus challenged? What could he do but try to keep up the deception? And so he pretended that he did not understand. The agitation, the sheer terror of the man is reproduced in his answer, as it is rendered in the margin of the R.V. "I neither know, nor understand; thou, what sayest thou?"

The Second Challenge.

At the moment Peter does not seem to have been pressed any further. But he came to the conclusion that the glare of the fire was a thing he ought to avoid. And so he took the first opportunity of withdrawing into the shade of the porch, perhaps intending to slip out as soon as ever the great door should open. But in the porchway, the same maid, or another maid to whom she had communicated her suspicions, or possibly both together, returned to the charge and said to the servants lounging near, "This man is one of them." And again Peter denied, and to escape the attention of the maid, sought once more to hide himself in the crowd at the fireside.

The Final Challenge.

But the whole company was now on the alert, and Peter"s agitation and distress were obvious. He had no sooner taken his place amongst the servants by the fire, than a man took up the work of baiting the Apostle. He had plunged into the conversation in order to give an impression of ease, and to divert suspicion. But it only made matters worse. "Of a truth," said this Prayer of Manasseh , "without doubt thou art one of them, for thou art a Galilean." Peter"s rough accent betrayed his Galilean origin. And what should a Galilean be doing there in that company if he was not one of the Galilean followers of Jesus! And then to bring things to a climax, another of the servants, a kinsman of Malchus, scrutinising Peter"s face, remembered he had beneath the flash of torches seen those features in the Garden. "Did I not see thee in the Garden with Him?" he said.

The Denial and the Reminder.

Peter was now fairly in the toils, and, frantic with fright, he began to curse and to swear that "he knew not the Man of Whom" they spake. And possibly this final denial had its effect—for these soldiers and servants knew at any rate as much as this about the servants of Jesus, that profane speech never issued out of their mouths. They did not believe Peter"s assertion, as Dr Stalker puts it, but they could not help believing his sins. This cursing and blaspheming man could be no disciple of Him Who was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners. The "swearing" was probably only the resurrection of a bad old habit that had lain dormant for the last two or three years. But it silenced Peter"s accusers, and they made no attempt to stop him when he rose to go. Then at that moment something happened, or rather two things happened. "Straightway the second time the cock crew." And Peter remembered! Remembered his own proud and foolish boasting; remembered the Lord"s tender and solemn warning. And the remembrance filled him with contrition and shame.

Conviction and Remorse.

And then something else happened. It chanced that at that very moment Jesus was being conducted, with hands pinioned behind His back, through the courtyard on His way to the judgment hall of Caiaphas. Perhaps He had heard these wild and frantic curses with which Peter accompanied his last denial. Anyhow, He knew what had happened, knew the depths of shame and apostasy to which His chosen Apostle had sunk—knew it all. And as He was led through the courtyard He turned round and looked full in the face of His conscience-stricken Apostle. The cock-crowing had made him realise his sin; the Lord"s look broke his heart. "When he thought thereon," when he remembered his Lord"s warning, and realised the meaning in that look, "he began to weep." Or, as the Greek might be translated to bring out its exact force, "he wept and he wept," "he kept on weeping." He wept as if he could never stop. Peter as he flung himself shame-stricken and heartbroken out of the house of Annas in the early dawn of that tragic day could have taken those familiar lines of Toplady"s hymn into his lips and they would have expressed the feelings of his guilt-laden soul

"Could my zeal no respite know,

Could my tears for ever flow,

All for sin could not atone,

Thou must save and Thou alone."

Lessons of the Story.


Warning to the Strong.

Now sceptics and cynics have poured floods of cheap scorn over what they are pleased to call the cowardice of Peter. But I agree entirely with Bishop Chadwick—this is not the story of the breakdown of a coward. We miss its significance if we do not realise this is the story of the breakdown of one of the bravest and the best. This story is a warning, not to the weak, but to the strong. It is addressed not simply to the Fearings, but to the Great-hearts of the Christian host. For spite of this calamitous failure, Peter was a brave man. His boast that he was ready to die with Christ was no vain and empty boast. Remember how he drew sword in the Garden, and would have defended his Lord, one man against a multitude! If Peter had had his way in the Garden, the soldiers would only have laid hands on Jesus over his own dead body. This is not the story of the failure of the coward; it is a story of the breakdown of the brave. And the solemn warning it sounds across the centuries is this: "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."

—And against Self-Confidence.

Now the initial mistake that Peter made, the fons et origo of all these calamitous denials was this, he was so absolutely sure of his own steadfastness and strength. Self-confidence is always the peril of the strong man. It was Peter"s peril. You remember how he boasted of it, only a few hours before. He could conceive of all his fellow disciples turning traitor, but he could not imagine himself turning coward. "Though all should deny Thee, yet will not I." He was so absolutely sure of himself that he had felt no need of watching and praying in the Garden. And that self-confidence led directly to his fall. For it was self-confidence that made him enter the high priest"s hall in the first instance. He deliberately thrust himself into temptation. He ventured into the danger-zone and he fell. There is one verse in Peter"s first Epistle which always seems to me to be written not with common ink but with the Apostle"s own life-blood, for it embodies the lesson learnt from the most humbling and shameful experience of his life. It is this, "Be sober, be watchful, your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour." It is the warning of a strong man who fell through over-confidence to other strong men against committing the same fatal mistake.

The Danger of Compromise.

Now, notice what a series of calamitous blunders Peter committed since he put himself in the way of temptation by entering Annas" house. He made his first blunder when he went and joined the group by the fire and tried to pass himself off as one of them. It was fear that made him do it. He sought to divert suspicion from himself by pretending to be just one of the crowd that had joined in the arrest of Christ. But instead of diverting suspicion he fatally compromised himself. For as I suggested a moment ago, the talk around the fireside had all been about Jesus. It had very likely been coarse and scurrilous talk. And Peter had made no protest of any sort. On the other hand he tried to look as like one of the scorners himself as he could. So doing, he put himself between the devil and the deep sea. Either he had openly to confess himself a cheat, or else he had to maintain the deception by denying all knowledge of Jesus. The one safe course for Christian folk to take is boldly to avow themselves as Christ"s followers. The man who begins by being ashamed of Christ is almost sure to end by betraying Him. There is only one way of being a Christian—be strong and very courageous.

 


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Bibliography Information
Jones, J.D. "Commentary on Mark 14:4". J.D. Jones's Commentary on the Book of Mark. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jom/mark-14.html.

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