(Mark 14: 1-15: 47)
Jesus has just triumphantly entered Jerusalem and the people are ecstatic. The coming of the Messiah is all the people can talk about and the religious leaders, the Sanhedrin, see their status quo of authority and privilege being threatened by this country rabbi. It was bad enough when he was out in the countryside preaching his unorthodox message of love, but now he has brought it to their doorsteps, into their very city, Jerusalem, the City of God. Something had to be done about this Jesus problem as it was now getting out-of-hand and threatening their livelihood. The plot thickens.
What follows the triumphant entry into Jerusalem is the Passion Story, as told by the Apostle Mark, which records the events of the upcoming week as they unfold in dramatic fashion. Mark tells us that Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread is just two days away and Jerusalem is teeming with worshippers from near and far. And the chief priests and teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to not only arrest Jesus but also have him killed, putting an end to this unorthodox ministry. The problem was that they didn’t dare do it during the feast as they feared an uprising from the people drawn to this self-professed Messiah.
So, Mark gives us an accounting of Jesus’ activities that week as his date with destiny rapidly approaches. Mark begins by telling us that while staying at the home of Simon the Leper in nearby Bethany, a woman anoints Jesus’ head with some very expensive perfume. Some who were present saw this act as an extreme waste of good perfume that could have been sold and the money used to take care of the poor. Now, you can’t really blame them for thinking that as they had witnessed Jesus’ great compassion for the poor, but Jesus saw it differently in this particular instance. After they harshly rebuked the woman Jesus called them down and said that she had done a beautiful thing by anointing his head with this perfume. He told them that the poor will always be with them and that there will be plenty of other opportunities for them to help the poor later, as they should. Jesus saw this as a beautiful act of preparing him for burial and told them that this woman’s actions would be remembered wherever the gospel is preached. This unnamed woman got it, she understood what was coming, and wanted to honor her Savior, the Messiah in the only way she could. I guess this must have been a tipping point for Judas Iscariot as he got up and went to the chief priests in an effort to betray Jesus. Things apparently weren’t going in the direction he wanted. The priests were delighted as they were looking for a way to get to Jesus and they promised to pay Judas for his service. So Judas watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over at just the right time.
Later, probably a day or two later, at what we would come to know as the Last Supper, Jesus announced that one of the twelve would betray him. The disciples were, of course, shocked and asked which one it would be because, other than Judas, they couldn’t imagine committing such an act. As they sat around the table Jesus had communion with them. He broke the bread and told them that this bread was his body. He then took the cup and told them that it was his blood of the new covenant, poured out for the many. The first communion. After they were finished, they sung a hymn and went to the Mount of Olives. Jesus gathered them together and told them that they will all fall away, quoting Zechariah 13: 7 which says: Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered. It was here that Peter famously proclaims that even if the others fall away, he will not. Jesus assures him that tonight, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, he will disown Jesus three times.
At that point, Jesus goes to Gethsemane with Peter, James, and John where he tells them to sit while he goes into the garden to pray. He tells them: My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch. Jesus enters the garden falling to the ground proclaiming: Abba, Father, everything is permissible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will. Jesus fully understood what doing the Father’s will would cost him. He understood the suffering he was about to encounter, and, in his human form, he did not relish having to endure the coming horrible experience of being beaten, flogged, and crucified. But Jesus prayed not that his will be done, but that God’s will be done. He knew his mission was to bring us closer to God and his life was the price to be paid for that relationship. When Jesus finished praying, he returned to find the disciples fast asleep. He woke them and told them again to keep watch while he went to pray some more. After more time spent in earnest prayer, he returned to find his disciples again sound asleep. He woke them up and told them the hour had come and his betrayer was approaching. Judas and a group of armed men sent from the chief priests approached Jesus and Judas walked up, called him rabbi and kissed him which was the prearranged act that would identify Jesus to the arresting guards. The men seized Jesus and arrested him. We are told that one of the disciples who was apparently armed, struck the servant of the high priest cutting off his ear. According to the Gospel of John this disciple was Peter and Luke tells us in his gospel that Jesus healed the man’s ear and prevented any further bloodshed. At this point you have to wonder what the guards and the man who had his ear cut off thought about Jesus picking up the ear and reattaching it to the man’s head. I’d be having second thoughts about this time and I’d certainly mention it to the High Priest. In any event, Jesus calls them out about the accusation that he is leading a rebellion and the fact they had to come arrest him in the middle of the night when he had been at the temple daily teaching and preaching. Mark then tells us that everyone deserted him including some guy who ran right out of his clothes disappearing into the darkness, naked as the day he was born.
The arresting officers took Jesus to Caiaphas the High Priest and the other religious leaders, co-conspirators if you will, to be questioned. We’re told that Peter followed from a distance and warmed himself by a fire outside Caiaphas’ residence along with the guards. Mark tells us that the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so they could have him put to death. We’re told they couldn’t find any credible evidence as many testified falsely but their testimony was conflicting. He was then accused of saying that he could tear down the temple and in three days build up another not made by man. And again, the testimony did not hold up. Jesus was ordered to answer the allegations, but he stood silent in the face of his false accusers. He was then asked by the High Priest if he was the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One to which he said he was and that they would see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven. Well, that sent them over the edge as the High Priest reacted violently tearing his clothes and exclaiming that they don’t need any other witnesses as they had just heard hm commit blasphemy. That was all they had to hear as they condemned him as worthy of death, spat upon him, blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and ordered the guards to take him outside where he was beaten some more.
While all this is going on Peter gets called out by some people who recognize him as a follower of Jesus. One of the servant girls of the High Priest spotted Peter and said he was also with the Nazarene. Peter said he didn’t know what she was talking about. She accused him again saying to those standing around the fire that Peter was one of them, which he again denied. Then another one said he was surely one of them because he was a Galilean. Peter, feeling trapped, called down curses upon himself and swore; I don’t know this man you are talking about! And just as he made his third denial, he heard a rooster crow a second time. He remembered what Jesus had said and he broke down weeping.
The next morning the chief priests and the Sanhedrin reached a decision and handed Jesus over to Pilate the regional governor, as only the Roman authorities could put someone to death. Pilate asked Jesus if he was indeed the king of the Jews to which Jesus responded: Yes, it is as you say. The chief priests then all weighed in and accused Jesus of many more wrongs to which Pilate asked Jesus to respond, but Jesus made no comment, standing silently. At this point I think Pilate is looking for a way out as he doesn’t think Jesus has done anything requiring a death sentence. So he proposes that the Jews decide whether to put Jesus to death or spare him as it was a custom at the feast to release a prisoner of their choosing. Pilate saw what was going on and asked if they wanted Jesus released knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests handed Jesus over to him. He wanted to put it back on them. Feeling the pressure, the chief priests riled the crowd up and they cried for the criminal Barabbas to be released instead. “What about Jesus?” Pilate asked. “Crucify him!” the crowd responded. “Why, what crime has he committed?” Pilate asked. Again, “crucify him” the crowd yelled. At that point Pilate washed his hands of the matter releasing Barabbas and handing Jesus over to be crucified. The Roman soldiers who led Jesus away mocked him dressing him in a purple robe and placing a crown of thorns on his head and then they beat him as they jeered the so-called King of the Jews. Jesus was then escorted to Golgotha, “the Place of the Skull” where he was placed on a cross between two robbers and crucified. A sign was placed on the cross that said: “The King of the Jews.” As he suffered on the cross people, who days earlier probably waived palm branches and cheered him, hurled insults at him saying things like: “He can save others but not himself,” and “come down and save yourself.” After several hours of agonizing pain Jesus cried out: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Referencing what David said in Psalm 22: 1. Some thought Jesus was calling out to Elijah. And with a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. At that moment the huge curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion standing guard at the foot of the cross heard his cry and saw how he died, he said: “Surely this man was the Son of God.” We’re told that there was a group of women watching from a distance, and among them was Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, Joses, and Salome. In the Gospel of John, we are told that the women were Mary, Jesus’s mother, his mother’s sisters, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Mark also tells us that this is Preparation Day, the day before the Sabbath, and that Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. It surprised Pilate that Jesus had died so quickly, as it normally took a couple of days for someone to slowly and painfully die on the cross, so he sent for the centurion to confirm the death. Upon confirming the death Pilate released Jesus’ body to Joseph who bought some linen cloth to wrap the body. Joseph placed Jesus’ body in a tomb cut out of rock and rolled a stone against the entrance as Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalene watched mournfully from a distance.
But this is not the end of the story as so many had either hoped for or hoped against. This was not to be the end. There would be a happy and joyous ending, a cause to celebrate.