Mark 14:43-15:47

DEVOTION 1. JUDAS
Mark 14:43-52

a). His Profile
Like a lot of everyday stories our story begins with the villain of the piece—Judas Iscariot. Now Judas was one of the 12 disciples. In the apostolic band he was the treasurer. He was noted as being a thief (John 12:6), mainly, we suppose, because he pilfered money that was entrusted to him. He was the one who, according to John, voiced criticism when Mary anointed the Master’s feet with precious ointment—apparently on the basis that the money could be used to help those who were not so well off (Jn 12:3-5). And following that protest, he was the one who went to the chief priests, to arrange not only the betrayal of Jesus (Mk 14:10-11), but for a reward, for that betrayal—the equivalent of a little over 4 months’ pay (Mt 26:14-16).

As a consequence, Judas’ name always appears last in the lists of the disciples. And it is usually followed with a description that brands him as the person who betrayed Jesus.

b). His Part in the Story
Of course the question commonly asked is: “What did Judas think he was doing when he arranged to point Jesus out to be arrested? What was in Judas’ mind?”

Was it love of money? Was it jealousy of the faith of the other disciples? Was it fear that the inevitable outcome of Jesus’ ministry would show him up to be the thief that he was? Was it a bitter, revengeful spirit which arose when Jesus revealed that Judas’ worldly hopes were not part of God’s kingdom? Or was it a genuine, enthusiastic, but misguided, move to try to force Jesus’s hand—to try to get Jesus to declare himself to be the kind of Messiah that Judas wanted him to be?

Of course, the answer is—we don’t know. But what we do know is that after betraying Jesus with a kiss, he was full of remorse (Matthew 27:1-5). Indeed, he regretted his actions so much that he went back to the chief priests and elders, and openly admitted his mistake. He returned the reward he’d been given. And then, because he couldn’t cope with the consequences of his deed, he went out and committed suicide.

c). Comment
Now nearly all of the stuff you usually hear about Judas concentrates on the negative. However the fact is that Judas did choose to be a follower of Jesus. And in response, Jesus picked Judas to be one of the 12. Judas was one of Jesus’s closest companions as they journeyed around. When Jesus called the 12 aside to teach them, Judas would have been there. When Jesus sent the 12 out on a mission on their own, Judas would have gone too. And, he was considered worthy enough to be entrusted with the finances in the first place.

And even though something went wrong (and it probably went wrong over a period of time), in the end Judas found the strength to face up to his co-conspirators, and was able to admit to his mistakes—even though he couldn’t cope with the consequences.

In other words there are a lot of positives about Judas, as well as the negatives that you usually hear. Consequently, and this might seem like a strange thing to say, there is something that I admire about Judas. Because we can all try to walk the narrow road of faith, and yet, we all make mistakes. But how easy do we find it to admit them? And not just to ourselves, but to those who were involved in our mistake as well?

Judas’ mistake was perhaps the most important mistake in history. And yet in a sense his facing up to the chief priests and elders, may be the most important retraction too. Of course it didn’t change history, Jesus still died, and I don’t like Judas’s final solution of suicide. However in the circumstances I can fully understand his action, and there are some important lessons we can learn from him.

And at the very least, we should consider, firstly, that no matter how hard we try to stay on track, it is very easy to jump the rails. It’s easy to get diverted from the true path, as we travel the journey of faith. As a consequence we need to be constantly on our guard. However, secondly, and because of that, it’s important that when we do become aware that we’ve done wrong, that we have the courage to face up to our faults and failings.

Judas admitted his mistake, and we need to be prepared to admit our mistakes too.

***************************************************************************************

DEVOTION 2. CAIAPHAS
Mark 14:53-65

a). His Profile
The Sanhedrin, that Jesus was taken to for questioning, was the supreme Jewish court of law. Composed of 71 members, it was made up of Joseph, whose surname was Caiaphas—the ruling high priest, who presided over its deliberations. It included the chief priests and elders, who constituted the old ruling class. Indeed, the elders, in particular, were the most influential of the lay families in Jerusalem, being primarily wealthy land owners. And, in addition, it included representatives of the scribes—primarily lawyers drawn from the middle classes who tended to be Pharisaic in their convictions. In other words, it was a court of law where the common people were not represented at all. And it was biased towards maintaining its own authority and power.

Of course that didn’t mean they didn’t have any internal disputes—people fighting over positions of power—but as a body they were very much into maintaining their position in society. And, Caiaphas, in particular, was master of it. Because his ability as a diplomat and an administrator, as well as his ruthlessness for survival, is suggested by the length of his tenure in office. Indeed he was high priest for 19 years, in an era when the average term was only 4 years. And he did so, in part, by maintaining the strict official line regarding their religious beliefs.

b). His Part in the Story
So, when Jesus was arrested, where was he taken? To the residence of Caiaphas. And it was there that members of the Sanhedrin assembled—in one of the upper rooms—so that the trial could take place.

Of course, witnesses were brought forward and heard. But when it came to the crunch, who was it that encouraged Jesus to say something in his defence? Who was it that asked Jesus to admit that he was the Messiah? Who condemned Jesus, before even asking the rest of the Sanhedrin to vote on the matter? And who did nothing to stop the inevitable response from the rest of the Sanhedrin, of condemnation and physical abuse? The answer is: Caiaphas. And with that sort of power, no wonder he survived 19 years at the top.

c). Comment
Now unfortunately, we know nothing about the early history of Caiaphas. We don’t know how he became a priest—whether he had genuine faith, or whether like some he climbed up the ranks, as a way to obtain a position of power. But what we do know is that by the time he got to the top he was very powerful.

And I guess that in that, in a strange sort of way, we can thank Caiaphas for the warning. Because sometimes we might seek positions of authority, sometimes we might have authority thrust upon us. But, the warning is, that whichever way it happens we need to be careful that we don’t let that power get the better of us.

In order to maintain his power Caiaphas abused his position, and it ended with the death of the Saviour. What we have to be careful is that we don’t end up using our power, and sacrificing our faith, by doing exactly the same thing.

**********************************************************************************

DEVOTION 3. PETER
Mark 14:66-72

a). His Profile
Now Peter came from Bethsaida (Jn 1:44), but lived in Capernaum in Galilee (Mk 1:21ff). Both towns were by the lakeside where he could work as a fisherman.

Also known as Simeon (Hebrew) and Simon (Greek), Peter maintained the piety and outlook of his people. It is likely that he was affected by John the Baptist, because his brother Andrew was a disciple of John. However Peter was one of Jesus’s first disciples. He always stands first in the list of disciples, and was noted for being one of the inner circle of three. Often the spokesman for the twelve.

But Peter’s greatest claim to fame is perhaps his impulsive nature. Peter’s protestations of loyalty are the loudest. Before the transfiguration, Peter declared that Jesus was the Christ. (Mark 8:29b); at the Last Supper Peter stated that even if the others fell away, he would not. On the other hand, his rejection of the Lord is also the most explicit too (Mk 14:66ff).

b). His Part in the Story
Indeed, in the crucifixion story, we find Peter who had followed Jesus after his arrest, in the courtyard of Caiaphas, the high priest. However, when faced with a servant girl, when faced with those who had gathered around her, and then when faced with a crowd that was beginning to gather, three times Peter denied that he knew Jesus.

c). Comment
Now it seems to me that apart from Judas, Peter, because of this one event, gets a lot of bad press. And that’s because he was there in the courtyard of the high priest, and was prepared to say anything to save his own neck. Peter knew that if he admitted to being a disciple that there would have been four crosses at Calvary not three—that he would have been nailed up there on the fourth. And yet leaving his three denials aside, can you think of any greater courage than what Peter displayed, by following Jesus into the courtyard in the first place?

Think about it . . . In the garden of Gethsemane, every follower ran for their lives. Only Peter followed the arresting party, albeit at a distance. And he followed them into the very premises where Jesus was being tried.

Now Peter didn’t end up going through with helping Jesus. Indeed he denied Jesus those three times. But the very fact that Peter placed his life in jeopardy by even going into the courtyard raises the issue of the lengths he was prepared to go for his beliefs. And Peter’s stand raises the issue of our stand, and the lengths we are prepared to go regarding matters of faith.

Peter followed at a distance, even into some very hostile territory. But that was his limit. The question is, then, how far are we prepared to go, to follow Jesus?

****************************************************************************

DEVOTION 4. PILATE
Mark 15:1-15

a). His Profile
Pontius Pilate was a Roman of an upper middle-class order. In 26AD he was appointed procurator by the emperor Tiberius, giving him total control of the province. He had full powers of life and death; he could overthrow capital sentences passed by the Sanhedrin—which had to be submitted to him for ratification; he was in charge of the appointing all of the high priests; and he controlled the Temple and its funds. What’s more he was in charge of the army of the occupation, which included up to 5,000 infantry stationed at Caesarea, with a detachment on duty at Jerusalem. All of which should have added up to Pilate being a very powerful and influential man.

However by the time of the crucifixion of Jesus, Pilate had made many mistakes—ones which had very much weakened his position and authority.

For example, when Pilate first took up his appointment as procurator he antagonised the Jews by setting up Roman standards, bearing images of the emperor, in the holy city. The result was determined resistance by the Jewish leaders. And despite Pilate threatening them with death if they continued their protests, it was Pilate who had to back down after 6 days and remove the images.

On another occasion, Pilate took money from the Temple treasury, to build an aqueduct to convey water to the city from a spring 40km away. A worthwhile project in itself. But the source of the money resulted in tens of thousands of Jews demonstrating against the project, to which, Pilate sent in his troops in disguise, and large numbers of the protestors were slain (Luke 13:1-2). So apart from official protests, this put him offside with Herod.

And, when a number of Samaritans had assembled to hear someone they believed to be a prophet, Pilate ordered their slaughter. An action that resulted in a protest to the governor of Syria, and Pilate being ordered to explain himself before the emperor himself.

By the time of the crucifixion, then, Pilate was a weak man, and ready to serve expediency rather than principle. The Jews were not like other conquered peoples, they protested at injustices. So Pilate lived in constant fear of imperial displeasure, particularly should the emperor hear of any further unrest in Judea.

b). His Part in the Story
So, when Jesus was passed to him to ratify the decision of the Sanhedrin, as was required, Pilate was faced with a dilemma. If he displeased the Jewish authorities, he could find another complaint going to the emperor. This would have meant him losing his job at the very least. On the other hand, if he did something to please the locals, then the emperor would hear nothing, and his position would remain firm. In addition to that, however, not only was this an opportunity to keep the locals happy, but it was an opportunity to appease Herod as well (Luke 23:6-12). And as a consequence, whilst not recorded in Mark’s gospel—but recorded in Luke’s— Pilate sent Jesus to Herod. An act which resulted in Pilate and Herod’s relationship changing drastically, to becoming the best of friends.

c). Comment
Of course whilst the result of sending Jesus to Pilate was a foregone conclusion. It does demonstrate the problems that being a weak leader can bring. Pilate, having interviewed Jesus, could see that Jesus had done nothing wrong. So when the crowd clamoured for Jesus’ blood, he asked them what crime Jesus had committed. (Mark 15:14). And yet, because of the position he found himself in, he still had Jesus flogged and handed over to be crucified.

And that raises a question regarding leadership in the Christian church. Because we need to stand firm on the fundamentals of the gospel. Because if we don’t—if we buckle in to the pressures of others—then we really are weak, and we don’t stand for much at all.

****************************************************************************

DEVOTION 5. ROMAN SOLDIERS
Mark 15:16-20

a). Their Profile
Now the Roman soldiers were auxiliary troops, recruited from among the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine. Normally assigned to look after prisoners in imperial custody, these were assigned to the military governor. And being a Jewish festive season—the Feast of Passover—they would have accompanied the military governor to Jerusalem to assist in the maintenance of public order. Because, as the occupying forces had discovered, with the massing of so many Jews for such an important religious event, things usually got very tense.

b). Their Part in the Story
When the soldiers were called, then, to take Jesus from Pilate to the Praetorian—the army headquarters—the soldiers were provided with an opportunity for a welcome diversion from the tensions in Jerusalem. And so the soldiers took that opportunity, in expectation of having a few moments of entertainment at their prisoner’s expense.

Consequently we see the kind of grotesque vaudeville: the emphasis on the royal pretensions of Jesus; Jesus being bruised and bleeding; and the vulgar mentality of the soldiers.

Of course, normally those condemned to be crucified were led naked to the place of execution and were scourged on the way. But this time it was different—Jesus had already been scourged—so things happened a little differently.

c). Comment
Of course we don’t know if those soldiers at any time really thought about what they were doing, or whether they simply got carried away with their bit of welcome relief.

As a consequence the example of the soldiers does raise the issue of how we deal with the tensions that we face in life. After all, things do go wrong, and there can be a tendency to lash out too. And to lash out in such a way, that we don’t always think through what we’re actually doing.

The Roman soldiers, therefore, stand as a reminder, that life does not always run smoothly. And when things get rough, and a little bit tense, there is a need to be careful that we respond in an appropriate way, in a way consistent with our faith.

****************************************************************************

DEVOTION 6. SIMON OF CYRENE
Mark 15:21-32

a). His Profile
We don’t know a lot about Simon of Cyrene. But what we do know is that Cyrene was an important city in Libya in North Africa, and that it had a large Jewish population. It is not unreasonable, then, to think that Simon, being in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover, was probably a Jew, who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover festival.

b). His Part in the Story
Now, it was normal for men condemned to death to carry the cross beam of the cross weighing between 14 and 18 kilos to the place of crucifixion. And that’s the way it all started for Jesus. However, Jesus, so weakened by his flogging, just couldn’t carry his cross all the way. So Simon was not asked, or even volunteered to carry his cross, but he was pressed into service—forced to carry it, on Jesus’ behalf.

c). Comment
Now one of the things we know about Simon was that Mark expected his readers to know who Simon was—because he specifically mentioned him by name. Simon wasn’t an unknown to the early church. Indeed, it is inferred that members of the church would have known his two sons too—Alexander and Rufus—and very likely because they later became members of the church.

And that has made me wonder . . . Because we know Simon was press ganged into carrying Jesus’s cross. But if he’d been a follower at the time of the crucifixion, given the opportunity, might he not have volunteered anyway?

You see, it seems to me that when there is a task to be done, when asked, people can be reluctant to say, “Yes.” People can be reluctant to volunteer. And yet, when it comes to the ministry of Jesus, if we don’t play our part, and play it willingly, then what we are actually doing is leaving everything up to Jesus.

And whilst there is no forcing people to do things in the Christian church. If we fail to help like Simon may have helped—if he’d been given the opportunity to volunteer—then we are effectively leaving the church stuck on the crucifixion road with nowhere to go, except by the things that God’s does by his own direct intervention.

****************************************************************************************

DEVOTION 7. MARY MAGDALENE,
MARY THE MOTHER OF JOSES & SALOME
Mark 15:33-41

a). Their Profile
Mary Magdalene
Mary Magdalene was a woman cured of possession of evil spirits (Luke 8:2). Indeed, Jesus cast seven spirits out of her, and in response she accompanied Jesus and his disciples during their evangelistic ministry.

Mary the mother of Joses
Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses (Mark 15:40), was probably a member of Jesus’ family (on Joseph’s side). Mary was probably Joseph’s brother’s wife, which would have made James and Joses Jesus’s cousins.

Salome
Similarly Salome was probably a family member too (but this time from Mary’s side). Indeed, she was probably Mary’s sister. And, if the sons of Zebedee – James and John – were her children, then that would mean that they were cousins of Jesus too

b). Their Part in the Story
However, leaving the details of relationships and family trees aside, Mary, Mary and Salome were just some of the women who had journeyed with Jesus to Jerusalem. And whilst they are not recorded to have taken any part in the events immediately preceding the crucifixion, it was normal for family and friends of the victim to be present at their execution. And, indeed, they watched the proceedings of the crucifixion itself, from a distance.

c). Comment
Now despite their possible absence in the hours before the crucifixion, and despite their distance from the cross—although it may have been that women were just not supposed to stand too close—Mark was still able to comment about the three, that they had followed Jesus throughout Galilee, and ministered to his needs (Mark 15:41).

And whilst they may have floundered over the preceding hours, that does raise the issue about our following, and our caring. Because, no matter what limitations or restrictions there may have been, the fact is that these women did care, and their acts of service, even at the foot of the cross, were seen as marks of true devotion.

The question is, though, can we say the same thing? That we really are followers, and that we really care too?

****************************************************************************

DEVOTION 8. JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA
Mark 15:42-47

a). His Profile
The final character for today is Joseph of Arimathea. A rich man, a member of the Sanhedrin, and the only person in the Sanhedrin who had not agreed to Jesus condemnation (Luke 23:51). Having said that, however, despite protesting Jesus’ innocence, he still did everything he could to hide the fact that he was a disciple (John 19:38). And he did that because he feared repercussions if he was too open.

b). His Part in the Story
And yet, all that changed after Jesus died. Joseph contacted Pilate, and arranged to collect Jesus’s body for burial. But not just for burial in any tomb, but in his own. And the measure of his wealth, and his new found devotion, was that he provided not only the fine linen for Jesus’ burial, but a completely unused tomb as well (Mt 27:57-60).

c). Comment
Now there was something about the crucifixion that changed Joseph’s faith. Something that made him realise that he had to stand up and be counted. And undoubtedly this would have risked his whole social position, and would have had serious implications regarding his place on the Sanhedrin, as well.

However, something must have clicked inside Joseph to make him understand that there is no such thing as a secret disciple. He must have realised that people are either followers of Jesus, or they’re not—there was no room for any shade of grey. Joseph realised that he needed to stand up and be counted. The question is, do we?

****************************************************************************************

CONCLUSION

The story of the crucifixion of Jesus is, in one sense, a very tragic tale. It’s not only the story of the death of the Messiah (with all that that means). But it it’s also the story of self-seeking authorities doing everything they could to maintain their power (and hence) the status quo; the failure of Jesus’ friends to stand up for their beloved Messiah; and the failure of ordinary men and women to stand up for decency and order and what they know is right.

Having said that however, if Jesus had not died, then we would not have a saviour who paid the penalty for our sins. And we would not have the opportunity for a restored relationship with God, and the gift of eternal life.

As a consequence, there are many lessons we can learn from this story—from the characters that took part. Not least of which is: Judas, and how easy it is to get off track, and the need to face up to our faults and failings; Caiaphas, and the responsibilities that positions of authority in the church brings, and the dangers of any abuse of power; Peter and the importance of the need to not only follow Jesus, but to make a stand in all matters relating to the faith; Pilate, and the need for strong leadership, and the dangers that buckling in to pressure brings; The Roman Soldiers, and the want of distractions, with the need to think carefully through our responses; Simon of Cyrene, and the need to volunteer and to accept responsibilities in the faith; Mary, Mary and Salome, and the need to follow, and to care, despite the odds; and Joseph of Arimathea, and the need to stand up and be counted, no matter what social or other implications there may be.

There are many lessons that can be learned from the behaviour of the characters surrounding Jesus, particularly at his most pressing hour of need.

 

Posted: 5th March 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcenturybible.com.au

Online Sales - Australia Only Dismiss