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Mark 14:53-15:15: Forsaking God by Fearing, Following, and Pleasing Men Print E-mail
Mark
Sunday, 09 December 2007

Most of us are intrigued by a story that involves a good trial.  Many suspenseful stories conclude with some sort of trial.  And often the trial reveals as much about those trying the case as it does about the defendant or the case itself.  In our passage this morning, we read of the ‘trials’ of Jesus.  Yet, He is not the only one being tested.  Mark’s telling of the events reveals much about the religious elite, about Peter, about the crowd, and about Pilate.  Of course, it teaches us much about Christ as well.  As we have seen so often, there is a noted contrast between His actions and the actions of others (or the actions that one might expect).

The events following Jesus’ arrest in the garden begin with His ‘trial’ before the religious leaders of Jerusalem.  I put ‘trial’ in quotes because it is questionable as to whether or not this was an official trial.  Either way, we see their unbelief and rejection of Jesus as the Messiah in the text.  Look at verses 53-65.  After noting that Peter was outside during the questioning, Mark tells us that they began by seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death.  Mark has already informed us of their hatred of Jesus and their intent to destroy Him (see 11:18 and 14:1).  Before the problem had been offending the crowds, now the problem is finding a crime that is punishable by death.  Yet, the testimony about Him speaking of the temple’s destruction did not agree (and seemingly even if it did it was not punishable by death).

Thus, the High Priest questions Jesus.  He asks Him plainly: Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?  Up to this point in the Gospel, Jesus had kept this truth relatively secret.  Yet, there no longer remains a reason to take such action.  Thus, He answers firmly: I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.  This was too much for the High Priest.  He accuses Jesus of blasphemy (which was a right accusation if His statement was false).  Those who were gathered agree with the High Priest and the beating of Jesus begins.

Meanwhile, Peter is outside dealing with his own ‘trial.’  Jesus, in keeping with His prayer in the garden, is remaining faithful to the plans and purposes of the Father.  So, what about Peter and the others in this story?  How will they respond?

First, Peter forsakes Christ by fearing the bystanders (v. 66-72).

Mark has already told us that Peter was following at a distance and made his way to the courtyard of the High Priest (14:54).  He picks up his story in verse 66.  Look at verses 66-72 with me.  As with Judas, the betrayal is familiar and the impact is often lost on us.  Yet, when we consider everything that is happening, we cannot help but be startled by the contrast.  While Jesus is boldly claiming to be the Christ without defending Himself concerning the other false accusations, Peter is outside blatantly denying any connection with Him.  Peter does not want to be found guilty by association, so he denies that he was a follower of the Nazarene three times.  While Jesus is being mocked by the religious leaders and told to prophesy, Peter is outside fulfilling the prophecy that Jesus had spoke to him just a few hours earlier (see 14:30).  His fear of these bystanders and their connecting him to Jesus leads him to forsake Christ.

Thus, do we simply have another Judas here?  In one sense, yes.  Just as Judas betrayed the Lord, so did Peter betray Him as well.  Yet, in another sense, there is a great difference between the two.  Even though Mark does not tell us what happens to Judas, the other Gospels do.  Judas follows his act of betraying Christ with another reprehensible action: suicide.  Yet, what of Peter?  How does he deal with his rejection of the Christ?  Mark tells us that after he realizes what he has done in fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy he broke down and wept.  We do not hear any more of Peter until after the resurrection, where the angel gives clear instructions to tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee.  Again, the other Gospels tell us that Peter is repentant and that the Lord forgives him.  Also, we see in the book of Acts that Peter goes on to be used greatly by the Lord.

Yet, here we have him weeping over his forsaking of the Lord due to his fear of men.  This leads us all to an important question: are we fearing men or God?  Are we more concerned with our jobs and our security than we are with faithfully speaking the gospel?  Are we worried about how our faithful witness of our belief in Christ will impact our relationships with our friends and family?  Are we so afraid of our consequences that we allow ourselves to be trapped by our sin?  May we learn a lesson from Peter this morning: the fear of man will only lead us to forsaking God.  If you find yourself in such a position this morning, then respond as Peter with great brokenness.  But do not stop there.  Take your sins to the risen Savior and confess them freely.  You will find that His faithfulness to forgive has not changed.  When He sees fit to grant repentance and brokenness, He follows it with grace and mercy.

From here the story moves to the Roman trial, where we first learn a lesson from the crowds.

Second, the crowds forsake Christ by following the chief priests (15:11).

The chief priests, as Jesus had predicted (10:33), hand Him over to Pilate to be tried for treason, a crime that was punishable by death.  We will look at Pilate’s actions in a moment, but I want to focus on the crowd first.  They come to Pilate asking for him to release a prisoner, as was the custom at Passover.  Pilate asks them if they want him to release Jesus, but the chief priests lead them to ask for Barabbas instead.  Look at 15:11. 

We are not told much about Barabbas, but we know that he was guilty of murder and rebellion (15:7).  Of course the irony of the crowds’ actions is obvious: they cried out for the guilty to be pardoned and the innocent to be punished.  Once again we find ourselves in the story, for Jesus died in our place just as much as He did Barabbas’.  He, being innocent, was punished for our guilt.  At the same time, we too are numbered among the crowd screaming for the crucifixion of Christ.  Stuart Townend captured this well in the song ‘How Deep The Father’s Love for us,’ where he writes: “Behold the man upon the cross/ My sin upon His shoulders/ Ashamed I hear my mocking voice/ Call out among the scoffers.”  One of the bands (The OC Supertones) that I listened to in college stated it this way: “My sin yelled ‘crucify’ louder than the mob that day.”

When you consider all of these events and how they led to the cross, it is indeed humbling.  The religious leaders were jealous.  Judas was willing to betray.  The crowds were willing to follow the chief priests in calling for the crucifixion of Christ.  This leads us to another important question: are we following the crowd or God?  The mob mentality set in that day in Jerusalem, but it is a temptation to us as well.  Is our life revolving around the truth of the gospel and God’s word or around the American Dream? 

Right now, as we are in the middle of the biggest retail season, that is a difficult question.  Even in how we live out our Christianity, are we following the ‘religious elite’ of our day (or of our denomination) or are we listening to the Word?  Maybe our struggle is in following the crowd of tradition?  We look at the conclusions of (recent) history and think to ourselves: ‘Surely that crowd did not get it wrong.’  Either way, we must be cautious and make sure that we are not just following people, but that we are following the Lord.  Of course our standard of measurement is the Word of God.  Yet, most of the ‘religious crowds’ that I know of would say the same.  So we must study the Word carefully and prayerfully that the Spirit might lead and guide us into all truth, protecting us from forsaking the Lord by simply following the crowd.

Let’s turn our attention to Pilate now and what we can learn from his actions.

Third, Pilate forsakes Christ by Pleasing Men (15:1-15).

Pilate is an interesting character in the story.  Mark tells us that he is somewhat perceptive.  He is amazed at Jesus’ silence in response to the accusations of the chief priests.  Likewise, look at verse 10.  He knew that the chief priests had an ulterior motive in wanting Jesus killed.  Granted, this may have been fairly obvious, but it is telling that Mark notes it. 

It seems from the different reactions and questions that Pilate is somewhat complex.  He struggles in knowing what to do with Christ and John tells us that he sought to have Him released (see John 19:12).  Yet, what is the ultimate downfall of Pilate?  Mark tells us in verse 15.  Look at that verse with me.  However you take Pilate’s actions, you cannot get around the fact that he ultimately wanted to satisfy the crowd.  Pile Pilate’s attempt to please the crowd on top of Judas’s betrayal with a kiss on top of the religious leaders’ determination to destroy Jesus and you begin to see the full weight of the wickedness that led to the crucifixion of Christ.

Once again, we must ask ourselves the pointed question: are we trying to please men or God?  Who or what defines what we consider to be success?  Whose approval are we striving for?  Whose wishes do we want to satisfy?  Pilate’s struggle was not new.  He was not the first to be lead by a longing for man’s approval.  And he was not the last.  Man-pleasing is a full-time occupation for many of us unfortunately.  We get lured in by promises of peace and comfort and we even convince ourselves that pleasing men is actually pleasing to God.  Yet, God wants us to serve men with grace and truth instead of pleasing them with whatever it is that they might fancy at the time.  O Lord, keep us from this temptation that we might please You in all things.

As we prepare to come to the Table this morning, I would like to conclude by highlighting the contrast of Jesus and His response to the trials.  By His bold acceptance of the title of Christ, He demonstrates that He does not fear men.  He knew that such a title would be considered blasphemy by the High Priest and treason by the Roman government.  Yet, He was not afraid of what they could do.  He had settled the matter in the garden: He was committed to faithfully following the plan of the Father. 

So, while the priests were plotting and Peter was denying and the crowds were yelling and Pilate was giving in, Jesus remained faithful.  He did not defend Himself against the false accusations.  He did not despair at Peter’s denial.  He did not crumble under the crowds’ cry to crucify.  And He did not demand Pilate to reconsider.  Quiet, humble, resolve to carry out the plan of God.  How could we ever consider forsaking such a Savior?  By His grace, may we fear Him alone, follow Him alone, and strive to please Him alone.  To Him be all the glory.  Amen. 

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 19 December 2007 )

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