We’ve been waiting for this day to come since Christmas when a little baby boy was born in a manger and declared by Magi to be the King of the Jews. And, now we see him enter Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, among a throng of people declaring his royal victory with palm branches and clothing littered upon the roadway. The six weeks of Lent have led us to Holy Week and onward to the Resurrection Service of Easter next Sunday.
Jesus’ Triumphant Entry – Mark 11.1-10, Matt 21.1-9, Luke 19.28-40, John 12.12-19
In Mark’s Gospel this is Jesus’ first arrival into Jerusalem. In all the Gospels the event happens on Sunday or Monday prior to his arrest and subsequent death on Friday of the same week. Palm branches represent Jesus arrival into Jerusalem when all the people waved palm branches to welcome him as their King. On Palm Sunday we use palm branches to remember Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Traditionally palm branches were used as a symbol of victory in the Roman Empire. Mark 11.8, Matthew 21.8, and John 12.13 all refer to palm branches and garments being spread out before Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem. Luke 19.35 mentions only the personal garments of the people being spread out upon the pathway.
Today we move from joy-filled entry to sorrowful departure. Our text begins with the joyful entry into Jerusalem and the celebration of victory to the loss of friendship and tragedy that leads to the death of our Savior Jesus Christ.
Betrayal, Denial and Faithless Friends – Mark 14.10-11, 12-19, 20-26, 27-31, 43-52
Mark’s Gospel points us to the story of a man named Jesus who is in conflict with many kinds of people from religious leaders to household leaders to political leaders. Mark offers a compelling message that builds in conflict from his personal spiritual battle with Satan in the wilderness to individual spiritual battles along his journey across Galilee to community spiritual battles in Capernaum to religious and political spiritual battles at Jerusalem. These conflicts build in momentum until the crisis ends with the joining of religious and political forces who plot and scheme then take his life. Perhaps the most significant emotionally charged spiritual battle comes from within his own band of friends. It is here among his closest and dearest of friends that Jesus must overcome his deepest personal wounding on this earth – to be abandoned to the grave.
The Gospel of Mark is unique in how it communicates the Good News. Mark retells Peter’s witness of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ministry. Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem is followed by a week of teachings and tragedy (Mark 11.1-10 – 15.47). The journey begins on the first day of the week and concludes on the night before the Sabbath. In a week’s time Jesus finds himself facing the loss of his relationships with his close friends, his religious community, and his distant followers – even his Heavenly Father.
UPWARD BETRAYAL. Our passage today begins by naming Jesus’ friend and betrayer, Judas Iscariot. It seems the words of impending betrayal linger in the heart and mind of the storyteller. To place Judas’ name at such at important event draws out attention to Jesus’ coming betrayal. The writer draws our attention to Judas Iscariot just before the Passover meal is prepared.
During the meal, Jesus said, “I assure you that one of you will betray me – someone eating with me.” With the wait of sorrow each disciple responded one-by-one, “It’s not me, is it?” (Mark 14.19). Perhaps a better translation is a much haughtier statement with all kinds of arrogant inflection, “Surely, not I.” This nuance of the Greek helps us to understand the passage at the deeper emotional level. The tone here does not suggest introspection as one might think. The comment here should be understood as a confident arrogance.
The passage tells us that the religious leaders were delighted, “Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to give Jesus up to them. When they heard it, they were delighted and promised to give him money. So he started looking for an opportunity to turn him in.”
In our passage we witness Judas’ separation from God. We can see how his upward relationship of love has become broken. When we look across the Scriptures, Genesis 3 really relates well to this situation between Judas and Jesus. Genesis 3 describes the break between God and his people. We call the break in relationship the Fall of Humanity. As a result of the Fall humanity has a Fallen Nature that can only be redeemed through the power of the Holy Spirit working within our inmost being and in our lives. As a result of the Fall each one of us has a propensity toward sinful behavior just like Judas. Judas’ betrayal was an upward separation from God. It was sin directly committed against God Himself. Judas’ sin broke the covenant between himself and the God he professed. Judas’ sin was going it alone. He was out of touch with God who at the center of all life.
We know that whenever the name Judas Iscariot is mentioned in the Gospels, it is spoken of in relationship to his betrayal of Jesus. He is never spoken of outside of his final identity as the one who would betray Jesus. We all see in the Matthew’s Gospel that Judas collected the money and then could not bear what he had done so much so that he took his own life (Matt. 27.5). Judas actions had a direct impact on his relationship with God.
This same behavior happens when you or I turn our back on God. When a child grows up in the church and then chooses not to be religious or chooses a different religion to follow, they are breaking that upward relationship with God. When we turn away from God, I can only imagine how that must break his heart.
INWARD DENIAL. Peter, who has been Mark’s storyteller, comes a key character in the storyline. In the following scene at the Mt. of Olives Peter spoke up and proclaimed his allegiance – his loyalty, faithfulness, and commitment to Jesus, “Even if everyone else stumbles, I won’t” (Mark 14.29). But Jesus assured him that he would indeed fail to be faithful even before the rooster crowed twice at daybreak.
Three times in this section the image of a rooster crowing highlights the painful denial of Jesus by a faithful friend (Mark 13.35, 14.30, 14.72). I remember the first time I heard the crow of the early morning rooster, and how startled I was as the passages of Peter’s betrayal came flooding back. The one who would deny Jesus caused destruction of human life by cutting of the ear of the high priest’s slave (Mark 14.47), which Jesus would quickly reprimand Peter (John 18.11), then heal the wounded ear (Luke 22.51). Jesus had taught his disciples to give life and not take from life, yet, the symbolism of the destruction of an ear – not hearing – grips my heart. Our own ears deceive us at times. We think we can hear God, know in our hearts what he expects of us, yet we can easily be deceived by our own well-intentioned behavior.
In our passage today it’s easy to see how sin can separate us from our selves. We can understand how our inward relationship with our selves can be sabotaged. When we follow Jesus, it seems there are two wills warring within us – our own imperfect will and God’s perfect will. Paul helps us to understand our own imperfect nature when he wrote about himself, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7.15). Paul explains that we are powerless to avoid sin in our lives, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7.24). I can only imagine how Peter’s denial must have broke God’s heart!
Though we work ever so earnestly at various means of saving ourselves—being good, going to church, reading the Bible—these in themselves cannot save us. Sin is not a problem to be solved. It’s our radical separation from God, a separation that only God can heal by a radical act of love found only in the death of Christ Jesus. When we realize how we have wronged someone else, it breaks our hearts. When we come to the place of repentance, we realize we have to say, “I’m sorry. I love you.”
OUTWARD FALTERING FAITH. As we continue to look at our passage from Mark we see a little farther down the storyline that Jesus both his joy and his deep sorrow together (Mark 14.26-27). As Jesus finished the Passover meal, he went out from the upper room singing praises to God along with the 11 disciples, and they arrived at the Mt. of Olives. There in this remote place of solitude where Jesus had gone many times with his closest friends, he tells the disciples, “You will all falter in your faithfulness to me” (Mark 14.27).
Mark’s Gospel places the passage of the Passover meal in a large body of work that calls attention to the dangers that lie ahead for the disciples. Jesus urges his followers to “watch out” (Mark 13.5, 9), “stay alert” (Mark 13.33,34,35, 37), “keep alert” (Mark 14.34) and again “stay alert” (Mark 14.37,38).
At the time of Jesus’ arrest the disciples have grown weary from waiting with Jesus for his untimely death. Can there be any doubt that the heaviness of the presence of God was surely upon them as Jesus tarried in the presence of his Father for strength for what lay ahead for him and his followers?
As soon as Judas arrives at the Mt. of Olives, the sacred place for prayer for Jesus, he embraced him with a kiss (Mark 14.44-45). The betrayal happens with the most intimate expression of affection, a kiss. The close proximity of another person in presumed intimacy is the hallmark of Jesus sacrifice. Those who were his closest companions, dearly beloved of the Lord Jesus, were the ones who caused his deepest emotional pain. I can only imagine how the turning away of Jesus’ community of his closest companions must have broken his heart!
In our passage today we can grasp how the disciples were separate from one another and the people around them. We can observe how the outward relationships of have become hindered by sin. All of his disciples would flee from his side (Mark 14.50). One young man found himself stripped of his linen cloth running away completely naked (Mark 14.51). In our sin we distance ourselves from others. Sin causes us to break fellowship with others in an outward expression of love from our hearts to theirs. The disciples in fact distanced themselves from the very One they needed to support. They were no longer able to show love to Jesus in an outward tangible expression of giving them selves in his service.
Strangers were there to fill in the gaps of need for Jesus. Strangers were there to witness and serve Jesus in his final hours on this earth. Pilate and his soldiers would mock Jesus by declaring Jesus’ identity by placing on Jesus a purple sash, a crown of thrones, and kneeing before him hailing Jesus as the “King of the Jews” (Mark 15.17). Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry Jesus’ cross (Mark 15.21). The centurion soldier declared, “This man was certainly God’s Son” (Mark 15.39). And, the women watched from a distance (Mark 15.40). Even Jesus burial was handled by a distant follower and a prominent member of the Jerusalem Council, Joseph from Arimathea (Mark 15.43).
All the disciples faltered in their faithfulness to Jesus. At the time of Jesus’ greatest need for companionship, everyone was hidden away. As you and I gaze at the cross today we can ask ourselves, “Would I have known how to be a friend to Jesus in that moment? Could I have stood by him in his suffering and death?” When we are confronted with the real needs of others, it easier for us to offer lips service or token acts of fidelity in relationships rather than walking through the difficult moments. We put our own needs ahead of others who may need us more than ever in the midst of their crisis. At times we may even feel hostile toward others because of what we consider poor choices. These hostilities tend to divide relationships rather than grow them.
CONCLUSION. Jesus’ relationships with his closes friends were broken by their betrayal, their denial, and their faltering faith. The fellowship of friendship was broken upward, inward, and outward. The destruction was complete. Judas no longer experienced the upward fellowship with God. Peter no longer experienced inward fellowship of peace. All the disciples no longer experienced the outward fellowship of mutual support.
For three long days they experienced this grave separation from Jesus. The experience of the Lenten journey allows us to stop and ponder this grave separation all over again every year. It causes us to stop and ponder our relationships with God, our self, and others. As we begin Holy Week we move from the joy of Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem to his suffering and death.
COME TO THE TABLE. As disciples on this side of the story, we know that Resurrection is coming! On the first day of the week the women would bring Peter, and the rest of the disciples, the witness of Good News – the Resurrection of Christ Jesus. In the days ahead Jesus would teach them the essentials about this very Good News. In the days ahead Jesus would ascend in bodily form into Heaven itself. In the days ahead Jesus would send his Holy Spirit to empower the believers for the building of the Church.
In the days ahead we have much to celebrate but today we are left to ponder the story of sorrow of broken relationships – our upward relationship with God, our relationship within our selves, and our relationship with others around us. As Easter people we can rejoice even today knowing that we are empowered by the Holy Spirit and redeemed so that our relationships with God, our selves and others can be mended. As we come to Holy Communion today let us remember to turn from our broken relationships and ask God to help us in the power of his Holy Spirit to be the disciples he’s called us to become.
When we come to the Table today and celebrate Holy Communion grace and mercy are extended to each of you. It is here at the Table that we remember our sins and recommit our lives to Christ Jesus. Communion is a means of grace where God communicates his grace to every believer. Here at the Table we let go of our disappointments with God, ourselves, and others. The Table is the place when Jesus and all his disciples are gathered together in unity to share a common cup and a common loaf. Come with earnest hearts seeking upward, inward, and outward community!