Jesus has come to give himself, even for his unfaithful disciples (Mark 14:12–25)

One of my greatest fears is that, as I grow older, I will harden into a particular shape. What I mean by that is this: I’ve seen so many people who, as they age, become very rigid in their outlook on the world. An older gentleman has already seen enough of the church and theology that he’s decided where he stands, and no one will shake him from his dogma. An older woman has decided that Political Party A is the cause of all that’s wrong with the country, and no amount of reasoning will change her mind. Another older man complains incessantly about the “kids” who are so disrespectful; he’s convinced that this is the root of evil in society, and don’t you try to disagree with him. To be old and unteachable is one of the saddest fates I can think of. (And truth be told, many people don’t wait until they’re old to become unteachable.)

One particular shape we can harden into is that of a bitter and fearful person. I wish I could say I don’t see this much, but I do. This is a person who’s been burned in the past, betrayed by someone she trusted. So now this person builds a wall around herself, keeping out anyone and anything that might pose a threat to her safety. She’s under lock and key; she doesn’t want to be hurt again.

Jesus, too, was betrayed and abandoned by his closest friends. How did he respond? Did he harden into a fearful person, surrounding himself with a protective shell?

We’re nearing the end of the last week of Jesus’ ministry before his death. Mark relates the story of how Jesus prepared to celebrate the Jewish Passover festival. Just like his preparations to enter Jerusalem (Mark 11:1–6), Jesus has everything planned out. He tells them to look for a man carrying a water jar, which would have been unusual since that was the responsibility of a woman or a servant in that culture. They find the man, who shows them a guest room that is ready for them to use. Whether or not Jesus has arranged this in advance is not clear; the point is that he is orchestrating the final week of his life. Jesus isn’t walking into a deathtrap—he knows exactly what is taking place.

So when they begin celebrating the Passover, Jesus warns them about what is coming: “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” His betrayer will not be a random member of the crowd but one from his trusted inner circle. I’m sure this was not easy for Jesus to know. How would you respond if you discovered one of your treasured friends or family members was looking for a way to hurt you?

When his disciples hear these words, they are devastated. Mark records that they begin asking Jesus, one after another, “Is it I?”

Think about that for a moment. This tells us that Judas is not an aberration. He is the betrayer, sure, but it could have been any one of the other disciples. They are all weak and vulnerable; under the right circumstances, they might be the ones who hand Jesus over to his enemies. Jesus is surrounded by unreliable, unfaithful friends. He confirms, “It is one of the twelve.”

Jesus also says, “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” It has always been God’s plan that Jesus will be betrayed by Judas. From the foundation of the earth this was ordained to take place. Yet Judas is not acting as a puppet; he is entirely responsible for his actions. Jesus has known his betrayal is coming, and he knows that Judas is perfectly happy to be the betrayer.

So how does Jesus respond? Does he hold his disciples at arm’s length? Does he refuse their company? Does he do his best to protect himself so he won’t be hurt?

No. Instead, Jesus takes the Passover bread and breaks it. He says to his disciples, “Take; this is my body.” The bread is a symbol of his own body that will be broken for them. Then he takes a cup of wine and gives it to all of them to drink (even Judas!). He tells them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”

Jesus responds to betrayal and unfaithfulness by allowing himself to be broken and poured out for those who will abandon him. His bloody death inaugurates a new covenant, better than the covenant that came through Moses. With this new covenant, God promises, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.…They shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquities, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:33–34).

Jesus promises that a new kingdom is coming. It is so close that he says, “I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” And to bring his disciples into this kingdom, God will change their hearts to know him and to love his law. He will forgive them for their sin, for their rebellion against his reign.

That is the beauty of the gospel. Jesus’ disciples have done nothing to deserve this awesome gift. He gives his very self on behalf of traitors and cowards—on behalf of you and me. We have wounded him and killed him, but he invites us to his table as his dearest friends.

Jesus possesses fearsome authority (Mark 4:35–41)

A couple of winters ago, I was taking my car around a corner when it slid on a patch of ice. In a stunned, this-can’t-be-happening moment, I felt my car careen toward another parked vehicle and strike it with a solid thud. Amazingly, no damage was done—our cars were both coated in ice, so not even the paint was scratched! Yet I was so rattled by the accident that I refused to drive my car for the rest of the day. Ever since, I have been far more cautious when turning a corner on an icy winter day.

Have you ever experienced an event that rattled you so much that it altered the way you react to the situations you face in life? For the first time, Jesus’ disciples are about to experience that feeling when they realize that they have underestimated this Galilean rabbi.

After a day of preaching in parables to his vast audience, Jesus decides it’s time to move on to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. So he and his disciples set out across the lake in a flotilla of fishing boats. Unfortunately, they are caught in the middle of the lake by a terrific windstorm which whips up massive waves that threaten to sink the vessels. Many of the disciples on Jesus’ boat were probably fishermen, and they knew all too well how deadly these storms could be. They could see that the boat was filling with water, that they couldn’t bail it out fast enough, that their death was inevitable. And just a few hours ago they had been basking in the attention of their rabbi and the adulation of the crowds!

At some point in their growing panic, some of Jesus’ disciples notice that he is in the stern—and that he is fast asleep. Unbelievable! They wake him up and shout, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” That’s the only possible explanation for why he is asleep. Jesus seems so callous toward their very survival.

Ignoring their question, Jesus gets on his feet and shouts to the wind and the waves roaring around him, “Peace! Be still!” He rebukes them, just as he has rebuked the unclean spirits. And then—“the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” And just as the demons did, the forces of nature obey him. I like to picture the storm clouds dissipating, leaving the reflections of stars in the smooth mirror of the lake. Little ripples spread out from the boat as it bobs up and down in the water. There is no sign of a storm, not a sound. The disciples are dumbstruck. After a moment’s silence, Jesus turns to them.

“Why are you so cowardly? Have you still no faith?”

Most translations have Jesus accusing the disciples of being “afraid,” but actually he is more frank than that. He calls them cowards. Their panic was unreasonable and unacceptable.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to sympathize with the disciples here. I can see why they would be afraid. The storm is too powerful; the waves are too great; their boat is too small. That’s not how Jesus sees it, though. He knows he has authority over the forces of nature. They can’t do a thing that he doesn’t permit. No need to interrupt his nap.

The disciples don’t perceive Jesus’ power, so they question his love. They doubt him. And because they doubt both his love for them and his power to save them, they become cowards. If you want to become a coward, this is the quickest way.

When Jesus intervenes with a miracle, their cowardice is replaced not with confidence but with “great fear.” When a great storm is replaced with a great calm, they are filled with great fear. The windstorm was tremendously dangerous; how much more so the man who has authority over the storm! “Who then is this?” they ask.

God often uses fear to unsettle us. The disciples didn’t seem to fathom that Jesus was anything more than a great teacher and miracle worker. Perhaps they may have entertained the notion that he was something more. But now, burning in their souls, is the reality that they don’t have a clue who Jesus really is. New questions are forming in their minds, questions whose answers will lead them to faith.

Jesus’ challenge to his disciples is essentially this: “Do you trust me?” By their actions, they show that they don’t—not yet. They need to see his fearsome authority over the wind and the sea. They need to know that he is more than a man. This is the cure for doubt and cowardice—to see Jesus Christ as trustworthy. You are weak; you are at the mercy of powerful forces that will crush you. But Jesus is strong. Don’t underestimate him.