The following is an unedited sermon manuscript; for an explanation of my sermon manuscripts, click here.
*Originally preached April 25th, 2021*
Sermon Audio: Jesus and the Table (Mark 14:17-31)
And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18 And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” 19 They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” 20 He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. 21 For 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.”
22 And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”26 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” 30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same. – Mark 14:17-31
In verses 17-21 we see Jesus prophesy that one of the twelve will betray Him (something we saw last week in 14:10-11, when Judas goes to the chief priests). In verses 22-25 we see Jesus celebrate the Last Supper with His disciples. Then in verses 26-31 we see Jesus and His disciples, after singing a hymn together, exit to the Mount of Olives where Jesus foretells that all of His disciples will abandon Him. Here we see God’s use of evil, God’s use of weakness, and God’s welcome at the table:
God’s Use of Evil
The scene opens during the celebration of the Passover meal (cf. Mark 14:1, 12). The Passover meal was the yearly celebration of God’s great act of deliverance in the Exodus. Israel had been held as slaves for hundreds of years to Egypt and God had promised to deliver them through the sending of many signs and wonders, that they may be freed. The Passover was a memorial feast to remind them of God’s deliverance, of sparing the Israelites through the sacrifice of a lamb, and of leading Israel out to Mt. Sinai where they were constituted as a nation. So the Passover was kind of like Israel’s Easter and Fourth of July all rolled into one.
If you remember, Mark’s gospel opened up with a citation from Isaiah 40, “A voice cries in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,” (Mark 1:3; Isa 40:3). In Isaiah this is linked with the wider promise that Isaiah makes of a new kind of Exodus that will take place in the last days. And Mark, in announcing Jesus, explains that Jesus has come to bring that about. But where the first Exodus sought to redeem Israel from physical bondage and slavery, Jesus has come to deliver His people from their spiritual bondage to sin and death. And just as the first Exodus was immediately preceded by the first celebration of the Passover meal, so too here do we see the new Exodus that Jesus is about to work be preceded by a Passover celebration. Only there’s one problem—there’s a traitor in their midst.
At some point in the meal, Jesus pauses from eating and somberly explains to the disciples: “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me,” Mark 14:18. One wonders what was immediately going through the minds of the disciples—What? One of us will betray you?? One wonders what was going through the mind of Judas—the thrill of panic, the fear, maybe remorse? Jesus explains that it is indeed one of the twelve, one sitting at the very table (Mark 14:20). Will the traitor in their midst ruin the great plan of salvation, the new Exodus that God has been planning since time immemorial? While we may be tempted to think that a traitor may indeed thwart God’s plans, Jesus actually understands Judas’ betrayal to be a fulfillment of God’s Word. “For 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,” Mark 14:21.
Jesus understands that Judas’ act is—unbeknownst to him—actually fulfilling the eternal plan of God; it has been foretold “as it is written” in the Scriptures. The Old Testament had prophesied that Yahweh’s “suffering servant” would be crushed, bruised, and killed for the sins of the people (Isa 53). But Psalm 41, a psalm of David written hundreds of years before Jesus walked the earth, seems to foretell the very act of betrayal. In the psalm David laments that his enemies have surrounded him and are hoping for his demise, but the psalm concludes with David being confident that Yahweh will “raise him up” and finally vindicate him before his enemies. But notice what verse 9 explains, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me,” (Ps 41:9).
We see something similar later in Jesus’ foretelling that all His disciples will abandon Him, “And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered,” Mark 14:27. Here Jesus cites Zechariah 13:7, that describes the shepherd of Yahweh being struck down, resulting in 2/3 of Israel perishing, but a small remnant being purified and saved. This could be, as Jesus is speaking, referencing to the coming destruction of Jerusalem Jesus spoke of earlier in Mark 13.
But, friend, I wonder if you see the truth that is undergirding these fulfillments. In pointing to the betrayal of Judas and the abandonment of the disciples as being fulfillments of Scripture, Jesus is teaching us that God is using evil things to fulfill His purposes, and thus in some way is in control of them.
Look at the book of Acts for a moment for a powerful example of this. Peter praying to the Father exclaims, “for truly in this city (Jerusalem) there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place,” Acts 4:27-28. Who is arrayed against Jesus here? Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles (probably referring to the Romans) and the people of Israel. All of these people, these crowds were following their heart, making their own decisions. Judas freely chose to betray Jesus. The disciples willingly abandoned Jesus and Peter chose to deny Jesus. All of them exercising their free will and doing wicked, wicked things with it. And yet, over, under, and through all of this freely chosen evil, whose hand and whose plan is working? God’s! Whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. There is no evil at work in God’s universe that is not somehow, mysteriously, being folded into God’s eternal purposes.
Friend, you need to know that for your life. There is nothing that has come into your life—big or small, good or bad—that has not been sovereignly orchestrated by our good Father, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” Romans 8:28.
I remember when I was a youth pastor I once helped lead a mission trip to the plains of Wyoming. One night, while around a campfire one of the other leaders on the trip shared her story of the terrible and dark kind of childhood she had, experiencing every kind of abuse one could experience. But, amazingly, this trauma and pain had led her to find her deepest comfort and rest in God and she now possessed a faith like on oak tree precisely because of the pain. While the story was encouraging, it brought to mind someone that I loved very dearly who had experienced similar stories of trauma and abuse. But this one had no happy ending, no bend in the river of suffering that revealed some new vista, some greater plan. This person that I knew hated God and despised Christianity because of her suffering, because of her abuse. She, at one point, had professed faith in Jesus, looking for healing and hope, but eventually turned away and found the Christian God even more impotent and distasteful than before.
I walked away from the campfire and stared up at the wide, Wyoming night sky. It looked like God had dumped a buck of marbles of light across a dark sheet. I was struck by the startling beauty of the stars, lights shining in the darkness, lights that would not be seen were the darkness not present. Pre-modern people believed that the firmament above was like a tempered dome and the stars were pinpricks of light from heaven that had punctured the solid firmament, literally displaying a foretaste of the beauty of heaven—beauty that could only be seen in contrast with the inky black of night.
And yet, I still felt angry. Why would God let this happen? Why use pain and suffering for such redemptive purposes in one life, but not in another? Why let the delicate flower of faith begin to grow, only to let it be trampled? And there under the silent night sky I received no new revelation from God, no voice, no angel from on high bringing a message. But something in me changed. What I intellectually knew to be true—God works all things together for good for those who love Him—was now being required to be applied in real life. A gun collector can keep many antique muskets hanging on his wall, but its another thing entirely to require him to go shoot one of them. When I couldn’t see how God would work everything together, when from my vantage point everything looked like a loss, would I still trust Him? Would the theology I professed to believe in actually be something I leaned on? By God’s grace, like a little kid who chooses to trust his dad, I decided that God both knew more than I did and was better than I was.
When we read these little comments about evil being used by God to bring about His work, this isn’t intended to be merely some mental exercise where we simply solve rational puzzles. These are intended to be providing foundation under our feet to give us footing when tidal waves of suffering wash over us, when your child says they want nothing to do with you or nothing to do with Christianity, when your spouse tells you they don’t want to be married to you anymore, when death bereaves you of those you love most dearly—when the providence of God seems to only hand you cold meals of baffling pain that seem to lack any point or greater meaning at all, what do you do?
You tell yourself: Just because I can’t make sense of this doesn’t make God’s promises any less true. If God can use the greatest evil in the world—the denial, betrayal, and murder of the Son of God—for the greatest good the world has ever known—salvation—then He is capable to take this suffering and use it for good.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense
But trust Him for His grace
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face
God’s Use of Weakness
After the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives His disciples more bad news, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee,” Mark 14:27-28. What follows is Peter’s famous proclamation of his bold and sincere belief that Jesus is wrong, “Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same,” Mark 14:29-31.
Every time Jesus has spoken about His death the disciples have always responded with self-assertion and conceit. This is actually the second time that Peter has rebuked Jesus, No Jesus, you’re wrong. The first time was back in Mark 8:31-33 when Jesus first announces He will die and Peter pulls Jesus aside to correct Him, No Jesus, you’re wrong—you won’t die. Here again, No Jesus, you’re wrong—I won’t deny you. Even if all the other disciples fall away, even if I have to die, I won’t deny you.
Of course, it will only take a matter of a few hours before Jesus’ prediction comes to pass. One by one, all of Jesus’ disciples will fade away at the sight of armed guards apprehending Jesus, and Peter—bold and brash Peter—will not only fall away, but will do far worse. Look ahead to the end of chapter fourteen:
“And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept,” – Mark 14:66-72
It can be easy to be overly critical of Peter—making this dramatic oath to stick by Jesus come Hell or highwater when, in just a few hours, he will be literally invoking a curse on himself to prove that he doesn’t even know who Jesus is—may I be damned to hell if I am lying about whether or not I know this man! But I wonder what you or I would do were we put in the same situation, a situation which surely no one in this room has faced. Who knows what kind of justifications were pulsing through Peter’s mind in those flash moments, the fear that gripped him as he saw Jesus being publicly beaten before his eyes. What’s amazing isn’t Peter’s denial—what’s amazing is the welcome Jesus still offers despite knowing disciple’s forthcoming denial. Notice what Jesus said, “You will all fall away… But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee,” Mark 14:27-28. You will all fall away, you will deny and abandon me, and I will die. But that won’t be the end. I will rise again, and when I do, I will go before you to Galilee and await you there.
Could you imagine being in the disciples’ shoes, listening to Jesus explain this to you? You are all going to fail, you are going to let me down, but don’t worry—I’ll still be there. Even further, the language of “I will go before you,” is language again taken from the Exodus story. After God frees His people from Egypt He promises to “go before them” in a pillar of cloud and fire, leading them to freedom and safety (Ex 13:21). The plan of redemption is not foiled by Judas’ betrayal or by the disciples’ weakness, the new Exodus will occur, and it will take place through the calamity of Christ’s death. But still, to our wayward and weighed down hearts, the welcome of Jesus here is astonishing.
Many people will at times attempt to keep God at an arm’s length because they think that If there is a God, if He knew the things I have done, He wouldn’t want anything to do with me, or they stay away from the Church because they think If these people knew who I really was, they would cast me out so fast. But what do we see here? Jesus sees His disciples weakness, He knows the cowardice that lies within them, He knows that when push comes to shove they are going to chose their own comfort over faithfulness to Christ, He knows that won’t stay strong…and yet, He still stays with them—He even uses them to be the foundation of His church! God welcomes weak people. Which brings us to our last point.
God’s Welcome at the Table
One commentator writes: “In placing the Last Supper between the betrayal and defection of the disciples Mark vividly conveys that “the many” for whom Jesus pours out his life include his own companions around the table. The sin that necessitates the sending of God’s Son is not someone else’s sin…but the sin…of his own disciples – of Peter and James, of you and me. The essential evil in the world and the essential atonement for the evil of the word are present at the table of the Lord’s Supper – whenever it is celebrated.” – James Edwards (PNTC) on Mark 14:12-31
Who is seated at the table with Jesus? Who is sharing His last meal with Him? Traitors, deniers, defectors. Jesus has not gone out to find the Olympic Gold team of spiritual gurus and world-changers and ascetic monks to share His final hours with. He has surrounded Himself with men He loves, but men who love Him far less.
What does Jesus do at this meal? Like we examined last week, Jesus shares the Passover meal with them, remembering the Exodus story of old. But Jesus transports into this meal a new significance as He looks forward to the new Exodus that is about to occur. He explains that the bread and the cup are to now be celebrated as symbols of His own body and blood, a reminder of the price He paid to secure our redemption. But as He lifts the cup He cites a passage from (you guessed it!) Exodus, the passage we read earlier in our Scripture Reading, “This is my blood of the covenant,” Mark 14:24. Jesus is echoing the story of Moses and the seventy elders eating the covenant meal before the presence of God upon the mountain. Consider the similarities:
In Exodus there are twelve stones erected to symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel (Ex 24:4). At the supper there are twelve disciples. In both there is a covenant formed between God and His people. In both blood is shed and applied to the individuals there to bind them to the covenant. In both there is a meal shared before the presence of God. Now, consider the differences:
There are many—the Exodus meal takes place after the act of deliverance, where at the Supper it precedes it; the covenant that Exodus ratifies is the Old Covenant, while Jesus is inaugurating the New Covenant. But what is most striking is who is present at the meal. In Exodus, aside from Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons, it is the seventy elders who are present at the meal. This is the seventy who have been chosen out of the whole multitude of Israel as being especially wise and righteous (Num 11:16). Further, at this point all of Israel is confidently asserting that they will all obey the covenant they are about to enter into (Ex 24:7). Who is at the Lord’s Supper? The weak. The betrayers. Are these people who will be wholly obedient, are these the specially righteous and wise? Not at all—they are those that will deny and abandon Jesus at His hour of greatest need. But friend, this is a picture of who is invited to the Lord’s Table. This isn’t a meal for the spectacular and impressive, this isn’t a meal for those who are specially wise and good—this meal is for any and all who will come in simple faith to Jesus, and trust in Him for the forgiveness of their sins.
– Trust in God
– Accept God’s Welcome
– Welcome other Weak People
o Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. – Rom 12:16