Mark 14:12-25

Is It I?

Jesus’ hour is quickly coming upon him. Mark tells us that it is the first day of Unleavened Bread (v.12) which was the day Passover was celebrated. In less than 24 hours Jesus will be delivered up to the authorities and on his way to the cross. Jesus spends his final day with his disciples breaking bread. We know this today as the “Last Supper.”

 

#1 The Sovereignty of Jesus

As the cross draws near, Jesus continues to show himself to be one who is in control of what is going on around him. There is no hint even in Jesus’ final days that he is desperate or frantic or in any way trapped in an evil plot against him.   He knew what was waiting for him in Jerusalem and even still he boldly entered the city. In John’s Gospel we hear these words of Jesus: “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again (John 10:18).” In other words Jesus is no helpless victim watching his life unravel before him.

One Bible commentator helpfully puts it this way, that Jesus displays “a sovereign freedom and authority” to follow the course he has chosen for himself (James Edwards, Mark Commentary, p.419). No human being has ever experienced the sovereign freedom to decide what to do and the authority to carry it out precisely as desired. Jesus has. And does. We see this sovereignty in several areas in this passage.

 

Timing

The timing for these events is no accident. It is Passover. Passover was one of the most important celebrations of the Jewish year which looked back on Israel’s redemption out of slavery in the land of Egypt. Israel’s dramatic rescue came about only after God sent ten plagues upon Egypt to loosen Pharaoh’s grip on his people. In the final plague, the firstborn child and beast of every household was set to die. After the sun went down, God would pass through the land and enact his judgment on everyone without discrimination, Jew and Gentile alike, by killing the firstborn child and beast. However, God made a provision, a way of escape. If a family put their faith in God’s provision they would be spared. The provision was a lamb, which could be slaughtered in their place and then eaten by the family. They were to put the blood of that lamb on their doorposts and when God went through the land they would be “passed over.”

It is no mistake that Jesus’s last meal was the Passover meal. Paul will later write in 1 Corinthians 5:7: “Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed.” Passover was just a sign pointing forward to the true Passover lamb, Jesus.   Now some Bible teachers overstate the point here in explaining this passage. Because no lamb is specifically mentioned as being eaten in this passage, they conclude that there was no lamb present at all during the meal since Jesus is the lamb. This may have been true for future Passover meals but I am not sure how you can honestly read what Mark has written here and come away with that conclusion. Mark specifically notes in verse 12 that it was the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb. His disciples ask Jesus where they should go to prepare … to eat the Passover (v.12). And then, Mark tells us, they prepared the Passover (v.16). So again, I am not sure how you read this account and come away thinking there was no lamb. This exactly what they were doing!

 

Precise Details

Jesus is sovereign not only over the timing of these events but even the precise details surrounding them. When he first arrived in Jerusalem, he sent a couple of disciples ahead of him to fetch a donkey. Here he acts in much the same way telling his disciples where to go – into the city, what to look for – a man carrying a jar of water, and what to say – the Teacher says, “Where is my guestroom?” Jesus knows what he is doing.

 

Betrayal

Finally, and most remarkably, Jesus is sovereign over even his betrayal. He knows that Judas is about to betray him and still he allows it. He knew it was coming and could have stopped it but does not. 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! (v.21) Jesus is not about to have his life taken from him; he is about to voluntarily lay it down.

 

 

#2 The Sensitivity of the Disciples

Jesus and his disciples are celebrating Passover, which ordinarily was an hours-long affair. At some point in the meal Jesus directs the conversation to something no one would have wanted to hear, Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me (v.18). Can you imagine the shock and sting of these words? This is Jesus, the one that they’ve left everything to follow. Mark tells that they began to be sorrowful (v.19). And maybe we think they are grieving for Jesus – that someone would betray him. However, we see that they are not grieving for Jesus, they are grieving for themselves. Each one asked Jesus one after another, “Is it I?” In his reflection on this passage Origen (c. AD 184 – c. 253) explains that those present “believed Christ’s words more than their own consciousness.” This is remarkable. Many of those present are deeply devoted to Jesus and some would eventually die for him, but even they are cut to the heart. They don’t write Jesus off but rather take him at his word. Could it be me? Is he talking about me?

Jesus reveals that the betrayer is one of the twelve (v.20) – an insider, someone close to Jesus. This is the kind of betrayal that will sting deeply. The closer someone is, the deeper the wounds will be. The early church leader Cyprian (c. AD 200 – 258) observes that Jesus “was even able to tolerate Judas to the end with enduring patience. He could calmly eat with his betrayer. He could patiently be aware of his enemy at his own table and not let on. He did not even refuse the kiss of the traitor (Ancient Christian Commentary: Mark, p.193).” It’s one thing to be caught by surprise by someone’s betrayal. It’s another altogether to know that the betrayal is coming and still stay the course.

 

 

#3 The Surprise of the Supper

There are many surprising moments during this meal with Jesus. Certainly it was surprising to hear that one of Jesus’ own disciples would betray him, but now Jesus has another surprise.

This, as we said, took place during the Passover meal. Exodus 12 and Deuteronomy 16 provide stipulations as to how the Passover was to be celebrated, which included among things, that it be done in Jerusalem, that the lamb to be eaten be roasted and not boiled, that nothing be left till morning. In addition to these directions the Jews had many other Passover traditions that sprung up over the thousand years since the exodus. These traditions are now codified in the Mishnah. You can read what the Mishnah has to say about Passover for yourselves here.

While the Mishnah was not in the written form we have it in today, much of the content existed in oral form in Jesus’ day. Notably outside of Scripture but in the Mishnah we know that four cups of wine were (and still are) drunk over the course of the celebration. These four cups represented the four promises found in Exodus 6:6-7 which are traditionally summarized as the promise of sanctification, deliverance, redemption, praise.

This is a lot of background but here is why this is important. The disciples would have been intimately familiar with Passover and likely had celebrated it every year of their life. They knew what words were said when, what prayers were recited where, what food was eaten in which way. It would have been a well-worn path in their minds. And then on this night Jesus holds up a cup during the Passover meal and says “This is my blood(v.24). This is surprising! Jesus is taking a thousand year old tradition and giving it a new meaning.

So what we celebrate today as the Lord’s Supper was Jesus reinterpreting the Passover supper.   There are two parts to the Lord’s Supper. The first is the bread which Jesus broke and gave to his disciples and said, “Take; this is my body (v.22).” Perhaps no single word has created greater controversy in the church than this word is.

The medieval Catholic church began to teach that when Jesus said “this bread is my body” that he meant it was his actual physical body. This is still taught in the Catholic church today and is known as transubstantiation, that is that the bread and wine are the actual body and blood of Christ.

This didn’t sit right with the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. Men like Huldrych Zwingli taught that what Jesus really meant was that the bread and the cup represent his body and blood. These things are merely symbols. So at one end you have those who teach that the communion elements are the actual body and blood of Christ and at the other those who teach that they are just symbols.

There are several positions that fall between these two extremes and the one that I find most convincing was taught by John Calvin. While this didn’t originate with him he is the most common name associated with it. Calvin taught that since Jesus in his human nature is confined to space and time, he cannot be in two places at the same time. Therefore, Jesus cannot be physically present in his body each time the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. However, when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper he didn’t say, “this represents my body,” he said, “this is my body.” What does Jesus mean by “this is my body”? Calvin taught that while in his body Jesus is not present, yet he is present in his divine spirit. This is known as the spiritual presence view of the Lord’s Supper. The bread and the cup are not mere symbols but they aren’t the actual body and blood of Christ either. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is spiritually present.

Jesus concludes with a promise, 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 (v.25). This is another dimension of the Lord’s Supper. Not only are we looking back to remember Jesus’ broken body and shed for us and not only are we taking his body and drinking from his cup in the present, but we also have the gaze of our eyes lifted to the future. The Lord’s Supper points us to that day when we will gather around the table in the heavenly kingdom where Jesus will be present in spirit and in body.

 

Discussion Questions

  1. Mark says that it was the “first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover Lamb.” Share what you know about Passover. What is the significance of this celebration? In what ways does Passover point forward to Jesus? If you are stuck read Exodus 12 and Deuteronomy 16.
  2. In what ways do we see that Jesus is in control of what is going on around him?
  3. How would you react if you knew you were about to be betrayed by a close friend? How does Jesus respond?
  4. How do the dinner guests respond when Jesus tells them that one of them will betray him?
  5. Explain Jesus’ statement in verse 21. How do we see both human responsibility and divine sovereignty at work here?
  6. During the Passover meal Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper. What is the connection between Passover and the Lord’s Supper?
  7. What significance does Jesus give the bread and the cup? What lesson do you think the disciples were supposed to learn?
  8. Why do you think the Lord’s Supper is so important? Is there anything new you learned by studying this passage this week?
  9. What is one thing you will do as a result of studying this passage?
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