Seward United Methodist Church
Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Denying Christ

Mark 14:1-31

 One of the themes we’ve seen year throughout our Lenten Scriptures is how easy it is to deny Christ.  I think we all figure, “It won’t happen to me.”  We always seem to think that bad things could happen to someone, but not to me.  It’s like driving a car without a seat belt or riding a bike without a helmet.  Deep down, we know that a bad thing could happen, but we always figure it won’t happen to me.  

 Well, what we see in this morning’s Gospel lesson is that it happened to all of Jesus’ twelve disciples.  All of them denied Christ, in one way or another.  The men who walked, ate, and slept with Jesus for three years all denied him.  If they could do it, then we are pretty foolish if we think that we can’t.  

 The story begins just before the celebration of Passover.  We learn that the religious authorities, the chief priests and the Scribes, are already determined to put an end to Jesus.  But they’re going to wait for a little while.  They don’t want to do it during Passover.  At Passover, there would be a great number of pilgrims in the city, perhaps a million of them.  It was a time of nationalistic fervor.  There were often riots at Passover.  To keep the peace, the Roman governor would come up from Caesarea with a garrison of soldiers.  And they fear Jesus’ popularity will mean a riot if they arrest him publicly at this time.  And another riot would mean Rome tightening its grip on Jerusalem even more.  So best to wait.  

 Meanwhile, Jesus is in Bethany.  Bethany was a small village on the eastern slope of the Mt. of Olives, across the Kidron Valley, about a mile from Jerusalem.  This was the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, whom Jesus has just recently raised from the dead.  By tradition, the Passover meal had to be eaten inside the walls of Jerusalem.  But until then, most pilgrims would stay in villages near the city until the actual time of the meal.  

 Jesus is at a supper, and while he is eating, a woman comes in with a jar of expensive perfume.  John’s Gospel tells us that it was Mary who did this, and the perfume was nard.  Nard was made from the roots of a tree that grew in India, and it was very expensive.  This jar was worth 300 denarii, which was about a year’s wages for an average laborer.  

 It was customary to place a few drops of perfume on the heads of guests who came into your home.  Since people didn’t really bathe very often, this was probably

also rather practical when you had 20 or 30 people in a single, small room.  But she breaks the jar and pours the entire contents on Jesus’ head.  She gave him all she had.

 Others were rather indignant at this “waste.”  John’s Gospel informs us that Judas especially was upset at this waste, and then he goes on to inform us that the reason is Judas was the “treasurer” of the Twelve Disciples, and he had a habit of helping himself to their funds.  It was a common practice to give gifts to the poor at Passover, remembering how the Egyptians gave gifts to the Israelites as they left in the exodus.  So certainly this perfume could have been a benefit to many. 

 Jesus defends her actions.  He says, “You will always have the poor, so you can help them at any time.”  That was a reference to Deuteronomy 15:11 which encouraged generosity to the poor.  It’s not Jesus is minimizing the importance of generosity to the poor, but he is magnifying Mary’s actions.  

 She gave a sacrifice.  A sacrifice is giving away something of great value simply to give glory to God.  Some of the Old Testament rituals were all about “sacrifice,” giving a valuable animal to God simply as an expression of praise.

 Moreover, she has anointed Jesus.  It was common for kings and priests to be anointed before they began their work.  It was also common for the bodies of the dead to be anointed before burial.  Jesus is about to begin his most important work, and he is about to be buried, and this is the only anointing he will receive.  Perhaps Mary has heard what Jesus has said about his coming death, that others weren’t able to hear.

 Jesus says that what she did is, in Greek, KALOS.  KALOS means “good,” but more than good, it also means “beautiful.”  She has done something beautiful for him.  She gave all.  She gave us an example to follow.  We should not give Jesus some or part of our lives; we should give him all.  

 But her action is the final prompting for Judas.  He goes to the chief priests and the Sanhedrin and he asks what they will give him to betray Jesus.  The answer is that they will give him 30 pieces of silver, the price of a slave.  

 Judas moves up their plans to arrest Jesus.  They don’t want to arrest him openly during Passover.  But if they can get insider information, if they can catch him in a private moment, then they’ll do it sooner.  

 The biggest question about Judas’ betrayal is “Why?”  Why did he turn against Jesus?  

 Some think he has become disillusioned by Jesus.  He was hoping for a conquering Messiah to bring in an earthly kingdom.  And when he finally realized that was not Jesus’ purpose, and when he saw that there was no place of importance or wealth for him in Jesus’ kingdom, he gave up on Jesus.  

 Others think he may have been simply jealous.  Jesus had his inner circle of Peter, James, and John.  Judas wasn’t part of it.  Maybe he was one of those people who, if they couldn’t have it all, didn’t want anything.  

 The simplest answer is that it was just greed.  He was taken by desire for worldly things.  And as Paul told Timothy, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”  

 John tells us that “Satan entered into Judas.”  (John 13:27)  I think that’s true.  Satan is the embodiment of self-will, greed, ambition, and lust for power.  So, yes, Satan was at work in the heart of Judas. 

 As if it weren’t painful enough that Judas betrayed Jesus, so did the rest of the disciples.  Their betrayal may not have been as dramatic, but when the time came, they all denied him, and ran away to spare themselves.  They denied him to escape pain or prison or death.  But none of them thought they would!  We always deny things that we don’t want to accept.  Peter, proud as he was, was the most insistent that he would never betray Jesus, but all the others said the same thing.  

 It was as Jesus predicted.  In Mark 13:12, Jesus warned his followers that they would be betrayed even by their own family.  Well, Jesus’ disciples were his family, the family he ate the Passover meal with.  And they betrayed him.

 The same has been true for many of Jesus’ followers.  In the time of the Roman persecutions, many Christians denied their faith and even betrayed other believers to escape death.  After the fall of the Soviet bloc, there were stories out of East Germany and other communist countries about Christians being betrayed by their own family members.  Sometimes the secret police would even infiltrate the churches, disguising themselves as Christians, to learn who they were.  

 The good news is that redemption is available.  The 11 disciples who betrayed Jesus in the Garden, were all eventually martyred or imprisoned for their faith.  They

were set free from the fear of death that gripped them in the garden by the knowledge of a dying and rising savior.  

 One of the early purposes of the Lenten season is that it was a time when Christians who had denied their faith to escape persecution were restored to the fellowship of the church through a season of penitence.  

 After East Germany ended its communist rule, many believers were released from prison.  And there were stories of jailed Christians being released, going back to their church, and sitting in worship with the very same police informants who had sent them there in the first place.  That’s the power of redemption. 

 We all have the opportunity to deny Christ.  We deny his love when we disobey him.  We deny his deity when we reject his authority in our lives.  We deny his goodness when we fail to trust him.  We deny his promises when we lose hope and despair.   We all have the opportunity to deny Christ, and we’re fools to think we can’t.  But the good news is that forgiveness and restoration is always available in Jesus.

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