Four Failures (Mark 14.32–72)

Mark 14.32–72 narrates four events in the horrific hours leading up to Christ’s crucifixion: his agonizing prayer in Gethsemane, his arrest, his trial before the Sanhedrin, and Peter’s denial of him. Taken together, these four events reveal an interesting dynamic between Jesus and us. Let’s take a closer look.

First, Christ’s agonizing prayer in Gethsemane: To the disciples, he said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch.” As Christians we confess that Jesus is God incarnate, the deity in the flesh. But we also confess—and Jesus’ statement confirms—his total humanity. Facing certain, imminent, painful death, Jesus expressed the authentic and understandable emotion of sorrow. He shared this with his fellow humans, but he also shared it with God. “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” By asking God to “take this cup from me,” Jesus prayed that he would not die. And yet, knowing that the Father had plans for him, Jesus surrendered his will to a Higher Will. Unfortunately, in this agonizing moment in the garden, Jesus was utterly alone, for his disciples had fallen asleep.

Second, Christ’s arrest. Judas betrayed the Lord with reverential words (“Rabbi”) and with a kiss of greeting. When his disciples, finally awake, realized what was happening, they drew their swords for a fight, and one of them cut of the ear of the high priest’s servant. But Jesus wanted none of their violence, either the mob’s or his disciples’. So he submitted to arrest, but his disciples fled for fear of their own lives.

Third, Christ’s trial before the Sanhedrin. It was rigged. False witnesses presented perjured and contradictory testimony about Jesus’ “revolutionary” program. Then the high priest asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus’ two word reply—“I am”—sealed his fate, and the Sanhedrin accused him of blasphemy. Had they not seen the miracles and the exorcisms? Had they not heard his authoritative teaching? Of course they had, but they did not want to repent, and so they “condemned him as worthy of death.”

Finally, Peter’s denial of Christ. After fleeing from Gethsemane, Peter made his way back into the city and planted himself in the courtyard outside the high priest’s house. People recognized him. Fearing for his life, Peter denied that he knew Jesus three times, just as Christ had prophesied he would.

What we see in these four events are four failures: a failure of spiritual power, for the disciples could not pray; a failure of moral discipleship, for the disciples took up arms to defend Jesus, in contradiction to what he had taught them; a failure of intellect, for the Sanhedrin refused to believe what they had seen with their own eyes; and a failure of nerve, for at the moment of crisis, Peter’s courage was nowhere to be found.

Are we praying? Are we conforming our lives to Christ’s teaching? Do we understand who Jesus is and what he has done for us? And are we taking a stand as his followers in a world that is often hostile to him? Mark 14.32–72 is not a story about others’ failings. It is—if we imitate them—a story about our own.

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