Oh God, Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am in the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5) I come to scripture today in order to abide in Christ. Strengthen my spiritual roots through the nourishment of the word, and help me to bear the fruit of Christ in everything I do.
Yesterday, I shared that we would be looking at Mark 14:53-65. But today I want to focus on just the first portion of this passage, Mark 14:53-59:
And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another,not made with hands.’” Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. (ESV)
Yesterday, two members of the Coffee Stains on my Bible community (if I may be so bold as to call you that!) shared their thoughts on this passage. I am so grateful for their input and perspectives! CF Chen wrote:
I began to think about how Peter and the other apostles saw Jesus perform so many amazing miracles and wonders, and yet when it came time, Peter “followed at a distance” and the other apostles aren’t even mentioned as being around. So often, we think that if Jesus would just do a miracle in our life or show others something miraculous, we would have greater faith and really follow Him. But it isn’t until after Jesus died and resurrected that Peter and the apostles are truly able to give their lives to following Him. Knowing the power of Christ’s resurrection and having the Holy Spirit is the key to really being able to live for Christ. Without that, even the best of us are simply following at a distance, trying to blend in with the non-believers, and finding temporary relief as we warm our hands by the fire.
I love this perspective. I have seen it in my own life (even with the added benefit of the resurrection having happened!) God has done some really and truly amazing things in my life, yet still I forget and struggle to trust him. Like it says in my favorite hymn, Come Thou Found of Every Blessing, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.” Like Peter, even when we have seen such tremendous works of God, still our hearts wander, and when push comes to shove, we, like Peter, might want to keep our distance.
Grace shared this insight:
I’m once again really struck that Jesus finds himself in a religious court, not a secular court of law. These are the religious leaders of his day, not the pagans or Romans. And yet they lie and bear false witness, and it’s a kangaroo court. How and when did the religious leaders begin to “miss the forest from the trees”? What a serious reminder to not miss Jesus in the midst of our worship.
Grace hit on the very same aspect of this passage I’ve been thinking about. (In fact, as I was discussing this passage with my husband, Karl, yesterday, I couldn’t think of the phrase “kangaroo court.” I said to him, “What is it when there is a court, but it’s just for show, and they’re not really aiming to get at the truth?” I came up with “monkey court,” but I knew that wasn’t right. The phrase I was looking for was “kangaroo court.” So it was cool that Grace thought of the same thing!)
Yes, this passage has these implications for us—and these warnings. Are we, like Peter, following at a distance, trying to blend in with the crowd? And for those of us who are “religious leaders” today, are we in danger of missing the forest for the trees when it comes to encountering Christ in our midst?
I’ll add one more perspective on this passage: it continues to help us get a better look at the circumstances surrounding Jesus’s suffering—and to grow in empathy and appreciation for what he endured.
Have you ever had someone accuse you of something you did not do? Have you ever been the victim of a total smear campaign? That’s exactly what is happening to Jesus here. False accusations. Fabricated charges. Flat-out lies. I was thinking about this today as I continued to reflect on this passage, and suddenly a very vivid—and very painful—memory came back to me.
When I was in junior high school, I tried out for the cheerleading squad three times. I did not make it the first two times, but finally, in ninth grade, I made the squad.
Middle school can be a very difficult and confusing time for people. It certainly was for me! In eighth grade, I was a victim of such bad bullying that I tried to get my parents to let me change schools. So in many ways, I was hoping that if I could make the cheerleading squad, somehow things would change for me. Somehow things would be different.
When I made the squad, I was so excited. However, there were some girls who were not happy that I made the squad. Several of them said some pretty mean things, but there is one that I remember most.
A girl tried to start a rumor that I slept with one of the judges to get on the squad.
I was completely shocked. Now, before I say much more about this incident in my life, I need to point out that this accusation was completely and entirely ridiculous, for several (hopefully obvious) reasons. First, I was a very innocent teenager—I wasn’t sleeping with anyone, let alone a judge for cheerleading tryouts. Secondly, all of the judges except for one were women (teachers and members of the cheerleading squad). So it was just completely ridiculous, across the board.
Teenage girls can be really mean.
I know now, in hindsight, that no one could have taken her very seriously. But you know what? It didn’t matter how utterly and completely stupid the accusation was. It was mortifying. To this day, I look back on that season of my life and remember a lot of pain and sadness.
Thankfully, that painful season ended. I spent one year on the cheerleading squad before realizing that it wasn’t for me. (Though I still feel like a cheerleader in some ways to this day. I truly and genuinely love cheering people on. Like this blog, for instance. Three cheers for Bible study! Hip, hip, hooray!)
That season passed, but here I am, twenty-three years later, still feeling the sting of how much it hurt. False accusations. Fabricated charges. Flat-out lies. And no one (at least no one that I knew of) sticking up for me.
My friend David would say that what I was feeling that day was just an echo of what Christ endured for me—a shadow of the suffering that he bore in full. He bore the lies for me. He bore the accusations for those who were hurling them at me. He bore it all, from the time he was arrested to the time he rose from the dead. Jesus Christ bore the false accusations, fabricated charges, and flat-out lies in full so that I would not have to.
All I would have to bear would be an echo—a very, very small echo of his suffering. Just enough so that, years later, I could read this passage and have a little bit more appreciation for what Christ endured, and that it would move me to worship him more fully.
Whether you resonate most with the insights from CF Chen, Grace, or me—or a little bit of all three—the bottom line is this passage has a lot to tell us. As you read and contemplate what’s going on in this passage, spend some time thinking about times when you have followed at a distance. As God to help you see Christ more fully and to not miss him when he is hard to see. And offer up to God any residual pain you feel from times when you have been falsely accused, even as you marvel at the fact that Jesus himself knows the sting of that pain.