Please read Mark 14: 43-52 and then pray; “Almighty God, who has promised to never leave us or forsake us, grant us grace to understand, receive and embrace your Word, and give your people peace in times of trial and suffering, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The passage that we are considering today is perhaps one of those portions of Scripture we should think about much more often than we actually do. It is amazing just how much of the gospel story is taken up with the final 24 hours of Jesus’ life and suffering. The account of Jesus’s arrest and abandonment marks the beginning of the end of his life. There is no turning back after this for Jesus.

The arresting of Christians in our day and age is a regular occurrence in numerous countries and sadly it is s growing in our own nation. This should seriously concern us and cause us to pray with passion. Earlier in 2021 the charity Release International had this as one of their headlines; “Another 35 Christians have been arrested in Eritrea for conducting prayer meetings.”

Not so long ago, Christianity Today Magazine released this headline; “Chinese House Church Leader (Xu Shizhen) and Toddler arrested after singing in the park.”

In recent years there have been numerous well documented instances of Christian Street Preachers in various parts of our own county being arrested for sharing the gospel in the High Streets of our cities and towns. The arrests taking place all over the world and in the UK are not for serious disorder or violent conduct – but for worshipping, praying, singing, distributing bibles, and preaching in the open air – and also behind closed doors. Christians are now by far the most persecuted religious group in the world – and it is getting worse! It is hardly surprising that there are now books written with titles such as “The Global War on Christians” (John L. Allen) and “Christianophobia” (Rupert Shortt)

And yet Jesus warned his disciples that they would face persecution from a world that hated the Son of God. (John 15:20-21 Matthew 10:22) He warned his disciples that they would be betrayed, handed over to the authorities, arrested and put on trial for his name’s sake. (Matthew 24:9-10, Matthew 10: 17-20). By chapter 4 in the book of Acts we find Peter and John arrested and put in jail for the first time, on account of preaching the name of Jesus and healing a man who been crippled from birth. (Acts 4:3) That’s right – arrested for preaching and healing!

Being arrested (and yet innocent of any real crime) must be a frightening experience. How would you cope with being arrested for being a Christian, for worshipping in a Church, for sharing your faith with another person, or for owning and reading a bible? Let’s look at how Jesus faced arrest, but not only arrest – but total abandonment by his closest friends and allies.

The arrest of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane where he had been praying is presented in a similar way in each of the 4 gospels with few differences, although Mark and John’s account bear some distinguishing features.

  • There is the prominence of Judas Iscariot and the shameful way he identifies and betrays Jesus by placing of a kiss on the Messiah’s cheek.
  • There is of course the intervention of the Sanhedrin’s security police, effectively an armed mob who accompanied Judas into the garden in the dead of night to take Jesus away.
  • There is the brief struggle which results in the High Priest’s servant (Malchus) losing an ear by the drawn sword of Peter. Jesus immediately heals the servant in front of the mob and orders all fighting to cease. Jesus also questions the necessity of such a large armed force for it is well known that he has always acted and taught publicly in a most peaceable way. Why the need for all these weapons? Jesus has never led a rebellion nor will he ever lead one!
  • There is also, most notably, Jesus’ complete calmness, control and readiness to be arrested. He is in complete control and knows the Father’s predetermined will for Judas and for himself. His arrest and subsequent abandonment are simply the “fulfilment of Scripture.” (49) The whole of Jesus’s life – his ministry, arrest, suffering, death and resurrection are but a fulfilment of the word and will of God. He is fully aware of what lies before him and willingly accepts it all without the slightest struggle or protest.

But the Scriptures must be fulfilled (49b). This is Christ’s primary concern – the will of his Father.

Then we hear the rather dramatic news of the abandonment of Jesus – by everyone!

Then EVERYONE deserted him and fled.

Although Peter will decide to follow at a distance with disastrous personal consequences for himself after his three blatant denials of Jesus, the reality is that Jesus had been left alone. He is now totally on his own – all the way to the cross. Only a few women will offer some consolation and support as Jesus makes his way to the Skull to be crucified with a couple of thieves. (Luke 23:27f) Simon of Cyrene will be forced to carry the cross of Christ – but only because he has no choice. (Mark 15:21)

Mark then adds one further touch to the story which is unique to his gospel but which emphasises the scattering of the disciples and the desertion of Jesus.

A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.

Why would Mark alone add this specific detail of a young man fleeing the scene naked? I believe, as do many others, that this young man was none other than John Mark himself, and he has chosen to include within his own gospel a testimony of his own personal fear, weakness and abandonment of Jesus. It is not something that he was proud off – far from it – but he is honestly retelling the story truthfully, and with personal insight and recollection. This is a detail which Mark in conscience cannot leave out. He was the one who fled naked that night.

Matthew and Luke had no need to add this detail. They just wanted to make it clear that Jesus was totally abandoned. Mark as we know, has had a special interest throughout his gospel in portraying the disciples in their true colours – warts and all. The disciples have been painfully slow learners, they have lacked faith and understanding on numerous occasions, and now they have all abandoned Jesus. Mark was part of this abandonment of Christ. Although Mark doesn’t name himself here, he is writing about himself. In a similar way John does not name himself in his gospel, but uses the descriptive phrase “the beloved disciple” to refer to himself. I like the way the commentator Steve Wilmshurst conveys this;

So perhaps Mark has done what Hollywood directors sometimes do and given himself a cameo role in his own production in which case Mark is actively an eyewitness of this episode. 

The bible is shockingly honest when it comes to describing the main actors in biblical salvation history. The main characters are not described as super-heroes. Their faults and failings are laid bare for all to see. Mark is wanting to show the weakness of Jesus’ disciples and their lack of courage. He was there. He knows what happened. He ran away too. He even left behind an expensive linen garment. Mark came from a wealthy household – the house that probably hosted the last supper – from which the young curious Mark slipped out of afterwards to follow Jesus and the others into the garden. He did this quietly and discreetly, just slipping on an outer garment rather like a dressing gown. In a mad panic, he abandoned his garment as well as Jesus.

Mark is surely wanting the communicate that the disciples lacked courage as Jesus was shockingly deserted. Jesus was tragically abandoned – deserted by everyone. It would get worse for him and Jesus knew it – because on the cross, he was even abandoned by his Father as he took the sin of the world upon himself and the wrath of God that was directed on to that colossal amount of sin. The cry of desolation from the cross is heart-breaking;

“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani?” – which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Totally forsaken by his friends. Now forsaken by his Father – separated from his Father – as he bears the sin of the world and God’s wrath upon that sin. This is the bitter cup that Christ struggled to drink – but nevertheless did – because it was God’s will. Once again Christ fulfilled Scripture. He died for you – in your place.

Psalm 22, a prophetic Psalm, begins with that awful cry of dereliction and abandonment. Jesus fulfilled this ancient prophetic cry as he hung and bled on the cross. The prophet Isaiah describes the suffering of the willing servant of God for the sake of others – you and me.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 52:5 and also 10-12)

Mark describes his own abandonment of Jesus – the desertion of all the other disciples – and even the God-forsakenness of Jesus himself. Remember how the disciples promised much – but in the end they delivered little. Peter boasted about the fact that he would never leave Christ. He would rather die than leave Jesus. (Mark 14:31). All the others had promised similar faithfulness and loyalty whatever the cost. Then, when the crunch came – they fled – every last one of them!

This is something that continued to trouble Mark – and he was going to fail again the future. If you read Acts and the rest of the NT, you can continue to follow the ups and downs of John Mark – who is our gospel writer. Mark came from the household where the prayer meeting was held when Peter was arrested, imprisoned and threatened with death. (Acts 12:12) His mother owned the house. He was at this prayer meeting which saw Peter turn up out the blue having been miraculously released from prison through angelic intervention. Not long after this, John Mark was taken along by Paul and Barnabas on their first great missionary journey. He was taken along to be their “helper”. (Acts 13:15) Things started well, but Mark then took the decision to leave the missionaries and return home. He abandoned Paul and Barnabas. He threw in the towel on this challenging missionary journey. Maybe he was home-sick or was alarmed by the physical hardship and dangers involved in the mission. But, once again, he left. That must have been hard for him. Was he letting down Jesus a second time? The apostle Paul felt so.

Then John Mark rose up and came back once more, for we read this in Acts 15: 36-41. Barnabas, his cousin, gave him another chance. Paul felt he could not do that – and so he went in another direction with another helper who he felt would be more reliable. However, the good news is this; Mark went on to be a great servant and companion to both Peter and Paul – and overcame his fears to become a bold disciple for Jesus Christ. When Paul is nearing the end of his life – he refers to Mark as faithful and helpful (2 Timothy 4:11). Mark is definitely back in Paul’s good books. He’s eventually proved himself reliable. And Peter sees Mark as a faithful spiritual “son” in the Lord, who was willing to suffer for the gospel. (1 Peter 5:13).

It seems that Mark wants to show us that disciples can allow their fears get the better of them. They can fail and fall disastrously. They can abandon ship – even when they shouldn’t. But there is a way back, and fears can be overcome in Jesus’ name. You can have second chances in the Christian faith, and even third and fourth chances. Christ will not abandon you – even if you abandon him. Jesus remains faithful. He gave his life for us on that cross. He will give his all to keep us unto the day of salvation. His forgiveness is free-flowing – like a river – as we see in the life of Peter and John Mark.

Peter was the main inspiration behind the writing of Mark’s gospel. The gospel was largely built around Peter’s preaching, Peter’s memoirs, Peter’s eyewitness testimony. Mark became “his son” in the faith and decided to write his gospel with Peter’s testimony and backing. These were two men who had tasted and shared in the experience of failure and denial, but who had both also been gloriously restored by Jesus. Mark wanted the world to know that restoration is always possible with Jesus. Those who have failed miserably can become great assets for Jesus and his kingdom. Jesus forgives and restores completely. His grace triumphs!

Many Christians in Rome who Mark originally wrote to needed to hear that message. As they faced serious ongoing persecution – there would have been the temptation to compromise, to give in and give up their faith. The potential suffering would have frightened them. Mark and Peter’s personal stories would encourage and strengthen Christians in Rome to remain strong and faithful – true and bold for Christ!

Where does extraordinary Christian courage come from? How were the likes of Peter and Mark able to change, and able to face suffering and even death for Jesus Christ and for his kingdom? What enables Christians today to remain faithful and even face martyrdom? How can Christian leaders in China, Eritrea, N Korea, and Somalia face prison and persecution? How do Christians avoid the sins of desertion and apostasy? How do we stand for Christ today rather than abandon him when the threat of personal suffering is before us – particularly physical suffering? It seems to me that there are 4 things that always can and do inspire strong, resolute, faithful, bold, defiant Christian witness.

  • Firstly, the Christian must constantly consider and remember the extreme suffering of Christ. If Christ was prepared to suffer so much for me – I must be prepared to suffer for him. Christ is our example and our inspiration. I will not abandon the Son of God who gave his all for my sake. If I have to suffer for him – I will do so. (Hebrews 12:3, 1 Peter 3: 20-22) We must be forever gripped and guided by the astonishing sufferings of Christ for us. My Lord, what love is this, that pays so dearly. (G Kendrick)
  • The resurrection – His and ours makes all the difference. Jesus was raised from the dead proving He is the Son of God. All who remain in him will also be raised up to eternal life! Our hope is certain. Our heavenly destiny and destination are completely secure. If I die in Christ, for Christ’s sake – my eternal life, my reward and eternal crown are absolutely safe and secure. For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. Once the apostles had seen the risen Christ and knew he was alive – they were never to deny him or forsake him again!
  • They received the power and the internal presence of the Holy Spirit – which gave them supernatural power, courage, comfort, assurance, conviction of the truth and grace all sufficient for every challenge. With the presence of the Spirit in their hearts, they could face anything and everything. God was in them. The became like lions when they were thrown to them! The Holy Spirit gave them remarkable boldness and calmness. He spoke through them with power. (Matthew 10:20, Acts 4: 29-31)
  • The absolute cast iron guarantee that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us. Christ may have been totally forsaken in his hour of need – but he has solemnly promised his disciples that he will be with them until the very end of the age. He will be with his faithful sons and daughters forever. Nothing can separate them from his presence or eternal love. (Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13; 5-6). We are like signet rings on the hand of Christ. (Haggai 2:23) Those rings will never be removed! They will not slip off his fingers!

Whether it is Paul and Peter and Mark facing danger in the 1st century or Christians facing danger in the 21st century – or any of the many centuries in between, the path to victory is the same, and it is walked by the people who understand the sufferings of our dear Lord Jesus Christ, his mighty resurrection and victory over death, the ever-present reality of the gift and power of the Spirit, and the fact that they will never be abandoned by Christ. That is an impossibility for them! Brave Christian witness is built on this four-fold foundation.

Jesus is Lord and Jesus is forever with his people. Separation is impossible! (Romans 8: 35- 35-39) Read this!

The realities I have just mentioned – the sufferings of Christ, the resurrection, the presence of the Spirit and the promise of Christ with us must be bigger realities in our hearts than the things that have caused people to abandon their faith and desert Christ. Those things that cause people to forsake Christ are, according to the Parable of the Sower, the troubles and trials of this world (including soft persecution), the pull of the world and especially the deceitfulness of wealth, the temptation to settle for a life of ease and comfort, the worries of this life, and the desire for other things and pleasures.

O let me feel Thee near me;
the world is ever near;
I see the sights that dazzle,
the tempting sounds I hear;
my foes are ever near me,
around me and within,
but, Jesus draw thou nearer,
and shield my soul from sin   (John E Bode 1816-74)

In his letter to Timothy who remained truly faithful to Paul, the apostle mentions the sad case of Demas who forsook Paul “because he loved this world.” We have to guard ourselves against this. Our love for Christ must be stronger than our love for everything else, otherwise we are very likely to abandon Christ and his kingdom at some critical point, particularly when the going gets tough. Let us pray for ourselves and for all the saints around the world who face overt persecution – that we may always remain faithful and true to our Lord and Saviour, who remained faithful and true to us, as He took our sin upon himself and died and rose again for our salvation. His alone is the love that will never let us go. We can rest our troubled souls in Him, and upon His never-failing love and care.

And now unto God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we ascribe all glory, honour and praise. Amen!


(Revd Peter J Clarkson  21.11.21)