Below is my first ever online sermon, delivered on 25 March 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic, reflecting on Jesus’ self-isolation as he approaches the cross.
(If the video doesn’t appear, click to watch it on Facebook.)
In our Wednesday morning services at St Paul’s, before everything changed, we were on a journey, following Jesus as he went towards the cross. We’re going to pick up now where we left off, and continue in these online sermons. Time is moving strangely at the moment, but we’re heading towards Good Friday and Easter Day, so we’ve been reading about the events that led up to Jesus’ crucifixion.
The tension has been building up. You can feel the anxiety. And there’s a real sense that death is just around the corner.
We’re near the beginning of the New Testament, in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 14, verse 43. You might like to have a Bible open in front of you. If you don’t have one to hand, remember, it’s important to keep active when you’re at home! So why not pause the video, grab a Bible, and turn to Mark, chapter 14, verse 43. Check the contents page if you need help finding it.
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, speak to us today, and show us the light of your glory in the face of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.
So I’ll read now, from Mark, chapter 14, verses 43 to 65.
Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.
Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.’ Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Rabbi!’ and kissed him. The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
‘Am I leading a rebellion,’ said Jesus, ‘that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.’ Then everyone deserted him and fled.
A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.
They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, the elders and the teachers of the law came together. Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire.
The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree.
Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: ‘We heard him say, “I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.”’ Yet even then their testimony did not agree.
Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, ‘Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?’ But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.
Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’
‘I am,’ said Jesus. ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’
The high priest tore his clothes. ‘Why do we need any more witnesses?’ he asked. ‘You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?’
They all condemned him as worthy of death. Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, ‘Prophesy!’ And the guards took him and beat him.
It’s a dramatic scene. Late at night. Jesus is arrested. In the confusion someone pulls out a sword and cuts off another man’s ear. Then ‘A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment,’ is seized, but he runs away naked, without even a sheet of toilet paper covering him up. It’s chaotic. It’s scary.
And Jesus is betrayed and let down by his closest friends. Judas, one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, has turned against him. He approaches Jesus and greets him with a kiss. But what should have been an affectionate act, turns out to be the kiss of death. Because, with that tiny bit of physical contact, Jesus finds himself ‘cut off from the land of the living’, heading towards certain death.
And the key thing I want to focus on today is in verse 50: ‘Then everyone deserted him and fled.’
Because what we see here is that …
Jesus went into self-isolation for our sake (43–52)
Let’s unpack that.
First, Jesus went into isolation.
Because, from this moment onwards, Jesus finds himself completely alone: ‘everyone deserted him and fled’. Even his disciples, who had followed him so closely.
All of his disciples had shared in the bread and wine, in verse 23 of chapter 14: ‘they all drank from [the cup]’. All of them had promised that they would never leave Jesus, in verse 31: ‘But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same.’ But all of them had fallen away, just as Jesus predicted in verse 27: ‘“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’”’ True, Peter followed at a distance, but it won’t be long before he claims he doesn’t even know Jesus.
Jesus went into isolation. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is that Jesus went into self-isolation.
Jesus knew it was going to happen. He’d told his disciples in chapters 8, 9 and 10 that he was going to be handed over and condemned to death. He knew that Judas was going to betray him. But he didn’t try to avoid that. He didn’t go into hiding. He didn’t resist being arrested.
Jesus’ isolation was self-isolation.
But, third, Jesus went into self-isolation for our sake.
Why did Jesus allow himself to be arrested? We find out why in chapter 10, verse 45: ‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ Jesus died on the cross in order ‘to give his life as a ransom for many’. A ransom is what you pay to set someone free. So, why did Jesus die? He did it for our sake. He died to set us free. And he went to the cross alone, in isolation, because only he could pay the price for our freedom.
Jesus went into self-isolation for our sake.
And there are two implications of that.
He did that, first, …
… so that we will never be isolated
Jesus went into self-isolation so that we wouldn’t have to. He paid the price for our freedom so that we don’t have to pay that price.
And that’s a great comfort to us. It means that if we know Jesus as our Saviour, we will never be alone. We will never be isolated. Jesus experienced abandonment on the cross. As he carried our sin to the cross, he experienced rejection by God. He took the cup of God’s displeasure at our sin, so that we wouldn’t have to.
So, even though we are all sinners, Jesus has taken that away, when he went to the cross, so that we can be set free to stand in the presence of God.
Listen to these words from Romans 8, beginning at verse 31.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
‘For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Jesus went into self-isolation for our sake so that we will never be isolated. In sickness and in health, in life and in death, now and for all eternity, if we put our trust in Jesus, we will never be isolated from the love of God.
The second implication is this: Jesus went to the cross for our sake, …
… so that we can live for the sake of others (53–65)
The only reason Jesus was able to face all that suffering was because he knew what lay ahead. Look in Mark 14 at verse 62: ‘“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”’ Jesus knew that after his suffering, God would raise him from the dead and seat him in a place of glory and honour. Jesus was able to suffer for the sake of others, because he knew that his eternal future was secure.
And it’s the same for us. If we know Jesus’ love for us, we can know that our eternal future is secure. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
And, in the light of that, Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him. Jesus calls us to live for the sake of others, just as he lived, and died, for our sake. Our path to glory, our path to the resurrection and the new creation, will be marked by service and by suffering.
In fact, it’s in Jesus’ suffering that his true identity is revealed. Earlier on in his ministry, Jesus was quite cagey about people knowing who he was. He told people to keep quiet about him. But now that he’s on his way to the cross, he’s willing to let people know.
So, from verse 53 in Mark 14, we find Jesus before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council. They want to find an excuse to put Jesus to death, but they can’t put together a convincing case. And Jesus doesn’t say anything in his defence.
But then the High Priest speaks directly to Jesus: ‘You’re the Messiah, the Son of God?!’
‘I am’, says Jesus.
Now he’s willing to let people know who he is. He’s the Messiah, the long-awaited king who would rescue his people. And he’s the Son of God: the one who will be enthroned at the right hand of God his Father. That’s who he is: the Messiah. But he’s only willing to be known as the crucified Messiah. Because Jesus didn’t come to fight some kind of triumphant battle against a human enemy. Jesus came to set us free from our real enemies, sin and death, by dying on the cross.
Jesus’ true identity is seen in his suffering, and the same is true for us. It’s only as we remain faithful to Jesus in our suffering that our true identity as his followers will be seen.
Jesus went to the cross fully confident that God his Father would raise him from the dead. And, as Jesus’ followers, we can face suffering in full confidence that God will bring us through it, and that he will ultimately raise us from the dead, to share in his eternal kingdom.
And this means we can live lives of service.
Our lives are safe in the hands of God, eternally safe. So when we’re afraid or anxious, we can lay those burdens down, and by his grace we can turn our attention to serving others.
For many of us, that will mean staying at home. We show our love for others by isolating ourselves, at least physically. But this doesn’t mean we isolate ourselves in other ways. We can keep in touch with neighbours and friends and family, by phone and online, encouraging them, letting them know we care, and sharing with them something of the peace and confidence we have, because Jesus died to set us free.
But for some of us, that will mean continuing to go out, often taking great risks, working in healthcare, in supermarkets, picking up essential food and medicine for those who are housebound, and so on.
But, for all of us, whether at home or out and about, we are able to live for the sake of others, because Jesus lived and died for our sake.
Jesus went into self-isolation for our sake, so that we will never be isolated, and so that we can live for the sake of others.
Perhaps this all sounds very unfamiliar to you? Why not get in touch, and we’d be delighted to help you find out more. What better way to spend your time now than trying to find out more about Jesus? You could start off by reading Mark’s Gospel. And we’d love to hear from you.
Thank you, heavenly Father, for sending your Son into the world, to die in our place, and to rise again from the dead. When we’re afraid and anxious, help us to have confidence in your promise of eternal life, and help us to know how we can serve others, and help them to experience your love.
In Jesus’ name we pray.