Following His Footsteps: “Cracker Jack Surprise” – Mark 14

CrackerjackIn a less complex time than today, a simple “surprise” toy in a box of breakfast cereal or perhaps a little surprise inserted into a molasses-coated popcorn and peanut snack box was a delight for a child. Unless there is an electronic chip in it, I doubt it would keep most “first world” children occupied now – even for a moment. Yet, some of us are both old enough to remember but still young enough to access our memories of the “Cracker Jack” box – with the “surprise” inside. The name was registered in 1896, and many consider it to be the original American “junk food”. The old label was bought by Frito-Lay’s parent company Pepsi-Co in 1996, some one hundred years after it was first hitting the shelves of tiny grocery stores and corner candy shops.

The Cracker Jack box historically included a small “toy surprise” inside. Old ads boasted: “Candy coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize”. In fact, they came in every box since 1912! Prizes included baseball cards, rings, plastic figures, booklets, stickers, temporary tattoos and even “secret spy decoder rings” – which no doubt worried the Russians a good bit “back in the day”. Keeping up with the times, in 2013, some prizes became ‘download codes’ to redeem electronic “nostalgic” games on the Cracker Jack app through Google Play. Yes, the simple times have left us and have morphed into their more complex android cousins.

What is surprising about the Cracker Jack box is that it was never that appealing on its cover for a candy. In fact, it seemed busy and wholly unattractive. On the outside were “mascots” – sketches of one dubious “Sailor Jack” and his dog “Bingo” who were on the box since 1918. The actual image of “Sailor Jack” alone has a bit of a morbid tale – it was an image of Edward Rueckheim who died of pneumonia at the age of 8 shortly after his image appeared on the first box. That image became so important to the founder of Cracker Jack that he had it carved on his tombstone. The dog, incidentally, was an image of a stray found in Chicago in 1917. There you have it: America’s junk food started in a promotional package with the images of a deceased child and a stray dog – yet they sold millions of boxes. In the end, they proved that looks can be deceiving. Sweet things can come in ugly boxes. Secret spy decoder rings can be purchased – disguised as mere junk food.

Interestingly enough, the truth proved by the package is the same one we see in our text today…

Key Principle: Appearances can be deceiving – but only to us. God always see what is under the surface.

In this lesson, we want to look briefly at four literary “snapshots” of people, taken from the week before the Cross at Calvary. Each of these snapshots is admittedly incomplete, but they are sufficient enough to help us see what God captured in His holy lens – and how it differed from what men saw:

Snapshot 1: Pious Men gathered in Priestly Garb (14:1-2)

In our study following the life and ministry of Jesus, we have finally come to His entry to Jerusalem and the “Passion Week” – the time of the Pesach (Passover).

Mark 14:1 “Now the Passover and Unleavened Bread were two days away; and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to seize Him by stealth and kill Him; 2 for they were saying, “Not during the festival, otherwise there might be a riot of the people.”

If the first day of Unleavened Bread (immediately following Passover) began in conjunction with the Sabbath (Friday night) that year, as has been traditionally recalled, the story opens this chapter with either a Tuesday or Wednesday meeting. Classical artists seem to always capture the men gathered in the night, though that is not clear in the passage. On the bright side, some may use this to Biblically endorse “Wednesday night Prayer Meeting” (just kidding!) but that isn’t what brought these men together.

A careful examination of the first two verses yield a reasonably clear picture of what was happening among these learned men. The men were clearly PLOTTING (zeteo: deliberating an action). They were trying to determine a way to gain control (krateo: to bind) over Jesus by using trickery or a trap (dolos: baiting). Most striking is the reality that this ensnaring was clearly for the purpose of killing Jesus! They appeared to have concluded this was the right way, or at least the most effective way to answer His rising popularity and open questioning if their authority. All of these details come from the beginning of Mark 14.

Look at the second verse, and more detail emerges. What slowed down their plan was not a pang of guilt, but a scheduling glitch. With Passover coming on, they seemed to agree that capturing Jesus when the crowds of Galilean followers, among whom He was remarkably popular, would have ended in a riot (thorubos: uproar, uncontrolled mob reaction). Since this follows the “Palm Sunday” story, it appears Jesus was equally aware of the possibility the “rocks would cry out” if He hushed the crowds. It looks, from the record, like the Temple leadership ironically agreed with Jesus’ earlier assessment.

Mark carefully revealed that these men knew what they wanted to do, but fear of the loss of control over the crowd shut them down – at least for the moment. In some ways, it appears they were afraid to lose STANDING in the eyes of the crowd. They knew the local people would follow them, but this was a time when people came into the city by the tens of thousands, and they were happy to hear Jesus. They didn’t mind His criticism of the Temple leadership. He likely said things others thought of themselves! The Talmudic memory of the household of Hannan, from which Annas and Caiaphas came, was less than sparkling. Jesus wasn’t the only one that noticed the Temple wasn’t working in ideal ways.

These men rose through the ranks probably believing they could serve the God of Jacob. They likely didn’t start out craving power, it just seemed to turn out that way. You can sympathize just a bit, can’t you? They were charged with “keeping the people in order” by their Roman masters. The problem was, they were charged by God to do something higher – that is to teach people the TRUTH. Their call from God got tied up in their power struggle to hold what they only got because God granted it. When we try to desperately hold on to the position or power that we have, we tip our hand to our real belief – the mistaken idea that we EARNED the place we have.

This is the “FAME trap” – we try to keep the lights blaring on our performance long after it is clear we aren’t as special and we have come to believe we are. Only those who are oft reminded by God that all they possess is truly His, and all they attain was by His grace- will be able to place His will higher than that of any earthly master. The FAME trap can happen in anything that leads people to believe they have become a celebrity – no matter what are of life they find it in. God sees it even through religious garb – those who look like they are serving Him to control other people, or to be important among them.

Snapshot 2: A man hiding under a clean cloak (Mark 14:10-21; 42-46)

Drop your eyes down in the passage to Mark 14:10. Instead of a group of garbed priests, we want to focus on a lone figure who is fidgeting and seems out of place in an important meeting…

Mark 14:10 “Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went off to the chief priests in order to betray Him to them. 11 They were glad when they heard this, and promised to give him money. And he began seeking how to betray Him at an opportune time. 12 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was being sacrificed, His disciples said to Him, “Where do You want us to go and prepare for You to eat the Passover?” 13 And He sent two of His disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him; 14 and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is My guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”’ 15 “And he himself will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; prepare for us there.” 16 The disciples went out and came to the city, and found it just as He had told them; and they prepared the Passover. 17 When it was evening He came with the twelve. 18 As they were reclining at the table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me—one who is eating with Me.” 19 They began to be grieved and to say to Him one by one, “Surely not I?” 20 And He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who dips with Me in the bowl. 21 “For the Son of Man is to go just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

Drop a few verses below to a man who came late to the meeting. He was not invited, but the men in the meeting were DELIGHTED to see him come in. Judas snuck off from the other Disciples who were staying in Bethany with the Master. The text is clear, Judas came willingly to the priests (14:10) and made the offer to deliver Jesus to them. Their gladdened reaction showed that Judas’ proposal relieved them of the burden of finding a way to snatch Jesus (14:11). Judas was now seeking a “good time” (eukairos) to deliver Jesus to the priests. How ironic that he would look for a GOOD TIME to do a BAD thing.

The verses that follow that scene may seem like Mark is going on in the story, but He is not. Mark 14:12-16 explain why Judas was unable to deliver Jesus quickly, before the late night prayer session of Jesus in the “Garden of the Olive Press” (Gethsemane). Mark 14:12 set the time for these verses two days after the plot against Jesus by Judas and the chief priests. Jesus came with the twelve on Thursday evening for their Pesach celebration but withheld the location from Judas and the other Disciples – they did not know where the meal was to be eaten. Jesus appears to have pre-arranged the meal with some men beyond the knowledge of His Disciples, and therefore offered detailed instructions to Peter and John (if all accounts are combined) to follow a man with a water pot to a furnished upper room to make the feast observance ready.

Reclining around the three sided banquet table (a triclinium), Jesus openly remarked about the plot that Judas was hatching behind His back. Mark 14:18 offered the detail that it was someone on the inner circle of the twelve, and verse 20 pressed the case by stating it was one who was eating from the same dish as Jesus – the common bowl placed before the group surrounding Him closely. It is impossible to see this as anything less than an excruciatingly uncomfortable moment for the disgruntled Judas, who had to have felt exposed. Listen again to the words that Jesus used concerning Judas:

Mark 14:21 “For the Son of Man is to go just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

Jesus made it clear that the plot would be successful, but the plotter would be ruined in the process. Perhaps nowhere in the Gospels are harder words recorded as coming from the mouth of the Master! Judas had to have been quietly humiliated and angered, as the enemy pressed him to further betrayal. Mark makes no note of Judas’ departure from the meal, but combined accounts show that Judas left after a small exchange between Jesus and himself. Out into the night, tormented by the searing words of Jesus went the betrayer. We don’t see him appearing again until Mark 14:42.

Mark 14:42 “Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!” 43 Immediately while He was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, came up accompanied by a crowd with swords and clubs, who were from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. 44Now he who was betraying Him had given them a signal, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the one; seize Him and lead Him away under guard.” 45 After coming, Judas immediately went to Him, saying, “Rabbi!” and kissed Him. 46 They laid hands on Him and seized Him. 47 But one of those who stood by drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48 And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me, as you would against a robber? 49 “Every day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me; but this has taken place to fulfill the Scriptures.” 50 And they all left Him and fled. 51 A young man was following Him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; and they seized him. 52 But he pulled free of the linen sheet and escaped naked.”

Jesus was aware of Judas’ arrival before the Disciples, and He urged them to awaken and stand ready for the time of His arrest at the hands of Judas (14:42). A crowd, including some Roman soldiers and Temple guard, as well as a rabble gathered by the chief priests had entered the olive grove at Gethsemane where Jesus was praying and His derelict Disciples were fast asleep (14:43). Judas told the guards to watch for the One that he offered the “kiss of peace” and arrest Him alone, so the guard and rabble were either confused by the darkness or may not have been wholly familiar with Jesus’ appearance. Judas was close to Jesus – one of the inner circle who “kept the purse” according to John’s Gospel, and Judas would recognize Jesus. Mark reveals that Judas kissed Jesus, and the men arrested Him (14:45-46). Resistance began, with a strike at the head of a guard by what appears to have been Peter (14:47) but the Disciples were outnumbered, bewildered and afraid. Jesus boldly challenged the cowardly way He was being taken, but the guards were not stopped by this (14:48-49). The Disciples fled into the night, one of them slipping out from his top cloak and running shamefully uncovered (14:51-52), Judas had finished his work.

Though Mark says little about the reason of Judas defection, the other Gospel accounts offer other small details that help sharpen our view of the events. John records that Judas was one who specifically complained about the anointing of Jesus’ feet with the valuable spikenard. Matthew reminds us of the “thirty pieces of silver” (the price of redemption) some three times in Matthew 26 and 27. Clearly the Disciples recalled later that Judas’ motive was at least in part financial. Judas wanted FORTUNE to help him gain a sense of control over his life. How many people are willing to compromise principle for this very same reason? The man under the cloak thought he could act in darkness, hiding, deceiving and then disappearing. The problem with the okay was that he had to take himself along on the journey, and life lived in compromise of one’s core values is desperately hard. God saw under the cloak of Judas, and his motives were exposed from the very mouth of his Master.

Judas probably joined the ranks of the Disciples because the words of Jesus touched his heart. I don’t know how deeply, but he is not so unlike many in the church today – who came with deep hurt or a broken heart – some intractable relationship or financial distress. They came believing they could find peace and solutions in the God of Jacob. Then came the problem; the day God’s Word said something they really didn’t like. The day God offended them deeply. They truly believed their own sense of right and wrong was more flawless than the Creator’s – and they just weren’t willing to give up a relationship of love that the Word clearly showed was off limits; or stop a practice that they loved so dearly they thought it beyond God’s right to ask them to give it up. God can be so offensive when He tries to tell the pottery why it was made thus.

When we try to hold God to our standard, we forget who He really is, and who we really are. This is the POWER trap – we try to keep Him at bay from the most important rooms of our hearts. Only those who are oft challenged by God to surrender the key to every locked room- will be able to surrender control and see God powerfully work beyond their abilities. The POWER trap can snare us when we use some inner marker of desire to replace God’s objective standard in His Word. God sees through our proximity to the believers and even to Jesus – and examines the heart. He warns of two paths – one of surrender and one of self-guided nonsense.

Snapshot 3: A boisterous follower of Jesus (Mark 14:27-42; 66-72)

Peter helped to put the meal together, along with John. He was not an EVIL man, like the picture we have of Judas and of the priests we have spoken about to this point in our story. He was DECIEVED. Deception is the “cousin” of EVIL – that leads good men to bad judgment.

Look closely for a moment at the Disciple Peter. He demonstrated some critical flaws that came from a failed power struggle with his ego. They are helpful, particularly to those of us who have fought Jesus’ control in our own lives…

Flaw One: He was Untrusting.

Mark 14:27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, because it is written, ‘I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP SHALL BE SCATTERED.’…31 But Peter kept saying insistently, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And they all were saying the same thing also.

When Jesus told all the Disciples that they would scatter and fall down, He made the particular point to mention that God’s Word had settled the subject ahead of time (14:27). At first Peter denied that this could be a part of his future, and later “insisted” (14:31) that could not be the case. These points of argument yield a truth about the EGO battle… The ego battle is essentially a deeply held belief that I know better than God and His Word. It is masked and often polite UNBELIEF in God’s knowledge.

Flaw Two: He was Self-exalting.

Mark 14:28 “But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 29 But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not.”

When Jesus promised that He would be raised up (they probably thought to the throne, not from the dead, though He had revealed His death to them before), Peter emphatically promised that HE would not leave Jesus, in spite of all the other followers. It is remarkable how EGO separates us from the rest of the pack. We truly come to believe that we are DIFFERENT in essence than all others. It offers us a deceived view that allows us to believe we have inordinate personal endurance.

Flaw Three: He was Hardened.

Mark 14:30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, that this very night, before a rooster crows twice, you yourself will deny Me three times.”

When Jesus contradicted Peter, there is no record that Peter believed of accepted the conviction of the words of the Lord. Jesus clearly said it WOULD HAPPEN and that he would not have to wait to see it happen! Yet, when we become deluded with our own EGO, we truly close our ears to both the WARNING and CONVICTION of God’s Word.

Flaw Four: He was Overconfident.

Mark 14:32 They came to a place named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, “Sit here until I have prayed.” 33 And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. 34 And He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.” 35 And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. 36 And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” 37 And He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38 “Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 Again He went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him. 41 And He came the third time, and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough; the hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 “Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!”

Jesus led the men to the place of the public oil press, with its nearby camping places in the olive grove. He asked the Disciples to pray, and it is clear they could see that He was under great pressure. Peter was taken with those of the inner circle and asked repeatedly to pray, but found himself falling asleep. Ego constantly overestimates its strength and underestimates the costs of disobedience. The scene that began with Peter’s arrogant proclamations of being the ONE who would do right, end with him skulking and weeping.

Flaw Five: He was overpowering.

Mark 14:66 As Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Nazarene.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you are talking about.” And he went out onto the porch. 69 The servant-girl saw him, and began once more to say to the bystanders, “This is one of them!” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders were again saying to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean too.” 71 But he began to curse and swear, “I do not know this man you are talking about!” 72 Immediately a rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had made the remark to him, “Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” And he began to weep.

After the arrest of Jesus, the weeping Disciple teamed up with John who was known to the High Priest and his family. John was able to get into the front gate, but Peter was questioned at the door. A few minutes later the intuitive woman pointed our Peter before others. When confronted a third time, Peter CURSED JESUS and claimed no knowledge of Jesus. One Gospel writer simply said that as Jesus was being led away, “Jesus looked on Peter”. Ego can’t seem to slow down the train even when it is going toward a head on collision. It is a powerful force of false control – and it leads to our own ruin.

Peter came to Jesus because the words of Jesus made sense, and Jesus had great power. He saw the command Jesus had over the Word of God and the manifest presence of God in miracles. He believed that God was at work in Jesus. He was on board when the swords were handed out. He wanted to bring in the Kingdom with POWER. The problem with the power method, is that it is very SELF EMPOWERED and lacks the meekness Jesus calls upon in us. When we try to reach people with the POWER of our own PERSONALITY, we are often showing ourselves to me more in love with ourselves than our Savior! This is the EGO trap – we try to make God successful and elevate ourselves at the same time!

The EGO trap holds us when we believe that God got a bargain when He got us. It came manifest itself in a legalism control, or an overt and desperate need for constant affirmation in our walk and work for Jesus. In the end, it attempts to lead people to US and not JESUS.

Snapshot 4: A Broken Crying Woman (Mark 14:3; 6-9)

The final little snapshot is found in the earliest part of the chapter. We skipped over a woman (John 12 suggests it was Mary of Magdala) who was sacrificing to Jesus by pouring an expensive and cherished ointment on His feet, to allow her story to linger in our hearts as the final part of the teaching from Mark 14. Look briefly at her story:

Mark 14:3 While He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table, there came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard; and she broke the vial and poured it over His head. 4 But some were indignantly remarking to one another, “Why has this perfume been wasted? 5 “For this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they were scolding her.6 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. 7 “For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me. 8 “She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial. 9 “Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”

Jesus was pleased with the sacrifice of a woman who FELT SMALL, but gave what she had to be used of Him! She BROKE the vase of what she had to offer, and gave every drop to His use. There can be no more complete snapshot of surrender. She is in this story what the woman with the last coin of her home was in the previous study – one who gave all. How did Jesus respond?

First, He rebuffed those who criticized her action for their own cloaked motives and self-righteousness, protecting her with His words. “Let her alone” (6a). Next, He noted that her sacrifice was “a good deed” to His standard (6b)! Third, He identified her insights and priorities as the CORRECT ones (14:7). Fourth, He again showed the size of the sacrifice was the true gauge of her heart (14:8a). Fifth, He carefully identified that her work fit with God’s plan (14:8b). Finally, He promised that her act would be ever recalled by followers of Jesus in times to come (14:9).

Mary came to Jesus out of a broken heart and a failed life. His words set her free. His love unlocked the deep pain of her heart, and empowered her to serve by surrender and sacrifice. She understood the meekness Jesus called for – because her only hope of eternal life was found in His grace. She saw no goodness in herself. She had little, but she was unwilling to keep any of it for herself!

When we recognize our own deep sinfulness, we are ready to thankfully surrender to the One who gave all for us! This is the SURRENDER KEY– the key that opens us to be used of God for powerful tasks that last for the ages to come! The SURRENDER KEY allows Jesus access to all that we have, and all that we hope to accomplish. It is the gift God most wants. It smells of perfume, but is really not about the physical world – it is a spiritually open heart.

The truth is often beneath the surface.

Maybe you are hiding who you are beneath a cloak. There is danger in not considering the truth that God sees what no one else can.

I am told that there was a rock on the North Sea, just off the Firth of Tay, Scotland. This rock proved very dangerous to many ships, because when the high tide came in, the rock was hidden just below the surface. There was a warning bell attached to the rock by the Abbot of Aberbrothok, so when tide came in the hugh warning bell floated and rang out a warning to all ships that passed: there was hidden danger. This warning bell was stolen by a sea pirate. History records about a year after the said warning bell was stolen, there was a terrible pirate ship crash at this rock, and the pirate perished in the icy waters. It appears the pirate that stole the warning bell, perished on the hidden rock one stormy night. Why? He forgot that what was hidden could still be very dangerous.