“It was two days before the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priest and the scribes were looking for a cunning way to arrest Jesus and kill him. ‘Not during the festival,’ they said, ‘so that there won’t be a riot among the people.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
All good spy movies let viewers in on both sides of the story. What I mean is this: Rather than telling the tale from only the perspective of the hero, they let us peek behind the curtain on the villains as well. It gives viewers the sense that we know more than the characters do. Of course, the best ones manage to keep a few surprises waiting for the end just to keep things exciting. When I read the Divergent series a few years ago, the whole thing drove me crazy because it was entirely written from the main character’s perspective. The whole thing was in first person. We never knew anything more than she did. It didn’t add any drama to the story for me; it just made it boring. Well, here at the beginning of Mark 14, as we are preparing now for Jesus’ final hours on earth, Mark gives us a quick glance behind the scenes at what the “bad guys” were planning. If we do some careful thinking here, though, there’s even more than meets the eye.
Essentially, these two verses are a transition statement from Mark. They don’t necessarily mean the chief priests and scribes were having this conversation exactly two days before the Passover. The verb tense here suggests this was a conversation that was an ongoing one among them. This is simply Mark writing a good transition to the next part of the story. The Gospels, you see, don’t simply tell the story of Jesus. They are well-written works of literature. They are much more than that, of course, and we dare not forget it, but they are great works of literature besides being the inspired words of God. God doesn’t make junk.
If these were just a couple of transition sentences before we get into the action of Jesus’ arrest and trial and crucifixion, though, I wouldn’t be spending any time talking about them with you. I think there’s something more going on here. This doesn’t come from some hidden, deeper meaning in Mark’s words. Rather, this comes out of a simple question: How did Mark know this conversation happened in order that he was able to include it as a transition point in his Gospel? Mark wasn’t simply making things up for the sake of including them in his story. He was writing things that were true so his audience (and us) knew what really happened. There are actually several of these kinds of episodes in the Gospels where we are treated to a scene of the Jewish religious authorities having conversations about Jesus in which no disciples or other Jesus followers were present. How did the authors come by this information?
Luke is the one who gives us the best clue to the answer here. There’s a scene at the beginning of Acts 6 when Luke tells of the ordination of the first deacons in the church. The basic story is that the church came up against a ministry challenge relating to their benevolence food ministries. Some of the Greek background Jewish women were feeling like the Jewish women were getting preferential treatment in the food lines. It’s the kind of problem that would make most pastors roll their eyes almost out of their heads in frustration today. The apostles then were wise enough with the Spirit’s help to say, “That’s not our problem to solve. We have other things that only we can do and we are going to focus our attention on them. You pick the leaders you want to tackle this issue, and we’ll commission them for the work.” Thus the first deacons were put in place to solve ministry issues so the apostles could keep their focus where it needed to be. It was a much more significant a victory for the church than it appears. It was a major organizational hurdle, the likes of which keep far too many churches much smaller in size today than they could otherwise be. When the church’s size is limited to the capacity of the pastor, it will only ever grow so large. When the members are equipped for ministry, however, freeing the pastors to do the things only they can do, the sky is the limit. And indeed, in this instance, when this growth hurdle was cleared, the church kept right on exploding.
It is Luke’s note on the nature of that growth that I really want you to see. Here is Luke 6:7: “So the word of God spread, the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly in number…” That’s the statement on the growth explosion happening. But it’s the next part that is so interesting: “…and a large group of priest became obedient to the faith.” Let that one sit on you for just a minute. Priests. Coming to faith in Jesus. These were the guys who had all been a part of the conspiracy to put Him to death just a few months before. Now they were professing faith in Him as their Lord and Messiah. And not just a few of them either. Luke is clear: “a large group of priests became obedient to the faith.” They were coming to faith in droves. All of their objections were answered or otherwise dealt with and they finally recognized Jesus for who He really is. Boom. This would be a little like the recent announcement from a Kenyan atheist group that they were currently without a group secretary because their former secretary had become a Christian and resigned his position.
Now, this fact all by itself is incredible and I’ll come back to that in just a second. But with all of these priests coming to faith in Jesus and becoming part of the church in Jerusalem, many of them were perhaps eager to share their testimony and knowledge with the church where they could. Some of them were likely part of the groups where some of these conversations in the Gospels taking us behind the scenes of the other side took place. They were able to share with the apostles and others about the plots and plans in ways that allowed guys like Mark to eventually write much fuller and more interesting stories of Jesus’ life and ministry than they otherwise would have been able to do.
There’s more here. These priests coming to faith were the most hardened opponents of the church there had been in the world. The claims Jesus and now His followers were making undermined everything they had committed their lives to professing and proclaiming. Now, that’s not exactly true in one sense. As the apostle Paul would later make clear, the Gospel is not the antithesis of the Law, but rather its fulfillment. Yet the way the Gospel required them to walk was away from everything they had previously known to be true about God and the world. It represented a challenge to their power and position unlike any they had ever faced before. If it was true, then everything they held dear wasn’t. They would have to give up completely the system of belief that had been in place in the lives of their people for multiple thousands of years. This was no small thing. For them to be willing to embrace this new way of living and believing was something that could have only been accomplished by the power of the Spirit. This was a God-sized conversion movement if there ever was one.
The bottom line here is this: The power of the Gospel is far more than we often imagine it to be. There are no forces that will ultimately be able to defeat it. It regularly turns foes into friends. Even the most committed opponents have given way to its overwhelming truth. Christian, take comfort and confidence from this. Those who stand against you now may one day be standing next to you in worship of the Lord of all creation. The ones persecuting you and making your life utterly miserable may one day serve at your side to advance the very message they once so vigorously opposed. It is not simply that the gates of Hell will not overcome the church. Those who guard them will eventually switch sides and be a part of the force repelling them. We need only unleash the Gospel in its full power and get out of the way. Praise the Lord that we can stand and be a part of a movement such as this one!