“He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make the preparations for us there.” So the disciples went out, entered the city, and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.”
— Mark 14:15-16 (CSB – Read the chapter)
I remember being given a worksheet to do when I was in an elementary summer school program years ago. I’m pretty sure it’s still around today. At a glance, it is a pretty simple worksheet. There are twenty instructions students are to follow. As soon as the list is complete, they may turn it in. The kick is, the instructions all seem pretty weird. None of them are difficult. There are short math problems, instructions to count out loud, easy geography questions, and the like. At the very top of the page, though, is one other instruction. In fact, it is the only instruction on the page. It says to read everything first, and then get started. That seems innocuous enough, but most students don’t follow it. You can tell because only one or two students walk up to the front of the room and hand their paper in almost immediately. They do this because the last problem gives a simple command: As soon as you read this, take this paper back to your teacher, you are finished. Students who followed the instructions carefully had a much easier road than those who didn’t. In another odd little episode between Jesus and His disciples here, we find a reminder of this same truth.
On the last morning before the crucifixion, it was the day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This means it was time to celebrate the Passover. Jesus and the guys woke up in Bethany like always. Given the day, the disciples knew it would fall to them to make preparations for the evening meal. So, they asked Jesus what He wanted them to do about it. This would not have been an unusual thing for them to do at all. Jesus, being Jesus, though, does things just a bit differently than they expected.
Jesus tells two of them to go into town and find a man who would be there waiting for them. They would recognize him because he would be carrying a jug of water. That seems like a random detail except that it was a woman’s job then to carry the water. A man carrying a jug of water would stand out. As soon as they found this man, they were to follow him. When he arrived at his destination, they were to go in that house and talk to the owner. They were to ask the owner where the room was for their Teacher to celebrate the Passover. He would then take them to an upper room where they could make the preparations.
Now, on its face, this is another bit that seems like a throwaway from Mark. Why did it matter whether or not we knew this? It doesn’t seem to affect the story for us in any significant way. Well, the story itself doesn’t make all that much difference for us, but I still think there’s something here if we’ll look close enough to see it.
Once again, Jesus was demonstrating how completely He was in control in this final week of His life. Everything was falling into place exactly according to His plans. When it comes to this exchange in particular, there are two ways to understand why Jesus gave them the commands He did. Either He had set up everything ahead of time (the more likely option), or He was demonstrating a bit of divine knowledge and sending the disciples to act accordingly. Either way, in sending them on errands like this, He was doing something important. He was training them to trust Him and do what He said. He knew they would find the eternal life He was about to give His life to make available to them only if they were willing to listen to Him and obey. By giving them seemingly simple tasks like this one, He was training them to do that very thing.
By sending them to do mundane, but simple, tasks where obedience made the difference between success and failure, Jesus was preparing them for the times when He would ask them to do much harder things. If you can obey in the small, you can obey in the big. We would like to think the opposite is true—that when the moment arrives, we’ll be able to perform flawlessly without any prior knowledge or training. Yet while there are occasional stories of people doing incredible things in a dramatic moment they had no idea they could do, those stories are the exceptions to the rule. If you don’t practice well, you’ll never perform when the time comes.
This lesson is one we must be learning still in our own lives. If we don’t practice obedience to Jesus’ words in the small and mundane situations we face every day, why on earth should we expect that in a significant moment we will do any better? Simply put, we shouldn’t. If you aren’t living a life of committed obedience now when it doesn’t seem to matter all that much, you won’t be when it does.