Mark 14:50-51 - They All Deserted Him
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.Mark 14:50, 51
The emphasis in this short but important passage falls on several words. There is the word then (then they deserted him), also the word desert (this is much stronger than that they left Him) and finally there is the word everyone; all of the disciples follow this course of action.
The history and setting are familiar to us. Following the indescribable suffering in Gethsemane the motley crowd captured Jesus and was ready to take Him away for trial and death. Luke says that they seized Him. Peter couldn't take any more of this and so, with the sword that he had bought, he began fighting for Christ, aiming at the head of one of the leading men who captured his master. But Jesus healed the ear. Peter must be corrected and know that those who live with the sword will die with the sword. The Lord further showed that He, not the Jews and soldiers, was in complete control of the situation by telling them that He could ask for the help of 12 legions of angels, which would be something like 72,000 angels. Consider what a powerful force this is, remembering that one angel in the days of Hezekiah killed 185,000 Assyrians in one night! But the Lord didn't call for this kind of help. Instead he further assured the disciples that all that He was undergoing was in fulfillment of the Scriptures. These He would fulfill. Then all the disciples deserted Him and fled.
Why then? In the light of previous words of Jesus the answer is obvious. They were offended in Him as the Lord had predicted. And an offense is not just something that hurts somebody's feelings, or something with which other people may not agree. An offense is something over which people stumble and fall, an obstacle. By stumbling over it they fall into sin. Jesus had predicted that all of the disciples would that night be offended in Him. Why? Because He gave Himself into the hands of His enemies. He let them capture Him, offering no resistance. He wasn't interested in Peter's help, and did not ask that any angels should appear on the scene to guard Him. The Scriptures must be fulfilled. He would go as a lamb is led to the slaughter, willingly, and not open His mouth in any kind of rebellion. He wanted to make Himself a sacrifice, and thereby atone for all the sins of His people.
This the disciples didn't understand. It didn't make any sense to them. They stumbled over this submission. No doubt they remembered how by one word the Lord had calmed the storm, had controlled and tamed strong men possessed by the terrible power of the devil and how He had even raised the dead. But a Saviour who wouldn't stand up for the cause of righteousness, or defend Himself, who let the enemy take Him, had no place in their idea of a Messiah. Such a leader they could no longer follow and support.
These men were not cowards. Peter was ready, surrounded by the soldiers, to take up the cause of Christ and lay his own life on the line. We may believe the others also had that kind of courageous love. But when Jesus refused all kinds of help and literally gave Himself to be taken captive and it became obvious that this was the way He wanted to go, that was too much for them. These were the disciples, later to be called apostles. They were the ones upon whose confession the church would be built. Peter, and the others with him, had made the confession that this Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. But here they all vanished into the darkness of the garden of Gethsemane. The prophecy of Zechariah was fulfilled, "I will smite the shepherd and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered" (Zechariah 13:7).
Jesus was left alone. He had prayed following the institution of the Lord's Supper that He would lose none of those whom the Father had given Him. Did it now appear that He would lose none? But the Lord knew that He must give Himself as a ransom for sin. The enemy must not take His life, He must offer it for His own.
Already here the Saviour suffered. These who deserted Him were sheep of His flock. What had He done to them to deserve such infidelity? Why was He deserted? Their desertion grieved Him. It was not just that Christ was taken away from them and that He had to go on alone. Jesus was as human as we are though without sin. How He craved company when previously in this garden He returned to the three He had taken with Him for this very purpose! We may believe that He felt the need of some with whom He could share His feelings and sorrows, the need of someone to understand and comfort Him. But instead, in this crucial hour He must watch them go, one by one. He must go on alone.
But there appeared to be some help. A light glimmered in this dark night. A young man remained to follow Jesus. Who he was we don't know. Some people guess that he may have been John Mark. They suggest that it may have been in Mary's, his mother's, upper room that they had met that night for the last Passover and the Lord's Supper, and that when they departed this John followed from a distance to see what would happen. He was a young man, perhaps somewhat shy. But he persisted in following Jesus after the disciples had left Him. What courage and love were required to follow in circumstances of such tension and danger! Eleven leaders had failed in the battle, but a young recruit appeared to take their place.
Jesus, no doubt, saw him and his intentions. He, who long ago had recognized what was in the heart of Nathaniel under the fig tree, knew what was in this young man's heart. Would this youth stay to take away His sense of being abandoned by all? Might He keep the companionship of this one faithful follower?
The answer came quickly. The soldiers also seized him and he struggled, escaped from their grasp and fled into the darkness.
Jesus' isolation must be complete. No one might give Him any support at this crucial time. The Psalmist's prophetic experience was completely fulfilled in Him, "Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness."
In Hell there will be no fellowship. People will not be able to comfort one another. The enjoyment of comfort in misery will in no sense be experienced there. Every man will be alone there, in that awful outer darkness. This is the way Jesus must go to make payment for sin.
He must go this way alone. His followers deserted Him because He was going the way that paid for them. They were offended in Him exactly because He was going the way of the cross. In His soul the Lord must have prayed with this thought in mind, "I am willing to lose myself, but not my sheep. These I will keep at all costs." The shepherd who could not even see His sheep would give His life for them. What indescribable love and faithfulness! If Christ is to have fellowship with His sheep, He must establish it Himself. He must create His own church, and this He did and does. The only fellowship that God can have is that which He Himself establishes by mere grace, free grace. Every child of God who knows himself has to say, "Lord, it is your love alone that has saved me, and your love and faithfulness that will keep me."
Let our thoughts in this Lenten season include a deeper awareness of our own unworthiness and a beginning of the eternal admiration of Christ's infinite love. We are assured that if His love was so great that He would persevere in the way of the cross while being completely deserted, this same love will freely give us all things that are good as long as we live. And in heaven the host of saved sinners will be the gathering of those who fled from Him. And the theme song will be, "Worthy is the Lamb."