Summary: Following Jesus means living a life of extravagant devotion to Jesus.
Most people in our culture seem to think that it’s okay to be religious so long as you don’t take your religion too seriously. Many people today treat religion and faith as a kind of hobby, as if some people are into stamp collecting, some people are into building models airplanes, and other people are into religion. In this way of thinking, religious faith something you do on your spare time, something you do for recreation to relax. That much religion most people in our culture can accept.
But when someone starts taking their faith seriously, that’s when people get worried. When people start to let their faith influence their decisions and their lifestyle choices—who they vote for, how they spend their money, how they raise their kids—that’s when people get nervous. People start whispering words like “fanatic,” “zealot” and even the dreaded word “fundamentalist.” Many people envision people of faith as wide-eyed fanatics storing up extra food and water in their garage while they await Armageddon with guns in their basement.
So when we say that our mission as a church is to reach unchurched people with Christ’s love and to help them grow into fully devoted followers of Jesus, that makes some people a little nervous. “Just get them cleaned up, a little religious, just enough to be good for society, but not fully devoted.” “Fully devoted followers” sounds too radical, too dangerous, too extravagant. Yet when it comes to the Christian faith, nothing less than full devotion to Jesus will do. In fact, the people being baptized today are making a stand to do just that, to live as fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. That’s what baptism is all about, a confession that faith in Jesus isn’t just a hobby or a side interest, but that devotion to Jesus is the consuming passion of the person’s life.
Today we’re going to talk about extravagant devotion. We’re returning to our series through the New Testament book of Mark called Following Jesus in the Real World. We started this series all the way back in the fall, and we took a break right before Easter and until last week. In this series we’ve been learning about how to live as Christians—as followers of Christ—in the midst of the everyday realities of life. We left off before Easter at the start of Passion Week, so we’re going to pick up our series in the 14th chapter of Mark. In the first eleven verses of the 14th chapter we’re going to see an unexpected example of extravagant devotion to Jesus, and how different people responded to that devotion. So take out your outline and turn to Mark 14:1.
1. The Religious Leaders (Mark 14:1-2)
We start by looking at the religious leaders’ growing hostility to Jesus in vv. 1-2. The celebration of the Jewish Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread forms the backdrop to the final days of Jesus’ life. These two holidays helped the Jewish people remember God’s deliverance of Israel from their slavery in Egypt thousands of years earlier. Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were Israel’s version of “Independence Day”; it was their celebration of their birth as a nation and their spiritual and social freedom as a people. Back when Jesus lived, every year at Passover hundreds of thousands of Jewish pilgrims would travel to Jerusalem to celebrate this weeklong holiday of liberation.
Normally the city of Jerusalem housed about 65,000 people, just a little smaller than the population of Upland. But during Passover week, the city of Jerusalem was overrun by about 3 million people, roughly the size of Los Angeles. Could you imagine the entire population of Los Angeles coming to visit Upland for a week? Passover was also a time of social unrest, because during this time in Jewish history the nation of Israel was occupied by the hated Romans. Can you imagine an occupied nation celebrating its independence day with 3 million visiting pilgrims? It’s no wonder the Romans beefed up security so much during the Passover, because riots and violence were commonplace during this week of the year.
The religious leaders get together just before the Passover to plot how to get rid of Jesus. Their reasons for such desperation go back to Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, when the crowds hailed Jesus as the promised king. The next day Jesus declared that the Jewish temple was barren and under God’s judgment, that the temple had outlived its usefulness and would soon be destroyed. When the religious leaders demanded to know on what authority Jesus was doing these things, Jesus in turn questioned their authority. What made matters worse is that these religious leaders could see that many people were devoted to Jesus, that Jesus wasn’t just a lone threat, but that he wielded growing influence with the people. Jesus and those devoted to Jesus threatened their security, their way of life, their very legitimacy. In order to stay in their position of prominence, they must get rid of Jesus before more people join in extravagant devotion to Jesus.