Jesus could have prophesied to those members of the high council. They covered his face and beat him. They were spitting on him. The assumption is they were asking Jesus to tell them which one spit on him and which one struck him.
Jesus could have ended all dispute about his identity as the Son of God by simply speaking names as they struck him and as they spit on him. After the second or third correct prophecy, I think the violence and mockery would have stopped.
But Jesus did not prophesy in that ugly moment. It appears that he remained silent. Jesus had a mission to accomplish, and that mission necessarily involved being betrayed into the hands of violent men and dying on a Roman cross. And so Jesus was silent.
Jesus had been preaching the kingdom of God was at hand (Mark 1:15). The kingdom of God was the priority, not the safety of Jesus.
One thing that makes this passage so fascinating is that at the same moment people were demanding Jesus prophesy to them, one of Jesus’ starkest prophesies was being fulfilled. It was not a prophecy to the high priest or to the Roman governor. It was a prophecy to a fisherman follower of Jesus.
In the courtyard outside the high priest’s house was Peter. He was sitting with the guards, warming himself by the fire. Mark’s Gospel said Peter had “followed” Jesus “at a distance” as the rabbi was led away by the mob. We understand the mixed nature of this following. It is indeed good to follow Jesus, but to do so at a distance means that it is quite easy to stop following if things get difficult.
Jesus had predicted Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed twice. That’s a very specific prediction. This wasn’t a vague prediction that our modern, so-called prophets might make. No, Jesus predicted three specific actions Peter would take, and he predicted a very specific timeframe in which those actions would occur.
And as Jesus’ face was covered and as he was being spit on and beaten and demanded to prophesy, one of his prophecies was coming true.
“You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” – “I neither know nor understand what you mean.”
The rooster crowed.
“This man is one of them.” – Peter denied it.
“Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” – “I do not know this man of whom you speak.”
The rooster crowed for a second time. Peter remembered, and he broke down and wept.
This is the last we will see of Peter in Mark’s Gospel. The final image we have of this man, whose original name was Simon but whom Jesus gave the name “Rock,” shows him broken down in tears of failure.
As I read this text, I was reminded about the ways of God – and the importance of the kingdom. Remember again, it was the message and mission of Jesus Christ. The good of the kingdom was why Jesus was covered up, accepting the spit, accepting the blows.
We sometimes ask things of Jesus that he does not do for us. We sometimes demand things of God that he declines to fulfill. It is not at all that God cannot do some things we ask. It is simply that he will not do them. It might be a healing. It might be the opening of a heart. It might be the resolution of some difficulty in life.
And sometimes, God doesn’t answer our prayers. It is interesting to think about the council’s demands – “Prophesy!” – as prayers. They were mocking Jesus. They had no faith – so we suppose. These surely don’t count as prayers. But that’s not the first doubting request Jesus had gotten (Mark 9:24). How much faith is enough anyway?
And sometimes, God doesn’t answer our prayers. Sometimes Jesus is silent.
Perhaps he doesn’t say “yes” to every request because a “yes” is not in the best interest of the kingdom. The miracles, after all, are aimed at building kingdom of God. A death to sickness does not necessarily harm the kingdom of God. In fact, it may spur faith in others. A heart that doesn’t open doesn’t mean the kingdom has stalled – perhaps only that there are others for whom we should pray. The lack of a resolution to some difficulty in our lives doesn’t mean God is incapable of helping or that he likes to see us suffer. It may only mean he is building patience or persistence into our lives – or that someone is watching us whose heart may be opened as we are seen suffering well.
The kingdom comes first. We have been taught to pray, “Thy kingdom come.” This doesn’t necessarily mean worldly health and wealth for us. But it does mean this: “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest is come” (Mark 4:26-29).
So what do we do? We sleep and we rise, day and night. And we wonder. And we follow.
Jesus did not prophesy to the high council. But he did prophesy to Peter. It was for the good of the kingdom. At some point after the tears had stopped, Peter must have remembered what Jesus also had said: “But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee” (Mark 14:28). Although Mark doesn’t tell us this, we can assume Peter got up and followed Jesus to Galilee – because the prophecy was for the good of the kingdom. And we still have the kingdom today.
Yes, we follow. We don’t necessarily understand. We fail sometimes. We are too demanding sometimes. We get frustrated with God sometimes. But as disciples, we recognize that while we are part of this wonderful kingdom, the kingdom isn’t all about us.
And the kingdom – God’s kingdom – comes first.