And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him (Jesus), but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.
On my mission trip in Haiti this past summer, I was usually the first one up each morning. I would make my way to the dark common area outside with my Bible and flashlight and have my quiet time with God. I decided that I would read the Book of Mark each day as I had rarely read one of the gospels from start to finish.
Admittedly, I ho-hummed through many of the familiar stories of Jesus' life. I was familiar with the parables and miracles recounted by Mark and was hoping to find something new to me. And then it happened, I got to Mark 14. Mark begins to lay out the plot to kill Jesus and Judas' plan of betrayal. It's like the part of a movie where the scene starts to grow dark and the music is ominous. Eventually, Jesus is seen in the garden of Gethsemane with his disciples. He is praying and yielding His will to the Father, knowing He is about to be taken to His death. Jesus' disciples fall asleep at the wheel of prayer and leave Him alone. A crowd comes to seize Him and He is arrested. This is where I arrive at the "something new". Mark 14:51 says, "And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him (Jesus), but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked."
Never had I encountered this part of the Good Friday story. Who was this streaker? I literally drew a big question mark next to the passage. I had never heard a message preached on this verse and I checked the other Gospels. Neither Matthew, Luke or John make mention of the man with the linen cloth.
When I got home from my trip, I did a little research and some commentators believe the running man was the author himself, Mark. I later asked several pastor friends and they agreed and said they, too, were taught this was Mark. But why? Some surmise that God included this verse as a way of foreshadowing death because the linen cloth left behind was later used as the burial shroud for Jesus. Others suppose that the white linen represents the pure, innocent life being thrown down.
I've been praying about this verse for many months. What does it really mean? God has a purpose for each and every word included in Scripture. Today on this Good Friday, I think I may know. It's Mark's confession to the world and it sums up what many of us must admit when confronted with the truth of what our Savior did for us: We are naked and afraid. Just like the disciples, it's easy to walk with and agree with Jesus during the parable preaching and miracle making. But what happens when the angry crowds come after Him...or us? Truth be told, we stammer, we stare, we hide and we fear our own demise. Or, we don't want to admit that He was dragged off and eventually nailed to a cross to pay for our own sin.
We all know the rest of the story. Even Hollywood fills movie seats this Holy Week because the drama of this story is unmatched by any other. Jesus is tried falsely in a kangaroo court, scourged and hung on a cross to die a gruesome death. He did this not for a nameless expanse of humanity...He did it for Peter who denied Him, for Mark who took off, and for you and me.
I believe Mark exposed his own weakness and fear of ditching his best friend so that we could identify. So that we would know that even the best of the best couldn't quite hang in there until the end. They stumbled, they fell short and they failed. I imagine all of those men huddled in a cold sweat as they listened to the crowds haul off with their Lord. Their Lord. They were happy to call him Lord while peace was at hand, but could not stand up for Him when pressed. But Jesus went to the cross, anyway.
Jesus was eventually the one naked and afraid. He took the humiliating exposure and faced a fearful death so that we could be clothed in His righteousness before God. So that we could stand in confidence before God and man. So that we could face evil and death knowing God has already won.
Maybe this Good Friday, you are the one running away from Jesus. You know of His faithful friendship and salvation but you're afraid of the crowds. I dare you to follow behind Him to the cross and behold the gift of eternal life he offers you still...
Even though you run.