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Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on June 4, 2017 under 2017 |

Preached Sunday, June 4, 2017 from Mark 14:51-52

Theme: Those who follow superficially with Jesus will flee hastily when there’s hostility toward Jesus.

(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

We come this morning, in our study of the Gospel of Mark, to what is quite frankly a very strange story. But it’s one that, when you read, you can’t help but wonder if there’s more to it than at first meets the eye.

It’s a very short story—found in Mark 14:51-52. It’s part of the larger story of the dark evening of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest. After they seized Jesus and began to lead Him away, Mark tells us;

Now a certain young man followed Him, having a linen cloth thrown around his naked body. And the young men laid hold of him, and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked (Mark 14:51-52).

Now; why is this very strange story being told to us? Most of the commentaries I have consulted make only a passing reference to these words. And they usually say that though the story is clearly an eyewitness report of something that happened, it has little actual significance to the story of the events of our Lord’s betrayal and arrest. A few have gone a bit further than that; suggesting that it shows us how desperate and dangerous the circumstances of our Lord’s arrest were. But it doesn’t seem to me that we really needed this story to convince us of that!

No; there must be a far greater reason that that for why this story is told to us. We should always remember that for as big as the Bible is, it is relatively small in terms of all of the things that the Holy Spirit could have preserved in it for us. And so, whatever is in it is significant and is something that the Holy Spirit wants us to know for the good of our souls.

This story is being told to us for an important reason; and we must not casually pass it by.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Now; stop and think with me very carefully about where this story is found. It is tucked between two other very significant stories. The first one—the one that comes before our passage this morning—is the story of our Lord’s betrayal in the garden of Gethsemane. That’s found in verses 43-50. And the other important story—the one that comes after—is the story of our Lord’s trial before the chief priests, elders and scribes. That’s found in verses 53-65. That alone ought to tell you that this strange story of the young man—found in the middle of those other two very important stories—is significant and is meant to tell us something.

And I think you can see this even more clearly when you look at what happens immediately before this story and immediately after. Immediately before, in verse 50, we’re told of what happened to Jesus’ disciples after He was arrested in the garden: “Then they all forsook Him and fled.” And immediately after, we’re told of the apostle Peter’s condition. We’re told of how Jesus was led away to the chief priests, scribes and elders; and in verse 54 we read, “But Peter followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he sat with the servants and warmed himself.” And it would be in that situation that Peter would then go on to bring terrible shame to himself by denying three times that he even knew the Lord Jesus.

And so; can you see how this strange story of the young mean is strategically placed, and carefully situation in the story as a whole?—just after the fleeing of the disciples, and just before Peter’s terrible failure? It’s not irrelevant or insignificant at all; and it’s far more than just a story that shows us that the circumstances of the evening were dangerous. It is meant to show us something very important about what it means for you and me to be followers of Jesus.

You and I, of course, are not living in the kind of situation in which our Lord is being physically arrested and taken away. That has already happened; and He has already been crucified, and has already been raised from the tomb, and has already physically ascended to the Father, and now sits at His right hand in victory—one day soon to return for His people. His great work of redemption is complete. But you and I today—and indeed, all of His faithful followers in the centuries that have lived between His ascension and His second coming—are nevertheless living in troublesome times. We live in a world that is hostile to our Lord and to His kingdom rule.

The Lord Jesus Himself put it this way to His disciples—just before the events of His arrest in the garden:

“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause’” (John 15:18-25).

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; that’s the kind of situation we are living in today as Jesus’ followers. This fallen world hated our Lord. And now that He is gone, and because we are identified with Him as His followers in this fallen world, the world will hate us just as it also hated Him. And I believe this story of the young man who fled is meant to teach us to properly prepare ourselves to live faithfully for Him in such times.

You see; this young man fled away because he was ill-prepared for the situation. He was superficial in his connection to our Lord. And when the trouble and pressure came upon him from this world for his loosely-held and superficial relation to Jesus, he fled away. And many of us who are here this morning are in danger of doing the same thing—and for the same reason.

To put it another way, this story illustrates to us how those who follow in a superficial way in relation to Jesus will flee hastily in a time of hostility toward Jesus; and it teaches us to make sure that we do not follow Him in the kind of superficial way that puts us as risk.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; let’s go through this story again, and learn together what the Holy Spirit would teach us from it. First, let’s consider the question …


There have been lots of interesting speculations over the centuries. And of course, because we’re not told in the Scriptures who it is, we can’t really know for sure. But there is a long standing tradition that it was none other than the human author of this Gospel himself—John Mark.

There are lots of sensible reasons for thinking that it was him. For one thing, none of the other Gospel writers tell this story. It is found only in Mark’s Gospel. And it’s a story that none of the apostles could have even been an eyewitness too and have reported later, because they had all already fled away from our Lord. It has also been thought that the place in which the Lord had just had His last meal with His disciples was in the home that Mark lived. Do you remember the story in Acts 12 that tells us of how an angel released Peter from a Jerusalem prison in the middle of the night? In verse 12, we’re told that Peter “came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying”. Peter was closely connected to Mark; and the early church fathers tell us that Mark wrote his Gospel according to the eyewitness reports of Peter. And it’s very interesting that this story tells us not just that it concerned a ‘young man’, but rather a ‘certain’ young man—as if Mark didn’t want to come right out and say who it was, but that the alert reader might nevertheless know who he was talking about. The apostle John did the same kind of thing in his Gospel—not coming right out and using his own name, but simply calling himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. And so, even though we can’t be certain about it, it seems very reasonable to believe that the traditional belief that this was Mark is a true one.

And if this is the case, it makes it very interesting to consider what we know later on in the Bible about this young man named Mark. In Acts 13, we’re told of how Paul and Barnabas—in their first missionary journey—wanted to take Mark along with them. Mark, we’re told, was Barnabas’ relative—a cousin or a nephew. But trouble came along very quickly in that first missionary journey. The missionaries met up with strong opposition to the preaching of the gospel. It was a real spiritual battle. And after that first frightening experience of opposition to the gospel, John Mark quit and went back home. Later on, in Acts 15 when the missionaries wanted to go back to strengthen the churches, Barnabas wanted to take Mark along and give him another chance. But Paul refused. And they had to split up into two different groups.

Now; it’s very clear that, later on in time, Mark became a much more reliable man. Paul wrote in Colossians 4:10 to the church and very specifically urged them to ‘welcome’ Mark if he came to them—as if they might not have been inclined to do so unless Paul had told them to. In his last letter to Timothy—just before Paul was executed in prison for the faith—he told Timothy to be sure to bring Mark to him, “for he is useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). The apostle Peter sent greetings to the believers from Mark; whom he affectionately referred to as “my son”. And of course, Mark went on to write this wonderful Gospel—traditionally the first of the four Gospels to have been written. So, I would say that he came around; wouldn’t you?

But clearly, this would suggest to us that Mark, in his younger years, had a bit of a personality flaw. His early commitment to the things of Christ was a bit shaky; and he tended to run away when things got tough. He grew out of it over the years, it seems; but his early commitment was a bit like what Jesus said in the parable of the four soils. That second soil, you’ll remember, was the one that was not very deep, and that had lots of stones, and that—when the sun came up—allowed the good seed to be scorched. Jesus said that these are the ones

who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble” (Mark 4:16-17).

I believe Mark was like that at the beginning of his relationship to Jesus. I believe that many of us are like that in our own relationship with the Lord today—happy to be identified with Jesus and His cause, but quick to flee if being identified with Jesus causes us to suffer.

* * * * * * * * * *

So; assuming that this may very well be Mark—but even if it is not—consider another question about this young man:


Verse 52 tells us that this certain young man “followed” Jesus. In the original language, this is not the usual word for “follow”. This is a rather ‘qualified’ word; one that is best translated “follow with”. Literally, the text says that this young man “had been following with” Jesus. And that’s a rather interesting way of putting it, isn’t it? If there was a crowd that was around Jesus, this young man was following along with them. But it wasn’t that he was necessarily following Jesus Himself. It was as if he was very interested in Jesus, but not yet completely committed to him in a personal way. He just along for the ride.

And I wonder if that isn’t something that gets a lot of Jesus’ would-be followers in trouble. They are only ‘somewhat’ committed to Him. They certainly like Him a lot. They may even claim Him to be their Savior. But they only follow in a qualified and temporal kind of way. It’s as if they are happy to be in the throng and follow along with those who follow Jesus, but that they haven’t really committed themselves to follow Jesus Himself. They only ‘follow with’.

And I suggest that this is a dangerously superficial way to relate to Jesus. It can happen very easily. You go to church regularly and fellowship with the people of God. You can be identified with them. You can listen regularly to sermons and Bible studies. You can grow up in a Christian home and a Christian environment; and learn to say all the right things about it all. You can be like the people described in the Book of Hebrews; who were

once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come … (Hebrews 6:4-5).

and yet, never have really entered into a relationship with Jesus by faith in a deep and personal and intimate way.

I think that something like that was the case of this ‘certain young man’ who had only been “following with” Jesus’ crowd and was associated with those who followed Him; but was not really “following” Jesus for Himself. And I fear that there are many who ‘follow with’ Jesus in that way today.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; some Bible teachers have speculated that Judas the betrayer had first brought the multitude and the troops with him to arrest Jesus at the place where He had been eating the Passover with His disciples. And when they found that He was not there, Judas then took them to the garden of Gethsemane—where he knew for certain that Jesus would have gone. And if this young man indeed was Mark, and if his home was where the Lord had enjoyed that last meal with His disciples, then some have suggested that Mark would have been roused from his sleep by the arresting crowd, and would have quickly grabbed whatever he could find to cover himself, and would have ran out to warn Jesus.

That, of course, is only speculation. But we do know for sure that, whoever this young man was, he was not properly dressed to be out in the night; and there has to be a reason for that. It seems that he had hastily covered his naked body with whatever he could lay his hands on—a linen cloth, as it turned out. And this leads us to consider a third question about him:


I believe it is very significant that we’re not just told that he grabbed something to cover himself; but that we are specifically told that it was a linen cloth. I spent some time looking through the Bible at all the times in which ‘linen’ is mentioned. It shows up many times; and it truly makes for a fascinating study.

Linen is often found in the Bible in association with royalty and honor. It was a luxury item—very fine, and smooth, and light, and clean, and delicate, and comfortable. Kings and princes wore it. It was something that, usually, only well-to-do people had; and that was sometimes used as a highly valued gift.

Did you know that it was what the priestly robes in the Old Testament Levitical priesthood were made of? Some of the coverings of the Tabernacle were made of linen; and so, it was often associated—not only with luxury—but also with purity and holiness. In fact, when we’re told in the Bible that heavenly beings sometimes made an appearance to people, they were dressed in linen.

One of the most significant use of linen is found in what we’re told in the Book of Revelation at the time of our Lord’s return. When Jesus’ bride—the church—is finally presented to Him at ‘the marriage of the Lamb’, we’re told;

And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints (Revelation 19:8).

So; when we’re told in our story that this young man was out in the night wrapped in a linen cloth, it’s an element in this story that we should not just allow to pass by. The writer Mark is going out of his way to not simply tell us that the young man—who was perhaps himself—had been wrapped in only a cloth to cover up what was a naked body underneath; but even to tell us what kind of cloth it was. This is meant to communicate something very significant to us.

I suggest to you that, in the providence of God, it was meant to illustrate to us yet another superficial way some people follow Jesus; and that is with a mere outward covering of spirituality and holiness and purity. They follow the outward patterns of religious ceremonies and rituals. They practice the outward practices of church attendance, and fasting, and giving, and prayer. They demonstrate the outward appearance of moral purity by the things that they abstain from. But underneath, they’re naked; and all that the outward show does is hide the truth even from themselves. They may be a lot like what Jesus said to the Laodicean church;

Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see” (Revelation 3:17-18).

It may be that many of us here today are following Jesus in that kind of a superficial way. It may be that we’re only outwardly covered with the ‘fine linen’ of spirituality; but in reality, shamefully naked underneath in the sight of a holy God.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Now; these are dangerous ways to be attempting to follow Jesus—only partially committed, but not wholly committed; only ‘following with’ Him, but not really following Him; only outwardly covered over with a flimsy wrap of spirituality, but shamefully naked underneath. And the reason this is dangerous is because, when the troubles and challenges come upon us in this hostile world because of Jesus, we’re not ready. We find ourselves woefully unprepared.

Consider the circumstance that confronted this young man. As he was found following with Jesus, we’re told, “And the young men laid hold of him …” He was considered to be in association with the very same Jesus that they were right then leading away to be tried. Just as Jesus had said earlier: if they hated Him, they would also hate His followers; and if they persecuted Him, they would also persecute His followers.

That’s a reality that we must be prepared for, dear brothers and sisters. But this young man was not prepared. He was caught by surprise. They laid hands on him and he panicked. He escaped from their grasp; and they were left holding his linen cloth while he ran way naked. He had to sneak his way back home bare and ashamed. And as we read on in the story, that then becomes a picture of the apostle Peter! He too fled away from the Lord. He had boasted of how committed he would always be to Jesus; but the next we see of him, he sitting in the courtyard as our Lord was being tried—trying to hide from recognition—shamefully denying him.

If this ‘certain young man’ was truly Mark, then he became a symbol of what would shortly happen to his great mentor Peter—and what may happen to you and me, if we are not careful.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Now; I am grateful for the fact that, the next time we read of linen in the Gospel of John, it’s when our Lord’s body was wrapped in linen and laid in the tomb—after He had died for our sins. I’m grateful that my faulty and failing stand for our Lord is, nevertheless, atoned for by His blood. I will be His forever … and only by His grace.

But I don’t want to suffer the loss that this young man represented. I’m sure you don’t either. And how can we prevent it? I suggest that we look at the things we have considered about Him—and make sure that the reverse is true of us.

And I would put this first: let’s examine ourselves and make sure that we are not committing the mistake of simply following along with those who follow Him. Let’s be sure that we are truly following Him. Have you truly come to Him as a sinner and placed your faith in Him personally as your Savior? Have you trusted Him directly—not simply followed Him because of your upbringing? Do you have an experiential relationship of love and obedience with Him by faith personally? Do you follow Him?

Second, I would say let’s examine our commitment to Him. Let’s make sure its not a half-hearted commitment—one that we embrace and declare when things are going good; but that we are ready to discard when our commitment to Him begins to cost us something. If you have trusted Jesus as your Savior, does that show itself by the fact that you truly follow Him as your Master—even if following Him means suffering and hardship? Do you do what He says—even if it costs you? Do you truly take up your cross and follow Him?

And third, I would say let’s examine our spiritual condition before Him. Let’s make sure that our life before Him is real. Let’s make sure that we’re not simply wearing an outward ‘linen garment’ of spirituality, but that our hearts and lives and whole being are truly and sincerely His. Do you behave and speak one way in the midst of the people of God, but another way when you’re apart from them? Do you use an outward show of piety to cover up a shameful nakedness? If the outward display was suddenly yanked away from you, would a true follower of Jesus be found underneath? Do you follow Him with authentic holiness?

Let’s heed the warning of this young man. Let’s make sure that we follow Jesus sincerely as a regular practice of life—and not superficially; so that when the day of trouble comes, we’re not found unprepared and run away, but will be strong—dressed in the full armor of God—ready to stand.

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  • Harold E Welsh

    Thank you very much for this explanation. I was studying Mark and those two verses seemed to jump out at me and at the same time be out of place. I know that nothing in the Word of God is wasted or trivial and is there for our benefit. God bless you for sharing this.

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