They Call Him the Streak (Mark 14:51-52)
Ray Stevens released “The Streak” in 1974. At that time, Tammy and her family lived on her mother’s old home place; there were three occupied houses at that time. Tammy and her brother and parents lived in one house. Her grandparents lived in another; her aunt and uncle and little cousins lived in another. Tammy had a little cousin who was 4 at the time. Every time he got the chance, Chris would start singing “The Streak,” take off all his clothes, and start running around. Tammy’s grandmother would call Chris’s mother and say, “Fern, Chris is down here running around naked again.” Chris would be told to put his clothes back on and go home.
I don’t know what experience some of you may have had with streaking, and I would really prefer not to know. The first recorded incident of streaking on a college campus occurred at what is now Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, back in 1804. When he was the president of the college, General Robert E. Lee sanctioned streaking as a rite of passage for the males at the college. Many colleges have followed the example of Washington and Lee.
Have you ever been caught at an awkward time? Have you ever known people who did not care very much about modesty? I had a professor in college tell us guys to expect very little modesty when we visited the hospital. I laughed along with most of the class. You wanna know what? He was right! I soon discovered that some guys did not care about modesty when the preacher was there. I have had women give me way too much information about their health.
In this morning’s text, we find a young man who streaks. It’s not on purpose, of course, but he still runs through town in his birthday suit. I know that ears perk up a little when a preacher is going to discuss streaking. There is a fair amount of debate as to who this young man was. Some scholars believe that he is John Mark himself. I read a rather passionate commentator who said that this man had to be Lazarus.
One scholar said that these two verses did not really need to be in Mark. He said that the streaking episode added nothing to our knowledge of Jesus or his crucifixion. I’m not really sure how Scripture can be the inspired Word of God but contain stories that are not necessary. A very serious question we’ll need to ask throughout the lesson is: “Why does the Gospel of Mark include this text?” There are parallels to other parts of the story of Jesus. The parallels are not contrived or allegorical; however, the Spirit guided Mark to include some parallels here that have a huge relevance for the story of Jesus. This text is necessary as it points out a common response to following Jesus: Desertion.
This young man teaches us this: “You never desert Jesus.”
Scripture (Mark 14:51-52)
Mark tells us that this was a “young man” — he would have been somewhere between 24 and 40.
This young man “followed” Jesus. “Followed” is in the imperfect tense in Greek; the imperfect refers to repeated action in the past. It may simply be that this young man has been following Jesus since his arrest, but it seems quite likely that this man was himself a disciple of Jesus.
If this man were a disciple, this man would stand as a testimony about how easy it is to desert Jesus. Jesus understood it was easy for his disciples to forsake him. “Jesus said to them, ‘You will all fall away, for it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered”‘” (Mk 14:27). While Peter and the other disciples vehemently denied they would ever fall away, Jesus’ prophetic words came to pass.
This fella would by no means be the first to desert Jesus. “Many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (Jn 6:66). Some disciples “endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away” (Mk 4:17).
The man was following Jesus with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. It would seem that this young man was awakened in the middle of the night. He heard commotion and he stepped out of bed to see what was going on. He didn’t bother getting dress, except for casting this linen garment around himself. He wanted to be a disciple; he was following Jesus, but he did not wish to die for Jesus.
“They seized him.” This sounds a great deal like verse 46: “They laid hands on him and seized him.” Jesus had been seized, and he is preparing to stand trial and be crucified. This disciple understands that his fate would likely be the same. This disciple refuses to be led as a lamb to the slaughter.
The man left the linen cloth; linen clothes were quite expensive. But, this man is more interested in saving his life than saving money.
He runs away naked. Greek culture, as I’m sure you know, had a great deal of nudity. It served as a rite of passage and nudity was used in that culture to encourage immorality. Some Jews adopted Greek culture and encouraged public nudity; however, the overwhelming majority of Jews would be aghast at any suggestion of nudity.
Most Jews would have been aghast at public nudity, for they knew Scripture. Adam and Eve were naked before the Fall. They were innocent and had no need for covering. Yet, God deemed their leaves as inappropriate dress and made them garments of animal skin. Noah became drunk and was uncovered in his tent. Ham saw his father’s nakedness, and Shem and Japheth covered their father. When Noah awoke from his drunken stupor, he cursed Canaan, Ham’s son. “On those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty” (1 Cor 12:23).
Why do we find this narrative in Scripture? I believe that Mark is using an illustration — think “sermon illustration” — to demonstrate that “You never desert the Lord.” Instead of allowing himself to be captured and tried for being a disciple of Jesus, this young man decides to do the shameful thing of running naked through Jerusalem.
Do you understand that this episode is showing conclusively that Jesus died all alone? Judas, one of his disciples, betrayed Jesus for a paltry sum of money. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John to the Garden to pray with him. Yet, they abandon their Friend in his time of need. Instead of struggling with him in prayer while he cries out in agony, they’re asleep. The “streaking disciple” cares more about his physical life than the One dying to give real life. As Jesus hangs on that old rugged cross, the sun refuses to shine, and Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His own Father refuses to comfort him while all our sins are laid upon him. No one will be with Jesus as he dies. Not his inner circle, not disciples who followed from a distance, and not the One on the throne. He died alone in order that we might be with him throughout all eternity.
What do you owe the One who died for you? You owe it to Jesus never to leave him, to follow him every step of the way. Let’s think of how you might never leave Jesus’ side.
You need to count the cost. Jesus urged us to count the cost (Luke 14:26-33). The streaking disciple obviously did not count the cost. He runs out of the house in just his underwear, he gets close enough to Jesus that the guards attempt to capture him, he’s able to get out of his clothes, and he flees.
This man should have known exactly what was going to happen. Jesus made clear that he would go to Jerusalem and die. Mark 8:31-32. “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise” (Mk 9:31). Mark 10:33-34. While informed of Jesus’ purpose, this streaker was caught by surprise.
You need to count the cost in two ways:
You need to count the cost of Jesus’ blood. Living in sin after your conversion blasphemes the blood of Jesus. Christians who live in sin “crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame” (Heb 6:6, ASV). Some of the newer translations put “contempt” here instead of “put him to an open shame.” I’m not sure why they translate the word as “contempt;” the Greek clearly speaks of holding up a negative example for all the world to see.
We talk about bringing reproach on the church. When we sin publicly, we do bring reproach upon the bride of Christ. However, sinning in public brings reproach upon the crucified Christ. I wonder if we don’t talk about bringing reproach upon the church instead of upon Jesus, because we don’t really want to face what we’ve done. When others see you sin, you are declaring, “Yeah, I know the perfect Lamb of God gave his blood for my soul, but I don’t care. I’m gonna live life on my terms.” Hebrews 10:26-31.
You need to remember on a daily basis that Jesus shed his own blood for your soul. Put a note on your bathroom mirror, the refrigerator door, or the background of your cell phone: “Is the way I’m living worthy of the blood of Jesus?” When you see that note, say a quick prayer, as Jesus taught us to pray: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt 6:13).
You need to count the cost of the loss of your soul. You have no more important possession than your soul. “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mk 8:36). Revelation 14:9-11.
Here’s where it gets real. Would it have been better for that streaker to go with Jesus and to die with him or to live a full life and die and spend eternity in the hell created for the devil and his angels? What will it be for you? Will you give in to the lust of your flesh, or will you count the cost and reap eternal glory?
Scripture calls on us to examine ourselves. “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?-unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Cor 13:5). Spend time this week examining your faith. Can we help you this morning?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Dale Ridge church of Christ in Roanoke, Virginia.