The following is an unedited sermon manuscript; for an explanation of my sermon manuscripts, click here.
*Originally preached May 2nd, 2021*
Sermon Audio: Jesus and Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-50)
My first job was selling basketball shoes at Footaction in the mall. I was 15 years old when I got the job so I couldn’t even drive myself, but had to catch a ride with my mom. I remember feeling absolutely petrified when I started working, thinking: I don’t think I can do this, people are going to know I have no idea what I am doing. I became so stressed out and worried about the job that I would have nightmares where people would ask me questions about shoes and I would remain silent, till I would shoot bolt upright in bed and then try to answer the customer’s questions.
When I was a younger man, the things that caused me anxiety now seem fairly silly. I had no idea the kind of pressures I would one day face and what those would require of me. And I probably still am ignorant of the many pressures that I will face in the coming years.
You would think that over the years I would have learned how to respond to stress and difficulty better, but I sadly more often than not respond with fear, anxiety, and despondency.
What do you do when you are incredibly stressed out? How do you respond to serious anxiety and depression?
32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? 38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. 41 And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
43 And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. 44 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.” 45 And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 46 And they laid hands on him and seized him. 47 But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48 And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” 50 And they all left him and fled. – Mark 14:32-50
How do the disciples respond?
How does Jesus respond?
Here we are witnessing the final moments Jesus has on the earth while still walking as a free man—if there ever was a time that Jesus needed the support of His friends, it was now. And yet, what do we find? Let’s look.
Jesus leads His disciples (minus one) to a garden called “Gethsemane” at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Jesus tells His disciples to sit and wait while He prays, then, “he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch,” Mark 14:33-34.
Three words are used here to describe Jesus’ emotional state: greatly distressed, troubled, and very sorrowful. The first, “greatly distressed” connotes a sense of alarm and fear. The second, “troubled” means quite literally to be filled with heaviness—of the three different words used in the NT for depression, this is the strongest. The last, “very sorrowful” is fairly straightforward and simply means to be very, very sad—so despondent that Jesus feels like He is going to die. There is no other place in the gospels where Jesus is described like this—He is in a state of mind that likely would have scared the disciples. What does Jesus ask them to do? Watch.
What does Jesus mean by this? Well, later Jesus will explain that they are to “watch and pray that [they] may not enter temptation,” Mark 14:38a. Three times at the end of the Olivette discourse in Mark 13 did Jesus command His disciples to “stay awake” (Mark 13:33-36)—this is the exact same word as “watch” here. Just as Jesus warned at the end of Mark 13 of the danger of becoming spiritually sleepy and dozing off when we need to be attentive to the Lord and to the dangers of this world, so too here do we see the disciples meeting their first test. And totally blowing it!
The disciples are just flat out tired. Perhaps from a large Passover dinner or a busy day, but they simply don’t see the gravity of the situation they are in, so they sleep. Jesus is disappointed with His disciples; He chides them for falling asleep, asking Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?” (Mark 14:37). But He also understands, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” (Mark 14:38b). “Spirit” does not refer to the Holy Spirit, but rather to the human spirit—the human will and desire. There is a real desire for the disciples to obey Jesus and do what He says, but their flesh, their natural selves are weak and lack the ability to carry out the desire. And this is precisely why Jesus summons them to prayer!
“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” Mark 14:38. Friend, do you have great ambitions for God? Do you long to obey Him, to follow Him, to do what pleases Him? Then watch and pray that you may not enter temptation, because your flesh is weak. You simply will not have the gas in the tank to do what God is asking you. But prayer is the means by which you are kept from temptation!
The book of James reminds us that we are portable temptation generators: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire,” James 1:13-14. Or, to put it in the words of Calvin, our hearts are idol-factories, constantly churning out false gods to steal our worship, fabricating temptations to draw us away from the Lord. It is this ever-present danger that leads us to pray. It is not for no reason that part of the Lord’s prayer us: “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt 6:13). As frequently as you need to ask God for your daily bread—that is, every day—you need to pray for Him to deliver you from temptation. Even—especially—when you are exhausted.
But the disciples cannot help themselves, they slumber. Repeatedly Jesus comes back to them and chide them for sleeping, yet they can’t help themselves. You can hear something of their shame in verse 40, “And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him,” (Mark 14:40). And like sleeping guards letting the enemy slip in behind the gates, the disciples nod off while the betrayer approaches.
Judas has decided to betray Jesus over to the temple authorities for a sum on money—a decision he will later regret so bitterly that he will hang himself for it. But here, he is playing his part precisely like he agreed. Perhaps because it was so dark at night, Judas works out a way to identify Jesus to the guards, “The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.” And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him,” Mark 14:44-45. Judas approaches Jesus in the traditional form of a student addressing his teacher (Rabbi!), and a friend meeting another friend (a kiss). What an awful and accurate parable of what the whole Bible teaches about false religion, honed down to one single act.
Immediately, guards holding swords and clubs appear and “laid hands on [Jesus] and seized him,” Mark 14:46. Imagine you were in the shoes of Peter at this point, bold and brash Peter, who just a few hours ago pledged that he would die before he abandoned Jesus (Mark 14:31). You have seen your beloved rabbi, your Messiah, in a state of despair, fear, and anxiety that you have never seen Him in before, and the only thing He asks of you is to pray. But you can’t stay awake, you keep nodding off. There is no one you want to disappoint less, but there you are, letting Him down. And now, while you were sleeping(!), an armed mob materializes and forcefully apprehends your master. What strange mixture of guilt, shame, and anger would you feel? Angry enough, ashamed enough to maybe do something about it?
“But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear,” Mark 14:47. While Mark does not identify the individual, the gospel of John identifies the culprit as none other than the head disciple himself, Peter (John 18:10). Interestingly, Mark doesn’t record Jesus’ rebuke of Peter (unlike the other three gospels), apparently deeming it an unnecessary detail to include in his gospel account. But in Matthew, Luke, and John, Jesus sharply rebukes Peter, “But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him,” Luke 22:51 (cf. Matt 26:52-54; John 18:11). Jesus heals the very guards who are wrongly apprehending Him, the guards that one of His own disciples attacked!
If Peter was still holding any vestige of the idea that Jesus’ Messiahship would be enacted through the sword he was forcefully disabused of the notion. Think of the bewilderment Peter must have felt in that moment—Jesus, I’m trying to defend you! You are the Messiah, we must fight to establish the Kingdom! Of course, Jesus had taught them over and over and over again that He had to die, this was part of the plan (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). But every time Jesus taught His disciples this they did not understand what it meant (cf. Mark 9:32).
So what are they left to do? Mark 14:50 summarizes the disciples reaction succinctly, “And they all left him and fled.”
So, in sum, how do the disciples respond to this moment of great anxiety and stress? The fail to pray, they fail to watch, resort to the world’s means (violence) to attempt to serve Jesus, and then, in the end abandon Jesus.
What does Jesus do?
As we said earlier, Jesus is in a depth of despair and fear that we have never seen before. At moments in His life that we would have expected him to be afraid He was always calm. He speaks calmly with individuals who are tormented by demons, He faces down Satan himself in the wilderness(!), and during a storm that threatens to sink the ship He is on He is so calm He is able to sleep! Why is Jesus so fearful here? Of course, He was aware that He was about to die, but church history has recorded numerous martyrs who have gone to their deaths with peace and joy. One doesn’t even need to be a Christian to face death with serenity and courage. When Socrates is about to drink the hemlock, he rebukes his friends and family around him for being so emotional at his death and stoically embraces death. During the Vietnam war, a number of Buddhist monks in Vietnam, as a form of protest, sat serenely in the middle of the street while they were covered in gasoline and then lit on fire. If those men, who did not even know God, could face death with such equanimity and composure, why is Jesus so haggard and tearful? Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane offers a clue.
“Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will,” Mark 14:36. Jesus’ petition for God to remove the cup from Him gives us an insight to what is causing such consternation and trembling in Jesus. This “cup” is a reference to a symbol for God’s wrath. In the Old Testament prophets, God symbolized His wrath towards sin through the image of foaming wine in a cup, “For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup
with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs,” Psalm 75:8. In the same way that wine would cause you to stagger with drunkenness, so too would God cause His enemies to stagger and stumble with the fury of His wrath against their sin, “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them,” Jer 25:15-16 (cf. Jer 25:15-28; 49:12; 51:7; Job 21:20; Ps. 60:3; 75:8; Isa. 51:17; Lam. 4:21; Rev. 14:10).
Jesus earlier to His disciples that His death would be no ordinary death, but would, in some way, be substitutionary, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” Mark 10:45. Jesus is going to die in the place of sinners, giving His life as a ransom, a price paid to free a captive. And what is that price? The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23), an eternal death. Sin is a high act of treason against the sovereign God who made us, a blasphemy and offense against all that is beautiful, good, and worthy, and thus aligns us only with God’s severe justice against evil, His wrath. And that is precisely what Jesus is going to drink in at the cross, the whole of God’s just and righteous judgment against sin, the utter dereliction of Golgotha that will cause Jesus to cry out “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
One commentator writes, “It is one thing, fearful as it will be, to answer for our own sins before holy and almighty God; who can imagine what it would be like to stand before God to answer for every sin and crime and act of malice and injury and cowardice and evil in the world?” – Edwards, PNTC. At Gethsemane Jesus has approached the rim of the volcano of the wrath of God towards human sinfulness, He peers over and can feel the billowing heat from the inferno below Him and quails at the sight of it.
Now that we understand properly what it is that Jesus is so frightened of, let’s look at how Jesus responds to it.
First, Jesus prays. Jesus summons His disciples to pray that they do not enter temptation. They fail. But Jesus doesn’t. It is instructive in of itself that at Jesus’ greatest hour of need, at His moment of final climax, He prays. He does not exhaust every option that He has first and then, as a last resort, prays in a panic. Corrie Ten Boom once asked, “Is prayer your steering wheel or spare tire?” Prayer was what Jesus relied on. Let’s look at what He prayed: “And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will,” Mark 14:35-36.
Jesus knows that God is His Father. That alone situates the whole of Jesus’ outlook. God is not some distant entity, or disinterested Master—He is a Father, which means His disposition towards His children is that of love. Contrary to popular opinion Abba does not mean “Daddy,” (it was a term that grown men would use to describe their fathers), but it is an intimate relational term. Jesus acknowledges that, even in this moment of great suffering, God is His Father.
All things are possible for you
Jesus knows that nothing is impossible for God. Jesus is not lobbing His prayer up to heaven, uncertain about whether or not God has the ability to deliver.
Remove this cup from me
Jesus doesn’t want to die. He is asking the Father if there is any other way that the plan of redemption can be brought about.
Yet not what I will, but what you will
Jesus, despite not wanting to drink the cup, is nonetheless willing. Actually, in a way, He isn’t willing—He prays, “not what I will.” Jesus’ will at that moment is to not go through with it, He does not desire to experience what He is going to experience. But underneath that and more foundationally, Jesus’ greatest desire and greatest will is to do God’s will.
This is the prayer that is sustaining Jesus at His darkest hour. Notice verse 39 after Jesus’ first rebuke of Peter for falling asleep we are told, “And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words.” Jesus is praying this over and over again. And it is what provides the second thing we see in Jesus.
Secondly, Jesus resigns Himself to the will of God. It is amazing to see how Jesus conducts Himself from now till the end of Mark. Repeatedly, Jesus is treated unjustly, dishonestly, is slandered and accused of things He never has done, is physically assaulted and shamed—yet He simply walks through His suffering with a quiet resignation. We see a small preview of that here.
As Jesus is arrested, He simply lets Himself be captured, understanding that it must be done so that Scriptures may be fulfilled (Mark 14:49). In Matthew’s gospel, when Jesus rebukes Peter for attacking the servants, He explains, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” Matt 26:53-54. In John’s gospel, when the mob approaches Jesus and asks if He is who they think He is, Jesus responds by simply stating the name of God from Exodus, “I am,” and when He does the entire mob of soldiers collapses to the ground (John 18:5-6). Jesus was not apprehended because He lacked power—He was apprehended despite His awesome power.
When Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, was killed he had been put in jail for ruling over the city he was mayor of like a tyrant, and a mob of 200 angry men stormed the jail, wanting to kill Smith for stealing their wives in Smith’s polygamy and for Smith crushing any criticism of him whatsoever. How did Smith respond to the mob? He barricaded the door of his prison cell and unloaded his pistol in the mob and was shot trying to escape out of a window.
How much more power did Jesus have than Smith? Jesus could have vaporized the guards trying to apprehend Him. But He didn’t. Why? Because Jesus had wholly resigned Himself to the will of God, and that will was not to fight the way the world fights or establish a kingdom the way the world establishes a kingdom, but was to suffer and die as a substitute for the forgiveness of sins, and to resurrect three days later and inaugurate a spiritual Kingdom that is wholly unlike the kingdoms of men.
What does this teach us? Are you anxious? Are you fearful? Are you facing great temptation? What should you do?
Pray. Our flesh is weak, friends. And prayer is the pipeline of heavenly resources we can avail ourselves of. Is there much that you are frustrated about in life?
What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Consider modeling your prayers off of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane:
– Address your Father
– Acknowledge His power and ability
– Present your requests to Him
– Ask for His will to be done
Trust. When we have saturated ourselves in prayer before God this will create a disposition of trust. When we don’t, we are left to try and complete the Lord’s work with the world’s means. Picking up the sword and cutting off the guards ear seems like a good option. What tragedies have Christians gotten themselves into simply because they are not bathed in prayer, seeking first the Lord and His righteousness.
Remember. Your greatest fear has been dealt with. The dread, anxiety, and sorrow that Jesus experienced in Gethsemane was not Him “blowing something out of proportion.” That’s what most of our anxiety and fear is. Our mind’s inflate situations, deceive us into thinking a problem is really bigger than it is. Our depression often is outsized compared to the facts. But that wasn’t what was happening to Jesus. Jesus’ terror and depression were wholly legitimate. The overwhelming experience He was about to undergo, the entire wrath of God aimed at human sin–that is something to fear. In fact, that it is the greatest of all fears. But, dear friend, once you see that Jesus has now faced down that fear, then that puts all your other fears and worries into perspective. Your biggest problem, your biggest fear has been taken care of.