Our text for our consideration this evening. Mark 14:32–42 (ESV)
Jesus Prays in Gethsemane
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.”
Back when my now wife Jessica and I were first dating, we had one of those long distant relationships. We had both already graduated from college and had begun our professional lives. She was working and living in Perryville, Missouri and myself, well I worked in downtown Chicago while living in a far western suburb of Chicago. During the midst of our long distant relationship, we made it a point to see each other at least once a month. Now remember, this is back in the days when smart phones were not yet invented and the idea of face timing over dial up internet was unbearable yet alone unthinkable. So, since we couldn’t “see” each other digitally, we made it a point to physically travel to each other’s home and see each other.
On one of my many travels to Perryville, which was about a six-and-a-half-hour drive from downtown Chicago to an hour and a half south of St. Louis, on one of these travels I was having the hardest time staying awake. My love for coffee then was no near what it is now, but let me tell you … coffee wasn’t even keeping me awake. I had coffee, I had soft drinks, I had fruit, candy, snack food, and I was taking a couple of no-doze pills every couple of hours. With all this caffeine, natural and artificial sugar, and synthetic chemicals flowing through my veins, I drove with sleepy, half-open eyes.
My story is probably nothing new for any of us as we can all probably remember a time when you have been so tired, so fatigued that you no matter how much you tried to fight it … drifting off to sleep was inevitable. Now rest assured, I made it my destination and as soon as I laid down to sleep, every symptom of a caffeine overdose was evident and I couldn’t sleep. But nonetheless, we should all be able to identify with Peter, James, and John as they succumb to exhaustion in the Garden as they watch Jesus as he prays to His Father.
Now when you think about it, Holy Week is a busy week for pastors with all the different services, but think about the disciples who lived it. It had to be a busy, exciting, scary, confusing, exhausting, roller-coaster kind of week. It’s no wonder that Peter, James, and John had sleepy eyes and just needed to see the inside of their eyelids for a while. Besides the physical and emotional ups and downs of the week wearing them down … what could be more sleep inducing than watching another person pray? I mean really. Besides, how many times have you nodded off during your own prayers? These men are reclined against a tree, sitting on soft grass in a garden with the cool night air surrounding them … a nap was inevitable right?
Indeed, it was. It was sinful that they didn’t do as Jesus told them, but let’s be honest … we wouldn’t have done anything different if we were in their shoes. We could bash Peter, James, and John, and usually they take an unfair beating. What happened to them happened because that was the way it was suppose to happen. Jesus’s praying in the Garden and the disciples falling asleep teaches us to identify sinful humans, even believers, as sleepyheads whose willing spirit cannot overcome the weakness of their flesh. On the other hand, this same scene shows us Jesus as the Lord of Israel who neither slumber nor sleeps, whose eyes were only set on doing God’s will. When it came time for all righteousness to be fulfilled and all the sin of the world to be paid for, it had to be Jesus, Jesus, and only Jesus. He had to be the only one awake to persevere through the homestretch of actively accomplishing his mission of forgiveness, to passively suffer the pangs of hell, and then to sleep the sleep of death in the tomb for us and for our salvation.
Our gospel reading places before our eyes the depth to which Jesus would suffer for us. We see Him in the Garden of Gethsemane … greatly distressed and troubled, sorrowful, even to the point of death. The weight of the world’s sins pressing down upon his shoulders would cause him to fall down to his knees, plant his face on the ground, and weakly, trembling, begging, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me” (Mark 14:36a). The cup Jesus speaks of, it is the cup of His Father’s wrath against the sin of the world. God’s wrath is His unmitigated, unfiltered anger, a furious outpouring of condemnation, the fires and torments of hell.
Jesus didn’t want to drink that cup, and I can’t blame him. Perfect, sinless, holy … Jesus, whose will was truly perfect, prayed that He wouldn’t have to drink the cup of God’s wrath, and he knew, he knew full well that it was possible for his father to change things (Mark 14:36). It’s easy to see that death and hell are not good nor are they desirable for humans. Death, decay, and eternal suffering was not part of God’s original plan for humanity, they are consequences of Adam’s fall, which involved each of us. Except for Jesus that is. He was sinless. Jesus didn’t merit death, he didn’t deserve to drink the cup of God’s wrath. His prayer is definitely not cowardly or faithless but is the language of faith in the God for whom all things are possible.
Now, I did leave out some essential words from Jesus’ prayers. He didn’t stop with, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” He continued on saying, “yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36b). Again, he prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, Your will be done.” And a third time, Jesus prayed the same prayer.
And then the Father answered his son’s prayer. While it is possible for the Father to remove the cup … the Father’s will was for Jesus to suffer in order to spare you. The Father answered Jesus’ prayer by giving him the strength to accept his good and gracious will. Jesus willingly went into captivity when Judas showed up to betray him. Moments later, Jesus said that all this was done to “let the Scriptures be fulfilled” (Mark 14:49).
Surely the Scripture recorded in Isaiah 53 is in the background here. There in Isaiah 53 the Suffering Servant is said to be stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted for our transgressions; crushed for our iniquities; cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of God’s people, even though he had done no violence and no lies were upon his lips. Why all this punishment on the innocent victim? Isaiah writes, “it was the will of the Lord to crush him” (53:10). The Father willed to crush his own son and make him an offering for the guilt of your and my sin.
Those of us who are parents … it is impossible to even begin to wrap our minds around how the Father could love us sinners enough to pour out His wrath against His own son. It torments us to see our children suffer, even a little bit. How could God kill His own son? As hard as it may be, we have to receive this news with awe and thanksgiving because the Lord has done this to save you and me from our sins. He did it for us. We simply trust God’s Word which says that His good and gracious will was to love us by sacrificing His only-begotten son.
But don’t go on thinking that the Father didn’t love His son because He does. God loves His son with an eternal kind of love. Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering servant didn’t stop with the death of Jesus. No, it pointed forward to Easter, to when Jesus appeared to the disciples, gazed upon them with living eyes and said, ““Peace be with you.” When he had said this, their eyes looked upon his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (John 20:19-20). Jesus’ nailed marked hands speaks of God’s goodwill toward you and all sinners. The scars on his hands reveal the good and gracious will of God. They reveal the peace between God and man that had been made by Jesus who was delivered up for our sins and raised for our being made right with God.
Through all of this, Jesus … Jesus had eyes only for the Father’s will. Through all which Jesus did, he fulfilled what he had told his disciples. “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:38-40).
The good and gracious will of God is that you, that you set your eyes on the Son, on Jesus, believe in Him, and have the free gift of eternal life. With that good news in your mind … you can easily fall asleep in peace each night, awake in service to him each morning. And when your eyes close and eventually go to sleep in death, be confident, they will be awaken to an absolutely amazing view of everlasting life. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.