June 24, 2018
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
Gospel of Mark
5th Sunday after Pentecost
Today will be our last message in the Gospel of Mark as we find Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples. I encourage you to read the rest of Chapter 14 and Chapters 15 and 16 to finish the story. We covered Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection this past April during the Easter season. I would also encourage you to go back and reread the Gospel of Mark again as you picture the complete story in your mind and remember what you have learned as we have studied these passages over the past several months..
In our scripture passage today, we intrude into the private agony of Jesus shortly before his betrayal by Judas and his arrest. Jesus and the disciples did not stay in the Upper Room where they had their Passover Meal for fear the room might be raided at any time, especially with the Temple authorities on the watch for him and Judas about to commit his treachery.
Jesus had another place to go. He probably had a habit of going to the gardens to pray and be alone whenever he was near Jerusalem. In Jerusalem itself there were no gardens. The city was too crowded and besides there was a law that manure for gardens could not be used inside the city gates. It would pollute the sacred ground. But some of the richer people possessed private gardens on the Mount of Olives, where they took their rest. So, Jesus must have had some wealthy friend who gave him the privilege of using his garden at night.
The name of the garden was Gethsemane, which means “oil press.” This place, which I visited on my trip to Israel, is a walled orchard on the side of the Mount of Olives and contained its own olive press. It was here that Jesus left most of his disciples near the entrance and then took Peter, James and John along with him farther up on the property, where he underwent a stress of cosmic dimensions. As our scripture says, “he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.” No human being, however great his or her anguish, has ever experienced anything like this! Would you pray with me?
Rev. Maxie Dunnam, President Emeritus of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky wrote this in one of his sermons: “There is a parable of three kings searching for truth. When asked how far they will go to discover what they seek, how deep they want to immerse themselves in its meaning, one of them answers, ‘Not too far, just far enough so we can say we’ve been there.’”
Dunnam continues, “That’s the tourist attitude about life which prevails today. We say we want happiness in our home, health in our bodies, successes in our work. We say we want a peaceful world, less crime and violence in our streets. We say we want a higher moral standard and less corruption in our community. But what are we willing to do? How far are we willing to go to bring what we say we want to reality?”
This describes Jesus’ reality in the Garden of Gethsemane. This was the prelude to the Cross for Jesus. His agony in the Garden was his wrestling with how far he was willing to go to fulfill his mission. Jesus said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”
It may be hard for us to believe that someone could be so overwhelmed with what lay before them that they would be near death. But Jesus just may have been. In the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 22, it tells us that Jesus, being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Medical experts tell us that when a person experiences extreme stress or shock to their systems, the capillaries around the sweat pores become fragile and leak blood into the sweat. This is called “hematidrosis.” People who have this condition usually die from it. That is how close to death Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Jesus knew what was to come, but the human side of him was praying that it might not happen, that God would not make him submit to the persecution that lay ahead. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Even in the midst of coming so close to death, Jesus still submitted to his Father’s will. So, what was the cup that Jesus did not want to drink? Well, he saw in the cup two things. First, it was a cup full of sin. He saw all the brutality of a thousand “killing fields,” all the whoring of earthly civilizations, blasphemy, profanity, a cup brimming with jealousy, hatred, and covetousness, which he must drink. And being holy, Jesus recoiled from it.
Second, he saw that it was a cup full of wrath. As sin-bearer, Jesus became the object of the Father’s holy wrath against sin. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The drinking also made him a curse. Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”
Gazing into the cup, Jesus saw Hell opened before him, and he staggered. It is no wonder that we see the blood like sweat and the tears, that we hear Jesus crying for deliverance. “Take this cup from me.” It is no wonder, as we read in the Gospel of Luke, that the Father sent an angel to strengthen him.
Dr. Kent Hughes writes in his commentary on Mark, “In all of this anguish there was unconditional submission. Doing the Father’s will had been Jesus’ supreme concern in life…Such supreme concern with doing the Father’s will culminated in this amazing act of submission.
The scripture in Hebrews 5:7-9 sums it up with this triumphant passage: During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
Hughes continues, “In the greatest display of obedience that will ever be known, Jesus took the full chalice of man’s sin and God’s wrath, looked, shuddering, deep into its depth, and in a steel act of his will drank it all!” Folks, that is what Jesus did for you and me. Something we could never do.
Now the other part of this scripture has to do with Jesus’ disciples. When you read about the life of Jesus, it’s clear he enjoyed being with people. The common people heard him gladly and his enemies called him a friend of tax collectors and sinners. And children flocked to him, and he took them in his arms and blessed them. But the closer he got to the cross, the more alone Jesus found himself.
Early in his ministry there were thousands following him. He fed 5,000 on one occasion and 4,000 another time. But as he began to talk about the demands of discipleship, the crowds left him like rats leaving a sinking ship. This night he was down to only twelve.
Then one left to betray him. And then he took three disciples with him deeper into the garden and asked them to pray, but instead, they fell asleep. Jesus said, “Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the bod is weak.” And when the mob arrived, all of the disciples turned and ran away. Jesus had to walk the lonesome road to the cross all alone. Surely, Jesus shuddered at the thought of being forsaken and deserted by his disciples.
You see, when Jesus went to Gethsemane there were two things he sorely desired. He wanted human fellowship and he wanted God’s fellowship. Even in the beginning, from Genesis 2, we read that God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.”
William Barclay writes in his commentary on Mark, “In time of trouble we want friends with us. We do not necessarily want them to do anything. We do not necessarily even want to talk to them or have them talk to us. We only want them there. Jesus was like that. It was strange that men who so short a time before had been protesting that they would die for [Jesus] could not stay awake for him one single hour. But none can blame them, for the excitement and the tension had drained their strength and their resistance.”
Jesus came back to the disciples three times, and each time found them sleeping. Finally, he said, “Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” Jesus had strengthened his spiritual and physical being through hard fought prayer. Now he was ready to accept the purpose and course God had put before him. He was the lamb without blemish being led to the slaughter.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, life is a series of battles. But if you know the Lord, you have a distinctive edge. Gethsemane was where the worlds’ greatest battle was fought. The real battle that night was whether or not to drink the cup. Would Jesus drink the cup or toss it away? The Father was not forcing Jesus to drink. It was Jesus’ choice to submit to his Father’s will.
Our lessons from this story are these. First, you must choose to follow Jesus. It was following Jesus that led the disciples into Gethsemane and the drama than ensued. Second, God allows pressure into your life in order to reveal his Son to you. Applying pressure to our lives is designed to release the life of Christ through us.
Third, God desires to accomplish his purpose through our lives. Sometimes, that may interfere with our desire for peace or pleasure. Fourth, no matter where Jesus sends you, he has already gone before you and goes with you.
Fifth, when God singles you out, he is preparing you for something greater. Notice that all the disciples were sleeping, but he confronted only Peter. Jesus was preparing Peter for what lay ahead as the foundation of the church. And lastly, even in our failure, God is in control and watches over us.
Folks, we have to thank God that Jesus won the battle of Gethsemane. And because he submitted to his Father’s will, we can experience freedom, peace, and forgiveness.