August 20, 2017
We’re going to begin this morning with some participation. I’m going to put a sentence on the screen – subject and verb. The verb, as you may remember from school expresses action. I’ll give you an example – here’s the sentence – Jesus taught. So the subject is Jesus and the verb is taught. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to give me a verb to complete the sentence. Jesus _______. By the way, your responses must be supported by the NT. Things Jesus did – think Family Feud, me as Steve Harvey. Ready, set, go.
There’s obviously a long list of actions we could ascribe to Jesus. He did lots of things while He walked the earth. Jesus taught, wept, slept, prayed, healed, spoke, walked, sat, said, fed, gave, loved, and, of course, even died. Lots of things. But a couple of things we cannot say, at least using the NT, is this: Jesus laughed. We cannot even say Jesus smiled.
It’s interesting as we read through the life of Christ, there is never one time the gospel writers say He laughed or smiled. We have recorded that He cried – never that He laughed. That He was grieved, never that He was happy. Now, I’m not suggesting He didn’t laugh, that He wasn’t happy. He was fully human – I’m sure He laughed at funny stuff. To the Pharisees He was known as a glutton and drunkard, a man who partied with tax collectors and sinners. But, I am suggesting He was a man of sobriety and seriousness. He was a man thoroughly acquainted with suffering, sorrow and grief. What comes to mind when you think of Jesus? When Philip Bliss thought of Jesus in 1875, he wrote the hymn, “Hallelujah, What a Savior.” Great song, but he started with this unusual name for Christ:
Man of Sorrows! what a name
For the Son of God, Who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
Is that the first idea that comes to mind when you think of Jesus? Man of Sorrows? If you were naming Jesus – God in the flesh – you would probably call Him Man of Glory, or Man of Power, Man of Miracles, or even, Man of Love, but Man of Sorrows? The title, of course, comes from Isaiah 53:3, “He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.”
What description, what name comes to mind when you think of Jesus? If you were to draw His portrait, what would it look like? Here’s a popular one – good-looking, smiling. Here’s my question – based on what text? We arrive this morning in our study of Mark to a familiar story found in chapter 14. Jesus had just finished the last Passover and the first Lord’s Supper. Just before the meal, He predicted one of His own number would betray Him – by now, Judas had left to get the soldiers – the betrayal was at hand.
After the meal, Jesus gave the Farewell Discourse found only in the Gospel of John. Then, after singing a hymn, they left for the Mount of Olives, making their way across the Kidron Valley, the Kidron Brook, likely still running red with the blood of the Passover lambs from earlier that day. Along the way, Jesus predicted not one, but all of them would desert Him – they would all fall away. Strike the shepherd, the sheep will scatter. Led by Peter, they all denied that – not me Jesus – I won’t deny you – you can count on me – I can, I will, I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back. As they arrive at a garden, we read these words – Mark 14:32-42.
What picture comes to mind when you think of Jesus? Did you notice – Jesus asked to be delivered from this hour, and yet the hour still came. His Father said no. Has that ever happened to you? God, I can’t take it anymore. Take it away. And He didn’t. You see, God had something else in mind for His Son – could that be possible for you?
I’ve told you much of Mark 14 is preparation – the chief priests and scribes prepare to destroy Jesus. Judas prepares to betray Him. Jesus prepares His disciples for His departure, giving them a memorial by which they can remember His sacrifice for them. This morning, we see Jesus prepare Himself for the cross. There is a sense in which we enter into the physical suffering of the Passion today. A couple of weeks ago, I suggested we consider what the death of Christ accomplished – namely, the new covenant. This week, and for the next several, I suggest we think about what the death of Christ cost. The outline goes like this:
- The Suffering Jesus (32-36)
- The Sleeping Disciples (37-42)
I’ll simply tell the story, emphasizing those truths. Mark says they came to a place called Gethsemane. Located on the western slope of the Mount of Olives, John tells us it was a garden, probably walled with one entrance. Apparently Jesus and His disciples often went there to pray – that’s how Judas knew where to find Him. Gethsemane means olive press, and to this day, there are large old olive trees in sites thought to be the Garden of Gethsemane.
It was probably about midnight when Jesus and His disciples arrived that Thursday night. He told most of them to sit at the entrance while He went in to pray. Luke tells us He went about a stone’s throw into the garden, taking Peter, James and John, His closest, trusted friends with Him. At this point, we read He began to be very distressed and troubled. Very intense. He told the three, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.” Probably because Jesus knew Judas was gathering the soldiers – they’ll be on their way soon. Keep an eye out, Jesus says, I have some final preparations to make.
He went another stone’s throw away from these three and fell to the ground to pray. It’s the only time in the gospels He fell to His face to pray. While we read of Him praying often in Mark, this is the only time we’re told what He prayed, If it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. Now to be clear, Jesus wasn’t questioning God’s ability or power – He was questioning His willingness. It seems from the text three times He prayed, saying, “Abba, Father.” It was very personal. Abba, Hebrew or Aramaic, is the affectionate and reverent name for Father. I know it’s popular to think of it as Daddy, but that’s not quite right. But it is familiar. Many point out this term was never used this way of God before. Later, Paul picks it up as an address for our heavenly Father. We have received the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
“Abba, Father, all things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” Lots of discussion about what was happening here. Many have wondered how martyrs faced death with seemingly more courage than Jesus. Some have asked, He’s calmly talked about dying for months now, why all of a sudden is He reluctant, fearful? After all, this was the very reason for which He’d come, to give His life a ransom for many. What’s the problem?
Yes, it is the reason for which He had come. Yes, He’d predicted His death three times before, and yes, He faced it valiantly as He fixed His face steadfastly toward Jerusalem. So what’s the deal – what happened in the garden? First, let me say this – and this is going to hit some of you wrong, but stay with me: Jesus was experiencing human weakness like any human being would. One of the things we must remember about Christ is His humanity – His humanness. We often focus on His deity, and that’s appropriate. But we must also remember He was fully man, with all the strengths and weaknesses of human flesh – except for sin. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” So, as a man, He became hungry, and ate. As a man, He became tired, and slept. As I said earlier, He wept. When He was crucified, just like everyone else, He died. He was fully human, and when faced with the prospect of death, He became deeply grieved, distressed, troubled, to the point of death.
I don’t think that’s exaggeration, either. I believe His soul was broken and distressed to the point of dying. Luke tells us He sweat great drops of blood. I’m not a doctor, but I understand in severe cases of stress, there have been documented cases of what is called hematidrosis. Apparently, under great stress, the capillaries right under the skin burst and the blood makes its way out through the sweat glands. I don’t know if that’s what happened here, but Jesus was obviously deeply distressed – to the point the physical suffering had begun.
Why? Why such distress? It’s a good question, isn’t it? Why, when thousands of His followers have gladly gone to the grave, suffering a courageous martyr’s death? What’s in the cup He didn’t want to drink? I believe we have to understand the nature and magnitude of the death Christ died. It was not the fact of death that distressed Him, it was the kind of death.
Crucifixion? Certainly, there is the physical torture and nature of the death. We’re going to talk about that over the next few weeks, so I won’t belabor the point here, but Jesus faced a brutal, terrifying death. But so had many others. In fact, if we searched, we might find others who faced a more brutal death. An antagonistic unbeliever once said to me, “I don’t see what the big deal is about Jesus hanging on a cross for a few hours.” Yes, if you’re just thinking of physical suffering.
So there must be something more. You see, the death Christ died involved much more than physical suffering, intense as it was. I would say, categorically, that no human being has ever faced the kind of death Christ faced. How can I say that? Well first, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that all the forces of evil were unleashed against Jesus at this point. When He was about to enter His public ministry, Satan confronted Him, tempted Him three times in the wilderness, trying to subvert the plan of redemption. Jesus, if you’re so hungry, why don’t you command these stones to become bread. Jesus, if you’re really sure of God’s protection, throw yourself down from the Temple and let God’s angels take care of you. Jesus, if you’ll just bow down to me, I’ll give you all the kingdoms of this world. Three times Satan tried to derail Jesus, to cause Him to sin, to destroy Him – and three times, Jesus repelled him with the Word of God. Does it take that much imagination to think Satan was present, ready to pounce on Him, to tempt Him, deter Him, destroy Him, and keep Him from fulfilling the redemptive plan of the ages. You see, Satan would bruise His heel – but Jesus would crush His head. I would suggest all the forces of evil were present, unleashing their fury against Him. No man has ever faced that kind of death.
Beyond the physical suffering, beyond the demonic attacks, there was also the deeply spiritual nature of what was about to happen. As Jesus was hanging on the cross, He was doing more than just dying – He was dying for us. He was dying in our place, bearing our sins – the sins of the world, on the cross. I Peter 2:24 says, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” Isaiah 53 says:
4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.
6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.
II Corinthians 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” See that? This man, who never sinned, now bore our sins, became sin for us. And if that doesn’t deeply move us, it’s simply because we don’t understand the depth and wickedness of sin. The Scripture is clear – He carried our sins in His body on the cross. It was a tremendous weight to carry. The load was indescribable – no one has ever carried that kind of weight, no one has ever died that kind of death.
It would cause Jesus later, while hanging on the cross, to cry out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani – My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” Most agree while Jesus was carrying the weight and punishment of sin, dying in our place, God as it were, turned His back on His Son. There was a separation in the Trinity never before experienced, never to be experienced again. It was a death no human has ever experienced – a death that would grieve the very heart of God.
It is very important to see that even though He struggled with His coming death, He always submitted to the will of the Father. You see, there was no sin in the struggle – there would have been sin had He not obeyed. While facing this trial, brutal and incomprehensible though it was, He always did those things that pleased the Father. Hebrews 5:7-8 says it this way:
7 In the days of His flesh, [I believe, right here in the garden] He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.
8 Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.
In His humanity, in the flesh, in the garden, He prayed with loud crying and tears. And in His humanity, He learned obedience – not that He was ever disobedient – He was God. But in His humanity, when tempted in the garden, He learned what it means to submit completely to the will of the Father.
I have one commentator who expressed this truth profoundly (Carson): “In the first garden, ‘Not your will but mine’ changed Paradise to desert and brought man from Eden to Gethsemane. Now, ‘Not my will but yours’ brings anguish to the Man who prays it but transforms the desert into the kingdom and brings man from Gethsemane to the gates of glory.”
The suffering of Jesus was great, and it began in the garden. And all the while, the disciples slept. He suffered, they slept. I find that revealing. Remember, perhaps just minutes before, they had boasted, we will never fall away – you can count on us, Jesus. We have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back – we will, we can, we won’t deny. We’ve got what it takes, Jesus. And they can’t even stay awake. There is a sense in which Jesus was acknowledging the weakness of His humanity – He prayed, He asked for others to be with Him – while the disciples denied the weakness of their humanity, and fell asleep.
I also think it interesting that later, when Jesus woke them up, He doesn’t berate them. He understands the weakness of their flesh – He was experiencing the weakness of His own flesh. So, He said, while the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. He told them, in order to overcome your weak flesh, disciples, like Me, you must not only watch, but pray. You need help – you can’t do this alone – pray. Pray that you will overcome temptation, the temptation to sleep, the coming temptation to flee. Quit relying on your flesh – I can, I will, I won’t – enough with the self-reliance – pray. And He comes back the third time to find them sleeping again. They didn’t pray, and they gave into temptation. We can, we will, we won’t – and they can’t, they don’t, they won’t – they can’t even stay awake.
To which Jesus says, after returning a third time, “Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough; the hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going; behold the one who betrays Me is at hand!” He could probably look across the garden to the entrance and see Judas leading the soldiers in. Having prayed, He stood with resolve, while the disciples had missed their opportunity, and would soon flee.
We’ll talk about that next week. But for now, I want us to think about something. When Jesus was facing a trial – granted, I acknowledge, it was a great trial – the greatest trial – but when He was facing it, what did He do? He gained victory, right? Somehow, because Jesus was God, He was able to rise above the pain – it didn’t affect Him – He just buzzed right through it. And He marched all the way to the cross, smiling, praising God for the pain. No, He didn’t – He struggled. He fell on His face and cried out to His Father. He sweat great drops of blood. He went to His closest friends and asked them to keep watch and pray with Him. In short, we could say, and I don’t want this to sound heretical or anything – but in short we could say, Jesus didn’t have it all together – not in His humanity. I didn’t say He sinned – I said He fell to the ground and faced the weakness of His human flesh.
So why is it, when we’re facing trials – and last time I checked, none of us is God – why is it we somehow expect that as Christians, as Christ-followers, as people who want to be like Jesus, we have to keep it all together? Keep a stiff upper lip. Don’t ever let anyone see you struggle – that’s unchristian. Where is that in the Bible? We have this idea that victorious Christian living means no struggle. Just float through life with a stupid smile on your face. Jesus didn’t – Man of Sorrows – He struggled – in His flesh He wanted to escape the trial. True, He submitted to the will of the Father – He always did. But He still struggled – in His humanity, He was asking if there was some other way, this hour of suffering could pass from Him.
Can I say to you this morning that if you want to be like Jesus, it is okay to struggle in the midst of a trial. It’s okay to fall on your face and say, “God, I’d like you to take this trial away, if it’s Your will.” It’s okay to need godly brothers and sisters to pray for and with you. We must stop this nonsense of thinking we have to look good and have it all together. If you were spiritual, you’d get out from under the circumstances.
I think we have this facing trials and praising God in the midst of trials messed up. What do I mean? We think we’re supposed to thank God for the trial – Why, thank you God, I’ll take another. Where is that in the Bible? We don’t have to praise God for the circumstances, we’re supposed to thank God in the circumstances – do you see the difference? And so, well-intended Christians tell struggling Christians, you just need to rise above your circumstances, God’s in control – smile, everything will be alright. Maybe it won’t. What would those same people have said to Jesus in the garden? Just name it and claim it Jesus, and everything will be fine, smile.
You see, I don’t think I have to like sin and what sin drug in with it – namely, sickness and death. I don’t have to like it. I don’t have to like it when I sin, or when someone sins against me. I don’t have to like it when someone close to me, someone I love faces sickness. Praise God for the cancer. No – we praise Him because He’s still in control, He loves Me, He’ll never leave me nor forsake me – and I still don’t like cancer. And when someone close to me dies, I don’t have to like death – it’s an enemy – it’s the last enemy to be destroyed.
You do understand, when we get to heaven, we’re not going to have sin, we’re not going to have sickness, and we’re not going to have death. And I for one am glad – and I think I can praise God for that now, look forward to it, groan in trials, and still be spiritual.
I want you to hear what I’m saying. We need to do away with this positive, superficial, super spiritual, I’m okay stuff. I don’t think you’re more spiritual if you keep it all together in the midst of a trial. You keep it all together, praise God, even though you grew up in a home where you’re mother was an alcoholic or your dad beat you. I don’t think you’re less spiritual because you struggle because your husband or wife left you for someone else. I don’t think you’re less spiritual if you struggle with a spouse or a child who has cancer. I don’t think you’re more spiritual if someone sins against you and you shrug your shoulders and say, that’s okay – I’m just trying to be like Jesus. Jesus confronted sin – but He also forgave them. And let me tell you something else – I don’t think, based on this passage, He enjoyed the cross. Hebrews 12:2 says, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” He didn’t enjoy the cross, He struggled with the thought of it. He enjoyed what was beyond it.
Jesus came to the garden and He cried out to the Father and needed others to pray for Him and with Him in the struggle. I wonder if there’s anyone here this morning who needs to hear that? You don’t have to look like you’ve got it all together, because you don’t. And you need someone to pray with you. You’re tired of playing the church game – I can, I will, I won’t – and you need take the mask off and say – I need help. God, I need you or I’m not going to make it. Brothers and sisters, I need you, or I’m not going to make it. I’m tired of acting like I have it all together, because I don’t. It’s time for us to embrace the weakness of our humanity. It’s time to realize the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. It’s time to stop saying, I can, I will, I won’t – to stop relying on our flesh, because in your flesh you don’t have the power to do anything.
But by the indwelling and empowering presence of the Spirit of God – you can face struggle. And we can do it together.