The most agonizing decision ever made has to be Jesus' decision in the Garden in Gethsemane. In his narrative, Mark will show us the gut-wrenching choice that Jesus makes for eleven men. Jesus chooses to expose himself to unimaginable horror, revealing unimaginable love. We want to consider this decision because Jesus made it for us as well.
And they came to a place named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, "Sit here until I have prayed." And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. And He said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch." And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground, and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. And He was saying, "Abba! Father! All things are possible for Thee; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt." And He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Keep watching and praying, that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." And again He went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him. 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; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Arise, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!"
And immediately while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, came up, accompanied by a multitude with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.
Jesus and his disciples have left the upper room, where they
enjoyed a meal in rich, intimate fellowship, and he shared the
bread and the cup with them. They leave behind the city of God,
Jerusalem, which is perched on Mount Zion, and head east, descending
into the Kidron Valley. In a spiritual sense, Jesus is descending
to depths where no one has gone before, and he's feeling it.
The east side of the Kidron Valley was used as a burial ground for the poor, the forgotten, the unloved. As Jesus passes by, does he contemplate the prospect of his own lonely death?
Then Jesus begins his ascent up the Mount of Olives. As he walks up the hill, does hope rise within him? He comes to the place on the hill called Gethsemane, which in Hebrew means "oil press." Likely, an olive press was located on the site. As the press squeezed oil from the olives, it brought forth valuable oil but crushed the fruit in the process. Like an olive in the jaws of a press, Jesus is on the verge of being crushed for the sins of humanity, bringing forth a much more valuable kind of oil: the oil of the Holy Spirit, which is to be given to all who believe in Christ (1 Samuel 16:13, John 14:16-17, Acts 2). "The Lord was pleased to crush him, putting him to grief..." (Isaiah 53:10). Perhaps this thought comes to Jesus' mind.
No doubt he knows the story of David, who fled from Absalom, his traitorous but beloved son. David left Jerusalem, crossed the Kidron Valley and ascended the Mount of Olives (2 Samuel 15-18). David climbed the mountain with his men, passed the summit and fled to safety. As Jesus leaves Jerusalem with his men, crosses the Kidron and ascends the Mount of Olives, he is walking in the footsteps of David. As he is pursued by Judas, his traitorous but beloved friend, is Jesus wondering, "Will we make it to the summit?"
He arrives at Gethsemane. It is time to speak with the Father. To some extent, Jesus lived out the David story, but he went much farther. Although David continued past the summit, Jesus remains in Gethsemane to go where David never went.
He takes with him Peter, James and John, his best friends, and then leaves them so that he may seek the Father alone. Jesus must walk this road alone.
In this place called Gethsemane there was a garden (John 18:1). Here in the garden, Jesus speaks with the Father. In the beginning, God placed his man in his garden, the Garden in Eden (Genesis 2:8). That garden was the place where God dwelled with man. The Promised Land, where God dwelled with his people, is described in garden terms (Deuteronomy 11:8-15), as is the temple, which God inhabited in the heart of the land (1 Kings 6:18, 29, 32, 35; 7:18-22, 46). God drove both Adam and Israel from his garden because they had rejected him.
Now, once again, God has his man in his garden. In the future there is prepared for humanity another garden. Garden themes reappear in the John's description of the new Jerusalem-the city of God, where God's people will dwell with him forever (Revelation 21:1-22:5). But whether anyone ever gets to that garden hinges on the decision Jesus makes here in Gethsemane. Jesus had often withdrawn to this place (Luke 22:39-40, John 18:1-2). This garden, then, is the garden of God, the place where the Son meets the Father and seeks an answer to his destiny. It is the hour of decision in the garden of God.
Jesus is "very distressed and troubled," his soul
is "deeply grieved to the point of death" and he falls
to the ground in agony. The English translation only begins to
describe the pain. The words chosen by the narrator are the most
severe words in the Greek language to describe agony. Jesus is
He prays that the hour would pass him by, that the Father would remove this cup from him. What is it about this cup that causes him to shudder with terror?
"This cup" is the cross. The cross would mean that he would die a brutal, lonely, shameful death; that his enemies would ridicule him; that his friends would abandon him. Worse still, it would mean that Jesus, who "knew no sin," would become sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). This innocent man, who had never known what it was like to feel even a tinge of guilt, would now feel the guilt of the whole world. On the cross, he would absorb the wickedness of every tyrant, every murderer, every rapist, every child molester--every sin, right down to the smallest white lie, of every person who ever lived, including every person alive today.
A greater shock to the system could not be imagined, yet this description still doesn't drain the cup. At the bottom of this bitter cup is the dregs, the undrinkable, the unthinkable.
Jesus prays, "Abba! Father!" Abba is an Aramaic word derived from baby language. Children would call their fathers "Abba," much as English-speaking babies say "Dada." This word came to be used by adults as well when addressing their fathers in a warm, intimate manner.
Aramaic was the Hebrew dialect of the day, the language Jesus probably used. The gospel writers translated his words into Greek for their readers, but every now and then Aramaic words appear in the New Testament. Mark left Abba untranslated, probably because it conveyed trusting intimacy better than any Greek word. We wonder, "What is it about this cup that Jesus found most horrifying?" Mark answers our question. The next time he writes Aramaic words is in Mark 15:34. He thereby links Mark 14:36 and 15:34. In the latter verse, Jesus has reached the dregs: "And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, 'ELOI, ELOI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?' which is translated, 'MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?'" These are the only words of Jesus on the cross that Mark recorded. He focuses his narrative on them like a laser beam.
On the cross, Jesus was forsaken by God. For all eternity, the Son had been in intimate relationship with the Father. They are distinct, yet along with the Holy Spirit, they are one God. If God is love, as John says (1 John 4:16), the love that exists among the Godhead must be beyond comprehension. The Father had never been apart from the Son. Yet in the Son's hour of deepest need, the Father is there no more. Jesus has become sin, and the Father will have nothing to do with him. The Father forsakes Jesus, who dies alone. There is a crack in their eternal relationship, a horrible fissure in time. It is galaxies beyond the most horrifying thing any other human has ever experienced.
All of us have either experienced the loss of a loved one or observed others who have suffered such a loss. The grief is often excruciating. Some never move past it. If we have tasted that grief or seen it, we have a microscopic picture of the grief Jesus experiences on the cross. He has not only lost a loved one, he has lost The Loved One.
And to make matters worse, Jesus doesn't even know why he has lost him. Earlier, he knew why this would happen. At one time, he knew that he came "to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). He had just shared the bread and the cup with his disciples, saying, "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many" (Mark 14:24). Sin confuses. It distorts. It disorients. Having become sin, Jesus is probably disoriented. It is possible that at that moment he doesn't know why he's hanging on this cross. Can it be that he doesn't even know why the Father has rejected him for the first time in all eternity? Is that why he cries out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
"Abba! Father! All things are possible for Thee; remove this cup from Me...." Indeed!
The Son envisions the horror that lies ahead, yet he trusts the Father: "yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt." If the Father wants him to drink the cup, he'll drink the cup and face the horror. But he wants to know: Does it have to be this way?
The Father's answer comes from eleven men.
Jesus prays three times, and immediately "comes"
to his disciples three times. Mark's narrative reveals that Jesus
"finds them" after his first two prayers. Why does he
come to his disciples? He's looking for something-an answer to
his prayer. Jesus knows that the Father has given these men to
him (John 17:6). Jesus has tied his fate to his disciples. He
has devoted his life to them, and his life is bound up in theirs.
He knows the answer will come through them. Each time he comes
to his disciples, he finds that they need a savior.
Jesus told them to "watch." The Scriptures place much emphasis on perception-paying attention to reality. Jesus himself had said, "The lamp of your body is your eye; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness" (Luke 11:34); and, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Mark 4:9). If we don't "watch," we are spiritually blind and disconnected from spiritual reality; ultimately, the reality of who God is.
After praying, each time Jesus comes to his disciples he finds them sleeping. They are sleeping because "their eyes were very heavy." Luke explains that their eyes were heavy because of sorrow (Luke 22:45). Jesus had just told them some disturbing things: One of them would betray him (Mark 14:18), he was leaving them (14:25), they would all fall away (14:27) and Peter would deny Jesus three times (14:30). They aren't sleeping as the result of normal weariness at the end of the day, but because they have been rocked by reality and can't take it anymore. They choose to disconnect themselves from the words of Jesus. If his word is this hard, they reason, he cannot be trusted. If life is this hard, God cannot be trusted. Better to fall asleep. They choose not to watch. They choose spiritual blindness. They need a savior.
Jesus had shared with them the depth of his agony. He told them that his soul was "deeply grieved to the point of death." And he asked them to stay up with him in his hour of need, but they can't. They are too consumed with their own sorrow to stay up with a friend in need. They need a savior.
When Jesus first returns to his disciples, seeking the Father's answer, he addresses Peter. Peter stands for all of them. He was the first to promise that he wouldn't deny Jesus, and the rest of the disciples chimed in as well (Mark 14:31). Jesus comes to them three times; Peter would deny Jesus three times, just as Jesus predicted (Mark 14:66-72).
Jesus says to Peter, "Keep watching and praying, that you may not come into temptation." In watching, Peter was to take in spiritual reality. In praying, Peter was to express his dependence on God. Because he isn't watching and isn't praying, he demonstrates that he wants distance from God-from his reality, from dependence on him. Jesus prayed to the Father, "All things are possible for you...," but it is not possible for Peter to watch for even one hour. His spirit is willing-he has the desire to follow Jesus. But his flesh is weak-when confronted with the reality of following Jesus, he crumbles. He needs a savior.
After Jesus came to his disciples the second time, Mark notes that "they did not know what to answer him." They are confused. They need a savior.
Jesus comes to them a third time and says to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?" Jesus knows the answer to his prayer will come through the disciples. He has sought the Father three times. Three times he has come to the disciples, looking for a response. After all this prayer, they are "still" sleeping. They need a savior.
Jesus says, "It is enough." He doesn't need to speak with the Father anymore. He has his answer. He says, "The hour has come." Jesus "came" to Gethsemane and he "came" to his disciples to see if the hour might pass him by, but there is no need to come anymore seeking answers. The answer has come, because the hour has come.
He tells his disciples: "Behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Arise, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand." His instructions to "behold" are akin to his instructions to "watch." His betrayer is approaching; this is reality, a difficult reality. Actions are always based on perception. So Jesus instructs them to act based on the reality of the impending betrayal: "Arise, let us be going." Alas, "they all left Him and fled" (Mark 14:50). They need a savior.
Before, Jesus was "coming," looking for an answer. Now he is "going," because he knows the answer. He goes with the mob.
Jesus wanted his disciples to watch and pray, but at this hour, Jesus has been the only one watching and praying. He prayed to the Father three times. And he was watching-for the Father's answer in the response of his disciples. And he goes.
This time, the man in God's garden trusts God. He obeys. He goes to drink the cup.
He obeyed the Father, and he did it out of love for his disciples. They couldn't watch. They couldn't pray. Their spirits were willing, but their flesh was weak. They couldn't arise and go with Jesus. They needed a savior. He loved them. He drank the cup-for them, and for us.
Peter represents not only the disciples; he represents us.
Who among us has remained watchful and prayerful out of love for
God? Who among us has stayed spiritually awake, connected to God,
submitting to him even when life takes its awful turns? Who among
us hasn't sought to be distant from God because of lack of trust?
Who among us, in a state of spiritual sleep, hasn't dreamed up
an alternative reality in which we enthroned ourselves because
we figured we could make better decisions than a God who, in our
estimation, deprived us of the good things we needed, issued impossible
demands and allowed unbearable misery? Who among us hasn't thought
and acted in self-dependence because we deemed God undependable?
Who among us has always carried out the willingness of the spirit
and never yielded to the impulses of the flesh? Who among us hasn't
closed our ears to the words of Jesus because they were too hard?
Who among us has always stayed up with Jesus? Who among us has
always arisen and followed Jesus into the heart of darkness? None
of us. No, not one.
We need a savior. We need the Savior.
Well, here he is. This is the Savior. Jesus chose to expose
himself to unimaginable horror, revealing unimaginable love. He
descended the slopes of the Kidron. He ascended the Mount of Olives
but stopped before the summit. In the garden, he envisioned the
horror of being forsaken by God, and asked the Father if there
was another way. When he came looking for the answer, he came
and found you. He saw that you were neither watching nor praying-that
you had chosen spiritual blindness, that you had distanced yourself
from the living God. He saw that you could not stay up with him.
He saw that you had no ability to arise and go with him. In all
this, Jesus saw that you needed a savior. So he went, and he went
alone. He did so because he loves you. He drank the cup,
that terrible cup, for you.
Where do you find such love? Here it is. Here, in the garden. Here he is. This is the Savior. This is your Savior.
Catalog No: GF-97
March 28, 1997
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