September 1, 2019
Jason Meyer | Mark 14:32-42
And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And 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.” 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.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed 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. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”—Mark 14:32–42
The Gospel of Mark has an affinity for putting events together in three parts, or triads. These triads are often bittersweet to read because in each one Jesus reveals something astonishing about himself, but in each one the disciples fail to grasp what he is saying about who he is and what he has come to do.
This dynamic is already at work in the first part of the Gospel where there are three boat scenes where the disciples fail to understand who Jesus is and he comments on their hardness of heart (Mark 4:35–41, 6:45–52, 8:14–21). In the next section, Jesus gives three passion predictions, and each time the disciples again fail to understand (Mark 8:34–10:45). Chapters 11–13 were structured by three trips to the Temple, and in each trip Jesus teaches the people, and they fail to grasp that the Messiah has come to his temple. Next week, we will see a very personal triad as Peter denies Jesus three times (Mark 14:66–72). This week, we see another pattern of three. Three times Jesus prays while urging the disciples to pray and stay awake. Each time, Jesus proves to be awake and they prove to be asleep.
The Crucifixion in Gethsemane
And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And 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.” 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.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Gethsemane is on the lower slopes of the west side of the Mount of Olives—about half a mile from the wall of the city. John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus and the disciples crossed the Kidron Valley and came to this place that John calls a “garden” (John 18:1–2). Gethsemane means “olive press,” and so this is probably an olive grove on the Mount of Olives that has an olive mill for pressing the olives into olive oil. Luke tells us that Jesus came here often to pray, as was his custom, and that is why Judas would know where to find him (Luke 22:39).
Mark presents this narrative as a movement to isolation. This is a movement from the many to the few to the singular. Jesus begins with a group of disciples, and he instructs all but three of them to “sit here while I pray” (v. 32).
Then he takes three disciples (Peter, James, and John) with him and he suddenly became deeply distressed and greatly troubled (v. 33). Mark begins to pile up words for deep emotional distress. This word is a word for distress or alarm, but it is intensified with a prefix so that it means “deep” or “intense” emotional alarm and turmoil or distress. In fact, Mark is the only New Testament writer to use this word—it will show up again on Easter Sunday when the disciples are deeply shaken by the presence of the angel in the empty tomb (Mark 16:5–6).
In fact, Jesus tells the disciples, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (v. 34). Jesus turns to the psalms of lament and takes on the language of the righteous sufferer in Psalms 42 and 43. His soul is downcast and in turmoil and distress and agony within him (Psalm 42:5, 6, 11; Psalm 43:5). His whole soul is so overcome with sorrow and grief that it is not only to the point of exhaustion, but to the point of death (v. 34). So he commands the disciples to stay and pray and watch (v. 34).
Jesus went a little further, and he did not just fold his hands and get on his knees. Mark tells us that he “fell on the ground” (v. 35). Imagine a workout that is so intense that you virtually collapse on the ground. This is so much more intense than that. He has grief not just to the point of exhaustion but to the point of death. Incalculable darkness has descended on Jesus and the strain is taking a toll on his very body. The weight of sorrow made him collapse to the ground.
Then we hear the prayer of a heart, soul, and will in agony. Jesus is truly God, but he is also truly human. Here we see Jesus’ human will wrestling with the divine will of the Father. He “prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him” (v. 35). The “hour” is the moment God has ordained for his sacrifice as the Lamb of God. He is asking if the hour could pass—if there was some possible way to take a detour here.
Now Mark zooms in for more detail on this prayer (v. 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.”
Notice the note of intimacy. “Abba” is the Aramaic word for Father. The Son knows the Father as intimately and perfectly as possible. He knows that the Father can do all things—so he brings the request: “Remove this cup from me.”
This is a holy moment. It is not just the will of the Son wrestling with the will of the Father. It is also the heart of the Son wrestling with all the attributes of the Father. This is the Father’s plan, but all things are possible for him, so is there another possibility—any other way than this cup?! Is there some way—indeed, any way—for Jesus to fulfill the Father’s will without drinking this cup? Abraham had the knife held over Isaac, but then it was averted at the last moment because the Lord provided a sacrifice.
Jesus had just faithfully and unwaveringly declared to the disciples that Scripture must be fulfilled: “I will strike the shepherd” (Mark 14:27). Now, Jesus is pleading with that person—the “I” who will strike the shepherd. He is pleading with the Father that the shepherd would not be struck.
But heaven was silent. There was no other way. When everyone else around him is abandoning him, Jesus has a heart that is sold out to God’s will—no matter what great the cost. The Son will not shrink back from suffering and elevate his will above the Father’s—his will stays aligned with his Father’s will through prayer.
Jesus had taught the disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Jesus utters the deepest and truest expression of that prayer ever uttered. He has come from heaven to earth to do the Father’s will on earth as it is in heaven, and so he prays in complete submission: “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).
The Father and the Son have enjoyed an eternally uninterrupted relationship of love and perfect accord and alignment and understanding. This moment was part of that accord—Jesus is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. But that does not mean that it was easy or automatic. Prayer in Gethsemane was the way that Jesus the Son became completely aligned with the will of God the Father.
Jesus was totally awake to the plan of the Father. The disciples were the opposite. They were asleep. They certainly were not aligning their hearts and minds to the purpose of the Father (vv. 37–38):
And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Jesus’ rebuke comes in the form of something he taught them to pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13). He now tells them again that they need to stay awake and pray that they will withstand temptation. What does Jesus mean when he says that the spirit is willing and the flesh is weak, and so they need to watch and pray? He is saying, “Do not be content with good inward, spiritual intentions. Good intentions of spirit will be no match for the weakness of the flesh without the sustaining power of prayer. If you have been following the Gospel of Mark, you know the disciples’ track record when it comes to understanding and obeying what Jesus says to them. In fact, we are going to replay this awful scene a second time.
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.
Notice that it was not enough for Jesus to pray once. The flesh will so shrink back from the prospect of suffering that Jesus has to struggle to stay aligned with the Father’s will. So he went away and prayed the same words. We don’t necessarily need to always pray new things. Sometimes we need to keep praying the same things like hammer blows to our hearts to get God’s will to be securely fastened within us.
Again Jesus came back and found the disciples sleeping. They were without excuse, and they didn’t even have any words of response. Mark portrays the disciples in terms of being in almost a total physical (and spiritual) stupor. They are not awake. And they do not even know what to say in response.
3. Scene Three (vv. 41–42)
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. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
Mark makes it emphatic. This same pattern happened three times. This is the third time. He asks them if they are still asleep. Could they not pray? He then says that the time of watching and praying and waiting is over. The hour has come.
Remember the parallels between Mark 13 and this passage.
“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake (γρηγορέω). Therefore stay awake (γρηγορέω), for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come (ἔρχομαι) suddenly and find (εὑρίσκω) you asleep (καθεύδω). And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake (γρηγορέω).”
And he said to them,“My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch (γρηγορέω).” 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.” And he came (ἔρχομαι) and found (εὑρίσκω) them sleeping (καθεύδω), and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep (καθεύδω)? Could you not watch (γρηγορέω) one hour? Watch (γρηγορέω) and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came (ἔρχομαι) and found (εὑρίσκω) them sleeping (καθεύδω), for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. And he came (ἔρχομαι) the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping (καθεύδω) and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.”
Mark is portraying the betrayal of Jesus as the desolating sacrilege. So far, all of this has been predicted, but now it will be fulfilled and one domino after the other will fall.
“Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”—Mark 14:42
The time has come to step forward into fulfilling the Father’s plan. No hesitation now. Jesus steps forward because he has become an arrow aligned with the aim of his Father toward Calvary.
The question has come many times after skeptics read this passage: Why does the prospect of death put Jesus into such turmoil? Others have faced death with more composure and courage than Jesus. In fact, the historical comparison people often make is with the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates. Socrates bravely drank a cup of poison (hemlock). Plato celebrated the way that his mentor Socrates greeted death “as a friend and liberator to a better life” (Plato, Ap. 29; Phd. pp. 67–68; this citation came from James Edwards, Mark, pp. 432–33).
Jesus is not merely contemplating the idea of death and a cup of poison—but a different kind of cup. What is this cup? Once again, it is good to ask if Isaiah has something to say about the cup and being awake.
Wake yourself, wake yourself,
stand up, O Jerusalem,
you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord
the cup of his wrath,
who have drunk to the dregs
the bowl, the cup of staggering.—Isaiah 51:17
The “cup” in the Old Testament is a symbol of the suffering and punishment that God’s enemies are made to drink in judgment. God now holds out the cup of wrath for his Son to drink. Would God really plan this for his only Son? Yes … and Isaiah has something to say about that.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief…
when his soul makes an offering for guilt ...—Isaiah 53:10
But why? Why would the Father make the Son of God drink the cup of the wrath of God? The next phrase of verse 10 says it: “When his soul makes an offering for guilt.” He is drinking the wrath that comes upon the guilty, but not his own guilt.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.—Isaiah 53:5–6
Jesus is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. Yes! But look at the cost. He cannot take away the sin of the world unless he first takes on the sin of the world—the LORD has laid on him the sin of us all!
Jesus’ death is unique. Remember that Mark 10:45 says that Jesus will give his life as a ransom for many. If Socrates had known what was after death, he would have faced it very differently—because it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Just contemplate it for yourself for a moment. We can scarcely imagine what it would be like to stand before God for every sin (thought, attitude, action) we ever committed. Every sin will be paid—either by us in hell or by Jesus on the cross. It is a terrifying thing to think about paying the eternal price for my sin, but imagine paying for everyone’s sin. The cup did not merely taste like poison but like hell. It is staggering in the extreme. Jesus’ whole body began to feel the shock as he began to sweat drops of blood.
And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.—Luke 22:44
So what is happening in Gethsemane? Why this great shock and terrible turmoil within Jesus? Jesus is being crucified in Gethsemane. Jesus’ hands and feet were crucified later that day, but Jesus’ heart and will were crucified here. In this garden valley beneath Jerusalem, he allows his whole soul to be crucified long before his whole body is crucified on a hill outside of Jerusalem.
This prayer was Jesus wanting to be aimed like an arrow by the Father. He had to align the aim of his heart and soul and will and mind totally toward Calvary. Everything that happens from this point is set in motion by this point. It reminds me of something J.R.R. Tolkien said in The Hobbit about Bilbo’s decision to walk down the tunnel path toward the dragon (p. 193).
It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lies in wait.
This was a definitive step for Jesus. But unlike Bilbo, he knew the vast suffering that awaited him. And he still chose to go. Jesus whole life was a life of obedience, but there were steps that were central to that life of obedience. The Son of God fought the real battle for our salvation in heaven as he made the first step of the descent from heaven to earth in the incarnation. He laid aside his pride and emptied himself by adding humanity and the weakness of a human body. He took on the form of a servant so he could be the servant prophesied in Isaiah. He kept descending the rungs of degradation and suffering. Now he is ready to go to the lowest rung—to the excruciating depths of suffering in facing the wrath of God.
This passage shows the all-out obedience of the Son to the point of death, even death on a cross and the contrast with how unfaithful and unprepared the disciples were. Once again, we see that Jesus was alone in walking the Calvary road to pay the ransom price for sinners.
Main Point: Jesus prayed to stay totally awake to and aligned with the Father’s plan and purpose and the disciples remain asleep.
This point is good news for us—not just in salvation, but in communion with God. Jesus’ prayer calls God his Abba—a term of intimacy. Jesus took on the wrath of God as an enemy of God so that we could receive the righteousness of God as a child of God.
He purchases our intimacy with God so that we need not fall back into fear, but move forward in faith through prayer.
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.—Romans 8:15–17
How can we take the tremendous blessing of this relationship with God for granted? We were enemies of God under the wrath of God. Jesus, the Son of God had perfect intimacy with God. He took our place—took on being an enemy of God so that we could become a child of God and cry out Abba, Father! How dare we take that blood bought intimacy for granted? How can prayer be something we neglect that collects dust? Jesus purchased this relationship with his very blood in unspeakable agony. How can we let it collect the dust of sleepy sloth? Are our souls awake? To answer that question—just look at your prayer life. We have this intimacy with God purchased for us so that we can come boldly to the throne of grace as children of God in our time of need! Are we coming boldly or sleeping soundly?
Once again we remember that this Table is a place even for those who have not been awake in prayer. On the reality show, Survivor, one of the most difficult experiences is the reward competitions. A group of people have to outperform the other teams in order to get a food reward when they are all starving and just living on rice. They get a full buffet, and the others go back to camp dejected.
The Lord’s Supper is not a reward that Christians receive for morally outperforming others. It is a gift of grace. The cup you earn is the cup of wrath— the wages of sin is death. The cup we receive as pure grace is the cup of salvation. It was a costly cup. Jesus had to take our cup of wrath in order for us to receive the cup of salvation. Free to us; deadly to him.
We have a seat at the table, not because of what we bring to the table—salvation is not a potluck. We have a seat at the table not because of what we bring to the table, but because of what is on the table.
Awake and Asleep:
Main Point: Jesus prayed to stay totally awake to and aligned with the Father’s plan and purpose and the disciples remain asleep.
Pray for a grace to see all that the Son purchased for us at the cross, and pray for a grace to refresh and re-awaken our prayer lives and intimacy with God.