Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
Last time we were together, we watched episode 1 of Disciple TV – a new reality TV show. And this episode covered the brief conversation that Jesus had with His disciples on the Mount of Olives. And as He talked with them, we saw some pretty painful realties about what was in the heart of the disciples; they were incredibly weak, inattentively careless, and ignorantly self-confident.
But the producers of the show were quite clever because just as we started to shake our head at the disciples and their faults, we were forced to acknowledge that these same faults are found in every disciple of the Lord Jesus, including ourselves, to one degree or another, and at one time or another.
But we were also comforted by the fact that despite knowing the weaknesses of His disciples, still the Lord Jesus loved them and still He loves us.
Well, with most watchers of reality TV, one episode is not enough. So we also have a second episode of Disciple TV before us today. However, while our focus, last week, was mainly on the disciples, today they are ‘bit part actors,’ as the expression goes, to the one who is the focus of the scene in front of us, the Lord Jesus. We are going to focus our attention on what He says and does.
And as we do so we shall notice a stark contrast between Him and His disciples; His godliness and strength will shine brightly beside the gloom of their and our ungodliness and weakness.
But we first want to fill our minds and hearts with the activity and the character of our Lord Jesus and only then to take note of the weakness and inability and sin of the disciples.
So today we see HOW THE EVENTS OF GETHSEMANE REVEAL OUR GLORIOUS SAVIOUR.
I. And we will see this in two ways particularly, with the first being HOW KEENLY JESUS FELT THE BURDEN OF SIN.
A. Jesus takes His disciples to GETHSEMANE. And Gethsemane means ‘oil press.’ John’s Gospel describes it as a Garden and it was probably a walled-garden used to press olives. He takes all the disciples, remembering that Judas Iscariot is no longer with them, and He instructs 8 of them to stay at the entrance and to pray while He goes further into the garden with Peter, James and John.
B. And while we have every reason to believe that the Lord Jesus was glad of some company at this time, more important than that is the necessity for them to WITNESS what He does and says here. And one of the reasons for this is that the law of Deuteronomy required the testimony of at least 2 eye-witnesses for something to be established as true. So there are three-eye-witnesses to all that Jesus does and says here in Gethsemane. Luke 22:41 tells us that “He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw.” Hebrews 5:7, which we read earlier, tells us that “in the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death.” So the disciples could hear His trembling agony here, even noticing as Luke records that “His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” It is from them that we have the account of what occurred here in Gethsemane.
C. And from them we learn of JESUS’ AGONY in v33 as we read that He “began to be greatly distressed and troubled.” We have mentioned previously that Mark’s Gospel records three times when Jesus very plainly told His disciples that He was to be killed in Jerusalem. So He has known for some time what it is to come. But before now it has been like a cup of horror in the far off distance. Now though the cup is right there in front of Him, swirling with the black liquid of horror and agony and despair and torment, and He is greatly distressed. He says to Peter, James, and John, “MY SOUL IS VERY SORROWFUL, EVEN TO DEATH.” Just His sorrow at what lies ahead is already powerful enough to kill Him, let alone the physical and spiritual agonies they will entail. And if you are wondering How can sorrow be life-threatening? you need to remember that you are not nearly as holy as He, and you cannot fully comprehend the utter sinfulness of sin, and you can’t even begin to understand the magnitude of God’s wrath and the awfulness of being forsaken by His Father.
D. In His prayer to His Father, Jesus speaks of a CUP. And while we shall say more about His prayer in a moment, the reason He wanted this cup to pass was because it was a cup of sin and a cup of wrath.
1. In terms of SIN, Isaiah 53:4-10 prophesies of the sufferings of the Lord Jesus with these words, “He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities .. 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.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake He made him to be sin who knew no sin.”
a. I wonder if you have ever been punished for something that you did not do? Perhaps you boys and girls remember a time where you copped the punishment for something your brother or sister did? Did you mind? I bet you did! We scream out at such INJUSTICE! As individuals and as a society our blood boils at the idea of wrongful punishment.
(1). Sometimes you hear about DEATH-ROW CASES where someone has been 38 years in prison, twice within a day of being executed, only for advances in DNA technology to prove that he could not have been the one who did it. And we have this natural horror of the idea of one person being punished for another person’s guilt.
b. Well, every lie YOU have ever told, every moment of sinful anger, every lust-fuelled fantasy, every piece of gossip or slander, every act of disobedience, every hate-driven word or act, and every act of disobedience or disrespect or rebellion; every sin of yours and all those that God has elect unto salvation, these the Lord Jesus saw and felt as the cup of sin that He soon had to drink.
2. But it was also a cup of WRATH. Earlier we read from ISAIAH 13, which speaks about God’s wrath toward the Babylonians because of their sin. We read words like “weapons” and “destroy” and “destruction” and “cruel” and “fierce” and “punish.” Well, the Lord Jesus, who up till now has only known a perfect and sweet fellowship with His loving Father, was soon experience this God of wrath.
3. So it is the horrifying realities of sin and wrath that wrench from Jesus the cry, “My Soul is very sorrowful, even to the point of death” and why He asks if it is possible for this cup to pass.
E. But as we have observed, THE DISCIPLES saw Jesus and heard His agonized cries. So what of them? What was their response to all this? Well, the first time He returned to them, v37 tells us, He “found them sleeping” The second time, according to v40, “their eyes were very heavy and they did not know what to answer Him.” And the third time, as we see in v41, they were still sleeping. And their sleep is a pretty good picture of the way that human beings, including even believers, generally view sin and God’s wrath – YAWN.
1. Of all the possible topics for a public talk at church that might attract a crowd, sin is not one of them. Marriage will attract a crowd; parenting; suffering, perhaps, but not sin.
2. Take a look at the best-sellers in your local Christian Bookstore in recent decades and you can be certain that sin does not feature in any of the titles, unless it is a book saying that a particular lifestyle or sexual practice that we used call sinful really isn’t.
3. But what about you and me? Ephesians 4:29, for example, says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” But how easily does corrupting talk and/or talk that does not build up others come out of your mouth or mine? And that is but one example of how carefree and yawn-like we can be when it comes to sin.
4. Earlier we sung a paraphrase of Psalm 6. In that Psalm and others, we find the Psalmist troubled with sin to the point that he says, “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.” Is this something you know of in terms of confessing your sin? Or is it more like Lord, please forgive all my sins and then a quick move on to a list of the things you want from Him more typical?
5. In Psalm 119:136, the Psalmist says, “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.” Our government is right now considering making assisted suicide, which is against the law of God, legal. Does that trouble you at all? You have seen the bulletin notes about how to make an online submission to the parliamentary select committee; have you visited the websites? Or is the latest FailArmy clip more interesting to you?
6. Earlier in the service we also sung a paraphrase of Psalm 90. It contains this verse, “Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?” And it is a fair question. Sin, by and large, doesn’t trouble us nearly enough as it should.
7. And Brothers and sisters, your and my lack of distress about sin was another part of the cup that gave Jesus this life-threatening sorrow.
F. It is right that we feel a sense of shame and guilt as we consider our lack of distress about sin in comparison to Jesus’ agonized sorrow. But we cannot end there. For there is a SALVATION PURPOSE to the agony of our Saviour. I quoted earlier from 2 Corinthians 5:21, which says that “for our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin.” But listen to how that verse finishes: “So that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus had to take your sin and my sin upon Himself and experience the eternal wrath of God so that you and I could receive His perfect righteousness. That is the BLESSED EXCHANGE OF SALVATION – He takes the your sin so that you can receive His perfect righteousness. And all you must do is believe this. For then, as Romans 5:1 says, “[You] have peace with God.”
II. The events of Gethsemane reveal our glorious Saviour by setting before us a Saviour who keenly felt the burden of sin yet willingly took that sin upon Himself. But they also reveal our glorious Saviour as we consider HIS EXAMPLE OF PRAYER AND SUBMISSION.
A. I mentioned earlier that the Lord Jesus took all the disciples to Gethsemane and especially these three into the Garden so that they could witness all that He did and said. But we have noted many times in Mark’s Gospel that what Jesus did during His earthly ministry served also as an EXAMPLE for His disciples. Way back in ch. 1, for example, after what we would call spectacular ministry success, we read of Him rising early in the morning to go to a desolate place to pray. And the same is true here also. He sets them and us an example as He PRAYS. As the crisis of His life approaches, He sets Himself to pray and to pray, earnestly.
1. And just in case you are troubled at times that you seem to be ASKING THE SAME THING of the Lord, again and again, look at the example of your Saviour in v39, “And again He went away and prayed, saying the same words.” To mindlessly repeat some rote prayer to God without meaning it is plain superstition, but to pour out your heart about something particular, repeatedly, is to do precisely what your Saviour did.
2. But what brought Jesus to prayer? Well, He prayed, in part, because He faced TEMPTATION.
a. Earlier in His ministry, the Lord Jesus was tempted by the devil. We read about this in Matthew 4. He showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and promised them to Jesus if He would but fall down and worship the devil. And this would have been an easier way for Jesus to rule the world of that day than to go the way of the cross. But it was not God’s way and it would not have accomplished saving plan for all His people throughout history.
b. But now also the devil would have been busy seeking to divert Jesus away from the cross. Later on in the garden, during His arrest, Jesus rebukes Peter for pulling out His sword, telling Him that if He wanted to He could call upon legions of angels to protect Him. And this would have been a very real temptation for Him. Why should He have to endure all of this? Why should He not call down the angels, who would be there in a moment to do His bidding? But through prayer His weak flesh was strengthened to resist every temptation.
3. And so again we ask, what about THE DISCIPLES? Jesus says to them in v38, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” But did they imitate Jesus? No they did not. And if anyone had an excuse to be tired now, it was He, Jesus. But while Jesus prayed, the disciples slept; while Jesus turned to God, they turned to the pillow.
4. Brothers and sisters, young people and boys and girls, Hebrews 2:17 tell us very plainly that Jesus shares our human nature. He knows what it is like to be human. And in our earlier reading from HEBREWS 4:15, we read, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
a. Believer, temptation is not a one off event that happens on the odd occasion in the life of a disciple. Perhaps you boys and girls know what a GIN-TRAP is? It is a trap for catching animals that is spring loaded and has sharp teeth that snap shut when an animal stands in it. Well, temptation is like a gin-trap that opens its jaws several times each day, in one way or another, just waiting to catch you in its grasp. And the only way to withstand temptation is through prayer that looks to the Lord Jesus for “mercy and grace to help.”
b. So when trouble comes, the first person you should turn to is God. The first complaint off your lips should be in the form of a prayer addressed to God. You may not receive a reply straight away. The relief you seek may not come at once. The thing that tries you may never be removed. But the very act of turning your heart toward heaven will do you good and you will receive the mercy and grace to help in your time of need – that is God’s promise. And that is the example that your Saviour sets for you here.
B. But notice also the example of SUBMISSION that Jesus sets. He prays in v36, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
1. Do you find this A HARD PRAYER TO UNDERSTAND, perhaps? Maybe you boys and girls even think that it sounds like Jesus is kind of chickening out here; ‘Lost His bottle’? Or maybe the theologians among us are wondering how it can be that one person of the Trinity (Jesus) is not keen to do what another person of the Trinity (The Father) has decreed needs to happen?
2. Well, the first thing we need to acknowledge is that we are dealing here with the beautiful MYSTERY that is the Trinity. Jesus is truly God and truly man. He does not want to do anything other than the Father’s will, but as a man, He asks the Father if there be any other way that He could do what He came to.
3. One commentator captures the balance of His two natures in this agonized prayer this way, “As a man Christ cried for escape, but He desired the Father’s will even more.”
4. And we have to be content with that as an explanation. The EMPHASIS in the prayer of Jesus was on the Father’s will. His desire for an alternative was real, but His chief desire was to submit to His Father’s will.
5. And so it should be with you. Do you and may you seek healing for yourself or a loved one? Absolutely. Do you and may you pray that a broken relationship is restored? Most assuredly. But because you do not know what circumstances will best advance God’s good plan for yourself or others, the emphasis in your prayers ought to be on submission to God’s will.
a. Dear Father, please do this or give that or bring this about. But Father, if this is not your will, help me and/or the person I am praying for to imitate the submission of Jesus and remember that your are a faithful God whose mercies are new every morning that I or they might trust in you and love you and rejoice in the unfolding of your will.
• Our earlier reading from HEBREWS 5 says, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence.” To ask God for something in prayer but to have as your chief desire submission to His will is to imitate the reverence of the Lord Jesus. And this the Father delights in from His children.
• But Hebrews 5 continues, “Although [Jesus] was a son, He LEARNED OBEDIENCE through what He suffered.” There are many among us who have prayed earnestly for something and not had that prayer answered who would testify that the Lord used that time to teach them to trust in Him and to obey Him. A minister once had a congregational member who went through great physical problems and one of his legs had to be amputated. That did not arrest the course of his disease, and he ultimately died because of it. But just a few days before the man’s death, the minister visited him in the hospital, and the patient said something that perfectly expresses what we are talking about: The man said to him, “I never would have chosen one of the trials that I’ve gone through, but I wouldn’t have missed any of them for the world!” This man had an awareness that his suffering was something of value. He wouldn’t have missed it! He wouldn’t have chosen it either! But that is what it means to learn obedience through suffering.
• But the passage in Hebrews 5 concludes, “And being made perfect, [Jesus] BECAME THE SOURCE OF ETERNAL SALVATION TO ALL WHO OBEY HIM.” His sorrow over the cup of sin and wrath and His example of prayer and submission are as much a part of His saving work as what He did on the cross. To be an acceptable sacrifice for sin, He had to be perfectly obedient to the Father’s will. And here at Gethsemane we something of this perfect obedience. Praise God for this glorious Saviour! Amen.