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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:In Gethsemane Christ entered into prayerful agony for our salvation
Text:Mark 14:32-42 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's Suffering

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 90:1,2,9
Psalm 6:1-3
Psalm 88:1-2
Hymn 38
Hymn 55

Reading and Text:  Mark 14:32-42
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ our Saviour,

I was tempted to begin this sermon by having you try to imagine the moments before the most stressful event in your life.  You know the event is coming.  You have had the time to think about it and in the moments right before it’s agony.  I was tempted to have you imagine that, but then thought twice.  Why?  Because there is simply no comparison to what we read in our text for this morning.  You can’t compare any suffering you’ve ever experienced to what Jesus experienced on the cross.  There’s just no comparison.  The anguish that he bore for our sins was not merely physical.  If it was, comparisons could be possible.  Thousands of people have been crucified the way Jesus was and people go through intense physical pain all the time.  But his agony was far more intense because of the spiritual component.  He was spiritually assaulted by the wrath of God for our sins.  He was not merely abandoned by God, but attacked by him.  No one on this side of death has ever experienced that the way Jesus did on the cross.  Even on the other side of death, the wicked in hell are ever only at the beginning of God’s wrath.  Only Jesus has drunk the whole cup.

In our passage from Mark this morning he is on the brink of doing exactly that.  He knows that it’s coming.  He knows that it’s imminent.  He knows the horror of what it will involve.  No human being has ever experienced what he went through in Gethsemane on that late Thursday evening so many years ago.  No one has ever had the dread he had as he was about to experience the hellish wrath of God for our salvation.  So rather than try and identify personally with what he went through, we instead must stand back and watch.  We must stand back and worship the Saviour who went through all this for us.  We must love and adore the one who showed his love so greatly for us.  Let’s do that this morning as I proclaim to you God’s Word,

In Gethsemane Christ entered into prayerful agony for our salvation

We’ll see:

1.      How he struggled with the will of God

2.      How he struggled with human weakness

Jesus and his disciples took a short walk across the Kidron Valley over to the Mount of Olives.  On the mount was a garden called Gethsemane.  When Jesus was in Jerusalem, this was a spot that he liked to go.  We learn that from the gospels of Luke and John.  John tells us too that Judas found Jesus there because he knew that Jesus liked to meet there with his disciples.  This was a quiet, isolated place to pray and meet together.  Jesus went there again on that Thursday evening, but this time one of the disciples was missing.  It was him and the eleven.  Judas was off preparing his betrayal. 

As they came into the garden, Jesus instructed eight of the disciples to sit and wait.  The three closest of his disciples (Peter, James and John) he took with him further.  These were the three who were with him on the Mount of Transfiguration.  They saw the glory of Jesus and heard the voice of God.  James and John later asked to sit at Jesus’ right hand and his left.  They insisted that they could be baptized with his baptism and drink his cup.  And Peter had insisted right before our text that he would always be loyal to Jesus, even if he had to die with him.  So these are the three disciples who travel with Jesus deeper into the olive groves in Gethsemane. 

As he goes along, Mark tells us that he became deeply distressed and troubled.  He said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”  Jesus knows that the wrath of God against sin is about to be poured out on him.  That’s why he is upset and anxious.  He knows that this wrath is unlike anything on this earth.  The weight is enormous and the pain intense.  So he feels that his soul is surrounded with sorrow to such a great extent that it’s like death. 

His disciples could see this.  They could hear Jesus’ words and they could see his demeanour.  They should have been able to perceive that something crucial was happening at this moment.  He brings them to a certain spot and he tells them to stay there and watch.  Why do they have to watch?  What are they supposed to be watching?  It is their calling at that moment to observe his prayerful agony as he is about to be put on the last mile to the cross.  They are called to watch and recall for generations to come what Jesus endured for the salvation of believers.  For you and me. 

They watched for a few moments as he went on a little further by himself to pray.  Normally a Jewish person would pray standing with arms uplifted to heaven.  If someone was really torn up about something, then he might throw himself on the ground and pray lying prostrate, flat out on the ground.  For example, David did that in 2 Samuel 12 when he was praying for the dying child that he had fathered with Bathsheba.  So when Jesus falls to the ground here, we know that the grief and distress he’s feeling are powerful. 

The disciples not only watch his actions, they also briefly hear his words.  Mark first summarizes the content of Jesus’ prayer.  He prays that if possible the hour might pass from him.  What is “the hour” here?  It’s the time in which he must go to the cross.  It’s the time that has been ordained for him by the will of God.  God has decreed that this is the moment where Jesus is about to suffer and die for our salvation.

Jesus is praying in Aramaic.  He uses the word “Abba,” which is the regular Aramaic word for “Father” – and Mark gives the translation into Greek.  “Abba” is a respectful word, but it also reflects a close relationship.  Jesus calls out to God in heaven as the Son.  The disciples hear him acknowledge his Father’s sovereign power.  God can do anything he wants, he is almighty.  Because he knows God can do that, Jesus asks God to take the cup from him.  The cup is the cup of God’s wrath and judgment on sin.  Jesus knows what it will involve and it horrifies him.  He struggles with accepting it and he verbalizes that struggle in his prayer.  Like Old Testament saints in the Psalms, he makes his lament to God.  Like the Psalmists, he shows us that it’s okay to cry out to heaven.  Christ doesn’t go through this stoically without any emotion.  He doesn’t give the impression that he has it all together.  Instead, Jesus speaks out of his heart and shows his disciples (and us) what is really going on there.  He wishes that there were another way. 

But then his disciples also hear him reach the humble conclusion:  “Yet not what I will, but what you will.”  Through prayer, he comes to accept God’s will for him.  Prayer is the means by which he comes to terms with what he must do for our salvation.  He has struggled, but at the end of the struggle, he knows that God’s will is best.  It will be a horrific ordeal, but he humbly follows the will of his heavenly Father for him. 

Brothers and sisters, worship the Saviour revealed here!  Sometimes we are so hard to impress.  But let the Word here stir up your love for him, for the one who loved you so much at this moment.  Think about it.  He could have walked away from Gethsemane.  He could have run away from Jerusalem.  He could have made his way to the Judean wilderness or to the caves along the Dead Sea.  He could have escaped.  But instead, here he is in agony praying to the Father and ultimately accepting his will.  We can’t take a clinical or detached approach to this.  All this he’s doing because of his love for his sheep.  Because of his love for you and me.  He submits to the Father to bear the hell that we deserve.  The fact that he knows what’s coming and that it doesn’t take him by surprise gives all the more reason to adore him for what he did here in our text. 

Then there’s also the fact that he willingly goes this path of suffering.  Jesus was not a hapless victim who was waylaid one unfortunate day in Jerusalem.  He went to Jerusalem for this Passover feast knowing full well what was waiting.  He went actively and willingly.  Yes, he struggles with the will of God, he struggles with the fact that he must endure divine wrath, but in the end he still goes the way it has been decreed for him.  As he said in Mark 10, he gives “his life as a ransom for many.”  For you.  Again, you can’t read this or hear about this in a way that leaves you untouched.  Loved ones, this is your Saviour bearing your hell.  See his love for you and love and worship him.  Worship the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who takes away your sin.  You might wish for some kind of deeper application here, but there is none.  And besides, isn’t letting the Word of God direct your heart to awe of your Saviour a deep application?  Isn’t it enough to stand in amazement that Jesus loves you so much that he didn’t run away, but instead went to the cross, though he knew the cost?  It is enough. 

Now Jesus not only had to struggle with the will of God but also with the weakness of his all too human disciples.  They saw and heard what was happening in verses 35 and 36.  They got just enough to make sure that we know about it today in the Word of God, but then…then they promptly fell asleep.  It is the crucial moment in the history of salvation.  And the disciples have fallen asleep.  It would be like Moses and Aaron falling asleep on the eve of the Exodus from Egypt.  “What?  Yawn.  Something important going on?”   Time and again the disciples surprise us with their words and actions.  Men who are have been with Jesus for three years just don’t seem to get what he’s about and what’s going on.  Even after he tells them explicitly over and over again.  They make loud, eager claims about their loyalty, but when he commands them to stay and watch at this crucial moment, they disobey and nod off.

In verse 31, Peter had insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”  In verse 29, he had declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”  What is Peter doing now?  Sleeping with James and John.  When Jesus finds him, he asks, “Simon [not Peter, not “Rock”], are you sleeping?  Could you not keep watch for one hour?”  That means Jesus had been praying for about an hour.  The words spoken in verse 36 may have taken five minutes at the most.  Jesus prayed much more than what we have in verse 36; he prayed for about an hour.  And for most of that time, his disciples were snoozing.  Peter, the one who talks so big, he is the one who gets the brunt of Christ’s rebuke.  Peter is supposed to be a rock, but here he is weak and powerless.  Sleep overcomes him. 

And then we have those words of Jesus in verse 38, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”  These words are spoken to Peter, James, and John, not just to Peter.  There is a danger that the disciples will fall into temptation.  What is that temptation here?  We might have our own temptation to right away see these words as a sort of general saying that applies to all of life.  To be sure, these words are good to apply to all of life.  At all times, we should watch and pray so that we do not fall into temptation.  We may have good intentions at our best moments, but we also have weakness, sometimes because of the remnants of our sinful nature, sometimes because we are creatures.  Therefore, we need to watch and pray.  It’s good to do that. 

But let’s not be too quick.  Look first at the context here in Mark.  What was the temptation confronting the disciples at that moment in Gethsemane?  They were tempted to fall away from Jesus, to be disloyal to him, to disobey him, and to abandon him.  He wanted them to be alert, to be at his side, to hear his prayers and to see his agony for our salvation.  There may have been something in them that wanted to do that, but their bodily weakness overcame them.  They fell asleep.

These disciples were just human beings like we are.  Yes, this was the crucial moment in the history of salvation.  Yes, Jesus had commanded them to stay awake and watch.  And yes, they were only able to obey for a short time before sleep got to them.  But loved ones, don’t exalt yourself over Peter, James, and John.  Don’t think you’re better.  While we don’t walk in their shoes as apostles watching Jesus’ suffering in the garden, we are called as his disciples too.  We are called to observe him as he’s revealed in Scripture, believe in him, loyally follow him, and obey him.  Yet how often don’t we have acute cases of spiritual sleep apnea.  We nod off spiritually at the drop of a hat.  Our eyes get droopy and we lose sight of Jesus.  We’re no longer fixing our eyes on him in faith, we no longer have a message that captures our hearts, a message we want to spread.  The Word of God is here this morning to shake us awake again.  “Watch and pray so that you will not enter into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”  You and I are not stronger than Peter, James, and John.  We are people just like they are -- actually now, they are glorified and they don’t have to worry about falling asleep and losing sight of the Saviour.  But we are people like they were when they were here on earth.  We too do need to watch and pray.  The temptation to be distracted from following Jesus is always there for Christians.  We receive strength when we pray and ask for God’s help.  Through his help, our whole being increasingly comes into line with our Saviour’s will, and we grow as his disciples.  Our eyes are open to the revelation of Jesus in Scripture and we also hear his will and not only want to do it, but actually begin to do it.                    

As for Jesus and his disciples, the same thing happened two more times.  Christ went away and continued praying in the same way as before.  He continued in his prayerful agony.  As he returned to Peter, James, and John he finds them again napping.  Mark tells us a simple reason why:  their eyes were heavy.  They found it impossible to stay awake.  When he rebuked them a second time, they were left speechless.  What could they say?  Finally, those who have such big words a short time earlier are put in their place. 

Then it happens again, a third time, in verse 41.  Jesus is surprised that they still go on sleeping.  Here is their Lord and Master about to be tried, about to suffer and die on a cross, and they’re fast asleep.  He tells them that sleeping time is done.  The hour has arrived.  This is it, loved ones.  This is the beginning of the end for Jesus, this is what everything in the history of redemption has been leading up to.  One last time he calls himself the Son of Man.  He uses that expression that describes a royal Messianic figure in Daniel 7.  The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Judas has done his part, played his role.  And the Jewish leaders, the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Herodians, are all right alongside him.  Now things are about to happen quickly.  What we find in verses 41 and 42 are Jesus’ last words to his disciples before his death in the gospel of Mark.  This is what he leaves them with. 

And verse 42 is especially pregnant with meaning.  Jesus says, “Rise!  Let us go!  Here comes my betrayer!”  This is remarkable.  Ordinarily, we would expect a person to be reluctant.  We might expect someone to try and evade his betrayer and the arrest party.  But not our Saviour.  He gets up and actively moves towards his enemies.  Here again we see him willingly submitting to God’s plan for our salvation.  He doesn’t hesitate here.  No one has to push him.  He goes of his own accord.  Brothers and sisters, I want you always to remember this.  Always remember that your Saviour Jesus did not go to the cross half-heartedly.  He went readily.  Not only that, but keep in mind that beautiful doctrine of efficacious atonement (or particular/limited atonement, the doctrine found in chapter 2 of the Canons of Dort).  Keep in mind that Jesus did not suffer and die to make salvation possible for people in general.  He went to meet his betrayer with the intent to suffer and die on the cross for his sheep, for his believers, for the elect.  At that precise moment in Mark 14:42, when he said, “Rise!  Let us go!  Here comes my betrayer!” – he had your salvation in mind.  You, particularly and individually.  Do you need proof?  Jesus said in John 10:14, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”  He knows all his sheep, he knew them when he walked on this earth, even sheep that weren’t not even yet conceived and born – that would be you and me.  Then he says in John 10:15, “…I lay down my life for the sheep.”  He gets up and goes to meet his betrayer to do that, to lay down his life for you, for you particularly and individually, along with all the other sheep.  Now, brothers and sisters, I beg you to try and wrap your brain around that.  And then also your heart.  You have a Saviour who willingly made his way to hell (to God’s wrath on the cross) because he loved you at that moment.  Do you see it?  Aren’t you in awe?  What a Saviour we have! 

In this passage, we see him doing what no man ever has done, and what no man ever will do again, or even can do.  This is meant to bring us to worship him.  This is meant to impress upon us again the beautiful perfections of our Saviour, both of his person and his work.  We are to come away from this passage filled with more love and awe for Jesus.  Such love will be reflected in the way we conduct our lives through the coming week and throughout our whole existence.  You see, disciples of Jesus love their Lord, they’re in awe of him, and as a result, they want to follow him and his ways revealed in his Word.  AMEN.


Our Lord and Saviour,

Thank you for doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.  Thank you for willingly going to the cross for our redemption.  We praise you for submitting yourself to the will of our Father in heaven.  We praise you for your obedience and your love.  Thank you for having our names on your heart in Gethsemane, also as you went to meet your betrayer and the arrest party.  With your Spirit and Word, please make us more impressed with you.  Stir up our love for you and our devotion to you.  Please strengthen what is still weak in us and keep us from all temptation.  Give us grace to watch and pray.  Lord, please help us to be your faithful disciples.   

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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