It’s been a few weeks since we studied the gospel of Mark together. In fact it was at the beginning of October and when we celebrated the Lord’s Supper together. And do you remember how fitting it was? On the same Sunday when we participated in the Lord’s Supper, we read about the Last Supper and the time when the Lord was with his disciples in the Upper Room and he instituted the Lord’s Supper and commanded his people to eat the bread which signifies his body which was broken for sinners and to drink the cup which signifies his blood which he poured out for sinners. And so, whenever we take part in the Lord’s Supper, we remember how the Saviour died for sinners, laying down his life as the ransom to set us free from the condemnation we deserve. He died so that we might live and have everlasting life in the new heaven and the new earth. And so, we should all trust in him, because he’s the only Saviour of the world; and it’s by believing in him that we receive the assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of everlasting life.
Having finished the meal together in the Upper Room, we read in verse 32 that they — that’s the Lord and his disciples minus Judas who had gone off on his own to betray the Lord Jesus — went to a place called Gethsemane. This was a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives where olives were grown and pressed in order to make oil. John, in his gospel, tells us that the Lord often met his disciples at this place. But on this occasion, he didn’t come to meet his disciples, but to pray to his Father in heaven.
And when they arrived at the garden, the Lord told most of the disciples to sit and wait while he went off to pray. However, as he sometimes did, he selected Peter and James and John and took them with him further into the garden. These were the same three disciples who were chosen to accompany him when he went to see Jairus’s daughter. These were the same three disciples whom he chose to bring with him to the top of the mountain where he was transfigured. It’s not clear why he selected these three, but their presence with him on these occasions meant they were there to see and to witness all that he did and said. And so, since they were eye-witnesses to what happened, they were able to tell Mark what we read in verse 33 and how the Lord became deeply distressed and troubled. And they were able to tell Mark how the Lord spoke about being overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.
There’s an ancient heresy called Docetism, which is named after the Greek word for ‘it seems’. It says that the Son of God didn’t really become human; he only seemed to be human. In other words, his humanity wasn’t real; he only appeared to be one of us. And in that case — if he weren’t really human — then he couldn’t really experience human emotions; and so, he wasn’t really deeply distressed; and he wasn’t really troubled; and he wasn’t really overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. He didn’t really experience these emotions, because he didn’t really become human or experience what it’s like to be human. That’s what the Docetics believed. But, of course, that’s not right. The Son of God, when he came into the world, really did become one of us; he took to himself a human body and soul, so that though he remained fully divine, he also became fully human as well. And since he was fully human, then the emotional turmoil which he underwent in the garden was genuine. It was real; and he suffered just as we suffer.
The word Mark uses which is translated here as ‘deeply distressed’ can also mean shocked. When something unexpected happens, people are shocked by it, even frightened by it. On this occasion though, the thing which is so shocking, even frightening, to the Lord, has not yet taken place, but he knows it’s about to happen shortly. And, of course, he knows it’s about to happen, because hasn’t he been foretelling it? Hasn’t he been preparing his disciples for it and warning them how he will be arrested and killed? He knows what’s going to happen to him shortly; and the thought of what he will soon suffer is shocking and distressing to him. And not only is he deeply distressed by what will happen, he’s also troubled by it, which speaks too of the emotional turmoil he was in. And then, he refers to being overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death, which conveys the idea that this is a deadly kind of sorrow, a sorrow that could crush and kill him. In fact, Luke, in his gospel, tells us that when he was going through all of this, his sweat was like drops of blood, falling to the ground. Such was his inner turmoil, that he began to sweat so heavily that it seemed like beads of blood formed and fell from his head.
This is not an act; he’s not pretending to experience these emotions; this is real. Even before he was nailed to the cross, the Saviour suffered for his people here in the Garden of Gethsemane.
And so, we read how he left Peter and James and John and went off further into the garden by himself. And we read that he fell to the ground and began to pray. Well, it was normal for the Jews to stand when they prayed. Think of the Lord’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went to the temple to pray. And both of them stood to pray. And so, falling on his face to pray once again demonstrates the profound emotions and the inner turmoil which the Lord was experiencing at that time. It’s as if he collapsed before his Father in heaven.
And in his prayer, he prayed that — if possible — the hour might pass from him. Well, that’s a kind of summary of what he was praying for. Mark goes on to record his actual words and how he addressed himself to ‘Abba, Father’. So, he’s not praying to a stranger, but to his own dear Father in heaven.
‘Everything is possible for you’, he said. And that’s true, isn’t it? There’s nothing too hard for God; there’s nothing that he cannot do; there’s nothing which is impossible to the one who made all things and who sustains all things and who is all-powerful.
Everything is possible for you. So, take this cup from me.
That was his request to his heavenly Father. And the cup he’s referring to is the cup of God’s wrath, which we read about in Isaiah 51, where it’s described as the goblet that makes men stagger. This is the cup which every sinner deserves to drink, because all of us have broken God’s laws; and we have fallen short of doing his will; and we have become justly liable to all punishments in this world and the next. This is the cup we ought to drink; and yet, it was the Father’s will that his one and only Son, his Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, should bear our guilt and suffer God’s wrath in our place. But the thought and the expectation of what he was about to suffer was so troubling and distressing for the Lord Jesus, that here in the Garden the Lord Jesus asked for the cup to be taken from him. And yet, as soon as he made his request, he bowed to his Father and confessed:
Yet not what I will, but what you will.
The Father’s Answer
Mark doesn’t record for us the answer the Father gave to him. But we all know what the answer was, don’t we? We all know how the Father answered his Son’s request, because we all know what happened next and how the Lord was arrested and taken away to be tried by the Sanhedrin and by Pilate; and he was sentenced to death; and he was taken out of the city to be nailed to the cross. We therefore know what the Father’s answer was when his Son prayed to him and said all things are possible for you, therefore take this cup from me. The Father’s answer to his Beloved Son was ‘no’.
No, I will not take this cup from you. You must take this cup of wrath and drink all of it.
And he must take it and drink it, because there was no other way for us to be saved. If there were some other way, if it were possible to save sinners by some other means, then, of course, the Father would have taken the cup from him, because the Father loved his Son. The Lord Jesus was his Beloved Son. Didn’t the Father say when the Lord Jesus was baptised, ‘You are my Son, whom I love’? Didn’t the Father say when the Lord Jesus was transfigured, ‘This is my Son, whom I love’? He loved his Son. And so, if there were some other way, if it were possible to save sinners by some other means, the Father would have taken the cup of wrath away from his Son and spared him all this suffering. But since there was no other way than this, then the Father said to his Son:
No. I will not take the cup from you. You must take it and drink all of it.
The Father’s Love
It’s here we see something of the greatness of the Father’s love for sinners. He loved us so much that he did not spare his own Beloved Son, but he gave him up to death on the cross in order to save us from condemnation. So great is God’s love for sinners, that he did not spare his own Beloved Son, but he gave him up to save us. And so, we should give thanks to the Father for the greatness of his love, because despite our sin and shame, he loved us and gave up his precious Son for us.
The Son’s Obedience
But it’s here we something of the greatness of the Saviour’s obedience. We’ve seen how the Lord was deeply distressed and troubled by the thought and anticipation of what he was soon going to suffer. We’ve seen how he was overwhelmed by sorrow. We’ve seen how he asked his loving Heavenly Father to take the cup of wrath from him. And we’re seen how, since there was no other way, the Father refused his request. Well, whenever a parent says ‘no’ to a rebellious and disobedient child, the child might get angry or go into a sulk. In one way or another, he shows his displeasure. But the Lord Jesus, God’s Beloved Son, did not get angry; he did not go into a sulk; instead he bowed before his Heavenly Father and said:
Not what I will, but what you will.
He submitted to his Father’s will and remained obedient to his Father in heaven.
Now, in another Garden, the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve disobeyed their Father in heaven. When he commanded them not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they said ‘no’ to him; and they took the forbidden fruit. Instead of submitting to the will of their loving, heavenly Father, instead of saying, ‘Not what I will, but what you will’, they said, ‘Not what you will, but what I will.’ They said ‘no’ to God’s will and they took the forbidden fruit. And, of course, we’re just like them, aren’t we? Because again and again and again, we refuse to submit ourselves to the Father’s will; and we refuse to yield ourselves and our will to his will. We know his will, but we refuse to do it. We know what will please him, but we have said ‘no’. He has proven to be a faithful Father, a kind and generous God, but we have refused to submit to him and instead of living for him, we have lived to please ourselves. We’re just like Adam and Eve.
But in this Garden, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Son of God said ‘no’ to himself and he yielded himself to his Father’s will. And because he submitted himself to his Father’s will, he went to the cross and suffered and died there, taking the blame for our disobedience and suffering in our place the wrath of God. And whoever believes in him, receives from God forgiveness and the hope of everlasting life.
And so, we ought to give thanks to God for his Son’s obedience, because by obeying his Father and suffering and dying on the cross, he has paid for our sins. And we ought to trust in him, because whoever believes in the obedient Son who gave up his life as a ransom, is set free from the condemnation we deserve for our disobedience, and receives the free gift of eternal life. And so, will you believe in him? And will you go to the Father in heaven, confessing your own disobedience; and will you ask him to pardon you for the sake of Christ who gave up his life for sinners? Will you do that? The Father loved us and gave up his Son for us. The Son obeyed his Father and gave up his life for us. So now, will you trust in the Son and ask the Father to pardon you?
The Son’s Loneliness
In the following verses Mark highlights for us the loneliness of the Saviour. Though Peter, James and John were with him in the garden, they didn’t stand with him or support him in his trial and temptation. According to verse 27, when the Lord returned to them, he found them sleeping. According to verse 39, he went off to pray again; and when he returned to his disciples, he again found them sleeping. And according to verse 41, he went off a third time by himself to pray; and when he returned to his disciples, they were once again fast asleep.
Instead of supporting him, and instead of comforting him, in his time of need, they left him on his own. Later, in this next passage, when the soldiers came to arrest the Lord, all his disciples fled and left him on his own. Mark even tells us about a nameless young man who was following the Lord Jesus and who was seized by the soldiers. And when he was seized, this young man also ran off and left the Lord Jesus on his own.
This is one of the features which Mark highlights: though the Lord had his disciples with him throughout the time of his public ministry; and though crowds used to follow him wherever he went, yet when it came to the crucial hour, when he was arrested and nailed to the cross, he was entirely on his own.
In a few minutes we’ll sing:
There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin. He only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in.
There was no other good enough. He only could unlock the gate. There was no other who was able to save sinners. And so, when it was time to face the wrath of God on behalf of sinners, he was alone; and he did it on his own. So, he prayed, all by himself. He was arrested, all by himself. He stood before the Sanhedrin, all by himself. He stood before Pilate, all by himself. And on the cross, he bore the sins of many and suffered the wrath of God all by himself. And he was all by himself, because he alone could save us. Do you remember when Peter and John stood before the Sanhedrin in the book of Acts? The religious authorities wanted to know by what authority they healed the sick and preached to the people. And Peter declared before them all:
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.
There’s no one else. There’s no other name. He only is the Saviour of the world; and therefore we should all trust in him and in him alone. And so once again, I ask you: Will you trust in him? Will you trust in him, because he alone is the Saviour; and salvation is found in no one else than in him? And if you trust in him and in him alone, then you will have the assurance of sins forgiven and you will have peace with God forever and you will have the hope of everlasting life. If you don’t trust in him, then you won’t have any of those things, because salvation is found in no one else. But if you trust in him and ask God to pardon you, then God the Father will be pleased to give you all of those things for the sake of Christ who died for sinners.
Spirit and Flesh
But before we finish today, there’s one last thing to consider. And it’s the Lord’s words to his disciples in verse 38:
Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body [the flesh] is weak.
The word ‘watch’ also means ‘be alert’. Believers need to be watchful; we need to be alert. And we need to be watchful and alert, because every day we face three big enemies: There’s the unbelieving world all around us, which puts us under pressure to conform to its unbelieving ways. Then there’s the Devil who comes at us with his wicked schemes and who will do whatever he can to cause us to stumble and fall away from the narrow path that leads to everlasting life. And then there’s our own flesh. And the Lord reminds his disciples that the flesh is weak, because left to ourselves, we’re not strong enough to resist temptation; and we’re not strong enough to say ‘no’ to sin. We don’t have the strength to resist it.
But God gives us his Spirit, doesn’t he? When the Lord refers here to the willing spirit, he’s referring to the Holy Spirit. We know that because the phrase comes from Psalm 51 where the psalmist prayed to the Lord not to take the Holy Spirit from him, but to give him a willing spirit to sustain him. The Lord gives us his Spirit to make us willing and able to obey him and to help us to say ‘no’ to sin and to resist temptation.
And so, believers need to be watchful and alert, because temptations will come our way and we need to be on the alert, watching out for them. But what else? Well, the Lord tells us: he says to his disciples that we must watch and pray. We must pray to our Father in heaven to give us the help of the Holy Spirit to make us more and more willing and able to say ‘no’ to sin and temptation and to do his will here on earth. We need to pray for the help of the Holy Spirit, so that, like Christ, we will want to do God’s will more than we want to do our own will. We need to pray for the help of the Holy Spirit so that we will not conform to the ways of an unbelieving world. We need to pray for the help of the Holy Spirit so that we will stand firm against the Devil’s wicked schemes. We need to pray for the help of the Holy Spirit so that we will not give in to our weak, sinful flesh, but will live a life that is good and upright and holy and pleasing to the Lord.
And so, the Lord is calling us to be watchful and alert, because every day we’re engaged in a spiritual battle and every day we’re on duty and we must be ready to resist temptation whenever it comes at us. And the Lord is calling us to be prayerful, and to look to the Lord continually for his Spirit to help us to become more and more willing and able to obey him. And so, although our lives are busy and there is much that we have to do each day, wise believers will make sure that they make time for prayer, because every day we need to seek the help of the Lord in order to do his will here on earth.