The pages of scripture are scattered with the lives of individuals who experienced tremendous pain and suffering for following God. But no one suffered as greatly as Jesus Himself. Jesus didn't just tell us to carry a cross . . . He showed us how to do it.
MARK - THE GOSPEL OF ACTION
“WHEN GOD’S WILL HURTS”
The pages of scripture are scattered with the lives of individuals who have, by obeying God, experienced tremendous pain and suffering. I think of Hosea who was told by God to go choose a wife. And so, of course he, I imagine, had some from which he could have selected and yet, the Lord said, “I want you to choose a wife from among those on Ninth Street, who are prostitutes.” And so, he goes and chooses one, Gomer, to be his wife. And she, of course, is unfaithful and, finally, leaves him. And you would think that God would say, “Okay, you have now done what I wanted you to do. The pain is over with.” But He says, “No, I want you to go find her and buy her back to be your wife again.” I think of Noah. We always think of him riding on the crest of the waves in his ark. We sometimes forget that, for more than 120 years, he faced unbelievable torture and pain and scoffing from those around him. I think of Paul, who by obeying God, of course, would lose his life, perhaps in Rome as tradition says, where he was beheaded. But you know, ladies and gentlemen, when I come to this passage of scripture as we have been studying through the Gospel of Mark, I cannot find anywhere else in the word where someone has suffered so greatly, someone has experienced so much pain for doing the will of the Father than Jesus Christ Himself. When God’s will hurts, here, perhaps, is the clearest expose´ of something like that happening.
Look with me at verse 32 and let’s go through this passage of scripture and trust that God will challenge our hearts to live for Him. By way of context, let me tell you that the time is about midnight. They have just finished a full course meal as they’ve celebrated the Passover. And they’ve walked up the side of the Mount of Olives and they’re on the western slope and they’ve come to the place, Gethsemane, which means, literally, “oil press.” It was a place where the olive trees grew and they would take the olives and press them into that liquid gold known as olive oil. That was the place where He would go and pray. In fact, the gospels tell us that He went there on occasion. And it’s interesting that there is just another person, in the New Testament, who was nameless and yet, served the Lord by allowing Him to go to this retreat, this little oasis. You see, inside the walled city Jerusalem, there weren’t any gardens, it was so filled with people and crowded streets and homes. So you had to go outside the walls to find any gardens. And the wealthy people owned the gardens. And, evidently, a wealthy person owned the garden we refer to as Gethsemane. And it would be a retreat for the Lord, in His ministry, and his disciples, as they would go there oftentimes to pray. He goes back here for the last time to pray.
Verse 32, “And they came to a place named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, ‘Sit here until I have prayed.’” I want us to observe the Lord, now, as He takes with Him, in verse 33, Peter, James, and John. And I have to stop and ask the question, perhaps, why He chose these three. Evidently, He comes into the entrance of that garden and He deposits the disciples and says, “I want you to watch here,” or actually “watch guard, stand guard.” “I want to go in prayerfully and I want to spend some time in prayer and I don’t want to be interrupted. So, if I put you here at the gate, if anyone wants to find me, at least they’ve got to come through you first.” But then He chooses three disciples, Peter, James, and John. And He brings them with Him inside the garden, into the recesses where they will observe Him. Perhaps, there are several reasons why He took them with Him but let me give you two. First of all, I think, for companionship. Jesus Christ is facing, probably, the loneliest time in His life, when He will be betrayed, denied, and all of those things that will happen to Him. And, I wonder, if He takes His most intimate friends, those three who were usually with Him, like on the Mount of Transfiguration. It seemed that whenever He wanted some disciples to pay close attention, He chose these three. The raising of Jairus’ daughter, He chose those three as well. But, I don’t think it was just for companionship. Perhaps, and even a little more correctly, we could say, He took them with Him for instruction. You see, these three were the leaders among the band. And He knew that, if they would learn, if they were to pick up anything, if He wanted to teach something specifically, if He taught it to them, they could go back and relay it to the others. They were the leaders. And I think, that’s probably true, He took these three men with Him into the garden. He wanted them to observe Him. He wanted them to see His agony and His sorrow. Perhaps, to teach them the lesson of how to handle the will of God when it hurts. I don’t know. But He took these three with Him to teach by observation. Always the teacher, even here in His agony.
But, I want you to notice His depression. Look at the last part of verse 33, “and began to be very distressed and troubled. And He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved’” - you could translate that, “depressed,” - “to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.” Why was He depressed? Because He, being God and then, on the basis of that, being omniscient, knew exactly what was going to happen. And I’ve given you, in your notes, several things. He would be betrayed by Judas. One who had walked with Him for three and some odd years. And He would betray Him. I imagine that would be depressing to think that you’d poured your life into somebody and, for thirty pieces of silver, they’d cast your friendship aside. I think He was depressed because He knew that Peter would deny Him. Peter, the one whom He’d renamed, “Rock,” the one whom He had so much invested in, and yet, in the crises hour, Peter would turn away from Him. I think the rejection of Israel was probably one of the greatest things. He had come from heaven to be the king, to offer the kingdom program, and they had rejected Him as Messiah. The bearing of sin. You know, what we’re trying to do this morning, ladies and gentlemen, is explain something that is unexplainable. We cannot ever comprehend the agony that He felt. And we could never put in a test tube or put on a data sheet all of the agony that He must have felt and knew was coming by being made sin, of taking on Him the sins of the WHOLE world. We can’t imagine. Perhaps, the abandonment by God the Father added undoubtedly to His agony. They had been inseparable, of course. The prospect of death, being human, He was afraid. There isn’t any doubt, in my mind, that Jesus Christ was filled with terror, knowing what the cross meant. As one man wrote, “Jesus Christ, in the garden, lifted the cup of our agony and our sorrow and drank damnation dry.”
Well, notice further with me, in the text, as He is alone in prayer. Look at verse 35, “And He went a little beyond them,” - that is, the three - “and fell to the ground, and began to pray”. Now, this is interesting because the tense means that Jesus continually fell and continually prayed. It’s as if Jesus, back there in the dark inner recesses of that garden, observed perhaps by Peter and those before they fell asleep, He’d get up and He’d be in such agony that He’d walk around and He’d stumble and fall and pray and He’d pick Himself back up off the ground and He’d stumble again and pray as He wept in that garden. Man, it must have been an awesome sight. To see Him in such agony and sorrow.
I want you to turn to Luke, chapter 22, that adds a little bit to this text. Luke, chapter 22, look at verse 44, that reveals to us something of the agony that He must have felt. Medically this is called, hematidrosis. It’s just impressive that I got that out because I am not a doctor and have no idea how to say these medical terms. But that is evidently, from what I have read, where the capillaries burst underneath the skin and the clotting of blood can be mixed with the sweat and you can literally sweat blood, as it were. Notice what happens, “And being in agony” - verse 44 - “He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.” Now, I have no doubt, in my mind, that Jesus could have died. And from reading commentators, they are rather convinced as well that, He was in such agony, and, evidently, when this kind of thing happens to your body that means that you are in the throws of anguish, He, perhaps, could have died of a broken heart right then and there. One of the gospel writers says that, at this point, an angel comes and ministers to Him. It’s almost like it would be premature if He dies here and so an angel comes and refreshes Him temporarily. But this clues us in, friends, on the agony that He experienced. Where the capillaries, literally, burst in His agony.
I want you to notice, though, His prayers, back in Mark. Turn back to Mark, chapter 14. Mark, chapter 14. It says, in verse 35, “And He went a little beyond them, and fell” - or continually fell - “ to the ground,” - as He would pick Himself up and then fall again - “and began to pray” - the word is “proseuchomai,” which is a different kind of word used for the typical word “prayer.” “Proseuchomai,” has the idea of, not begging someone for something but, the idea of pouring out your heart in prayer. Pouring out your heart, you’re laying yourself bare, you’re unloading on the Father, as He did here. And I want to notice, with you, three elements of His prayers that will help you and help me, as we struggle with the will of God.
Verse 36, “And He was saying, ‘Abba! Father!” I want you to notice, first of all, His strength from God’s love. His strength from God’s love. Isn’t it interesting, that even though He was in such agony, that God was still His Father and He continued to think of God the Father as His Father. You know, ladies and gentlemen, I think when you, if you’re like me, you face a difficulty or a trial, the first thing you’re tempted to do is say, “Ha! You don’t even care! Some Father you are! Some God!” Well, here is Jesus Christ, in this kind of agony, and there is still the intimate relationship evidenced by Christ. As He says, “Abba!” - which is an intimate term, could be translated “Daddy.” “Abba! Father!” Christ had such strength in His relationship with God the Father.
But, I want you to notice His struggle with God’s plan. Look at verse 36b, the next phrase, “All things are possible for Thee; remove this cup from Me”. Now, this is where it really gets interesting. In fact, if you have a hundred commentaries, you could have a hundred different viewpoints on what this cup was. If you read three men, you could get three good views, and if you read one and you think, “Yea, that makes a lot of sense to me,” and then you read so and so and, “Yea, that makes a lot of sense to me.” You come up, I think, with a lot of varying views of what this cup meant. As I studied, I think, it probably would be correct to think that a lot of those views are correct and this is probably a combination of agony. The cup could, perhaps, have referred to His death, His rejection, the fact that He was made sin. But, I think, we cannot go too far away but yet, we have to come back and recognize that the cup was death and separation. You know, it’s unbelievable to think that we are viewing here, Jesus Christ, who was without sin, and yet, He comes to a point in His life where it would seem that He faltered, although He didn’t. It’s as if He asked God the Father, “Father, I know that this is going to mean death and, if possible, let’s do this another way.” You see, you and I get the idea, I think, that in the Garden of Gethsemane the Lord has a script in His hand, “Okay, it’s time to pray because the scriptures are going to say, ‘Pray.’ Oh, I’ve got to fall down, so I fall down.” As if He goes through the motions of this redemption. No. This was real. This was agony. This was the contemplation of death. And Jesus said, “This cup is almost too much to bear.”
But then, I want you to notice His surrender to the Father’s will. Last part of verse 36, “yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt.” I read, not long ago, of a missionary family, stationed in Ecuador. Their home was at the base of a mountain. In 1971, a freak accident occurred where a hundred yards of that mountain wide, just collapsed. And it looked to the people, who watched, that this mountain collapse was designed to smother and kill that missionary family because the mountain ranges extended miles either way. And the telegraph, of course, came to the States that Walt and Bonnie Steincross(?), the missionary family was killed. I read, by a very popular writer, perhaps the same story that you have read, of the woman who’s son was headed to the mission field, had just finished his training. And, in the airport, he found a scrap of paper and he jotted a note to his mother. On the other side of the paper were the letters that read “why,” “w,” “h,” “y.” The plane that he was flying in crashed and he was killed. And you think of all of the potential of a man who just prepared for the mission field and his plane crashes. The mother received the note and the word on the other side is the word that, I think, you and I ask the most often, the word, “why.” Why? You know, in your life and in my life, when we struggle and grapple with something that, perhaps, we are convinced God wants us to do, I think the key is not asking, “Why?” but recognizing, “Who?” And that’s what Christ did, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for Thee; remove this cup from Me;” - and then He resigns - “yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt.” Victory.
Now, in the process of all this, we’ve got this sub-plot over here, these sleepy disciples. Let’s take a look and learn something from them. I want you to notice, first of all, their indifference. Look at verse 37, after He spent an hour in prayer, “He came and found them sleeping,” - all these three disciples - “and said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?’” There is evidently an indifference in the lives of these disciples because here they are not, I don’t think, understanding the real issues of what’s going on. Perhaps, for just a moment, evidently the eye-witness account, Peter given to Mark, he had watched the Lord stumble and fall and pray and cry and agonize, and he goes to sleep. I don’t know what you’re like but, whenever you’re faced with a difficulty, perhaps somebody at work is getting under your skin or some difficult decision to make, it keeps you up at night. I don’t know how in the world these men slept. But they did and, I think, it revealed some indifference.
Secondly, I want you to notice their confidence. Look at verse 38, here’s what Jesus told them, “Keep watching and praying, that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And, I think, they were very confident. In fact, Peter probably woke up from his sleep, and the other disciples there, and they probably scratched their heads and thought, “Well, Lord, didn’t you hear us a little while ago? We’ll never leave You. Hey, we already told You that we’re sticking to You to the very end. Now, we can go to sleep. We’re confident.” And Jesus Christ, you notice, never asked them to pray for Him but He says, “Keep watching and praying, the YOU may not come into temptation;” - “for although you are confident in your spirit, ‘Man, we’re going to the cross,’ yet, your” - “flesh is weak.” You know, what’s interesting, in this Gethsemane scene, is Jesus is humble and that leads Him to pray. The disciples are confident and that leads them to sleep.
And then, I want you to notice, almost inevitably, you can figure out that there would be cowardice. Look at verse 50, let’s skip ahead, “And they all left Him and fled.” “They all left Him and fled.”
Well, you and I are disciples, if we know Christ personally. What does Christ teach us, from this garden, on how to handle the will of the Father, even when it hurts. Let me give you, to jot into your notes, four things that I gleaned from this text. First of all, number one, closeness to God does not erase the potential of pain. There was no one closer to God the Father than Jesus Christ. And don’t ever be tempted, when trial comes your way, to think, “Well, I must be sinning or I must be doing something wrong.” Because you can be intimate with the Father, you can be right on track, and His will may involve tragedy, pain, or difficulty. Closeness to God the Father does not, all of the sudden, erase the board, no potential for pain. It may come.
Number two, when in pain, friendships are to be utilized, not ignored. You know, I think the Lord gives us a very practical point when He takes these three disciples into the garden with Him. He didn’t really need them, I don’t think, and yet, gives us a precedent. And I know what it’s like. When you face a difficult time, you, kind of, want to build a wall up or shut the door and stay inside and you don’t want anybody to bother you, you want to go through this all alone. And we, kind of, cry in our soup. Well, it’s at times like that that intimate friendships can be utilized, can play a part. And I think that’s important.
Number three, our resources in pain are the word and prayer. I don’t think we can make too much of this but it’s interesting that Jesus Christ prayed three times in the garden on three different occasions. He was tempted by Satan on three other occasions. Each time He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, He responded with the word. Here in the garden, and I think there was a battle going on between the forces of evil and the forces of righteousness, every time, I believe, Jesus Christ responded this time in battling the feelings of rebelling against the will of the Father, as we would, He responded in prayer.
Finally, number four, we pray, not to change God but, to change ourselves. The prayers of Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane were not determined, necessarily, to change the Father but align Himself with the will of the Father. You know, so many times you and I take prayer and we figure that that’s the engine to talk God into doing something that we want Him to do. And we figure, if we pray consistently enough, that somehow we can change His sovereign mind. Oh no. Prayer is going to God to allow Him to change us, to allow Him to do a work in OUR hearts, that as we struggle with pain, with trial, with difficulty, He can do a work in our hearts and change us.
I don’t know where you are today, my friend, but I suspect that there may be a few here who are in the Garden of Gethsemane. Perhaps there are some unanswered questions, perhaps some difficulty, trial, pain. You know, it’s an interesting thought that I think we could summarize, by the study of this text, that following the plan of God, whatever that may be and it’s never written in bold print, we merely resign ourselves everyday to whatever He wants us to do. I can remember one man telling me one time that the Christian life is not a lot of decisions, it’s one: that you’re just going to live for Christ. That knowing God personally, and knowing Him intimately, does not erase the potential, in fact, you may be experiencing it now, of pain and difficulty. And yet, God has designed it to transform your character and mine, that we might be, for Him, what we ought to be.