Over the past several weeks, we have been walking through the last 24 hours of Jesus' life. The first week, we guessed that about 24 hours before Jesus died, he may have been at the home of Lazarus and been anointed by Mary with oil. Last week, we suggested that about 20 hours before he died, he gathered his disciples together and shared the Last Supper with them around the Passover Meal. This morning, we are going to move a few hours closer to Jesus death as we look together at the story of Jesus in Gethsemane. This may have taken place about 16-18 hours before Jesus died. Mark 14:32-52 reads as follows:
32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." 33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," he said to them. "Stay here and keep watch."
35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 "Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."
37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Simon," he said to Peter, "are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
39 Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. 40 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.
41 Returning the third time, he said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!"
43 Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.
44 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: "The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard." 45 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Rabbi!" and kissed him. 46 The men seized Jesus and arrested him. 47 Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
48 "Am I leading a rebellion," said Jesus, "that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled." 50 Then everyone deserted him and fled.
51 A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, 52 he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.
Now that Melanie and I are parents, we have had a lot of adjusting to do. One of the biggest adjustments has been functioning on a lack of sleep. Caleb is a pretty good baby and does sleep fairly well at night, but he is still a baby and requires Melanie and I to get up at night.
Melanie and I have a pretty good routine. When Caleb cries, I get up and change his diaper. I then hand him over to Melanie so she can feed him and then I go back to bed. Every now and then, Melanie will just be plain exhausted and ask me to stay up and keep her awake. On those occasions, I will do my best to stay awake, but often I will wake up just as Melanie finishes feeding him.
In our Scripture lesson this morning, we find that the disciples are having a similar problem of staying awake. After Jesus had finished his meal with the disciples, they go to a place called Gethsemane, which literally means "oil press." This was probably an olive grove. John's gospel tells us that this was a place Jesus and the disciples went frequently.
Jesus then tells his disciples that to stay where they are while he goes off to pray. Mark tells us that he takes with him Peter, James, and John. Mark tells us that Jesus becomes "distressed," and "agitated." He then tells the disciples that he is "deeply grieved." Jesus then walks just a bit further, but tells the three disciples to stay awake.
When Jesus comes back, you can image what he finds. The disciples are sound asleep. He wakes them up, tells them to pray and we he comes back the second time, they are sound asleep. Again, Jesus prays a third time and returns to find the disciples asleep again. Both Mark and Matthew tell us that the disciples were asleep because their "eyes were heavy." Luke tells us that it was more than just being tired, but rather they were so overwhelmed with grief. Luke also tells us that Jesus was so overwhelmed with the situation that he was actually sweating blood.
The Perfect Prayer Life
What I find fascinating about this text is the comparison between the prayers of Jesus and the actions of the disciples and how this plays out throughout this text. First, notice the disciples. They have just had a meal with Jesus where he tells them straight out that he is going to die. He has been telling them this for some time now. I am not sure if they have really gotten it yet, but they could have been grieved by this situation. At the least, they were tired. Jesus tells Peter that he needs to pray so that he doesn't fall into temptation. What does Peter do? He sleeps.
Jesus on the other hand is grieved, even to the point of death. He then goes to God in prayer. Notice the substance of this prayer. "Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." This prayer is reminiscent of the prayer he taught his disciples. Notice he begins by called God "Abba" which is a very personal address for God. He then notes that God is all-powerful. He asks God to take away the cup, but as in the Lord 's Prayer, we states that he wants God's will to be done. Jesus prays this pray three times, which is normal for a 1st century Jewish person who is in crises.
Notice when Jesus finishes the third prayer, Judas comes with a crowd to arrest Jesus. Remember Peter's prayer life. When the crowd comes to arrest Jesus, one of the twelve, which John names as Peter, pulls out his sword and cut's off the ear of the high priest's servant. Notice also Jesus' reaction. He stays calm. He allows them to arrest him and take him away. Luke's gospel says that Jesus even healed the servant's ear.
What should we conclude about this contrast? Jesus prayed that the cup might be taken from him, but when the time came, he was arrested. I am sure Jesus would not have wanted to be arrested and it appeared that the cup he wanted to be passed from him was happening.
While Jesus did not get what he asked for, through this time of prayer is seems that God have him the strength he needed to endure. The disciples without having spent any prayer time completely flipped out. Mark tells us that they all ran away. Jesus on the other hand seemed to have a strength that was given to him from God. Luke actually tells us that God sent an angel to comfort him.
I am convinced that there is a profound truth to this story regarding prayer. Jesus knew the next 18 hours would be difficult and, like any of us, wanted that not to happen. He also knew that this was what God had called him to do. So, God did not pass the cup from him, but gave him the strength to endure.
Oftentimes when we pray for certain outcomes to come true, but the reality is that sometimes the outcomes are not what we want. Even when this is the case, I believe that through our prayers, God will give us the strength to endure.
Staying in the Garden
This story as NT Wright puts it, "[I]s part of normal Christian experience that we, too should be prepared to agonize in prayer as we await out complete redemption and that of all creation."(NT Wright, Luke for Everyone 200) In other words, I still believe that God calls us to pray in agony over things that hurt and destroy lives. I also believe that there are times when God calls us to stand in prayer for others when they are suffering. Oftentimes we want to flee when things are tough, but I believe God is called his people to stand in prayer with the strength of God so that redemption can happen.