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Posted by Angella Diehl, Webmaster on May 21, 2017 under 2017 |

Preached Sunday, May 21, 2017 from Mark 14:32-42

Theme: The experience in the garden teaches us about keeping alert and watchful in our Lord’s call upon our lives.

(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

We return this morning to our study of the Gospel of Mark—and to our Lord’s last few hours before going to the cross. And particularly, we come to what is undoubtedly one of the most sacred events in Scripture. It’s the story of our Lord’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane—just before His betrayal into the hands of wicked men.

Clearly, our Lord’s presentation of Himself to the Father as the atoning sacrifice for our sins is the main point of this passage. But there is another part of that story—a secondary theme—that I don’t believe we consider often enough. And I hope that, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we will give special attention to that other part of the story and learn the lessons it has to teach us.

That secondary theme has to do with the spiritual state of being that some of the apostles were in as our Lord prayed in the garden. But to get to that secondary theme in a proper way, I would like first to simply walk through the passage as a whole, and make a few observations along the way.

May God help us, and may He bless us, as we tread this very holy ground together.

* * * * * * * * * *

Our passage this morning is found in the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark. And it comes right after an important transition point in the story.

The Lord Jesus had just had His final meal with His disciples. And after they had risen from dinner, they made the short journey together from the upper room in the city of Jerusalem, across the Kidron Valley, and over to the Mount of Olives. Verses 27-31 tell us about their conversation along the way:

Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:

‘I will strike the Shepherd,

And the sheep will be scattered.’

But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be.” Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” But he spoke more vehemently, “If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And they all said likewise (Mark 14:27-31).

This conversation along the way—and particularly Peter’s bold assertion of faithfulness to the Lord—is, I believe, important to keep in mind as we come to what happened next in this morning’s passage. Mark tells us, beginning with verses 32;

Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane … (v. 32a).

This was a place, by the way, that Jesus and His disciples visited together frequently. It was a place to which Judas the Betrayer knew that the Lord would go. If Jesus had wanted to hide from the things that were about to happen, He would not have gone there. But if He was willing to be betrayed into the hands of men, it would have been the very place for Him to go. And that is exactly where He went.

And do you know what the name “Gethsemane” means? It means “Olive Press”. Even today, that traditional site is filled with olive trees that are several centuries old; and the trees are regularly harvested of their olives. No doubt, the place got its name in ancient times from the fact that olives were pressed there for their oil. And I think that the name of the place gives us a fit picture of what our Lord was going to go through in that garden. It would be there that the soul of the Son of God would truly be pressed in agony before His Father.

So, Jesus and His disciples arrived in that night-time journey to this garden called Gethsemane—to “Olive Press”;

and He said to His disciples, “Sit here while I pray” (v. 32b).

That would have been our Lord’s command to the twelve disciples as a whole—Judas, of course, being absent from them. But before He went away to pray, first—from out of the twelve—He drew out Peter, James and John for a special assignment. Among the twelve, this trio constituted His close “inner circle”; and He had drawn them apart from the others for Himself on previous occasions. You might remember, for example, that He took only these three into the house with Him, early in His ministry, when He raised the daughter of Jirus—the synagogue ruler—from the dead. These three were also taken up the mountain alone with Him when He was transfigured before them. They were personal witnesses first to His power, and then to His glory. And now, they would be witnesses of His suffering.

And once they were drawn away from the others, these three close disciples began to witness something in our Lord’s manner that they had never seen in Him before. In verses 33-34, Mark tells us;

And He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch” (vv. 33-34).

May I just emphasize to you what an astonishing thing this is? Jesus is the Son of God. He is very God in human flesh. And yet, here we see Him beginning to be distressed and sorely troubled with anguish. He told them that He was “exceedingly sorrowful” in His soul—even sorrow to the point that, if He were to continue in that state for much longer, He would physically die. This kind of feeling is, of course, not entirely uncommon to humankind. Most of us have felt deep anguish more than once in our lives. And it may even be that some of us have felt ‘exceeding sorrow’ almost to the point of death. But dear brothers and sisters; for us to be told that the Son of God to feel this is utterly astonishing!

Why was He in such anguish? Our Lord, of course, knew what was about to happen to Him. He knew that He was about to be handed over to evil men and be crucified. But I don’t believe that it was the prospect of death itself that caused Him such anguish. It would be natural, in a human sense, to shrink away from the physical agony of the cross; but there have been many people in history that have faced horrible death with courage and fearlessness. Why then would Jesus—the very Son of Man; the greatest of all men—be in such agony? I believe that it was because He was about to endure something in His human flesh that no other human being could ever endure. On that cross—on that instrument of horrible death—He would be bearing the guilt of your sin and mine and of the whole of humanity upon His own person. For the first and only time in all of eternity, the sinless Son of God would become ‘sin’ on our behalf in the sight of His holy heavenly Father; and because He would be bearing our sin as He died in our place, the Father—who cannot look upon sin—would have to turn from away from Him. In the otherwise-eternal unity of the Godhead, there would be a brief—but unspeakably deep—separation between the Father and the Son; so much of a separation, in fact, that on the cross Jesus would cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” I believe it was the prospect of that separation that caused the Lord Jesus to be exceedingly sorrowful before these three disciples, and to become so distressed and troubled in anguish in their sight.

And may I just add this thought for your consideration? If Jesus, in His humanity, trembled so emotionally at the prospect of being separated from the Father because of our sin for even such a short while, then what must it be like to be separated from the Father for an eternity because of sin? How thankful we should be that Jesus bore our sin on our behalf! How grateful we should be that He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” for a brief time, so that you and I would not have to be crying out those words for an eternity! How important it is that you and I make absolutely sure we trust His sacrifice for us now—rather than bear the guilt of our sin ourselves before a Holy God forever!

* * * * * * * * * *

Our Lord was troubled, then, before these three close disciples because of the prospect of being separated from the Father because of our sin on the cross. And after He told them to stay nearby and watch, we’re told in verse 35:

He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him” (v. 35.)

In what manner was it that He prayed this? Hebrews 5:7 tells us that, “in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications”, He did so “with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death”. Can we dare to imagine such a scene? Can we dare to allow ourselves to picture those vehement cries of anguish and bitter tears as He prayed the words we find in verse 36?

And He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me …” (v. 36a).

A “cup”, in this case, is a figure of speech for a divinely appointed experience—something that the one to whom it is given absolutely must take in hand, drink all the way down, and experience to the full. For our Lord, that “cup” was the cross—and along with it, the bearing of our sin—and along with the bearing of our sin, the terrible experience of suffering a separation from His holy heavenly Father on our behalf.

But look at how much He loved the Father—and how much He loved us. In spite of His anguish and His earnest desire not to have to drink this dreadful cup, He told the Father;

… nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will” (v. 36b).

Those words have been an example in prayer for many of His followers throughout the centuries, haven’t they? Perhaps you have prayed them many times yourself. And most of all, the submission to God represented in those words has provided us with the means of our salvation. Apparently, there was no other way for us to be saved than by the Son of God dying on the cross; for if there was another way, surely the Father would have provided it. And so; our Lord willingly went to the cross for us. It was here, in the garden, that He willingly presented Himself to the Father as our atoning sacrifice—and all in obedience to the Father’s will.

How great is His love for you and me!

* * * * * * * * * *

But our Lord’s loving obedience to the Father is what sets into stark contrast the thing that happened next. After praying in this way—and having prayed only a short distance away, where these three disciples could have listened and watched in wonder—we’re told;

Then He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (vv. 37-38).

Jesus’ action in the garden on that night constitutes the most pivotal moment in human history. If He had turned that ‘cup’ away and refused to drink, all of humanity would have forever been lost, and would have forever borne the curse of Adam’s sin. But because Jesus took that cup and had set His heart to drink it in obedience, we are saved. And yet, the three closest of His disciples did not keep watch over this significant moment as He commanded. They did not pray for Him in His agony. Instead, they slept through it all. Our Lord specifically rebuked Peter for this—the one who had, just shortly before, boasted of how he would never stumble from his Master.

And this didn’t just happen once, either. In verse 40, Mark tells us of how our Lord reaffirmed the presentation of Himself to the Father as our atoning sacrifice;

Again He went away and prayed, and spoke the same words. And when He returned, He found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him (vv. 39-40).

I say this in all reverence: Would you have blamed the Lord if He decided such sluggish followers were not worth the cost? But in love, He would still obey the will of the Father. He went once again to the Father, and once again committed Himself to be our atoning sacrifice. And once again, He came and found His three disciples sleeping.

Then He came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough! The hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand” (vv. 41-42).

As He spoke those words—”immediately”, as Mark tells us in the next verse—Judas came, along with a multitude bearing clubs and swords. Perhaps they struggled to their feet and rubbed their eyes open just in time to see how Judas betrayed our Savior with a kiss. And thus, the events were set into motion that led to the cross where Jesus bore our sins, and died in our place, and saved our souls.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; as I said at the beginning, our Lord’s gracious act in the garden—His act of presenting Himself willingly to the Father as our atoning sacrifice—is the main point of this story. It deserves to be set before us as the primary focus of our attention. But I am feeling led this morning to draw special attention to what we find, intermingled in this story, of the spiritual condition of Peter, James and John.

The Lord Jesus gave them a command. He told them to “watch”. The word that was used in the original language happens to be a favorite Greek word of mine; because it’s the same word as my own name. It’s the word grēgoréō; and it means “to keep awake” or “to be alert” or “to watch”. (Believe it or not, that’s my name!) And I believe that, in this case, Jesus was giving His disciples the command to keep alert and awake to the great thing that He was doing; and to do so with continual attentiveness—the kind of attentiveness that is expressed in prayer.

If I may say so, that’s a great need for you and me, dear brothers and sisters. If what Jesus did on that night long ago is truly all that we are led to understand that it was, then it is the pivotal event in human redemption. The Son of God has given Himself over to the cross in order to bear the curse of sin on our behalf, and to set us free to stand before His Father as righteous in His sight. We are to live attentively in this world—constantly energized by the fact of that great sacrifice; and to be awake always to all that the Father has now given us with a continual attitude of prayer. We are to be watchful and alive to it all, and to bring the truth of it to bear in all that we experience and do, and to pray with an eye to the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ advancing in this world to others. What’s more, we are to be alert and on our guard against the enemy of our souls who seeks to deflect us from our call—an enemy who roams this world like a roaring lion; and because of whom we are commanded in the Bible to be “sober” and “vigilant”. We are to keep from falling under the pressures and sways of this world’s values and priorities, and to keep ourselves sharp and to the task.

And yet, in spite of the great things the Lord has done for us, how often does He come along and find us spiritually dull, and indifferent, and dozing, and lazy to His cause—distracted by the things of this world—content to snooze away in the light of such great spiritual realities?

Let’s go back briefly, then, and consider this ‘secondary’ aspect of this story. Let’s see what we can learn from it. First, notice what we learn from our Lord’s words in verses 32-34 about …


You find this in the fact, first, that He commissioned the twelve to sit nearby while He went away. But more, you find it further in how He called Peter, James and John especially away from the others, drew them apart to Himself, took them along with Him to the place of His devotion to the Father, and allowed them to be eyewitnesses of His anguish and to hear His prayer.

Think of what a great privilege this was that He gave these three disciples! What an honor it would have been that He drew them so close, and showed them so much of His heart, and appealed to them to watch with Him and pray for Him as He yielded Himself to the Father! It reminds me of another occasion He had with them early on in His teaching ministry. He would speak to the crowds in parables; but when He was alone with His disciples, He would explain everything to them in greater detail; saying,

But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it (Matthew 13:16-17).

Dear brothers and sisters; it is a great honor to be given by the Holy Spirit a clear understanding of the message of the gospel and to be given faith to believe on Jesus, and to be given the grace to draw close to Him, and to be loved by Him, and to be called into His service. It is an unspeakably great privilege to be one of His elect—chosen by the Father for salvation and service.

But do you respond rightly to that great privilege? Do you receive that privilege with the kind of alertness and awakeness and aliveness that it deserves? How terrible to have been given such a privilege, and to then be found asleep at the watch!

* * * * * * * * * *

How could such a thing happen? How could these three apostles—the ‘three big ones’, if I may put it that way—have fallen asleep at this most pivotal moment in God’s plan of human redemption? That leads us to next consider …



You find it in verses 37-38. When Jesus came back to them that first time, He asked them—specifically Peter—“Could you not watch one hour?” And then, as if to highlight why it was that they couldn’t, He told them, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Those words may seem harsh at first glance; but I believe that they are really an expression of great compassion and understanding from our Lord. He remembers that we have a spirit that is alert to the call of God; but that we also have a body that is subject to frailties and limitations. We know the right thing to do; but so often, our flesh is weak and hinders our obedience and our alertness to God’s call. It makes me think of the kind of struggle that the apostle Paul spoke of in Romans 7—a struggle that even the most devoted believers among us can identify with:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin (Romans 7:14-25).

What then do we do about the weakness of our flesh—this weakness that so often causes us to fail our Lord? I note that the disciples didn’t sleep so long as Jesus was with them. They only slept when He was apart from them. So; I believe that the solution to the weakness of our flesh is to always draw as close as we can in fellowship to Jesus through a dependency on the ministry of the Holy Spirit that He has placed in us. As Paul went on to put it in Romans 8:1-4;

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:1-4).

We really can’t do anything apart from Him—not even stay awake and alert in His call to “watch and pray”.

* * * * * * * * * *

And it’s so very important that we do stay awake and spiritually alert; because of …


I see this in the fact that they not only missed praying for our Lord in His time of anguish, and upholding Him as He yielded Himself as our atoning sacrifice; but they also were caught by surprise at the moment when they most needed to be alert and on their guard.

When Jesus came by that third and final time, He found them asleep and said, “Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough! The hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand” (vv. 41-42). And suddenly, they found themselves unprepared. They were caught by surprise. Peter arose and rashly struck a man with a sword; only then to join all the others in scattering away from our Lord and abandoning Him.

In everyday living, we need to constantly keep on the alert in the light of the great work of redemption our Lord has done for us. And more; we need to live everyday in obedience to His great command to all His followers—for all of the centuries that followed after—to be on the alert for His return. Look at what He told His disciples in Mark 13:32-37—words that are surely meant for you and me today:

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” (Mark 13:32-37).

* * * * * * * * * *

In the light of all that Jesus had done for us, then, being a bunch of ‘spiritual sleepers’ is utterly inappropriate. As Paul put it in 1 Thessalonians 5:5-11;

You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:5-11).

Dear brothers and sisters; let’s wake up, watch and pray!

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