1 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming - not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshippers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, 4 because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; 6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. 7 Then I said, ‘Here I am - it is written about me in the scroll - I have come to do your will, O God.’”
8 First He said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made). 9 Then He said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
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 body 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 betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
Whenever we think of the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus, we almost always picture the physical torture He suffered while being flogged, and of course we also think of the agony of His crucifixion. Physical pain is something we all experience, and while we certainly hope and pray that by the grace of God flogging and crucifixion is something we will avoid, in a sense the physical suffering of Jesus is probably the easiest part of what happened for us to identify with, for the simple reason that we understand physical pain. In an attempt to get us to try and understand something of what Jesus went through for us, many sermons have been preached on the actual process of death by flogging and crucifixion.
You cannot sit through Mel Gibson’s movie ‘The Passion of the Christ’ without feeling sick to the stomach, as this extremely graphic film holds nothing back in portraying the horrors of such a violent death.
But when we look closely at the Biblical accounts of what happened, we soon realise that to limit the scope of Jesus’ agony to just His physical suffering and death is to grossly misunderstand the infinite suffering, grief and agony that He endured many hours before He even reached Golgotha. I don’t know whether it was by accident or design, but those of you who’ve watched Mel Gibson’s movie will remember that the opening scene is in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Jesus’ heart must have been broken when Judas Iscariot disappeared into the night while the rest of the disciples stared in disbelief in the Upper Room, and while God’s plan of salvation is eternal, and has no beginning, the real suffering and passion of the Christ began as the Last Supper drew to a close. You may remember that our Scripture reading last week ended with Mark 14:26. “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” This is where we continue the story today.
Those of you who have been to Israel will know that the Garden of Gethsemane still exists, and it is at the foot of the Mount of Olives.
It was a place Jesus visited often, but tonight was going to be very different. As they entered the garden, Jesus left 8 of the 11 remaining disciples at the entrance, and took Peter, James and John with Him. These 3 weren’t to know it at the time, but they were to become leading figures in the early days of the Christian Church. Witnessing the anguish of Jesus and praying with Him that night was part of their training. It was the same 3 disciples that Jesus took with Him when He was transfigured on the mountain in Mark 9.
Verse 33 says He “began to be very distressed and troubled.” What caused this?
Before we even begin to try and understand the emotions and stress Jesus experienced that night and the next day, we need to (as far as is possible) remember that He was both fully God, and fully man. The Bible teaches us that at no point did Jesus stop being God during His earthly life. For example, He performed supernatural miracles and He knew what people were thinking. It’s confusing I know, because it is beyond our understanding, but Jesus had the power to bring everything to a stop. He could have destroyed Pilate, the entire Roman army, the Pharisees, the angry mob, and anyone else who stood opposed to Him with the click of a finger, but He chose not to, because He knew how vital the cross was in His eternal salvation plan. In a sense, for a time He willingly suspended His power as God.
Philippians 2:6-8 in the NLT puts it like this: “Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When He appeared in human form, He humbled Himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”
So, to return to our earlier question – why was Jesus so distressed and troubled? Because, in His divinity, He knew exactly what was to come, and in His humanity, He knew He would have to endure it.
He had a clear and full understanding of what lay ahead. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” These words are often understood to mean that because of the extreme physical pain Jesus was about to endure, He was so stressed that His life was in danger at the very thought of it. There are cases of prisoners on death row dying of stress related complications like strokes and heart attacks before they even reach the execution chamber. This does happen. Luke 22:43 says, “being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” The medical term for this condition is hematidrosis. Blood capillaries begin to rupture, and they mingle with the sweat glands. But when Jesus said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” what He was really saying was that He was overwhelmed with sorrow at the extent of human sin, and what it had brought Him to. He was so overwhelmed that His sacrificial death was the only solution. He had seen the horror and extent of human sin, and He knew that He was the only one capable of paying for our sin, so that we could be with Him for eternity, as was His intention when He created us.
When we consider His agony in the garden, we simply are incapable of understanding what Jesus endured. Soon He would bear the sins of the world on the cross. The mere thought of that while He prayed in the garden pushed Him to levels of distress and anguish that we just cannot comprehend.
In all of history, no one has ever suffered to the extent that Jesus suffered. Not even Job’s agony comes close.
Pure holiness became sin, and He did that because of us. How do we even begin to grasp that? Part of the problem is that our understanding of the suffering of Jesus in the garden that night is clouded by an insufficient view of the holiness of God. Because of the nature and depth of our sin, we don’t even know what true holiness really is! Because of our sin, and the separation that has caused between us and God, our view and understanding of Him has become clouded and distorted. Sin is basically a failure to conform to God’s moral law. Those of you who are doing the Truth Project will be familiar with this concept: God’s moral law is a perfect reflection of His nature and character, and our sin is an offence against the very nature and character of a holy God.
As we saw last week in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us.” And this sin that Jesus was to become was detestable, repulsive, appalling and vulgar to Him.
We look at a little child doing or saying something naughty, and very often we scold them but at the same time there’s a little smile on our lips, because there’s something cute about them, even when they’re being naughty.
Do you think that God smiles and wags His finger knowingly at our naughty little deeds? Charles Spurgeon was quoted in this week’s Truth Project lesson: “You cannot slander human nature. It is worse than words can paint it.” Part of the problem is that most of the human race and many Christians too have bought into the lie (the pernicious lie, as Del Tackett calls it) that we’re basically good people who tend to fall off the rails occasionally, but that is not a Biblical view of who we are.
The Apostle Paul paints a rather more accurate picture of the human condition in Romans 1:29-32. “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”
And that’s just a tiny glimpse of what God sees when He sees human sin. Is it any wonder that Jesus was stressed almost to the point of death at the very thought of taking all of this on Himself on the cross? The eternal, pure, holy God was about to allow Himself to be lowered into the vilest cesspit imaginable – human sin.
God is repulsed by our sin, and Jesus knew that while He hung on that cross, bearing our sin and shame, He would be repulsive to His Father. While He hung on that cross, God the Father, who had lived for all od eternity in perfect harmony with Jesus the Son, turned His back and abandoned Him.
Hell is separation from God, and that is what Jesus experienced as the full fury of God’s anger was poured out on Him on the cross.
If we were able, just for a moment, to hear the wailing in hell right now, do you know what we’d hear? “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” And there will be no answer to that cry. Just silence. For all of eternity.
Jesus didn’t deserve that. His rightful place is on His throne in glory, but in the words of Philippians 2 again, “He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When He appeared in human form, He humbled Himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”
I showed you a copy of Da Vinci’s famous painting of the Last Supper last Sunday. It may be a priceless work of art, but it is historically inaccurate.
Here’s another famous painting of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane by Heinrich Hoffman. It shows the disciples sleeping peacefully in the background under an olive tree while Jesus prays gently and quietly, being careful not to wake them. Hoffman does at least put some thorn branches in the foreground as a hint of what is to come, but if you hung a copy of that painting on a 5 year old’s bedroom wall, it wouldn’t cause them to have nightmares would it? No – it’s a picture which paints a very peaceful scene, but that is hardly what took place in the garden that night. Luke’s account tells us that Jesus was so distressed that God even sent an angel to comfort and strengthen Him.
The offended became the offence. Jesus was about to take onto Himself what was contrary to His divine nature. He bore the very thing for which He held an infinite hatred. He became the focus of the judgment and wrath of the Father. He knew that God’s holiness would create a separation between them. From all eternity there had been perfect fellowship and oneness within the Godhead, the Trinity. And now, for a while that perfect union would be broken.
So again, does God just chuckle knowingly to Himself when we’re naughty and we give Him a sheepish little smile as we say, “Sorry Lord. I’ll try to do better next time?”
We have no idea of the spiritual and mental torture Jesus endured in the garden that night.
His obedience to His Father’s will would sever the perfect, eternal bond that existed between them. This was the death He feared – not physical death, but spiritual death, separation from God.
Then we come to one of the most misinterpreted prayers of Jesus: “Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
It is a huge mistake for us to think that Jesus, tormented by what He knew was waiting for Him was crying out for clemency, asking God to find some other way, or even just abandon the whole thing altogether. This is what Hebrews 5:7 says: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.”
Zondervan’s NIV Study Bible commentary says, “The principal reference here is to Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. To the one who could save him from death. To the Father. Jesus did not shrink from physical suffering and death but from the indescribable agony of taking mankind’s sin on Himself. Although He asked that the cup of suffering might be taken from Him, He did not waver in His determination to fulfill the Father’s will. He was heard. His prayer was granted by the Father, who saved Him from death - through resurrection.”
God’s judgment is referred to throughout the Bible as a cup of wrath. Revelation 14:9-10 says, “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of His wrath.” Those of us who choose to reject Jesus Christ will drink from the cup of wrath for all of eternity. But those who accept salvation through Jesus will drink from another cup. You hear these words at every Holy Communion service: “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” When we drink from the cup of the New Covenant, we don’t drink from the cup of God’s wrath. Rather, we drink the sweet wine of eternal fellowship with God, made possible by the blood of Jesus.
So when Jesus prayed that this cup (the cup of wrath) be taken from Him, He wasn’t praying that God would change His mind. It was a spiritual prayer. He was praying that what that cup represented – separation from God – would be taken away. And it was, three days later when He rose victorious from the grave. Jesus prayed that He would be delivered from separation, not crucifixion. Death on a cross, as horrific as it was, was merely a means to an end. Jesus had to drink the cup of wrath and be cut off from the Father. If He hadn’t, we would be cut off from Him for eternity. His earnest prayer was that this cup would be taken from Him, and that His three-day separation from the Father would end.
This helps us to understand these words of the Apostles’ Creed: “Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and was buried. He descended to the dead.” That’s the cup of wrath Jesus prayed about. God’s answer to that prayer is in the very next sentence of the Apostles’ Creed: “On the third day He rose again.”
So, whenever we contemplate the suffering of Jesus, it is imperative to remember that although it was the Father who willed that the Son must drink from the cup of wrath, it was our sin that made it necessary in the first place. When the extent of His suffering makes some kind of sense to us, His sorrow should bring us sorrow. It was our sin that caused Him who knew no sin to become sin.
Though the actual saving work of Jesus took place the next day on the Cross, it was in Gethsemane where Jesus surrendered fully to the will of God. It was here where the victory began.
As we’ve seen, He had the power at any time to call everything off, and while as God He had the power to end it at any moment, because He was fully submitted to the will of the Father, He surrendered that authority. “Not what I will, but what you will.” He took back His authority at His resurrection.
And then it was with a sense of determination and new energy that Jesus said “Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” Jesus was about to face a long, sleepless night of rejection, betrayal and sham trials before the flogging and crucifixion later on Friday.
Next week we’ll be looking at how those who should have known better rejected Him. As with Judas, it must have broken Jesus’ heart to see these people that He loved with an everlasting love turn away from Him. It’s no wonder His “soul was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”
But what did Jesus do in His time of anguish and suffering? He turned to God in prayer. It’s been said many times before that we are never as tall as when we are on our knees. We must follow Jesus’ example. As Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Like the disciples, we also mistakenly trust our own strengths and abilities. We too easily underestimate the power of the forces that wage war against us. We retreat from our spiritual battles, not to prayer but like the disciples, to sleep. This is why Jesus says, “Keep watching and praying.”
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Mark 14:32-42
As we saw on Sunday, the flogging and crucifixion of Jesus is usually the focus of our attention during Holy Week, yet the events in the Garden of Gethsemane play a crucial role in helping us to understand the greater picture of God’s plan of salvation.
In which ways do you think you have underestimated what Jesus went through in the Garden of Gethsemane?
We must always remember that we are the cause of Jesus’ death. Bearing this in mind, when He said “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” what do you suppose Jesus was really saying?
Matthew, Mark and Luke all record the prayer of Jesus to “have this cup removed from me.” What did He mean, and how have we misunderstood this prayer?
There are many references in the Bible to God’s judgment as the ‘cup of wrath’. Earlier that evening Jesus celebrated the Passover Meal with His disciples, but there was an important change when He spoke of the ‘cup of the New Covenant.’
Discuss the differences between these two cups, and the eternal consequences of those who drink from one or the other.