This is post 1 of 7 in the series “FACES AND PLACES AROUND THE CROSS”
Faces and Places Around The Cross: Gethsemane
Mark chapter 14, beginning at verse 32. This is the Word of God.
“They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took Peter, James, and John along with Him, and He began to be deeply distressed and troubled, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.’ He said to them, ‘Stay here and keep watch.’
“Going a little farther, He fell to the ground and prayed that, if possible, the hour might pass from Him. ‘Abba, Father,’ He said, ‘Everything is possible for You. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.’
“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? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.’ Once more, He went away and prayed the same thing. When He came back, He again found them sleeping because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to Him.
“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. Rise. Let us go. Here comes my betrayer.’”
May God bless to us the reading and the hearing of this portion of His Holy Word.
Pray with me, please. Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus. Amen.
When Michelangelo was painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican in Rome, he always kept fastened to the visor on his cap a candle that was always burning. Why the burning candle? “Because,” he said, “I do not wish for any shadow of myself to fall upon the representation of God which I am painting.” I understand the comment. For you see, the same thing is true for anyone who dares to truly preach the Word of God. Certainly, it is true for me. Every time I dare to stand and preach, I am always desperately concerned, lest some sin of mine, some weakness of my personality, some shadow of myself might block or obscure the truth of God I am seeking to proclaim. That feeling is with me every time I preach. But I must confess to you, the feeling seems especially intense today because, you see, today we are about to intrude. That’s right. We are about to intrude upon one of the most personal, poignant, painful moments of Jesus’ entire experience in His life on this Earth.
We’re about to eavesdrop, as it were, upon Jesus as He was on His knees all alone and praying in a garden called Gethsemane. It is, in fact, such a tender, touching moment that I must somehow manage to get as much of myself out of the way as possible so that you and I together might see Jesus, only, only Jesus. We’re told in the Bible that after the last supper, Jesus took the remaining 11 disciples and went out to what is called even now the garden of Gethsemane. There were just 11 because you do remember, don’t you, that Judas had already left to go tend to his despicable business. So Jesus took the 11 out to the garden. It wasn’t really a garden, not at least as we understand the term. The word Gethsemane literally means oil press. And so it was, in fact, a large grove of olive trees with an oil press in the center, the press used to produce the oil from the olives. And this grove of olive trees stretched up the hill, which even now in Jerusalem is called the Mount of Olives.
Jesus took the 11 disciples out to this grove of olive trees. And once inside the gate of the grove, He left eight of the disciples there. He took Peter, James, and John and went a bit farther into the glade. And then He said to the three of them, “Please, stay awake. Please, stay alert. Please, pray.” And then we are told that Jesus went a stone’s throw farther by Himself, deeper into the grove of olive trees. And there, all alone on His knees, Jesus prayed.
Now, have you ever wondered how in the world do we know what Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane? I mean, the Bible says that Jesus was all alone. And the Bible says that the disciples all fell fast asleep. None of them heard or saw what happened in the garden of Gethsemane. How then do we know what Jesus prayed?
Well, I will tell you what I think. I actually take two subtle little references from the pages of the Bible, stir in a small dollop of imagination, and create a scenario which I find quite plausible. See if you agree. The first reference is in Acts chapter 12, where we are told almost incidentally that when the disciples gathered in Jerusalem, they usually assembled in a large room in the home of a family of a man named John Mark. Well, John Mark is the same person who later on would write the Gospel of Mark. The second reference is in the Gospel of Mark itself. In the 14th chapter, Mark is recounting what happened in the garden of Gethsemane. And it’s the 51st verse of chapter 14. He actually inserts a little verse in the passage at that point. It’s a little verse that, at first glance, you think doesn’t really belong there. But there it is right there, verse 51. And in that verse, Mark says that there was a young boy in the garden of Gethsemane that night concealed from view and that later on, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, that young boy just barely managed to escape.
So I take those two references, weave them together, and suggest to you the following. I suggest that the last supper took place in that large upper room in the home of the family of John Mark. John Mark, at the time of the last supper, was just a young boy. And my guess is—knowing young boys as I do, my guess is that he was fascinated with Jesus and His disciples. I mean, they were in his home with some frequency. He came to know them. He knew about them. He looked up to them. He was fascinated by them. And therefore, as we are told, after the supper, Jesus and the disciples stood up. They sang a hymn, and they headed off into the darkness toward Gethsemane. And I believe that it was at that point that this young boy, John Mark, slipped out of his house, probably without his parents’ knowledge, and followed at a distance Jesus and the disciples as they went to the garden of Gethsemane. And once there, he concealed himself in the grove of trees where he could not be seen, where he would not be discovered, and where he would not then be sent home. And from that hidden vantage point, I believe that he saw and heard everything that happened that night in Gethsemane.
Later on then, Mark, now grown, writing the gospel of Mark, proceeds to deliver the account of what happened in the garden of Gethsemane. And I believe he inserted that 51st verse as a way of identifying himself as the young boy and thus authenticating the truth of what he was writing. Later on, he gave the story to Matthew and Luke. They added their own little threads to this great tapestry of truth. And as a result, we wind up with the whole story. And oh, what a powerful story it is. That’s how we know what Jesus did and what Jesus prayed, I think, in the garden called Gethsemane. And so today, I want us to be just like that young boy. I want us to be concealed from view. And I want us to eavesdrop on Jesus so that we might see and we might hear. And God willing, we might believe.
Look with me first at what happened to Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.
There are some things in life that we just have to do alone. That’s true. Yes, it’s a wonderful thing to have friends and loved ones around in time of testing or trial or tension or tragedy. That’s a wonderful thing, and it is much to be desired. But the fact of the matter is, there are some problems, there are some challenges in life which we simply have to face alone. And that is a fearsome thing indeed. In fact, actually, I believe that that’s the reason many people fear death because they realize that, at the moment of dying, though there may be other people around, at the moment of dying, the act of closing your eyes on this life and opening your eyes on the life to come, that has to be done alone. There are some things in life that no one else can do with you or for you. So it was for Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. He was all alone, and He was in agony.
Mark describes Him as being deeply distressed and troubled. But when you look at the original language, the words that Mark used there, you’ll recognize that that English translation is rather tame. In fact, what Mark was saying was that Jesus not only experienced profound mental and spiritual anguish, He actually suffered physical pain as well. When you then extract from the pages of the Bible the details of this story, you begin to see that Jesus actually suffered from a medical condition called hematohidrosis. An individual, sometimes, when under terrible and terrifying stress and distress, under that extreme pressure, sometimes, the little capillaries beneath the skin of the forehead actually burst. And the blood oozes out through the pores of the skin of the forehead, mixes with the beads of perspiration on the forehead, also a product of stress. And the blood and the sweat together then flow down the face and drop onto the ground. That is hematohidrosis. And that is the picture that the Bible paints of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Now, in that terrible excruciatingly painful moment, Jesus did the only thing He knew to do. He turned to God, His Heavenly Father. And what makes Gethsemane so unbearably painful is that God turned away from Him. That’s right. And if you don’t believe that, then let me kindly suggest that you have not really read the story. Let me explain. When Jesus came to this Earth, He took upon Himself all of our human qualities and characteristics and experiences, all that is save one. Jesus never experienced sin or the consequence of sin, which is separation from God. He never experienced that until that night in the garden of Gethsemane. And there, all of the sin of humankind, the sin of all people in every time and every place, all of it was gathered together and placed in a single cup. And God said to His only Son, “Drink it.” And in that moment, there was fulfilled the prophecy that the Lord God laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
God said to His only Son, “Drink that cup.” And Jesus cried out in response, “Abba” literally means daddy, “Daddy, take it away from me.” And God said—and I believe it broke His own heart and broke His own Son for Him to say it. God said, “No.” And Jesus, all alone on His knees said, “Not my will but Thine be done.” Jesus. Jesus took upon Himself all of the sin of all of us, all of it from all of us. He took it all upon Himself there that night alone and on His knees and in agony in a garden called Gethsemane.
Then look with me at how what happened to Jesus in Gethsemane affects us all.
I want you to understand something. This Christian faith of ours is not all sweetness and light, no. This Christian faith of ours is not just the golden rule and the Christmas story and the green, green hills of Galilee, no. This Christian faith of ours deals with the reality of life, life as it really is. This Christian faith of ours knows and understands that this world is not always a pretty world. The Christian faith knows and understands that our lives, yours and mine, are marked more by sinfulness than my saintliness. And that is why it is not enough for me to stand in this pulpit. It is not enough for any preacher to stand in any pulpit anywhere. It is not enough for me to stand here and simply say to you, “Jesus was a good man. Jesus was a wonderful teacher. Jesus left us a lovely example to follow. Jesus delivered a great body of teachings to guide us as to the living out of our days.” Those things are true, yes. But that’s not enough. That is not the gospel. That is not the great good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ did not come to this Earth to establish a new morality or a new code of ethics or a new social order. Jesus came to this Earth to save. Yes, He came as the prophecy of Isaiah records to bear our griefs, to carry our sorrows, and to be stricken for our transgressions. Jesus came to die. He came to die so that you and I might live. Live here, yes, but also live hereafter.
Some of you may wonder why repeatedly from this pulpit I call you to claim faith in Jesus Christ. You may wonder why every Sunday here, week after week after week, we extend the invitation to you to commit your faith and life to Jesus Christ, the Savior and Lord. You may wonder why I so strongly urge you to be a part of the church, the Body of Christ, where together we find the support we need to live the life that Christ has called us to live. Well, here’s the reason. Jesus came to save. He came to save you, and He came to save me. Some years ago, there was a film called Forbidden Games. And in that film, we are showed a mass of refugees fleeing from the city of Paris after the Nazi invasion. Suddenly, a Nazi warplane swoops down out of the sky flying low to the ground and begins to strafe those fleeing refugees. A young refugee mother and father pushed their little girl onto the ground, and they stretched themselves out on top of her.
The strafing bullets find their mark. When the last warplane zoomed off into the sky and the firing stopped, the little girl managed to crawl out from under the bodies of her parents. And in a terribly painful scene, you begin to realize that the little girl does not realize what has happened. She tries to make her parents get up. She doesn’t understand that they have done for her everything they could do. They saved her life by losing theirs.
I think that’s a parable for us. Oh, you know how it is with us, don’t you? I mean, we’re always asking God for things. We’re always bombarding Heaven with all of our wants, needs, desires, and concerns. And that’s all right. God actually wants us to do that. But don’t you think, my beloved people, don’t you think that every once in a while, we ought to stop to remember that God already has done for us everything He possibly could do. He gave us His only Son. And His only Son lost His life to save ours.
And do you understand, my beloved people? Do you understand that all of that began that night when God broke His own heart and broke His own Son in a garden called Gethsemane? And do you not agree, my beloved people? Do you not agree that a love that amazing, that divine, demands our soul, our life, our all?
Soli Deo gloria.
To God alone be the glory.
Amen and amen.