Mark 14:32-38 In the upper room on the night that our Lord Jesus Christ was betrayed into death, after he and the disciples had finished their meal and Judas had left the room, Jesus predicted that Peter would disown him before the morning came.
But Peter insisted that was not true, that even if he had to die with him, he would never disown him. And all the others said the same.
From the disciples, even in that late hour, there was lots of talk about how strong they were—how faithful they were—how different they were from everyone else.
If they had just been the tiniest bit reflective about who they really were, they would have seen a different picture.
None of them had enough faith to accomplish the mission Jesus gave them. James and John argued about who was going to get the places of honor in Jesus’ kingdom. Peter tried to turn Jesus away from the cross, denying its necessity.
And yet, in just a few hours, every one of them would prove that very thing by betraying the Lord- and denying the Lord- and by abandoning the Lord in his time of need. Jesus knew just how necessary the cross was because of the weakness of those closest to him.
What about us? How many times in our lives have we resolved in our hearts—with real sincerity-- to be done with some sin? To make a real change? To go in a new direction?
Things are fine for a while; things really are different; we really are closer to the Lord. And yet, slowly but surely things begin to return to the sad “normal” of people that are buffeted and beaten constantly by the devil, the world, and even their own flesh.
And our firm commitment to do better- and our sincere amendment of life- and our promise that even if all others disown the Lord, we never will do so, gets cast back into our teeth.
It is in the Garden of Gethsemane that the disciples of Jesus have to learn this lesson for themselves, that when we face temptation we must not look to ourselves and our own puny resources-- but instead must repent of our weakness and turn to the Lord—for it is his faithfulness in the hour of trial, and it is his commitment to our salvation, that is our strength and hope. The Bible says that:
They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”
This was not the first time that Jesus and the disciples had gone to the Garden of Gethsemane. It was a special place for them of solitude and prayer. But it was not a fortress against temptation or a place of spiritual safety. There are no places like that on earth.
This is the mistake of monasticism—the idea that if we can just separate ourselves from the world then we will be spiritually safe from temptation. But the highest walls and the most rigorous restrictions against interacting with those who do not share our faith and morals cannot provide our spiritual safety.
The devil and his demonic angels are not kept out just because we shut ourselves in. We have not removed ourselves from temptation just by removing ourselves from others because our own flesh goes with us wherever we go.
The cure for temptation is not found in safe places and it is not found in the safe people who share our faith for they too share in our weakness. The Bible says:
Jesus took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.
I have absolutely no doubt that when the disciples, in the safety of the upper room, said in unison that they would never disown the Lord, they meant exactly what they said. I believe that in that moment, standing with one another, they were firmly resolved to die with the Lord if need be. Especially so for Peter, James, and John!
They had seen Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration and they knew that death was not the end. They had seen the glory of the living God of the universe shine from the flesh of Jesus and they knew there was no limit to what he could do.
If you were facing temptation, if you were struggling spiritually there is no one that you would rather have around you than these three men to encourage you and assure you and strengthen you. And yet, Jesus said to them:
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”
Keep watch. There is no one who has ever lived who has seen what Peter, James, and John saw: the fullness of God in the flesh of Jesus. There is no one who has ever lived who heard what they heard: the very voice of the living God. There is no one who has ever lived that has been granted the spiritual blessings given to those three men.
If there was any hope for human beings getting it right- and standing firm in their faith- and remaining steadfast in their devotion to Jesus, surely it was them. And yet we know they didn’t.
And so did Jesus. Here in these three men is what sin has done to all of us without exception. Here in these three men is how far and deep and wide are the effects of sin. And here in these three men is the complete lack of hope of mankind ever getting it right on their own. And knowing this, Jesus was overwhelmed with sorrow.
His command was simple: stay here and keep watch. God himself has provided them with spiritual resources like no other men who had ever lived, spiritual resources to accomplish his will: Stay here and keep watch.
A simple command like the command to Adam and Eve to forgo only one tree in an entire world full of plenty: “Do not eat of it” spoken to people who literally had everything.
And yet, Adam and Eve ate of the tree-- and Peter, James and John could not keep watch-- and you and I (after all these years of being Christians) still can’t get it right.
And there in the garden—both Eden and Gethsemane—we see the truth about ourselves and so did Jesus. And he was overwhelmed with sorrow like he was just days before standing before the tomb of Lazarus.
This is what sin has done—this disobedience again and again. This is what sin has done—this death for those we love and for us. This is what sin requires, the wrath of a holy, righteous God and the sorrow and suffering of his own Son who bears it. The Bible says that:
Going a little farther, Jesus 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.”
Under the WEIGHT of our sin our Lord Jesus Christ falls to the ground in Gethsemane and in just a few short hours it would drag him under the earth into a cold, dark grave.
Under the WRATH of his heavenly Father our Lord Jesus Christ falls to the ground and in just a few short hours it would drag him under the earth into a cold, dark grave.
That is the cup of which our Lord speaks, the cup that he would avoid if there was any other way for us to be saved from sin and death.
I want you to just reflect on that for a moment—that such is the greatness of our sin and such is the power of God’s wrath on account of that sin-- that it causes Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, to beg his heavenly Father to take it away and not make him drink of it.
This cup of God’s wrath is spoken of throughout salvation history. It is filled with God’s wrath over sin; filled with God’s wrath for every time we have given into temptation, filled with God’s wrath when we have thought more highly of ourselves than others; filled with God’s wrath over all our sins of thought, word and deed.
That cup would be filled to overflowing if it were only filled by us—but in that cup is God’s wrath earned by every sin of every person who has ever lived.
There in that cup is God’s wrath over Adam and Eve’s sin of weakness and Noah’s sin of drunkenness and Abraham’s sin of fear and Moses’ sin of anger and David’s sin of lust. There in that cup of God’s wrath is Peter’s pride and Thomas’ doubt and Judas’ betrayal. And there in that cup is the one hour of weakness that keeps Peter James and John from doing what the Lord asks of them. Can you imagine the horrors found in that cup?
The wrath of God over every sin of every sinner is found there and Jesus must take it in his hands and drain every last drop. Is it any wonder that even in that late hour, he falls to the ground under that terrible burden and begs his Father for another way to be found?
And yet, bearing that burden and taking that cup in his hands, he submitted his will to that of his heavenly Father.
What no other human being had ever done before—what no other human being would ever do afterwards—Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane and submitted his will to that of his Father in an act of perfect obedience that is the salvation of the world. The Bible says that:
Jesus returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
To Adam and Eve he said, “Where are you?” And then their answer and ours: we have wandered away from and are hiding in guilt and shame.
To Simon the Pharisee he said, “Do you see this woman?” And his answer and ours: yes, Lord, I see my lack of love and humility and my need for your great forgiveness.
To Peter the Apostle, he said: “Are you sleeping?” And his answer and ours: yes Lord, my best intentions and sincere resolutions have failed me again.
These are questions that provide us with opportunities to come to grips with our sin. They are God-given opportunities to realize our weakness and our wandering—opportunities to confess our pride and our prejudice—opportunities to learn again and again the truth of what Jesus says: The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.
And so it is. We are children of God. We are disciples of Jesus Christ. By God’s grace and the help of the Holy Spirit we do have willing spirits.
But we also have to contend with a flesh that is broken by sin. That is why Jesus tells us that we must watch and pray. He means that we are to keep watch over our souls and guard ourselves from the hour of trial and pray for his help, realizing our weakness and then look to him and know that his faithfulness and his obedience is our salvation. Amen.