And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.
And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
Mark 14:26-42 ESV
Especially whenever I come the Lord’s Supper, Paul’s description of the Christian’s ministry of reconciliation comes to mind:
We are treated as imposters, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 6:8-10)
Our God rejoices to deliver such paradoxes. While the bipolar world around us seems to only know either utter despair or manic frivolity, God’s Word calls us deeper. We are called to be joyful with the kind of joy that may be expressed at both weddings and funerals, in hallelujah choruses and in lamentation. Biblical joy is filled to the brim with happiness and wonder, yet as Lewis said, it “makes you serious. It is too good to waste on jokes.”
Yet nowhere does such “sorrow and love flow mingled down” as in the passion and crucifixion of Christ. In many ways, the sufferings of Jesus that Mark recounts to us from our present text to the end of chapter 15 is a step-by-step journey into the Holy of Holies, where that blessed Friday became the full and complete Day of Atonement and Christ Himself served as both priest and sacrifice. Yet in another sense, from the garden of Gethsemane onward, we are gazing upon Christ’s descent into hell itself. We are witnessing Christ “becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13) and becoming “sin who know no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Beginning here in Gethsemane, we find ourselves beholding the horror beyond all horrors as well as the beauty beyond all beauties, the greatest joy and sorrow ever known. Here we begin to see the slightest glimpse of “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8). Morgan urges us well: “The most reverent thing we may do is think of Gethsemane almost in silence, for it was there in that garden that the stroke fell upon Him; it was there that the Shepherd was smitten.”
YOU WILL ALL FALL AWAY // VERSES 26-31
‘And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.’ This verse bridges last week’s text and this one. They closed their Passover meal, the Last Supper, with a hymn. Traditionally, they would have sung Psalms 115-118, and it would be a poignant study indeed to note how those psalms pointed toward Christ’s giving His life as a ransom for many. Yet that will have to await another day. For now, it is sufficient to consider Psalm 118:27: “The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horn of the altar!” I wonder whether or not there was a lump in Jesus’ throat as He sang these words, knowing that the Father’s light would only shine upon His people because Christ Himself was about to embrace the Father’s wrath? Indeed, after singing these words, the Lamb of God went willingly to the place of His binding for the slaughter.
After returning to the Mount of Olives, Jesus then gave a sorrowful declaration to His disciples: “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.‘” These specially chosen men who had followed Christ everywhere and listened intently to His every word for the past three-ish years would now abandon Him at the moment of His deepest affliction.
Yet though Christ certainly knew that He would be left all alone to bear His suffering, He still chose and still loved the apostles. J. C. Ryle gives us seasonable counsel from Jesus’ example:
Let us learn to pass a charitable judgment on the conduct of professing believers. Let us not set them down in a low place, and say they have no grace, because we see in them much weakness and corruption. Let us remember that our Master in heaven bears with their infirmities, and let us try to bear with them too. The church of Christ is little better than a great hospital. We ourselves are all, more or less, weak, and all daily need the skilful treatment of the heavenly Physician. There will be no complete cures till the resurrection day.
Such weakness is particularly displayed in Peter, who boldly declared: “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” Gone is the humility that caused him to ask, “Is it I?” whenever Jesus spoke of one of the twelve betraying him. “And Jesus said to him, ‘Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.‘” I do not read this as a barbed rebuke from the Lord but more like a father correcting his overzealous child, who does not understand what their claims actually mean. Indeed, even after being told that Jesus’ words will not pass away (13:31), Peter doubles down and insists that Jesus was wrong. “But he said emphatically, ‘If I must die with you, I will not deny you.‘” And interestingly, the others all say the same.
Given what Peter will do in next week’s text, I believe that we ought to give him some credit. If Jesus’ conquest had been with the sword, I think that he and the other disciples would certainly have defended Jesus to the death. What makes them fall away is the utter lunacy of how Jesus was going to usher in God’s kingdom. I think that many men would gladly die defending those they love. Yet Jesus needed no defense, nor would He go down swinging. Instead, He would freely give Himself over to His enemies, as if He not they had orchestrated the whole affair. Peter and the disciples were still hoping for a king who would conquer by the sword; they could not yet fathom how the King of kings would conquer by the cross.
Yet in their readiness to prove their loyalty and bravery to Christ, the disciples clearly did not pause to consider the great hope that Jesus presented to them in verse 28: “But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” As He did with each of the three predictions of His death, Jesus again does not withhold the blessed promise of His resurrection. Yet just as they could not see the nature of Jesus’ death, they neither could understand the glorious beauty of His rising to life again. Here was the Shepherd that Zechariah prophesied would be stricken by the LORD yet would also become “a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness” (Zechariah 13:1).
ARE YOU STILL SLEEPING // VERSES 32-42
In verse 32, we read that Jesus took His disciples to a place called Gethsemane, which John tells us was a garden upon the Mount of Olives. Here we find the account of Jesus praying in preparation for His exodus. In these verses, we find two large points of study and application. First, we see the anguish of Christ in His final hours. Second, we see the failure of His disciples to stay awake with Him.
Since we have already been discussing the weakness of the disciples, let us begin with the latter focal point. Verses 33-34 tell us, “And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.'”
With our tremendous benefit of hindsight, we would think that such a change would have caught the disciples off guard. You see, throughout Mark’s Gospel, we have seen the authority and power of Jesus. The great storm and waves that had four professional fishermen preparing themselves for death was calmed by Him with a simple command. The Samson-like demoniac whose unholy legion made him a terror to the region fell at Christ’s feet and begged for mercy. Indeed, these same three disciples had received a frightening glimpse of the pre-incarnate glory of their Lord as He stood on the mountain and spoke to Moses and Elijah. In the face of every seething hostility from His enemies, Jesus remained steadfast and resolute. Thus, we would imagine that seeing Jesus distressed and troubled would have been the most distressing and troubling sight imaginable, but we must remember that the disciples’ vision of Jesus and His work was still very hazy, like trees walking (8:24). They did not see the gravity of what the next several hours held in store, that the central moment upon which all of history hangs was fast approaching.
Thus, we read in verse 37:
And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what ot answer him. And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.
Going to pray, Jesus gave His disciples the same command that He had given them the day before on the same mountain: stay awake (13:37). Yet three times He came and found them sleeping. I think Hughes is right about Jesus’ reasoning here:
We must understand that Jesus invited the inner circle to be with him in Gethsemane not because he needed the company, but because they needed to learn (especially with their presumption) the secret of steeling their lives for service… If they had watched closely and entered into prayer like his, they would have found the steel necessary to make it through what was coming. They did watch for a little while, but then shamefully dozed off despite the mortal, noisy combat and suffering of Christ. Jesus desired so much that they learn from him that in the midst of his unparalleled agony he returned twice more to look after his three weak followers.
Let us take comfort in Christ’s show of mercy and compassion toward His disciples. As Psalm 103:13-14 say, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” Indeed, here Jesus acknowledged the painful reality of His disciples: ‘The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Indeed, let us rejoice that our salvation does not depend upon our weak flesh of dust.
Nevertheless, let us also strive to learn from the weakness of the disciples, especially now that we have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to strengthen us. How easy is it for us to be fearful of things that may threaten the body but remain unfazed by what threatens to pull us away from the living God! Many Christians are far more vigilant in watching news headlines than in prayer and nourishing their own souls with God’s Word. May it not be so with us. May we watch and pray that we may not enter into temptation.
Go to dark Gethsemane,
all who feel the tempter’s pow’r;
Your Redeemer’s conflict see;
watch with Him one bitter hour;
Turn not from His griefs away;
learn from Jesus Christ to pray.
BUT WHAT YOU WILL
But since we will return again to the failure of the disciples next week, let us turn our attention toward Christ. After being told about his distress, verses 35-36 gives us a brief portrait of His time in prayer:
And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
One of the greatest questions that arises from this passage is how Jesus can pray to have the cup of God’s wrath removed from Him. After all, Isaiah prophesied long ago that Christ’s death was the will of God: “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him…” (53:10). How then could Jesus, being God Himself, pray for something to happen contrary to God’s will?
First, we have to understand in what nature Jesus prayed this prayer. As we noted a few weeks ago, we confess our belief that Jesus Christ is truly man and truly God and acknowledge that these two natures, as the Definition of Chalcedon says, “undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation…” With this in mind, let us consider Sproul’s comments on our text:
When we distinguish between the human and the divine natures, it is obvious that Jesus’ human nature experienced the agony at Gethsemane. It was the human Jesus praying to the divine Father for relief from His agony, yet at the same time indicating His perfect commitment to obey the Father’s will. The two natures, without confusion, mixture, division, or separation, remained intact, but there were certain things that manifested the divine nature and other things that manifested the human nature. His divine nature did not plead with the Father to change His mind. We know that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the three persons of the Trinity, were in total agreement from all eternity as to how our redemption was going to be accomplished. Rather, His human nature pleaded that the cup might pass from Him. When Jesus, in His agony, began to sweat, were those beads of perspiration divine sweat? Or did that perspiration manifest the human nature of Jesus? Obviously, His sweat was a manifestation not of the divine nature but of the human nature, and so was His prayer.
Yet even in His human nature, Jesus clearly did not sin through this prayer. G. Campbell Morgan says,
It has been averred by unbelievers, brilliant with the brilliance of mere human intellect, in speaking of this hour, that our Lord here shrank from suffering in a way in which many martyrs have not done. Is it not rather a picture of perfect communion? Is there any evidence of perfect communion between a soul and God so great, as the fact that the soul says everything to God, of its own shrinking, of its own pain, of its own agony; providing always, that the speech is united with the saying of the one thing that is supreme: Father, Thy will, not mine be done?
Indeed, putting all of this together, what we find in these verses is a brutally honest picture of Jesus preparing to drink the Father’s cup of wrath. In his human nature, He presented His longing to turn away, to summon the heavenly host and be done with it all. Yet His human will was not supreme; the will of His Father was. Indeed, in this moment we find the reality of Paul’s Christ hymn, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Rightly do we sing these words:
How in that garden He persisted
I may never fully know
The fearful weight of true obedience
It was held by Him alone.
Here indeed was the true and better Isaac, laying willingly upon the altar as His Father prepares to drive the knife into His beloved Son. And we must certainly understand that to be why this moment was so violent for Christ. True, many martyrs have faced their deaths with triumphant joy, but that is because they were facing the momentary anger of men. Martyrs are able to die with joy because they know their security before God. Here Jesus did not agonize over merely falling into the hand of sinners; He agonized over receiving the merciless wrath of God.
Indeed, Zechariah 13:7, which Jesus quoted earlier, affirms this: “‘Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,’ declares the LORD of hosts. ‘Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones.'” Notice that Yahweh Himself is ordering the sword to strike His shepherd, the One who stands beside Him, which is possible a reference to Jesus’ place at the Father’s right hand.
But why would it be the will of God to crush the Son, to strike the Shepherd? To understand what is happening in this garden, we need to recall what happened in another garden, a garden at the very beginning of the world. In that garden, the first man and woman were tempted into rebelling against the Creator. The serpent spoke to the woman a lie that continues ringing in each of our hearts to this day: eat and you will be like God. Though she was already made in God’s likeness as the bearer of His image, Eve grasped at being her own god and gave the forbidden fruit for Adam to eat as well.
The Scriptures go on to tell us that by this one sin of Adam, the ancestor of us all, the curse of sin infected our hearts as well as the ground beneath our feet. Everything became subject to corruption and decay, and how could it be otherwise? Sin is a rejection of God’s will and law, which His goodness and holiness cannot endure. And if God the Creator of life is also the Sustainer of life, how can anything keep from falling into ruin apart from Him? Of course, there also remained the great cosmic justice that rebellion against the Everlasting One required. Because God is also patient, the fullness of His wrath did not fall immediately upon Adam and Eve, but God’s justice demands that it must certainly fall.
Interestingly, all of this came, not from Eve’s sin but from Adam’s. Eve was the first to eat, but Adam’s eating fractured the created order. Thus, Jesus is very significantly called the second Adam. As N. D. Wilson says,
He was Adam done right. Loosen your jaw and begin chewing, this gristle is tough. Adam, living in his story rightly, would have done the same. Adam would not have been the well-behaved Mormon teenager; abstaining from the fruit. He would have looked at Eve, seen her curse, seen her enemy, and gone after the serpent with pure and righteous wrath. He would have then turned to face the pure and righteous wrath of God Himself (that Adam had just imaged), and he would have said something quite simple, something that would be said by another, thousands of years later. “Take me instead.”
That is what Adam should have done but failed to do, and that is exactly what Jesus was doing on His knees in Gethsemane. Remember the words of Paul: “This mystery is profound, but I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). Just as Adam ought to have given his life as a ransom for Eve, Jesus truly did so for His bride. In submitting to the Father’s will, He essentially said, “Take me instead.” Just as we were all marked by God’s wrath by Adam in the garden so also were we saved from God’s wrath by Jesus in the garden. Of course, God’s wrath would not be poured out sufficiently until Christ took upon Himself the sting of death, yet the same hymn we quoted earlier is right to bind the surety of our hope to this moment in Gethsemane:
What wondrous faith to bear that cross!
To bear my sin, what wondrous love!
My hope was sure when there my Savior prayed:
Father, not my will but yours be done.
As we come, therefore, to our King’s Table, let us look upon Him that “was pierced for our transgression” and “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). Let us look with wonder upon our Lord who was “smitten by God” (Isaiah 53:4) and bound with cords for sacrifice so that the Father’s light may shine upon us. Taste and see the goodness of our Savior who drank the bitter cup of judgment to the very last drop so that we may now freely come and drink of this cup of blessing and communion with our great God.
 C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle, 212.
 G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Mark, 298.
 J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Mark, 247.
 R. Kent Hughes, Mark: Jesus, Servant and Savior, 254.
 “Go to Dark Gethsemane” by James Montgomery
 R. C. Sproul, Mark: An Expositional Commentary, 341.
 Morgan, Mark, 298.
 “Your Will Be Done” by CityAlight
 N. D. Wilson, Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent, 80.