Listen: Simon Manchester’s sermon on Jesus’ Stunning Decision.
Please turn in your Bibles to Mark 14. And, we come to a section today which really is very sacred ground. Last week, we looked at the Last Supper. This week, we’re looking at Jesus in the garden, this famous and familiar section where he wrestles with his mission which way to go.
One of the things I really value about Christianity, I really do value this about Christianity, is that it’s got a place for the very serious and the very joyful. I think it was Malcolm Muggeridge who said once the Christians are the only people who can really love, because we have the real sense of perspective and proportion about our lives within eternal plans. But it is a very wonderful thing, in a world that is sometimes very serious about things but doesn’t know how to really be joyful, or wants to be very trivial about everything and won’t face things that are serious. A Christian is free as he or she reads the scriptures to look at very serious things and very joyful things. Ecclesiastes says there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.
Now, what we have in Mark 14 is the son of God, who is God and man, and he’s struggling with this human desire to escape this terrible death and judgment. And, also, there is this divine surrender to the will of the Father. And, of course, his death itself is much more than just a physical death; it’s relational. It’s what Peter Bolt calls a disruption with the Father. So, we’re on very holy ground as we travel with Jesus and the disciples to Gethsemane, and we need to tread it very reverently.
Now, I’ve divided our verses into two parts. First, verses 27-31, I’ve called this a stunning prediction. It’s not the first time we’ve looked at Jesus predicting, but here is a stunning prediction. And then verses 32-42 is what I’ve called a stunning decision. And one commentator, which I’ve come to appreciate enormously, a man called James Edwards, on The Gospel of Mark, he says in his commentary: “Nothing in all the Bible compares to Jesus’ agony and anguish in Gethsemane.” And remember that this is not just one ordinary person going through a deep valley. This is the son of God, the infinite person, making a decision as to whether he will shoulder the sins of the world, or whether he will leave the world to shoulder its own sins. And because of the decision he makes in the garden of Gethsemane, he actually changes the history of the world from being a hopeless world to being, in God’s providence, a deathless world that is one where a person may go through safely. So, it’s a remarkable, extraordinary section.
Jesus’ Stunning Prediction: “You Will All Fall Away”
First of all, a stunning prediction, verses 27-31. You remember that Jesus said in verse 18 that one of them at the table would betray him. Now, he says in verse 27, “all of you will fall away”.
Can you imagine me saying that to you this morning? “You’re all going to fall away. You’re all going to fail. You’re all going to run.” It’s extraordinary! That’s the terrible news. And then he immediately says this wonderful thing in verse 28. “But he will rise, and we” – not a new bunch of people – “are not going to replace you,” says Jesus. “Those of you who’ve run, we will meet in Galilee.” You can’t have a more physical resurrection than that, can you? “I’m going to meet you again,” says Jesus, “and we’ll all be there in Galilee together.”
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But the disciples don’t listen to the bad news, and they don’t listen to the good news. We know they don’t listen to the bad news because Peter immediately says, “It won’t happen.” And we know they don’t listen to the good news because they go down to the tomb on Easter morning, and of course it’s empty and the angel at the tomb says, “He told you, Galilee!” So, they’re not listening to the good. They’re not listening to the bad.
We Miss a Lot of Important Things
Now, is this not a good thing to pause and remember! A very humbling thing. We miss a lot! We just don’t hear a lot. Very comforting, isn’t it, really when you consider the ministry that God has given you. Here is the greatest person in the world has ever seen saying the most significant things the world has ever heard; straight over the head. Is it possible therefore that you could say things to you children and they don’t get it? It’s just hypothetical. It’s possible. Is it possible that you could be a leader at this church and you say something to your group which is highly significant and nobody listens? Yes, it is. Is it possible that a preacher on Sunday could be preaching and it’s just not being heard? It is.
A few Sundays ago, in the evening, I was sitting down the back and the preacher was doing a terrific job preaching on the trivia of the world. And a girl near me was scrolling down dresses on her phone. I didn’t say anything but I just thought, “That’s what we’re capable of.” So, we need to see that our ability to miss the message, whether we do it helplessly or whether we do it deliberately, is very real. And yet the word of God stays exactly true, whether we hear it or not. It’s like me calling out to you, “The building is on fire,” and you don’t listen. Well, if the building is on fire, the building is on fire. And Jesus says, “You’re all going to fall away,” and Peter says, “We’re not,” and Jesus says, “You will,” and they do.
Just like the Bible says to us, “Protect your soul. Guard your soul. Don’t lose your soul,” and we can be in the sort of mood that says, “Yeah, yeah.” And then the Bible says, “Love one another. It’s your obligation. It’s your privilege,” and we say, “Yeah, yeah.” Or, the Bible says, “Take your role in the home or the church which you’ve been given,” and we say, “Yeah, yeah.” Or, the Bible says, “Beware certain traps which will be too strong for you,” and we say, “Yeah, yeah.” So, the truth, you see, establishes itself and sooner or later – and I think this is one of the great things about the Christian life – we learn that what God says is true. We learn it the easy way or we learn it the hard way.
Now, the reason we know the disciples are going to fall away and abandon Jesus in the short-term is because God says they will. And you’ll see, if you look at verse 27, the quote there is from the Old Testament. It’s from the second last book, Zechariah 13:7. It says that God will, this is incredible, isn’t it, strike his son, strike the shepherd, and the sheep will run. He makes a prediction. Jesus echoes or underlines or highlights the prediction; God is going to bring down his justice on His son. As Isaiah says, He’s going to crush his son, and the sheep are going to run. And, Peter and company say, “It won’t happen,” and it does.
The comments of Peter were very painful, aren’t they, especially that they would be recorded for all the world to see for all the centuries. We have it on good authority from a man called Papias, 135 A.D., who was a Christian leader, that the chief source of Mark’s gospel writing, the chief person that he talked to was Peter. And therefore, it is astonishing that Peter might have been sitting next to Mark and saying to him, “And you know what happened? Jesus said you’re going to fall away, and I said, ‘It won’t happen.’ That’s how stupid I was,” says Peter. And then he very carefully says, and you’ll notice that all the other disciples said exactly the same, so, “I’m not as dumb as everybody else, but I am pretty dumb.”
Denied Three Times
And then when we get to chapter 14 verse 66, of course, Peter is doing exactly what Jesus said. Somebody says, “You belong to Jesus,” “No.” “You belong to Jesus,” “No.” “You belong to Jesus,” “No.” Three times exactly as Jesus said, and that may explain why, in John’s gospel, Jesus meets again with the disciples after the resurrection, takes Peter aside and says, “Peter, do you really love me more than these? You’ve said that, even if they fall away, you won’t. Do you really love me more than these? Do you not understand what you’re capable and, therefore, what I am the savior of?” Well, notice the accuracy in verse 30. It’s incredible, isn’t it? It’s a stunning prediction. This is going to be Peter, the one who’s just said he won’t. Yes, it’ll be Peter. It’s going to be before the night is over, so I presume that’s before, what, 6 in the morning. He’s going to say three times, not once, not twice, not six, but three, that he doesn’t know Christ. It’s going to be before a rooster crows twice, not a rooster crows once or four times but twice. And then, as the night progresses and the rooster crows and Peter says “no, no, no…” and the rooster has crowed twice and Peter has no three times. The detail is unbelievable. It’s a stunning prediction.
Jesus has predicted the sad news of a failure. Peter said, “I’m pretty great. I’m strong. I believe in myself. I’m very capable.” Jesus says, “No, you’re not. You need to be very careful of this believe in yourself, I am floating upwards, I am getting better, I am getting stronger.” Some people say to me, “My faith is incredibly strong,” and I want to say to them, “No, your savior is incredibly strong. Your faith is frail.”
A Promise of Resurrection
And then secondly there was this great news of hope. “I’m going to rise and meet you in Galilee.” I just wondered why the disciples, at that point, didn’t say, “Sorry, could you just say that again? Really? You’re going to rise? We’re going to meet in Galilee when this is all over?” but they don’t. They’re not listening. Isn’t this encouraging that Jesus deals with these sort of people? One writer says of Jesus’ love for the hopeless disciples, we need to remember, too, that we’re saints and sinners, not angels. And our church is saints and sinners, not angels. Saints because we put our trust in Christ, sinners because we continue to fall. Not angels. Bishop Ryle says, in his commentary, “The Lord knew what these disciples were before conversion yet he loved them. And, he knows what they’ll be after conversion and he loves them. Therefore, learn to pass charitable judgment on the conduct of other believers. Let us not say that they have no grace because we see weakness and corruption.” Bishop Ryle says, “we ourselves are all weak, and there will be no complete cures until the resurrection”. So this is very striking but it’s also, in a strange way, comforting and it’s a good reminder to us that Jesus makes a stunning prediction.
Jesus’ Stunning Decision in the Garden
Second, a stunning decision, verses 32-42. Now, you can see, can’t you, that Jesus has no real helpers. It’s as if he’s going off to the very serious mission and none of them can be trusted, not one of them. And the only thing he asks them, as he goes to Gethsemane, is that they would stay awake which they failed to do and were told again, and again, and again. They fail to even stay awake. I bought a book recently in the humour section of Dymocks which is called “This Book Will Send You to Sleep”. And it’s a hundred tiny factual chapters on very boring subjects. It’s designed to be on the bedside before you fall asleep, and you read the page. I’ll give you a couple of examples of the topics – an overview of railway gauges. That would do it, I reckon. Facts about roundabouts, a history of the post office in Indonesia, the evolution of the airbag, the political parties of Canada, how to make a cardboard box, and – this is my favorite – a technical explanation of how paint dries. I mentioned this at the Queensland summer school, and one man came up and told me he was genuinely deeply interested in the book.
There is a time to sleep. There is but there is a time to stay awake. And what we see in these verses is a very disappointing bunch of disciples. Jesus is not counting on them. He is not counting on them. He is not even hoping that they will pray for him. He’s simply asking them to watch because things are solemn, and then he says that they should pray for themselves. And, to make the point even more clearly, he is not leaning on them. He takes Simon, James, and John who must be the three most hopeless disciples of all. James and John who, back in chapter 10, said, “We’d like seats on the right and the left as we move to the coronation,” and Peter who has just said, “Even if everybody falls away, I will be a great hero.” And, Jesus takes these three to the very heart of the struggle in the garden of Gethsemane probably because he wants them to learn at last that he is going to die, that they’ve just not grasped it, but they need to grasp it.
Now, if you look at verse 33, the language of this verse is very, very loaded. We have the English word “distressed”. It literally, in the original, means to be thrown into terror. Can you imagine being picked up and thrown into terror? The word “troubled” literally means “against the demon”, whatever that means. A demonic battle. And the word “overwhelmed” literally means “to be surrounded by sorrow.” It’s all around me. There is no escape. There is no gap. There’s no light. There’s no horizon. And those of you who know what it is to be anxious – and there are many who know what it is to be anxious or to be frightened or to be panicky – you’ll identify with these words of being distressed, troubled, overwhelmed. But we just don’t get near what Jesus is experiencing.
Nobody Faced a Death Like Jesus Did
And Luther was right when he said…this is shocking but a great sentence. He said that nobody feared death like Jesus. No one feared death like Jesus, and I think he’s absolutely right because nobody faced a death like Jesus. And we’re not just talking about a crucifixion. We know that many people went to the crucifixion very bravely, men and women. We know that many people in church history have gone to their deaths very bravely. You think of Latimer being burned in Broad Street in Oxford and turning to young Ridley and saying, “Let us play the man. We will light a candle today which will never be put out.”
Or, think of the opposition to the believers in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, and I remember reading in the killing fields of the rounding up of a teacher and his wife and the children, and taking them to the killing fields, and getting them to dig a large pit in the field around which they would kneel, and then they would be each one systematically killed and topple into their own pit. And one of the teenage boys ran off into the woods and was too afraid, and the father asked the soldiers not to chase him, and just called him back, and said, “Come and die with us. We will soon be with Christ.” And there they were kneeling around this pit.
People have gone to their graves incredibly courageously, and I have seen people die by the providence of God very peacefully, and very wonderfully, and very expectantly with good reason. But that’s very different from what Jesus is experiencing here. They’re not facing what he’s facing. In fact, a believer can go forward to their death with confidence because Jesus faced what he faced.
You see in verse 35, he calls it his hour. This is something which has been coming closer and closer. And, in verse 36, he calls it his cup, something which he must drink or swallow. And the hour is the hour of judgment, and the cup is the cup of judgment where the justice of God, the wrath of God, the fury of God comes down on sin exactly as it should except that it’s coming on the sinless Christ. So he is having poured down on his head something which should be poured onto others. And, as he becomes the object of the Father’s justice, wrath, it overwhelms him, and it is beyond our grasp. And we will probably never get to the end of it, which is why the Bible says in Ephesians 3, the love of Christ will never properly be fathomed. We’ll keep exploring the depth, the length, and the breadth in glory forever. It’ll keep dawning on us what he experienced.
Now, how do we know that it was judgment? Well, because the word “cup” is an Old Testament word for judgment. Jeremiah 49 says, ” ‘You will not go unpunished,’ says the Lord. You must drink the cup.” And Jesus himself said, back in Mark 10, to James and John, “Can you drink the cup? Of course, you can’t but I will drink it.” And so, here in the garden, Jesus is asking his heavenly Father if the cup could be removed because he knows how terrible it is. And this is the decision he has to make. Does he take the judgment on himself in which case others will not take the judgment? Or, does he escape the judgment in which case others won’t escape the judgment? And so he offers this perfect prayer in verse 36. He says, “Abba,” that’s the tender word for Father, and the request, “If it’s possible, of course I would love this not to happen.” And then he surrenders entirely and says, “But not what I want, what you want.”
Now, there are three times in Mark’s gospel where Jesus prays, and each of them are very serious times of temptation. One of them is in Mark 1 where he’s just been healing all day, and he goes away to pray because it occurs to him that this could be a great ministry. I cannot imagine what it’d be like to go to the wrong North Shore Hospital and just walk through the wards and give everybody their release. Just say, “You’re healed. You’re healed. You’re healed. Go home to see the change, and the joy, and the happiness in the family.” I can’t imagine what a tempting ministry. And Jesus goes away to pray, and he emerges from his prayers, and he says, “I must preach the kingdom which involves death for sinners.” It would be very tempting to stay and heal the world, but I must proclaim the kingdom and the dying for sinners. The second time he prays in Mark is in chapter 6 where he’s just been feeding the crowd. And, again, it must be a wonderful thing to be feeding hungry people and seeing those who are really desperate and languishing suddenly are filled and joyful. And he withdraws to pray in Mark 6, and he emerges from his prayer absolutely clear that he must preach the kingdom and die for sinners.
And here in Mark 14 is the third time he prays, and this time the temptation is just to escape the judgment. And he emerges from his prayer in this section of Mark 14 absolutely clear that he must, the righteous for the unrighteous, drink the cup. Now, I want to finish this morning by just telling you three important things, which I hope you’ll take from this section. The first is please lock it into your brain that Gethsemane is proof that Jesus’ death involves more than a crucifixion. It obviously involves judgment. Many people, around the world, think that the idea of judgment or the wrath of God is unworthy of God. And so what they say is, “Well, what Jesus was doing is he was just setting us a wonderful example of giving himself.” But Gethsemane makes that absolutely impossible because Jesus is struggling with more than a crucifixion. It’s obvious from the passage. He’s struggling with more than a crucifixion. He’s facing the cup.
He Has Done the Work For Us
The second thing to learn from this is that, when he says in verse 36, and this is a verse I hope you’ll keep saying to yourself this week, “Not what I want but what you want.” I hope you’ll keep reminding yourself that, when Jesus says those words, that sealed your salvation. He made his decision in Gethsemane. “Not my will. Yours be done.” And because Jesus went through with the cup, you who believe in Christ will never drink the cup. You can go safely through to the presence of God and meet Him without fault and with great joy. There is no cup of judgment to drink. He drank it. There is no condemnation. He took it. There’s no separation. He got it. It’s very important. We must remind ourselves every now and again, “That’s where my salvation hangs.” The decision of Jesus, “Not my will but yours heavenly Father.”
I hope you’ll meditate on this. I hope you’ll realize that his death was a place taking death offered to you. And when taken by you, yes, the most wonderful gift you’ll ever be given. And it was even for people like Peter, James, and John. And I say to you, in case you’re falling in to sin again this week, your sins don’t shock Christ. Just take as little time as you can to go back to him and say, “I don’t have any way to go but you. There’s no point in keeping distance. There’s no point in doing some moral gymnasium. I’ll just come back to you. Your death was sufficient.”
Your Will Be Done
The third and the last thing to note is that these words in verse 36 are actually great words for disciples to pray also. “Not my will but yours be done.” And if you’re thinking about what to do in a complex relationship, the most important thing you can say to God is, “Not my will but yours be done.” If you’re facing great temptation and you’re thinking, “I really will go down that road, because if I go down that road, I’ll be satisfied and then I can come back again.” Say, “Not my will but yours be done.” If you’re being offered something corrupt in your work, just bow your head and say, “Not my will but yours be done.” And if you’re working out what to do with your plenty, bow your head and say, “Not my will but yours be done.” That’s how we go forward in maturity. That’s how we find ourselves strangely free. That’s how we walk in the steps of the Lord Jesus. The world in which we live is not a playground. It’s a battleground. We need to continually say to him, “Not my will but yours be done.”
And I hope you’ll remember these weighty things; Gethsemane proves that the crucifixion was more than just a physical death. It was a judgment. Secondly, it was swallowed by Jesus so that the believer will never swallow that cup. And thirdly the way of wisdom is you follow him is to keep saying to him, “Not my will but yours be done,” and we can trust him because he is a God of stunning prediction and stunning decision.
Our gracious God, we thank you for this window into the work of Christ, and we give you enormous thanks for the decision that he made, the cross that he bore, the blessing he brought. We pray that you’d help us to rejoice in his decision, and we pray that you would help us truly to surrender ourselves as saved people to your purposes in Jesus’ name. Amen.