Putting Your Faith on the Line
The Battle of France was over. The Battle of Britain was imminent. On June 18, 1940, Winston Churchill spoke those immortal words that have echoed through the last 60 years.
I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our empire. The whole fury, and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us … Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will say, "This was their finest hour."
This speech became the battle cry of a nation. This speech mobilized the entire country for the several months of intense bombing and fighting they would have to face. This speech gave courage to those who had become faint hearted, and encouragement to those who had become tired. This speech was the strength for those who in the desperation of the time could have lied down to die.
The Battle of Britain, indeed, did prove to be a turning point in the war. But upon this battle the survival of Christian civilization was not to be determined.
The finest hour was a battle fought by one man, in a lonely garden, nearly 2000 years before. It was the battle within Jesus, whether he would put his faith on the line.
Many of us have been on that battlefront. Many of us have had to put our faith on the line. When confronted with the death of someone we hold to as very dear, when we see the injustice towards others in our world, when we see those who are evil in their deepest parts multiplying their wealth, our faith is put on the line.
But at the time of our greatest battle, we have never experienced what putting faith on the line meant to Jesus. For Jesus, putting his faith on the line for God meant accepting God’s will no matter, even if it meant a cross.
Turn with me, as we approach this Jesus in what was truly the "finest hour." Please join me. Mark 14:32-42. (Read text)
1) The Haunting Place
Several elements collide together with each other giving us a picture of this scene when Jesus put his faith on the line. The first of these elements is the haunting place.
Gethsemane was a garden or orchard on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives. It was one of Jesus’ favorite spots. Luke tells us Jesus frequently came to this garden with his disciples. Jesus, while in Jerusalem, would retreat with his disciples for time together, teaching, laughing, playing and praying. It is no surprise then that Judas knew just where to look for Jesus.
But there was something different about this night. Jesus and the twelve had celebrated the Passover meal. During the meal, Jesus instituted a new celebration, a spoke of a new covenant.
After completing the meal, Jesus and his disciples left the house and went to Gethsemane. On the way, they sang. Some people have suggested that Jesus would have sung from the 22nd Psalm, concerning the turning of God away from his suffering. But in my study, I have come to conclude the disciples would have sung from Psalm 118, the traditional closing hymn for the Passover celebration. Psalm 118 would close the celebration with these words: "This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."
Yes, we all know that song. It has come to be one of those peppy camp choruses. But here Jesus with his heart weighed down - "let us rejoice and be glad in it."
Gethsemane is a Hebrew word, and simply means "olive press," a spot where olives would be brought to be crushed, and pressed under a large stone, in order to remove their oil.
Isn’t it ironic to see the pressure term associated with this place? This night in Gethsemane would not be like the others. The pressure of Jesus’ inner struggle was bearing heavily upon him even now.
Jesus was at a point in his struggle when the vice was closing and the pressure from Satan was reaching its greatest point. At that point, we find him in this place of pressure. A haunting place.
You may have a place like that. A place, which has become your wrestling place with Satan. The place where the heaviest of life’s burdens weigh even heavier. A place where all the pressures of life squeeze and torment, as you struggle for direction.
You have been with Jesus.
2) The Disappointing Partners
"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 troubled. "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," He said to them. "Stay here and keep watch."
Jesus in the midst of his own personal drama with pain, desired companionship. He needed their presence in this time of crisis. He needed those to be with him in this hour of emotional turmoil. But after seeing and hearing the extent of Jesus’ suffering, do they offer words of encouragement? Do they offer support to this one who need them so?
They sleep! The disappointing partners.
It has come to be believed that Jesus took Peter, James and John with himself deeper into the garden because the three of them were his favorites. After all we have seen, in the rest of Jesus’ life, these guys are special. They are even the ones who join Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration.
But Jesus does nothing out of favoritism. I would suggest a greater reason. These three needed to be there.
Look with me to chapter 10:35-40:
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, "Teacher," they said, "we want you to do for us whatever we ask." "What do you want me to do for you?" He asked. They replied, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory."
They wanted to be the next in line in Christ’s earthly kingdom. They were still expecting Jesus to go to Jerusalem and become king. But all that Jesus had to offer is the cup, which he had to drink. Here lies their opportunity to witness Jesus, as he struggles with the pain of that cup.
In Mark 14:27ff, Jesus is telling the disciples of their deserting Him. Peter as usual, oh, bold Peter, always the first with the answer, speaks up. "Even if all fall away, I will not." "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you."
Jesus takes these three men into the inner sanctuary of the garden. Why? Because He wanted them to know something of the depth of suffering he was about to experience for the redemption of the world. He wanted those with such high aspirations to see the turmoil of His spiritual struggle. He wanted them to see and so prepare themselves for the temptations that were soon to meet them. He wanted them to stay awake, and share in His agony.
But we already know, after praying Jesus did not find them ready to offer consolation. Jesus returns to find them sleeping. You can almost hear the sarcasm in his voice, as He says, "Simon are you asleep?" Simon, you said you would die for me. "Could you not keep watch for one hour?" Peter is singled out here because he is the one who just moments before boasted of his eternal fidelity to Jesus. He who said he was willing to surrender his life, if need be, with Christ, could not even surrender his nap.
The disciples were doubtlessly tired. The hour was late, possibly past midnight. They had, also, had a very exciting and exhausting day. It was no wonder that they would go to sleep, so why would Jesus be disturbed?
Now Jesus turns his attention from Peter to the entire group. The command to watch and pray is addressed to all of them. They are told to pray concerning themselves, and not concerning Him.
Here Jesus draws a connection for us between moral purity and prayer. Jesus is telling these three disciples to prepare themselves for the temptation, which will be meeting them, and it will be meeting them. They need this time to prepare.
Jesus goes again to pray. After praying, for some time, he returns, only to find the three sleeping, again. When confronted by Jesus, they did not know what to say to Him, probably because they were so embarrassed and ashamed. Even Peter, who has always had something to say, is left speechless.
A third time Jesus goes to pray. Again after praying, he returns to find them sleeping. "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough!" It’s time to go, and the disciples are unprepared.
They missed their chance to make preparations, so that when Satan began his onslaught, they could withstand. They missed their chances to seek additional, spiritual support. They missed the call of the hour.
Jesus stated emphatically that prayer wards off coming temptation. I tell you when you want to be prepared to face temptation "watch and pray." Don’t miss your hour of power.
But I know what will happen. The next time that you want the temptation to come, you won’t pray. The next time it is not convenient, you won’t pray. The next time, we forget to pray we will find ourselves with the disciples in Gethsemane unprepared.
We were there with Jesus.
We also may feel the disappointment in people we thought were there for us. They offer no words of comfort. They do not prepare. They are asleep. You have been with Jesus.
3) Intense Pain
The third picture we see, as we continue to approach Jesus in Gethsemane, is the picture of intense pain.
In verse 33, two strong words are used to describe the state in which Jesus was in: "deeply distressed and troubled." The use of these words gives us the idea that Jesus may have been under some stress, but at the most was experiencing an anxiety attack.
In actuality, taken individually, these two words portray the deepest emotional distress that a person could face. Yet when the two words are joined together, instead of giving two dimensions to Jesus’ experience, it intensifies the two terms to an indescribable plateau. In a manner of speaking, the pain and torment, which filled Jesus that night, was of a sort beyond words to describe it.
Again in verse 34, Jesus speaks of the sorrow which he feels. Again the translation is weak. Jesus’ statement is an allusion to Psalm 42-43: "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?" Jesus again is speaking of the most profound sorrow a man could experience.
The sorrow, the pain he feels is so great it reaches to the thresh hold of death. This statement could also be foreshadowing the reason for Jesus’ experience.
Some have looked at this Jesus, cowering under is pain, and falling to the ground, and have chosen to see a Jesus who was the victim of his own neurosis. After all, standing was the common position for prayer in his day. And here is a man, who would throw himself to the ground. He is a man out of control.
Yet those who attempt to psychoanalyze Jesus forget to consider some valuable information. Could it be possible that Jesus was so over wrought by his distress that he was unable to stand? Could it be that the ultimate destiny lay so close that he was physically laid low? Could it be possible an answer was in his earnest prayer?
Have you been there with Jesus?
4) The Earnest Prayer
The final picture is the picture of Jesus in earnest prayer.
There have been many options offered for interpreting Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane. We will look at three.
Was Jesus’ prayer an attempt to keep from the cross? Some have seen in Jesus a man who was not heroic enough to face death with the same courage as so many before, and so many since. Jesus did not want to die.
Or was Jesus’ prayer a request that God would keep him alive through this "hour" in the garden, so he can accept his true destiny. Jesus knows that he has to die to offer forgiveness of sins, and he is fearful that he is just not going to make it to the cross. The distress he feels is about to kill him, before he can complete his purpose.
For the last interpretation, we need to consider the prayer: "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."
"Take this cup from me." The cup had become a familiar word. Jesus earlier, that same night had talked about a cup of the new covenant in his blood. He had asked James and John, upon their request, if they could drink of the same cup as he would drink. Yet Jesus’ statement here goes beyond either to the fearful intent of the cup.
The cup was a common metaphor in the Old Testament for God’s wrath against human sin. Psalm 75:8, Isaiah 51:17, and Jeremiah 25:15 all talk of the cup of God’s wrath being poured out on the sinful. Jesus’ prayer was that he not take on the sins of the world, and die needlessly on the cross. He knew that sin meant separation from God.
Jesus was not scared to face the cross. But we hear the rejection that God will have for Him because he had become sin in our place. For Jesus, who though always united with God, to be separated from God was the pain, which we can not describe.
Here Jesus is speaking of his relationship with God being ripped to pieces. Jesus had always enjoyed the pleasure of God. Now he sees, in his imminent death, God reaching out to destroy Him and turning His back on Him at this crucial hour. Jesus’ death brings a horrid thought to Jesus’ mind, not that he would die, but that the wrath of God will be directed towards Him.
Have you been there with Jesus? At the point where you knew that what you had to do would turn those who had been closest to you away from you, and make you their adversary.
Yet even in the midst of this horrid struggle, Jesus acknowledges that God has the final say. If it is God’s will for the "hour" to come, in order to save a fallen humanity, Jesus would submit. In Jesus’ prayer "Not what I will, but what you will" does not have any hint of being tacked on as an after thought.
Yet, that is how we usually hear it. God, I have got my mind made up, but your will be done.
Jesus follows God’s will freely to the end.
Do you know why? Jesus’ submission to God’s will is the only way to save you and me. If his death were the only way to heal a fractured relationship, he would offer himself.
We have been there with Jesus.
Notice Jesus’ resolve in verse 41 & 42 … He is in control. Jesus is different. He had won the battle.