A sermon by Rev Richard Keith on Mark 14:32-52 on Sunday March 31, 2019
In the garden of Gethsemane we come to a time and a place that is sacred It is not a time for silly jokes or funny stories. It is a time to be still and to face the awful truth of what it cost to purchase our freedom from sin and death and hell. It is holy ground. For in this garden it became dark and the power of Satan came close in order to eclipse the glory, if he could, of the Lord Jesus, the eternal Son of God. For in this garden two different futures are considered, one that contains a cross and suffering and death, and one that does not. And both futures are freely and frankly put forward. But in this garden a choice is made, one path taken, one of those two futures accepted, if not with delight, then at least with willing obedience. And in this choice we see both the debt we owe and our true value. And this choice demands from us a choice in return.
In the garden we see Jesus fighting alone against the forces of darkness. But it didn’t have to be that way. Jesus had gone there with his disciples. Although only eleven of them, because Judas had already left him to betray him. When Jesus arrived at the garden, he asked eight of them to sit at a certain spot while he went to pray. He took three of them with him further until he came to another place and asked them to stay and to keep watch. To stay alert and to be on their guard. He went only a little further. Luke’s Gospel tells us that it is about a stone’s throw. Jesus wanted to pray, but he didn’t mean to be all on his own. He certainly wanted their support. He expected them to pray for him, if not right next to him or at least to pray for themselves. But time and again he found them asleep. Later, when the soldiers came, they all ran away. Later still, Peter fulfilled Jesus’ prediction, and denied knowing him three times.
What Jesus did, he did alone. He did it for them, in both sense of the words. He did it for them, meaning for their benefit. And he did it for them, meaning instead of them and in their place. He alone could offer his Father the perfect faithful obedience. He alone could take the cup of wrath for others.
But he was not just alone, but in pain. Verse 33 says that he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. In verse 34 Jesus says, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Verse 35 says that he fell to ground. In the garden Jesus saw the future coming towards him and it hurt him like a knife wound to the heart. We do not see here the courage and pride with which Christian martyrs later faced their own deaths upon a cross. We do not even see here the quiet resignation with which the philosopher Socrates took the cup of poison that his own city had condemned him to drink. Jesus clearly saw that he would not die a hero’s death. Instead, he will suffer a villain’s death. Not only abandoned by his disciples, but condemned by his nation’s rulers, nailed to the cross like a bandit, like a terrorist. He would fall into the hands of sinners and they would unleash on him all the power of Satan.
“Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.”
And notice that there is this time no word from heaven. A voice from heaven came at his baptism. “You are my Son whom I love, with you I am well pleased.” A voice form heaven came when he was transfigured on the mountain. “This is my Son whom I love. Listen to him.” But in the garden there was silence. No word from his Father. Heaven was silent when the soldiers arrested him. Heaven was silent when the religious court convicted him. Jesus cried out from his cross, but no answer came back. Jesus went to the garden to pray, but he did not commune with his Father. It was not a conversation. He experienced no comfort, no encouragement. And the only reply he received was in terms of the events that came after.
Jesus said, “Father, everything is possible for you.”
The simple fact is that most human beings are prisoners of their past. Who they are, what they have done in the past, what they have experienced, both their nature and their nurture often determines the choices they make. Their behaviour in any given situation is often predictable. But Jesus acknowledged God, his Father, to be Lord of the future. He is the one who can’t be coerced, who can’t be forced in a direction that he does not want to go. No creature, no force in his creation can compel him against his will. Jesus saw a future that contained a cross and he wished with all his heart that there might be another way, another path, another future without this fate. “Take this cup from me,” he asked. And his Father could do it, if he wanted to.
The cup reveals the debt we owe. The cup he saw before him was the cup of woe mentioned many times in the Old Testament. It is filled with the bitter wine of God’s judgment. It makes a person stagger and fall like they are drunk. It usually refers to the consequences of a person’s own actions. Like a farmer plants a vine and watches it grow and harvests its grapes and ferments it into wine and drinks it. What he tastes is a consequence of every choice he’s made and every action he’s taken. The cup of judgment is full of the fermentation of all the wrong he’s done and of all the good he has not done. Or as the Bible says in other places, a man reaps what he sows.
But for Jesus there is no one to one correspondence. The cup is not his. Its bitter wine is not the fruit of his life. He has loved and served his Father as no one ever had and never has and never will. The cup is not of his making. It is of our making. Every unjust action every selfish choice we have made since humanity rebelled against its creator has brewed the wine in that cup. It is not just deathly. It is death itself. The fate we have chosen by refusing our creator’s life. It is our cup, not his. But it is his Father’s will that it is his to drink.
“Take it from me,” Jesus asked.
What kind of father would give his son such a cup to drink? What God of love and justice and power would compel such a thing on anyone, if there was any other way. If our salvation could’ve been bought with a generous donation, the money would’ve been found. If the door to life could’ve been opened by uttering a special prayer, the words would’ve been said. If the death of Jesus wasn’t needed, it would never have been required from him.
I admit that the cross is an example of love. John Wesley put it best in his beautiful hymn.
When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died,
my richest gain I count as loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small.
Love so amazing so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.
But it only works as such a great example of love because no other price could be paid to clear the debt that we owe to pay our debt of sin and to purchase our freedom from death and for God, and because no one else could pay it and in no other way. Stripped of this purpose, the cross of Jesus is absurd and grotesque. If his life was not needed, then his life was wasted. Jesus saw that most clearly of all.
“Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will be done.”
Either he drinks our cup of wrath, or we must. There is no other choice. And so he took it and drank it to its dregs.
His choice reveals our true value. I mean, have you ever felt worthless? Like nothing you do matters? Like all the effort your parents or those who raised you put into your education and your upbringing amounted to nothing? Has anyone ever rubbed it in and treated you like you didn’t matter? Like you’re invisible. Like you don’t even exist. But, you know what? It isn’t true. We are not worthless. We are just unworthy, because our true value is set by the choice Jesus made. Not by what people think of you. Not by what people have done to you. Not by whatever great or small effort that you have made. Jesus’ choice in the garden reveals our true value. Jesus took the cup filled with the wine of God’s wrath our own hands have made. And he drank it all, so that its poison may not touch our lips.
Not what I will, Jesus said. But what you will.
This scene in the garden is crucial for understanding Jesus and his cross because this is the last time that we see Jesus in charge. In Mark’s Gospel we have become used to Jesus doing this and saying that. “Let’s go here. Let’s do that.” Telling stories. Healing the sick. Asking questions. Making demands. Jesus at large and in charge.
But from the garden things start to happen to Jesus. He is taken and slandered and condemned and mocked and beaten and crucified. On the surface of things, Jesus looks like any one of us. A prisoner to his fate. A tiger tamed. A lion caged.
But the garden teaches us that all these things only happened to Jesus because he let them. This is the path his Father set before him. And this is the path he chose for himself. Not because he wanted it, because he didn’t. With all his heart, anything but this. He didn’t want it. No one would. But he willed it, because his Father did. And so he made his choice. He chose the cup. He chose the cross. He chose us. He chose you.
Three hundred years ago another songwriter wrote these words.
In vain we seek for peace with God,
By methods of our own;
Jesus, there’s nothing but your blood
Can bring us near the throne.
The threatenings of your broken law
Impress the soul with dread;
If God the sword of justice draw,
It strikes the spirit dead.
But your illustrious sacrifice
Has answered these demands;
And peace and pardon from the skies
Came down from Jesus’ hands.
’Tis by your death we live, O Lord,
’Tis on your cross we rest;
Forever be your love adored
Your name forever blessed.
This choice demands a choice in return. And Jesus’ faithfulness calls for our faith so that our lives are not just saved by his cross but stamped with it. To love as we’ve been loved. To forgive as we’ve been forgiven. To accept as we’ve been accepted.
To wrap things up: in the garden we see the debt we owe. And we see our true value. It is set by the price Jesus was prepared to pay to buy our life for freedom. In the garden he chose you. While you have life and breath, choose him.