Now, we’re going to read from Mark 14:32. Before we read this, perhaps we should just remind ourselves: we looked first of all at the importance, the necessity, of being in Christ; that once in Christ, it is God’s eternal, existential, eschatological purpose to make us like Christ. We’ve thought about that in terms of his humility, in terms of his compassion, in terms of his work as a preacher of the gospel and personal evangelism, and this morning, finally, in terms of his being a suffering servant.
You remember when Paul expresses his great longing to know Christ, he says, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death ….” This is a, perhaps, more difficult concept for us to wrestle with, but with this we will wrestle, and we read from verse 32:
“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 distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’
“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.’
“[And] then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping.”
Now, we can have also, if it’s helpful to you, our fingers in Luke chapter 22, which is the parallel passage in Luke’s gospel, beginning in verse 39. And the reason I say that is because sometimes this morning, I’ll say something, and you’ll be looking at Mark, and you’ll say, “But it isn’t in there,” and then if you go to Luke, you’ll find it there, and vice versa. And so as not to be tedious and be constantly saying, “I mean Luke, I mean Mark; whatever,” I’m just going to assume, I’m just going to recognize what an intelligent group this is, and that you’ll be figuring this out for yourselves.
So, let us pause and pray. And now we humbly pray, “Make the Book live to me, O Lord; show me yourself within your Word; show me myself, and show me my Savior, and make the book live to me,” for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
For many of us, this passage of Scripture is familiar territory. We at least have read it on an annual basis, if not more frequently, in the course of the Christian calendar. It is of interest, I think you will agree, that while the Gospel writers provide us with no description of the physicality of Jesus—nowhere are we told his height, or his weight, the color or length of his hair, the shade of his eyes, and so on—all of that a veil of silence is cast over purposefully, presumably, as a result of the Spirit’s work in the lives of the Gospel writers; and given that, I think it’s all the more interesting that we should be given an insight, as it were, into the chemistry of Christ, into something of the psychological makeup of Jesus; that while we have no right to say that, “He looked like this,” we have some indication of the kind of thing that he experienced as a man and that which was going on inside of him. And so it is to this quite disturbing view of Jesus that we turn on this final occasion.
Jesus, you will remember, when he was asked concerning prayer, had given a pattern of prayer to those who were his listeners and his followers, and in the course of that prayer, it is common for us to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” “Our Father who art in heaven, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And what Jesus encouraged his followers to pray, we now discover him putting into practice. And in this little scenario here that is for us in Mark—and again as I say to you, in Luke—I want us to try and navigate our way through it by employing three simple verbs.
Every elementary school teacher knows the importance of teaching their class about looking properly, listening carefully, and learning eagerly. In fact, when I was a boy growing up there was a magazine in Scotland that was a sort of pseudo-educational tool that was entitled Look and Learn—Look and Learn. I had a few copies, but I was never a great fan of it, I must confess. I was more interested in football magazines than Look and Learn magazines; I should’ve paid more attention to it—and don’t use me as an excuse, young people, if you’re listening to me now. The importance of looking, listening, and learning.
Well, first of all, we’re going to look. We have these passages in the Bible in order that in the reading of them we may conjure up in our minds some sense of what is taking place. It is there for us that we might do so. So let us then look at what we’re told. I want to suggest that we look carefully at what we’re told, that we don’t allow familiarity with this passage to prevent us from seeing what is actually a striking and somewhat incongruous picture—a striking and an incongruous picture. The Gospel readers were familiar with Jesus as he’d been introduced to them as a rabbi and as a teacher. They had become aware of his ministry as a worker of miracles. They were aware of all that had been said and written concerning him as someone who was a friend of sinners. But now, as these early readers of the Gospel take this material and turn to it, many of them will not be ready for the picture that is provided by the Gospel writers here, for this is a picture of a distressed Christ—this is a picture of a distressed Christ.
You will notice that Mark tells us that “he began to be deeply distressed and troubled”—“to be deeply distressed and troubled.” Indeed, the language as it is written in the Greek is of the most profound significance. The terminology that is used is hardly aptly covered for us by the idea of a “deep distress.” And you will have noted, if you’re familiar with your Bible, that earlier the Gospel readers had been made aware that the evening of these events was a cold evening. It was an evening that was cold enough for a fire to have been kindled in the home of the high priest, for you will remember that it was at that fire that Peter warmed himself and was confronted by the questions of the servant girl in that house. So on an evening that is cold enough for a fire, what is happening here that we find Jesus sweating profusely? It would be one thing if it was a phenomenally humid evening. We would be able to say to ourselves, “Well, understandably, he along with all the other people would simply be responding to the nature of the climate of the time”; but no, there is no indication given of that at all.
And in his experience of deep distress and trouble, it would be surprising if his immediate companions—namely, Peter, James, and John, according to verse 33—if they were not made aware of the nature of this condition, and if, in a sense of compassion, they did not say to him, “Jesus, what is wrong? Jesus, why are you the way you are?” This was a whole new experience for those who had been aware of their lives being marked by fearfulness, by despair, even in the area of their greatest capacity as fishermen being overwhelmed by the prospect of death on the Sea of Galilee, for them to have had Jesus stand and rebuke the winds and the waves, and for them to look at one another and say, “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the [waves] obey him?” For as good Jewish boys, they knew from their reading of the Old Testament that only God was in control of the winds and the waves; therefore, for this Jesus to stand at the stern of their boat and command the seas to silence was nothing other than an indication of the vastness of who he was in all of his proclaimed Messiahship.
Given all of that, what now is happening to Jesus that he is so deeply distressed? Well, he says and explains to them in verse 34, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Now, I say again to you, look carefully at this. You’re sensible people. You have Bibles. Our familiarity with this material—especially those of us who have been reared in it—is such that, frankly, I think most of us missed this; or, because it is so distressing to us, we tend to say, “I don’t want really to handle this.” Jesus proclaims, to those who are his nearest and dearest, in his experience of distress and trouble, “I’m actually overwhelmed.” Jesus is overwhelmed. He says so. All of the pent-up emotion that presumably is represented in his life as he has been moving now over a period of weeks steadfastly towards the cross; all of this. For example, the statements, as in John 4 last evening, when the disciples come and say, “Did somebody bring him food?” And remember what he said: “My food … is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” In Mark 8, after the great declaration of Peter concerning his Messiahship, he then says, “Now, fellas, I need you to know that I am setting my face steadfastly towards Jerusalem, where I will be handed over to cruel men who will crucify me, and on the third day I will rise again,” and at that point the disciples are recoiling from it and saying, “No, Jesus! This must never happen to you!” “Yes,” he said. “This is my destiny, and to this I move.” And how they must’ve marveled that he could walk so straightforwardly towards this great meeting at the cross.
Well, now—now it’s a different picture. Now he shrinks from the cup—he shrinks from the cup. He knows it to be the will of God. He has repeatedly asserted, affirmed the divine necessity of his suffering. That is not in question. But he is now confronted by the immediacy of the ordeal. And look at the description of him: “deeply distressed,” deeply “troubled,” “overwhelmed … to the point of death.” Luther, looking at this scene, wrote in his commentary, “No man ever feared death like this man.” Doesn’t that seem wrong? Wouldn’t we expect that Luther would have said, “Nobody, like Jesus, breezed through death. After all, he was the Messiah. He was the one who would come out on the far side in the Resurrection.” No. Luther says, “Nobody ever feared death like this man feared death.” For no one would ever die a death like this man. Says Macleod, the Scottish theologian, “He went to the outer limits of human endurance, so close to the absolute limit that he was almost overwhelmed”—“to the limits of human endurance.”
Now, look again. Look at what we have before us in this picture: Jesus, the one who is utterly and entirely without sin; Jesus, the beloved and uniquely precious Son of the Father, is about to be destroyed at the Father’s hands. Isn’t that right? Isn’t that what the prophet said in Isaiah 53: “It was the Lord’s will to crush him and to cause him to suffer”? Doesn’t Paul, taking that picture, reflecting on the scene, give to us in Romans 8 these words: “He … did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all…”? What you have here is the innocent about to suffer at the hands of God. What you have here is the sinless about to bear the wrath of God in himself for sin. What you have here is the prospect of the perfect one being nailed on a cross, on a garbage heap outside Jerusalem, between two thieves, abused and disabused. And why? Paul tells us: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”
Let me just say parenthetically, for those of you who may still not be believers in Christianity, who may not have come to trust in Jesus, I was greatly helped some time ago when I read John Stott’s little sentence, and this is what he said: “I could never believe in God were it not for the cross. I could never believe in a God who was removed from the pain and overwhelming distress of human suffering.” For what we have in this, in this description of the Suffering Servant, is not a reluctant Jesus, for he said, “Nobody takes my life from me. I have the power to lay it down. I have the power to give it again.” It is not that Jesus is reluctantly going to the will of God the Father, for he goes purposefully and obediently and submissively, the way the Christian ought to go. But in his humanity, he inevitably recoils from it. Because he’s a man! He is a real man! His mother taught him the alphabet. His granny, in human terms, would’ve come over and explained to him the noises that a cow makes distinct from the noises that a donkey makes. His psychological development was the psychological development of humanity within the framework of all that is normal.
And so, before the events that are about to transpire, he recoils; because, you see, without substitution, the cross of Christ is unintelligible, and I think that’s why people disregard it. Because the way in which many of us talk about it is completely unintelligible. Because maybe we don’t even understand what we’re talking about—in which case, then, we can be forgiven as to the dreadful job we’re doing of trying to explain it to people who ask us. Because if all we say concerning the cross is concerning something about “the manifold love of God, and in order to show us how much he loved us, this is what he did to Jesus,” the person says, “Well, there must be a missing piece in this puzzle, is there not?” Well, of course there is! It was the love of God. Let’s put it this way: we were so messed up that Jesus had to die for us, and we were so unbelievably loved in Jesus that he was pleased to die for us. But as he comes to the point of departure, the Gospel writers tell us that he was “distressed,” and he was “troubled,” and he explained he was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”
The Atonement, the death of Jesus on the cross for sinners, is not a theory. It’s not a mathematical equation. It’s a flesh-and-blood reality, and there was nothing, there was nothing in Christ’s humanity to blunt his emotions or to anesthetize his sensitivity. Did you hear that? There was nothing in Christ’s humanity to blunt his emotions or anesthetize his sensitivity. Have you ever pondered what was going on when they offered him a branch with a sponge on the end of it, and it was wine mingled with gall? It was an anesthetic potion, and it says in the Scriptures, “And they offered him wine mingled with gall, but he refused to drink it”—“he refused to drink it.” Why? In order that he might experience suffering in all of its unmitigated dimensions. In order that no one might be able to say, “Oh, but someone has suffered worse than this. He had anesthetic before that happened.” No, he went to it completely without anesthetic help, and as a result of being entirely compos mentis—and, perhaps in the immensity of his love, this was part of it: if he had taken that drug potion, how could he have looked down and said to his beloved disciple, “Look after my mother, will you?” Or how could he have been available to say to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
He refused the wine mingled with gall. He suffered at a level that no one has ever suffered; he endured everything for the sake of his own. What an amazing thing it is—and what a stupidity it is, that twenty-first century Western Christianity offers itself to the world as a panacea for all ills, as the best grades at university, as the most significant job, as the cutest girls, as the high school quarterback boys: “We are the people who’ve got it altogether, you see. Why not come and join us?” And then these interested agnostics begin to read their Bibles and say, “How did you get here from here? What is this ‘’fellowship of suffering that the Apostle Paul was on? What was he talking about when he said, ‘I want to know Christ?’” We stop: “‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.’ That’ll be enough for us.” Finish the verse right there: there is no power of his resurrection except as it is an experience “in the fellowship of his sufferings.” It is only through his sufferings in Calvary that there is the reality of the Resurrection. And the same, my friends, is true for you and me, and every attempt to deny that is known by our own hearts as fraudulent, is condemned by the Scriptures clearly, and every well‑thinking, cynical agnostic friend that I have says, “You’re full of absolute bunk.” And you know what? If I were to suggest that that was the essence of Christianity, they would be absolutely right.
Now, let me just say, parenthetically, that some of you are staring at me—staring at me because you’re saying to yourselves, “This cannot be. This cannot possibly be.” Some of you are stumbling over my words, and I know why it is: because you, like me, are very concerned to safeguard the divinity of Christ. Any notion of a weakened divinity is abhorrent to us because we know that it is contrary to the Bible. Right? And liberal theology throughout the ages has always been weak on the divinity of Jesus. Fundamentalism, conservatism, evangelicalism has distanced itself from that danger—but, I want to suggest to you, flirts with the opposite danger, not now of a diminished divinity, but a diminished humanity.
So now we have a less-than-human Jesus, because we are so concerned to make sure that we have an absolutely divine Jesus. Now, we ought not to be surprised by that, because the early centuries fought through all these issues, and late in the fourth and fifth century the church had to deal with a man called Apollinaris, and you can Google him—it’s great being able to say that, “and you can Google him”; I don’t know what Apollinaris would think about it—but anyway, if you Google him you will find out that Apollinaris was a problem in the late fourth and fifth century because he was diminishing the humanity of Jesus, and so the councils got together and affirmed, just as in Christ there was complete and perfect Godhead, so there was complete and perfect manhood. Nothing that was necessary to humanness was lacking in him. Look for yourselves.
Spent too long on the first, but you know my pattern now, don’t you? Catch up for the rest of the time. Look; secondly, listen—listen. “My soul is overwhelmed … to the point of death,” he said, and “going a little further, he fell to the ground”—“he fell to the ground.” Now, all our pictures, all those Christian pictures, I think they ought to all be taken out and thrown away, the most of them. Because we have all these pictures of Jesus, as it were, you know, before the cross. He’s just—he’s just so, you know, “Yes, oh yes.” No! No, no, no! You can’t have “deeply distressed”; you can’t have “troubled”; you can’t have “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” and then…no! You’ve got—you’ve got: everything is, everything is everywhere! If you doubt that, listen to his words. “Abba”—intimacy. “Father”—Father? “Everything’s possible for you”—sovereignty. “If you’re willing”—we’re in Luke now—inquiry. “Take this cup from me”—you could say that is the intensity of his expression; you could actually say that is the integrity of his expression. “I have to be honest, Father,” he says, “right now, where I am, here, I wish that you would take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Now, at that point, Luke tells us that an angel was dispatched. Angels are fascinating, and we have no time to think about it, but I have this picture of, like, if you play golf a lot and you play at nice golf courses, they always have good caddies for you. And there’s a place, there’s a wall where the caddies lean—at least in St. Andrews, at the Old Course—or there’s a little box in which they stay out of the rain, little shack, and they’re all there. And they wait until the caddy master calls them up: “Hey, Billy! I got a bag for you!” And off they come, out they come, the Scottish ones, big red noses like this—because of what they spend their money on after they finish, they glow in the dark; you see them through the mist. Anyway—and Billy comes out. And somehow or another, in the angelic host it has to be like that. You know, like, the chairman of the angelic band says, “Hey, hey! I need you to go somewhere for me. I know you went to Bethlehem. I’m sure you remember that. Well, if you remember that, I want you to go now down to Gethsemane.” And an angel came. “An angel came to strengthen him.” And we might have assumed that the angel would’ve fixed things. Here we go, angelic visitations—kind of a New Age idea, isn’t it? You know? Big angel came, everything was nice after that? Uh-uh. Angel comes, and then it says, “Being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly.”
So an angelic visitation never took care of the thing for him. And as he prays to his Father, he prays as an expression of his humility; he bows beneath the Father’s will because he recognizes that Father knows best. And you will notice that it is not that he is somehow or another relying on prayer here. Don’t misunderstand me when I say this, but there is no power in prayer. All of the power is in God. He’s not trying to employ the power of prayer in order to rectify a situation. He is bowing before his Father and he is acknowledging as he speaks to him in prayer, “Father, you have power over all of heaven and all of earth. You can do anything you choose. From eternity, we determined together with the Holy Spirit that this was the plan. You planned it. I would procure it. The Holy Spirit will come behind me and apply it. Oh, Father!” Because you see, Jesus knows that he is about to enter the one experience in life for which he has no preparation: when the Father turns his face away. He has never lived absent the communion that he enjoys within the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit coming up, if you like, in the wonder of their wisdom, with this great plan of redemption. And now we’re at the point.
It is God who works in response to prayer. It is not prayer that works. And this, incidentally and parenthetically, is the answer to all of the prayer stuff that you can read in Newsweek magazine and everything else—the Cleveland Clinic and MIT and Boston Hospitals and UCLA and everything else—they’re all very interested now: “Let’s get all in and talk about the healing powers of prayer.” You tell them, “No, there is no healing in prayer; the only person who can heal is God Almighty.” They say, “Well, no, we don’t want that. That’s not the program we’re looking for.” “Yeah? Well, the only person who can heal is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We’d love to come and tell the whole Cleveland Clinic about how they can come to know the living God through Jesus.” “No. Get out of here. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the power of prayer.” There is no power in prayer.
Look. Listen. Learn. Our time is gone. It’s 10:13, but—and so, I will only make one point of application, and that is not in terms of prayer itself, but in terms of Christ’s humanity and his passion. “The Word,” remember, we’re told, “became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus comes into humanity. He is not detached. He was in touch with the religious establishment; in fact, he was opposed by the religious establishment. When he added Matthew to his disciple band and they had that big party at the house of Levi, nobody was more annoyed about it than the religious folks of his day: “Apparently, he’s gone to eat with sinners and to attend a party with them!” And Jesus came out and said, “Yeah, that’s exactly right. I [did] not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Jesus, in his humanity, lived among sin. He lived where he could hear swearing, where he heard blasphemy, where he observed and confronted disease and mortality and sadness and squalor. That’s where Christ lived. That’s the nature of the Incarnation. He did not come into our time–space capsule and live at the top of a high hill in a large palace behind gates, inured from the experiences of a common person. This is not the Buddha. This is not somebody who is in a rarified environment. This is someone who is down now. He says, “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” And in the midst of all of that he finds himself.
Let me just say to you, I am so challenged by this; the challenge is obvious: how can we effectively impact a world we’re not in? How many non-Christian friends do you have? How many non-Christian friends have you cultivated having? And when you go with them, I hope that we don’t just give them a bunch of sanctimonious, cliché‑ridden stuff. My daughter, one of them, works in a place that I can’t talk about, far from here, and she’s unknown in the place ’cause she’s so quickly there. And one of the girls in the place was just not very nice to her: cold, aloof, distanced. Not like any of the other girls that were working there, the ones that were going out for a smoke at eleven fifteen, the ones that were going here and there; they seemed a fairly normal group. This girl told her that she was involved in abstinence—that she and her husband had abstained before they were married, she told my daughter. But not in a way like, “Hey, have you ever heard about the idea of not having sex before you’re married?” No. No. “We were abstainers”—you know, down the nose—“unlike you. No one as cute as you is going to be an abstainer; I know that just by looking at you.” She doesn’t know my daughter. She, this girl, is the Christian. She’s the Christian! She’s the last person that the smokers are going to go to with a question, ’cause she’s not nice! Nice is good. Do you understand that? That there is something attractive about the gospel? That in Greek, there is agathós, which is “intrinsically good,” like a good apple, and there is kalos, which is agathós plus “attractively good”—intrinsically and attractively good. It is not enough for us to be intrinsically righteous. We are supposed to be attractively righteous, and our attraction does not lie in our willingness to play the game of those who don’t agree with us, to join in their jokes, to affirm their nonsense, but it’s just to be like Jesus.
Three imperatives, and we’re done: Be real. Be real. Be real. Everybody’s asking about everybody the same question: Is this guy a phony? Is this for real? And every time you stand up and preach, I guarantee you, every last one of them said, “Ah, I don’t know about him. Look at him there. Wore the same jacket every day, filthy character. What’s his problem? No clothes or something; I don’t know what’s wrong with the guy.” No. I wear this jacket everyday ’cause it’s my favorite jacket, and my son bought it for me for my birthday, and I feel close to him when I wear his jacket. Be real.
Be done—be done. With what? With superficial triumphalism. It’s not true to human experience, it’s not true to the Bible, and it only attracts silly people. And it does not answer to the cries of the sick and the sad.
Be real, be done, and be sure that Christ stands beside us when we are emotionally overwhelmed. You see, this little section in Gethsemane gives place to the Christian experience of distress, of being overwhelmed. And some of us with a significant dose of the Pharisee in us, who’ve never really been distressed or overwhelmed, we have nothing to say to our Christian friends, brothers and sisters, when they’re distressed and overwhelmed, except, “Would you stop being distressed and overwhelmed? You’re annoying me.” Or, worse still, “You know, if you were really a Christian, if you really had faith in the God, the risen Jesus—yeah, I don’t see you’d be distressed at all. I don’t understand why you would be overwhelmed. What do you mean, ‘You’re overwhelmed, you want to curl up in a ball, and pull the blankets over your head, and stay there ’til the week from next Friday’?”
Well, this is fantastic isn’t it? Because, now I found somebody who understands. Now I’m introduced to the ultimate counselor. Now I’m introduced to the one who was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” so in my distress, and in my fearfulness, and in my quiet desperation, Jesus knows all about my struggles—socially, emotionally, physically. I can never go beyond his pain. My darkness, no matter how deep, is never more intense than his, for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with us in our sufferings.
No: Look. Listen. Learn.
Father, write your Word in our hearts. All that is helpful and true, may it be stored up for the evil day if it hasn’t as yet come upon us. That which is unhelpful or untrue—which is distinctly possible for my lips—may it be banished from our recollection. Grant that none of us may walk away from this campground without settling the issue of what it means to be “in Christ.” And may none of us evade the challenge nor miss the immense privilege of becoming increasingly like Christ in his humility, in his compassion, in his zeal for the souls of others, and yes, even in his experience of suffering. And may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest and remain with all who believe, now and until Jesus comes or calls us to himself, and then forevermore. Amen.
 Philippians 3:10 (NIV 1984).
 R. Hudson Pope, “Make the Book Live to Me” (n.d.) (Paraphrased).
 Matthew 6:9 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 8:27 (KJV).
 John 4:34 (NIV 1984).
 Mark 8:31–33 (paraphrased).
 Source unavailable.
 Donald Macleod, A Faith to Live By (Ross-Shire: Christian Focus, 2015), 131.
 Isaiah 53:10 (NIV 1984).
 Romans 8:32 (NIV 1984).
 2 Corinthians 5:21 (paraphrased).
 John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 335. Paraphrased.
 John 10:18 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 27:34 (paraphrased).
 John 19:26–27 (paraphrased).
 Luke 23:43 (NIV 1984).
 Philippians 3:10 (paraphrased).
 Mark 14:34–35 (paraphrased).
 Luke 22:42 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 22:42 (paraphrased).
 Luke 22:43 (paraphrased).
 Luke 22:44 (NIV 1984).
 Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42–43 (paraphrased).
 John 1:14 (paraphrased).
 Luke 5:32 (paraphrased).
 Luke 9:58 (paraphrased).
 Hebrews 4:15 (paraphrased).
 2 Cor. 13:14 (paraphrased).