Strong in Weakness
As we continue to this dark and depressing chapter, we see one of the depths of sorrow that Christ felt in his humiliation. As we have seen this chapter shows the faithlessness of Christ’s disciples. As Jesus’ earthly ministry comes to an end the disciples will betray, abandon and deny Christ. In today’s passage, we see the disciples’ shortcomings and weakness, in the flesh. However, we see Christ’s sorrow and the realities of anxiety that is upon his human shoulders. A glorious passage to remind us even in our weakness, Christ remains strong.
I. Jesus’ strength in prayer
As we have seen Christ knows what is to come for him. He knows what is going to happen in the next few days. He is not a floating left, left to the currents of the water or wind. He has instituted the new meal of the Lord’s supper and has foretold his disciples about their abandonment and denials. Now he turns to God in prayer. He had left Jerusalem and went to the Mount of Olives, now he goes to a garden close to the Mount of Olives named, Gethsemane. Gethsemane means oil press. So likely it was an Olive grove with an oil press located within the garden. Jesus goes to pray, bringing Peter, James, and John with him. Now, these three have gone with Jesus before when Jesus took them with him on the mount of transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8). Yet this is quite the opposite, in the transfiguration, they would see the glory of God, here in the garden they would see their weakness but also would see the weight upon Jesus.
We see two important things here, the first is that Jesus’ response is prayer. We spent a how lesson looking at Mark 1:35-39 and looking at a Period, Place, Privacy, and Purpose of Prayer. Without going through that all again let me just highlight one main thing. That last week Peter made the bold proclamation of his steadfast commitment to the Lord, yet here it is Jesus who turns to the Lord in prayer. There is no arrogance on his part, but he comes before his father in prayer. As B.M Palmer puts it so well, “Prayer is creaturely dependence.” Christ in this hour puts his trust not in men but God. This is a great reminder of how we should turn to God in our hour of need.
But secondly, we see the weight which is upon Christ’s shoulders. We see the reason for Jesus turning to God in prayer is that Jesus was ‘greatly distressed and troubled.’ He would tell his disciples, “His soul is very troubled soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” Jesus uses three words here to describe how he is feeling at this moment. The first is greatly distressed, this word is used four times in the New Testament and only in the Gospel of Mark (9:15, 16:5-6) these times it has had a sense of amazement or alarm. Amazement generally has a positive understanding when we use these words, however, you can be amazed that sends make your heart pump. The second is that he is troubled. That of anxiety, a concern for something or someone. It is used of Epaphroditus in Philippians after hearing of the church’s concern for his near-death illness (Phil 2:25-26). The last word that is used is very sorrowful. That Jesus was grieved throughout. Jesus even uses words found in Psalm 42:6 and 42:11, “My soul is cast down within me.” We must understand these three words paint a picture of the weight which is upon Jesus during this time. Distressed, troubled, and very sorrowful. Not merely uncertain but knowing what is to come. A weight not just upon his shoulders but within his whole being. Where does he turn? To God in prayer.
II. Jesus’ strength to do God’s will
Jesus walks further into the garden and falls to the ground. Again this shows the weight that is upon him during this time. He knows, what we know. We know what is coming in a couple of chapters. We will speak of this latter but here he prays a simple and glorious prayer amid the garden.
“Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).
He cries out to his heavenly Father, understanding his power and position. Yet he cried that this cup might be removed from him. This is not merely going to a cross to die. That in itself would distress, trouble, and make our souls sorrowful. But Christ speaks of the cup of wrath which is to be poured out upon him. That the judgment of God will be placed on Jesus, our Passover lamb. The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, is hypostatically united to Jesus Christ. The human body of Jesus would be tormented, whipped, whipped, and hung on a criminal device that causes asphyxiation. But more than that the sins of God’s people will be laid on him. He will be crushed. He will be buried. He will be the sacrifice to satisfy the wrath of God. This is what he means by ‘this cup.’ God’s wrath in full. This of how God had expressed his wrath in the Old Testament, global floods, raining Sulphur and brimstone, the annihilation of nations, pestilence, plagues, sickness, and famine. All of these for sins committed in history. However, Christ would drink the whole cup of God’s wrath which is due to all his people. Christ who knew no sin became sin for us. The eternally begotten Son of God took on flesh and now that flesh would suffer the horrible death bearing all of his people’s sin. This weight upon him causes him to sweat drops of blood (Luke 22:44). Luke, the physician, records Hematohidrosis which comes from individuals who are suffering from extreme levels of stress.
Yet Christ, here prays that this cup has been taken away from him. However, Christ utters the famous words, “yet not what I will, but what you will.” Is Christ opposed to God? Can two persons of the Trinity desire two different things? This has been a debate and you can google Monothelitism/Dyothelitism. This was all a part of the debate of does Christ has one will or two. Church history has explained (and I agree) that a will is a part of nature, thus the two natures of Christ each have a will. So when Christ prays, he is praying that his human will does not want to go forward. Which is understandable. We can flippantly talk of Christ’s death, and we have become immune to the grotesque word, death.
His human will did not want to face what was in store for him. The reality is that “The Son of Man must suffer man things.” Jesus knew what those many things were and indeed it was suffering. The next few days would include the horrific acts of death on the cross. This execution device was used by the Romans for the worst criminals. The purpose was not merely to give someone the death penalty but to humiliate them while causing an enormous amount of pain. The criminal would have to carry the cross beam (about 100 lbs) to their place of execution. They would often be whipped and beaten beforehand, close to the point of death. They would then have nails driven into their wrists and feet, with their legs slightly bent. They would be raised, and they could be left up there for days. They would bear weight on their legs to push their body up so that they could breathe. Eventually, they would die from exhaustion and asphyxiation. To hasten the process, the soldier would break or shatter the criminal’s legs with an iron club so that they would no longer be able to stand up. When Paul preaches in Acts 13 to the people of Antioch, he explains that Christ was executed (Acts 13:28). Yet Jesus prays that God’s will be done, not his human will.
III. The disciples’ weakness
Moments earlier his disciples said they would never deny him, yet what do they do in this time. They are sleeping. Their master is bearing a burden upon himself, and they are sleeping. But we even see Jesus acknowledge that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. That the human body has its limitations. Yet, we must see a difference here between Christ who is also a man, with the same physical limitations, but he is without sin. It might seem harsh, but the disciples are sinning. They have been given a commandment by Christ, to watch and pray. But they are found asleep, three times Christ goes to pray and each time they fall asleep. Now we do not know and can only be speculation so we will not seek to venture to find any ideas of what the reasoning is for their sleep. But I do think we see a very important lesson for us, our body often tells us what we need physically, our stomachs rumble, our muscles ache, our mouth turns dry, and our eyes get heavy. We know when we are hungry, sore, thirsty, or tired. We can see an effect on our body because we have done too much, or not done enough. However, how subtle it is when we think about our spiritual needs. Yet, how more important is the latter than the former. How quickly we can pass over everything we need spiritually. We cannot pray and we have no rumblings, some of us, if we are honest, can go for a long period of time without even thinking of reading God’s word. I point this out, not to force guilt on you, but I think to point out reality. The Spirit is willing, and the flesh is weak.
But if we were to stop here, we miss the point of this passage. If we were to stop here the application would be to pray more and read more bible. These are good applications to be able to do. You can change some things in your life to help you. For me, I always need to be reminded and often forget that the screen on my phone becomes a black hole of useless and futile time-wasting. So, we need to be aware of this, but if we just think we can do it then we forget about chapter 14 and the whole point of the Gospel. The truth is we cannot do it, that we focus on the disciples and what they were or were not doing then what we can get is not the gospel but the law. That while the disciples were sleeping, Christ was praying. Whatever time we have slept in, Christ has prayed for us. The gospel is not ‘do better,’ the gospel is that Christ has done it all for us. That his righteousness is ours. That our flesh is very weak. But more than that, Christ does not wait for us to be strong, he died for us while were still weak, as Paul explains in Romans 5:6-11,
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
In Mark chapter 14, as we continue to see the betrayal, denial, and abandonment of the disciples we see Christ is not weak. Christ’s spirit and his flesh are strong. This is not just the point of Mark 14, but the whole of the Gospel message, from Genesis to Revelation. As the little children’s song goes, “they are weak, but he is strong.” Tim Keller has a great quote explaining how Christianity is different than all other religions,
“Every other religion and philosophy says you have to do something to connect to God; but Christianity says no, Jesus Christ came to do for you what you couldn’t do for yourself. Every other religion says here are the answers to the big questions, but Christianity says Jesus is the answer to them all. So many systems of thought appeal to strong, successful people because they play directly into their belief that if you are strong and hardworking enough, you will prevail.
But Christianity is not just for the strong; it’s for everyone, especially for people who admit that, where it really counts, they’re weak. It is for people who have the particular kind of strength to admit that their flaws are not superficial, their heart is deeply disordered, and that they are incapable of rectifying themselves. It is for those who can see that they need a savior, that they need Jesus Christ dying on the cross, to put them right with God.”