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Suffering Savior

Eric Durso
The Gospel of Mark  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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It is good to be back from Uganda. My heart is full and I feel like I could preach until Wednesday, telling stories of what God is doing out there in Africa. I can’t do that now, you’ll have to come to our evening gathering at the end of the month to hear from Hans and I as we’ll discuss the trip in more detail.
I will say that I brought our greetings to the Kubamitwe Community Bible Church, and that they are a thriving body of believers in a rural village in Uganda. And now I bring you greetings from the church in Uganda, from the missionaries at Sufficiency of Scripture Ministries, and I report back that Jesus is alive, and he is redeeming people from every tongue, tribe, and nation.
Mark 14. This morning we are going to look at Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane. I confess that I feel an overwhelming sense of inadequacy before this passage. It is so deep, so mysterious, so lofty, so wonderful, so incredible, that I despair to try and adequately present it. I found myself regularly traveling to the boundaries of my vocabulary to find words to express the wonder of this event.
But I am confident that the Lord wants us to look at him, there in the dark garden, the night of his betrayal, and to contemplate the wonderful mystery of his suffering.
It has been the prayer of Christians throughout the centuries that we could come to a deeper and fuller grasp of the love of Christ. It has been the subject of songs and poems. One such hymn is called O Make Me Understand It. The refrain goes: “O make me understand it, help me to take it in, what it meant to thee, the Holy One, to take away my sin.”
That has been my prayer this week. This passage is too wonderful for me. O make me understand it, help me take it in. What it meant to thee, the Holy One, to take away my sin. And I trust that God will hear our prayers.
Let’s read Mark 14:32-42.
Let’s get some context. It’s Thursday evening of the last week of Jesus’ life. It’s the night of his betrayal. He had just eaten the passover meal with his disciples, predicting one who would betray him. In verse 27 he predicted that at the time of his death all his disciples would fall away. And if you remember, Peter was appalled at such a thought, and in verse 29 said, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” In verse 31, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.”
And now Jesus takes them to Gethsemane. It was a gardened area, there would have been olive trees all around him, and at this point, after the passover meal, it’s late, probably past midnight, and they’ve had an exhausting week of teaching in the temple. In the Mediterranean climate the night was probably cool, maybe in the mid 60s. There are no streetlights or lamposts; the place would be dark and quiet. This is the setting of one of the most important events in the history of the world. The fate of the world is on his shoulders. Heaven and hell weigh upon him. The fate of millions will be determined by how he fares this night.
In this way, we are reminded of an earlier garden, and an earlier Adam, and an earlier temptation, and we are reminded how the fate of the world was on his shoulders, and how the fate of millions would be determined by his decision, and how he failed and plunged the entire human race into sin and misery. In this garden, the Second Adam comes to face a much greater temptation, and should he fail, all would be lost.
Here, Jesus begins to look into the abyss of suffering that awaits him. It’s not that he didn’t know his suffering was going to come. He knew. He’s been predicting for a long time now. But as the hour draws close, the reality of it all settles in. Now, here, in this moment, the Son of God is tempted to swerve from God’s path and abort his Father’s plan for salvation.
I want to ask some questions to explore this text: 1) How did Jesus face this suffering? 2) What was Jesus experiencing? 3) What did Jesus ask God to do? 4) What kind of people did Jesus suffer for? And 5) What does this mean for us?
First, how did Jesus face this suffering? Simply, the answer is found at the end of verse 32: “Sit here while I pray.” Imagine you are told that this very night you will be tortured, or that your child will be kidnapped, or that a loved one would die. I’m sure your knowledge of the coming pain would cause your pulse to quicken. Perhaps you’d panic. Perhaps you’d try to escape. Perhaps you’d curl up in your bed and put your head underneath your pillow.
Jesus prayed. Remember in Mark 1, at the very beginning of his ministry, they didn’t know where Jesus went and they finally found him, and he was praying. Remember in the middle of Jesus ministry, in Mark 6, just after feeding the 5,000, Jesus withdrew to the mountain to pray? Now, as his life comes to a close, what is he compelled to do? He wants to pray. He prayed in the beginning, in the middle and here in the end.
We should bring everything to God in prayer. Make it a practice to pray in the morning. To pray in the middle of the day. And to pray at night. This is why we pray corporately as a church, and this is why it is common to see people praying with each other after church. Because we want to be like Jesus, who brought all his burdens to the Father.
Do you realize that prayerless is functional atheism? To be prayerless is to unsay with our lives all our theology about God, ourselves, Christ, and our mission. How often do we pray last, when all other options have been sought after? How sick are we, that our hands are full of needs, we do not run to our Father who would bear them with us!
Oh what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”
Observe Jesus. “Sit here while I pray.” This is the way Jesus faced suffering, and this is the way to live as a Christian. This is why we pray together as a church every time we gather. We honor him by going to him. By speaking with him. By laying our burdens at his feet.
How would you describe your prayer life? Consistent. Without ceasing. Bold and confident? Weak? Inconsistent? Only in the event of an emergency?
It truly is the measure of a man in a way nothing else is. Jesus faced his suffering with prayer.
Our second question is this: what was Jesus experiencing? Verse 33 says he took “with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled.” He separates himself from the rest of the disciples, bringing with him only three. Why these three? On one hand, they appear to be Jesus’ closest disciples. He invited only them into the room where he healed Jairus’ daughter. He invited only them up the Mount of Transfiguration. Peter, James, and John were given invitations the other disciples did not receive.
But I think there’s another reason. Back in Mark 10:35. James and John ask Jesus, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And Jesus replies, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they ask that they might sit at his right and left hand in glory. Jesus’ response in verse 38 is “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” His cup was a cup of suffering; his baptism, a baptism into death. Verse 39, “We are able.” To which Jesus replies, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” Jesus will share his cup and his baptism with them.
And why Peter? He had just said, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you!” He pronounced his willingness to die with Christ. So Jesus invites him to share in his suffering as well. You want glory? Suffer with me. Watch me suffer.
Back to chapter 14:33. And now the suffering begins. He “began to be greatly distressed and troubled.” He considers what’s about to come, what lies before him, and he is distressed. That word “distressed” does not capture the weight and shock of this experience. The word is translated in 9:15 to describe the surprised amazement at Jesus. Or in 16:5, the same word is translated “alarmed” - when the women meet an angel at the tomb of Jesus after his resurrection. Jesus is greatly distressed, sure, but he is amazed, he is alarmed.
There is not a passage of Scripture where we see Jesus’ humanity so clearly on display. He is “troubled” the text says. This word has elements of fear, of bewilderment, of uncertainty.
I find it incredible that he, in verse 34, shares this with them. He doesn’t hide it, ashamed. He says, “My soul” - the deepest part of my being - “is very sorrowful, even to death.” One translation says “deeply grieved,” another “exceedingly sorrowful.” So sad, so heartbroken, so shaken, so depressed that his body feels like it could die.
He tells Peter, James, and John to stay back in verse 34, “Remain here and watch.” He wants them to stay awake and alert for him, to pray with and for him, to watch for when the betrayer comes. And then as he moves away from them, he collapses. In verse 35, he collapses under the weight of the grief and agony. I could imagine that his whole body is trembling, his stomach is churning, his head is pounding, his heart is racing.
Jesus walked a bit away from them, but they were close enough to hear him. Hebrews 5:7 says that “in the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death.” His prayers were not quiet, stoic, whispers. He was crying out. He was wailing. There were tears. I imagine sobbing.
Luke includes the detail that he was sweating drops of blood. This condition is called hematidrosis: under intense pressure or fear, the blood vessels around the sweat glands contract and then dilate violently, causing them to rupture. Blood then enters the glands and is secreted through the pores of the skin. He is literally dying of distress.
Some of us have a Jesus who is so divine he’s not human any more. His divinity swallowed up his humanity. We think nothing really hurts him, nothing really threatens him, nothing really frightens or alarms him. He’s an actor on set; the guns are all plastic; the bullets are all blanks, the blood is all fake. Jesus couldn’t actually be experiencing all this, could he? Oh church, he is. He most certainly did. Away with such a false Jesus, a Jesus who cannot suffer. He is a real man, his suffering is real suffering, his pain is real pain, his bewilderment is real, his fear is real, his blood is real. This Jesus, in that Garden all those years ago, was actually distressed, gut-wrenchingly sorrowful, so agonized by the thought of what’s coming toward him.
By all worldly standards, the man is an absolute wreck. An embarrassment. A weakling. Why doesn’t he show courage to face his own death, like Socrates who when sentenced to death by poison drank the cup of hemlock without fear? How come Jesus was so emotional? How come he was so disheveled?
Even think about Christian martyrs. Stephen appeared to die confidently assured of God’s approval. When Christians Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were being burnt at the stake, Latimer cried out with courage, “Play the man, Master Ridley.” Where’s that in Jesus?
Why is it that some can face death, even martyrdom, with such courage, whereas Jesus appears to be so utterly distraught?
We receive the answer when we consider our next question: What did Jesus ask God to do?
Verse 35, he prayed that “if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me.”
You see, all these other martyrs faced death. But Jesus doesn’t ask to escape death. He wants this “cup” to be removed from him. What is the cup?
The cup is a rich Old Testament metaphor that symbolizes God’s wrath against sin. In Psalm 11:6 says that the cup of the wicked is filled with “fire and sulfur and scorching wind.” Psalm 75:8 says, “For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.” In Isaiah 51:17 it’s called the “cup of God’s wrath,” and the “cup of staggering.” In Revelation 14:10 those who died without forgiveness “will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.”
Notice that Jesus is not asking simply to avoid dying. He’s not merely asking to avoid the torture of the cross. Here in the Garden, in communion with his heavenly Father, he has peered into the cup of God’s wrath that he will drink, and he is repulsed.
Do you know why he has this cup to drink? This is the heart of the Christian message, if you are not a Christian, pay extra attention to what I’m about to say right now. Christianity is not fundamentally about certain morals. It is fundamentally about the concept I am about to explain.
The reason Jesus came into the world was to save sinners. The fundamental problem with mankind is that we are all sinners. And because God is holy, he is righteously angry with sin and will punish it, by pouring out the cup of his wrath upon sinners. But here, Jesus has before him this cup. He will drink the cup of God’s wrath for his people.
The Bible teaches that Jesus came to take our sins upon himself. He came, as the apostle Paul says, “to become sin.” He came to “bear our sins in his body on the tree.” Though perfectly innocent, guiltless, perfect, and pure, he came to take upon himself our sins, and then to make payment for them by drinking fully the cup of God’s wrath against them for us.
The cup was filled with the wrath of his own father. To drink it he would need to become sin, and then to be condemned as a sinner, and drink the fullness of the fury of God’s anger.
In other words, his suffering was more than thorns and nails. There was more suffering than the eyes could behold. If you look at a painting of his suffering, or a sculpture of the cross, or if you watch The Passion of the Christ, you will not see the extent of his suffering - these depictions cannot possibly grasp what Scripture reveals here. His suffering and death is not like any other suffering or any other death.
The more holy we are, the hatred we have for sin. The more we groan over it. Can you imagine Jesus, the most holy man, not merely looking at sin, but pondering the reality that he will become sin for us? In a sense, Jesus was the least ready to experience the cross because he’d never experienced sin before.
You see, Jesus is not trembling and weeping and fainting because he will die. His whole life and ministry he has been indomitable. What is it? John Stott reflects on this beautifully: “To me it is ludicrous to suppose that he is now afraid of pain, insult and death. Socrates in the prison cell in Athens, according to Plato's account, took his cup of hemlock 'without trembling or changing color or expression'. He then 'raised the cup to his lips and very cheerfully and quietly drained it'. When his friends burst into tears, he rebuked them for their 'absurd' behaviour and urged them to 'keep quiet and be brave'. He died without fear, sorrow or protest . So was Socrates braver than Jesus? Or were their cups filled with different poisons?''
Ah, that’s the difference between Jesus’ death and every other death. Their cups were filled with different poisons. Jesus was facing the full fury of the wrath of God the Almighty against sin. The agony of Christ demonstrates the magnitude of the suffering he is about to drink in. He will swallow an ocean of burning wrath against sin. He will suffer the harrowing, tortuous agony of being stricken by God, afflicted by his own Father, the one whom he has always loved.
Consider that word, “Abba” - it’s an intimate way to address a father. Some have said it would be like saying “Papa” or “Daddy.” I am reminded of an article I read about people’s last words, just as they’re dying, in which one German hospice nurse was quoted to have said, “Almost everyone is calling for ‘Mommy’ or “Mama’ with the last breath.” In the most agonizing moment of life - the moment where life itself is departing - we cry out for the most intimate relationship we can think of. Jesus cried out “Abba!” - but this time “Abba” would not deliver him.
So our third question, “what did Jesus ask God to do?” Jesus, who only ever did the will of his Father, who said it was his food to obey his Father, now, in this moment, expresses his desire to not do the will of his Father. Jesus, in his human nature, was right to desire perfect fellowship with his Father; he was right to desire not being made sin. And he did not want to die this death. And so he asked, “Can this cup be removed?” And yet, he knew the answer, and resolved “Yet not my will, but what you will.”
Even though his desires for life and fellowship with God are not sinful, he will not give in to them. He will follow through with the plan. He will take upon himself their sin, he will lay down his life for sinners, he will suffer the penalty their sins deserved, he will die in their place.
Friends, this is the gospel. Non Christian friend, hear me: the message of Jesus is that there is a cup of wrath over your head. And you have two options before you. Take it yourself, and suffer the justice of God’s wrath forever. Or look to Jesus, look to his cross, and believe that he has taken the cup of wrath, that he has emptied it, and that you are acquitted, pardoned, and forgiven because of it.
Our last question is this: What kind of people did Jesus suffer for?
Verse 37 tells us what’s going on with the disciples while Jesus is in agony. “And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? 38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
He had told these men to stay, to watch, I think he wanted them to be there with him, to share in his prayers and in his pain, to hold him up and encourage him. But they let him down. They kept falling asleep during his moment of greatest need.
39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him.
They are without words; they cannot defend themselves. They have repeatedly failed Jesus and they don’t know how to respond to him. Jesus continues to pray.
41 And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?
Brave Peter says he’s willing to die for Jesus. He can’t even stay awake for Jesus. When Jesus asked James and John if they were able to suffer with him, they declared “We are able.” And here they are snoozing.
These men don’t bring anything special to Jesus. They are weak men. Jesus says it himself, they might have willing spirits, but their flesh is weak. They don’t have the resolve or wherewithal to withstand a late night.
And listen - these are the men that Jesus is suffering for. Jesus is suffering for them while they fail him, while they slumber. They are contributing nothing! They are adding nothing. What a picture of salvation here, isn’t it? Jesus does it all, and we contribute nothing. We sleep! And our hero takes the cup of God’s wrath we deserve, drinks it to the dregs, empties it, and in so doing saves us!
If you hesitate to come to Jesus and trust him for salvation because you lack righteousness, and there are skeletons in your closet, and you look around and think “Here are all these good people, of course God would save them. But not me. I’ve sinned too much, I’ve gone too far, I’m soiled, I’m filthy, I’m vile, I’m a wretch.” O, sinner, you’re the exact type of person Jesus came to save. He came for the sick, not the healthy. He came for failures, not successes. He came to save failures. And then redeem us, transform us, live within us by his Spirit.
Jesus continues: “It is enough;” that word “enough” could also be translated “settled.” The idea is that Jesus has made up his mind, he has resisted the weight of the temptation, and has achieved victory.
“the hour has come.” The long-awaited hour. When the first Adam was tempted by the serpent and failed all those years ago, there was the promise of a second Adam who would crush the serpent's head, and in so doing, be crushed himself. Here, this night in Gethsemane, the hour is at hand. The only way to undo the work of Satan is to let himself be bruised
“The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” In the darkness of the garden, I’m sure he could hear the shuffling of footsteps and the clinking of armor. I’m sure he could see the twinkle of torchlight in the distance. The moment is at hand.
Will he run? Will he flee the scene? Will he escape the coming agony? No. He will meet him. And he will go to the cross. And he will suffer the full weight of God’s wrath against our sin.
What does this mean for us? First of all, this means we should worship Jesus Christ, our champion, our hero, our Savior. “If God did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Trust him. Love him. Adore him. If you doubt his mercy and love, go to Gethsemane, and watch him there, and remember what he went through to accomplish your salvation.
Do you know what else this means for us? It means that this is the pattern all Christians should adopt for themselves. Go almost anywhere in the New Testament, and you will find that we are called to imitate Christ in this way: that we are to submit ourselves entirely to the perfect will of God. Jesus taught that we are to “deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him.” Paul said that we should be like Jesus who “though he was rich, became poor, so that in his poverty he could make many rich.” Peter encourages us to follow in Jesus footsteps as we lay our lives down for the good of others. We are to be living sacrifices.
Are you a sacrificial person? Christians, throughout the ages, have been sacrificial people. They give generously. They spend time in ways to bless others. They open their homes. They adopt orphans, visit widows, provide for the sick, sacrifice a lavish lifestyle so as to fund ministry and missions. They do this because they watch their savior and say, “I want to be like that!”
Let me ask you, Is your life built around the slogan, “My will be done!” In your marriage, it’s MY WILL BE DONE. In your parenting, it’s MY WILL BE DONE. With your finances, it’s MY WILL BE DONE. With your time, it’s MY WILL BE DONE. And what might it look like if you followed Jesus here, and said, “Not my will, but yours be done.” Church, if we admire Jesus in this way, should we not imitate him?
Consider this last week. How often have you denied yourself for the good of someone else? Did you give generously? Did you sacrifice for someone else willingly?
O church, let us stare at Gethsemane. Let us pray: O make me understand it, help me take it in. What it meant to thee, the Holy One, to take away my sin.
And as we contemplate what occurred, may we stand in awe of the love of Christ, and let us aim to become more like him.
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