“Let us pray.” That is how Steve Brown introduced a class I took several years ago while on sabbatical. He told us that he usually does that not only because he wants to begin with prayer but also because it makes everyone stop talking. We do something similar with our children, don’t we? We say to children, “Close your eyes, fold your hands and bow your head; we are going to pray.” Those instructions came back to me this past week as I reflected on the passage we will look at this morning. It struck me that Jesus didn’t say to his disciples, “Close your eyes, fold your hands and bow your head; we are going to pray.” Instead, as Jesus went off to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus instructed his disciples to “watch and pray!”
In this passage we see just how great Jesus’ love is when we see how much he suffered for us. However, we also see Jesus in prayer and can learn from him about prayer. Jesus is telling his disciples to always be alert and always be praying because without God’s help they are going to fail. Let’s read Mark 14: 26-42.
Now Jesus and his disciples have come to the Garden of Gethsemane for prayer. While this place was very familiar to them, the disciples’ confidence has been shaken. Jesus told them during the Passover that one of them would betray him. While walking to the Mount of Olives, Jesus told them all would abandon him.
When they get there, Jesus takes along three who were closest to him while he prays. While he was with these three, Jesus begins to be deeply distressed and troubled. Before he had faced his coming death with great calm and peace. But now the awful death on the cross and all it meant was fully on his mind. Why was Jesus “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death?”
Imagine the person you are closest to in your life: your spouse or a dear friend. They have always been there for you no matter what you have been through. Then one day they back away and refuse to be a part of your life any more. For whatever reason, they have chosen to cut themselves off from you. That would be an overwhelming thing to go through. Jesus knows that in what he is about to suffer, God his Father will turn his back on Jesus and abandon him to the suffering of hell and that is overwhelming.
II. Let’s look at Jesus’ prayer of submission.
First, notice how Jesus begins his prayer. The usual position of prayer for Jews was standing with hands lifted up toward heaven. Jesus falls to the ground for he is overwhelmed with anguish. Jesus calls God “Abba,” the term a child would use to talk to his own father. God is Jesus’ almighty Father, but he is also someone very close to him. However, Jesus also affirms God’s control over all things. He says, “Everything is possible for you.” Things are not out of control at all, for God is fully in control.
Now on the basis of all of this, Jesus makes his earnest request. He first prays that if it is possible that the hour might pass from him. The “hour” is a term used by Jesus to describe the time of his death.
But Jesus also prays “take this cup from me.” This is a vivid Old Testament picture of God’s anger against sin. Psalm 75: 7-8 says: “In the hand of the Lord is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs.” Isaiah 51:17 says: “Awake, awake! Rise up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, you who have drained to its dregs the goblet that makes men stagger.” The “cup” is a symbol of God’s full wrath against sin, full and boiling over. It is actually a symbol of hell itself that Jesus must drink. And so Jesus asks that this “cup,” this hell, be taken away from him. Realize the scene: Jesus comes to God seeking comfort and strength in his time of need and instead of seeing God his Father, he sees the gates of hell opening wide.
Yet in spite of this, his prayer is marked by humble submission to God’s will. “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Jesus could easily have turned his back on this cup. But his purpose was to do God’s will and he will not shrink back from that now.
III. What Jesus goes through is such a contrast to the sleeping three “pray-ers”
These three had made some bold statements about their ability to follow Jesus. In Mark 10:35-40, two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, had requested to sit at the place of honor when Jesus sat in glory in heaven. Jesus had asked them if they were able to “drink the cup” that he would drink. They, not knowing at all what that meant, said they would be able. In verses 27-31, Peter as well had made a very bold statement. Even though Jesus said they would all abandon him, Peter said that he “knows” he will be able to stand with Jesus and to even die with him.
The lesson that the disciples must learn is that to be a disciple of Jesus means something quite different than what they thought it meant. It means that you must be willing to live a life of pain and suffering. It is not a life of honor, prestige and comfort at all.
That lesson is brought home to them very forcefully. Jesus is facing the greatest crisis of his life; he is wrestling with whether or not to go through with giving up his life for the sins of the world. And what are the three bold, confident followers of Jesus doing? They couldn’t handle the intensity or the late hour and fell asleep. So first Jesus rebukes Simon since his bold confidence was so strong. “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?” Peter had made such a strong claim, but he didn’t even last one hour!
But Jesus encourages them: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” If they are not praying for themselves in the kingdom, they will fall into temptation because when we are not watching and praying Satan may strike. Still Jesus knows that their intentions are good. The “spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” He knows that the disciples really do want to follow him. But they must realize what is involved in doing this. In order to survive, the strength they must rely on must be that strength which comes only from God.
Now you would think that such a word of rebuke and encouragement would have taken care of the problem, but this occurs two more times. When Jesus finds them sleeping a second time, they have nothing to say. They are too ashamed to say anything in their defense. They were learning that they are not nearly as strong as they had said they were.
Then after the third time, Jesus says, “Enough!” for the hour has come. Now they can sleep on for the point has been made very clearly. If they are going to rely on themselves to be followers of Jesus, they are going to fail miserably. The only way they will be able to follow Jesus is to allow him to be betrayed and die for them.
IV. And so let’s hear a word of encouragement this morning.
We can expect to suffer if we are called Christian; it is as simple as that! Jesus never calls us to a life of ease in this world; rather he calls us to suffer for him. In order to endure the suffering and difficulties of the Christian life we must watch and pray.
We must always be aware of the temptation to rely on ourselves. It is easy for us in whatever difficulty we may face to just gut it out just to prove that we are good enough to make it. The bad news is that this is exactly what Satan wants us to do. He loves it when we try to go on our own in our own strength because not only are we almost certain to fail, we will almost certainly become discouraged as well. And then we are ripe to fall into temptation, just as Jesus said.
But while we watch, we must also pray! We should follow the pattern of prayer that Jesus used in these verses. Jesus had very real human needs, but he honestly, openly brought them to God. We need to do that as well; we must tell God what our needs and desires are. But the important thing is to pray according to God’s will as Jesus did. We can have our desires but we must always submit them to the will of God. That means that when we pray for something and we don’t get it, we don’t whine and complain like little children often do. We submit knowing that what God will do is far better than what we thought was good.
Our Father knows our needs and will answer and do for us what is best for us. Sometimes we have trouble believing that such prayer can make a difference.
For Christians, quiet times of prayer also give rise to great power. They might seem non-productive because nothing appears to be happening. Yet when we pray, it is the beginning of great power from God. As you live your life, are you watching and praying to receive that great power?