A Pressure You Will Never Experience
The distressing prayer of Christ in the garden
Have you ever been under pressure? I am not talking about scuba diving at four atmospheres–there is pressure at 100 feet down. Not that pressure–but emotionally, circumstantially, time crunch, relationship difficulty, job security, financial stability—pressure. Even worse, you have experienced spiritual pressure–battles with a sin, peace in a relationship, trusting in God. Like a ton of bricks, all of you experience pressure.
So maybe you can identify with Lady Twinkle Toes. Who is Lady Twinkle Toes? A dark, elusive beauty being delivered to the Los Angeles Zoo in order to mate with King Arthur, both of them black rhinos. Zookeeper Gary Richman writes about the arrival of Lady Twinkle Toes and the unique pressure she experienced.
To get to the zoo, she was transported on a cargo ship, lifted onto a truck, and driven 40 miles over the LA freeway system. By the time she arrived, with all the new noises and smells, she wanted out of her crate in the worst way. They all knew she wanted out, because she began ramming the door of her massive crate so hard, the crate began to crack and splinter around the hinges. As a result, the zookeepers began to hurry. But her crate was so large, they had to use a crane to lift it into the exhibit and get it over the wall.
But now Lady Twinkle Toes had reached her stress limit. She became possessed by terror, and in her mind, her life was on the line. Seventeen feet up in the air, the crate began to rock violently–four by fours fell to the ground as the door to the crate crashed open. The zookeepers were terrified–rhinos see very poorly, and if she attempted to jump into her exhibit from that height she’d be crushed and killed by her own weight.
She was trembling with fright. Her eyes filled with tears causing the crane operator to set her crate down as quickly as possible–ten feet, eight feet, six feet, then at four feet she opted for freedom and jumped out with a sickening thud. The zookeepers waited a lifetime of seconds to see if she’d get up. Then with a snort, she stood to her feet. But now her body was trembling violently with colossal fear–the kind of fear that produces rage.
Through blurred vision, she noticed a rock that resembled a man, so she charged it. The massive rock moved slightly and she fell to her knees. Staggering again, she noticed another boulder and charged it. This time she got up more slowly. Then the most amazing thing happened–her entire body began to glisten red in the morning sun. She seemed to be perspiring great drops of blood from every pore in her body. No one had ever seen that before. The vet said this animal has reached maximum stress.
Rhinos, hippos and elephants under this kind of pressure can burst capillaries all over their bodies. The doctor said, “She cannot take much more stress. She is in great danger.” Everyone was glad when she stopped her awesome display of fear, rage and pressure and began to calm down. She lived happily–for 34 more years at the LA Zoo.
I share this with you so you might consider the words of another doctor, the beloved physician Luke, who said of Jesus Christ in the book by his name in 22:44, “And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.” Have you ever considered the pressure Jesus Christ faced on the eve of His suffering and death? Can you imagine how He must have felt? How alone He was, how stressed He was, how agonizing it was for the Holy One to know He’d bear sin? And for the Perfect One to know He was about to suffer God’s wrath?
This morning, we’re about to swim with Christ in very deep waters. We will see Jesus up close and personal, as He experiences pressure far beyond anything you or I will ever face. His bearing sin is to rescue you from yours. His suffering wrath is to keep you from the wrath of Hell. His sacrifice is to free you from complaint. His agony is to encourage you in your difficulty. His substitution for you will calm your heart while even in pain.
Today, I want you to witness your Lord as He agonizes in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane in Mark 14:32 to 36. Open your Bibles and follow along with your outline. It’s now Thursday evening of His final week. It’s very late. The Lord and His men just enjoyed the last Passover celebration until Christ returns, and just initiated the first Communion service. The Lord announced He’d be betrayed, then Judas the betrayer left the upper room to inform the religious leaders as to Christ’s soon to be location in the Gethsemane grove. Christ in humility washed the men’s feet and the men in pride, argued over who is the greatest.
Christ taught His men the entire upper room discourse in John 13 to 17, left the upper room, and while traveling to the garden informed His men they’d all forsake Him and flee, and that Peter would deny Him. So now in Mark 14, they’ve all arrived and the pressure of what Christ is about to face comes crashing down on Him. We know what’s going on—so read aloud with me Mark 14:32 to 36.
“They came to a place named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, ‘Sit here until I have prayed.’ 33And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. 34And He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.’ 35And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. 36And He was saying, ‘Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.’” Father, help us see our Savior and love Him for what He did for us.
#1 The PLACE of prayer over the coming cross
Verse 32, “They came to a place named Gethsemane.” Gethsemane means oil press–it was filled with olive trees, but was more than a mere grove. The gospel of John called it a garden. Today it would be comparable to a picnic area–a place to go, to talk, sit, rest, sleep or share meal. Today we don’t know exactly where it was on the Mount of Olives, since the Romans cut down all the trees around Jerusalem for an 11-mile radius in AD 70. But in spite of that, we know it was a favorite getaway spot for our Lord and His disciples.
After the Passover, the men leave the city, walk up the Mount of Olives to the familiar garden while Jesus tells the eleven they’re all going to stumble and scatter and Peter will deny Him. Judas was familiar with Gethsemane as well. John 18:2, “Now Judas also, who was betraying Him, knew the place, for Jesus had often met there with His disciples.” The garden is one of their favorite gathering spots to be together and escape the crowded city.
But here Christ will experience divine struggle. These verses are more than a season of difficult prayer. This is a grief and suffering that defies comprehension. Next to the cross, this is the greatest moment of agony the world has ever seen. It’s an intimate look at God Himself. It is truly open-heart surgery exposing Jesus Christ. If your heart craves knowing Christ in a deeper way, then today will see things here about our Savior and our Lord you cannot see anywhere else.
During this second greatest agony, Christ, who is God-incarnate, is anticipating God’s wrath poured out on Him. Christ, who is perfectly holy, is readying Himself to become sin for us. And the pressure is so great, it would have physically killed Christ had God not stepped in. Which is why Jesus expresses . . .
#2 The PRIORITY of prayer over the coming cross
Verse 32, “They came to a place named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, ‘Sit here until I have prayed.’” “They came” is Jesus and the eleven–Judas left the upper room back in Jerusalem to plot Christ’s arrest. Probably near the entrance, Jesus speaks to the eleven. The Greek says Christ speaks with purpose; so He tells the eleven to remain at this entrance location until He’s done praying.
While Christ goes to war, sadly His men are sleeping. And while they snore, Christ is engaged in a life-threatening, agonizingly difficult spiritual battle. Christ first battled Satan in the wilderness temptation. Satan told the starving Christ to turn the rocks to bread, then dive off the tower to win a following, and finally to just bow down and worship him and He wouldn’t have to go to the cross.
Christ next battled Satan over the cross again when Peter said He was not going to die–then Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan.”
And now a third direct battle, and the worst one of all. The parallel account in Luke 22:53b says, “But this hour and the power of darkness are yours.” The Greek literally says, “This is THE hour of THE power of THE darkness.” There are three definite articles, telling us this is a specific attack of Satan. Again, to keep Jesus from the cross. And here in the garden Satan hopes to drive Jesus to say to the Father, “I can’t do it”—or, “I won’t do it.”
As John MacArthur says, “And if Satan succeeds in that, then hell is the only place people will ever live forever. Heaven will be empty. God’s Word will be untrue. The promise of salvation a lie. Satan will be the true sovereign.” This is the battle facing Christ, so He goes to prayer. The enemy is pouring on Christ His greatest temptation. The crushing weight of the cross is bearing down on Christ. The desertion of His closest friends is imminent. One of His own, Judas, is orchestrating a scandalous betrayal.
So in verse 32, Jesus pours out His soul before God. “Sit here until I have prayed.” Wow! Get this. Jesus needs to intimately connect with the Person He has enjoyed perfect oneness with for all eternity, leading to . . .
#3 The PURPOSE of prayer over the coming cross
Read verse 33a, “And He took with Him Peter and James and John.” There is a definite article attached to each name, telling us this inner circle were named individually to accompany Christ. The three had been selected previously. They were present at the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead (in Mark 5). They were present at Christ’s transfiguration (in Mark 9). And with Andrew, they received the teaching on the end of the world (in Mark 13).
But why did Christ leave the eight by the entrance and take Peter, James and John deeper into the garden with Him? My study has led me to believe there were three main reasons.
First To have the support of intimate FRIENDSHIP
Jesus is God, but He is also man. And being 100% God and 100% human, Christ felt the need for companionship, the desire for friendship, and the hope for support during a deep trial. Listen, Christ not only needed food, drink, clothing, shelter, and sleep–but He also desired human fellowship. So the God-man invites the inner three to remain close to Him for His encouragement and His strength, as He is overwhelmed by the greatest pressure ever experienced.
These three have seen the glories of the Transfiguration, and now they’re selected to witness the opposite–the deepest agony of His soul. Why does Jesus have only these three with Him?
Second To grow by LEARNING a truth to be later recorded
The three were chosen to learn a lesson–to know how important it is to pray, in order to be triumphant in temptation. Sadly, they’ll learn it the way I learn best–through failure. They’ll learn the lesson by failing to pray, then falling the temptation. They will learn out of the disaster of their prayerlessness.
They just declared themselves as the champions who would never fail Christ–the confident ones, Peter being the proudest. But they all fall asleep during Christ’s life and death battle. They will learn the lesson of just how important it is to pray–that spiritual strength only comes to the dependent. Think about it–if Christ Himself needed to pray in the face of temptation, how much more do we need to pray?
To make certain we get it, Jesus commanded them in verse 34b, “Remain here and keep watch.” Jesus already told them to keep watch! Three times in Mark 13 we’re to keep watch while waiting for His return. And here in Mark 14, Jesus gives His men a present tense, continual imperative command to stay awake–be spiritually alert and ready. Not for the coming of Judas, but for the coming temptation. When you don’t pray, you’re not prepared for temptation or trial. Why the three? Christ desired 1) friendship, 2) to teach His men, and for them . . .
Third To later function as Leaders in order to INFLUENCE others
And Jesus had them follow Him into the garden because they were the leaders of the twelve and had to learn an important lesson to pass that truth on to the others. Peter, James and John are the three main leaders. These are the men who are the main influencers of others. So Jesus says, “Come with Me, because you have something to learn. And when you learn it, you can 1) teach it to the rest, and 2) record it for others.” And what they’re going to learn is mind-blowing.
#4 The DIVINE PRESSURE over the coming cross
As Jesus is going off to pray, verses 33b and 34 say, “And began to be very distressed and troubled. 34And He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.’” Focus on those three dramatic phrases. Do you see them?
Distressed comes from a verb that actually means amazed. Now what in the world could amaze the all-knowing God? There is something the God-man has never experienced. There is an event that is completely alien to Christ. Notice verse 33–it causes Jesus to be . . .
This a very strong term meaning to be anguished to a level that cannot be comprehended. What is causing this? Judas’s betrayal? The disciples’ desertion? Israel’s rejection? The coming unjust trials, mockery, scourging, crucifixion or dying? Is that it? Those things do cause sorrow. But this amazed anguish is far deeper and more painful to our Savior. What is it? Christ is anticipating His role as a sacrifice for sin–to become sin for you and me. To bear our sin upon Himself.
This is completely alien. God has never known sin. Christ was temptable, but could never actually sin–because He was also 100% God, and God can’t sin. Jesus is impeccable. Jesus Christ can’t sin. Christians struggle with sin, and even though our old nature is dead–sin is so strong, the very memory of it and nature of it affects us deeply, which is why we struggle to do what is right and not sin.
But that is not the same with our Savior. Though He felt the intensity of temptation at a deeper level than any of us have ever been tempted because of His holy nature, sinless purity, total righteousness and perfect obedience. Here Jesus struggled only because of the power of perfect holiness. Get this–God is asking Christ to embrace sin as a sin bearer, not as a sinner, but a sin-bearer. To pay the wages of sin and to accept our punishment for sin.
Look at 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin, to become sin.” And Isaiah 53:4 to 5, “He would be pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities.” You say, “Yea, yea–Okay I got it–Jesus died for me.” Think deeper, friends. The punishment for is not only death, but bearing God’s wrath. And the wrath we deserve for our sin against God was not a momentary expression of wrath, but we deserved God’s wrath poured out upon us for all eternity. Our just punishment for our sinful nature and sinful choices is an eternity of God’s wrath against us.
We deserve the torment of God’s wrath poured out on us in Hell forever. When Jesus bears the wrath for our sin against Himself in our place, He’s bearing an eternity full of wrath for each believer. For every sinner He died for, Christ took that sinner’s eternal wrath. For the millions of sinners for whom He died, Jesus took a million eternities of wrath on the cross, and He bore that wrath for His children past, present and future all at once on the cross.
Now you can begin to understand why Christ is experiencing amazed anguish. Now you get why His struggle is so great? This is a divine pressure that you will never experience. But it’s a holy pressure our Savior bore for you. It was so overwhelming, that Christ was also . . .
Third Deeply Grieved
Look at verse 34, “And He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.’” Deeply grieved describes the action of being surrounded by sorrow, surrounded by grief. The Greek word deeply grieved is peri-lypos. Notice the prefix peri–like perimeter or periphery, telling us Christ is engulfed in this grief and pressure. It is so bad, Jesus says (and this is God speaking God’s Word) Christ is “grieved to the point of death.” Christ has reached the very limit of pressure, emotion, grief, distress and anguish trouble. He is truly about to physically die.
Luke 22 describes the pressure so intense on His body that He began to sweat drops of blood. Luke 22:44, “And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.” It’s called hematidrosis–under immense stress, the capillaries gorge, inflate, and explode causing the blood to come out of the sweat glands. This is the maximum amount of human stress.
The pressure is so great, the Father actually sent an angel “to strengthen Christ”–in order to rescue Christ from premature death (Luke 22:43). Christ might have bled to death from the sure stress of it. And how could our Savior not be deeply grieved? Not only is our Jesus perfectly holy, yet about to bear the ugliness of our sin. Jesus is God, so our Lord knows exactly the justice of God’s wrath against sin–and now He’s about to have a million eternities worth of God’s righteous wrath poured out on Him. Jesus Christ knows what’s coming.
How could Jesus not be deeply grieved to the point of death when, for all eternity past, Jesus has been perfectly one with the Father and the Spirit–perfect communion, perfect fellowship, perfect intimacy, perfect relationship. But now, for the first time separated because of sin–because of your sin. Christian, Jesus Christ did all this for you. And in the midst of this battle, Jesus commands His closest friends in verse 34b, “Remain here and keep watch.” What did they hear?
#5 The PLEA over the coming cross
Verse 35, “And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by.” Jesus goes beyond the three in the garden and falls to the ground in prayer. His agony was so great, He could not stand up. When Mark says He went a little beyond them, Luke 22:41 clarifies–Jesus is only a stone’s throw away from the disciples. From the four Gospels, we understand Jesus first “went to His knees” (Luke 22:41). Then Matthew 26:39, He fell “to His face”.
The Greek “fell” paints a vivid picture of Christ falling down to the ground. Can you imagine how they felt when they saw His knees buckling, falling to His face, blood dripping from His pores? Does Jesus cry or feel sorry for Himself? No–Christ prays. His prayer is not because He’s fearing a dark destiny, nor because of the physical suffering He will endure. But rather, the horror of being separated from His Father as He bears the sins of the world. Jesus Himself is about to become the object for the Holy wrath of God against sin. And in this prayer, Jesus is anticipating His coming cry on the cross in Mark 15:34, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
But what does Jesus ask here? Verse 35, “He began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by.” His agony was such that Jesus falls to the ground before the Father in great anguish, praying if it is possible, that this coming “hour might pass Him by.” Jesus is asking, “Father, is there another way to accomplish my mission?”
What is the hour that might pass Him by? Is it fear of not conquering sin or death? No. Asking the Father whether He had the power to let Jesus pass on the cross? No. Bitterness of death itself? Yes. The agony of crucifixion? Yes. Most of all, it’s asking to avoid having to become sin. Can I skip the horribly excruciating pain of bearing God’s wrath for sin? At the coming cross, the sinless Son of God will take your sins upon Himself. “Can this hour pass me by” is asking the Father, is there another way? Can I pass on bearing the weight of sin, and can I pass on bearing your just wrath for the sins of your own?
The hour is coming—your chosen time for My sacrificial death is about nine hours away. Can I let this hour pass me by? Can I fulfill My Messianic mission in some other way than the suffering, trials and cross? And as Christ continues to pray, He asks . . .
#6 The PERFECT petition over the coming cross
Verse 36, “And He was saying, ‘Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.’” Look at what He says in the form of three keys to live by and pray by.
“Abba! Father!” Abba means Daddy, or in Hawaiian Kuku. It’s a term of familiarity. No Jew would ever call God Father, let alone call Him Abba. But between the persons of the Trinity, there is perfect intimacy, affection, intimacy and oneness. In order to glorify God, this kind of unity is what we Christians are to pursue with our spouses, with our brothers and sisters, and with your church family. And our Lord calls upon this intimacy from His Father as if pleading for that intimate love and unity to rescue Him.
“All things are possible for You, remove this cup from Me.” “All things are possible for you”–that is true. All things are possible for our God. He can do the impossible. He has the power. He can do whatever He wants in Heaven or on Earth. But God could not allow Christ to miss the cross. When Jesus prays, “All things are possible for you”–then adds, “Remove this cup from Me,” that’s a problem. If Christ doesn’t go to the cross, Satan wins. Heaven is empty, Hell is full, the Bible isn’t true. God’s promises are lies and there is no salvation for anyone.
God will not go back on His Word. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. There needs to be a final, sufficient, acceptable sacrifice–Jesus! Jesus wants this cup removed. Cup is a symbol from the Old Testament of divine wrath. Cup is referring to the cup of wrath. Jesus earlier asked His men, “Can you drink the cup that I am about to drink? The cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?”
Christ is about to drink the cup of wrath and He soon does. Charles Spurgeon said it best, “It seemed as if Hell were put into His cup; He seized it, and, in one tremendous draught of love, He drank damnation dry.” Jesus has to drink the cup of wrath coming from His Father. That is something He’s never experienced before, resulting in this anguished petition. But amazingly, Christ responds with . . .
“Yet not what I will, but what You will.” This is mind-blowing! Jesus is stressed to the point of death, anguished, troubled. But different than our day, Christ says no to His feelings. Christians, you are to say no to your feelings. You are to obey, even when you don’t feel like it. You’re to obey even when you have no feelings. Feelings do not drive obedience. Jesus proves we don’t follow our feelings. You’re to follow God, even when you feel you’re about to die.
Jesus says no to His desires. He says no to His thinking and reaffirms to His Father, I want what you want first. I want what you will, not what I will. I want your Word. What do you feel, what do you think, what do you know? Christ lived submissively to His Father. At age 12, Christ said, “I must be about my Father’s business.” Early in ministry, Christ said, “My food is to do the Father’s will.” In John 6, Christ said, “I have come from heaven not to do my will, but to do the will of him who sent me” (6:38). And now in the greatest act of submission and obedience, Jesus takes the full chalice of man’s sin and God’s wrath, knowing it means separation from His Father, and with steel resolve will drink the entire cup–and do so for you and for me.
One Jesus knew PRESSURE
He went through this for you. The next time you’re stressed, remember what Christ suffered for you. Recall the anguish, the grief and the bursting blood vessels. Not only does He understand what you are going through, He has gone far beyond what you could ever experience in this life. What does Jesus say to both non-believer and believer?
Matthew 11:28 to 30, “’Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.’” Cry out for Christ to save you. Stop fighting and surrender to Christ. Turn from your sin and trust in Christ. And if you know Him, stop striving and depend on His Spirit and His Word moment-by-moment.
Two Jesus helps us understand EMOTIONS
Christians are often uncomfortable with emotions, yet God made us emotional beings. Jesus expresses distress, anguish and deep grief–and there are times of sorrow when it’s right for us to express those emotions. But never without a trust in God and a submission to His will. It’s never right, nor pleasing to God, for yelling matches, for screaming at others, for sorrow without trust—never. I am being honest—no, you are being selfish and sinful.
On the other hand, allow believers to grieve at the death or departure of loved ones. Allow believers to wrestle with God and go through times of sober dependence.
Three Jesus is a model of SUBMISSION
Submission is not a quality merely for children to parents, or wives to husbands, but for all believers to their God. God delights when we petition Him–but with our prayers, there should always be the caveat, “Not my will, but yours be done.” Also as we plan, it must be, “If the Lord wills.” Say it, affirm it, put your future in His hands.
Singles, trust Him with His timing and His choice. Families, “if the Lord wills” with children, income, employment, ministry, schooling, college and grandchildren. But if Christ can be in such agony but still say, “Yet not what I will, but what You will, Lord”–then that is your target. Will you?
Four Christ’s agony should result in your ADORATION
My beloved friends, how can we not weep for joy over what Christ did for us, bearing our forever punishment? How can we not love Him more this morning? How can we not cry out with thanks for His suffering and sacrifice? Do not forget the cost of what He paid. Do not forget the agony He endured for you and for me. Though we can’t fully understand His anguish, His Word reveals why.
He was your substitute, He bore your sin, He paid your price. He suffered God’s forever wrath that was meant for you. He chose to be separated in some way from the Trinity, even though they’d been perfectly one for all eternity. A moment so painful, so agonizing, that Jesus cried out, “My God My God why have you forsaken Me?”
Christ did all that in order to forgive you, wash you clean of sin and make you brand new. Will you worship Him? Will you thank Him for His great mercy, grace and love for you? Will you adore Him and will you cherish Him? You do so, not with mere emotions, mere tears, mere voices–but with your entire life. Let’s pray.