Jesus has just taken the Passover meal and turned it into a fulfillment found in him. All the hopes of the Passover would now be fulfilled in Jesus as he has come to liberate the world from their sins which would be forever remembered in the Lord’s Supper. With the memorial complete, Jesus and his disciples walk across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives.
Denial Predicted (14:26-31)
At this point Jesus makes a startling declaration. “You are all going to fall away.” Think about those words. All of these disciples are going to fall away. Then Jesus proves his declaration by quoting the scriptures.
“I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” This comes from Zechariah 13:7. Notice that it is God that is striking the shepherd. “Striking” is an indication of a violent death. God will strike down his appointed leader and scatter his people as a judgment for their sins. This is what the message was in its original context in Zechariah. But the rest of the context of Zechariah 13 is very important to the meaning of this quotation. The shepherd will be struck and the sheep will be scattered in judgment. But there would be a remnant. Listen to what Zechariah says.
“And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” (Zechariah 13:9)
Zechariah says that God striking the shepherd was going cause most to perish but also make it possible for the few to call on the Lord’s name and for the Lord to respond that we are his people. That is what is about happen. Jesus’ point is that this time is going to be a critical time for his disciples. This is going to be a time of testing. God is the ultimate agent of the events that are happening. Everything is according to God’s design. This will be a difficult time and they are all going to fail. “You are all going to fall away.” Jesus knows exactly what is going to happen on this night. He will be struck and his disciples will abandon him. It is important to keep this in mind as we read this text. Jesus knows exactly what is going to happen. Jesus knows that his closest companions will abandon him. Jesus knows that one of his closest friends will betray him.
But listen to the hope of verse 28. Jesus predicts a reunion and restoration of his disciples. After Jesus is raised from the dead, he will lead these disciples to Galilee. Jesus will reunite his scattered sheep. Now you have to love the zeal and heart of Peter. In verse 29 Peter declares that this might be true of these other disciples, but he will not abandon Jesus. They may all fall away, but he will not. What a wonderful claim of his devotion to Jesus! But look at what Jesus tells Peter in verse 30. This very night before the rooster crows twice, Peter will deny Jesus three times. Would you believe this if it were told to you? How could Jesus say that I would deny Jesus three times before morning? Yet this is what Jesus says which leads Peter to be even more emphatic. Peter will die before he would deny Jesus (14:31). Even the rest of the disciples say the same. We will die before we would ever deny you! They all declare their loyalty, no matter the cost, even to the point of death. We will stand by Jesus. Those claims are going to be tested. Such loyalty and faith can only be meaningful if actually tested. They will be tested this very night to remain true to the words they have just confessed.
Jesus’ Prayer and the Disciples’ Weakness (14:32-42)
We cannot understate the weight that is on Jesus’ shoulders at this moment. Jesus comes to Gethsemane and tells his disciples to sit there while he goes to pray. He takes Peter, James, and John with him and “began to be greatly distressed and troubled” (14:33). Jesus tells them this in verse 34. “I am deeply grieved to the point of death” (14:34; CSB). He tells the disciples to remain there and keep watch. Jesus is not immune to the concerns of what lies ahead of him. There is nothing easy about what he is going to experience.
What do we see Jesus do when he is deeply distressed and troubled? Jesus goes to his Father in prayer. Jesus prays that if it is possible that this hour might pass from him. The concern here is something that I want to speak about in later lessons. But for now I would like for you to consider what Jesus is expressing. Is Jesus simply about self-preservation and getting out the task he has come to fulfill? I do not think so. Rather, the concern seems to be about this particular path. There is no other way to bring about the new exodus and redeem the world except through the cross. We cannot overstate the horror of the cross. Sometimes we understate what Jesus did. We simplify the message of Jesus as that he simply died. But friends, Jesus did not simply die. The path to redeem the world is not by living a perfect life and then quietly dying in his sleep. Dying is not the issue. The cross is the issue. He must die by scourging and crucifixion. Crucifixions were so awful that Roman citizens were not allowed to be killed this way and Romans refused to even speak of it. Satan has been tempting Jesus away from the cross when you look at the temptations in the wilderness. The incalculable horror of the cross weighs upon our Savior.
Thus Jesus says in verse 36, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Of course it reveals the humanity of Jesus to desire to avoid one of the most excruciating deaths that has ever been known. People lasted days on the cross with nails through their hands and feet, bleeding, hungry, body in shock, difficulty breathing, as the functions of the body so slowly begin to shut down little by little. Is there another way? But notice what ultimately matters to Jesus. All that matters to Jesus is the will of the Father. Jesus emphasizes his willingness to submit to the Father’s will. Jesus brings his needs and desires to God but all that ultimately matters is God’s will. This is ultimately what prayer is for: to align our will to God’s will. This is exactly what Jesus does.
Please hear this: Jesus’ will to obey the Father is stronger than his desire to serve himself. This stands in contrast to what Jesus just told the disciples. They will be more concerned about self-preservation than the will of God. They will all fall away. They will all abandon him. No one will stand with Jesus in just a few hours. In fact, Jesus returns to his disciples and finds them sleep (14:37).
Now look at Jesus’ concern. Is Jesus’ concerned about himself? No, he is concerned for them. They need to stay awake and keep watch because they are going to enter into temptation. This is going to be difficult moment. There is nothing easy about what the disciples are going to experience. So he tells them that they need to be spiritually alert and not give into the flesh. Stay awake and watch! This is going to be a time of temptation for everyone. Notice that Jesus does not call Peter by the name he gave him, which means “rock,” but calls him Simon. You have claimed to be faithful to the end with me but you are not ready even for one hour!
Listen to what Jesus says. “The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak” (14:38). This is a critical truth and reflective of the problem every disciple faces. There is a war between our spirits and our flesh. There is what we want to do and what we claim we want to do and what we will actually do. So Jesus comes to them to make sure they are prepared for the temptations that lie before them. Then Jesus returns to praying to the Father again. Jesus comes back and they are sleeping again. Look at verse 40. “They did not know what to answer him.” Have you felt that way? What a complete failure! Jesus says to stay awake and be ready and they completely fail and the disciples simply have no defense. Rather than staying awake and getting spiritually prepared through prayer, the disciples are sleeping. Now it is too late. Now is the time. The betrayer is near and the events are now going to unfold.
Jesus Arrested (14:43-52)
Now an intimidating crowd comes to arrest Jesus. The crowd has swords and clubs. Do you see them coming with Judas leading the way? Judas walks up to Jesus, calls him rabbi, and kisses him. This was the sign to the crowd to know who they were to grab. So with their swords and clubs forcibly grab Jesus. One of the disciples pulls out his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest. One is ready to fight for Jesus. But Jesus puts an end to this. He tells the crowd that they could have arrested him at any time in the temple when he was there each day. Why are they coming with clubs and swords? This is not going to be a fight but the fulfillment of the scriptures. Then we read such painful words in verse 50. “And they all left him and fled.” Sometimes we think the danger was only for Jesus but these verses show that this is not the case. You will notice that the crowd is also seizing the disciples. So much so that they seized one man, but he left is linen cloth and ran away naked. They grab his clothes and he just lets those clothes be ripped off of him and he runs for his life. “Then they all deserted him and ran away” (CSB). All of them said just an hour earlier that they would not abandon Jesus. They would not run away. But then they did.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like someone people turned away from; he was despised, and we didn’t value him. Yet he himself bore our sicknesses, and he carried our pains; but we in turn regarded him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on him, and we are healed by his wounds. We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the LORD has punished him for the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:3–6 CSB)
This account is here as more than just a retelling of history. Mark is teaching us about discipleship and the way of the cross as we follow Jesus to the cross. So what important messages are here for us? The message from the disciples should loom large over our hearts. How easy it is for us to think that we would be able to withstand any trial or difficulty that can come against us! How easy it is for us to declare that we would not forsake our Savior! How easy it is to think that others may fail but that we would never fail! Reading verses 50-52 should chill us. We think we will stand. But will we? Jesus is teaching us so much in these final hours of his earthly life.
We learn from our Savior what to do in times of distress. Jesus turns to the Father and prays, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you.” I want for us to see the intimacy of the relationship Jesus has with the Father that he can call him, Father. Are we able to do what Jesus did? Jesus has a special relationship with the Father. So can we model what Jesus does here in Gethsemane? Consider what the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:14–15 ESV)
What does Paul say we can do? We have received the adoption as children so that we also can cry out to God as our Father just like Jesus did. What we see Jesus doing in Gethsemane is teaching us to come to God for help in our times of temptation and distress. In fact, Jesus is instructing his disciples to be awake and ready. Keep watching because temptation is always around the corner.
Please also notice how Jesus prays in his distress. His prayers are to align his will to God’s will. His concern is not self-preservation but about the will of the Father. This is the essence of the heart of the disciple. As disciples we must be cross-focused. The way to glory with the Father is through the cross, not avoiding it. It is so easy for our prayer life to turn into prayers of self-preservation. We pray to God only for positive outcomes during terrible ordeals. But notice what we see in Jesus. He expresses his desire but his prayer rests in the power of the Father. “All things are possible for you.” “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Think about our prayers ending in this way: Father, do not do what I want, but do what you want in this moment. Have your desires fulfilled right now in my life, Lord! Let your glory be displayed through what I am experiencing right now.
Like the disciples, we know this what we ought to do. We know that prayer is the answer to our deepest distresses and fiery temptations. So why do we not do this? I believe the answer is what Jesus proclaimed to his disciples. “The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.” In short, we think we are ready but actually we are not. The time of testing and temptation comes and we abandon Jesus just like these disciples did but we were not aware of how unprepared we were. We said we were ready but we really weren’t. We said we would be loyal no matter the cost, but when things get tough, we did not fulfill what we claimed we would do. Our hope and help is to see that there is nothing wrong with being distressed and troubled. There is nothing wrong with being sorrowful. Jesus was deeply distressed and troubled. But what is the answer in the moment of crisis? The answer is to not run. The answer is to pray. Before we come to the moment of crisis and distress we need to be spiritually alert and depending on the Father so that we will not run when the challenge of our faith comes. Jesus is showing us that we can come to the Father just like he did.
Pray for strength. Pray to have our will aligned to God’s will. Pray for God’s will to be glorified and displayed. Pray for our ability to stand and not run from the Lord during our trials. Pray that suffering will not cause us to more worried about self-preservation than the will of the Father. Once we come to this point, let us take hope in the words of Jesus from verse 28. Even after the sheep are scattered, Jesus raises from the dead and leads us forward in the journey of faith with him.