Preached by Pastor Benjamin Vrbicek
This morning we are in Mark 14:32-42. Last week as Jason preached through the previous passage in Mark, we discussed a cup—the cup of the Passover meal that Jesus said was actually the cup of his blood that would be poured out for the forgiveness of sins. This morning, we are going to talk about a different, but very related cup.
If you have a Bible, you can follow along with me as I read Mark 14:32-42, or you can follow along on the screen. I’m going to read the passage, pray, and then we’ll get to work.
32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 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.” 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. 41 And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
The last the song that we sang in the worship set is by Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend. I like the Gettys, Keith and his wife Kristyn. And I like Stuart Townsend as well, although I’m not as familiar with him. I have an album by the Gettys on my iPhone that I listen to occasionally. I heard the Gettys in concert once with 5,000 others. It was wonderful. I was deeply moved their humble posture and the quality of their lyrics. (I didn’t get to go because our small group was meeting, but the Gettys actually performed a concert just across the river on Friday night.)
The song we were singing just a moment ago is titled “In Christ Alone.” It’s a good song. In fact, I consider it a great song. And so do many others. It was released 13 years ago, but it is still in the top 15 of the most accessed songs a popular database for Christian music (CCLI).
But just over a year ago, “In Christ Alone” was in the news because a denomination voted to exclude it from their forthcoming hymnal. The controversy had to do with this line in the second verse
“Till on that cross as Jesus died/The wrath of God was satisfied.”
But the committee tasked with creating the hymnal did not know that was the line. There was an ‘unauthorized’ version of the song floating around that had a different line that line read like this
“Till on that cross as Jesus died/The love of God was magnified.”
During the copyright process, the committee learned that the actual line was the first line, the line we sang. And there were some on the committee, in fact a majority, that did not like the actual line. And before simply striking the song from the hymnal, the committee reached out to the authors asking if they would allow it to be modified, substituting the “loved of God” for “the wrath of God.”
The author’s said ‘no.’
So the committee had a debate. Some said keep it. Some said cut it. Those that said ‘cut it,’ claimed “[The] view that the cross is primarily about God’s need to assuage God’s anger would have a negative impact on worshippers’ education.” In other words, when you and I sang the hymn as written, it had a negative impact on our education. In other words, we sang something not really true.
When the committee voted, those that said ‘cut it,’ won. And so the hymn was kept from the hymnal and the 10,000 churches in this denomination.1
This controversy is not a new one. It’s an old controversy with new players. But it presses us with the question, just what is the cross of Jesus Christ about? If you were asked, what would you say? Is the cross of Jesus about the love of God or the wrath of God? Maybe you were unsure about singing that line. If so, I believe this passage in Mark will help us understand why the authors might have wanted the line left as it was written.
Let’s look at this passage closer and see what we can learn from it. To organize our thoughts, I want to ask 3 question. I’ll just give you the first one now, and the others as we come to them.
1. What is going on?
First, let’s see if we can answer this question: What is going on? What is going on with the disciples, and what is going on with Jesus?
I know that when we read passages in church sometimes, just like song lyrics, it can wash over us so quickly that we are unable to take it all in, so we’ll go through it a little slower now. V. 32 reads,
32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”
Gethsemane was an olive garden on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives, which was just outside of the city of Jerusalem. And the name Gethsemane meant “olive press.” In the book of John, we are told that it was a place that Jesus often went with his disciples (John 18:2).
I have two pictures here. This is one of an olive press, and the other is of an olive garden—and no, they are not actual photos from Jesus’ time, but perhaps the place they were at looked something like these (photo credits: 1, 2). It looks peaceful, doesn’t it? Except, in our passage, it’s at night, and it’s not peaceful, a war is raging.
In v. 33 we read that Jesus took with him 3 disciples deeper into the garden.
33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled.
Why do you think he took Peter and James and John?
On the one hand, these three were often part of Jesus’ inner circle—such as in chapter 9 where they go up on a mountain and Jesus shows these 3 men more of his glory—so it may have been perfectly natural for them to go further with Jesus. But I think something else is going on as well. These 3 were the ones who had boasted most courageously of their fidelity to follow Jesus, especially in dangerous situations.
In chapter 10, James and John (they were brothers), asked Jesus if they could sit at Jesus’ right hand and left hand when he fulfills the kingdom. Jesus asked them, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” To which they say, “We are able.” (10:38-39). Really, we’ll see about that.
And in the verses just before our passage, Peter emphatically vowed his fidelity to Jesus. He says, “Jesus, I’ll go with you to the end. Even if others fall away, I will be there right by your side. I’m loyal, Jesus. I’m a Rock, Jesus, that’s why you call me Peter.”
Really, we’ll see about that. Jesus tells the 3 of them to watch, and he goes to pray—and we’ll look at that prayer and the distress of Jesus in a minute—but notice what happens when Jesus comes back. Vv. 37-38,
37 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.”
Look closely at this. There’s something odd about v. 37. “…and he said to Peter, ‘Simon…’” What is up with that? If I was telling you a story about Jason and I, and I said something like, Yeah, so I went over to Jason and said, ‘Hey, Steve…’” This would be odd, right?
Jesus had given Peter the name Peter, which means Rock (John 1:42) earlier in their friendship. Here, Peter is sleeping and he is called by is former name, Simon. I think these 3 men get a front row seat because they asked for it. But here in this passage, they get sleepy, and later, they all fall away—all of them and all of the others.
That’s what’s going on with them. What is going on with Jesus? It’s clear that he is in great angst.
I won’t put it back on the screen, but think about the words that are used in the passage: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death”; “he fell on the ground and prayed”; “Abba, Father,” this intimate, personal address to a father, and he pleads, “Remove this cup from me,”; and it speaks of a “betrayer.” These are words of great angst, even fear.
And not just the words, it is the repetition of it all. Three times he prays!
If I were to summarize what was going on, I would say that the disciples were unaware of the gravity of the situation around them, but that Jesus was aware, and his awareness made him afraid. Very afraid. This leads to our next question.
2. Why was Jesus so afraid?
The next question that I want to ask: why was Jesus so afraid? What was going on that could shake Jesus so violently?
So far in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has been anything but shaken. He has been unshakeable.
He went into the heart of religious-economic-power strongholds, and he flipped over money tables and told the people that the temple was his father’s house, and it should be a place of prayer not commerce. He battled the religious leaders and mocking question without breaking a sweat.
At one point in the story, Jesus was in a boat with professional fisherman—men who spent their lives on the water—and there was a storm so bad that the professionals thought they were about to die. And what was Jesus doing? He was taking a nap.
And early on in the gospels, there was a man possessed by a demon, and no one wanted to go near him. The man lived out in the boonies and people would often tie him up with metal chains to keep him at bay, but even those chains could not hold the guy. And Jesus talked with this man—a man everyone else was afraid of—as you and I might talk in the foyer after church today. It’s amazing. Jesus is unshakable. He didn’t get afraid.
But here, it says that he was “greatly distressed and troubled.” Jesus was afraid. Why?
Is it because he was going to die and that would be painful? Crucifixion was an excruciating way to die—it’s from crucifixion that we even get the word excruciating. If you have seen the Passion of the Christ movie, it gives a fairly accurate portrayal of the horror that was crucifixion. It was a terrible way to die, and the Romans did it thousands of times, and they perfected it.
So perhaps the fear that Jesus is experiencing has something to do with this.
I’m sure that is true, but it’s only true in part. The pain of death does not account for all the fear, even most of it, for several reasons.
Frist, the pain of death does not account for Jesus’ fear because, death did not catch him by surprise. It’s not like Jesus was living his life, going about teaching here and healing people there, and then all of a sudden, he realizes, “Oh, no. This storm is going to engulf me.”
No. Jesus repeatedly told his disciples, both explicitly (e.g., 8:31-32; 9:30-32; 10:32-34), and implicitly (e.g., 10:45), that he came for the purpose of death. And everyone was surprised by this, but not Jesus. So I don’t think the mere all-of-a-sudden-ness of death was not what had Jesus so afraid.
Second, the pain of death does not account for Jesus’ fear because he has told his disciples that when they experience persecution, even death, that they should rejoice that they are counted worthy to testify to the goodness of God by giving up their lives for him. For example, Matthew 5:11-12 Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Is Jesus one of those teachers that is willing to tell others what to do, but is not willing to do it himself? No, he is not. For example, prays in this passage the exact way he taught his followers to pray in Matthew 6.
Third, the pain of death does not account for Jesus’ fear because many, many others have faced death with more boldness than Jesus appears to be facing it here.
For example, in the Jewish books of 1 & 2 Maccabees, which tell the Hanukkah story (almost 200 years before Jesus death), many brave men and women give up their lives with extreme courage.2
Or consider the story of Polycarp. Polycarp was an 86 year-old bishop that was burned at the stake for his faith in the second-century. When given one final chance to recant, he speaks to the magistrate saying, “The fire you threaten burns but an hour and is quenched after a little… You do not know the fire of the coming judgment… but why do you delay? Come, do what you will,” said Polycarp.
Or consider in the sixteenth century, the story of the martyrdom of two men named Nicholas Ridley and Hough Latimer. They too were burned at the stake for their faith. And when the fire was ignited beneath them, Latimer said to the his friend, “Be of good comfort Master Ridley, and play the man: we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”
And the stories could be enumerated many times over.
Is Jesus, the captain of our faith, afraid of what many of his followers have boldly accepted? I do not think so.
Something more is going on. Jesus is afraid because he is about to experience something far more terrifying than death, something that no one else has ever experienced in this life.
Jesus is afraid of the cup from v. 36. It was what was in the cup that makes Jesus afraid.
This leads to our final question, namely, What was in the cup? If Jesus was afraid to drink it, what was in it?
3. What was in the cup?
To answer that question, let me show you just three verses, two from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament that speak of the “cup.”
Jeremiah 25:15, Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.”
Psalm 75:8, 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.
Revelation 14:10, he also 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.
These but a few. There are others (Ps 11:6; 60:3, 75:8; Is. 51:17, 21-23; Jer. 25:15-29; 49:12; 51:57; La 4:21; Eze 23:31-34; Hab 2:16; Zec 12:2).
What was in the cup? In the cup was the wrath of God against sin.
And Jesus was afraid, not simply because he was about to die a painful death, but because in dying a painful death something far more painful happened, namely, he drank the wrath of God.
And it’s not simply that he was about to drink the wrath of God, but rather, at this point in the gospel, I believe it had already begun—Jesus was already sipping from the cup.
I say that because something is missing when Jesus prays to his Father, something that was there before. What was it? It was a response from his Father, a loving, affirming response.
Twice in the Gospels, at crucial moments, Jesus heard this booming voice from heaven that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17, and Mark 9:7).
Here, once, twice, three times, Jesus pleads with his Father, “Abba, Father, please take this cup from me. Please! I know all things are possible with you. If there is another way, let’s do it that way.”
And in this peaceful olive garden, what does he hear? Nothing, because the cup was being poured out, and Jesus was drinking it, and in a peaceful olive garden, a war was begin fought.
Let me close with a few observation and applications.
4. Observations and Applications
Here are three brief observations and applications.
- The Wrath and Love of God. Perhaps the thought of the wrath of God makes you uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s not something you even want to think about because you don’t want to think of God in that way. Maybe you like to think of God as a loving God and not a wrathful God.
I can understand this. But I would point out to you that it is precisely because he is loving, that he also gets angry.3
You are that way too. There are things that you love, and you would be upset if something happened to them. Perhaps it is your spouse or child or your career or your health or the ability to enjoy a hobby. You would be angry if someone ruined these things that you love. It is because you love, that you would get angry. If fact, it cannot be said that you love something, if when someone ruins it, you do not have a strong emotional response to that.
I can understand why some people would want to remove the wrath of God from a hymn like “In Christ Alone,” but I think the authors of that hymn realized something important, and that is this: without speaking of the wrath of God, we lost our ability to understand the love of God. And God does love his creation and that’s why when people tarnish it, he goes to great lengths to redeem the thing he loves.
- This is the heart of the Gospel. I know there are some here that are not yet Christians. You say, I know there is a God, but I’m trying to figure out what this whole thing about Jesus. So for those of you that are trying to figure out what Christianity is all about, this is it. It’s not about coming to church and being a nice person. It’s not primarily about us loving God, it is about this: God loved us so much that while we were sinners, Jesus Christ came to this earth and drank the punishment for our sins so that we could have a relationship with him. That’s what Christians mean when we use the word, the gospel, the good news.
- Christians, let go of your guilt. There are some of us, who are Christians, but remain plagued with guilt and fear. You don’t have to be that way. You need to know that that if you have come into a relationship with Jesus, if he has taken your punishment. Perhaps you have had an abortion, or have messed up in your parenting or in a previous marriage or in some other way: you need to know, that in Jesus there is complete forgiveness. You need to know that if Jesus drank the wrath of God, there is nothing left for you.
Last week, we closed the service with talking about a cup—the Passover cup poured out for the forgiveness of sins. I said at the start of my sermon that this passage speaks of a different, but very related cup. And it does. Our passage speaks of the cup of the wrath of God [holding up cup]. The Bible teaches that Jesus drank this cup until it was gone, or we might say, like this sponge he absorbed the wrath of God completely [pouring cup on large sponge]. Or we might say, with the hymn “In Christ Alone” “on that cross as Jesus died/The wrath of God was satisfied.”
And if that is what Jesus did for you and I, is there anything left in cup for us? There is not. It’s all gone. There is nothing from God left for us but love and mercy and affection and delight and friendship and blessings both now and forever.