Jesus goes to pray, taking His three closest disciples – Peter, James, and John. They were with Him on the mountain of His glory. Now He invites them to join in His hour of prayer. They go to a place called Gethsemane, “the olive press,” a little garden on the slope of the Mount of Olives. King David had walked this ground in sorrow, weeping over the treachery of his son Absalom. His tears once watered these ancient olive trees. Now David’s greatest Son come to the olive grove to weep and sweat and pray.
He is sorrowful unto death. He is the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with human suffering. God in the flesh suffers and is anguished, He falls to His face as He prays. “Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt.” Hours before He had given the cup to His disciples, the cup of His covenant blood poured out for the many. Now He faces the contents of this cup alone, the cup of human woe and suffering. The cup of God’s wrath poured out on Adam’s sin. He alone is able to drink it, and it is His to drink alone.
He prays as he taught His own disciples to pray. “Thy will be done.” He seeks another way, any other way, to save our fallen humanity from sin and death. Three times He seeks a way around this bitter cup of the cross. The apostle Paul prayed three times that the Lord would take away the “thorn on the flesh” that was plaguing him. What this thorn in the flesh is, we don’t know. It might have been a physical malady, a chronic pain. Or it might have been an antagonist, someone who constantly undermined his work and authority. Three times he prayed, seeking relief from God. and the answer comes back from the silent darkness: “My grace is sufficient for you.”
Jesus’ disciples abandon Him to sleep. He is alone in His prayers. Our spirits may be willing, even the first to volunteer, but the flesh is too weak. Too weak to pray, to worship, to serve. Too weak some Sunday mornings to rise and rejoice in the resurrection. Too weak to pray in the morning when we arise and when we lie down, as the small catechism teaches. The old Adam hangs around our necks like a heavy weight. Our abbreviated attention spans cannot handle the burden of prayer.
Jesus prays for us all. He is humanity enfleshed before its Maker. Adam seeking God as he faces his on return to the dust of death. “Take this cup from me,” this bitter cup of agony and suffering and pain and death. “If it cannot pass unless I drink it, then Thy will be done.” He lays down His life in prayer. His will is to do the will of His Father who sent Him.
Was there ever a more sincere, more earnest prayer than this prayer from the beloved Son of God to His Father? Three times the response is a deafening silence. Jesus knows the silence of God. He knows what it’s like to reach out to God in heartfelt prayer, in your deepest need, when you cry out from the pit of anguish and despair, and to hear nothing but your own breathing. Silence. And in the silence, the Father’s will to save is done.
“Why doesn’t God do something,” we ask. Why doesn’t He intervene? He lets thing be in silence of His Being. And in the silence of Jesus’ death, He is reconciled. His will is done in death – the death of His Son, your death. His good and gracious will is always done, without our prayer.
Judas comes to betray Him. He comes with an armed crowd wielding swords and club sent by the chief priest and the elders. Religious people bearing weapons! Religion and power always go together. A kiss is the sign of betrayal. The irony is deep. Judas kisses Jesus and calls Him “Rabbi.” Teacher. He honors Jesus and betrays Him, as so many do in this world who would call Jesus “teacher” and yet deny that He is Christ, Son, and Savior.
One disciple resorts to violence. A sword is drawn. A servant’s ear is cut off. Jesus rebukes the effort. Those who live by the sword, will also die by the sword. Violence begets violence, even when it’s justified. Jesus is not that kind of Messiah. He has more than twelve legions of angels at His beck and call. But then, how can all righteousness be fulfilled? How can the sin of the world be taken away? How can the death of Adam be undone? He must die.
We have drawn our swords too and cut off the innocent ear that got in the way, If not the sword, than the tongue or the written word, Lashing out in defense of poor, defenseless Jesus. He needs our help. We need to defend Him. Poor Jesus, He can’t defend Himself.
But the Lord of hosts submits to the indignity. He is seized like a criminal, captured like a terrorist. He had taught them openly in the temple. But those who hide behind the vestments of religion are always too cowardly to do their work in the light of day. They must come at night, to a secluded garden, and bribe one of His own disciples, and bring a crowd armed with swords and clubs, to arrest this gentle man who never hurt anyone.
The disciples fled, as Jesus told them. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will scatter.” Mark adds a signature detail. A young man followed after Jesus wearing nothing but his tunic. The crowd tries to lay hold of him, but he escapes leaving his tunic in their hands “Even the bravest warriors will flee naked on that day,” declared the Lord through the prophet Amos (2:16).
Some believe that the young man was Mark, the evangelist, and this is his signature. Early in Mark’s version of the Gospel, he tells of a man plagued by a legion of demons who lived naked among the catacombs. After Jesus sent the demons into a herd of pigs, the man appears clothed. At the tomb of Jesus, a young man clothed in white announces the resurrection. Here a young man flees naked from the garden. It’s the devil’s night, but not for long.
Remember this young man, caught up in a hostile crowd, who ran away naked. He reminds us that there are no bleacher seats in the kingdom. There is no safe distance to follow Jesus. Discipleship is not a spectator sport; the Christian faith is not for religious lookie-loos. You will get caught too. Jesus warned His disciples: “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
All of this took place that the scriptures might be fulfilled. Mark doesn’t provide us a reference, but his readers wouldn’t need one. They would remember the song of the Suffering Servant, the One anointed by God and given over to death to save the many.
“Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
“Surely he has bone our grief and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
In the name of Jesus,