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March 18, 2018

Sermon Mark 14:32 . . .“Bible places:  Gethsemane”

“Bible places:  Gethsemane”

Mark 14:32

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

There’s something special about midnight, when the clock strikes twelve.  It’s not a.m., ante meridiem, nor is it p.m., post meridiem.  And neither is it Saturday or Sunday or Monday.  It’s that brief, passing, fleeting moment precisely in between.  Midnight, writers tell us, is a time of deep darkness and gloom.

And, it seems, nothing good happens at midnight.  Think of Cinderella.  For a few brief hours, she was the “belle of the ball,” complete with a royal carriage, coachmen, glass slippers, and a luxurious gown.  But just as soon as the clock struck twelve, at the stroke of midnight, there was little left except four small mice, a rat, and a pumpkin.

Not surprisingly, “Midnight” is the name of books, songs, games, and movies.  It’s even the name of two ships that once sailed in the service of the United States.  Each was called, USS Midnight.  Bryan Ferry sings, “Midnight train rolling down the track.”  Chris Martin sings, “In the darkness before the dawn In the swirling of the storm…leave a light on.”  And the phantom in The Phantom of the Opera sings, “Open up your mind Let your fantasies unwind In this darkness that you know you cannot fight The darkness of the music of the night.”

The Bible talks a lot about midnight too.  In the book of Exodus, an angel of the Lord killed Egypt’s firstborn at midnight.  In the book of Judges, Sampson tore apart a city’s gates at midnight.  And Ruth lay at the feet of Boaz at midnight.  

In the book of Acts, in a city called Troas, the apostle Paul preached till midnight, so late, that a boy named Eutychus fell asleep.  And in Philippi, Paul and Silas prayed and sang, in prison, at midnight.

And Jesus said in the book of Luke, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves.’”  And He said, “Because of his persistence, he will rise and give him as many as he needs.”

And David wrote in Psalm 119:  “At midnight, I rise to praise You, because of Your righteous rules.”

The gospels tell us of something else that happened at midnight.  It’s when Jesus went to a place, a garden, called Gethsemane.

Please turn in your Bible to page 1083, as I read the words of our text.  I’ll start at Mark chapter 14, verse 32:  “And they went to a place called Gethsemane.  And He said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’  And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled.  And He said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.  Remain here and watch.’  And going a little farther, He fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him.  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.’”

It was that very night, at the Last Supper, that Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and said, “Take, eat, this is My body.”  Then after supper, He took a cup, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, and said, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”  And He said, “Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

Then the Bible says that, after they sang a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Slowly and carefully, they made their way through the darkness, out of the city, descending to a valley below.  The road was lined with the tents and the fires of Passover pilgrims.  Though most were asleep, the ones still awake thought little of the band of men walking that dark, dusty road.

They passed through the valley and ascended the path that would lead them to Gethsemane.  The road was steep, so they paused for a moment to rest.  

And as Jesus looked up toward the city, He saw what the disciples could not see.  Instead of walls, gates, lamps and fires, He could see the final battle that would soon take place.

And He knew full well that before the throne would come the cup.  Before the light of Sunday would come the blackness of Friday.

And so He trudged on.

Finally, when they came to the garden’s gate, He stopped and turned His eyes toward His circle of friends.  This would be the last time He would see them before they abandoned Him and fled from Him.  His betrayal, arrest, and denial were only minutes away.

And what does He do?  What would you do?

Imagine, for a moment, that you were to stand in His shoes—your final hour with a son about to be sent overseas.  Your last moments with a dying spouse.  One last visit with a parent.

What would you say?  What would you do?

What did Jesus do?  He chose to pray.

Look again at verse 33:  “And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled.  And He said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.  Remain here and watch.’  And going a little farther, He fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him.  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.’”

While we often picture Jesus, in Gethsemane, wearing a snow-white robe, serenely kneeling beside a rock, His hands peacefully folded in prayer, that’s not the picture that Mark gives.  Instead, Mark used words like, “Horror and dismay came over Him,” “My heart breaks with grief,” and “He threw Himself on the ground.”

As Isaiah wrote so long ago, in the garden, He was stricken, smitten, and afflicted, a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.

Can we pause for just a moment to learn from what we see?  The next time you think that no one understands you or cares for you, read the fourteenth chapter of Mark and pay a visit to Gethsemane.  And the next time you wonder if God really fathoms the pain you carry in your heart, listen to the One who pleads among the ancient, twisted trees.

And what did He ask for as He fell on His face in prayer?  Verse 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.’”

Cup?  What cup?  The cup of suffering.  The cup of God’s judgment and wrath.

What was in that cup?  Sin was in that cup—your sin and the sin of all humanity, from the very beginning of time to its bitter end.  Inside that cup was the very opposite of what God wanted us to be.  He was holy and we are not.  To Him, what was in that cup was a perversion of all that was good.  And to drink it would be to take it into Himself, to willingly become something He never was.  That’s what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:  “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us.”

Punishment was in that cup, the punishment that God His Father demanded.  If He was sin, then He must be punished for that sin.  His cry was the cry of the rich man suffering the torments of hell, begging for just one drop of water.

And loneliness was in that cup.  When He prayed to His Father in heaven, He saw the One who would judge Him and punish Him wasn’t Annas or Caiaphas or Herod or Pilate.  It was His own Father.  It is one thing to be forsaken by your enemies or by your dearest friends.  It is another to be forsaken by Your Father in heaven--the One with whom He had enjoyed such fellowship, to whom He was so devoted, to whom He prayed every day--He would turn His back on Him and forsake Him.  That’s why Jesus begged to not drink it.

As Paul wrote to the Romans:  “But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

“But God,” he wrote.  Have you ever thought about how many times the Bible says, “But God”?

Joseph said to the brothers that betrayed him and denied him, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”  Asaph wrote in Psalm 73:  “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart.” Peter preached in Acts:  “Now when they had fulfilled all that was written about Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb.  But God raised Him from the dead.”  And Paul wrote to the Ephesians:  “We were, by nature, children of wrath…but God, who is rich in mercy…made us alive together with Christ.”

Who would have thought that one little word—“but”—could mean so much?

So what does all this mean for us?

No matter who we are, no matter where we come from, there will be gardens of Gethsemane.  And just like Jesus, we can’t help but enter them.  

Just don’t enter them alone.  And while you’re there, be honest.  Pound on the ground.  Tears are fine too.  And just like Jesus, open your heart. 

And be specific.  Jesus was.  He prayed, “Take this cup.”  Give God the number of the flight.  Tell him the length of the speech.  Name names.  He has plenty of time, and He has even more compassion.

And don’t think your fears are foolish.  He’ll never tell you to “toughen up.”  He’s been where you are.  He knows how you feel.  He knows what you need. 

James Montgomery was the son of missionaries who served in the West Indies.  He never married.  He died at the age of 83.  And over his lifetime, he wrote as many as four hundred hymns, many of which we still sing today.

And in this season of Lent, we sing one of his most beautiful hymns of all.  It goes like this:  “Go to dark Gethsemane, ye that feel the Tempter’s power; your Redeemer’s conflict see, watch with Him one bitter hour; turn not from His griefs away, learn of Jesus Christ to pray.”

Why would anyone want to go to Gethsemane?  Because it was there that Jesus began His journey, a journey that would end not on a cross, but in an open tomb, and the triumph of Easter Day.

 

Dear Father, as we near the end of this season of Lent, remind us of the great love Christ has for us through His suffering and death on the cross, that we too may come to everlasting life.  This we ask in His name.  Amen

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