The Plaguing of a Weak Flesh

Take your Bibles and turn with me to Mark 14. Today we find ourselves in the Garden of Gethsemane in the scene before Jesus is betrayed. It spans two to three hours of late-night prayer, conversation, and sleep. 

But the big story here is the matter of temptation.

Satan is actively at work this evening. Although he isn’t named specifically in the passage. He is here ready to derail the mission of Jesus and the ensnare the disciples as well. Jesus met Satan in the beginning of the Mark’s Gospel immediately following his baptism.

The temptation was to abandon the Father’s plan. Jesus refused of course as he depended upon the Spirit of God and the Word of God. The same resources we have access to.

Temptation is the common denominator in this passage today. As believers we can relate to this because God promises we will have temptation. Temptation is not the desire to sin. The desire to sin is sin. Temptation is the opportunity for sin. It is the test.

That’s why Jesus was tempted in every way, but without sin. He never desired sin, although he was given many opportunities for it.

Today’s message is hard to comprehend. There are things taking place in the hear and mind of Jesus are staggering. So often, we relate to Jesus and we learn from his example. Today we just marvel at it.

He undergoes this temptation in a way that frankly we cannot relate to. 

As we see his temptation we are going to toggle back and forth between the resolve of Jesus and the weakness of the disciples, something which we can surely relate to.

The main point I want you to take away from this message today is to marvel at what Jesus faced for you. It is unfathomable. You can ponder it, but you can’t fully get your mind around it. Our passage this morning yields:

3 Views as Jesus and the Disciples Face Temptation in Gethsemane

  1. The atmosphere (32-34) Jesus perplexed, the disciples sorrowful

  2. The affair (35-40) Jesus praying, the disciples sleeping

  3. The aftermath (41-42) Jesus poised, the disciples unprepared

32 They came to a place named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, “Sit here until I have prayed.” 33 And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. 34 And He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.” 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. 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.” 37 And He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38 “Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 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 resting? It is enough; the hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 “Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!”  

3 Views as Jesus and the Disciples Face Temptation Gethsemane

  1. The atmosphere (32-34) Jesus perplexed, the disciples sorrowful

(32) They came to a place named Gethsemane;

This scene in the Garden is the last time Jesus will choose where to walk—he will be led away from the end of this scene until he raises himself from the grave.

Now on the western slope of the Mt. of Olives, the men arrive at a place called Gethsemane. 

Gethsemane (lit., “press of oils,” i.e., a press for crushing oil out of olives).

It was an enclosed space. Essentially an olive grove or an orchard if you will. A group of trees surrounded by a wall. We glean this from the language used by John in john 18:1—

John 18:1—When Jesus had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples over the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden, in which He entered with His disciples.

So, there’s an entrance point. And this is where Jesus makes a pit stop and leaves eight of the men.

and He said to His disciples, “Sit here until I have prayed.” 33 And He took with Him Peter and James and John, 

He takes three. He leaves eight.

These are the closest guys.

Up to this point, Jesus has held the intensity of the emotion at bay. He has been attentive to the needs of the men in the upper room. He’s been loving Judas and giving him one last opportunity to repent. He’s been warning the men about their failure and reminding them of his faithfulness.

And then he comes to this point in the night, and now there’s nothing separating him from what’s about to take place.

and began to be very distressed and troubled. 

We’ve seen Jesus distressed and troubled before, but nothing like this… He is in an intense emotional state because of something deeply perplexing. To be troubled is to be anxious and distressed—deeply concerned and burdened.

Here’s God in the flesh who never sinned and isn’t sinning now. He’s not sinfully fearful. He’s not sinfully anxious. He’s not filled with unbelief. 

But his mind, heart and emotions are all reeling as he experiences sitting on the brink of what he’s about to face. His humanity here is mysterious to comprehend.

(34) And He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; 

We say, “I was scared to death,“ as an expression of how terrified we are; or “it hurt so bad I just wanted to die,” as an expression of intense pain. Jesus says here, “my soul is very sad even to death.” The weight of this is crushing me.

The weight of what? Being scourged? Of course, that was something he wasn’t looking forward to. The excruciating pain and humiliation of crucifixion. Of course, that was horrifying. The Romans perfected the art of it to make it as terrible of a way to die as possible.

But that’s not what is bringing him into this mental state.

The full impact of His death and its spiritual consequences struck Jesus and He staggered under its weight. The prospect of alienation from His Father horrified Him.

He is dreading what he will face twelve or so hours from now:

Mark 15:34—At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?”

He will cry out about being forsaken on the cross. Jesus is distressed facing the wrath of his Father. He refers to this metaphorically in v. 35 as the cup. The mind of Jesus is steeped in the Old Testament, where the cup refers to the wrath of God. Listen as I read just one example from Isaiah:

Isaiah 51:17—Rouse yourself! Rouse yourself! Arise, O Jerusalem, You who have drunk from the Lord’s hand the cup of His anger; the chalice of reeling you have drained to the dregs.

The Psalms speak of this. Jeremiah speaks of it. The judgment of God being pictured as a cup filled with wine that must be drunk in its entirety as it is poured out. That’s what’s source of distress.

2 Corinthians 5:21—He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

With that before him he tells his friends:

remain here and keep watch.” 

Keep watch is a fine translation, but the non-metaphorical sense of the word simply means: “stay awake!” Simple instruction: stay here and stay awake.

I need to be alone to pray. But I don’t want to be praying alone.

Why does Jesus tell them to pray? I think we commonly hear this passage used to speak about how the disciples abandoned Jesus in his moment of greatest need. There is truth to that.

Matthew 26:38— Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”

There is a degree of solidarity here. But this is more than Jesus needing moral support of others. He wants the disciples to pray for themselves… that’s the primary reason for his request of them to pray.

Luke 22:40—… He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

Jesus isn’t telling them pray for me. He’s telling them pray for yourselves. Jesus is going to obey. Jesus is going to be faithful. Jesus has already been tempted by Satan when he was alone in the wilderness.

It’s the men that need to be in prayer, not for Jesus to remain faithful, but for their own spiritual needs right now. Well this establishes…

  1. The atmosphere (32-34) Jesus perplexed, the disciples sorrowful

All them men are feeling pressed. They are all experiencing difficult emotions. And now we come to our second view as Jesus and the disciples face temptation in Gethsemane. 

2. The affair (35-40) Jesus praying, the disciples sleeping

This ordeal will be Jesus urging the men three times to pray and three times their response it so go to sleep. It’s a simple story.

But we will focus especially on the prayer our Lord prays and his instructions to the disciples. That’s the meat in the middle that Mark wants us to focus upon.

(35) And He went a little beyond them, 

Luks says it was a stone’s throw. He got out of earshot of the men, and the text says…

and [he] fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. 

Here the Passover lamb is praying, if it is possible the hour would pass me by. 

(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.”

Unfathomable. The Son of God praying in perfect submission, asking for relief from the upcoming circumstance.

Psalm 135:6—Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.

Jesus says,

Abba! Father

Abba isn’t some special title or name. In fact, it was a common way of referring to your own dad. Perhaps you’ve heard the teaching that ἀββά means daddy. There was a new testament scholar in the 1971 who wrote that little children used ἀββά when addressing their fathers.

The resulting conclusion was that ἀββά meant, “papa or daddy.”

But this is not a correct understanding. It’s true that Jesus’ use here is unique. No one called God  ἀββά and it is a term of intimacy. But it isn’t daddy.

Jesus when he taught the disciples to pray in Matthew 6 told them to pray “Father” (πατήρ). 44 times in the Gospel of Matthew we read of Jesus speaking of his πατήρ in heaven. His father. 

ἀββά on the other hand, appears zero times.

Mark is the only Gospel writer to include it. And his point here is to demonstrate the intimacy that Jesus has with God. Magnifies what he’s about to experience. Every time we read ἀββά in the New Testament it is connected to πατήρ.

It is a term of personal endearment and closeness, but it was used by adults of the fathers as well. So a good way to state this might be something like the difference between saying, “the father” generically and “my dearest father.”

Jesus then is crying out in prayer here in the most intimate expression we have record of him praying. He’s looking down the barrel of the coming cup and he’s pouring his heart to his dearest father.

Such a weak explanation, but imagine a Father turning the back on a young little toddler son and abandoning him unto death. The most painful human loss you’ve ever experienced cannot be compared to this separation.

Dismisses any thought that we might 

Remove this cup from Me

Take it away. That’s my desire. 

Jesus understands the cup. He understands the wrath of God on sin. He understands how angry he gets as a God who burns every day with indignation against sin (Psalm 7:11).

When you study the cup of God’s wrath and judgment throughout Scripture it leaves you with a sense of horror. You read about people wilting under it. You read about how exacting and precise it is. You read about how it will not be resisted or softened until it is poured out and experienced to the dregs (that means every drop).

And so if hell is scary to you, think how much scarier for Jesus the thought of separation from the Father.

We barely understand hell. We barely understand the wickedness of sin.

Jesus hates sin more than we hate hell. He know exactly what’s coming. He’s going to be made sin. Not that he will become a sinner, but he will be treated as though he was. And in that moment he will incur the penalty for millions of sinners.

As one pastor put it, “it’s impossible to quantify the richness of this substitution.”

yet not what I will, but what You will.

That’s what I want. But that want and desire is secondary to something else, which is my desire to please you, Father.

Let’s get our Christology right here. Jesus isn’t backing down from the challenge and he isn’t avoiding his mission. He’s struggling under it, but asking God to if possible make a way? He was resolved to accomplish redemption. He was resolved to submit to the Father. He never waivered for a second in his obedience. He was struggling under the weight of it as he saw it fast approaching and said, “sin is so horrifying and the thought of bearing your wrath for it is so distasteful.” Is there any other way?

Consider his resolve:

John 12:27—“Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.

But what we see here is that it is a real obedience. It wasn’t automatic. It wasn’t without effort and struggle. In fact, Jesus matured as a man for 33 years bringing him to this point that at the time of greatest temptation, he was prepared for it.

Hebrews 5:8—Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.

There is temptation going on here.

Jesus returns to the three…

Luke 22:43–46—43 Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. 44 And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. 

So intense was this moment for Jesus that the tiny blood vessels under his skin were erupting and his sweat was mixed with blood.

This is where we see the divine and the human in marked contrast. Here’s Jesus contemplating drinking the fullness of the cup of wrath for millions of sinners to the degree that his body is racked trying to keep up with the difficult of the moment.

(37) And He came and found them sleeping, 

It’s been at most one hour. You’ve been told that you are going to deny Jesus repeatedly. You’ve been told that the hour is at hand. You’ve been told to pray and specifically to stay awake.

Jesus comes upon the sleeping guys. And it’s wakeup time.

and said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 

Peter, you aren’t acting like a rock right now so I’m calling you Simon again. Peter means rock—stable, steadfast, a pillar. Not right now.

Awkward feeling. I’ve been woken up “praying” on the couch before many times. What’s the impulse? At least for me. I was praying… I was praying… Jesus knows he was asleep.

The language is brutal because it’s so indicting.

Same word used when he says that his Father is capable or powerful for all things. 

Peter are you capable of keeping your eyes open for an hour? Are you so lacking in self-control over your personal appetites, that you are unable to exhibit self-denial over a basic physical need like sleep for the period of one hour?

We’re not talking about days without sleep here. We’re talking about one late night.

But I don’t want to misrepresent this, the tone of our Lord isn’t harsh with Peter. 

I’m sure that Jesus wanted prayer support, but abandonment by his friends is hardly worth mentioning in light of facing abandonment by his Father. 

But he’s caring for Peter. I mean just consider, Jesus is stopping his own prayer time with the Father to go check on his men. That’s what he’s doing:

(38) “Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation;

Simon… I just warned you that you are on the brink of denying me repeatedly. You know tonight’s the night. Pray for your endurance through the temptation that you are about to face.

The prayer isn’t to avoid temptation (although it almost reads like that… that you may not come into temptation). The prayer isn’t that you won’t encounter it, but that when you do, you will persevere through it.

1 Corinthians 10:13—No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

When you are in a state of spiritual vulnerability you need to pray like it as a way of looking to God’s divine power and enablement.

Why is Peter sleeping right now?

Sure, it’s late, but it’s not that late. 

Luke tells us that the men were… sleeping from sorrow.

When we are sad or depressed, whatever word you want to use for it, we have outlets that we seek to comfort ourselves. It can be food, lust, work, shopping, entertainment, and even sleep. Most of us can relate to this.

Things seem difficult or painful and the easiest thing to do is go hit the sack.

It’s not going to be spiritually beneficial for Peter and the rest:

the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 

He sets up an alternative…

I know you love me. I know you want to stand firm. I know you are my true disciple. I know you are saved. And the spirit is eager and willing—it’s ready to go.

But it’s connected to a flesh beset with weakness. Your desires and intentions are great. But your capacity to carry it out is easy overwhelmed and goes astray. 

Can you relate to this?

I find it fascinating that he doesn’t say the spirit is weak and the flesh is strong. The flesh isn’t stronger than the Spirit. Its limitations are your problem.

Said another way, this new power, this willing desire to please God that you received when you were born again, is still housed in a fleshly body with the remnant of the old man, which limits you.

  • You are compelled to pray and decide instead to surf the internet.

  • You choose sleep or entertainment when you haven’t spent time in the Scriptures

  • You aspire to serve others, but you are too focused on personal priorities or the things of this world—you’ve bogged your life down with distractions

  • Or perhaps even worse, when you are pressed you seek outlets for relief in something other than Christ.

It’s like a high-end sports car with a perfectly functioning engine and bad tires. The engine isn’t lacking, but the weakness of the tires will remain a limitation. So, what’s the answer:

Galatians 5:16—But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.

Galatians 5:24—Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

This is going to be a double lesson for the disciples. Their self-confidence turns into prayerlessness which turns into failure.

After urging the men to pray…

(39) Again He went away and prayed, saying the same words. 

He leaves the conversation shepherding the men and he’s filled still with dread. Matthew records him praying:

Matthew 26:42—He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” 

We see the prayer of Jesus marked here by fervency and earnest dependence. There is energy and focus. The Scriptures tell us that the Father heard this prayer and cared:

Hebrews 5:7—In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.

It didn’t change the circumstances though, did it?

Jesus knows the experience of crying out the Father for relief and being told that he needs to endure through it.

Listen friends, this is your great high priest. He’s sympathetic. He doesn’t know what it’s like to sin. But he know what it’s like to be tempted, to be human, to ask for relief and be told to wait. Have this fixed in your mind as you pray.

Jesus gets up again. Stops communing with the Father to check on his guys:

(40) And again He came and found them sleeping, 

I’ve always wondered what it looked like: were they on their faces bowed in prayer and dozed off in those positions? Were they sleeping using rocks for pillows and it was more intentional? 

Mark says they were sleeping now because:

for their eyes were very heavy; 

They were drowsy. They are sad. It’s later now. They had just eaten a big Passover meal and tummies full of lamb and wine and bread and fruit and nuts.

He wakes them up again.

and they did not know what to answer Him. 

There’s nothing to say at this point. It’s been a tough night. Well Jesus leaves one more time to pray. And that brings us to the end of this affair to the aftermath.

  1. The atmosphere (32-34) Jesus perplexed, the disciples sorrowful

  2. The affair (35-40) Jesus praying, the disciples sleeping

  3. The aftermath (41-42) Jesus poised, the disciples unprepared

(41) And He came the third time, and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? 

Ugh! You know the feeling when you oversleep, and you weren’t supposed to. Especially if it means you missed something important. This had to have been a pretty bad feeling now for the third time. 

There’s not much time for feeling foolish. This time Jesus doesn’t tell them to remain watchful and keep praying. Instead he just says:

It is enough; 

Enough is enough. You’ve had enough sleeping. You’ve had enough rest.

It would seem that there’s also a note of finality to the temptation and the answer from God. Jesus pleads with the Father through tears (and even blood) asking for the hour to pass. Now he says:

the hour has come; 

So, he gets up to obey. Embracing the Father’s plan as he exclaims:

behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 

Here the Lord of Glory submits himself to the process ordained and designed for him by his Father. He is being betrayed by human hands as well as by divine ones.

(42) “Get up, let us be going; 

Jesus isn’t going to run, he gets up to go and meet Judas head on. He’s resolved. He poised. He is embracing this moment. He says: 

behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!”

Look, the one handing me over has arrived. 

It would have been a moment of fear and bewilderment for the disciples to look up and see Judas coming with soldiers behind him. They are struck with suddenly trying to process on the fly how their friend of three years was the one who is handing over their Lord.

Judas knew right where to lead the cohort because this was a familiar place.

Luke 22:39–And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives…

John 18:2—Now Judas also, who was betraying Him, knew the place, for Jesus had often met there with His disciples.

Judas uses his intimate knowledge of the favorite meeting spot to hand him over in the quiet of the night, away from the crowds.

But the disciples, they aren’t ready. They thought they didn’t need to depend upon God and now they are ripe for failure.

In a few minutes we are going to sing about the Spirit of God that we have received. Let me leave you with this as we go to sing this song.

I mentioned that ἀββά doesn’t appear in any Gospel record except for Mark. Although this is the first time it appears in the New Testament, it’s not the last. Two other times we read ἀββά. But this time is isn’t expressed by Jesus.

Rather, it expressed by his little brothers and sisters. Jesus brings us into the family, and he gets to call God the Father ἀββά, now, 

Galatians 4:6—Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

The relationship where he could refer to the Father as his dearest father, now becomes ours through adoption:

Romans 8:15—For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”

It’s the name a child would use to express toward an adopted father. So, as we sing. We sing to the Father who abandoned Jesus, so that he might save us and never abandon us. Sing with great assurance.

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