This past Sunday, we finalized our miniseries, “Born for the Cross,” by looking at Mark’s account of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, just prior to his betrayal and arrest (Mark 14:32-42). It’s an account filled with struggles:
- The disciples struggled to stay awake.
- Jesus struggled with the disciples over their inability to remain alert.
- Later, Peter struggled with the mob that came to arrest Jesus.
It’s all part of the larger theme of struggle within the final week of Jesus’ life prior to his going to the cross, beginning with Jesus driving everyone out of the temple and continuing through Jesus’ foretelling of Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus after his arrest, and Jesus’ trial and crucifixion.
But here in the garden, the greatest struggle seemed to be within Jesus himself. Just as Jacob had wrestled with the Lord in the Old Testament, Jesus wrestled with the weight of his mission. So, taking leave of his friends, Jesus headed off into solitude, as was his custom (Mark 1:35; 6:46; Luke 5:16). But this was no customary prayer time. Jesus, the Son of God, was overwhelmed with sorrow as he faced what was before him. And there, in the garden of Gethsemane, we find him praying with a resolve to the Father’s mission that awaited him. After each prayer, he returned to the disciples only to find them asleep, raising two additional themes in the passion of Jesus Christ: (1) the theme of unfaithfulness to Jesus, and (2) the theme of Jesus being forsaken.
As Matt Chandler points out, “The one who would soon feel forsaken by the Father first tasted the bitterness of being forsaken by his friends.”
In light of these themes of struggle, unfaithfulness, and Jesus being forsaken, we see the Son of God remaining faithful to the Father’s mission for him, despite the weight of sorrow the mission came with. And so for us, we get a lesson from Jesus on remaining faithful to the Lord in the midst of trials and sorrow, whether it’s a great trial filled with intense suffering, or the day-to-day trial that simply tests our faithfulness to the Lord when we face temptation. And we learn two things to be committed to as we aim to remain faithful to the Lord during trials of our faith.
1. Submission and Obedience
Notice Jesus’ two-fold petition to the Father in verses 35-36:
- That the “hour” might pass from him.
- That the “cup” might be removed.
The two expressions are synonymous; both are metaphors for the redemptive passion of Jesus Christ. The “hour” that Jesus is referring to is the moment of his betrayal and arrest (see verse 41) along with the foreseeable consequences of his trial and execution (John 2:4; 7:30; 8:20). The course of events tied to the “hour” are further informed by the reference to the “cup,” which, in light of Isaiah 51:17 and Jeremiah 25:15-18, point to the cup of God’s wrath over sin.
However, as Jesus petitions for the removal of the hour and cup, he adds: “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (verse 36), highlighting his faithful resolve to remain submissive and obedient to the Father’s will. Despite the sorrowful weight of the trial that was before him, he nonetheless approached his hour and took the cup of wrath in fulfillment of the Father’s mission for him.
My dear church: If we desire to walk in Christlikeness and remain faithful to God in our own trials and sufferings, we too must be committed to submission and obedience to God’s will for us. It’s a will that involves loving the Lord above all things—even our own comfort—and loving our neighbors, despite the sorrows and tests God might be allowing us to walk through. For the husband or wife walking through the trial of a less-than-perfect marriage, it’s a commitment to remain loving and faithful to one another rather than finding comfort in another’s arms. For the parent being tried by naturally rebellious children, it’s a commitment to remain gracious to one’s children. For the employee being tested by less-than-ideal circumstances, it’s a commitment to continue working faithfully as to the Lord. For the patient walking through the sufferings of poor health and disease, it’s a commitment to continue trusting in the one who’s given us the breath of life. In all things, it’s a commitment to remain submissive and obedient to the Lord and his will—as revealed through his Word—for Christian life and faith.
We’ll be tempted to seek after our own desires during those trials, but if we humble ourselves and submit to the Spirit of God within us, he will enable us to walk in faithfulness to him during the sufferings and trials we walk through.
2. Watchfulness and Prayer
Notice Jesus’ words in verse 38: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The reason we struggle with faithfulness to the Lord (and with the godly submission and obedience noted above) is that we’re still attached to our sinful flesh. We are weak creatures! When humans are overwhelmed by trying situations, their best intentions can be easily betrayed by their inability to resist temptations. In our overwhelming circumstances, we’re prone to fall to these invitations to be unfaithful to God. And this means we need help.
So, what is Jesus’ solution to our weakness to temptation in the midst of trials? Watchfulness and prayer.
Spiritual watchfulness is an alertness to the things that tempt us. As Peter would later write after his own fall to the temptation to deny Christ: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). With a similar note, Paul encourages us to “be watchful” and to “stand firm in the faith” (1 Corinthians 16:13). In order to remain faithful during trials, we are to be spiritually aware of the snares that are set before us.
We are also to be prayerful. As Paul instructs: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it” (Colossians 4:2). By definition, prayer admits one’s own weakness and reveals human dependence on God. No wonder why prayer and watchfulness are paired! To remain watchful, we need prayerful help from God! But there’s something further about prayer. Yes, we receive help from the Lord through prayer, but prayer in and of itself seems to enable us to be watchful and vigilant. Christians who have a tendency to “sleep” (and fall as a result) are probably the same Christians who struggle with prayer. Stated in the positive, Christians who have a tendency to remain alert (and with more frequency do not succumb to temptations) are probably the same Christians to lead a robust life of prayer, especially in trying circumstances.
As William Lane puts it, “Spiritual wakefulness and prayer in full dependence upon divine help provide the only adequate preparation for crisis.” So, if we desire to walk in Christlikeness and remain faithful to God in our own trials and sufferings, we—as Jesus—must also be committed to watchfulness and prayer. If Jesus in Gethsemane prepared for his own intense trial through vigilance and prayer, we too must be committed to vigilance and prayer for the proper resistance of temptation in trials. For just as the disciples were exposed to unfaithfulness to Jesus in Gethsemane, we too stand equally exposed to unfaithfulness to the Lord. We have a need to remain watchful in prayer.
Pointing Ourselves to Christ
My dear Lake Murray: Let’s remain faithful to our Lord when we’re tried, and let’s do so by being committed to submission and obedience to the Lord in the midst of trials, empowered by a commitment to watchfulness and prayer, as well. Left to our own resources, we’ll be prone to fail. But as we rely on the Spirit of God within us and among us—through prayer—we’ll be empowered to remain faithful. We cannot do it alone. We need our Lord.
In the garden of Eden, Adam—in his own testing of his faith—failed to resist Satan’s temptation and chose his way over God’s. But in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus—the second Adam—submitted in full obedience to the Father’s purpose and plan through watchfulness and prayer. He did it to rescue us from the wrath of God. He did it, also, to empower us as we face temptation in our own trials. If you’re like me and you’ve struggled to remain faithful in the midst of trying situations, just look to Jesus, who remained faithful to the end.
For further meditation and/or group discussion, here is a copy of Sunday’s insert with the order of worship and sermon notes: Mark 14.32-42 Insert. You’ll find the follow-up questions at the end.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
With love in Christ,
PS: We will be resuming our series on 2 Corinthians this upcoming Sunday. Looking forward!