WHAT SIMON SAW ON FRIDAY
by Pastor Mike Fortune
March 31, 2007
The Passover moon was full. Brightly shining in a cloudless sky. The narrow streets of Jerusalem overflowing with pilgrims were finally quiet. Things had already been said and done. Both by Judas and by Jesus. According to John 13:18-19 [NIV] Jesus told Simon Peter, and the rest of the disciples gathered in the upper room, “‘This is to fulfill the scripture: 'He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.'’ ‘19I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He.’” Which was a reference everyone in the room would have recognized as coming from Psalm 41:9 which reads, “9Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” Moments later in John 13:21 the Bible says Jesus was “Troubled in spirit.” Then He said, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.”
Judas, playing the role of orthodox believer said, “‘Surely not I, Rabbi?’ But Jesus answered, ‘Yes, it is you.’” John 12:27–30 adds these words. “27As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. ‘What you are about to do, do quickly,’ Jesus told him, 28but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. 30As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.”
Judas apparently went straight from the Upper Room to the Sanhedrin. Maybe he figured that if Jesus was to be crucified as He had said so often, the event must come to pass whether he betrayed him or not. So if Jesus was going to die either way, he might as well profit from it. If you can call 30 pieces of silver a profit. His wounded pride from being so gently rebuked at Simon’s house for criticizing Mary’s perfume plus his growing greed made that part of the decision much easier to make. On the other hand, if Jesus really was the Messiah, the people who loved him would rally around him and proclaim him King before He was crucified. And he would get the credit for forcing the humble King to take the throne. He thought he had a win win situation carved out for himself. Everything was already said and done. That’s where our Scripture reading comes in for today. Turn with me in your Bibles to Mark 14.
Mark 14:32 [NIV] says, “They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’” According to the historian Eusebius, the garden identified as Gethsemane, which is Aramaic for “oil press”, is located at the foot of the Mount of Olives, now within the city of Jerusalem. Only days before, Jesus had paused in the road at the top of it, weeping for the multitudes. Tonight He would also be weeping. But not just for the multitudes. But also for Himself. Previously, Jesus could say with confidence as John 8:29 [NIV] records: “29The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” But in the garden after Judas left him and His best friends would not pray with Him, He wasn’t so sure. Thursday night was quickly becoming early Friday morning Roman time. But even in the darkness, the disciples were beginning to notice some changes in Jesus.
Jesus was deeply distressed
After they left the warm intimate setting of the upper room and head down a sloping pathway into the Kidron Valley. the disciples notice that He who had been “troubled in spirit” in the upper room was now according to Mark 14:33 “deeply distressed and troubled.” A dewy chill is in the air as they step over the bald rocks in the brook at the bottom of the valley. On the other side they shake water from their sandals and pause as a Roman sentry calls out from his watch. To the disciples, it is merely a reminder of the time. To Jesus, it is reminder that time is running out. When the disciples look up, Jesus is several paces ahead of them approaching the familiar garden where Nicodemus talked to Jesus and where Jesus longed to speak with His heavenly Father.
Though it would be May before the trees would blossom, the scent of olive oil still lingers from the residue on the stone press from last autumn’s harvest. Some of the trees in this garden have waited with rooted patience for over a thousand years for this moment. And before them, every tree since Eden. Each branch holding on to the hope that in their lifetime the Messiah might come and lead all Creation back to paradise. And tonight He comes. Bringing with Him 11 of the 12 disciples. Of the eleven that remained, three of them were the same three that Jesus took with Him to the top of that mountain where He was transfigured. They represented His closest companions on earth. His best friends. They had seen Him talking to Moses and Elijah. They had heard the voice from heaven. Surely they would have noticed Jesus’ sudden silence and overwhelming sadness. His slumping shoulders. His unsteady walk. Scripture says in Mark 14:35 [NIV] “35Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.” Verses 33-34 reveal that He told Peter, James, and John that His soul was “Overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Then He asked the three to stay there and keep watch.
Take this cup from me
Leaving the eleven behind and then the three as well, Jesus makes his way further into the heart of the garden with the weight of our sins and his destiny bearing down on Him. He stops to rest his forearm against a branch. For generations the olive branch has been a symbol of peace. But not tonight. Not for Jesus. And in Mark 14:36 [NIV], He cries: “‘36Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.” Abba is a term of endearment that melts the heart of any father including the one in Heaven. Jesus Himself reminds us of this truth. Previously He said, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
Father, Jesus cried, Daddy in Aramaic, “Everything is possible for you. Would you please? Take this cup from me?” Hearing no response, Jesus clutches the grass. Clawing at the ground. Groping for the familiar embrace. And peace that passes understanding. But that night, there would be none of the above. Not because the Father didn’t hear Him. But because the Father actually did! Have we forgotten? It was our heavenly Father who so loved the world that He sent His Son for this very moment of crisis! But the twisted trunks of the olive trees in that garden don’t care about that and when Jesus looks up, they mock the turmoil that Jesus is struggling to comprehend. So Jesus wipes the gritty sweat from his face and returns to his disciples. Desperately needing their friendship, their encouragement, their prayers. But the disciples are asleep. Simon saw none of it.
So Jesus gently, always compassionately, wakes them up. In Mark 14:37-38 [NIV] He says to Peter. “‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?’” It wasn’t a question. It was a conclusion. We aren’t the only ones who find it difficult to pray for an hour. But when we struggle to make prayer a priority, individually or as a church, aren’t you glad Jesus doesn’t get mad? He never goes off on us. Beating us up. Or guilt tripping us into prayer meetings. Notice: the weakness of His sleepy disciples awakened in Jesus not sarcasm but sympathy. “‘Simon,’ he said to Peter in Mark 14:37, ‘Are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.’”
For a temporary moment, his fear of never more being with God was overcome for the fear that those nearest and dearest to Him would never be either. Is this not amazing grace? That even in His great agony, Jesus was seeking to excuse their weakness! The spirit is willing, Jesus said, but the flesh is weak! What a friend we have in Jesus!
Verse 39 [NIV] says, “39Once more he went away and prayed the same thing.” So the disciples huddle together as a fortress against sleep. Trying to stay awake. Wanting to pray with their Master. Whom they love even more now! Whom Simon had bragged they’d never leave in Mark 14:29 [NIV]. “29Even if all fall away, I will not.” But the day has been long. And supper was settling in their stomachs. And one by one they all fall asleep in the night.
All alone back in the clearing, Jesus falls to His knees, and then to the ground. Had they stayed awake long enough, the disciples would have seen the shadowy form of Jesus wilt under the intensity of the world’s fallen humanity. For Jesus was never more weak. Never more sad. And yes, never more afraid than He was right then. He whispers, “Not my will, but thy will be done.”
The sword of separation and loss which would pierce his mother Mary’s side was now according to Zechariah 13:7 piercing Him. “7Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me declares the LORD Almighty.” But unlike Mary’s heartache, this was no temporary separation and loss. Jesus was beginning to feel the weight of the world’s eternal separation from God. Which is what sin really is. And it was so broad and so black and so deep that He was afraid He would not be able to endure it.
The devil is always there, casting doubt
You’re aware that at the beginning of Christ’s ministry, the devil was there. Matthew 4 [NIV] records how “3The tempter came to Jesus and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread. ‘6If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. Matthew 4:8 [NIV] adds, “8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘9All this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me.’”
So if the devil was there at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, you know he was there near the end. Unable to conquer Jesus in the desert, the devil hoped to finish in the darkness what he started in daylight. Surrounded by every evil angel around, the devil whispered to Jesus the same lies he whispers to us. That it is hopeless. That you are helpless. That you are alone. That even your best friends don’t care. That God has forgotten about you. Revolting against such a premise, Jesus staggers back to his three best friends. Hoping they’ll remind Him that these are all lies. But when He gets there, Mark 14:40 [NIV] says, “40He found them sleeping again, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.”
But sleep deprivation may not have been the only reason why they had difficulty recognizing Him. It may have also been because Isaiah 52:14 [NIV] predicted the suffering servant would be disfigured and marred, “14Many were appalled at him.” The Bible said, “His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.” Luke 22:44 [NIV] adds these words. “44And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” Realizing that He would be praying alone, suffering alone, even dying alone, Jesus stumbles back to the center of the garden.
God sent an angel to Jesus
And the heavenly angels are watching all this. I imagine legions of them were craning their necks. Aching to help. Watching as Jesus wrestles. Tears in heaven were probably streaming down their cheeks! But they weren’t the only ones watching. Our Father in heaven also suffered with His Son. He saw the legions of satanic angels with the devil surrounding him and could take it no more. So He sends the fastest mightiest angel down from heaven not to take the cup from Jesus, but to strengthen Him to drink it. “‘36Abba,’ Jesus cries again. Weaker this time. Barely a whisper. “Take this cup from me. Thy will be done.” Then Luke 22:43 [NIV] adds these miraculous words, “43An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.”
And when he arrived, what do you think he told Jesus? The Bible doesn’t say. But I think he reminded Jesus that everything is not as it seems. That you are not hopeless. That you are not helpless. That God always hears your prayers. Even in the silence. You are not alone. I think the Father sent the angel to tell Jesus that the Father has not and will never forget about you. He loves you and all those sleepy disciples like crazy! There’s nothing you can do to make Him love you more. There’s nothing you can do to make Him love you less! But think about eternity! How great it’s gonna be all together with them for ever and ever. Think about the Father! How much greater is He that is in You than He that is in this world! Think about the kingdom! How because of this suffering and sacrifice, the kingdom of this world full of unspeakable atrocities will be no more. That it will be bought back. That the price will be paid. That the victory will be won.
Jesus’ need for strength is underscored by the degree of stress he was under and as He received strength from the angel, he was enabled to pray even harder. Luke 22:44 [NIV] says, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly. The word “anguish” translates Greek agonia. Initially, the word was used by the Greeks to describe an athletic contest that involved a struggle or a fight. But in the New Testament agonia came to mean agony or deep anxiety. The depth of that stress is matched by Jesus’ earnest prayer which means eagerly, fervently, constantly. Luke describes Jesus as sweating profusely in this earnest contest of prayer. And while it’s medically possible to sweat blood, Scripture doesn’t explicitly say He did so. It seems more likely that this analogy has more to do with the dripping of the sweat than to its color or content. Either way, this was obviously no game. No athletic contest. This was agony. As Isaiah 52 predicted, the servant was suffering.
Notice: this angelic good news didn’t remove the wages of sin, but it did encourage Jesus to confidently face it. Moments before He was in agony, unaware of even one angel. Moments later in Matthew 26:53-54, he sees the potential for angels everywhere! For he admonishes his disciples not to resist his captors saying: “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? A Roman legion consisted of 6,000 footmen and 700 horsemen. Jesus is talking about a heavenly force with at least 73,700 more angels than soldiers! I’d say He’s pretty confident now wouldn’t you? I like those odds.
The angel gave Him strength
The verse in Luke 22 says the angel “appeared to him,” using a passive Greek verb that means “become visible or appear.” But Jesus not only saw this angel. It also assisted Him. Literally causing Him to recover from loss of strength. So now he’s not only sure that heaven has heard Him. He’s physically stronger than He was before. Allowing Him to face the overwhelming brutality and physicality of the hours ahead. He understands that the Father’s answer to Jesus’ prayer was not to remove the cup, but to provide the strength to drink it.
But here’s a question: How many of you think the sleepy disciples could have slept through some heavenly fireworks like those? I don’t! Peter, James, and John had to have woken up and wondered if they were back on the top of the mountain of transfiguration all of a sudden! That’s the last time they saw a light that bright! And heard those kinds of words. But even the most remarkable answered prayers and the most miraculous revelations of God aren’t always enough to convince us of our desperate need to stay engaged with Him are they? Which may be why God doesn’t always answer our prayers in those miraculous ways. We know this is true because as illogical as it sounds, Mark 14:41 [NIV] says Jesus got up and returned a third time and found the disciples sleeping again! “Returning the third time, he said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!’”
John 18:2-11 [NIV] concludes. “2Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. 3So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. 4Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’ They replied, “5Jesus of Nazareth.” “I am he,” Jesus said. And 6When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
These mercenary soldiers from the fortress of Antonia inside the walls of Jerusalem were some of the toughest most battle tested warriors on the planet. But they’re no match for the Captain of Heaven’s forces. When He steps up to them, they drew back and fall to the ground like dead men. As will everyone on earth one day.
Revelation 5:11-14 [NIV] says, “ 11Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12In a loud voice they sang: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!’ 13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!" 14The four living creatures said, "Amen," and the elders fell down and worshiped.”
Philippians 2:10-11 [NIV] adds these words, “10At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
God still hears our prayers
I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to that day. When I can fall at Jesus’ feet and thank Him for saving my life. Understanding a little bit more of the agony that Jesus faced for me, not only on the cross, but even in Gethsemane makes me want to serve Him even more. What about you? It reminds me that the still silence places like Gethsemane is where we go when there’s no place to go but God. But that God is still in those still silent places. That our Father in heaven still hears our prayers. And miraculously answers them. Even in the silence.
Gethsemane also reminds us of our infinite value in heaven’s eyes. Our weaknesses never infuriate the Father. They simply awaken His sympathies. He is more than willing to send additional angelic help from heaven for any of us. Matthew 18:10 says we each have at least one angel. But as we learned today, there are plenty more up there! Our faults and failings simply remind Him why He sent the Son. And the Son was more than willing to come and die while we were still sinners. He knows all about us. But loves us anyway. Even when we run away from Him. He never runs away from us. Instead, He steps up. Into the teeth of the crowd and confidently announces to the mobs of critics, we are His. We’re with Him. Is that your desire? Would you like to be His? If it is, I invite you stand with me as we sing Our closing song today is #494 We Would See Jesus.
Father in Heaven, thank you for sharing Jesus with us. Thank you for silently suffering with the angels. Even thought that must have hurt you as much as it hurt Jesus. Thank you for sending one of your mightiest to strengthen and encourage Jesus. Thank you for never leaving us even when we leave you. Someday its possible we too will find ourselves in the worst of circumstances beyond our control. When that day comes, would you send of your mightiest angels to strengthen and encourage us too? Would you remind us that our strength is not found in how courageously we struggle, but how completely we surrender to your will? We want to see Jesus. May your will be done in heaven and in us we pray, Amen.