A lesson from Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane

Sermon for Holy Monday

+  Mark 14 – 15  +

The Passion History is so rich in teaching and meaning that we could spend the rest of our lives delving into it and we still wouldn’t cover it all. But consider with me this evening for just a moment Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

All alone the Son of God will bear the sins of the world. Before He does it, before He can do it, there’s something He must do: He has to pray. He prays: Abba, Father. “Abba” is just “Father” in Aramaic, the first language spoken by Jews at that time. St. Mark otherwise wrote in Greek, but here is this little Aramaic word thrown in to give us a glimpse into Gethsemane, to the first word that poured from Jesus’ lips, straight from the heart, in the agony of His soul. “Abba.” Father. No matter how painful the cross, no matter how difficult was the task before Him, Jesus knew that nothing could happen that was outside of the will and permission of His Father who loved Him as His dear Child and was well-pleased with His beloved Son. So Jesus knows His prayer will be heard and will be pleasing to His Father, because it is uttered in faith.

It’s the Spirit of Jesus who now makes sinners into children of God by bringing them to faith in Jesus. With the same love, with the same confidence, with the same boldness, you who believe in Christ are now invited to call upon God as your dear Father, even as Paul writes to the Romans, you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” Just like Jesus. No matter how painful the cross, no matter how difficult may be the task before you in this life, nothing is beyond your Father’s control, and nothing is too big or too small to ask.

All things are possible for You. That’s at the heart of every prayer, or it should be: that God has the power to do anything, from small to big, from simple to miraculous. That’s why it was a misguided prayer when the man once came to Jesus and said, “if You can do anything.” That’s just it: Jesus can do anything. His Father can do anything. It’s possible for God to make the sun stand still in the sky. Or to cause the storm to be stilled, or to make the dead rise. Surely it was possible for God the Father to thwart the betrayal of Judas and the plans of the murderous Jews. Surely He could save His Son from condemnation and from crucifixion and from death.

Take this cup away from Me. This cup, this course upon which Jesus had been placed by His Father, was, of course, the very reason why Jesus had taken on human flesh in the first place. This course of betrayal, condemnation, crucifixion and death had been laid out for the Son of God since before the foundations of the world were laid. He was, as John referred to Him in his Revelation, “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” The Scriptures had to be fulfilled, and Jesus knew it. Indeed, Jesus had just a short time ago blessed the cup of the New Testament in His blood, which He had already given to His disciples to drink. He knew this cup was already poured out for Him. And yet still He prays, “Take it away from Me.”

That wasn’t a sinful prayer. It’s a prayer that shows us just how much Jesus dreaded what was coming, just how painful He knew it would be, just how much He would have to suffer to make atonement for the sins of the world. We shouldn’t imagine that Jesus approached the cross easily. He felt the temper’s temptation to drop the cross and walk away.

Jesus earnestly prayed, “Take this cup away from Me.” But He just as earnestly added: Nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will. Jesus wouldn’t put the cup down without His Father’s permission. See, there are levels of willing or wanting. You may want, on some level, to be at home right now resting or getting housework done. But more than that, you wanted to come here to hear the Word of Christ. So, too, Jesus wanted to avoid the cross. But more than that, He wanted to do His Father’s will, to obey His Father, to serve His Father, and in the process, to serve us. So, then, in the words of the writer to the Hebrews: let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

A final thought for this evening. Consider this: if your beloved son were about to be betrayed and innocently condemned and ruthlessly tortured and painfully slaughtered, and if it were possible for you to stop it, wouldn’t you? The only reason you wouldn’t is if you loved someone else more than your son, someone else who would benefit from your son’s death. You can’t even imagine that, can you? But see how great is the love of God toward us sinners, toward us who were His enemies and not even His sons. In order to spare us from death and hell, God refused to spare His Son. So we must conclude with St. Paul: He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? Because Jesus yielded to His Father’s will, the answer to that question is, No one! Amen.

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