Mark 14:27-42. The sword and the cup.

“And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.

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.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?  Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

 

Jesus has eaten a final Passover with his disciples- the last Passover. He has enjoyed family fellowship with them, remembering God’s great deliverance of Israel out of Egypt, and eating again the sacrificial lamb by which they were redeemed. And Jesus has made it explicit that this Passover is a picture of the greater redemption which God will perform. He has spoken of a new covenant, sealed not by the blood of lambs, but by his blood. And he has then gone out with the disciples, leaving the final cup un-drunk until such time as the final Passover sacrifice- the real Passover sacrifice, his own suffering and death- will be made and his work will be finished. After that, he will drink the final cup with his people, when it is time to feast. Judas has agreed to betray him to the chief priests, and has already gone out at some point during the meal to give him away. Jesus knows that he has not got much time left now, and he goes to pray quietly.

 

  1. Jesus tells the disciples that they will all fall away. What will cause them to desert him?
  2. Peter is sure that he will never run away. He says he’ll die with Jesus rather than deny him. Why is he so sure?
  3. Jesus is looking for victory, but not in the same way as the disciples. How is Jesus looking for victory?
  4. In Gethsemane, Jesus is greatly distressed. What is it that distresses him? How do we see the depth of his distress?
  5. How is Jesus thinking about his Father at this time? What can we learn from him?

 

 

  1. Jesus tells the disciples that they will all fall away. What will cause them to desert him?

The word Jesus uses is a strong one. Jesus tells the disciples that they will be “scandalised”; that they will all desert him in horror and shame. Jesus knows this because he knows the scriptures, and the particular scripture he quotes is about God striking “the shepherd”. This is the event that will cause the disciples to run from Jesus, who has been their shepherd these last few years. When the sheep see their shepherd struck down, they all run in terror. Sheep don’t seek to defend their shepherd- they are helpless, and the shepherd is their defender. When the disciples see Jesus arrested and submitting to arrest, they will run and hide.

But this is worse than the shepherd simply being struck down. If the disciples were to see Jesus fall in a fight, taking on the corrupt Jewish rulers and the Roman invaders, then that might well break them- after all, they’ve pinned all their hopes on Jesus as God’s Messiah, and God’s Messiah can’t lose, can he? If they saw Jesus struck down by evil men in battle, then their hopes would be broken, and the would be left numb and cold. But what Jesus is talking about here is worse even than that. This isn’t the shepherd, battling with wolves and lions, and being overpowered. The real scandal here is to do with how the shepherd is struck, and who it is who does the striking. Jesus quotes Zechariah 13:7- “I will strike…” -it is God himself who will strike the shepherd.

It is worth our while reading Zechariah 12:1-14:5. Jesus quotes from the passage, so it has evidently been on his mind as he meditates on his coming death. Zechariah is basic background reading for the account of Jesus’ death. Zechariah predicts a day when there will be great turmoil in Jerusalem- when the nations will gather against her, and God shall overthrow them. They will find that assaulting Jerusalem is suicidal. Jerusalem is like a heavy stone- they will struggle to lift it, but will only give themselves a hernia. And on that day, God’s Spirit will be poured out on Jerusalem. The people will cry to God for mercy, and they will look on one whom they had pierced, and will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child. And on that day, God will open up a fountain to cleanse his people from wickedness. God will provide a new cleansing from sin, and will wash out idolatry and false prophets from the land. And linked to all this is a blow from God which is directed upon God’s shepherd who stands at his right hand. The shepherd will be struck down, and the sheep will run- but this will be all for the good of the flock. It will be part of a process to purify them, and to create a new people of God who will all know him as God.

The sword in Zechariah- the sword that will strike the shepherd will be God’s sword, the sword of wrath, the sword that threatened sinners at the gates of Eden. It is the sword of justice, the sword of outraged holiness. This sword will fall on the shepherd and pierce him. The shepherd will die, and it will looks like defeat, but it will result in victory and salvation.

Jesus knew himself to be the shepherd, and he knew that he would be smitten by God. And he knew that when the disciples saw it- saw him go meekly into the custody of those who would put him to death, saw him crucified, hung on a tree under God’s curse- they would scatter.

 

 

  1. Peter is sure that he will never run away. He says “emphatically” he’ll die with Jesus rather than deny him. Why is he so sure?

The disciples don’t understand what Jesus is talking about. They have followed Jesus to Jerusalem, expecting him to take up his throne and rule over God’s people as Messiah. And they have seen occasions when, humanly speaking, that could very easily have happened. If Jesus had made a bid for power when he first entered the city, riding on a donkey, what then? The whole city was behind him. They could have overthrown the Roman garrison and taken control of the city. The chief priests would have been furious, but powerless to stop it. Jesus could have reigned as King in Jerusalem. The Romans would have sent the legions to crush the rebellion, but that wouldn’t have happened immediately (and in any case, the disciples have seen Jesus calm storms and command demons. A Roman army wouldn’t have given him any problems). The disciples have long expected a battle which would be easily won.

Since the entry into Jerusalem, maybe the disciples’ expectations have changed a little. They have seen Jesus spend a week in Jerusalem, largely in the Temple, and have seen him humiliate the priests and rulers and religious authorities. But although he has established his authority to govern the Temple, he hasn’t tried to take power in the way that the disciples expected. There has been no call to arms for Israel, no summons or proclamation, no descent of an angelic army. And maybe now they are wondering whether the moment has passed. They have just eaten a secret meal with him, which they know he has arranged so as to be out of reach of the authorities. He has graphically portrayed to them the fate of his body. Now it is night, and they are sneaking furtively through an olive grove on the Mount of Olives. Jesus will soon tell them to keep watch, as though he is expecting a sudden assault from his enemies. It is very different from the triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. If they understand anything at all, they will be aware that something has “gone wrong”, and that they are now on the run.

And in v31, it seems that the something of that truth is dawning on Peter. He claims that if it comes to it, he would die with Jesus rather than deny him. Peter is saying, “OK, even if it does all end in death, I don’t care. I still won’t run away. I’ll stick with you and die with you.” And they all say the same. They understand now that this might not end in glory, with a kingdom and crowns for them all.

But they still don’t understand exactly what Jesus has said. It is as though they have heard him say that they will all be scattered, and have been so taken up with the implied slur on their loyalty that they don’t think about the first word of the quotation. They have recognised that they might all die, but the death they expect is still a glorious death. Peter is thinking of dying at Jesus’ side in some sort of a gallant last stand. He expects to die fighting, to go out in a blaze of glory. If you’ve ever seen the film, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, maybe that’s the kind of ending Peter expects. Butch and Sundance have gone on a bank-robbing spree, and end up on the run in Mexico. The pair of them get pinned down in a little hut by a bunch of policemen, and the two sides exchange pot-shots until the outlaws run out of ammo. They get wounded in a desperate foray out of the hut to get more bullets from a pack on a mule outside, but manage to retreat to the hut, where they bind up their wounds and reload their guns ready for a final bid to shoot their way to freedom. But while they’re sitting in the hut, and unknown to them, the Mexican army arrives. Hundreds of soldiers line every available rooftop, just waiting for the two men to emerge from shelter. Butch and Sundance don’t stand a chance. They come out shooting, and they collapse under a hail of bullets. Peter seems to expect to go out like that. He has a sword strapped on under his clothes, ready for action when Jesus’ enemies to come and strike the shepherd with their swords. Peter expects to be outnumbered and expects to lose, but he is sure he won’t flee. “You can count on me, Jesus. This lot might run away, but not me! Even if you die, I’ll die with you”.

Peter seems to be a very direct man- transparently so. There is something attractive about that. He has no guile. What you see is what you get. But here he contradicts Jesus and Zechariah. His gut reaction is that he won’t ever desert Jesus. He knows he loves Jesus. Jesus is his closest friend, the one he trusts more than anyone else. If Jesus tells Peter to jump out of the boat and come to him, then Peter jumps out and trusts that it will only be the soles of his feet that get wet (Matt 14:28-29) If Jesus told him to jump off a cliff, he’d do it. And when Jesus says that all the disciples will run away, and quotes Scripture to show that this has been foretold by the prophets, Peter is convinced that he won’t run, and he says so. He contrasts himself with the other disciples- “Even if these guys turn chicken, I won’t.” He is so self confident, and sure that he’s stronger than the others are. They might let Jesus down, but Jesus can bank on his support right to the end.

Peter is obviously insulted. He thinks that he is a fine dependable man- Jesus himself has called him Peter- “the rock”, hasn’t he? Well, Jesus has obviously forgotten what a fine man Peter is. He isn’t weak or cowardly. He has faced death before. He is used to leading men- and now he has been an apostle of Jesus for three years, and he isn’t likely to give up just because of a bit of opposition. He felt that he has laid it all on the line for Jesus already. We remember his words a little earlier, back in Ch 10. When Jesus told the rich young man to sell all he had, give the money to the poor, and follow him, Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” And so now Peter hears Jesus’ words and he is stung. He looks back at Jesus, and says, believing every word, “Even if I have to die with you, I will not deny you.”

And the other ten all say “Amen to that.” They don’t think that they’ll be running away either. Jesus speaks of himself dying, and them all being scattered, but they speak of a shared destiny, all sticking together under their shepherd.

How wrong they were. They might have meant what they said, but they were not ready to see God to strike their shepherd. They were not ready to see Jesus willingly wait to receive the blow in obedience. That will scandalise them, and they will desert Jesus and deny him.

Jesus prepares Peter for what is coming as far as is possible. He cuts Peter down to size. He predicts, in front of the others- for Peter has boasted in front of the others- that Peter would deny him three times that very night. Then- another “three”- Jesus tells the disciples to watch while he goes to pray alone, but he returns to them three times and finds them asleep on each occasion, underlining the constancy of their faithlessness. The first time round though, it is Peter whom Jesus singles out for special attention, rebuking him by name and using the non-rock name name, “Simon”, rather than “Peter”. Peter will flee, and he will flee not after a great battle, or after a long period alone without fellowship, facing hardship and danger, weary and tired. He will flee that very night. He has enjoyed a meal with his master and the other eleven, and then they all go out together into the night, singing “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his steadfast love endures forever.” And that very evening, Peter will deny Jesus three times. It would have been fatal for Jesus to have thanked Peter for his loyalty- it would have made the fall much worse when it came.

 

 

  1. Jesus is looking for victory, but not in the same way as the disciples. How is Jesus looking for victory?

We know that within an hour or two, all the conviction and determination of the disciples had vanished away like the dew in the morning. When the soldiers came, and Jesus didn’t resist them, the disciples all fled, just as Jesus had said they would, which prediction they had all dismissed. The thing that shatters them, I think, is Jesus’ willingness to die. They believe that Messiah will have an eternal kingdom. He will be the conqueror of every enemy, even including death, and therefore he can’t die. They just don’t see how Jesus can possibly accept death in the way that he will shortly do. They haven’t understood that to defeat death, Jesus must first come face-to-face with it. To break the power of the curse, Jesus must take the curse upon himself.

And also in part, they didn’t know themselves. They didn’t know their own capacity for cowardice. How little any of us know how we will behave in any given situation until we’re there.

But Jesus deals tenderly with them. He isn’t angry with them. He promises to restore them all. He knew that they would all desert him, but he still has taught them, broken bread with them, sung with them. They are weak, and so full of ugly sins- pride, thoughtlessness, ignorance.

But there is hope for them. They will be forgiven and restored- precisely because Jesus will die and will rise again. Jesus says that he will go before them to Galilee after he has been raised up. He knows that God will strike him down, and he looks with fear and dread to that blow, but he knows also that God will raise him up. He looks beyond the cross to the resurrection, to the time when God’s sword will have been satisfied, and when every enemy will be put under his feet, to the time when sin and death are broken, and he has been vindicated.

The resurrection will clear all the mystery away. It will be like the morning, chasing away the cold and the darkness and bringing light and warmth.

Presumption is dangerous. Raw recruits are rarely presumptuous, and the instructor uses that to good effect, telling them not to take risks. Neither should Christians. Follow Jesus in everything. We are just like them. They had had warnings about what was going to happen, but they didn’t pay attention. And they thought that they could cope with whatever lay ahead anyway.

We are all facing a future in which we are going to meet many temptations, coldness of heart, the roots of bitterness going down into our souls, selfishness and self-pity welling up within us. We face a future in which we will all give account to God of how we have spent the time he has given us, and how we have behaved. We will face the last great trial of all when all of us die, and after death there is the divine judgement and our destiny spent in heaven or in hell. These are the facts about the future of every one of us. I am telling you what God says about your future, and that you have to be ready for all these things.

There is hope. Jesus has defeated death. He has risen, to gather a people around himself. There is forgiveness with him. Don’t think that whatever happens, you can deal with it. That is arrogance. Jesus Christ alone can help. You ask him that he will forgive you for your sins, and that he will give you the Holy Spirit to help you to stand and to follow him.

 

 

  1. In Gethsemane, Jesus is greatly distressed. What is it that distresses him? How do we see that depth of his distress?

Gethsemane is an olive garden on the Mount of Olives- the name is Hebrew, meaning, “Olive press”. Jesus intends to pray, and takes three closest companions with him in his hour of pain and grief. These three have seen Jesus raise the dead, witnessed the transfiguration, and all three have boasted of their ability to share his sufferings (10:35-40; 14:29ff). And now they see Jesus overwhelmed with sorrow. What is it that distresses Jesus? And do these three share in his sorrows?

Jesus, Mark says, is, “greatly distressed and troubled”, and,  “sorrowful even to death”. He is in turmoil, and genuinely feels that the pain might kill him. His affliction is so great that it begins to affect him physically, and we can see him fall to the ground, collapsing underneath his troubles (cf. Ps 42). So what is it that has put him in this state? He is aware that the time has come for him to die, but is that really enough to explain what we see in these verses? Jesus has known for some time that he is going to die. He has spoken of his death to his disciples several times without showing this amount of distress at the prospect. The fact that death is nearly upon him might make some difference. You can hear about an exam which is going to happen in a year’s time, and it doesn’t seem like that big a deal; but when the year has passed, and the exam is tomorrow morning, it is panic time. But even so, it is not simply death, even painful death, that Jesus fears.

The clue to what he fears is in Jesus’ actual words. See what he says, see the imagery he uses. He talks of being overwhelmed to the point of death, and he prays about a cup which he has in his hand, as it were.  Why does Jesus speaks of the cup, and ask that it may be taken from him?

Jesus has used cup imagery before. When James and John were putting themselves forward for pole positions in his coming kingdom, back in chapter 10, Jesus asked them whether they were able to drink the cup he would drink. They couldn’t see any problem with that at all, but their lack of fear only showed their lack of understanding.

Jesus naturally and instinctively uses Old Testament imagery to describe his fears. The cup of wine is found in Psalms 60:3; 75:8; Isaiah 51:17-23; Jeremiah 25:15-28; 49:12; 51:7; Lamentations 4:21-22; Ezekiel 23:31-34; Habbakuk 2:16; Zechariah 12:2 (it is also helpful to see the NT use of the picture in Rev 14:10, 16:19). The idea of the cup is that it is something which men or nations receive from God, and drink, and it makes them stagger. It is placed into their hands as a divine judgement, and when they drink it, they behave as though drunk; they become helpless and fall down and cannot get up. The cup is a metaphor for total ruin, willed and brought about by God. The cup is a cup of holy wrath. The man who drinks the cup is the man who suffers God’s anger and retribution. God puts the cup into his hands and makes him drink. Perhaps especially relevant to Mark 14 is Jeremiah 25, where the sword and the cup go together, both to describe the anger God will display against the nations. The cup of the wine of God’s fury is forced into the hands of the kings of the nations, and they drink, and the sword then pierces them.

This is what Jesus dreads- it is tasting the Father’s displeasure. This is the horror of a perfect man, a man who lived in perfect communion with God from his earliest days. He has never known what it feels like to be cut off from God by sin. He has never felt guilty, never wanted to run from God and hide because of things he had done. He has always been in perfect unclouded fellowship with his Father. We know only too well how it feels to avoid praying because we know that praying would mean repenting of particular sins we have done. Jesus, though he had to fight against weariness and all the other things we struggle with, has not felt the weight of sin. But he will, and he dreads it like nothing else. He knows that it is God’s sword that will fall on him, and he knows that it is the cup of God’s wrath which is before him.

We see him pray that the hour might pass, if possible. We need to take the “if possible” seriously. Jesus, before now, has known that this was not possible. He had, right at the start of Mark’s Gospel, determined to bear the weight of the curse, and gone into the wilderness to taste of it. And he had spoken of his death, and set his face toward Jerusalem with a resolve that amazed his disciples and made them afraid (10:32). He has been completely sure that the Son of Man must go to Jerusalem and die there. But now as the hour draws near, he is no longer certain. All the certainties are gone. He is in anguish, searching for a hope that he thinks might just have eluded him.

Satan is in this garden, just as he was in Eden and just as he was in the wilderness with Jesus. He is tempting Jesus to refuse the cup given him by God. He is saying “You don’t have to do this”. And there is a proper and right abhorrence and fear of this cup. It isn’t easy. But there is no other way.

 

 

  1. How is Jesus thinking about his Father at this time? What can we learn from him?

It is often assumed that Jesus went to Gethsemane seeking the sympathy and support of the closest disciples. But this seems unlikely. The disciples have consistently failed to understand why Jesus must die. Jesus has foreseen that they will all forsake him. And it is to God he turns, not them. He prays to “Abba”; the word he uses for “Father” is tender and intimate. He prays submissively. Although everything in him longs to escape the darkness ahead, he will willingly accept it if it be his Father’s will. In the end, his trust in his Father wins through. He hates the thought of being struck down by his Father, and he is in darkness of soul because of it, but he still prays “Yet not what I will”.

Compare Jesus here to Job. Job is stripped of everything, and thrown into similar turmoil. He is sure that he is a righteous man, but sure also that the tragedies which have befallen him are from God’s hand, and he cannot reconcile the two. It is an act of faith for Job to shout at God and demand justice, rather than to curse him and turn away from him. But Jesus has all Job’s faith and none of his folly. He still looks to his Father as “Abba”, and he still, in the end, submits to his will, sure that what his Father wants is better and wiser than any of his own desires.

Our own distresses are petty by comparison, but we still need to learn the same trust and submission to the Father. We may not be able to see why he is doing a particular thing or dealing with us in a particular way, but when we don’t understand, we need to trust.

Notice also that Jesus prays, then returns to the disciples, then prays again, then returns, then prays a third time, before rejoining the disciples finally. Mark tells us that he prayed, “saying the same words” (v39). Maybe we shy from repetition in prayer because we rightly want to take Jesus’ own admonition to heart, and avoid heaping up empty words (Matt 6:7). But if you mean the words, then they are not empty. Jesus, in great distress, has wrestled in prayer, trying to put his desires into words, desperate for God to grant him what he asks. Then eventually, his praying comes to an end, and he stands up and goes back to the disciples. But once there, he is seized again with the need to pray. He can’t find anything new to say, nothing he hasn’t already prayed for, but he simply repeats his desire that the cup might pass from him if at all possible. Just as we do, Jesus had to fight the same battle over and over. He defeats it, but the temptation floods back, and he has to regain the same ground.

Jesus’ humanity and holiness shine through. He remains faithful when overwhelmed with sorrow, and when nobody stands with him. He is the only saviour. He took upon himself our forsakenness so that we might be accepted as he is. He is the saviour we need.

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