Through 2021, the church in which I serve has been preaching through the Gospel of Mark in a sermon series titled, The Way. You can catch up on that series here. Below is the transcript of the sermon I preached for that series on September 12, 2021.
Now some of you know parts of my story. Like everyone else, I have a story and I have a past. I have a past with addiction, which is why I work with Celebrate Recovery here at GCC. I also have a past with anxiety and depression. The worst of it was around 2005 or 2006. I was in seminary and working at a small church just north of Danville, Illinois. I lived alone and I worked alone as I was the only one on staff. Between the loneliness and the stress of graduate school, my mind went into some pretty dark places. I began to wonder if anything were to happen to me, just how long would it take till someone noticed I was missing. I spiraled into depression and would have anxiety attacks, full on, can’t breathe, everything is collapsing in on me anxiety attacks.
I say that because I know I am not alone in that. Some of you either struggle with depression or anxiety, or you have loved ones who do. If so, then like me, you can probably understand a tiny fraction of what Jesus dealt with in the Garden of Gethsemane. Not to say we could ever understand the full depth of what He went through, but at least a taste of the kind of heaviness He felt.
32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 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.” 37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? 38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And 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 taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
44 And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
What Caused Jesus’ Agony?
This passage is challenging for many reasons. One of which is the fact that this seems so out of character for Jesus. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus comes off as steady. Yes He has emotions, and I believe He does feel deeply, but when faced with opposition or challenges or even trials from Satan, Jesus stands firm. Here we see Jesus if not overwhelmed, coming very close to it. So why? What caused Jesus’ agony?
Was it fear of death? Fear of the cross? I don’t think so. First, Jesus knew the cross was in the future. He has been talking about it throughout His ministry, preparing His disciples. He doesn’t strike me as one who would fear death, even a painful one. Second, many others have gone to their deaths as martyrs for the cause of Christ, and I have trouble imagining mere humans facing death bravely, while Jesus here struggles.
So what is behind Jesus’ agony? It is not the cross He is struggling with, but rather the meaning of the cross.
This coming week is an important observance for the Jewish people. They are observing Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This observance is written about in the Book of Leviticus. It is the day when the priest would make sacrifices to atone for the sins of the nation. Among the rituals of this day, back before the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, there was a ceremony involving two goats. One goat would be chosen for a sin offering on the altar, and the other goat was chosen to be the scapegoat. The priest would lay hands on this goat and speak over it a confession of the sins of the people, and then the goat would be driven out to the wilderness, taking the sins of the people with it.
Now this goat was a type, a foreshadowing of the work of Jesus. He is the ultimate scapegoat, the one who bears the sins of the people and carries them away.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
2 Corinthians 5:21
21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Shame and Separation
Now think of what that means for Jesus. All of the sin of all of humanity is laid on His shoulders. All of the lies, all of the hate, all of the violence, all of the idolatry, pornography, adultery, all of it is placed on Jesus.
Yesterday was the 20th Anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Consider the hatred and anger of the men who planned and carried out those attacks, that too was laid on Jesus.
Now think about what sin does to us. Sin leads to shame, right? For someone with a conscience, there is a visceral and physical as well as emotional and mental toll when you feel shame for sin. Now Jesus is going to carry all of that sin and with it all of the shame for our rebellion against God.
Now with shame comes separation. When we feel shame, we want to hide, right? This is the natural human condition. We feel shame, so we put up walls to keep people away lest they see and know our sin. We do this with God too. Jesus knows what going to the cross means. It means carrying all of that sin before the Father. And that is what wrecks Him.
Rejection and Heartbreak
I have to wonder too, if Jesus wasn’t struggling with the upcoming pain of rejection and heartbreak He is about to face. Have you ever been rejected? Have you ever experienced heartbreak? You loved someone, but they didn’t love you the same way, and it destroyed you. Jesus is about to be rejected by friends and foes alike, all of whom He loves deeply, more deeply than you or I can imagine. Yes, He knows it is coming, but does that stop the pain?
43 And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. 44 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.” 45 And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 46 And they laid hands on him and seized him. 47 But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48 And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” 50 And they all left him and fled.
51 And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.
53 And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. 54 And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. 56 For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. 57 And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” 59 Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. 60 And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 61 But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. 65 And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows.
Now what does this mean for you and me? After all, we are not Jesus. Well here is the thing. Jesus did all of this, bore all the sin, suffered all the rejection, died a horrible death, He did it all out of love. That is why Jesus said, “Not My will, but Yours be done.” There was no other way for Him to save us unless He bore our sins on the cross. His love for the Father and His love for us are what drove Him forward.
Loving People is Messy
In short, loving people is messy business. Jesus endured all kinds of rejection by the people He loved precisely because He loved them. Jesus returned blows with forgiveness precisely because He loved the soldiers beating Him. He endured mocking, spitting, false accusations, all out of love.
Lots of people will look at our culture today and say, “You know, there will come a time when they will outlaw Christianity and try to destroy us for our faith.” If that happens, how should we respond? Should we fight? Should we be like Peter and draw swords and start swinging? No!
We follow the lead of our King. We bear the abuse of our persecutors and return love for insults and forgiveness for offenses.
And even if we are not under persecution, we follow our King by entering into the messiness of people’s lives out of love. Which means we will sometimes be disappointed and sometimes ignored and sometimes misunderstood and sometimes lied about. We will face the temptation to become jaded and to give up, to become cynical and cold to people. But we mustn’t!
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
We are given the ministry of reconciliation as ambassadors of King Jesus. As hard as it is, this is our calling, our mission, our purpose. This is the way of love laid out by our King. Will you follow His way?