Pray. Get up. Go.
Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Mark 14:32-42
In this breathless and dramatic close to Jesus' earthly ministry, we see Jesus struggle with the kind of fear that would shatter a lesser man, and then in prayer and faith in God, He stood boldly to embrace the sacrifice that would be our salvation. Jesus' friends and disciples, on the other hand, not so much. A lot of talk, a lot of sleep. Oy vey.
Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The time has come. (14:41)
[This famous painting by Caravaggio is admittedly anachronistic, but I love the dramatic action he created. This is his attempt to show how Jesus was both bold and heartbroken.]
When We Studied This Event Before
We studied Matthew 26 back in 2017. Group members have probably forgotten what you said since then, but as always I'm going to try not to repeat my content from that post.
In that post, I went with:
Methods you use to stay alert
What's your "prayer place"?
A big section about What is prayer?
Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives
And then we studied Luke's version of this event in 2021:
In that post, I used:
The worst time you've fallen asleep
A big section about the importance of sleep
The differences between Matthew and Luke
A section on Resisting temptation
Experiencing stress and fear is not a sin
Several video versions of this event
More about Judas and traitors
So, yeah. You have access to so much information about this event. If you think I've under-reported something in my notes below, it might be because I covered it more fully in one of those other posts.
Let's take a fresh look at this's incredible passage.
Getting Started: Things to Think About
Self-Determination Has a Moment
Okay, to be fair, self-determination is always having a moment -- that's what elections are about, that's what strikes are about. (Aside: to the actors who didn't want AI likenesses doing and saying things they didn't approve, I say good job on your new contract.) But there have been two very high-profile versions of this in recent pop culture.
Britney Spears just released her memoir, The Woman in Me, which sold more than 1 million copies last week. The response seems rather positive -- people applauding Spears for taking control of her own life and future.
The big one right now is Taylor Swift's Eras Tour. After years of being unable to own her own master recordings, she decided to rerecord and rerelease all of her material "(Taylor's Version)", building up to the Eras Tour, which is already a multi-billion-dollar behemoth. And again, the response has been incredibly positive, people applauding Swift for taking control of her own music catalog and profiting off of it as she sees fit.
Two pop superstars who desire to have full "creative control" over their lives -- self-determination.
(Aside: in that Taylor Swift article, I learned something I'm embarrassed not to have known. Do you remember that weird time when Prince became "the artist formerly known as Prince"? My friends and I made so much fun of him, calling him narcissistic and ridiculous. Well, it turns out he was going through the same thing Swift was. His label wouldn't sell him his own master recordings, so he decided to make the end of his contract with them as miserable as possible in his efforts to get creative control over his catalog.)
Self-Determination in Your Life. We probably don't have any experiences quite that dramatic in our own lives, but I would assume that you have had several moments when you said, "I want the ability to make my own decision about this." Perhaps it's when you decided to move out of your parents' house. Or maybe when you decided to go into business for yourself. When have you desired greater self-determination? What has been the outcome?
We're big fans of the right and ability to call our own shots. Cue the Backstreet Boys.
But is there a limit?
In this week's passage, Jesus utters the unforgettable prayer,
Abba, Father! All things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will. (Mark 14:36)
In the one decision in which Jesus wanted self-determination, He willingly set it aside to do what His Father wanted.
We'll talk more about this below, but your transition question would be something like What are those times in your life when you willingly chose to do what someone else wanted (that ran counter to what you wanted) and why?
The Hardest Thing You've Ever Had to Do
I have heard a number of people say to me something to the effect of "this was the hardest thing I've ever done / choice I've ever made". If a young person, it often had to do with changing jobs, moving cities, or getting out of a relationship. If an older person, it often had to do with care decisions for a loved one.
What about you? What's the hardest decision you've ever made, or the hardest thing you've ever done why?
In this week's passage, we have the greatest model of all -- Jesus choosing to do the most difficult thing in human history. Let that be an encouragement to you in the difficult decisions you have to make.
It's Veteran's Day Weekend!
We can never say thank you enough to the men and women who have defended the ideals our country holds dear.
My Veteran's Day tie-in happens in "Part 4".
Where We Are in Mark
The other Gospel authors dwell a bit longer on the events of Maundy Thursday. Mark just gets right down to it.
Jesus tells the disciples to meet Him in the "upper room"
Jesus institutes the Lord's Supper
Jesus predicts Peter's denial
They all go out to Gethsemane
Judas leads the guards to arrest Jesus
Nothing about the footwashing, the teachings about the Spirit, or Judas sneaking away. Mark focuses on the main actions that result in the arrest and trial.
This week's passage picks up in Gethsemane. What I hope this map helps you envision is how Jesus and the disciples would have walked all the way through the city and around the temple to get there. John makes it clear that Jesus taught during most of the trek.
This Week's Big Idea: Submission in an Age of Self-Determination
You probably saw this coming. If self-determination is such a valuable commodity in today's culture, then shouldn't we downplay any notion of Jesus Christ being submissive?
This was actually a topic of discussion at my conference two weeks ago -- evangelicals today seem to want a pastor who has all the answers, is always sure of himself, speaks with authority, tells people what to do. And in today's world, we have plenty of men who have adopted that hyper-masculine persona and drawn a large crowd. They love to point to Jesus and the moneychangers (last week's passage) or Elijah and the prophets of Baal as "we need a man to get things done".
But what about Jesus in Gethsemane?
If someone in your group has a negative reaction to any applications you encourage in this week's study, it might be because they have a worldly understanding of "submission". The flashpoint for this often seems to be Ephesians 5:22 -- "wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord". Some of those hyper-masculine preachers take this exact verse to misogynistic ends, and it just leaves a terrible taste in many people's mouths. But at the same time, if you've bought into this "nobody can tell me what to do" mindset, you'll also be quite confused by what Jesus does in this week's passage.
So let's get a biblical understanding of submission.
The Greek word we translate "submission" (hypotasso) means
voluntary placement of oneself under the authority and leadership of another.
The full context of Ephesians 5 is our best shot at understanding this:
15 Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise— 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless living, but be filled by the Spirit: 19 speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music with your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.
And then Paul gives illustrations:
Wives submit to husbands
The church submits to Christ
Children submit to parents
Slaves submit to masters (remember the cultural setting)
*But* do not submit to the forces of evil
So, yes, wives are to submit to husbands. But -- who are husbands to submit to? (Not the pastor, no matter what some may try to say.) Husbands submit to Christ. And what does Christ say to the husband? Love your wife and be willing to sacrifice as much for her as Jesus did for you.
(Let me repeat for the sake of clarity: true submission must be voluntarily given. It cannot be demanded. Do y'all see why that's important?)
That goes easily in line with the general principle Paul gives Christians -- we are to submit to one another as we are filled with the Spirit. And that takes us to the Trinity. We recently talked about this in John 14:
But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you. (14:26)
The Holy Spirit submits to the Father, doing what the Father says. But Paul makes an even clearer explanation of how the Trinity helps us understand this submission:
3 But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man [husband] is the head of the woman [wife], and God is the head of Christ. (1 Cor 11:3)
(Btw, the context of that passage makes it clear that Paul is talking about a husband and his wife, not "all men" and "all women".) I like this way this diagram puts it -- if submission made a wife somehow less than her husband, then Christ would be less than God.
That leads to two key principles:
We submit to God because God is greater than us
We submit to one another because all people are equally valuable to God
Submission is a reflection of humility. Humility is a reflection of Christ.
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. 4 Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others.
5 Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. 7 Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, 8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. 9 For this reason God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow— in heaven and on earth and under the earth— 11 and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus did not submit in order to be exalted. Rather, He was exalted because He submitted. And that mindset is to be an example for all of us to follow.
The person who is not willing to submit does not understand his/her place before God.
But now let's add an important caveat --
"Submit" does not mean "obey"
We talked about that at length when we studied Colossians 3:
I believe that this is the source of a lot of confusion when it comes to submission.
When we submit to God, it means absolute obedience in all things.
When we submit to one another, it means a mindset of humility.
But wait! How do we know that? Because the Bible says so -- we are to obey God. But when obeying another person violates something God says, we are not to do that. We can still be humble toward that person, "respectfully decline" to do what they say. But we must never "respectfully decline" to do what God says.
Does that distinction make sense? And does it explain where the confusion comes from? Our attitude of submission to God should be mirrored in our attitude of submission to one another. But the Bible is very clear that we are to obey God in everything; that principle is not applied to our relationship with one another.
Part 1: Jesus Was Distressed (Mark 14:32-34)
32 Then they came to a place named Gethsemane, and he told his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 He said to them, “I am deeply grieved to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake.”
A main point I made in an earlier post was that being stressed/being troubled is not a sin. When you're afraid, that's not a sin. Jesus experienced all of that in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was under so much stress that He sweat blood! (Luke 22:44 -- the sort of detail I would expect a physician to call attention to.) It's what you do with those feelings that matters.
Jesus called on His friends, and He prayed.
If you haven't done this in a while in your group, take some time to talk about the importance of friends in the Christian life. Gallup updated their "loneliness in the US" statistics back in April, and it had some encouraging news:
Things are slightly better than they were during the pandemic. But look at that number -- almost 1 in 5 Americans experienced significant loneliness the day before! And as Gallup does, it extended the survey to explain the significance of the statistic:
When your friends are with you, it is easier to face stress and worry.
Is that true for you?
To me, that explains why Jesus wanted His "inner circle" with Him. (And keep this in mind when we see how their behavior affected Him.)
[Great Aside about the Importance of Sunday School / Small Group Bible Study
This, of course, is a perfect opportunity for you to encourage your group to be engaged in one another's lives. People in our culture feel lonely because they do not have close relationships. God created churches to help us with that. Our "brothers and sisters in Christ" are supposed to be that for us! People who are close to us, who care about us, who are able to help us go through our times of stress and fear. I cover that more here:
Sometime during your group discussion, exhort one another to be a true friend.]
In another post, I mention that the garden in Gethsemane was one of Jesus' favorite places. I included some photos of the view from Gethsemane to Jerusalem (and it's not hard to imagine how stunning that was). It was a "quiet place" / "prayer closet" for Him. We should all have a place where we can go when we need to pray.
And I also pointed out the significance of Jesus' intention --
"I'm in a time of great stress; I need to pray"
Don't overlook that model for us.
Jesus is not being dramatic here; He's tapping into the rich tradition of the Psalms:
42:5 Why, my soul, are you so dejected? Why are you in such turmoil? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him, my Savior and my God. 6 I am deeply depressed; therefore ...
David (our church's pastor) talked about Psalm 42 in last week's sermon on grief. (Members of First Baptist Thomson -- I challenge you to take some time recounting what David said about grief!) Grief is a natural part of life. What has caused you grief in your life? (And I mean seriously, not a flippant use of the term.)
The word grief/grieve only appears a few dozen times in the Bible (if you search for "grie" you'll get both words). Those contexts are basically
someone you care about has done something very shameful/sinful,
someone you care about has died.
What circumstances would you add to that?
Here, we see that Jesus is "grieved to the point of death". What has grieved Jesus to such an extent? Is it what's about to happen? Why it has to happen? Something else?
This section is about helping us appreciate what Jesus endured for us. Do you have any experiences that give you a glimpse of what Jesus went through?
Part 2: Jesus Submitted to God (Mark 14:35-36)
35 He went a little farther, fell to 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. Take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will.”
There are two things going on here that you could focus on:
Jesus didn't want to die. Jesus really did taste death and suffering at its worst.
Jesus, the "manliest man" who ever lived, submitted His will to the Father.
Both of these are important.
The first helps us understand the theology of salvation (and this gets heavy). "The cup" refers to the "cup of God's wrath". Sin demands a payment, and sinful humans can only "pay" for their own sins through an eternity of damnation. Jesus did not want that for us; He wanted us to spend eternity in God's presence. And that salvation demanded the death of a perfect substitute. If there were another way, God would have brought it about. Jesus experienced that death for us. He didn't "seem to die". He didn't "abandon the Jesus-body just before it died". Jesus Christ died on the cross. We've talked about what that means in other lessons:
What Jesus did is often thought of in terms of
The substitute for our punishment
The satisfaction of God's holy law
The propitiation of God's wrath against sin
Jesus did not want to endure His Father's wrath against sin. But in God's perfect combination of holiness and justice, that was the only way our salvation could be achieved. God could not turn a blind eye to sin. And we could not pay the price for our own sin in any meaningful sense. So Jesus, in His great love for us, stepped in.
[Note: we will talk more about this next week.]
[Aside: The Final Temptation of Christ. (No, not the "last temptation of Christ".) I think it's pretty clear that the Gospel authors want us to bookend this event in Gethsemane with the temptations by Satan at the beginning of Jesus' ministry. Mark goes out of his way to explain that Jesus prayed three times. That begs the question, What temptation is Jesus facing here? Well for one, to back out! Hasn't Jesus made it clear that God could wipe out all of humanity with a word? Purge the earth of sinful humanity like in Noah's day, except this time kill off everybody and start over? What other temptations might Jesus be facing?]
But the second gives us some equally valuable talking points for Christian living. Humility and submission are to be clear markers for all Christians. Those "Christians" who are hyper-aggressive, always right, unwilling to engage in biblical debate? That's such a red flag.
Last week, we talked about Jesus and the moneychangers (who were stand-ins for the religious leaders who let them set up shop in the temple) and the super-aggressive preachers who use that example to explain why they verbally attack everyone and everything. But what if those preachers are the religious leaders Jesus came to cleanse the temple of (so to speak)? Jesus "spoke truth to power", but He also submitted to true power (God the Father).
Do you submit yourself to God's Word in all things?
Part 3: Jesus' Friends Blew It (Mark 14:37-39)
37 Then he came and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Couldn’t you stay awake one hour? 38 Stay awake and pray so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 Once again he went away and prayed, saying the same thing.
We all know this famous painting --
If you look to the right of Jesus, you can just make out the images of three huddled sleeping men (you can click on the image to enlarge it). Forever memorialized -- Jesus praying, His friends sleeping.
Here, it might be helpful to back up a few verses.
27 Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will fall away ... 29 Peter told him, “Even if everyone falls away, I will not.” 30 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to him, “today, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he kept insisting, “If I have to die with you, I will never deny you.” And they all said the same thing.
Basically, within an hour of Peter speaking incredibly boldly, he's falling asleep. Big talk, no walk. Or, perhaps worse, Peter simply didn't understand the urgency of the situation.
That's what made Peter ripe for Satan's attacks. Luke reports something else Jesus said right after Mark 14:29:
Luke 22:31 “Simon, Simon, look out. Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
The only reason I can think of for why Peter wouldn't want Mark to put that in Mark's Gospel is it called too much attention to him. But this is a moment Satan has been waiting for. Peter, the future leader of the disciples, is exhausted and not prayed up.
When are you the most vulnerable to temptation?
If you're like most people, the factors likely include proximity to the temptation, circumstances that "lower your defenses", and being distant from God (like not doing enough praying).
So let's make one last call-back to the discussion above about the importance of friends -- how do you think Jesus felt when He found His friends asleep?
Here, it's helpful to remember that Jesus' faith was in God, not His friends, and God will never let us down.
Part 4: Jesus' Friend Betrayed Him (Mark 14:40-42)
40 And again he came and found them sleeping, because they could not keep their eyes open. They did not know what to say to him. 41 Then he came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The time has come. See, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up; let’s go. See, my betrayer is near.”
Okay, "friend" might be too strong a word for Judas; I'm doing the parallelism thing. But the point is that things are going from bad to worse for Jesus. His closest disciples have fallen asleep on Him. His other disciples seem rather clueless. And now one disciple is leading a mob to arrest Him. Here is the "fruit" of three years of ministry!
Have you ever been discouraged? Trust me -- Jesus can relate.
This time, Jesus tells His disciples "Enough!" Enough of what? Go back to Psalm 42:5-6 --
42:5 Why, my soul, are you so dejected? Why are you in such turmoil? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him, my Savior and my God. 6 I am deeply depressed; therefore ...
Enough of all of it. Enough distress. Enough fear. Enough sleeping. The time has come to "put your hope in God". Judas' arrival in the garden will be a "point of no return". The time has come! Let's go and meet it on our feet.
Tolkien tapped into this many times in his Lord of the Rings universe. The heroes, hopelessly outmatched by a superior foe, willingly face them knowing what will happen.
This, of course, points to something Jesus said:
John 15:13 No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends.
Veteran's Day Tie-in! And this is just on a platter for us. Many veterans have told me that that verse is what sustained them in combat. They were willing to embrace whatever sacrifice because they loved their family, their squad, their country. On the eve of combat, they would pray, and then get up and go. Following in Jesus' footsteps.
You can't say thank you enough to the men and women who did that for us.
Many of us will likely never be in something like military combat, but the principle can still apply to us when we are on the precipice of a very serious decision:
Isn't that a powerful paradigm? How might you use that in your life?
Jesus faced the greatest challenge anyone has ever faced, and He did so willingly and boldly out of love for you and me. That should encourage us to face anything in our own life with that same kind of trust in God and love for your friends.
Now of course the most important element of this event is that Jesus' sacrifice would bring about our salvation. But we're going to talk about that next week, so this week we can focus on the setup -- the willingness to sacrifice, the boldness to face the enemy, the faith that God will sustain you until the very end. Yes, it's dramatic, but this is the time to talk about it. We will all face different levels of challenges and temptations and sacrifices, and we should desire to handle them as well as Jesus did.
In what decision/circumstance do you need to pray as Jesus did and then stand boldly as Jesus did?