Mark 14:32-42 Failure in the Garden

Last time Jesus predicted of the disciples “You will all fall away.” This time we see, at least the beginning, of that failure realized!

They have now arrived at the Garden of Gethsemane. And Jesus instructs the disciples to “sit here while I pray” (v. 32). But Peter, James and John, He takes with Him (v. 33). In them He confides:

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,”

(v. 34, NIV)

Note how the instructions He gives to the inner circle of these 3 here are different from what he just told the rest of the 11: “Stay here and keep watch.”

Jesus goes on “a little farther” to pray alone. Normally one would have stood and prayed, but Jesus’ falling down prostrate is “indicative of extreme spiritual anguish” (Cole, TNTC). Jesus knows what lies ahead, and prays to the Father if there might be any way possible for Him to get out of this suffering (v. 35). Jesus acknowledges the omnipotence of God, but through this process of prayer comes to understand that it is God’s plan for Him to ‘drink this cup’ of suffering, and thus resolves to submit Himself to the will of the Father (v. 36) – see Geddert, BCBC.

As we transition to v. 37 we begin to get some more clarity on the fact that Mark’s focus here in much of this passage is really on the disciples’ watch more so than on Jesus’ prayer. (cf. v. 32, 34). The shepherd returns to check on His flock (Garland, NIVAC)! But they have neither prayed nor watched. They are asleep. His three closest friends on earth have failed this first test in the hour of crisis! Garland (and Geddert) both note that this is the only time that Peter is referred to as Simon since Jesus changed it to His apostolic name, Peter (in Mark 3:16). They have succumbed to the weakness of the flesh rather than winning the battle over temptation in the only way they might – through the power of of the Spirit in prayer (v. 38).

Upon Jesus’ second return from prayer (v. 39), Mark tells us that the disciples’ eyes were heavy – similar in thought to the weakness of the flesh in v. 38. And similar to Peter’s reaction to the Transfiguration in Mark 9:6, they are speechless, dumbfounded (v. 40). Sadly, the disciples really don’t understand Jesus or His mission at all! All of Peter’s previous arrogance now manifests itself as proverbial egg all over his face.

Jesus’ third (surely foreshadowing Peter’s three denials) return to His flock does not even mention His final prayers. It is too late!

“Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come.” – Jesus

(Mark 14:41, NIV)

For Geddert, “The hour has come” is eschatological (cf. v. 35). God’s kingdom is being established. Albeit in the most upside-down manner imaginable – thorough the violent death of His Messiah!

“Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

(Mark 14:41b-42, NIV)

The failure of the disciples is complete. And Jesus’ reminder here of Judas’ betrayal (recalling us back to their dinner hours before) serves as a fitting punctuation to the pericope!

There is a contrast here between the faithfulness of Jesus in prayer and the failure of the disciples in the face of temptation. Jesus’ prayer is answered: the answer is ‘Yes, you must go through this suffering!’ (Mark 14:36). Like Jesus, it is appropriate for us too to pray for deliverance. But when our prayers don’t get answered in the way we had hoped, we might well be better equipped to face difficulty with strength from God if we accept His will.

This is where it gets hard. Having accepted God’s will, now we must release control, not act, but trust… and wait. Jesus example here places Him in line with the laments of the Psalmists. Unlike the religiously pious, Jesus intimacy with the Father is not afraid to pour out His deepest feelings of sorrow before His ‘Daddy’ God.

As followers of Jesus today, we must use our Markan gospel hindsight to do better than the disciples did here in the garden. We must remain fervent in prayer and “keep watch” (v. 34, NIV), if we are ever to ‘rise and go’ (v. 42) following Jesus example.

“Adversity brings out the worst in us while requiring the most of us.” – David E. Garland

The NIV Application Commentary: Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 555.

When we rely on our own strength to do right for God, we find only our own weakness and failure. In my experience, the most mature men and women (when it comes to things of the Spirit) are not those who have arrived (Danger, Will Robinson!), but those who are ever aware of just how far they have to go until they can say “I am like Him – Jesus, my Master!”

“The sudden arrival of the hour of trial can be a cruel reminder how mistaken false confidence in past spiritual achievements is.” – David Garland

NIVAC: Mark, p. 556

In short, when following Jesus, remember that you never arrive, and you will do well, my dear Padawan*, apprentice, diligent learner… disciple!**

*I stole this term from my Missional hero, Alan Hirsch’s use of it in 5Q

**Speaking of stealing, I am deeply indebted to Garland (NIVAC) in the application section (last 7 paragraphs) of this post.