Sunday, October 29, 2023

Three Dark Moments of Jesus' Life: The Falling Away, the Garden, and the Betrayal: Sunset, Early Night, and Deep Night

What was your darkest moment in life? When did you hit a sort of rock bottom? I can think a few of moments in my life. I remember when I was 17 years old, I was downstairs in my parents basement. My parents had just split up. I had been bullied a lot in school, until I started doing drugs and drinking, and pretty soon I became very cool and popular. But I couldn’t control the pills, they were like a wild bucking bronco that bucked me off. And I made some crazy statements to students, and they brought my statements to the school leadership and I was expelled from school.

The girl I had a big crush on at that time had decided that I was a weirdo and wouldn’t talk to me. And my old friends wouldn’t talk to me because they were afraid of me. It was at that moment in life that I knew everything had fallen apart. It was a moment of great darkness in my life.

I remember during that time I turned in my room one day and looked at a poster on my wall. It was a smashing pumpkins poster from one of their music videos, one of my favorite songs, and God seemed to say to me in that moment: You’re about to go through a long dark tunnel, but I will save you in the future, and everything will be OK. That tunnel lasted ten years.

The Smashing Pumpkins poster I looked at connects with the song titled “Tonight, Tonight” the music video tells the story of a couple on a doomed voyage who get lost and captured by monsters, but escape and find their way to safety in the end. Listening to the song last night was interesting. You hear words and phrases like “Believe in me” repeated over and over.

How about you? Maybe your darkest moment was losing a loved one. Or losing a job. Or a time when you became deeply empty. Perhaps it was a car accident or an angry argument.

In our darkest moments we will grieve and be lost and struggle, and we may even fall away, and scatter, or come to ruin. But if we return to God, he will help us, deliver us, and save us.

Today we’re looking at three dark moments. And they are what they are. They are dark and broken and sad. That is part of life.

It’s not always beautiful. It often is beautiful, even sublime, glorious. Other times, I’m exhausted, everyone is crabby, it smells funny in here, the rain is falling, and we get a phone call of a disaster far away. Someone dies.

For me, friends, it’s so incredibly relieving, it feels really good for me, to just admit that this is true about life. So often we pretend like everything is perfect. And people scold us or give us a pep talk, turn that frown upside down. But to simply affirm, it’s ok, to grieve the trouble of life, that’s freeing, if you ask me.

So let’s jump into a moment in time, late at night, Jesus has just given the disciples so much encouragement, it’s all recorded in John 14.

He said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” -John 14:1-2

So much encouragement! He prayed for them, prayed for believers everywhere, he gave instructions about loving one another. But now Jesus is going to speak some hard truths to the disciples and to the leader of the disciples, Peter.

He says in Mark 14:27, “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’”

Jesus quotes from Zechariah 13:7 in the Old Testament here. It’s a prophecy that comes true in this moment in time.

You will all fall away he says.

Something bad is going to happen, Jesus says. 

Jesus often told the disciples: This is what will happen in the future. The temple will be destroyed, he told them. He told them he would be crucified. He told them they would be his witnesses to the ends of the Earth. God tells us the future.

That continued with the Holy Spirit often speaking to Paul in the book of Acts as well, you will go to Jerusalem. You will go to Rome 
(Acts 23:11).

Yet even immediately after giving the bad news, Jesus gives the good news as well. So which news comes first? Good or bad? According to Jesus, bad news first, then good news.

In verse 28, “But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

Even though Jesus will be arrested and killed, and the disciples will fall away. In the end, Jesus will rise, and meet them again in the future.

Then in verses 29-31 we get the classic statement from Jesus to Peter...

But first Peter says, "Not me, I’ll never abandon you!"

It says, “Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”

30 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”

31 But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same.

I sometimes wonder, what would I do if my life were on the line? What would I do if I knew it would cost me everything? I like to think I’d go bravely to the end. But only God knows what I would actually do.

How often do I choose my own way still today, instead of God’s way? How often do I waste time? How often do I do what I want to do?

We’re all a work in progress. But we lack such consistency. We come around for a year or two. But it’s a lifetime journey. Where is our commitment? Aren’t we more like the disciples then we realize?

When we get bored with the church, or we get thinking about other things, health, exercise, job, money, family, we keep God second, third, fourth, and sometimes, we just disregard God all together.

Most people I’ve had join the church here in Owosso don’t stay around for more than a few months before they head off to do something else. They can’t quite stick with it. They drift off again. They fall away.

What do we do? How can be consistent? How can we be sure we stay with God for the long haul?

Lord, help us please.

That’s the conclusion of section I, Lord help us to be consistent and to not fall away. But secondly, also realize, if you fall away, that isn’t necessarily the end either. God gave up on you? No. You can and hopefully will repent in the future and return to Him with all your heart.

But first we must go deeper into the darkness. It’s a journey into the night. We’ve gone into the first level of the night.

The sun has set, the clouds have faded, and the last hews of orange in the sky are now disappearing.

So we come into the Gethsemane. The sunset disappears and the sky turns dark, but there are stars in the sky.

It says in verses 32-34: “They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

Jesus said to his disciples my soul is overwhelmed. I feel overwhelmed. Have you ever felt overwhelmed?

“I can’t stand it anymore!”

Jesus can relate completely to that feeling. His very soul was overwhelmed, deeply distressed, and troubled.

From time to time I feel that way as a Christian and as a pastor, overwhelmed, distressed, troubled, not the extent that Jesus does here.

I firmly believe no one has ever felt this distressed in all of human history, as Jesus does here.

He knows he is going to have to go to the cross and die for our sins. He knows that this will entail being brutally crucified, but also feeling in the Spirit that the Father has abandoned him. He will feel the wrath of God against sin and receive it for us, in our place. He will receive the full wrath that we were due for our sins. He would take it for us. Jesus is thinking about that, I’m sure, and completely overwhelmed.

What would it feel like to be tormented in hell for our sins? Even a single moment would be unbearable. But Jesus would take that torment that we deserved for our sins, and take it upon himself.

What does it feel like? To be overwhelmed with a yucky thought? Lots of anxiety. Weakness in the body. Physical affects. Racing thoughts. Depression. Negative thoughts. Wishing it wasn’t happening. Panic attack. I’ve been there. I battle depression and anxiety. It’s brutal. You just wish it would stop for a moment sometimes. You wake up and the depression hits and part of you wishes that you hadn’t woken up at all.

Jesus is there in a dark place, rightly so. God doesn’t spare us these difficulties. Sometimes I feel so terrible in my own head and heart I just look up and say, "How God can I feel this terrible in this moment how can this be allowed?" But it is allowed.

Jesus goes deeper into the garden. In verses 35-36: “Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

One of the most astonishing moments in the entire Bible, Jesus actually prays that this cup would be taken away from him. What cup is he talking about? Jesus is going to drink from a bitter cup, it’s called the cup of God’s wrath. It’s talked about quite a bit in the book of Revelation, the bitter cup of God’s wrath is received by Babylon.

He is going to hell for us! Some actually believe that Jesus was tormented in hell for three days for our sins, before he rose from the dead. I don’t see a lot of scriptural support for that, but it is possible. Other scriptures say he descended, and led captives free. So could it be that he was tormented for three days in hell, then gained victory over the devil, and set free the captives from ancient times, the old testament heroes who awaited a coming messiah? That’s speculative, but it’s at least possible.

Jesus asks for the story to be changed. He says to God, "Anything is possible with you. Yet not my will, but yours be done." Write that one down for your own prayer times, when you pray, add to the end: But Lord not my will but yours be done. That’s very honoring to God.

Next in verses 37-40: Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.”

The disciples keep falling asleep. They should be praying and asking for God’s help to not fall into temptation. What is the temptation Jesus is referencing here? The temptation is the temptation to be afraid and run away and not stay with Jesus during his arrest! Jesus knew they would be tempted to fear and run. So he tells them to pray. But they all fall asleep. Obviously it was quite late at this point.

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. So we should pray. Just like it says in the “Our Father” prayer, deliver us from temptation. That’s a good prayer to pray as well. Perhaps the Lord will tell you that a trial is coming forward and you need to pray intentionally right now, over and over, praying, "Lord deliver me from temptation." So you don’t fall to it when it comes.

Then Jesus says these fateful words: verses 41-42, “Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Here we come to our third and final section, we’ve gone from sunset, to early darkness, now to deep darkness.

In Mark 14:43, “Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.”

The ordeal begins now, we’ve gone from talking about it, Jesus predicting it, to Jesus mourning and praying as the moment gets closer, but now the moment arrives. And it’s tough. It’s dark. It’s scary. It’s intense. I’m sure there is much anxiety going on in that moment, with the disciples, with the guards, though I can’t say I know exactly what Jesus is feeling or thinking at the moment.

Then it says in verses 44-47: “Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.”

Judas signals to the guards who to arrest by kissing Jesus on the cheek. Think about that! Judas was one of Jesus’ closest disciples. I’m sure Jesus loved him, and he loved Jesus. But now it’s all a mockery, a lie, a trick, the ultimate betrayal, betrayed with a kiss.

Have you ever been betrayed? It feels terrible. It feels like having a knife in your back. It’s brutal. It’s not something you soon forget.

Does Jesus say anything to Judas? Only two statements, “Do you betray the son of man with a kiss?” That’s recorded in Luke. Also in Matthew, Jesus says to him, “Do what you came here to do.”

He doesn’t condemn Judas. Similarly we shouldn’t condemn those who betray us. Jesus knows its up to God the Father to judge Judas. Similarly we shouldn’t judge our enemies or hate them. We must forgive them, even if they betray us.

If you're struggling to forgive someone who has hurt you terribly deeply, try this, pray to God and say, "Lord, I forgive them from the heart." And then repeat that statement to God. Keep repeating it, until you sense God bringing the miracle of forgiveness. You'll know its a miracle too, you couldn't have forgiven them on your own. But God brings this overcoming in your heart, and he sets you free from the resentment, the anger, and the hatred. And you become free, and you forgive them from the heart. 

We also see Peter striking with a sword to try to prevent the arrest of Jesus. We know from the other gospels that Jesus told Peter to put his sword back. And Jesus even healed the man who was injured in the attack.

Lastly, we see in verses 48-52 it says, “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Then everyone deserted him and fled.

A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.”

Jesus lastly declares that all this is happening to fulfill what is written in the Bible about him. All of this must happen. All of it must take place so Jesus can die to be a blood sacrifice for our sins, and set us free. At that moment, the disciples fled the area. Jesus is abandoned by his friends. 

Then we get this odd mention in verses 51-52, of a man who was wearing only a blanket. He was naked, wearing a blanket, a linen garment. The NIV is being generous here saying it was a linen garment. The word is more often referring to a linen cloth. Though it could be referencing something like a night gown, according to the Outline of Biblical Usage by Larry Pierce.

Many have wondered who this person is. The most common idea is that this is Mark himself. But we know from early church leaders in the 2nd century, that wrote that Mark never met Jesus or was with him, he recorded everything later. So it’s hard to say. We don’t really know.

In conclusion today, we see three dark moments taking place, Jesus telling the disciples they will fall away. Jesus in sorrow in the garden. And Jesus betrayed and arrested.

All of this Jesus was willing to go through to purchase us back with his own blood. Always keep that in mind and be so grateful.

Let’s take a look at our applications. How can we apply these truths to our lives and live differently in accordance with the word of God?

1. Accept in your heart that life will include dark moments (then you won’t be surprised)

2. Give yourself permission at times to be Hurting (Say its ok that I’m not ok right now)

3. Give yourself permission to be tough, stay positive and don’t give up (Buck up buttercup)

4. Stay Consistent in your walk with God over the years (But if you do fall away, believe there is still hope to come back again in the future)

5. Jesus can relate to feeling completely overwhelmed (So take courage and stand firm when you feel overwhelmed)

6. Pray a lot when you’re in a hard time, pray God would deliver you from temptation (And His will be done, not yours)

7. Even if someone betrays you, forgive them in your heart (Release them to God, he will judge)