• The Crucified King (Mark 15:1-32)

    Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/762103--the-crucified-king

    Sermon Discussion Questions:

    1. What stood out most to you from the sermon?
    2. What does this story tell us about the social pressure of the crowd? Read Mark 15:11 and 15. Is there anything going on in your life or your work where you feel pressure from a leader or from crowds to accept something that is wrong?
    3. What are the ironies we see demonstrated in this story?
    4. Of all the ways that Jesus could have died, why did God choose this method? (Marc gave 5 reasons--read through each of them and discuss what each means. Which one was most helpful for you?)

    A family of missionaries stationed in China had decided to employ a local woman to help manage the home. She spent hours each week with the family, saw how they cared for their children, and how they lived their life. It was a wonderful evangelism opportunity—mission work delivered to their front door! Their relationship with been going well until they noticed that the caretaker began to become noticeably uncomfortable. The husband and wife tried as hard as they could to make the woman feel welcome in their home and to be as warm and engaging as they could whenever she was around. However, her discomfort continued until it could not be ignored any longer. The wife eventually asked the woman what was wrong and she replied: “I see that you are good people and deeply care about your children, but why would you have a picture of a naked criminal being hung to death on a cross in the sight of your children?” 

    We can often become so familiar with the cross that the shock and gruesomeness of it is forgotten. The cross is a religious symbol, an emblem that to many communicates peace, not horror. Seeing the cross through new eyes reminds us of just how strange that is—why would a crude and ugly instrument of torture be something we would make art of and hang on our walls?

    Today we arrive at the crucifixion scene in Mark’s gospel, a scene we can be so familiar with that it almost passes us by in its shocking brutality, in its offensive ugliness. Tom Holland, a classical scholar, writes, “No death was more excruciating, more contemptible, than crucifixion. To be hung naked, ‘long in agony, swelling with ugly weals on shoulders and chest,’ helpless to beat away the clamorous birds: such a fate, Roman intellectuals agreed, was the worst imaginable,” (Dominion, p. 2). What does it mean for us that our Lord and Savior suffered one of the most horrifying deaths known to man? Turn to Mark’s gospel and let’s read:

    And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate. 2 And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” 3 And the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.” 5 But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.

    6 Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. 7 And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. 8 And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. 9 And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. 12 And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” 14 And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.

    16 And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor's headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. 18 And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.

    21 And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. 22 And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. 25 And it was the third hour when they crucified him. 26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. 29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him. – Mark 15:1-32

    Historical Understanding of the Crucifixion 

    Jesus is brought before Pilate, the Roman governor who is over the city of Jerusalem, so that Pilate might able to give his consent to Jesus’ execution. The charges that the high priests have accused Jesus of are religious in nature (blasphemy, destruction of the temple) and so they would be of no immediate relevance to Pilate. However, the chief priests decide to highlight a political danger to Pilate. They accuse Jesus of setting Himself up as a rival to Caesar (cf. Luke 23:2; John 19:15). Ah, Pilate thinks, here is another rebel thinking he can overthrow Rome. So Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Mark 15:2; see Luke 23:2-3). Jesus responds indirectly, “You have said so,” (Mark 15:3)—perhaps because Pilate’s conception of a “king” is very different than the kind of king Jesus really is. After this, however, Jesus remains silent.

    Now Pilate had a custom to release a prisoner every year to the Jews during the Passover feast. And he offers the crowd a choice: Barabbas or Jesus. Barabbas, we are told, was “among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection,” (Mark 15:7).  We aren’t told specifically what the “insurrection” is that Barabbas participated in, but since it is called “the insurrection”, Mark assumes his readers are familiar with it, so it must have been large enough to be well known. What we know is that Barabbas is a rebel who committed murder in some sort of revolutionary activity. He is precisely what the chief priests are trying to depict Jesus as to Pilate: a dangerous threat.

    At first glance, the choice between the two seems obvious: on the one hand there is a popular teacher, beloved by the multitudes, a wonder-worker who could heal diseases, raise the dead, and work miracles, and on the other hand you have a murderer. And yet, “the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead,” (Mark 15:11). What a poignant warning of both the danger of the influence of wicked leaders and the social pressure of a crowd. Just because a leader is telling you to do something, and everyone else is joining in doesn’t make it right. In Mark’s gospel the “crowds” have by and large been supportive of Jesus. But here? In a frenzied mob, the crowds shout out for Barabbas’ release and for Jesus’ crucifixion. The approval of the world is a fickle thing.

    Pilate wonders out loud what evil He has done to be worthy of such a punishment, but the crowd only responds with screaming even louder (Mark 15:12-14). So, “Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified,” (Mark 15:15).

    Jesus was then delivered over to the praetorium (governor’s headquarters) where a whole battalion is called together (approx. 600 soldiers) just to mock Jesus, likely after his scourging. You get a sense of the brutality of Rome and the way they despised Jews by how they treat Jesus. They dress him up like a mock king, make a crown of thorns (likely out of a local vine with thorns 3-4 inches in length) and crunch it down on top of his head, and pretend to bow down to Him, laughing at what a pathetic and weak spectacle the “king of Jews” is, before they begin spitting in his face and striking him with a rod (Mark 15:16-20). Once they’ve exhausted their savage humor, they lead Jesus away to the cross. Only, Jesus is now too weak to carry the cross (a testament to how intense the scourging process was), so must receive help from a bystander “Simon of Cyrene” who just happened to be walking by at the moment, to carry the cross-bar outside of the city to Golgotha, where He will be crucified (Mark 15:21-22)

    What did it mean to be crucified? 

    Cicero, the ancient Roman, said that the crucifixion was, “the most cruel and horrifying punishment,” and that any decent citizen should avoid even talking about it (Verrine Orations 2.5.165). It was forbidden for any Roman citizen to be crucified and was reserved only for slaves and the worst kind of criminals. The entire purpose of crucifixion was to serve as a kind of psychological weapon of terror for Rome. They worked hard to imagine the most public and gruesome form of death so that they could display to everyone what would happen if you tried to disobey Rome (“Whenever we crucify the guilty, the most crowded roads are chosen, where the most people can see and be moved by this fear,” – Quintillian in Declamationes 274).

    Before an individual was crucified they were first scourged (see Mark 15:15). The criminal would have their hands tied to a post and would be whipped with a scourging tool that had nine leather cords coming out of a handle with bits of rock, bone, glass, or metal attached to the end of the cords. While the leather cords would sting and cut the skin, the metal hooks would dig and rip into the muscle. The scourging would remove most of the flesh off of the back of the victim, sometimes exposing bones or organs—at times even killing the victim right there. The purpose of the scourging was to accelerate the victim’s death after being affixed to the cross. 

    After the scourging, the victim then was responsible to carry the horizontal cross bar to their execution site—another way of humiliating the victim and spreading terror to the bystanders—where he was then stripped totally naked and nailed or tied to the cross. Since no major arteries would be severed by the nailing process, victims didn’t bleed to death but would die from asphyxiation (slowly suffocating from not being able to inhale deeply enough because of their stretched out posture on the cross) or heart failure.

    “Crucifixion was a ghastly form of death: excruciatingly painful, prolonged, and socially degrading. The thought that God's Messiah could suffer "a cross of shame" (Heb 12:2) was so scandalous that some twenty-five years later Paul confessed that the preaching of a crucified Messiah was "a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (1 Cor 1:23),” (Edwards, PNTC). 

    Jesus is offered “wine mixed with myrrh,” a rudimentary narcotic meant to numb his pain, but He refuses (Mark 15:23). The soldiers, like vultures, pick through the little belongings Jesus has—his clothes—gambling over who gets what (Mark 15:24). As was typical for those crucified, there is a placard affixed to the cross detailing the victims crime that deserved their punishment, “The King of the Jews,” (Mark 15:26). Another chilling reminder to the watching crowd: this is what happens to Jews who try to fight Rome; if THIS is what we do to your king, what will we do to you if you defy us? Somehow, rather than evoking simple human sympathy and compassion, the crowds gathered around Jesus, hung between two other criminals, and taunt Him, hurling insults at this would be Messiah, laughing at His impotence and impending death (Mark 15:27-32).

    While Mark doesn’t cite it explicitly here, he obviously sees what is occurring as a fulfillment of Psalm 22, (which Jesus will quote in Mark 15:34) a psalm written a thousand years before the crucifixion of Jesus:

    “All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”… For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet—I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” Psalm 22:7-8, 16-18

    The Ironies of the Cross

    As we read through this account, we will notice many twists of irony. Irony is when someone says or does something that means something different or the exact opposite of what they intend. We, the readers, know the truth, but the characters in the story are blind to it.

    The Innocent is Declared Guilty so the Guilty can be Declared Innocent

    Barabbas, a guilty murderer who participated in a violent revolution, is set free, so that Jesus, the innocent who is wrongly accused of being a revolutionary, is condemned. Barabbas’s name in Aramaic literally means, “Son of the Father,” (bar = son, abba = father). So the contrast is shocking: a guilty son of the father declared innocent; the innocent Son of the Father declared guilty. Here we have a tightly packed picture of the divine exchange that we all experience when we come to faith in Christ: Jesus stands in our place and takes the penalty we deserve so we can receive the pardon and blessings He deserves.

    The Man who is Mocked as King is Really King

    Could you imagine if you bumped into a person at work who, in your estimation, was kind of pathetic, unimpressive, and he asked you to do some task and you simply laughed out loud and sarcastically snipped back, “Sure thing boss! Let me just drop EVERYTHING I’m doing to wait on you hand and foot!” Only to later realize that that man really was your boss? The soldiers bowing down in mock homage to Jesus are, unknowingly, rightly identifying Jesus as King. The sign posted on the cross as a mockery of Jesus is, in fact the truth: He is the King of the Jews. Even more than that, He isn’t just the King of the Jews—He is the King of Romans, and the Greeks, and the Persians, and the Americans, and the Russians, and of every nation, from all time, in all places. It will not be long until, “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” (Phil 2:10-11).

    The One Accused of Being Powerless is All Powerful

    As the crowds and chief priests gather around the cross they mock and scorn Jesus they unknowingly are confessing the truth. Well, some of the truth.

    “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” (Mark 15:29-30). In John’s gospel, John records this short interaction with the chief priests from earlier in Jesus’ life, “Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body,” John 2:19-21. The temple is Jesus’ body, and it is being destroyed, and it will be raised again in three days. It is precisely this reason that Jesus cannot save Himself.

    “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe,” (Mark 15:31-32). The chief priests have heard the stories of Jesus’ miracles. If Jesus really could do such things, then He should be able to use the same power to rescue Himself from the cross right now. And, of course, Jesus really could have done that. But, again, the chief priests are speaking the truth more than they realize: He saved others, he cannot save Himself. This is exactly true—it is precisely because He is—right now!—in the process of saving others, that He cannot save Himself. “It was not the nails that held Jesus to the wretched cross; it was his unqualified resolution, out of love for His father, to do His Father’s will—and, within that framework, it was his love for sinners…He really could not save Himself,” (Carson, Scandalous, p. 30).

    Jesus is accused of being guilty, but really He is innocent. Jesus is mocked because they assume He is a nobody pretending to be a somebody, but really He is the King. Jesus is mocked as being powerless, when really He is all powerful. He is challenged to prove He is the Messiah by saving Himself, but He is demonstrating He is the Messiah by not saving Himself. What do these ironic reversals tell us? They provide a dramatic picture of who Jesus is and what He came to do. 

    Who normally gets crucified? Guilty, powerless, nobodies. Who is Jesus? Innocent, all-powerful, King of the Universe. And yet Jesus allows Himself to be treated like a guilty, powerless, nobody so guilty, powerless, nobodies like me could be forgiven, washed, and adopted into Jesus’ family.

    Why the Cross?

    Of all the ways Jesus could have died, why crucifixion? If Jesus needed to die in our place, to absorb the wrath of God, couldn’t He have just had a heart attack? A bolt of lightning strike Him?

    1.     To be a depiction of the horror and gruesomeness of sin and the wrath it deserves. 

    The cross is a terribly ugly thing. But the physical pain and shame of the cross is simply a picture of the horror and ugliness of our sin against God and the punishment it deserves. The physical agony Jesus experienced on the cross, though considerable, was not the worst thing He experienced. It’s amazing that Mark never records Jesus complaining of the physical pain He is experiencing. The only thing Jesus laments at the cross is the abandonment of the Father, His being forsaken by God (Mark 15:34). 

    2.     To demonstrate just how low Jesus was willing to go to redeem us, how deep the Father’s love was for us.

    “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” John 3:16.

    3.     To show the world and Satan that their most vile weapons can be bent to serve God's sovereign purposes.

    To comfort Christians that no matter how dark their suffering is, no matter how unjust, God can use it for good. If He can redeem something as atrocious as the cross, He can redeem your pain.

    4.     So Jesus could relate with those who suffer as a sympathetic high priest--He knows what it is like to suffer unjust, unthinkable torment.

    5. To be a visceral picture of what real discipleship, real greatness, real power means: "Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me." (Mark 8:34)

    Do you remember the story of James and John approaching Jesus to ask if they could have seats of prominence in the Kingdom? "And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Mark 10:37. Jesus responds to them and explains, "You have no idea what you are asking." The one other place that the phrase "one at the right hand and one on the left" appears in the gospel of Mark is in the crucifixion story describing the two thieves crucified, one on Jesus' left and one on His right. James and John are under the delusion that the path of discipleship, that Jesus' Kingdom will be one of worldly comfort, status, and glory. But Jesus shows them that the way "up" is actually "down." The path to greatness in the Kingdom, is the path of the cross, the path of service. Jesus explains:

    “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Mark 10:42-45

    1. Waiting Through Despair (Psalm 130)

      Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/758626--waiting-through-despair

      Sermon Discussion Questions:

      1. What is something you feel like you have been waiting for?
      2. Why might a Christian find themselves "in the depths"? (Because life is hard; they might be doing the right thing; they might be hiding sin; they be frustrated with their weakness; they might have no idea why)
      3. What role does prayer play in your life? If prayer was a piece of your car, would it look more like a steering wheel or more like a spare tire?
      4. As Christians wait on the Lord, what should we do? (Hope in the Word; Wait expectantly; Hope in the Lord)
      5. Can you think of any specific promises in God's Word you can hope in to help you wait? (Ex. Rom 8:32; Matt 6:33)
      6. Is there any area of prayer that is difficult to "wait expectantly" for?
      7. Read Luke 18:1-8. What does this tell us about prayer and waiting? (Note: verse 7 seems to tell us that God answers our prayers "speedily," yet verse 1 and verse 8 seem to tell us that there are seasons of waiting that will tempt us to stop praying, to lose heart, and lose faith. So God answers our prayers speedily, in a way, but in another way slowly enough that we are tempted. See Hab. 2:3).

      Sermon Manuscript:

      Let’s begin today with the story of a king, Israel’s first king. In so many ways, Saul seemed like an ideal choice; he fits the bill of many successful politicians today. 1 Samuel tells us that he came from a family of great wealth, and was tall and handsome (1 Sam 9:1-2). He had the status and looks of a king (cf. 1 Sam 10:24). Further, he also had the decisive leadership of a king. Saul has been able to unite the army together, command men to battle, and deliver Israel from destruction (see 1 Sam 11). 

      Two years later, Saul is faced a crisis that requires leadership. The Philistines have invaded Israel and have gathered a massive army of chariots, horsemen, and troops, “like the sand on the seashore in multitude,” (1 Sam 13:5). Saul musters an army, but everyone is afraid of the Philistines. Even worse, the prophet Samuel is late. Saul cannot start the battle till Samuel offers the necessary sacrifices to God and while they wait people begin to peel away and scatter. So, Saul makes another decisive leadership move: he offers the sacrifice instead of waiting. But as he is wiping the blood off his knife, Samuel appears walking over the hill and asks Saul: What on earth are you doing? And Saul, looking to justify himself, explains: Look man, I waited for you but YOU didn’t show up and the army was breaking apart and I didn’t want to but I HAD to. You forced my hand by being late and…and…what else was I supposed to do? (see 1 Sam 13:8-12). 

      Let’s look at another story of a king, one living hundreds of years later, but in a similar situation: King Jehoshaphat. An alliance of enemies has come against Israel that totally outmatch their own strength. And as Israel is preparing for battle they catch wind that there is another massive army planning on attack on them. What does the king do? “Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the LORD; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD,” (2 Chron 20:3-4). Jehoshaphat assembles the whole of Judah to come to the temple and prays before God, acknowledging God’s power, God’s promises to redeem His people, and confesses their own weakness before concluding with these famous words: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you,” (2 Chron 20:12). 

      I read an article this week by a popular evangelical pastor on this prayer who thought that while the spirit of humility this prayer exhibited was commendable and necessary for good leadership, he thought it unwise for leaders to publicly confess that they don’t know what to do in situations and should instead project confidence. So, if you’re in a board meeting or elder’s meeting, you shouldn’t tell people that you feel overwhelmed and unsure—that’s not what people expect from a leader. Obviously, King Jehoshaphat disagreed. He stood before the gathered nation, before the people he was responsible to lead and defend at a moment of great crisis, at a time where all were tempted to despair and said: I have no idea what to do—God help!

      Now, be honest, who would you rather have as your king? One who is a strategic problem solver who gets things done, or one who admits that he doesn’t know what he is doing and is waiting for God to give help.

      If you’re anything like me, you get frustrated with indecisive leadership mostly because you hate waiting. We want fast solutions to problems, we don’t want to hear about limitations and nuance. We want things to be fixed because we are the products of a generation that is allergic to waiting. You hate getting stuck in traffic, you hate waiting for vacation to come around, you hate waiting for that person to respond to you when you need their answer. 

      But what happens when you encounter a problem where there is no instant solution? What if, as you survey the options, none of them provide a quick fix? In Psalm 130 we find a reflection from one who is stuck in a difficult situation and is left waiting for God to show up and provide relief.

      Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!

      2 O Lord, hear my voice!

      Let your ears be attentive

      to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

      3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,

      O Lord, who could stand?

      4 But with you there is forgiveness,

      that you may be feared.

      5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,

      and in his word I hope;

      6 my soul waits for the Lord

      more than watchmen for the morning,

      more than watchmen for the morning.

      7 O Israel, hope in the LORD!

      For with the LORD there is steadfast love,

      and with him is plentiful redemption.

      8 And he will redeem Israel

      from all his iniquities.

      Why Do Christians Experience Despair?

      The psalm opens with the confession: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!” (Ps 130:1). We don’t know who wrote this psalm, but whoever they were it was someone in a dark place. They were in “the depths.” In the ancient world they had a different understanding of how the world was structured. The world lay flat on a series of foundations that God had set, and God dwelled on high, in the heavens. The grave (Sheol), which represented death, was spatially furthest away from God which is why the grave is often spoken of as a place where individuals will have the hardest time communing with God (Ps 6:5; 115:17). While God is even present in the depths of Sheol (Ps 139:8), the “depths” are where God is hardest to see. This becomes a poetic metaphor used by the psalmists to describe times in their life where they feel most abandoned by God, most in despair. For instance, listen to Psalm 88:

      O LORD, God of my salvation,

      I cry out day and night before you.

      2 Let my prayer come before you;

      incline your ear to my cry!

      3 For my soul is full of troubles,

      and my life draws near to Sheol.

       (Ps 88:1-3)

      One reason Christians may feel despair is because of discouraging circumstance. Think of the prophet Elijah, after fire fell from heaven in 1 Kings 18 the wicked queen Jezebel still refuses to repent, Elijah flees into the desert and collapses under a broom tree, begging God to just let him die (1 Kings 19). Perhaps there have been circumstances in your life that have left you doubting that God really cares for you, really is in control. One of my missionary heroes is Adoniram Judson, the first American missionary, who traveled to Burma. He experienced a season of intense despair because of the great persecution and loss he suffered while striving to reach the Burmese people who had no Christian witness. He was beaten, imprisoned, starved, and suffered the death of his wife, the loss of his next wife, and four children, before he himself died of an infection from the jungle. At one point he sunk into such a dark state of mind that he dug a grave in front of his house and sat next to it for days, contemplating his own death. 

      Few of us will experience the kind of hardships that Judson experienced, but I bring up the story of Judson not because his suffering is so similar to ours but because his life demonstrates the falsehood that if you just live a godly life you won’t experience suffering, you won’t experience despair. Judson chose the narrow path; he was offered a comfortable position as a pastor of a wealthy, influential church back in America but turned it down to go live in a hut in the muggy jungle of Burma. If anyone was living a life of godliness, it was Adoniram Judson—and yet, his life was filled with extreme suffering. 

      This means that the difficulty in your life does not automatically mean that God is abandoning you or is punishing you. It just means that you live in a fallen, broken world, a world filled with heartache, disappointments, and sin. In fact, the Bible seems to tell us that if we desire to live a godly life we will experience even more suffering (2 Tim 3:12; Acts 14:22).

      Another reason for despair among Christians is the presence of sin. Perhaps it isn’t necessarily circumstances happening to you that cause despair, but indwelling sin in you. There is no agony like the agony of tortured conscience. David writes of the pain he experienced from trying to conceal his sin, “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer,” (Ps 32:3-4). If you want to experience despair, hide sin in your life, refuse to repent of it, and you will be certain to be haunted by the specter of depression.

      But maybe you are despairing not because of unrepentant sin, but just a general awareness of your sinfulness. There isn’t a specific sin you can pinpoint that needs repenting of, but an awareness of your limitations, your weakness; you have an idea in your mind of the kind of person you want to be and know how deeply you have fallen short of that. Samuel Davies, one of the most fruitful and effective preachers during the Great Awakening, writes; “I have but little, very little, true religion...Perhaps once in three or four months I preach in some measure as I could wish...It is really an afflictive thought that I serve so good a Master with so much inconstancy...I am at best smoking flax; a dying snuff in the candlestick of his church...The flame of divine love, sunk deep into the socket of a corrupt heart, quivers and breaks, and catches, and seems just expiring at times.”

      Or, perhaps worst of all, you are experiencing despair and you have no idea why. The dark night of the soul has flung itself upon you and left little to no clue as to why it is present. You are in “the depths” and you don’t know what has brought you here.

      What do Christians do about it?

      This is where the psalm really begins to give us help. The psalm gives us two things that Christians can do: Pray and Wait.


      “O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!” (Ps 130:2).

      As soon as the psalmist is in the depths of despair he cries out in prayer and pleads for God to hear him. But what great comfort! The depths the psalmist has fallen into are not so deep that God is unable to hear his prayers. Corrie Ten Boom, a prisoner in World War II for hiding Jews from the Nazis, reminds us that “there is no pit so deep, that Christ is not deeper still.” There is no cloud over us so dark that God cannot still commune with us in prayer. No matter how numb your soul, how bleak your circumstances, how black your guilt, you can cry out to God and He will hear you.

      What does the psalmist ask for? Mercy. The psalmist knows that he does not deserve the help he is asking for, but is asking God to not give him what he deserves. This could be a plea for God to withhold the judgment his sins deserve, or it could be a request for God to give him aid even though his sins make him unworthy. It could be both. The psalmist knows he needs mercy from a holy God. 

      God doesn’t not give us help because we have earned it, no, His help is a help that flows from His gracious heart to the undeserving. We intuitively assume that God answers the prayers of the deserving, of the super spiritual who know all the right things to say, of the gurus who pray and fast for hours in scratchy robes in mountain caves—they have earned the right for God to answer their prayers. At least, so we think.

      But here? Here we see that the psalmist understands that God does not owe him anything, even the right for his prayers to be answered—and yet he prayers! Why? Because he is confident that God is a merciful God:

      “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared,” (Ps 130:3-4).

      If God were to treat us according to what our sins deserved, who could stand? We would all be obliterated instantly! But praise God, that doesn’t happen! “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities,” Ps 103:10. 

      An employee makes a foolish, stupid mistake and winds up costing the company a fortune. He was advised not to do it, but he did it anyways and now it has blown up in his face. He knows that he will likely be fired any minute, but decides to head to the company’s Christmas party, nonetheless. He walks in, head hanging low, not looking as he grabs the wrong nametag. Before he realizes what is happening, he is being pushed on stage, handed one of those comically large checks with an eye-popping bonus on it and is congratulated for being the employee of the year. What happened? He mistakenly grabbed the nametag of someone who deserved something far different than what he deserved—he is not being treated according to his sins. But friends, where this was an accident, in the gospel it is no accident. God has not been hoodwinked. He has, from before time began, planned to send His Son to take your sins and bear them away at the cross and to give you His righteousness, so that if you believe in Him you will not be treated according to your sins, but according to your Savior. Unremitting love flows to the undeserving and unworthy.

      This is staggering when taken seriously. It makes sense why the psalmist says, “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared,” (Ps 130:4). There is a kind of cheap forgiveness that downplays the reality of sin (it wasn’t that bad) that leads to a lighthearted frivolity towards God and a continued indulging of sin. And there is another kind of cheap forgiveness that is earned through our own self-righteousness where we pay God back for our sins by being really good. Then there is another forgiveness altogether. A forgiveness that is as hard as nails on the horror of our sins but as wide as the ocean in its total and free forgiveness offered. That kind of forgiveness pierces you with a fearful and awesome joy, and brings you trembling to your knees wondering: What kind of Savior is this?

      So now, if you are in Christ, wherever you are, whether you are on the mountaintop of a spiritual high or in the depths of a spiritual pit, God will hear your pleas for mercy because He has forgiven your sins and clothed you in the righteousness of Christ, so come to Him with your pleas, come to Him with your prayers. You have the same standing before the Father in your prayers as Jesus does, so be bold. Seek heaven’s aid for your help, plead with the Father, call down all the resources from on high to thunder against your despair, your gloom, and your sin. 

      This is why we will be taking time to pray together as a church in the Fall in our discipleship classes. Life is too hard, we are too weak, and the resources available to us through prayer are too great for us not to pray together as a church.


      “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,” (Ps 130:5a).

      Just because we have access to the throne room of God in our prayers does not mean that we immediately receive what we ask for. We often have to wait. Sometimes when we read the Bible we can get the impression that during the Bible times there was a miracle happening around every corner, God was answering prayers instantaneously, and things were happening so evidently. And then, when we look at our life, at how mundane it is, how ordinary it seems, we can feel discouraged. The apostles in the book of Acts can pray, and bam! blind people can see. And we can think: Now that’s what I’m talking about! Why can’t I get some of that in my life? And, of course, God can and will at times answer our prayers instantly. But friend, I wonder if you realize that the normal, ordinary pattern in the Bible is a pattern of waiting. 

      Think of the Israelites in Egypt who were in the bondage of slavery for four hundred years, praying to God for deliverance (Ex 2:23-25; 12:40). Or think of how long Israel had to wait for the Messiah to arrive. To make it more personal, think of the prophetess Anna, 84 year old Anna, in the gospel of Luke. Here is how she is described after seeing the child Jesus for the first time: “She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem,” Luke 2:37b-38. She is 84 years old and has spent the majority of her life in the temple doing what? Fasting and praying. Waiting.

      Remember the parable Jesus tells of the unjust judge? There is an unjust judge who doesn’t care about justice, but keeps being pestered by this persistent widow who keeps asking for the judge to give her justice. Eventually, out of sheer annoyance, the judge answers her requests. And if an unjust judge who doesn’t care about justice will eventually give in, how much more so will just judge who loves His children? But here is how Jesus opens that parable: “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart,” (Luke 18:1). In other words, you are going to be tempted to stop praying and to lose heart. 

      Are you tempted to stop praying because it feels like you are just left waiting? Don’t lose heart, wait. The words of the prophet Habakkuk are helpful, “If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay,” – Hab 2:3.

      How do we wait?

      With hope in God’s Word.

      “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope” – Ps 130:5

      As we wait, we hold onto what God has promised us in His word. 

      Are you faced with a perplexing decision and are unsure what to do? Pray for wisdom because God has promised in His word, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him,” (James 1:5). 

      Are you weary and worn down? Pray for rest because Jesus has promised: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” Matt 11:28.

      Do you feel emotionally untethered and fearful from the circumstances of your life? Pray for peace from the God who has promised: “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand,” Isa 41:10.

      As you find yourself stuck in the gap between what you are praying for and the answer to that prayer, fill your mind and heart with promises from God Word and hold onto them, wield them like a sword to slay your sinful temptations. Hope in God’s Word.

      Wait with Expectation

      “…my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning,” Ps 130:6

      As we wait, we wait with eager expectation for how God will answer our prayers. The psalmist tells us that he is waiting for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning. Night watchmen would be posted up on the walls of city or set to guard the perimeter of the camp. At the first break of dawn it meant that they and the city were safe from night assaults and they could now go and rest. As the guard is eagerly searching the horizon for the first rays of light, so too should God’s people be eagerly looking for how God will answer our prayers, trusting that He will.

      We often hedge our bets when praying to God. Because we are so frustrated by waiting and think it is something strange, when we pray for a long time and keep failing to see results it makes us less confident in our prayers. But we should trust God’s timing and God’s ways. 

      Hope in the Lord

      Earlier we were encouraged to hope in God’s Word, but the psalmist concludes by pointing us to God Himself: “O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities,” Ps 130:7-8. God's character is worthy of your hope--hope in Him!

      Let’s return to the story of our two kings at the beginning. Why does Saul offer that sacrifice? He has a large enemy he is fighting, the prophet is late, and his soldiers are beginning to desert the battlefield. In so many ways, it is so understandable why Saul did what he did. But it, of course, reveals what Saul was ultimately hoping in. His strength, his ability, his wisdom, his leadership. Saul couldn’t see how he could keep on waiting, so he acted. And he sinned. And it cost him the kingdom.

      What did Jehoshaphat hope in? “We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” Jehoshaphat hoped the Lord and his character to deliver them. He knew that he had nothing in him to make this work, but knew that God was able. And God honors Jehoshaphat’s prayer and saves Israel.

      Friend, God is worthy of your trust, of your hope. He is full of steadfast love and with him is plentiful redemption. He has forgiven your sins, made you His child, and promised to care for you. Hope in him. As you wait through despair, as you are in the depths, hope in God. You may not be able to see how you can fix the problem in front of you, you may feel totally overwhelmed--but that's the whole point: hope in the Lord, not yourself! Wait for Him to answer your pleas for mercy. Wait with hope and expectation that God will provide. Wait with confidence that God will not let the righteous be moved. 

      1. Jesus and the Trial (Mark 14:53-72)

        Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/755157--jesus-and-the-trial

        Discussion Questions:

        1. What stood out most to you from the sermon?
        2. Who recognizes Jesus most accurately throughout the gospel of Mark? Can you think of any examples?
        3. How should we approach Jesus to orient ourselves correctly to the truth?
        4. What assumptions did the chief priests, scribes, and elders have about the Messiah that led them to condemn Jesus?
        5. What assumptions did Peter hold that led him to deny Jesus?
        6. Can you think of a time where you had some assumptions about God that have proven to be untrue?
        7. Read 1 Cor 10:12-13. What is this passage telling us about how we should think about sin and temptation? How does Peter's story relate to this?

        Sermon Manuscript:

        How we orient ourselves to the truth will determine how we receive the truth. How you approach the truth will determine how you interpret the truth.   

        If a husband and wife are in a fight with each other, if the husband loves his wife, he will help his wife orient herself to that truth by demonstrating gentleness, patience, and a willingness to listen to her. But if he simply gets angry and barks “Calm down!” to her, he is going to make it harder for her to see the reality of his love towards her, it will be more difficult for her to experience that love. Why? Because how we orient ourselves to the truth will determine how we receive the truth. How you approach the truth will determine how you interpret the truth.

        In our text today, we will see two examples of ways you can orient yourself to the truths of the identity of Jesus Christ, wrongly. One will be confronted with a clear and precise explanation of the truth of Jesus, but will approach it so wrongly that they will dismiss Jesus entirely. Another will be closer, but still fundamentally misunderstand who Jesus is because of a poor orientation to the truth.

        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.

        66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. – Mark 14:53-72

        The Accusation

        The scene opens with the guards hauling Jesus in to the high priest and the gathered Sanhedrin (the chief priests, scribes, and elders) (Mark 14:53). This group of individuals comprises the ruling and governing class over the Temple and thus over much of Jewish life and they have been working for some time now on a way they could capture Jesus. And now they have Him. But they are running into issues:

        “Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree.” – Mark 14:55-56

        Mark makes it very plain for us in simply stating that they “bore false witness against him.” People are just lying about Jesus, hoping to concoct a story damning enough to get Jesus condemned. But they can’t seem to agree on what exactly it is that Jesus is guilty of, but they are certain that He is guilty! 

        “And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, “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.’” Yet even about this their testimony did not agree.” – Mark 14:57-59

        Perhaps these people have overheard Jesus’ prophecy in Mark 13 about the temple being destroyed (see 13:2). But there Jesus does not threaten to destroy the temple Himself, but simply prophesies that God will destroy the temple. Nowhere in Mark’s gospel do we have Jesus making this claim (though a similar claim is made in John 2:19 by Jesus). But still, even about this issue they can’t agree on exactly what was said. What Mark is trying to show us is that this is anything but a fair trial. The men are not impartial, unprejudiced investigators whose only commitment is to where the evidence leads them. The jury has arrived at their conclusion long before anyone began asking any questions.

        Frustrated that their efforts are getting nowhere, the high priest gets involved: “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?” But he remained silent and made no answer,” Mark 14:60-61. Surely, the high priest thinks to himself, this man must have some defense, some justification he will try to make to escape being condemned to death. But Jesus does not open His mouth. Jesus’ silence fulfills what the prophet Isaiah foretold in Isaiah 53:7: 

        He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,

        yet he opened not his mouth;

        like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,

        and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,

        so he opened not his mouth.

        Then the chief priest pointedly asks: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Mark 14:61b. 

        The chief priest ask Jesus if He is the Christ (that is, Messiah), and the Son of the Blessed (which is a way to describe God by means of circumlocution; pious Jews refrained from speaking God’s name out of fear of breaking the third commandment). The “Christ” was the promised Redeemer whom the Old Testament awaited; the son of David who would deliver Israel from its exile and bondage and restore the people. While there doesn’t appear to be a one-for-one overlap with the term “Christ” and “Son of God” the high priest here obviously sees them interconnected in some way—perhaps because the David is promised that his son will be treated like a son to God? (2 Sam 7:14)

        Though Jesus has privately admitted to being the Messiah to His disciples (Mark 8:29-30), all throughout Mark’s gospel Jesus has never publicly taught or admitted that He was the Christ. He has also not permitted anyone to address Him as the Son of God. The only times we have heard Jesus’ be identified as the Son of God was from the title of gospel (Mark 1:1), from the Father addressing Jesus as the Son (Mark 1:11; 9:7), and from demons (Mark 1:24-25; 1:34; 3:11-12; 5:7). The only place in the gospel where we have a human acknowledging that Jesus is truly the Son of God is after Jesus is crucified—shockingly, by one of the Roman guards who did the crucifying! (Mark 15:39). 

        Who recognizes Jesus most accurately in the gospel of Mark? Those afflicted by demons, Gentiles, women, the infirmed, the desperate. It is like Mark is wanting to show his readers that the further away you are from the “inside clique” of religiosity, the quicker you are to recognize who Jesus really is. Why is that? It isn’t as if religion and piety are evil—Jesus Himself was a faithful Jew who observed the Torah, who was very pious and religious. The common denominator around those who reject Jesus isn’t religiosity—Pilate, after all, rejects Jesus—but self-reliance, self-righteousness. Those who want to approach God on their own terms, with a sense of entitlement and competence will always be unable to recognize who Jesus is. 

        Do you remember the story where Jesus is eating a meal with sinners and tax collectors, and the scribes of the Pharisees ask, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:16-17). Why do those who think they are well not flock to the physician? Because they do not think they need Him. 

        And in their self-competence and reliance, they fail to recognize who He is. And here, those who are most reliant on themselves have now asked Jesus point blank who He is: “Are you the Christ, the Son of God?”

        The Answer

        Jesus responds “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven,” (Mark 14:62). Here Jesus takes several identities from the Old Testament and folds them together in order to reveal one of the fullest and most colored-in descriptions of Jesus’ identity that Jesus offers in the gospels. 

        First, Jesus takes the identity of the son of David from Psalm 110: “The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool,” (110:1). If you remember, back in Mark 12 when Jesus had been arguing with the temple authorities, He cites this text and asks how them how David’s son could be also be called David’s Lord (Mark 12:35-37). Here, Jesus is demonstrating the answer to that question and identifying Himself as the son of David, the Messiah.

        Second, Jesus takes the identity of the Son of Man from Daniel 7. In Daniel 7, we hear this: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed,” (Dan 7:13-14). Jesus folds together the identity of the son of David into this figure, the Son of Man. Fascinatingly, Jesus explains that the Sanhedrin will see Jesus coming on the clouds of heaven—potentially referring to His ascension where Jesus ascends to Heaven to take up His throne over the kingdom, and is taken into a cloud (Acts 1:9). 

        Lastly, Jesus could be identifying Himself with Yahweh with His response: “I am.” In Exodus, when Moses asked God to tell him His name, God responds: “I am who I am,” (Ex 3:14). Now, Jesus could be simply answering in the affirmative to the high priest’s question: Are you the Messiah, the Son of God? But it doesn’t seem inappropriate for Jesus to be subtly nudging in this direction, as He has done elsewhere in the gospel of Mark (Mark 6:50; cf. John 8:58). This actually makes the most sense of the high priest’s response.

        So, Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the coming Son of Man…Yahweh in the flesh. Nowhere else in the gospels—not even to His own disciples—does Jesus provide such a profound and clear description of His identity. But how do they respond? 

        “And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. 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,” (Mark 14:63-65).

        The chief priests and scribes and elders’ problem was not a lack of knowledge. Jesus simply answered their question, but this only hardened their hearts further and confirmed what they already suspected, that Jesus was an imposter and a sham who needed to be killed. We must remember, it is not like Jesus was a stranger to these people. Jesus had a public ministry of nearly three years where He was complete celebrity. He couldn’t go into towns without being mobbed by crowds. His teaching drew in thousands of people who would sit and listen to Him for hours upon hours. He healed people no one else could heal, He delivered people from bondage that no one else could deliver, and He taught like no one else could teach—He even raised people from the dead! The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders knew all of this—they had access to the same information that everyone else did, information that led so many others to believe that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah. And here they ask Jesus point blank whether or not He is the messiah, and He answers more fully than He has ever answered, and what do they conclude? No, this man isn’t the Messiah, this man deserves death. 

        Why? Because people who don’t think that they are sick, don’t see a need for a Physician. How you orient yourself to the truth will determine how you receive the truth. Their approach was wrong, so their interpretation was wrong. Like the person playing golf who thinks that the person with the highest score is winning, the chief priests have fundamentally misunderstood what the Messiah was to be, so they have misunderstood Jesus.

        The Abandonment

        Peter, this whole time has been warming himself by the fire in the courtyard of the high priest, trying to observe what will happen. We could assume that there is still some mixture of fear with genuine devotion in the heart of Peter. None of the other disciples attempted to follow Jesus. Peter sincerely loves Jesus, but he is also very afraid. Three times people approach Peter and ask him if he is associated with Jesus, with each time the questioners becoming more confident that Peter is certainly a disciple of Jesus, and each time Peter responds more forcefully that he does not, indeed, know who Jesus is, until…

        “And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.” – Mark 14:72

        Just a few hours ago Peter was swearing up and down that he would rather die than abandon Jesus. And yet, here he is, doing just that. Now Peter, like the chief priests, isn’t looking at the information totally right. He is far closer than the chief priests, but He still has misunderstood who Jesus is. He still has incorrect perspectives on what the Messiah was, how God works, and what that would mean for his life. And because he has oriented himself wrongly to the truth, he has failed to see the truth rightly. And this produces in him the result of doing what he never imagined he would do: deny Jesus.

        Which gives us a sober reminder: we should take God’s warnings about sin very seriously. Peter never thought he would deny Jesus, and yet here he is. Jesus warned him that this would happen, but Peter thought the idea that he would deny Jesus was so ludicrous that he outright contradicted Jesus: You’re wrong Jesus, I won’t deny you! But Jesus knew Peter’s weaknesses better than Peter did. And friend, God knows your weaknesses better than you do. When God’s Word warns us of the danger of sin, the danger of temptation, we should not be quick to dismiss it: I’ll never do that, I don’t need to worry about that sin. Paul warns the Corinthians, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” – 1 Cor 10:12. 

        John Owen reminded his readers in his great work The Mortification of the Flesh that whenever sin tells you I plan on taking one step, you can be certain that it will always take two. Sin will always take you further than you wanted to go and will always demand more than you want to give. Sin is a cruel taskmaster who is bent on your destruction. Do not toy with it, do not flirt with it. This is why Owen encouraged his readers to respond to the first sight of temptation with the knowledge that it intends to take us always to its final station. That little lust? It wants to take you to an affair and the ruin of your marriage. That little white lie? It wants to so sear your conscience that you burn all trust through your habitual lying. Owen writes, “Rise up with all your strength against it, with no less indignation than if it had fully accomplished what it aims at.”


        How do you approach rightly?

        With desperation

        What is the common denominator among those who recognize Jesus? Desperation. They are desperate people. Like blind Bartimaeus who screams out louder and louder for Jesus when others try to shut him up: Son of David, Son of David, have mercy on me! They are like the friends of the paralytic who are willing to rip a roof off to lower their friend down to Jesus. They are like the unclean woman who shoves through a crowd just to touch the fringe of Jesus’ robe. Every story where Jesus is rightly identified, believed in, trusted in as He ought to, the individuals are those who have thrown self-reliance to the curb. Three times in the gospel of Mark are we told about parents with sick or dying children who implore Jesus to come heal their child. What kind of desperation would you feel if your child was on the verge of death, with no hope of any kind of medical solution, and you heard that there was someone here who could instantaneously heal your child, what kind of desperation would you feel to get your child to that person?

        How do you approach Jesus?

        Do you see your need?

        1. Jesus and Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-50)

          Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/751936--jesus-and-gethsemane

          Sermon Discussion Questions:

          1. What stood out to you most from the sermon?
          2. What are you most frequently anxious about, or what are you most anxious about right now?
          3. Imagine that you were not a Christian whatsoever--what would be different about how you would respond to those situations that cause anxiety?
          4. What was Jesus so afraid of in Gethsemane?
          5. What can we learn from what Jesus prayed in verses 35-36? How does this help us pray?
          6. Why did Peter attack the guards? How did Jesus respond? (See Matt 26:52-54).
          7. Take time to pray for one another.

          Sermon Manuscript:

          My first job was selling basketball shoes at Footaction in the mall. I was 15 years old when I got the job so I couldn't even drive myself, but had to catch a ride with my mom. I remember feeling absolutely petrified when I started working, thinking: I don't think I can do this, people are going to know I have no idea what I am doing. I became so stressed out and worried about the job that I would have nightmares where people would ask me questions about shoes and I would remain silent, till I would shoot bolt upright in bed and then try to answer the customer's questions.

          When I was a younger man, the things that caused me anxiety now seem fairly silly. I had no idea the kind of pressures I would one day face and what those would require of me. And I probably still am ignorant of the many pressures that I will face in the coming years. 

          You would think that over the years I would have learned how to respond to stress and difficulty better, but I sadly more often than not respond with fear, anxiety, and despondency. 

          What do you do when you are incredibly stressed out?  How do you respond to serious anxiety and depression?

          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.”

          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.

          How do the disciples respond?

          How does Jesus respond?

          The disciples

          Here we are witnessing the final moments Jesus has on the earth while still walking as a free man—if there ever was a time that Jesus needed the support of His friends, it was now. And yet, what do we find? Let’s look.

          Jesus leads His disciples (minus one) to a garden called “Gethsemane” at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Jesus tells His disciples to sit and wait while He prays, then, “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,” Mark 14:33-34. 

          Three words are used here to describe Jesus’ emotional state: greatly distressed, troubled, and very sorrowful. The first, “greatly distressed” connotes a sense of alarm and fear. The second, “troubled” means quite literally to be filled with heaviness—of the three different words used in the NT for depression, this is the strongest. The last, “very sorrowful” is fairly straightforward and simply means to be very, very sad—so despondent that Jesus feels like He is going to die. There is no other place in the gospels where Jesus is described like this—He is in a state of mind that likely would have scared the disciples. What does Jesus ask them to do? Watch.

          What does Jesus mean by this? Well, later Jesus will explain that they are to “watch and pray that [they] may not enter temptation,” Mark 14:38a. Three times at the end of the Olivette discourse in Mark 13 did Jesus command His disciples to “stay awake” (Mark 13:33-36)—this is the exact same word as “watch” here. Just as Jesus warned at the end of Mark 13 of the danger of becoming spiritually sleepy and dozing off when we need to be attentive to the Lord and to the dangers of this world, so too here do we see the disciples meeting their first test. And totally blowing it! 

          The disciples are just flat out tired. Perhaps from a large Passover dinner or a busy day, but they simply don’t see the gravity of the situation they are in, so they sleep. Jesus is disappointed with His disciples; He chides them for falling asleep, asking Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?” (Mark 14:37). But He also understands, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” (Mark 14:38b). “Spirit” does not refer to the Holy Spirit, but rather to the human spirit—the human will and desire. There is a real desire for the disciples to obey Jesus and do what He says, but their flesh, their natural selves are weak and lack the ability to carry out the desire. And this is precisely why Jesus summons them to prayer!

          “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” Mark 14:38. Friend, do you have great ambitions for God? Do you long to obey Him, to follow Him, to do what pleases Him? Then watch and pray that you may not enter temptation, because your flesh is weak. You simply will not have the gas in the tank to do what God is asking you. But prayer is the means by which you are kept from temptation! 

          The book of James reminds us that we are portable temptation generators: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire,” James 1:13-14. Or, to put it in the words of Calvin, our hearts are idol-factories, constantly churning out false gods to steal our worship, fabricating temptations to draw us away from the Lord. It is this ever-present danger that leads us to pray. It is not for no reason that part of the Lord’s prayer us: “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt 6:13). As frequently as you need to ask God for your daily bread—that is, every day—you need to pray for Him to deliver you from temptation. Even—especially—when you are exhausted.

          But the disciples cannot help themselves, they slumber. Repeatedly Jesus comes back to them and chide them for sleeping, yet they can’t help themselves. You can hear something of their shame in verse 40, “And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him,” (Mark 14:40).  And like sleeping guards letting the enemy slip in behind the gates, the disciples nod off while the betrayer approaches. 

          Judas has decided to betray Jesus over to the temple authorities for a sum on money—a decision he will later regret so bitterly that he will hang himself for it. But here, he is playing his part precisely like he agreed. Perhaps because it was so dark at night, Judas works out a way to identify Jesus to the guards, “The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.” And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him,” Mark 14:44-45. Judas approaches Jesus in the traditional form of a student addressing his teacher (Rabbi!), and a friend meeting another friend (a kiss). What an awful and accurate parable of what the whole Bible teaches about false religion, honed down to one single act.

          Immediately, guards holding swords and clubs appear and “laid hands on [Jesus] and seized him,” Mark 14:46. Imagine you were in the shoes of Peter at this point, bold and brash Peter, who just a few hours ago pledged that he would die before he abandoned Jesus (Mark 14:31). You have seen your beloved rabbi, your Messiah, in a state of despair, fear, and anxiety that you have never seen Him in before, and the only thing He asks of you is to pray. But you can’t stay awake, you keep nodding off. There is no one you want to disappoint less, but there you are, letting Him down. And now, while you were sleeping(!), an armed mob materializes and forcefully apprehends your master. What strange mixture of guilt, shame, and anger would you feel? Angry enough, ashamed enough to maybe do something about it?

          “But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear,” Mark 14:47. While Mark does not identify the individual, the gospel of John identifies the culprit as none other than the head disciple himself, Peter (John 18:10). Interestingly, Mark doesn’t record Jesus’ rebuke of Peter (unlike the other three gospels), apparently deeming it an unnecessary detail to include in his gospel account. But in Matthew, Luke, and John, Jesus sharply rebukes Peter, “But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him,” Luke 22:51 (cf. Matt 26:52-54; John 18:11). Jesus heals the very guards who are wrongly apprehending Him, the guards that one of His own disciples attacked!

          If Peter was still holding any vestige of the idea that Jesus’ Messiahship would be enacted through the sword he was forcefully disabused of the notion. Think of the bewilderment Peter must have felt in that moment—Jesus, I’m trying to defend you! You are the Messiah, we must fight to establish the Kingdom! Of course, Jesus had taught them over and over and over again that He had to die, this was part of the plan (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). But every time Jesus taught His disciples this they did not understand what it meant (cf. Mark 9:32). 

          So what are they left to do? Mark 14:50 summarizes the disciples reaction succinctly, “And they all left him and fled.”

          So, in sum, how do the disciples respond to this moment of great anxiety and stress? The fail to pray, they fail to watch, resort to the world’s means (violence) to attempt to serve Jesus, and then, in the end abandon Jesus.

          What does Jesus do?


          As we said earlier, Jesus is in a depth of despair and fear that we have never seen before. At moments in His life that we would have expected him to be afraid He was always calm. He speaks calmly with individuals who are tormented by demons, He faces down Satan himself in the wilderness(!), and during a storm that threatens to sink the ship He is on He is so calm He is able to sleep! Why is Jesus so fearful here? Of course, He was aware that He was about to die, but church history has recorded numerous martyrs who have gone to their deaths with peace and joy. One doesn’t even need to be a Christian to face death with serenity and courage. When Socrates is about to drink the hemlock, he rebukes his friends and family around him for being so emotional at his death and stoically embraces death. During the Vietnam war, a number of Buddhist monks in Vietnam, as a form of protest, sat serenely in the middle of the street while they were covered in gasoline and then lit on fire. If those men, who did not even know God, could face death with such equanimity and composure, why is Jesus so haggard and tearful? Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane offers a clue.

          “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will,” Mark 14:36. Jesus’ petition for God to remove the cup from Him gives us an insight to what is causing such consternation and trembling in Jesus. This “cup” is a reference to a symbol for God’s wrath. In the Old Testament prophets, God symbolized His wrath towards sin through the image of foaming wine in a cup, “For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup

          with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs,” Psalm 75:8. In the same way that wine would cause you to stagger with drunkenness, so too would God cause His enemies to stagger and stumble with the fury of His wrath against their sin, “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them,” Jer 25:15-16 (cf. Jer 25:15-28; 49:12; 51:7; Job 21:20; Ps. 60:3; 75:8; Isa. 51:17; Lam. 4:21; Rev. 14:10).

          Jesus earlier to His disciples that His death would be no ordinary death, but would, in some way, be substitutionary, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” Mark 10:45. Jesus is going to die in the place of sinners, giving His life as a ransom, a price paid to free a captive. And what is that price? The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23), an eternal death. Sin is a high act of treason against the sovereign God who made us, a blasphemy and offense against all that is beautiful, good, and worthy, and thus aligns us only with God’s severe justice against evil, His wrath. And that is precisely what Jesus is going to drink in at the cross, the whole of God’s just and righteous judgment against sin, the utter dereliction of Golgotha that will cause Jesus to cry out “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). 

          One commentator writes, “It is one thing, fearful as it will be, to answer for our own sins before holy and almighty God; who can imagine what it would be like to stand before God to answer for every sin and crime and act of malice and injury and cowardice and evil in the world?” – Edwards, PNTC. At Gethsemane Jesus has approached the rim of the volcano of the wrath of God towards human sinfulness, He peers over and can feel the billowing heat from the inferno below Him and quails at the sight of it. 

          Now that we understand properly what it is that Jesus is so frightened of, let’s look at how Jesus responds to it. 

          First, Jesus prays. Jesus summons His disciples to pray that they do not enter temptation. They fail. But Jesus doesn’t. It is instructive in of itself that at Jesus’ greatest hour of need, at His moment of final climax, He prays. He does not exhaust every option that He has first and then, as a last resort, prays in a panic. Corrie Ten Boom once asked, “Is prayer your steering wheel or spare tire?” Prayer was what Jesus relied on. Let’s look at what He prayed: “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,” Mark 14:35-36.

          Abba, Father

          Jesus knows that God is His Father. That alone situates the whole of Jesus’ outlook. God is not some distant entity, or disinterested Master—He is a Father, which means His disposition towards His children is that of love. Contrary to popular opinion Abba does not mean “Daddy,” (it was a term that grown men would use to describe their fathers), but it is an intimate relational term. Jesus acknowledges that, even in this moment of great suffering, God is His Father.

          All things are possible for you

          Jesus knows that nothing is impossible for God. Jesus is not lobbing His prayer up to heaven, uncertain about whether or not God has the ability to deliver.

          Remove this cup from me

          Jesus doesn’t want to die. He is asking the Father if there is any other way that the plan of redemption can be brought about.

          Yet not what I will, but what you will

           Jesus, despite not wanting to drink the cup, is nonetheless willing. Actually, in a way, He isn’t willing—He prays, “not what I will.” Jesus’ will at that moment is to not go through with it, He does not desire to experience what He is going to experience. But underneath that and more foundationally, Jesus’ greatest desire and greatest will is to do God’s will. 

          This is the prayer that is sustaining Jesus at His darkest hour. Notice verse 39 after Jesus’ first rebuke of Peter for falling asleep we are told, “And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words.” Jesus is praying this over and over again. And it is what provides the second thing we see in Jesus.

          Secondly, Jesus resigns Himself to the will of God. It is amazing to see how Jesus conducts Himself from now till the end of Mark. Repeatedly, Jesus is treated unjustly, dishonestly, is slandered and accused of things He never has done, is physically assaulted and shamed—yet He simply walks through His suffering with a quiet resignation. We see a small preview of that here.

          As Jesus is arrested, He simply lets Himself be captured, understanding that it must be done so that Scriptures may be fulfilled (Mark 14:49). In Matthew’s gospel, when Jesus rebukes Peter for attacking the servants, He explains, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” Matt 26:53-54. In John’s gospel, when the mob approaches Jesus and asks if He is who they think He is, Jesus responds by simply stating the name of God from Exodus, “I am,” and when He does the entire mob of soldiers collapses to the ground (John 18:5-6). Jesus was not apprehended because He lacked power—He was apprehended despite His awesome power.

          When Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, was killed he had been put in jail for ruling over the city he was mayor of like a tyrant, and a mob of 200 angry men stormed the jail, wanting to kill Smith for stealing their wives in Smith’s polygamy and for Smith crushing any criticism of him whatsoever. How did Smith respond to the mob? He barricaded the door of his prison cell and unloaded his pistol in the mob and was shot trying to escape out of a window.

          How much more power did Jesus have than Smith? Jesus could have vaporized the guards trying to apprehend Him. But He didn’t. Why? Because Jesus had wholly resigned Himself to the will of God, and that will was not to fight the way the world fights or establish a kingdom the way the world establishes a kingdom, but was to suffer and die as a substitute for the forgiveness of sins, and to resurrect three days later and inaugurate a spiritual Kingdom that is wholly unlike the kingdoms of men.


          What does this teach us? Are you anxious? Are you fearful? Are you facing great temptation? What should you do?

          Pray. Our flesh is weak, friends. And prayer is the pipeline of heavenly resources we can avail ourselves of. Is there much that you are frustrated about in life? 

          What a Friend we have in Jesus,

            All our sins and griefs to bear!

          What a privilege to carry

            Everything to God in prayer!

          O what peace we often forfeit,

            O what needless pain we bear,

          All because we do not carry

            Everything to God in prayer!

          Consider modeling your prayers off of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane: 

          -       Address your Father

          -       Acknowledge His power and ability

          -       Present your requests to Him

          -       Ask for His will to be done

          -       Repeat

          Trust. When we have saturated ourselves in prayer before God this will create a disposition of trust. When we don’t, we are left to try and complete the Lord’s work with the world’s means. Picking up the sword and cutting off the guards ear seems like a good option. What tragedies have Christians gotten themselves into simply because they are not bathed in prayer, seeking first the Lord and His righteousness.

          Remember. Your greatest fear has been dealt with. The dread, anxiety, and sorrow that Jesus experienced in Gethsemane was not Him "blowing something out of proportion." That's what most of our anxiety and fear is. Our mind's inflate situations, deceive us into thinking a problem is really bigger than it is. Our depression often is outsized compared to the facts. But that wasn't what was happening to Jesus. Jesus' terror and depression were wholly legitimate. The overwhelming experience He was about to undergo, the entire wrath of God aimed at human sin--that is something to fear. In fact, that it is the greatest of all fears. But, dear friend, once you see that Jesus has now faced down that fear, then that puts all your other fears and worries into perspective. Your biggest problem, your biggest fear has been taken care of.