A power of prayer in the face of adversity

Mark 14:22-42

The Institution of the Lord’s Supper

22 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24 He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

Peter’s Denial Foretold

26 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written,

‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.’

28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” 30 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same.

Jesus Prays in Gethsemane

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34 And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” 35 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 He said, “Abba,Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” 37 He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? 38 Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. 41 He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

The reading from St Mark’s Gospel is a passage which I find deeply moving. We are told that Jesus, the Son of God, is distressed and deeply grieved. He faces enormous challenges, ones which he faced up to in his human form, as we are told in a letter to the Philippians:

“As he humbled himself and became obedient the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Even knowing what’s coming, Jesus prays not for his own will, but for God’s will to be done.

He also has to face up to the fact that his disciples, who he has spent three years with, teaching them and preparing them to take on his Ministry,  will at this point all become deserters. On top of that, Peter will publicly disown him, and Judas will betray him, & steer his path towards crucifixion. Imagine his depth of feeling as he shares his last Passover meal on Earth with his disciples, his close friends, his last meal with them before his death and resurrection – the death, in which is giving himself, his life, for each of them and for all of God’s children.

The enormity of what Jesus faces is staggering.

So maybe it’s no wonder that his disciples fall down in the face of their own challenges at evening and over the next few days. It’s very human not being able to stay awake – and indeed some people fall asleep when they can’t face the current situation. The disciples fail to support Jesus in prayer, Peter denies him and Judas gives in to his love of money and desire for power, which he thought he would get if Jesus became an earthly King.

And they all desert Jesus.

How human, and …….. How like us. Yet all, other than Judas – and we don’t know and can’t judge his fate – went on to become missionaries in the early church and indeed,  Peter was the rock on which Jesus would build this church.

So what can we learn from this passage? For me the outstanding lesson is prayer. Jesus prayed, even though his emotions were running deep – remember he was distressed and deeply grieved. Thankfully we have the Holy Spirit and we are assured in the words of the letter to the Romans that “we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes  with sighs too deep for words … The Spirit intercedes for the Saints according to the will of God.

We don’t need to have words when we are feeling emotional. The Holy takes our prayers which we make through Jesus, direct to God,  and our human need for communication by words  is surpassed. I find this all deeply comforting,  both knowing that Jesus came to his in prayer,  not only when things were going well,  but also at his time of deepest need, and also knowing that words just aren’t necessary.

And note that Jesus called his Father “Abba”,  the family word for daddy, so, this is a very intimate prayer. And I wonder how close to we feel we are to God  when we pray. And there is definitely a need for us to pray. It is very much a core factor in a Christian lives. Even if we fall asleep,  even if we fall back in our actions like Peter, and especially because our flesh is weak.

We take our example from Jesus for whom prayer was a central and significant part of his life, even right to the end,  when he was dying in agony on the cross.

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayers strengthened him to accept God’s will the cup He wanted to be taken away was not. But through Prayer,  he was able to go ahead to face his trial and crucifixion, and even with all the challenges of desertion, denial and betrayal from his disciples, he still led them out of that garden towards his destiny.

Jesus overcame these challenges through prayer, and this is our answer to our challenges in life too, to follow his example in every situation.

As we walk through this Passion week with Jesus, maybe we can pray as we walk, and grow in strength as we draw closer to him. Yes, we will fail, and it’s because of our human weaknesses
that Jesus faced these challenges and died on the cross for our sins, so that we can be cleansed, and walk in freedom with him, our Sustainer and Redeemer.

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