I wanted to begin our conversation today with a concept that is as old as humanity itself. The concept is called intimacy. Intimacy, according to the dictionary, is a close familiarity, or friendship, a closeness. God shared with us his description of intimacy in Genesis, Chapter 2 through the institution of marriage.
God’s Word says, “24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). God showed us the ultimate expression of intimacy by two people coming together to become one such that there is nothing unknown between them. It is a relationship such that the joy of one becomes the joy of the other and the sorrow of one becomes the sorrow of the other.
The Apostle Paul would later pick up this verse on intimacy and apply not only to the relationship between man and woman but also to Jesus’ relationship with those who would believe in him. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote, “31 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31).
Paul’s point was that Jesus’ relationship with his followers was intended to be as intimate as the relationship of marriage. The relationship is between two people coming together to become one such there is nothing unknown between them. It is a relationship such that the joy of one becomes the joy of the other and the sorrow of one becomes the sorrow of the other.
As we have been walking through the last week of Jesus’ life, we have witnessed an ever-growing intimacy between Jesus and his disciples. We sat at the table in which they ate together. Jesus washed the feet of each disciple. Jesus took bread and gave it to his disciples calling the bread his body. Jesus took a cup of wine and gave it to his disciples calling the wine his blood. This is intimacy.
After supper Jesus began to teach the disciples describing their relationship as he as a vine and they as branches. Jesus called the disciples his friends because he had taught them everything his Father had revealed to him. He said to his friends to follow what he taught them so that they would share in each other’s joy. This is intimacy.
And now the time had come for Jesus to share another layer of intimacy, a spiritual intimacy, with his disciples through prayer. The Gospel of Mark tells us that after supper and a time of teaching, Jesus and his disciples went to a garden, on the mount of olives, to a placed called Gethsemane to pray.
The name Gethsemane is derived from the Aramaic language and means “oil press.” Biblical scholars believe then that the garden into which Jesus entered was largely filled with olive trees. It was a familiar place to Jesus and his disciples. It would be a quiet place in the dark evening hours in which to pray.
As Jesus and the now Eleven disciples entered the garden and grove of trees, Jesus said to the disciples, “Sit here while I pray” (Mark 14:32b). Jesus going to be by himself to pray was not in itself unusual. There are accounts elsewhere in the gospels of Jesus seeking time to himself to be with God. And here, Jesus entered the lovely woods, dark and deep seeking time to pray on what he knew would become the darkest evening ever.
As Jesus went to leave the company of the Eleven, Mark records that “33 He [Jesus] took Peter, James and John along with him” (Mark 14:33a). This was not the first time that Jesus took with him these three disciples.
One time, early in Jesus’ ministry, Jesus took Peter, James, and John to the house a man named Jairus. Jairus had sought out Jesus to heal his daughter was gravely ill. Before Jesus could arrive to the girl’s side, the girl died.
The Gospel of Mark recorded that moment for us, “37 He [Jesus] did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He [Jesus] went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.’ 40 But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum!’ (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished” (Mark 5:37-42).
On another occasion, a turning point in Jesus’ ministry, Mark recorded for us that, “2 Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus… 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant” (Mark 9:2-4; 9-10).
Now as Jesus was entering Gethsemane he was coming to the end of his ministry. And so, Jesus took Peter, James, and John, these closest of friends, with him as he prayed. The four men walked a short distance and Jesus “began to be deeply distressed and troubled. [He said] 34 ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them [Peter, James, and John], ‘Stay here and keep watch.’ 35 Going a little farther, he [Jesus] fell to the ground” (Mark 14:33b-35a).
Jesus was sad, exceedingly sorrowful, as though the sorrow itself would be the cause of his own death. Jesus likely felt a tightness in his chest, a shortness of breath, an anxiousness, and exhaustion. This was a side of Jesus the disciples had never seen but it was important for them and us to see it.
We can understand this scene because all of us have either been similarly distressed or been with a loved one similarly distressed. There is in those moments nothing left that we do not know. In anguish, there is intimacy.
Intimacy, some express have come to give it meaning by through the phonetics of the word, intimacy, thinking of it as “Into me see.” In anguish we see to the very core of the person. In agony, Peter, James, and John could see into Jesus in a way that was not otherwise possible. The intimacy with Jesus was complete for these three disciples could see into the very depth of Jesus, the Son of God.
What the disciples saw was their friend, laying upon the ground in distress and in that distress, they heard him pray, “36 ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will’” (Mark 14:36). What can we say about Jesus’ prayer? What do we see inside of Jesus in this moment? We should use care in trying to overanalyze the mind of Jesus. It would be best to stay with what we see and know.
What we know is that in distress Jesus gave us an example to follow. In distress, in anxious anticipation of difficult circumstances, we are to draw our closest friends to our side and use our time wisely and pray to God, perhaps more deeply than ever before. Jesus did.
We are to pray to God with an intimacy. Call him, “Abba,” as a child would call out “Daddy.” Jesus did. We are to affirm our belief in God, in the goodness and righness of God, as the one who can do anything. Jesus did.
We are to state clearly what is grieving us, what cup are we about to take that we would rather not. Jesus did. We are to affirm to God our understanding that there are two wills in play, his and ours. We are to affirm to God our desire is to follow his will even if our body wants to something different. Jesus did.
In his distress, Jesus showed us that in our distress, we need to turn toward God, affirm our relationship as his child, express our emotions, leave nothing hidden, and ask for the own spirit, our will, to be strengthen by his, whatever the outcome may be. Jesus did.
After a time, Jesus got up from the ground and returned to his friends. “37 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? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ 39 Once more he [Jesus] went away and prayed the same thing” (Mark 14:37-39). “36 ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will’” (Mark 14:36).
Jesus prayed and the disciples slept. Jesus was concerned that the disciples, Peter especially, were not preparing themselves for the spiritual battle that lay ahead. The disciples slept because they did not see the battle that was coming. While they had an intimacy with Jesus, they did not see that Jesus’ sorrows were soon to be their sorrows.
After praying for a second time, Jesus returned and “40 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him” (Mark 14:40).
Jesus left the disciples and again he prayed, “36 ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will’” (Mark 14:36). The disciples continued battles with sleep and failed to do the will of Jesus.
But the behavior of the disciples, did not discourage Jesus from doing what he knew to be the next right thing. This was another example for us in our walk with Christ. While we should seek support from our friends in our faith walk, we cannot allow their spiritual sleepiness to overcome our desire to be with God. We must continue to seek God even when our friends are not able or unwilling to do so. As Jesus did, we also must not stop encouraging our friends from pursuing their walk in faith.
In my twenties, I was not active in the church and not active in my walk with God. My then girlfriend, now wife, said to me, “Why don’t you join me and come to church rather than sleeping in on Sunday morning?” She did what Jesus did. Jesus encouraged his disciples to stay awake and pray. This is what my wife did. My wife helped change my life and you can do the same by helping others awake from their spiritual slumber.
After praying for again, Jesus was prepared for what was to come. Jesus had been fully intimate with God and Jesus’ will was now the same as the will of Abba. When I read this passage again this week, of Jesus in the darkness of this garden and grove of oil trees, I was struck with the sentiments and the resolve found in a passage from a Robert Frost poem.
Frost wrote, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.” Strengthened by prayer, the time had come for Jesus to leave the serenity of the dark and deep grove. Jesus had promises to keep and miles to go before he would sleep,
Mark said, with great resolve, Jesus “41 Returned for the third time [to his disciples], 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. 42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!’” (Mark 14:41-42)
The desire of God is that we would have an intimate relationship with him through Jesus. In that relationship, we would come to know that God sees deeply and fully into us and invites us to look deeply into him.
God knows that all of us will experience joys and triumphs in this life and he wants to share in those celebrations. God also knows that all of us will experience painful and sorrowful moments and God wants to help carry us through those times.
Jesus showed us the way because he is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Let’s follow the way of Jesus and be intimate with him so that we may have peace in all circumstances. Amen and Amen.