Jesus’ Journey of Isolation
Hurry sickness may be the most under-reported illness in America. Doctors Rosemary Sword and Philip Zimbardo say this about hurry sickness:
“At one time or another, many of us have experienced hurry sickness. By definition, hurry sickness is a behavior pattern characterized by continual rushing and anxiousness, an overwhelming and continual sense of urgency. As if that isn’t bad enough, it’s also defined as a malaise or constant discomfort in which a person feels chronically short of time and so tends to perform every task faster and to get frustrated when encountering any kind of delay.”
Sound familiar? Hurry sickness is a reality that no matter what is happening, we have to hurry because we have to hurry. The reason to hurry is because we have to hurry. I mean, if we’re really honest, how many of us, even during the middle of a church service, have handled a few emails, thrown out a couple of texts, maybe even done a quick peruse of Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat right during the middle of a service? After all, there’s so much we’ve got to do and get done and like and respond to and comment on that if we don’t do it right away, it’s just not going to get done. We’re in a hurry whether we really need to be in a hurry or not.
So, a church gathering like this becomes a real cultural challenge because we’re speaking to hundreds of minds that are all competing for attention, considering the things — real things, real valuable things — that you have to finish by the end of today, by the end of this week, by the end of this month, and definitely before the holidays get here. So, I’m going to make what I’m going to call an urgent request. I’m doing this in every service, and I’m including you online, that for the rest of our time in Mark, about the next five, six weeks before we finish this book, will you choose to slow down when you come and gather with God’s people?
I’m not asking you to change your entire life. Seventy-five minutes. I want you to choose to slow down. Let’s not give in to hurry sickness. And let me give you two reasons why. Reason number one — I believe we have to banish hurry sickness because we can’t quickly consider a cosmic story. We can’t quickly consider a cosmic story. How can one quickly consider that Jesus Christ, this man born from a virgin, who is also God, allowed people to kill him that he had created. Jesus allowed people to hit him while simultaneously holding their cells together so that they didn’t cease to exist. We can’t. We have to slow down to think about that.
Reason number two — because hurry sickness plus knowledge of Scripture equals Jesus’s story is normal. If we’re always in a hurry, and you’ve been around church world for any length of time, and you already know some of these stories of what happens to Jesus at the cross, hurry sickness plus knowledge of the Scripture equals a congregation reading this story like it’s another normal story. And it’s not. Hurry has us saying, “I’ve heard this story so many times.” Slowing down has us saying, “I need to hear this story all over again.”
So, let’s choose to slow down, choose to think, choose to feel — that’s going to be a big part of what’s going on — and these last few weeks, choose to encounter this story as if it’s the first time. Because today, if we slow down, we’re going to have the sobering opportunity to view Jesus’s journey of isolation. Jesus’s journey of isolation. As we slow down, we’re going to notice how Mark chronicles Jesus going from a very wide group of people in his last days, from crowds of people, all the way down to standing alone with a crown of thorns and a purple robe on his beaten back.
The journey of Jesus in this section is one of Jesus being with many to being alone, from being in a crowd to being abandoned. Here’s the funnel story of what happens to Jesus. Here’s what Mark chronicles event by event. Jesus enters Jerusalem a few days ago to crowds of people lining the streets, throwing their garments out on the road with palm branches saying, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” As he’s coming in, we discover that Jesus actually has a lot of people that travel with him. He has a ministry support team consisting of many women. Three, in particular ministered to Jesus. And it’s very interesting, the only people in Scripture who are mentioned as ministering to Jesus are these three women and angels: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome.
Jesus then eats at a friend’s house named Simon, who he probably healed of leprosy, and is anointed with costly perfume in front of a crowd. Jesus celebrates Passover with the Twelve, probably with the family that owned the house, too. That’s what Passover would be like. And more than likely, his ministry support team of these women. Jesus creates and eats the Lord’s Supper with that group of people.
After he creates the Lord’s Supper, Jesus journeys with eleven of the disciples to the Mount of Olives. Judas doesn’t go. Judas actually leaves during the middle of communion. Judas never drank the wine. Jesus arrives at Gethsemane, this garden, and divides his eleven followers into two groups: a group of eight and a group of three. The group of eight … Jesus says, “I want you to sit here while I go and pray.” And Jesus invites the Three to go further with him into the garden. “Peter, James, and John, come with me. Watch and pray.”
Jesus then moves away from the Three, falls on his face suffering, and prays alone while his exhausted friends fall asleep instead of staying awake. Of those three, Jesus speaks directly to one of them, Peter, and says, “Can’t you guys stay awake?” But Peter and the other two doze off two more times.
Jesus is then betrayed with a kiss by one of his best friends, Judas. Pagan soldiers and religious leaders arrest Jesus on the spot, and then, with commitments of faithfulness still on their lips, all eleven disappear and flee from Jesus. And if that’s not bad enough, Mark includes this odd story of the solitary young man clothed with only a linen cloth, probably because he woke up in the middle of the night and wanted to follow Jesus. He’s close enough to Jesus that he’s going to be arrested, and he runs away so fast he leaves his cloth. So, we discover that protecting his own dignity and preventing his own shame is not worth it when it comes to standing near to Jesus.
Jesus will then endure a sham trial without support or counsel. Jesus will experience unreal torture and pain with no medicine. He’ll even refuse wine that would at least dull the experience for him. Jesus, exhausted, hanging by nails and ropes on wood, will cry out words that should haunt the ears of every human throughout history:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
And Jesus’s journey of isolation will reach its ultimate destination: Jesus will be isolated from God, with whom he has enjoyed eternal joy and everlasting fellowship.
Never in history, has there been anyone more alone than Jesus. And I think Mark’s overall point becomes clear: Jesus saves the world all alone. Jesus saves the world all alone. And we can’t hurry through that. We just can’t.
We can’t hurry, especially when we discover that Jesus knew this would be the reality, and he chose the process anyway. Jesus actually predicts that he’s going to be alone. After communion on the way to the Mount of Olives, Jesus says this to his eleven followers:
“You will all fall away. For it is written, I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”
Now Jesus is quoting there from the prophet Zechariah in the Old Testament. Jesus is saying, “I know what’s coming, I’m going to be struck. I’m going to die. And when that happens, you guys are all going to take off. You’re going to scatter like unsupervised sheep.”
And if we slow down, we see a beautiful moment with Jesus here. Jesus predicts he’ll be alone, but Jesus predicts a reunion. Jesus says this to his disciples: “But, you’re going to run away, but after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee. We’re going to meet up again.”
Every time Jesus spoke of his death in Mark, he described himself being raised up, and the Twelve never understood it. They never got it. And here the Eleven miss it again. “I’m going to be struck, you’re going to scatter, but I’m going to be raised up. There’s good news even in the midst of this darkness. You may abandon me. I’m not going to abandon you. I’m going to come back and find you again.”
And then we see the ever impetuous Peter immediately begins defending himself to Jesus. Jesus says, “I’m going to be struck, you’re going to scatter,” and Peter has to insert himself and say this: “Even though they fall away, I will not.” Do you see what he did there? Peter just took all of the other ten and just, right under the bus, they didn’t even see it coming. “You’re right, Jesus, you’re right about this. When things get tough, the other ten … they are sheep-scattering material. They’re out of here. Me, never.” Jesus corrects Peter pretty quickly and pretty specifically. “Peter, you’re not just going to scatter like them. You’re actually going to deny me two times before early morning.”
Peter, true to character, corrects Jesus again. And this isn’t the first time. If you think about it, this isn’t the first time that Peter and Jesus have had this type of interaction. One time Jesus was saying, “I have to die,” and Peter corrected Jesus so strongly that Jesus looks at Peter and says, “Get behind me, Satan.” So, Peter and Jesus have danced this dance before. But right after “you’re going to deny me before early morning,” Peter looks at Jesus and goes, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you. I know it.” And his little comment to Jesus about that got the other two to say, “Us, neither. We won’t deny you either. We’re all with you. We’re all in, all eleven of us. We won’t give up, even if we die.”
Now, here’s the deal. I want us to believe well of Peter and the other disciples. They don’t have a whole lot to gain by following Jesus, right? When they gave up their jobs and followed him, it’s not like they want any great earthly reward. But here’s why I also want us to believe well. I think we need to believe well of them because we aren’t any better.
I’ve made so many commitments to be faithful to Jesus in the past forty years, and I’ve broken them. Have you ever had this moment in your walk with Jesus, where you say something like this, out loud in prayer however? “This time I really mean it! I promise!” We’re just disciples too, just like them. We don’t know how faithful we’re going to be until our faithfulness is challenged.
And I think for the disciples here, their zeal, their real love for Jesus maybe clouds their self-awareness in a moment. In their emotional commitment to Jesus, they actually assume they know more than Jesus. The Eleven deny their capacity to deny. Jesus said during Passover, “One of you will betray me.” They said, “Uh, uh.” Jesus says to the Eleven, “I’m going to strike. You’re going to scatter.” “Uh, uh.” Maybe they needed to slow down and listen, instead of correcting their teacher. And for us only by slowing down can we consider the words that we’re saying, our commitments. Quick commitments can quickly fade, especially when there’s personal cost or threat. So, Jesus predicts, “Hey, I’m going to suffer alone, I’m going to save the world all alone.”
Jesus also suffers and prays alone. He suffers and prays alone.
“And they went to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ And he took with him, Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled.”
The circle of isolation on Jesus is closing in. Now, interestingly, Jesus has uniquely interacted with Peter, James, and John two other times before this moment, and what Jesus does with them is really interesting. The first time Jesus asked the three of them to accompany him when he was going to raise a child from the dead. A leader of the synagogue’s child had died and said, “Jesus, you can do something about this. Help me.” And Jesus did and said, “Hey, you guys come with me. You can even come into the room and watch what I do.” And I just wonder, perhaps Jesus knew that those three would need to know at some point that death doesn’t always win.
The second time he invited them to climb a mountain with him and see him transfigured in front of them, which just means his entire being went unbelievably, purely white. His clothing was white. Clorox bleach could never create this color of white. And then Jesus, right in front of them, had a conversation with Moses and Elijah. And then God’s voice split right through that and said to these three, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Great advice. Don’t correct him. Listen to him. Jesus’s first words as they were walking down [were], “Don’t tell anybody about this event until I am raised from the dead.” And Mark records this: the Three questioned what this “rising from the dead” might mean. What does he mean? And again, perhaps Jesus knew. But they needed to know someday the death doesn’t always win.
This third time, Jesus has a simple request for them: “Watch and pray.” Stay awake and pray. Jesus leaves the Three, moves forward in the garden all by himself, the crowds, the followers, the ministry team, the Twelve, the Eleven, the Eight, the Three … gone. And I believe this journey of isolation provides for us a heart-wrenching glimpse of Jesus at his most vulnerable human moment. His most vulnerable human moment. If we hurry, we’ll miss it.
So, we’re going to slow down and see Jesus’s overwhelming emotions. We’re going to see them. Now at this point, I thought of showing a video from “Passion of the Christ” or “Son of God” or the “Gospel of Mark” or “Matthew,” but to be quite honest with you, none of those films really pull this moment off. So, I’m going to trust that your imaginations are better than that of those films. I want you to see Jesus’s overwhelming emotions.
This is from the text. So, right now in your brain, turn your imagination on. And I want you to see Jesus. Now remember, Jesus probably doesn’t look like me. Jesus is probably speaking in Aramaic, not English. Do you see him? Alone? Garden? Here’s his emotional state from Mark: greatly distressed, troubled, alarmed, burdened with grief, sorrowful to the point of death, collapsing on the ground. Now, do you have that picture in there?
Now I want you to hear him speak. These famous words that have been through church world forever: “Let this cup pass from me.” How did that sound? Could it be as simple as I read it, like right there? “Let this cup pass.” Sorrowful to the point of death?
When I was driving to where I heard news that my dad was going to die. He had a fall. He would not wake up. On the way, I’m in the car. I was making noises I had never made in my life. I could not duplicate them for you. Sorrowful to the point of death. That’s Jesus. I say this reverently. If you don’t see Jesus red-faced, red eyes, snot running down the front of his face, you’re missing what he looked like in his emotional condition. He did not look like a Renaissance painting.
“Nothing in all the Bible compares to Jesus’s agony and anguish in Gethsemane. The very torment provides a sad clue to Jesus’s understanding of his impending death. Why, we may ask, is Jesus so assailed by the prospect of his death? Surely, we all know individuals who face the prospect of their deaths with greater composure and courage than does Jesus. Why does Jesus, who has foreseen his death and marched resolutely to Jerusalem to meet it, now quail before it?
“The answer must be that Jesus is aware of facing something more than simply his own death. Jesus stands before the final consequence of being the servant of God, pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. It is one thing, fearful as it will be, to answer for our own sins before a 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? The worst prospect of becoming the sin bearer for humanity is that it spells complete alienation from God, an alienation that will shortly echo above the desolate landscape of Calvary. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Edwards]
We have to see his overwhelming emotions. We have to slow down and hear Jesus’s personal prayer. Jesus prayed this: 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.’”
Abba. It’s an intimate Aramaic term for “Dad.” My youngest daughter, Petra, is 14, and in the past year and a half, for reasons known only to her, she has decided that she is going to call me “Pappy.” And that has passed on to some of her friends, who she talks with every night on FaceTime. Some version of Pappy will show up, and I love every minute of it. Why? Because it’s our thing. It’s beyond “Dad.” Abba. It’s beyond “Dad.”
Jesus, even in this moment of anguish, is intimately connected to his powerful Father. Jesus knows God can do anything, and he asks God to exercise that anything-possible power on his behalf. Let the hour pass. Let the cup be removed. What hour is Jesus talking about?
There are mundane hours that we all want to skip. For those of you who are young and in school or not so young and in college, a test. When that test shows up on Monday morning, as that hour comes, you really want to skip it. Something at your job that requires a lot of attention or has a lot of importance to you … Your job rests on that moment, that hour that’s coming. There are much more serious hours that we would love to skip: when you’re sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for the diagnosis to come in. Let the hour pass.
Jesus is looking at what’s in front of him and saying, “Let that hour pass. Let it go.” He asked God to remove the cup. The cup in the Old Testament is a symbol of one’s destiny. It’s what I’ve been called to do. What is my cup? And it’s typically negative in tone and having to do with judgment. Jesus is asking that he not have to drink the cup of judgment for humanity.
In this moment of what Jesus is going through, this cup is multilayered. Consider what Jesus said just about the physical experience he would have to go through. Three times Mark records for us that Jesus tells his followers the Son of Man will suffer, be rejected, killed, delivered over, condemned, mocked, flogged. Three times Jesus describes that as the physical part of the cup. But then all the suffering in Gethsemane connects to the reality of enduring that cup for all of humanity throughout all of history. That’s why Jesus said, “Can that be removed, Dad?” Reverently, “Pappy?”
Jesus knew what was coming the whole time. Still went to Jerusalem. And now in the garden, with his friends napping behind him, he asks his papa, “Let the cup be removed.” And even though I’ve asked you to slow down, I have to admit there’s no way we can really imagine that cup. Literally all we can do is try.
And then we see Jesus in the midst of his emotional turmoil in this personal prayer, solidly commit not to his will, but to his Father’s will. Jesus admits his decision to his Father’s will: “Not what I will, but what you will.”
“For to this, you have been called, since Jesus left you an example … that when he suffered, he did not threaten; when he was reviled, he did not revile in return, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
The moment that Jesus says, “Not my will, but your will,” Jesus placed himself into the hands of a judge who only judges justly. And therefore, whatever the judge had happen, Jesus trusted in.
Finally, I want you to slow down and watch Jesus’s patient invitations. His patient invitations. Three times, Jesus found his best friends sleeping in his worst human moment. “Stay awake, watch, and pray for me. Stay awake, watch, and pray for me.” He came back a third time, and they were asleep again.
How many times would you ask your best friends to keep praying for you in your worst human moment if they kept falling asleep? That story I told you about driving down when my dad was going to die … I called all my best friends. “Andy, you know my mom. Will you pray for her? Josh, will you pray? Matt, will you pray?” What if ten minutes later, I started with Andy again and Josh again and Matt again, and no one answered? And then they all texted me, “Sorry, we just had to grab a nap we were so tired.” What? Do you know how many times Jesus kept coming back? Repeatedly. And he came a third time and said to them,
“Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It’s enough. The hour is come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise. Let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
Now here we have to be really careful. And I want to tell you something that I’ve told you before. You never neutrally read the Scriptures, especially narrative. You always allow it to sound like something in your brain. Whether you know you’re doing it or not, you discover in your own brain how you think Jesus sounds when he comes back and says, “It is enough.”
So, in this moment, again, see Jesus. Do you know that that post-cry look in people? Red eyes, red face. It’s that moment you look at someone’s face and you go, “Oh no.” That’s what Jesus looked like. He comes back to them for the third time. So, do you think Jesus sounded like this: “Are you guys still sleeping? Seriously. I’ve had enough!” I don’t think so. And do you know what’s really cool about that phrase, “It is enough”? It’s a hard one to translate. It could mean “I’ve tried enough to keep you awake.” But do you know, it could also mean this? “Paid in full. It’s settled. It’s over. It is finished.”
Jesus already won when he chose the Father’s will in the garden. Jesus came out of the garden victorious. Jesus saves the world all alone, victorious before he even hits the cross. Jesus came out determined. After that prayer time, he came out determined, “Rise. Let us be going. My betrayer is at hand.” Now, for me, if this is a movie, I can see what Jesus would be doing. He would be going to his friends. “Get up, get up. They’re coming. They’re going to get me. Let’s go. Let’s find the back door to this garden and get out of here.” But Jesus came out of his time of prayer determined. He walked in the direction of Judas. “See, my betrayer is at hand. Rise. We’ve got a meeting.” He walked towards the betrayer’s kiss. He did not run away from it.
When we slow down, we see Jesus’s victory and determination. He moves towards people with clubs and swords. When we slow down, when we don’t hurry, we see Jesus save the world all alone, victorious and determined.
Often at the end of preaching here, myself, Peter, whoever, will ask something like a question something like this, “What do we do with this?” “Apply” is a word we use sometimes. And I think before us, we all have a couple of choices of what to do with the reality of Jesus’ saving the world all alone, victorious and determined.
First, if you gave in to hurry sickness and just listened to the story, we do little, feel even less, and we go home. You check the church. Yep, I did church today. I went, I listened, I sang a little bit, I gave. Check! And you leave. And I just want to say bluntly, if that’s where you are, that’s tragic. I don’t say that to be unkind. I just say that based on what happened in the story. That’s a tragic way to respond to that type of story.
Second — and I really want you to listen to what I say because this could be easily misunderstood — second, we hear this story, we feel sad, and beat ourselves up. Now, we can’t get past the sad of the story. I don’t want you to. I actually ask you to imagine what it would be like. But if we choose this option — that I hear this story. Now, what I need to do is feel sad about myself and beat myself up — what happens is we allow the sadness to make us the main character of the story. And we’re not. Jesus is the main character of the story. This passage about Jesus’ saving the world alone is there to tell me how to feel about what Jesus did, and not just to look at myself and feel really terrible about myself. Now, I’m not minimizing at all the price, the cost, or the cause of Jesus’s suffering. Jesus drank the cup of judgment for all humanity. Yes, but Jesus’s suffering and arrest is on my behalf. Jesus is the ransom for many, including me. I don’t think the main point of this is to make me the main character and beat myself up. It’s actually, “Look to Jesus, victorious and determined, saving the world.”
So the third choice for me of “How do we respond to this story?” — we choose awe. A-W-E. We choose awe. We choose to be awed by this Jesus. We think about Jesus as the crowds disappear, and that circle of isolation closes in. We feel what it would have been like to have Jesus’s best friends all betray, scatter, and flee from him. And then we remember Jesus knew that was going to happen. He knew it was going to happen. We recognize the victory in the garden. He came away from prayer, committed to his Father’s will. The determination of him! He walked from there all the way through a trial, cross, and suffering, knowing where it was going.
“We stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene
And wonder how he could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean.
How marvelous! How wonderful is the Savior’s love for me!
And my song will ever be,
How marvelous! How wonderful is the Savior’s love for me!”
What do we do with this story? We fall on our face, even literally a little bit later, in front of our exalted Savior. We weep with joy because the cup isn’t ours to drink. He drank it for us. We marvel at a love that will never betray us and never flee away from us. What do we do? We look at Jesus in the garden, saving the world all alone, victorious and determined, and at the risk of sounding unbelievably churchy, we worship him. We worship him. He’s the main character of the story.
Let’s pray. So, Spirit, I ask that you would highlight Jesus. That is one of the things you as a person do so wonderfully. You let people see the Son. And I pray you would do that in this room now that this moment of Jesus’s life, that you would raise our awe of him as the God man. Allow us to respond with humility, in celebration, all at the same time. God, I pray specifically for people like me who have grown up around this story for so long, that you would somehow, with supernatural power, awaken our brain paths to experience it brand new.
And Father, I pray for anyone in this room who has just received a glimpse of Jesus but has never trusted in Jesus, that you would give them a gift today, right now, a gift to put all of their hope and trust, strong belief into this real person, Jesus, who was God and man, and drank a really bitter cup on their behalf. I pray now, Jesus, as you say in the Psalms and Hebrews, that you would join the congregation in the singing of praises to God. Would you remind us that we are going to sing with you right now? I pray this in your name. Amen.