Christ is here entering upon his sufferings, and begins with those which were the sorest of all his sufferings, those in his soul. Here we have him in his agony; this melancholy story we had in Matthew; this agony in soul was the wormwood and the gall in the affliction and misery; and thereby it appeared that no sorrow was forced upon him, but that it was what he freely admitted.
I. He retired for prayer; Sit ye here (saith he to his disciples), while I go a little further, and pray. He had lately prayed with them (John 17:1-26); and now he appoints them to withdraw while he goes to his Father upon an errand peculiar to himself. Note, Our praying with our families will not excuse our neglect of secret worship. When Jacob entered into his agony, he first sent over all that he had, and was left alone, and then there wrestled a man with him (Gen. 32:23, 24), though he had been at prayer before (Mark 14:9), it is likely, with his family.
II. Even into that retirement he took with him Peter, and James, and John (Mark 14:33), three competent witnesses of this part of his humiliation; and though great spirits care not how few know any thing of their agonies, he was not ashamed that they should see. These three had boasted most of their ability and willingness to suffer with him; Peter here, in this chapter, and James and John (Mark 10:39); and therefore Christ takes them to stand by, and see what a struggle he had with the bloody baptism and the bitter cup, to convince them that they knew not what they said. It is fit that they who are most confident, should be first tried, that they may be made sensible of their folly and weakness.
III. There he was in a tremendous agitation (Mark 14:33); He began to be sore amazed—ekthambeisthai, a word not used in Matthew, but very significant; it bespeaks something like that horror of great darkness, which fell upon Abraham (Gen. 15:12), or, rather, something much worse, and more frightful. The terrors of God set themselves in array against him, and he allowed himself the actual and intense contemplation of them. Never was sorrow like unto his at that time; never any had such experience as he had from eternity of divine favours, and therefore never any had, or could have, such a sense as he had of divine favours. Yet there was not the least disorder or irregularity in this commotion of his spirits; his affections rose not tumultuously, but under direction, and as they were called up, for he had no corrupt nature to mix with them, as we have. If water have a sediment at the bottom, though it may be clear while it stands still, yet, when shaken, it grows muddy; so it is with our affections: but pure water in a clean glass, though ever so much stirred, continues clear; and so it was with Christ. Dr. Lightfoot thinks it very probable that the devil did now appear to our Saviour in a visible shape, in his own shape and proper colour, to terrify and affright him, and to drive him from his hope in God (which he aimed at in persecuting Job, a type of Christ, to make him curse God, and die), and to deter him from the further prosecution of his undertaking; whatever hindered him from that, he looked upon as coming from Satan, Matt. 16:23. When the devil had tempted him in the wilderness, it is said, He departed from him for a season (Luke 4:13), intending another grapple with him, and in another way; finding that he could not by his flatteries allure him into sin, he would try by his terrors to affright him into it, and so make void his design.
IV. He made a sad complaint of this agitation. He said, My soul is exceeding sorrowful. 1. He was made sin for us, and therefore was thus sorrowful; he fully knew the malignity of the sins he was to suffer for; and having the highest degree of love to God, who was offended by them, and of love to man, who was damaged and endangered by them, now that those were set in order before him, no marvel that his soul was exceeding sorrowful. Now was he made to serve with our sins, and was thus wearied with our iniquities. 2. He was made a curse for us; the curses of the law were transferred to him as our surety and representative, not as originally bound with us, but a bail to the action. And when his soul was thus exceeding sorrowful, he did, as it were, yield to them, and lie down under the load, until by his death he had satisfied for sin, and so for ever abolished the curse. He now tasted death (as he is said to do, Heb. 2:9), which is not an extenuating expression, as if he did but taste it; no, he drank up even the dregs of the cup; but it is rather aggravating; it did not go down by wholesale, but he tasted all the bitterness of it. This was that fear which the apostle speaks of (Heb. 5:7), a natural fear of pain and death, which it is natural to human nature to startle at.
Now the consideration of Christ’s sufferings in his soul, and his sorrows for us, should be of use to us,
(1.) To embitter our sins. Can we ever entertain a favourable or so much as a slight thought of sin, when we see what impression sin (though but imputed) made upon the Lord Jesus? Shall that sit light upon our souls, which sat so heavy upon his? Was Christ in such an agony for our sins, and shall we never be in an agony about them? How should we look upon him whom we have pressed, whom we have pierced, and mourn, and be in bitterness! It becomes us to be exceeding sorrowful for sin, because Christ was so, and never to make a mock at it. If Christ thus suffered for sin, let us arm ourselves with the same mind.
(2.) To sweeten our sorrows; if our souls be at any time exceeding sorrowful, through the afflictions of this present time, let us remember that our Master was so before us, and the disciple is not greater than his Lord. Why should we affect to drive away sorrow, when Christ for our sakes courted it, and submitted to it, and thereby not only took out the sting of it, and made it tolerable, but put virtue into it, and made it profitable (for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better), nay, and put sweetness into it, and made it comfortable. Blessed Paul was sorrowful, and yet always rejoicing. If we be exceeding sorrowful, it is but unto death; that will be the period of all our sorrows, if Christ be ours; when the eyes are closed, all tears are wiped away from them.
V. He ordered his disciples to keep with him, not because he needed their help, but because he would have them to look upon him and receive instruction; he said to them, Tarry ye here and watch. He had said to the other disciples nothing but, Sit ye here (Mark 14:32); but these three he bids to tarry and watch, as expecting more from them than from the rest.
VI. He addressed himself to God by prayer (Mark 14:35); He fell on the ground, and prayed. It was but a little before this, that in prayer he lifted up his eyes (John 17:1); but here, being in an agony, he fell upon his face, accommodating himself to his present humiliation, and teaching us thus to abase ourselves before God; it becomes us to be low, when we come into the presence of the Most High. 1. As Man, he deprecated his sufferings, that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him (Mark 14:35); “This short, but sharp affliction, that which I am now this hour to enter upon, let man’s salvation be, if possible, accomplished without it.” We have his very words (Mark 14:36), Abba, Father. The Syriac word is here retained, which Christ used, and which signifies Father, to intimate what an emphasis our Lord Jesus, in his sorrows, laid upon it, and would have us to lay. It is with an eye to this, that St. Paul retains this word, putting it into the mouths of all that have the Spirit of adoption; they are taught to cry, Abba, Father, Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6. Father, all things are possible to thee. Note, Even that which we cannot expect to be done for us, we ought yet to believe that God is able to do: and when we submit to his will, and refer ourselves to his wisdom and mercy, it must be with a believing acknowledgment of his power, that all things are possible to him. 2. As Mediator, he acquiesced in the will of God concerning them; “Nevertheless, not what I will, but what thou wilt. I know the matter is settled, and cannot be altered, I must suffer and die, and I bid it welcome.”
VII. He roused his disciples, who were dropped asleep while he was at prayer, Mark 14:37, 38. He comes to look after them, since they did not look after him; and he finds them asleep, so little affected were they with his sorrows, his complaints, and prayers. This carelessness of theirs was a presage of their further offence in deserting him; and it was an aggravation of it, that he had so lately commended them for continuing with him in his temptations, though they had not been without their faults. Was he so willing to make the best of them, and were they so indifferent in approving themselves to him? They had lately promised not to be offended in him; what! and yet mind him so little? He particularly upbraided Peter with his drowsiness; Simon, sleepest thou? Kai sy teknon;--“What thou, my son? Thou that didst so positively promise thou wouldest not deny me, dost thou slight me thus? From thee I expected better things. Couldest thou not watch one hour?” He did not require him to watch all night with him, only for one hour. It aggravates our faintness and short continuance in Christ’s service, that he doth not over-task us, nor weary us with it, Isa. 43:23. He puts upon us no other burthen than to hold fast till he comes (Rev. 2:24, 25); and behold, he comes quickly, Rev. 3:11.
As those whom Christ loves he rebukes when they do amiss, so those whom he rebukes he counsels and comforts. 1. It was a very wise and faithful word of advice which Christ here gave to his disciples; Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation, Mark 14:38. It was bad to sleep when Christ was in his agony, but they were entering into further temptation, and if they did not stir up themselves, and fetch in grace and strength from God by prayer, they would do worse; and so they did, when they all forsook him, and fled. 2. It was a very kind and tender excuse that Christ made for them; “The spirit truly is willing; I know it is, it is ready, it is forward; you would willingly keep awake, but you cannot.” This may be taken as a reason for that exhortation, “Watch and pray; because, though the spirit is willing, I grant it is (you have sincerely resolved never to be offended in me), yet the flesh is weak, and if you do not watch and pray, and use the means of perseverance, you may be overcome, notwithstanding.” The consideration of the weakness and infirmity of our flesh should engage and quicken us to prayer and watchfulness, when we are entering into temptation.
VIII. He repeated his address to his Father (Mark 14:39); He went again, and prayed, saying, ton auton logon—the same word, or matter, or business; he spoke to the same purport, and again the third time. This teaches us, that men ought to pray, and not to faint, Luke 18:1. Though the answers to our prayers do not come quickly, yet we must renew our requests, and continue instant in prayer; for the vision is for an appointed time, and at the end it shall speak, and not lie, Hab. 2:3. Paul, when he was buffeted by a messenger of Satan, besought the Lord thrice, as Christ did here, before he obtained an answer of peace, 2 Cor. 12:7, 8. A little before this, when Christ, in the trouble of his soul, prayed, Father, glorify thy name, he had an immediate answer by a voice from heaven, I have both glorified it, and I will glorify it yet again; but now he must come a second and third time, for the visits of God’s grace, in answer to prayer, come sooner or later, according to the pleasure of his will, that we may be kept depending.
IX. He repeated his visits to his disciples. Thus he gave a specimen of his continued care for his church on earth, even when it is half asleep, and not duly concerned for itself, while he ever lives making intercession with his Father in heaven. See how, as became a Mediator, he passes and repasses between both. He came the second time to his disciples, and found them asleep again, Mark 14:40. See how the infirmities of Christ’s disciples return upon them, notwithstanding their resolutions, and overpower them, notwithstanding their resistance; and what clogs those bodies of ours are to our souls, which should make us long for that blessed state in which they shall be no more our encumbrance. This second time he spoke to them as before, but they wist not what to answer him; they were ashamed of their drowsiness, and had nothing to say in excuse for it. Or, They were so overpowered with it, that, like men between sleeping and waking, they knew not where they were, or what they said. But, the third time, they were bid to sleep if they would (Mark 14:41); “Sleep on now, and take your rest. I have now no more occasion for your watching, you may sleep, if you will, for me.” It is enough; we had not that word in Matthew. “You have had warning enough to keep awake, and would not take it; and now you shall see what little reason you have to be secure.” Apekei, I discharge you from any further attendance; so some understand it; “Now the hour is come, in which I knew you would all forsake me, even take your course;” as he said to Judas, What thou doest, do quickly. The Son of man is now betrayed into the hands of sinners, the chief priests and elders; those worst of sinners, because they made a profession of sanctity. “Come, rise up, do not lie dozing there. Let us go and meet the enemy, for lo, he that betrayeth me is at hand, and I must not now think of making an escape.” When we see trouble at the door, we are concerned to stir up ourselves to get ready for it.