The Way of the Cross #1: Into Gethsemane

I preached this sermon on Sunday, February 26, 2023, the first Sunday of Lent.

You can find the passages from The Gospel of Mark here.


Who here likes being told what to do? Better yet, who here likes being told to do something you don’t want to do? Maybe something uncomfortable, or even painful. Not many, if any of us, likes this. Yet this is very much a part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

You see, we’ve now entered the season of the church year called Lent. The word “Lent” simply means “spring.” So it’s a season of the church year that looks ahead in preparation for Easter. It’s a season for repentance, for reflection, for fasting, for reminding ourselves of the journey of Jesus to the cross. And it’s a reminder that we too are called to take the same journey as Jesus, to walk the way of the cross.

While observing Lent is not very common in our Baptist tradition, we’re going to take a few weeks and look at some scenes in the passion narrative of Mark’s Gospel to help us see what it means to walk the way of the cross.

“If anyone wants to follow after me . . .”

As we start, let me say something that will sound strange or perhaps wrong to you at first and that’s this: deciding to follow Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean your life will get better.

Sometimes we give people the impression that if they come to Jesus, and become Christians, and start going to church, that all of their problems will go away, that the clouds will part and only sunny skies will remain. This is not only untrue, but Jesus never promised such a thing. Not even close. Yes, we will experience grace and blessing. Yes, we can have peace and hope. But that doesn’t mean everything will go right in our lives or as we want. In fact, I think we can go even further. I think we can say that following Jesus means inviting more difficulties into our lives. Things might get harder.

Think about how Jesus describes what it means to follow him. In Mark 8:34 Jesus says these well-known words: If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. If this is what it means to follow Jesus, where is it we think we’re going? What will this journey be like?

Here’s the thing: our culture is all about following your heart, expressing your individuality, about doing what you want when you want. But that’s not the Christian vision of life. “Following me,” Jesus says, “means getting ready to die.” In calling us to follow him, Jesus is telling us to do something that none of us naturally wants to do.

Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow me. Nothing about this makes us comfortable. Nothing about this gets us especially excited. Nothing about this helps us to self-actualize or live our best life now.

20th century theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book The Cost of Discipleship, wrote this: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Not the most attractive sales pitch or idea for a church ad campaign.

This is not what we would will for ourselves if left to ourselves. But as Jesus says, Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me and the gospel will save it. Jesus invites and calls us to the way of the cross because, ultimately, it is the way to life — to life as God intends, to life as God created it to be. But we shouldn’t expect getting there to be easy or comfortable. Getting there begins in Gethsemane, where we find Jesus and his disciples in our passage from Mark’s Gospel.

“Then they came to a place named Gethsemane . . .”

Now, Gethsemane was a place where Jesus met regularly with his disciples. It was a garden of olive trees located at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. The word “Gethsemane” means “olive press.” Our story takes place in Gethsemane just after Jesus’ last meal with his disciples, where he predicted both Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial.

It is not long before Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion. He came here with his disciples to pray.

So here Jesus is — anticipating his impending suffering and death, something he’s known was coming for a very long time. And we get a glimpse into what this was like for him. We get a very real glimpse into Jesus’ humanity.

Notice how Jesus wants his closest friends with him as he faces what’s coming. While all the disciples are there, we’re told he took Peter, James, and John even further along into the garden.

And then he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. He felt the profound weight of what was on the horizon. And we shouldn’t underestimate just how difficult this was for Jesus. I am deeply grieved to the point of death, he says to them.

Jesus knew the way to bring life to the world was the way of the cross. But that doesn’t mean it was comfortable. It doesn’t mean he didn’t feel the burden pressing down on him while praying in the “olive press.” It doesn’t mean he wanted to be crucified.

And of course we know this because he prayed three times for the Father to remove the cup of suffering and death from him — that there would be another possibility, another route other than the way of the cross.

Jesus’ prayer is brief but profound: Abba, Father! All things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will. Jesus wanted the Father to find another way. He didn’t want to suffer and die. But yet more than wanting to avoid the cross if at all possible, Jesus wanted unity with the Father, to do what the Father wanted. Not what I will, but what you will.

Jesus was willing to submit to the way of the cross because he knew where it would ultimately lead. He knew the cross was necessary for God’s purposes to be accomplished. He knew this is what it would take to make reconciliation possible. And Gethsemane is where Jesus wrestled with and submitted to the way of the cross.

Gethsemane is where Jesus put the Father’s will above what his own will was at that moment. He surrendered. He denied himself. He resolved to take up the cross.

And, yes, Jesus’ journey to the cross was unique. He was God the Son in the flesh come to save and redeem. He came to reconcile us to God. And on the cross he defeated sin and death for all of us. And yet Jesus tells us that we need to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. Following him, believing in him, putting our faith in him, means taking the way of the cross.

We can rightly ask — and we should ask — what does this mean? What does the way of the cross mean for those of who are following Jesus? Answering these questions just means looking at Jesus. He wrestled. He prayed. He collapsed in Gethsemane under the pressure of what was coming his way. He sought the presence and the will of his Father. Not what I will, but what you will.

What about us? What about you? What about me? Do I insist on my own will being done, on having things my way, on reducing God’s will in my life to what doesn’t make me uncomfortable?

Better yet: do I reduce God so that I never think of him as leading me into uncomfortable places, places where I have to deny myself? Does God only ever ask me to do things I am already comfortable doing?

Here’s the bottom line: Walking the way of the cross means following Jesus into Gethsemane. Just like his disciples in our story.

“Abba, Father!”

Of course, Jesus finds his disciples, even his closest friends, Peter, James, and John, asleep at the wheel at the very moment he’s seeking their support, their presence and their prayers: he came and found them sleeping. Three times this happens, parallel to Jesus’ three prayers to the Father.

It’s easy to make fun of the disciples. They bumble. They misunderstand. They fail. Even with Jesus right there with them. And it’s not always even a question of motivation, of whether or not they want to follow Jesus. The spirit is willing, Jesus says, but the flesh is weak.

In Gethsemane, they can barely keep their eyes open. They keep dozing off. And, yes, while no doubt they were physically tired, more is going on than this. At another level, their sleepiness and inability to stay awake and pray with Jesus at this pivotal moment indicates their inabiity to see who Jesus is and what’s about to happen — they do not understand the weight of this moment pressing down upon Jesus.

And the flesh? The flesh — our broken and sinful human nature — does not always want what God wants. Does not want to follow Jesus into Gethsemane. Does not want to walk the way of the cross. And Jesus knows this. He understands us. He knows us now like he knew his disciples then. All too human. All too prone to spiritual complacency. All too likely to seek comfort rather than the cross.

If Jesus found himself in great distress that night in Gethsemane, and wrestled prayerfully with the will of the Father, though he was the Son of God, surely we can’t expect the way of the cross to be easy for us. The truth is: we can only walk the way of the cross because Jesus did it first.

In his prayer, Jesus calls God the Father, Abba. This is a more intimate form of address. By addressing God this way, NT scholar David Garland notes that Jesus “expresses his intimacy with his Father as well as his confidence in his nearness and loving care.” Jesus as able to submit to the way of the cross because he knew the love of the Father who called him to go to the cross.

How does Jesus resolve to go the way of the cross, to submit himself to the will of the Father? How is it he determines to face the suffering and death that is coming his way? Only by his relationship to God the Father. Only because of the unity and intimacy they share. Only because Jesus has been in close relationship with the Father from the very beginning. Only because Jesus can call the Father, Abba.

But Jesus is not the only one who can do this, who can address God as Abba, Father. We can too. Which means we too can have a close relationship with the Father. And this is possible in part because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives as believers.

In Romans 8, the apostle Paul is talking about the Holy Spirit. There he says this: For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Instead, you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!”

To be fair to the disciples who were with Jesus in Gethsemane, they did not yet have the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. But we do. When we put our faith in Christ, the Spirit indwells us. The Spirit gives us the power to follow Jesus. And it is the Spirit who enables us to cry out in prayer, in petition and in praise, Abba, Father! It is because of the presence and power of the Spirit that we can enjoy a close relationship with the Father.

Now what does all this mean? Like Jesus, walking the way of the cross is only possible when we know the love of the Father. In Gethsemane, Jesus leaned with all his strength on the love of the Father he had known from the beginning in order to press forward into the suffering that was ahead. Jesus was able to deny himself and take up his cross because he knew, loved, and trusted the Father. And if we trust Jesus, it means we can also trust the love of the Father for us.

Do you trust your heavenly Father even if he calls you to walk the way of the cross? And are you willing to deny yourself to follow Jesus, to take up your cross?


During Lent it is customary for Christians to give up or sacrifice something, to deny themselves a source of comfort or pleasure. Think of those who give up sweets or TV. Maybe some give up being on Facebook. And it’s not a bad idea. Because until we try to fast from something or give something up for a time, we have no idea of the sort of hold it has on us. It is a discipline through which we learn not only to depend on God more but also learn to find our greatest joy and comfort in him.

To walk the way of the cross is learning that following Jesus means dying to ourselves, our desires, our habits, and the things that we turn to instead of our heavenly Father who loves us. This is difficult. This is uncomfortable. This is painful. This is often not what we want. But this is what it means to follow Jesus.

As we begin Lent, as we reflect on the cross, and anticipate Good Friday and Easter Sunday, perhaps we need to spend time in Gethsemane as well, wrestling in prayer before our heavenly Father with how he is calling us to die to ourselves in order to come alive to him. As preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, “There are no crown-bearers in heaven who were not cross-bearers here below.”

In his book Singing at Midnight: Following Jesus from the Garden to the Grave and into Glory, author Skye Jethani writes this: “In the garden we see a central paradox of the Christian faith—by traveling through pain and loss we discover a greater joy. To follow in the steps of Jesus is not a journey of instant gratification because it requires a denial of one’s will in favor of God’s. But it is a journey of infinite gratification as we find his presence on the other side of our cross.”

So as we reflect on what it means for us to walk the way of the cross, let us not forget that the Father who calls us to make this journey is the one we can call Abba, Father, and that is in the power of his love and grace that we can take up our cross at all.

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