New Testament Week 23: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” – Matt 26, Luke 22, Mark 14, John 18

Anciently there were three primary types of offerings related to animal sacrifice. There was the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the peace offering. There were only a few times when all three types of offerings were done in succession. One of the times was on the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year for ancient Israel.

On the Day of Atonement, or what we now call Yom Kippur, the offerings and the rituals performed by the High Priest in the temple were symbolic of the reconciliation, or atonement for all Israel’s sins, with God. I want to compare the basics of these offerings to Jesus Christ final three miraculous moments: atonement for our sins, bearing the physical pains and burdens of all mortal life, death and resurrection. These moments will coincide with our final three lessons as well.

  • First Offering – Sin Offering – (Heifer)
    • The offering was performed in the valley below the temple – Gethsemane was in the valley below the temple.
    • The offering was meant to cleanse us from the inside-out, to cleanse Israel of their sins – Christ bled in the garden of Gethsemane to pay for our sins and the consequences of our sins.
  • Second Offering – Burnt Offering – (Goat/Lamb)
    • The offering was performed at the temple – Christ was scourged on the same level as the temple.
    • The offering was meant to cleanse Israel from the outside-in and represented becoming sanctified – Christ bore our physical pains and burdens in these moments.
  • Third Offering – Peace Offering – (Ram)
    • The offering was performed on the mount above the temple and it is not a coincidence that the ram represents the ram that took the place of Isaac for Abraham – Golgotha was on the hill above the temple and Christ is the offering that takes the place for us.
    • The offering was meant to bring reunion and fellowship with God the Father – to us Christ’s death and resurrection provides the ability for us to be reunited with our families and with God in an exalted state. or true fellowship.

This week we are going to be talking about the first of Christ’s offerings on our behalf the suffering and sacrifice in the Garden of Gethsemane. However, before we jump into that I want to mention again discipleship. I hope we are finding greater meaning in our discipleship, but as we will learn this week, the pinnacle of discipleship is actually admitting that we need Jesus Christ and His atonement in order for us to become our best selves. The only way that can happen is to admit we have failed and to embrace that failure. This is especially true with our children. If we prevent them from failing they will never need Jesus Christ and following Him will be merely a habit. If they, and we can fail, and then seek out Jesus then we can feel the power of that redemption. That is where discipleship is at its most powerful. I truly hope this lesson makes an impact in our relationships with Jesus Christ.

CHAPTERS FOR STUDY WEEK 23 – Matt 26, Luke 22, Mark 14, John 18

– All disciples go through waves of doubt and faith. The Savior loves us and wants us to keep trying and if we do our faith will be increased.

– Partaking for the body and blood of Christ has power to help us grow as disciples. We must not take it for granted.

– Christ’s atonement is infinite in that it can absolve and atone for sins, but also heal wounds, comfort pains, depression, grief, sickness. Jesus Christ can also make amends for collective wrongs and mistakes, the atonement is infinite.

Context and Timeline:
– It was likely that there were many people at the beginning of the Passover dinner with Jesus and the disciples. This would have included women and children.

– It seems clear that the sources for the gospel authors into the plot to kill Jesus came from members of the Sanhedrin, otherwise it would be difficult to know the details of their conversations and the trials.

– Timeline of Final Events
Wednesday Night – Plot to Kill Jesus is decided.
Thursday Day – Jesus is anointed again in Bethany before heading to Jerusalem for the Passover dinner.
Thursday Evening – Preparations for Passover dinner are made with a friend of Jesus. Feast of Unleavened Bread is celebrated, Jesus and apostles move to separate room for institution of Sacrament and teachings.
Thursday Night – Intercessory Prayer, Suffering in the Garden and arrest.
Friday Early Morning – Initial Trials, Confrontation with Pilate and Herod. Friday Morning – Final confrontation with Pilate, Releasing of Barrabas, Scourging.
Friday Afternoon – Crucifixion and burial before Sabbath begins on Friday sundown.
Sunday Morning – Resurrection

– Son of Man is a name that Jesus uses for Himself many times in these final moments. Some scholars believe this is another name for Son of God, some believe it is an abbreviation for Son of Man of Holiness, and I think I prefer the idea that it represents the dual nature of Jesus Christ. He has already declared that He is the Son of God, and now He is powerfully declaring that He is also the Son of Man. He is the most important person to Mankind and to God at the same time.

– It is not clear whether there was one anointing, in which the gospels disagree of the timing, or whether there were two separate times of anointing for different purposes.

– When Jesus institutes the sacrament, or the remembrance of the Lord’s body and blood, it is not entirely clear at that time to the disciples the purpose behind it. It wouldn’t be for weeks or even months before the ritual we know as the sacrament would become a key component of Christian worship.

– Gethsemane was likely located in the valley near the Mount of Olives. The garden was more likely a orchard for olive trees where an olive press would have been prominently featured. Gethsemane actually means the olive press.

– One of the most powerful symbolic images of Christ’s suffering is found in the process of the olive press. First, the olives were gathered by beating the trees with sticks violently until there were enough to place on the press. Next, when the olives were being pressed into oil, they would be placed on the press and smashed with a large wheel-like press over and over in an circular motion. This is symbolic of the infinite suffering Christ suffers during the pains of the atonement before it is finished. Finally, the juices and oil flows through a hole in the press and fills up a container called the Yam. Stunningly the color of the juices that flow from the olives is actually blood red and looks like blood. The Yam actually means, the place of the adversary, or sin. So in this moment of suffering, like the olives in Gethsemane, Christ is beaten, and pressed until his blood is shed to redeem us from our sins.

– Exceeding Sorrowful is a term used in describing Jesus’s feelings, and it cannot be overstated how powerful this term actually is. This is translated like sever depression and wanting to die. All these feelings of guilt, shame, the effect of sin, His impending death, were all new feelings and He was feeling those feelings that we may have felt many times, for the first time.

– Remember that it is likely Peter, and many other disciples, still believed Jesus’s mission was to overthrow the Romans and the Jewish leaders of the time. So when Peter is ready to fight to protect Jesus, it makes more sense in that context. It also explains why Peter may have been disillusioned when Jesus was arrested and seemed not to fight back, leading to Peter denying he knew Christ.

– The Sanhedrin were present at this night time trial, which was unusual. It seems they were trying to avoid knowledge of the trial, but yet justify themselves in their decision to murder Jesus.

As Wednesday ends, many members of the Sanhedrin gather in the courtyard outside of Caiaphas’s home. They have finally been pushed to the point of eliminating Jesus from their midst and agree that they need to arrest and execute Him. However, at first it seems they were reluctant to arrest Him on the Passover day. This can be read as they wanted to wait until after, but it is clear in retrospect that they meant not during the public festivities of Passover.

Jesus sends some of His disciples from Bethany to prepare a place in Jerusalem for their Passover dinner while He spends some more time with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Mary anoints the Savior again, which seems to annoy Judas, but Jesus again reminds His disciples that He will not be with them much longer. Judas agrees with the Sanhedrin that he will deliver Jesus to them and they promise to pay him for the information.

A quick reminders that Israel viewed the sun going down as the end of the day and so on Thursday afternoon Jesus and His disciples, and probably their families, traveled to Jerusalem so they could begin the Passover Dinner after nightfall Thursday night. The public celebrations of the Passover would be on Friday during the day.

The first part of the dinner would have been a traditional Passover meal and at some point Jesus leaves the main feast to spend some time with His apostles. In this room, we learned from John that Jesus washes their feet, but then He also institutes the Sacrament by asking them to break bread and drink wine in the remembrance of His body and blood. This was probably a very emotional moment, not just because of the sacred feelings, but also because these disciples probably remember when so many followers abandoned Jesus when He spoke of eating His body and drinking His blood. In this moment those words became real. It is also important to know that some of the apostles likely still believed that Jesus was planning some insurrection during the Passover that would lead to His death. A few of them, namely Peter, were armed and ready for this moment.

During the meal Jesus and Judas have an interesting conversation that leads to Jesus telling Judas to do whatever he is going to do now. Jesus knows the time is at hand. Sometimes it is easy to wonder what the other disciples were doing when this exchange happens, but I think it is safe to assume that they weren’t continually huddled around a table together and that there could have been conversations happening that others could not completely hear or understand. In any case, Judas leaves the dinner and discloses the location of Jesus to the Sanhedrin. They then get some soldiers to accompany them to arrest Jesus.

In the meantime Jesus takes his disciples out of the city to an olive tree orchard where they can be alone. It is in this moment that we are given a window into how Jesus is beginning to feel. He says that He is feeling “exceedingly sorrowful” and the gravity and the weight of what He faces begins to sink in. I love so much that we see Jesus’s fear and feelings in this moment. So many of us feel we have to be “Strong” when facing our most difficult moments, but Jesus not only is feeling down, but He asks His closes friends, Peter, James, and John to accompany Him deeper into the orchard.

I spend a lot of time talking about the next moments above and below in the post, but we know that Jesus went and prayed three separate times to God to suffer pains of the atonement. He asks the Lord each time to give another way, and yet each time He takes on the burden and suffers willingly. After each session of suffering, Jesus finds His friends asleep and asks them why they couldn’t stay awake to comfort Him. This also gives us a clue that the time in which Jesus suffered must have been significant, enough for them to fall asleep three separate times. In these moments Jesus pays the price for all sins, every single one. He bridges the gap that we cannot bridge on our own.

While He is suffering, and before the final prayer, Jesus feels so alone and the Lord sends an angel to strengthen Him. In this final moment Jesus bleeds from every pore and this blood finishes the first offering, the Sin Offering on our behalf.

Shortly after Jesus comes out of his solitude and awakens the disciples, members of the Sanhedrin, Judas, and some soldiers arrive to arrest Jesus. Judas kisses Jesus to show the soldiers which one is Jesus and they move to arrest Him. Peter defends Jesus and slices a man’s ear. Jesus asks Peter to back down and heals the man. At this point Jesus gives himself over willingly.

Some of the disciples follow the procession to Annas and Caiaphas’s homes, but it is likely they were not only discouraged by Jesus arrest, but also disheartened that He did not fight like they expected. They may have even felt betrayed themselves. Sometimes we do not think through the feelings some of the disciples may have felt, and also how dangerous this situation really was. Peter denies knowing Jesus three times, fulfilling the prophecy of Jesus and that moment is one Peter will never forget.

In the meantime, Jesus is mocked and questioned by the Sanhedrin. It is exceedingly rare for the High Priest to be involved in this kind of secretive trial and in the questioning, but Caiaphas had a plan and he needed his supporters to see that Jesus was a danger and a heretic. Jesus does not give them what they want fully, but enough for those seeking His condemnation to say He is a blasphemer. However, having a witness would be better, but they were unable to find any. This put them in an interesting predicament, as they were going to have a hard time putting Him to death and justifying it to the public.

It is with this dilemma that we will end this week’s part of the narrative. Next week will be when Caiaphas seeks Herod and Pilate’s assistance in executing Jesus to save face with the public.

Why does it matter that Jesus suffered for our sins? Did he suffer for every single sin? What must that have felt like?

Besides absolution, what other reason could there be for Jesus suffering the way He did for our sins and pains? Should He feeling that pain cause us to feel guilt, or gratitude?

How can we come to learn the power of the atonement in our own lives? In the lives of our children and loved ones? Can it be forced, or does it need to be experienced through our own failings and need?

What can Peter, James, and John’s failure in the garden teach us about our own discipleship? What can Peter’s denial teach us about redemption and Christ’s never-ending mercy for us?

Key Moment or Scripture:Matt 26:36-44
36 Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.
37 And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.
38 Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.
39 And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.
40 And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?
41 Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
42 He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.
43 And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy.
44 And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. 

I will finish my final thoughts on Luke’s version of this experience, but the reason I chose these verses here is to emphasize this experience from the disciple’s point of view. In this moment of highest importance the disciples failed their friend and their Lord. However, this greatest moment of failure would affect these men like nothing before. Couple this with Peter denying he knew Jesus three times and I think we can imagine the guilt and grief this failure must have bore down upon them.

Yet from this failure was born some of the most faithful and powerful disciples in all of Christian history. There are many examples of sinners who are converted to being a disciple, but these men are examples of the most faithful disciples completely failing and then later becoming something greater. Their faith grew, their power grew, their love for God and for humankind grew. It grew because they realized they were weak and that was part of the plan. Their weakness was meant to bring them to Jesus Christ and seek His power and His sustaining life. When they realized this then they became the disciples they always said they would be, and Jesus knew they could be.

This is something I think we can learn from. We hold ourselves to standards that are unrealistic at times. We compare ourselves to the best versions of people around us. We let our failures paralyze us in our journey of discipleship. The examples of these early disciples, whose failures are almost as hard to imagine as their miraculous ministries, is something we should think about in our own lives. We can all do better, but our failures are what lead us to our greatest moments of faith.

Final Thoughts:
I recently wrote an essay about Jesus Christ and his atonement and resurrection. In it I talked about an experience I had when I was hospitalized on my mission. I want to share a little of that again and share my witness to anyone who is lonely or struggling that Jesus is there for you if you will seek Him and open up yourself to needing Him.

About 6 months before my mission was complete I was hospitalized for an illness that was not subsiding. I had real fear that I would have to go home early from my mission. As a result, none of my companions were able to stay with me in the hospital and so for the first time as a missionary, maybe since I was a child, I was alone. I was faced with the thoughts of my family grieving for the passing of my grandma at home, being unable to talk to anyone I knew, teach anyone, or even see anyone, coupled with the fear that I was going to be sent home, it was probably the loneliest time of my life. 

On the second night in the hospital, after receiving a blessing from my mission president, I began to read the Gospel of Luke. As I read the moment of Jesus’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane it hit me, for the first time, that Jesus had actually begged his friends to be with him in the Garden. He was afraid, lonely, desperate for someone to be there as He suffered. Yet they fell asleep, not once but three times. I started to feel a little guilty about my own sense of loneliness. Not only did Jesus beg His friends to be with him, but He asks God if there is some other way to make this eternal sacrifice, yet the answer was no. However, in Jesus’s most lonely moment God sent an angel to His Son to strengthen Him. 

As I was lost in that moment, I had an impression that this angel who visited our Lord in His darkest moment, was there to represent all of us. To represent the reason He was suffering. The angel must have told the Lord that we loved Him and that He loved us and that our eternal reunion would be worth it. In that moment, as if God was speaking to me personally, special knowledge came to my mind and heart. “Jesus loves us all and because of Him we are never truly alone in our life, and death is not the end.”