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Experience the Garden

Sermon by Michael McKelvey on Nov 4, 2018

Matthew 26:36-46

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I’m very grateful for the invitation to be here tonight and I’m also very grateful for the ministers of this congregation. As a man who’s been in pastoral ministry, as a man who continues to labor among the churches of our presbytery, and without our presbytery, and involved in training men for ministry, I am always grateful when I see faithful men in churches. And I just want to take time publically to remind you that you are truly blessed here. And I want to also let you know that they did not pay me to say that! But gentlemen, I do take cash!

Let’s turn in God’s Word tonight to Matthew chapter 6; Matthew chapter 6. We’re looking at verses 36 to 46 this evening. If you’re using the pew Bible, you can find it on page 832. As we’re getting there in the text, we always need the Lord’s help, for we cannot perceive the spiritual things without the Holy Spirit. So let’s ask God to help us.

Our Father in heaven, we do not have eyes to see and ears to hear unless You grant them. And so in Your mercy, may You give them to us this evening so that we may see Your Son. In His name we pray, amen.

Matthew chapter 6, beginning at verse 36:

“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go over there and pray.’ And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’ And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’ And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’ And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, ‘Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.’”

Coming to a text like this in God's Word makes one aware that they are approaching something very sacred. It's almost as though we can hear the echo of God's voice to Moses from the burning bush too, "Take off your sandals, for you are on holy ground." This is one of those texts in Scripture where we see the Son of God in a position in His earthly ministry that almost defines words in terms of being able to describe what's going on here. This is one of those texts that's not necessarily one of those texts that you should spend examining over and over again, but one of those texts you should read and feel; feel in your soul. There's mystery here. There's a mystery that defies explanation, that our finite minds can't apprehend and certainly can't comprehend. J.C. Ryle says this passage undoubtedly contains deep and mysterious things. And that's an understatement. This text brings a sense of sobriety to us, of soberness, when we realize who this is and what is actually going on. And not only does this text bring a sense of sobriety with it, it brings also a sense of wonder, of amazement, of awe. When we grasp who this is and what He is doing and what He is experiencing, there's a sense in which the Christian's heart is moved. And that movement is none other than worship. Being speechless before the Almighty as we look at His Son here, is all the honor and glory that God wants from us.

Intense Time

So we're going to look at this experience of Jesus tonight and that's what I want us to see. I want us to see a sense of wonder regarding who He is, a sense of awe as we look at His experience. Perhaps in some way, we might experience the garden as well. Let me note firstly that this is an intense time. The description of the event in the life of Christ is remarkably vivid. You can look at verse 37 and you see the language being used there. We're told that He began to be sorrowful and troubled, and that language can easily be missed without stopping to think about what's being conveyed. These words "sorrowful" and "troubled" means the idea of being distressed within; a grief gripping someone deep down. And there's an anxious distress with one of these words, a sense in which the anxiety that has overcome the person leads to a distress that they cannot control. And Jesus' own words confirm this. He uses a word, "deeply grieved," that has the adjective built into it so we see that it is a very grieving, a very distressful moment for Him. He's saying, "I am very distressed right now." He goes, "even unto death," He adds. In other words, to put it in the vernacular today, He's saying, "It's killing me. The distress of My heart is killing Me right now and I want y'all to know that."


The intensity here is what's conveyed; the intense nature of His experience within is so great that it comes out physically. In His physiological makeup, He goes a little further and He falls down on His face, prostrate; a sense of being under a burden that He can't bear anymore and so He just falls down flat before His Father. And Luke adds an interesting comment in his account in Luke 22. He says that "His sweat became like drops of blood." And that could mean a couple of things. It could mean that the stress and the anxiety He was under in this moment was so great that He was profusely sweating, copious amounts of sweat, in such a way that it's almost like blood clots, the large drops coming off of Him. But there could be another thing going on here that Luke is trying to show us; a physiological condition that happens when someone is under so much stress that the capillaries in their sweat glands burst and their sweat is tinged red by the blood. Whether it's the first or the other, the point is that He is burdened to the point that physiologically His body is showing that He is undone.

Cup of Wrath

You remember who this is. This is the Son of God. This is God the Son. God incarnate who is confessing the intensity He’s feeling. From His youngest of years and having some type of cognitive understanding that He is the Messiah, He knew this day was coming. This is not all of a sudden a new revelation that He’s about to walk this road. This is nothing new; He knew this was coming. But on the eve of it, the reality of it hits Him to the point that He can hardly bear it. What was He facing? It’s not simply death. Lesser men have faced death with a sense of calmness and acceptance. But He’s not facing simply death. He’s facing the cup. The cup is the great metaphor of the Old Testament, particularly in the prophets, which speak of God’s judgment coming against those whom He is bent on destroying. It’s used against Israel before the exile saying, “You are going to drink from My cup that will make you stagger.” And the image of God’s cup is like a cup being filled up to the point where it can’t hold its contents anymore and it overflows to the point that it just topples over and it spills. And so this is the cup that’s coming. The cup is the picture of God’s unmitigated wrath against sin.

Let me try to put this in a little clearer way for us to understand to see the momentous nature of what’s taking place here. This is literally hell. We speak about hell - oftentimes we think about the final judgment of man that the unbelievers, all sinners will enter and be in punishment and torment forever because of their rejection of God; an eternal punishment. And insofar as we can grasp that, the next day, that eternal punishment of hell for every one of His people, a multitude no man can number, in a concentrated fashion will be poured out upon Him completely in the most intense moment in history and He will drink the cup of God’s wrath to the dregs. It is simply beyond our ability to truly fathom what He is about to undergo. But He knows what’s coming and He understands what is waiting for Him. God will “make Him who knew no sin to be sin for us.” The hatred of God for sin is less than twenty-four hours away.

It’s like a tsunami coming. And you’ve seen videos of tsunamis. They’re coming and they just wreak havoc on whatever is in their way. The tsunami of God’s wrath is coming and He can’t get out of the way. Better yet, it’s like the flood of Noah’s day. It’s coming for Him. He could only ask and pray to His Father, “If possible, if possible, Father” - these are sincere words. He knows what’s coming. “If possible, let this pass. But not as I will, but Yours.” And in the words of Isaiah 53, “It was the Lord’s will to crush Him, to put Him to grief.” It was His Father’s will that He drink this cup. And Jesus was willing, fully willing, and had full knowledge of what was coming and what He was about to do. And He did it for us. He did it for those who by nature do not love Him. He did it for those who shake their fists in His face and say, “I don’t want You to rule over me!” When we were yet enemies, He died.

God’s Love

Have you ever thought about this? And I don’t mean, “Have you ever thought about the Gospel” of course. I don’t mean, “Have you ever thought about what He’s going through?” I mean have you ever thought about what this reveals about His love for you as a Christian? Have you ever thought about looking at Gethsemane and seeing that His love for His Father and His love for His bride is even more intense than what He’s going through? “For the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame.” And that joy being the salvation of His people. The love of Jesus Christ is what we see here in the garden. We see His love. We see His desire to save us from what He is about to endure. Sometimes we may wonder, as Christians, “Does God really love me?” You know we go through those times when the evil one comes and he fires those arrows and doubts and says to us, “You know, you should be better than what you are as a Christian. You should be praying more. You should have a better grasp of this or that, but here you go again - same old same old. God can’t really love you.”

The evidence of the love of Christ here is enough to crush every seed of doubt that enters our hearts. See it. See Him. See the Son of God in the greatest trial of His life move forward for your soul and doubt no more. Because of what He has done, you will never face the wrath of God. Isaiah 51 speaks of this coming salvation through Jesus Christ and says, “See, I have taken out of your hands the cup that made you stagger. From the cup, the goblet of My wrath, you will never drink again.” It was an intense time.

Lonely Time

Secondly, it was a lonely time. In the light of what we’ve been considering, we can see how this would be a lonely position for Him. Who but Him could walk this path? No one can do this but Him alone. But it’s marvelous to see that His disciples were with Him. His disciples were with Him and He leaves most of them at one point and takes Peter, James, and John a little bit further with Him and says, “Stay here and I’m going to go on and pray and you guys stay awake and pray as well.” And He goes about a stone’s throw away and He falls on His face and He prays. He wanted them with Him. He wanted them to be awake with Him and to pray while He was praying. Surely He derived some sense of comfort from their presence, just like we are comforted by those who are just sitting next to us when we are in a time of trial. And they don’t have to say anything; just their presence brings a sense of comfort to us. It’s absolutely amazing. It’s astonishing to think that in this moment Jesus wants them there with Him. But they slept. And three times He went back and forth between them and says to them, “Could you not stay awake?” That’s what that word “watch” translated in the ESV - “watch” - it just means to stay awake. “Could you not stay awake and pray?” They slept. So essentially, Jesus is alone and praying alone.

Concern for Disciples

But notice how even though He’s praying alone about what He is about to have to endure, He’s still concerned for them. He comes back to them and He wakes them up, verse 41, and He says, “Stay awake and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Do you see His concern is for them? He’s about to undergo the severe judgment of the cross and it’s distressed Him to the point of death, He says, and yet He comes back and He says, “My friends, you need to pray so that you don’t fall into temptation.” Now we, on the other hand, when we are under times of stress and somebody does something that we don’t like or something different than we ask, we say, “Don’t you realize what I’m going through? How can you be so oblivious? Think about me! Think about what I’m going through!” Jesus doesn’t do that. He’s concerned for them. You see the selflessness of the Savior here. This is a selflessness that we see throughout Jesus’ life that we will see climax at Calvary the next day. It is a selflessness that is beyond comprehension but it is a revelation to us of just how good He is. This night, while His concern is for His Father’s glory and for His people, Jesus will pray alone.

And it foreshadows the lonely road He is about to walk because He is about to be arrested alone. The Shepherd is going to be struck and the sheep are going to scatter. He’s about to be falsely accused, alone, and beaten and scourged, alone, and hung upon the cross, alone, and the wrath of God is going to be poured on Him, alone, and alone He will utter the mysterious cry of, “My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me?”

Never Forsaken

Do you know what it feels like to be alone? Feeling like no one knows you? No one understands you? No one knows what you’re going through? No one can possibly comprehend? Jesus knows, and He knows these realities in ways we cannot possibly understand. And that’s why Jesus is able to be such a sympathetic Savior. That’s why He is able to be so understanding - because He has been through the hardships of this life in ways we cannot grasp. And so He comes to us in His mercy. And if you have come to Him in repentance and faith, if He is your God, then you will never be alone. You will never be forsaken by God. You will never be left by Jesus. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” And He is even here now, as His people are gathered, He is here. And it doesn’t matter what we may feel like, if we may feel alone. If you have Christ, you are never alone. In the words of David, Psalm 139, “If I say, surely the darkness will overwhelm me and the night around me will be night, even the darkness is not dark to You and the night is as bright as the day, because darkness and night are a light to You.” The next afternoon, He will be on that cross alone and He will be in utter darkness both spiritually and materially. He will hang on that cross in pitch black in the middle of the day so that you as a Christian will never be alone. So that He is able to be with you in the darkness and able to bring you out of it as well. It’s a lonely time, an intense time.

Time of Communion

It's also a time of communion. Now I just said it was a lonely time for Jesus. Don't you like it when preachers say things that are contradictory? We do it to see if you're awake! And it's got to be okay to do because David Strain does it all the time! Practically speaking, in terms of His relationships with His disciples, it was lonely. But spiritually speaking, it was a time of intense communion with God. This was a time of greatest trial for our Lord Jesus Christ and He draws near to His Father in prayer. So in one sense, He was alone, yet not alone. He would be forsaken by His Father; it's coming. But not yet. In this moment of intense emotional upheaval, for Jesus, He draws near to His Father and His father draws near to Him.  And no doubt, the Father reassures Him in this moment of His love for Him and reassures Him of His purpose. If we can speculate, perhaps God is saying to Him at this moment, "My Son, I love You. Our love is an eternal love. You know that. That will never change. You will be forsaken, but I will raise You from the dead and I will exalt You to My right hand. I will be honored and glorified, which is Your desire, and You will have Your bride, and the world will see how good We are."

Purchased Communion

We get some sense from Luke’s account how God strengthened Him in this moment, at minimum. For Luke tells us an angel appeared to Him and strengthened Him. God cared for His Son in this moment as His Son looked to Him. And renewed in His Father’s strength, in the power of the Holy Spirit, He rose up and He faced those who came to arrest Him. And notice how He refers to them. He’s being betrayed into the hands of “sinners.” He’s being betrayed into the hands of God’s enemies. He faces the cross in the power of the Spirit, the knowledge of His Father’s love. He endures that cross knowing that in three days He will be raised. And He is raised from the dead on the third day and eventually ascends to His Father’s right hand where He ever lives to make intercession for His people, where He prays for them, continuing to commune with His Father on His people’s behalf, day and night. And He’s coming again. He’s coming again to raise them from the dead. He has done this to bring us to God, to know God, so that we can have communion with God in the same way Jesus has communion with Him here.

Wonder of wonders. The love between the Father and the Son is the love with which they love us. And the communion that the Son has with the Father is the communion that He has purchased for us on Calvary. And this is what we have - access to God. And not just access to God, communion with God. As we come to Jesus Christ, we know Him. And it’s not as though we just know Him in a superficial way in terms of knowledge, intellectually. It’s knowing Him in the soul. That intangible part of us that defies definition in so many ways. That part of you that makes you, you. You know Him because He has come to you, He has invaded your heart, He lives in you, and He has made His Father known to you. You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart. That is the communion that He has purchased for us.

Communion in the Valley

And for those of us who are followers of Christ, there's something that we learn here. In the times of greatest trials, there is no greater time of communion with God. It's one of those amazing things. We oftentimes think communion with God is perhaps more intense when we're on the mountaintops, but in reality, no - it's when we're in the valleys. Because it's then that God uses those experiences to show us our dependence on Him. We sense it; we sense our helplessness. We sense our need of Him and we cry out to Him, "Jesus, Lord, help me! I need You! I can't bear this anymore!" And we cry out to Him and He draws near to us in ways perhaps we cannot explain. And so the lesson we learn here is that if you are a Christian, do not let the affairs of life, when they get hard, come between you and the Lord. Do not let them drive you away from Jesus. See them as the loving, gentle goads of your Father and run to Him. Draw near to Him and He will draw near to you because with Him, there is mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.

There's a wonderful illustration of this from the autobiography of John Paton. He was a missionary in the 1800s from Scotland to the islands of the New Hebrides in the South Pacific. So he went there to minister to cannibals, to bring the Gospel to these different cannibal tribes on different islands. It's the type of calling that every seminary student wants! And so he goes and he's on this first island for a few years and he gets there and within the first year, his wife and his newborn baby die. He's alone. And these cannibals try to kill him fairly often throughout his time there. But after several years it comes to a head. They are fed up with his preaching about his God and his God's law and they say, "This time, we're killing him!" And he writes in his autobiography that he's running all over the island trying to evade his pursuers, not knowing if he is going to make it one moment to the next. And he finally decides, after running for several hours, there's one man on the island that he perhaps may be able to trust. He's not sure about that. So he goes to this man and he asks for help. This man takes him out into the jungle and puts him in a tree at night. He says, "Wait here. I'll be back for you." And this is what John Paton writes:

“I climbed into the tree and was left there all alone in the bush. The hours I spent there live all before me as if it were but yesterday. I heard the frequent discharging of muskets and a yell of the savages. Yet, I sat there among the branches as safe in the arms of Jesus. Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me and speak more soothingly in my soul than when the moonlight flickered among the chestnut leaves and the night air played upon my throbbing brow as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone. Yet not alone.”

This is our Savior. This is our God. The weight of the reality of who He is - may that sink deep down within us to the point that we never, ever think that He doesn’t love us. That we never would think that He doesn’t care. Do you know this Savior? Do you know Him? Let us pray.

Father, we thank You for our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and we thank You for including this event in Your Word. And though it is very momentous, we praise You and we ask that as we continue to think about our Savior in the garden and His experience there and His experience at the cross, that we would always see very clearly the love and grace of God. In His name we pray, amen.

© 2018 First Presbyterian Church.

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