Well let’s turn in our Bibles to Matthew 26. It can be found in your pew Bibles on page 832. Our passage this morning comes the day before Jesus’ death. There’s an intensity and a gravity in this section of Matthew’s gospel. He’s just eaten the Passover meal with His disciples; He’s told them about His flesh which will be pierced and His blood which will be poured out. Nothing matters more than what happens as Jesus approaches the cross. Everything is affected by Jesus death and resurrection. And so it’s important that we give our full attention to the reading of God’s Word this morning. Let me pray before we go there. Let’s pray!
Our Father, we give You thanks that You have called us here today to hear Your Word and to see Jesus, to read these intense words as He is in anguish and approaching the cross. Our Father, we ask that Your Spirit would come and illumine our hearts that we would see the beauty and the sufficiency of our Savior, that we would see our need for Him, and that You would turn us to worship Him and honor and glorify Him in all that we do. We pray these things in Jesus’ name, amen.
Let’s read Matthew 26. We’ll be starting in 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 is 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.’”
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever.
I want us to see three things from this passage this morning. I want us to see first the love of Jesus, secondly the sympathy of Jesus, and finally the instruction of Jesus. The love, the sympathy, and the instruction of Jesus.
The Love of Jesus
Let’s see first of all the love of Jesus. He says in verse 45, “The hour is at hand.” The hour is at hand. this is the moment for which Jesus has come. The whole Bible has been leading us up to this point. And if we look just in the gospel of Matthew, all of the pronouncements from the angels and from the wise men and from John the Baptist, all of Jesus’ own predictions of His rejection and His arrest, His crucifixion and His resurrection, have been leading up to this point. And there have been several places along the way where the ruling authorities and the leaders of the people had tried to harm and destroy Jesus but they had no success. But now, but now the time of His death is at hand. And Jesus has faced temptations along the way. He faced temptations from the devil in the wilderness; He faced temptation from the mouth of Peter saying, “This should never happen to you, Lord.” Temptations that He would bypass His death and avoid the cross at any expense. But this temptation, this temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane is His greatest temptation. The hour is at hand; the time of His death has come.
Now when it comes to death, some of you know the impact of those difficult words, “We’ve called in Hospice.” If you’ve arranged for the end of life care for a dying loved one, you know something of the ugliness of death. You know the suspense and the stress of waiting for that last breath. Death is the last enemy; it’s the consequence of sin. And with Jesus, His death comes along with the rejection of those who were closest to Him. His death comes with the shameful spectacle of the cross. And what is more than anything and what is the chief cause of His anguish here in this passage is that His death comes with the wrath of God. He comes to take the anger of His Father, the penalty that is due for the sin of His people.
Jesus Prays at Gethsemane
And so as He comes to this place called Gethsemane, with His disciples He stops, and He prays. If you look at verse 37 it says He took with Him Peter and James and John and He began to be “sorrowful and troubled.” The magnitude of this hour is pressing down on Jesus. He begins to feel the anguish of His approaching trial and the words here, the “sorrowful and troubled,” it speaks of a deep grief, a severe sadness in the heart of Jesus. There’s really no way of capturing what is going on with Jesus. There’s no way of capturing His experience. And it’s not just an emotional response. This is a physical response, a physical reaction that goes along with these emotions. Now think about in your own lives. Maybe there’s a highly anticipated event coming up. It could be a speech of a big interview; maybe it’s your wedding ceremony. And as the time approaches, you know how your heart rate starts to increase and sweat starts to pour out and your stomach is churching. There’s an emotional response and a physical reaction as well. The gospel of Luke tells us that His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
And He says in verse 38, He’s talking to His inner circle, the three in His inner circle, and He says, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” The anguish that Jesus feels, it’s so intense, it’s a sorrow that kills. You know we throw around the phrase sometimes. When something’s bothering us, we say, “These shows are killing me.” Or, “Waiting in line is killing me.” Those words don’t mean very much, do they? But you see, the turmoil that Jesus is experiencing here, the sorrow that kills, it’s a turmoil that is unlike anything anyone has ever faced. And so He tells His disciples to wait and to watch with Him.
The Cup of God’s Wrath
And He goes on alone a little farther and He bows down, falls on His face, He cries out, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not as I will but as you will.” Three times He made that prayer, that if it was possible, the cup of God’s wrath would pass from Him. You see, that image of the cup, it’s found throughout the Bible to express the wrath of God, the judgment that is due for sin. In fact, in our Call to Worship earlier in the service, I quoted from Lamentations chapter 3. Lamentations is a book that may capture better than any book the sorrow and the anguish that Jesus feels in this passage. But in that chapter, the writer says this. He says, “Remember my affliction and roaming, the wormwood and the gall.” The wormwood and the gall. It was a drink made of bitter herbs that when it was drunk it was in order to express the experience of God’s judgment. And even Jesus, in just a little while after this account here, Jesus is going to the cross and He’s offered a drink. It’s wine mixed with gall. And that gall would have been in there as a sort of a poison in order to blunt some of the pain of the cross. But Jesus refuses that drink; He refuses to drink from that cup. He does not want to be numbed to any of the horrors of the cross.
And that’s not His cup that He came to drink. No, He came to drink the cup of God’s wrath. That’s a difficult reality. That’s a staggering, terrifying reality. It’s the wrath of God in which Jesus prays He would be spared. As the book of Hebrews reminds us, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Our God is staggering in His perfect righteousness and justice. And Jesus here, He willingly submits to endure a burden unlike anything anyone has ever faced and it’s weighing down; it’s weighing heavy on Him. Isn’t it appropriate that this takes place in Gethsemane? Gethsemane means, literally, “oil press.” That’s what’s happening to Jesus. He’s being squeezed and pressed and the anguish that comes out of Him as a result.
The Reason for Christ’s Sufferings
His suffering is awful, but He suffers for a reason. He suffers because of the love for those He came to save. Everything Jesus endures, from the humility of His birth to the lowliness of His life and ministry, to the place here where His suffering is intensifying and it climaxes at the cross, Jesus took it all out of a heart of love. He took it to take the wages of sin for His people, to spare us from the judgment that we deserve, and to pour out the blessings of the kingdom – the love of the Father on all those who believe in Him for salvation and receive His free gift of grace. You see, the intensity of Jesus’ sorrow in this passage is only matched and even surpassed by the intensity of His love that He has for His people.
And parents, you know something of that, don’t you? Some of that aching love for a child who is hurting. You see a child who is going through suffering and how often as a parent what comes through your mind is, “Why couldn’t I go through that in his place? Why is it not me instead of her?” But there’s no way to go through that; there’s no way to make that exchange. But it shows the depth of love that a parent has for their child. Well here is Jesus, and out of love for His people, He takes on that suffering. He readies Himself to take the full penalty that is due for the sin of His people so that we do not have to drink a drop of that cup. That’s how much Jesus loves us. This is the anguish He is going through because of the love that He has for His people.
And you know what’s so astounding about that? What’s so astounding about this love that Jesus has for us? When He endures these trials, He is enduring these trials out of love for those who cause His pain. It is the sin of those He came to save, it’s the sin of those He loves who bring this anguish and agony upon Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. And so how can we doubt, how can we doubt the love of Jesus for us when we remember what He has endured for us when we remember what He has endured because of us. And isn’t that an encouragement, even in our own trials and in our sufferings, to know the love of Jesus?
The Sympathy of Jesus
And not just to know the love of Jesus, but to know the sympathy of Jesus. And that’s really the second lesson that we learn from this passage. Not just the love of Jesus, but the sympathy of Jesus. The picture we have of Jesus here is a lonely one. No one really understands what He’s going through. The disciples who are there to watch with Him, they keep falling asleep. They’re tired; they’re worn out; they’re exhausted. And He’s about to be betrayed by one of His closest friends. Jesus is all on His own. He’s by Himself. And isn’t that the way we often experience suffering? There’s a loneliness that goes with pain. Think of the way that Job’s friends came around him and they criticized him. Even his wife said that his breath stunk! There’s a loneliness to the pain that Job was experiencing. Or think about the psalmist in Psalm 88 – probably the deepest lament of the psalms. The very last verse, it says that “My companions have become darkness.” The NIV translates that, “Darkness is my closest friend.”
As we go through suffering at times, we know these sort of sentiments. “Who is there that understands my pain? And everyone has their own problems and their own concerns. How can they possibly be concerned with my pain?” And if we’re honest with ourselves, we would confess that we oftentimes struggle to show appropriate sympathy, don’t we? We wonder what’s the right thing to say when someone’s hurting. I imagine all of us have said something at times in an attempt to comfort and even as the words are coming out of our mouths, we wince because we know that they are not helpful words, that we’ve botched up the attempt at sympathy. I came across a sympathy card, sort of a tongue in cheek sarcastic card, the other day. And it said, “When life gives you lemons, I promise I won’t tell you a story about how my cousin’s friend died from lemons.” You know, it’s poking fun at the way we oftentimes fumble in our attempts at sympathy. And there are so many different ways for us to communicate with one another. How do we best communicate that? With a message, a letter, a call, a stop by to visit?
Jesus Sympathizes With Our Weaknesses
We struggle to find sympathy oftentimes, and yet here is the sympathy of Jesus. Hebrews chapter 4 tells us that “We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with us in our weaknesses but he was tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses because our High Priest is the Man of sorrows. Our High Priest is the suffering Servant. And Jesus is our closest Friend. Jesus is near when others seem far away. Jesus is never dismissive of your pain and of your sadness. He never makes an insensitive or unthoughtful remark. No, His words, His Word always speaks grace and life. And He never runs out of time for you. He’s never too preoccupied with some other matter. He loves you and sympathizes with you. Even when you are tempted in your trials, even when you are tempted to doubt and to hide from God, He knows. He knows that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. And His ministry is to be with you. His ministry is to give you the grace to help in time of need. And what is more staggering than anything else, His ministry to you is to pray for you in your times of need at the right hand of God. That is a staggering reality. And isn’t that incredibly comforting when you need to be comforted? To know the sympathy of Jesus; that He is the perfect Savior. Not only has He plumbed the depths of despair and secured forgiveness for our sins because of His amazing love for you, but He continues to minister to you with sympathy and with grace. And so will you trust in Him and rest in Him and enjoy His love and sympathy? And if you do not know Him, will you trust in Him and believe in Him and rest in Him by faith to know this love and this sympathy that went all the way to the cross and went through such anguish to make us His?
The Instruction of Jesus
So that’s the love and the sympathy of Jesus. What about the instruction of Jesus? The last thing we see in this passage is the instruction of Jesus to His disciples. If you look back at verse 41, He says, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Let me just ask you, “What’s the most obvious danger that Jesus and His disciples are facing here? What’s the most obvious danger to them in this passage?” It’s the betrayer, right? Even as Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, there is a crowd gathering with swords and clubs and they’re heading that way towards them at that very moment. That’s the most obvious danger, but what’s the most serious danger to Jesus and His disciples? The most serious danger is a spiritual danger. The most serious danger is temptation. You see, when Jesus tells them to watch, He’s not telling them to watch and to be ready to escape or to fight against the crowd that’s coming at them. No, He’s telling them to watch and to pray in order to defend themselves against the threat of temptation.
How about for you? What’s the most obvious danger facing you today? Maybe you’re most aware of the threat of rejection and the fear of missing out. But what if the most serious danger to you is popularity? What if the most serious danger is going along with the crowd and determining right and wrong according to popular opinion and being led down a path you do not want to go? Or maybe it’s not rejection but it’s failure. You fear that you may not reach a certain career achievement or level of respectability. But what if the bigger threat is success, and the tendency and the temptation that comes along with success to be self-reliant, ungrateful, prideful, earthly-minded? Maybe you fear crime. And in reality, our safety or our means of self-defense is our greater temptation. It becomes the focus of where we place our hopes and where we look for help. Or surely, surely a dreaded diagnosis or a chronic illness is the worst-case scenario. But I wonder if it could be health and wellness that actually presents a greater temptation? That we try to find our identity in eating the right things or keeping up the right exercise routine. All kinds of things that we could think are the more obvious danger and yet the greatest threat is temptation. Whatever the difficulty or whatever the trial we face, the greatest threat is temptation and the worst case scenario is to give in to that temptation.
“The Spirit is Willing But the Flesh is Weak”
And the reason that temptation is such a pressing concern before us is because of what Jesus says here in this passage. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Doesn’t that one phrase capture so much of what’s at the heart of our frustrations? We know this to be true in so many areas. We want to be more disciplined. We want to be more faithful. We want to be more fruitful. We want to do and to be better in whatever God has called us to do or be. And yet, the spirit is willing; the flesh is weak. And the temptations of the flesh or just the weakness of the flesh can lead us into spiritual danger, into complacency and a hard heart. It can lead us into fear and anger and self-righteousness and selfishness. That’s why Jesus says to His disciples here, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” You see, the danger of temptation and the weakness of the flesh, it should drive us to our knees in prayer. Prayer like the prayer of Jesus in this passage. A prayer of humility and faith. He bows down before God and calls out to Him as His Father. “My Father,” He prays. And He submits to the good and perfect will of His Father. He says, “Not as I will, but as You will.” And over and over again, He makes it a habit of prayer. He’s going to God on repeated occasions asking for God’s mercy, asking for His Father’s strength.
Pray for God’s Will
Those are the sort of prayers we need as we go through trials and as we face temptations. But how often do we find that we are more like the disciples? We settle into pray, but after a few minutes, we find that we’ve actually settled in for a nap! I’m thankful for the honesty of Scripture in places like this because I know all too well drowsy and distracted praying. You know you would think of all the times the disciples, the magnitude of this moment is Jesus who is telling them to pray, and yet they find themselves drowsy and distracted. We all can identify with that and we may even identify with not just drowsy and distracted prayers but discouraged prayers. We pray and we pray and yet we find no relief from the pain that we are experiencing. But just notice in this passage, here’s Jesus, He’s praying that His Father would remove the cup from Him but the cup is not removed. Jesus still goes to the cross but He endures the temptation and He is strengthened to face it with courage and boldness. That’s what’s so important in trials and in our prayers. It’s that God’s will be done and that we endure through those temptations.
The disciples here, they’re tempted, they’re tried, and they are often failing. And so are we. But Jesus is so kind. Do you notice the way that He doesn’t give up on His disciples? He doesn’t give up on us. But He went all the way to the cross and He was obedient to the point of death and He took the full wrath of God so that we can never be snatched out of His hands. We are secure in the love of Jesus. We are secure in the love of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And isn’t that a great encouragement for us to pray and to be bold in our prayers to our Father? David McIntyre calls prayer, “the lifeblood of the Christian.” Yet if I look at my own life, I confess that I battle and struggle with prayerlessness; that so oftentimes the demands of the day can overtake the urgency of prayer. And yet, what is more, important that we could do, individually, as families, as a church in times of trial or on a mission for God’s kingdom? What is more important that we could do than pray? And since the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, we can acknowledge that prayer will not just happen. It’s going to have to come from being thoughtful and intentional, of setting aside a time and planning to pray. Here’s Jesus – He’s on His way to the cross and He makes it His practice, He determines to stop and to pray. How much more should we, in our obligations or in our trials or whatever comes our way, that we would watch and pray that we would not enter into temptation?
Let’s ask God to help us as we seek to live for His praise and glory. Let’s pray!
Our Father, we confess that this nails us right on. Our spirit is willing, the flesh is weak, and we need Your help. Would You overwhelm us with Your love and by Your grace? Would You minister to us with Your goodness? And would You draw us near to You to commune with You in prayer and that You would develop in our lives, in our hearts, in our church, a commitment and a practice of communing with You and fellowshipping with You in prayer? Would You do that for our good but for Your glory? And we pray all these things in Jesus’ name, amen.
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