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Matthew 26:36-46: Four Events of Passion Week: His Prayer in Gethsemane Print E-mail
Easter Season
Sunday, 10 April 2011

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People prepare for the day of battle differently.  In the book of Joshua, we read of God’s people preparing for the taking of Canaan by consecrating themselves to the Lord through circumcision (see Joshua 5).  During the Revolutionary War, soldiers would listen to sermons by their chaplain.  On the eve of the Battle of Brandywine, the battle in which the British essentially captured Philadelphia, a chaplain for the American Army, Joab Trout, delivered a rousing sermon to some of the soldiers.  He told them: “Soldiers, I look around upon your familiar faces with a strange interest. Tomorrow morning we will go forth to battle, for I need not tell you that your unworthy minister will march with you, invoking God's aid in the fight--we will march forth to battle! Need I exhort you to fight the good fight, to fight for your homesteads, for your wives and children?  …And in the hour of battle, when all around is lit by the lurid cannonade-glare, and the piercing musket-flash, when the wounded strew the ground, and the dead litter your path, then remember that God is with you; God the awful and infinite fights for you and will triumph.”  He went on to pray: “O God of mercy…Visit the tents of our host, comfort the soldier in his wounds and afflictions; nerve him for the fight and prepare him for the hour of death.” 1  The article from which I took that quote notes that Chaplain Joab Trout did not survive the battle.  As we noted a few weeks ago when talking about the writing of “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory”, some soldiers would sit around singing in preparation for the coming day.  Today, soldiers might spend the night listening to their iPod or sending emails to loved ones back home.  Needless to say, people prepare for the day of battle differently.

Of course, one reason for this is that the battles that each generation of soldier has fought were different.  The battle for the Promised Land was different than the battle for America.  As we noted last week, the battle that Jesus faces at the cross is not so much a physical war.  He did not come into Jerusalem on the back of a war-horse but humbly mounted on a donkey.  The battle that He faces on Mt. Calvary does not involved guns and swords and other weaponry.  Yet, it was a battle that would cost Him His life.  And He knew it.  Unlike Chaplain Trout and so many others on the eve of battle, Jesus knew that it would end in His death.  In fact, that was the very point of the battle for Him.  He knew that He was sent to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28).  Thus, we find Him in the Garden of Gethsemane preparing for His death. 
Before we look at what happens in Gethsemane, let me note that I have two main goals in my preaching for the next couple of weeks.  First, I want us to see the true nature of our sin, namely its ugliness.  I want us to be appalled by it.  I want us to see it for what it is.  And second, I want us to see the true nature of our Savior, namely the beauty of what He did for us at the cross.  As we look this morning at Jesus’ prayer in the garden and next week at His death on the cross, I encourage you to keep these goals in mind.  So then, what do we see of Christ in Gethsemane?

First, we see the anguish of our Savior:

After spending a few days with His disciples teaching and serving in and around Jerusalem, Jesus leads them to a garden just outside the city.  He tells the twelve: Sit here, while I go over there and pray.  Then He takes Peter, James, and John with Him as He goes to pray.  It is at this point that Matthew describes Jesus as sorrowful and troubled.  At first glance, we might not think that much about such a description.  Yet, I took the time this week to try and find other places in the book of Matthew where he describes the emotions of Jesus.  I found just a few.  He notes that Jesus marveled at the faith of the Centurion (8:10).  Matthew notes Jesus’ compassion for the crowds in a few places (9:36, 14:14, and 15:32).  Likewise, he speaks of Jesus’ pity towards the two blind men that He healed just outside of Jericho (20:34).  That was all I could find in Matthew.  Thus, when he writes under the inspiration of the Spirit that Jesus began to be sorrowful and troubled, we should pause and take note.  We should note the humanity of our Savior and we should note His anguish in the Garden.

Then we must consider what Jesus says to the disciples.  Look at verse 38.  He tells them: My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.  The word translated ‘very sorrowful’ does not really capture the true anguish that Jesus is feeling.  He describes His sorrow as being even to death, so we know that this is a serious struggle for Him.  Carson notes: “His sorrow was so deep it was almost killing Him.” 2  Not only this, but Matthew tells us in verse 39 that when He went to pray He fell on His face and Luke tells us that His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground (Luke 22:44).  This is real anguish, real sorrow, real fear.

Yet, we must ask: why was Jesus filled with such sorrow and anguish?  J. I. Packer wrestles with this question in his chapter “The Heart of the Gospel”, which first appeared in his book Knowing God.  He notes that many others have faced death without such fear and trembling, so how can we explain Jesus’ anguish in the garden?  Was He simply weaker than others?  Did He lack the strength that others had when they faced death?  No, the only way to make sense of Jesus’ anguish is to really understand what He faced.  His death was not merely physical sacrifice.  It was not simply the stopping of His heart or the taking of His last breath.  So then, what did Jesus face?  He tells us in His prayer: My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.  Jesus faced the cup of His Father’s wrath against our sin.  Packer concludes: “It was because Jesus was to be made sin, and bear God’s judgment on sin, that he trembled in the garden.” 3 

Brothers and sisters, don’t miss this.  Ron Payne prayed on Wednesday night that God would show us the cost of our sin during this series and here it is.  We can approach this with cold intellect or we can humble ourselves and try and comprehend the weight of this moment.  Jesus is facing the wrath of God on our behalf, because of our sin, and it filled Him with overwhelming anguish.  He is on His face crying out to the Father because of our sin.  He is sweating drops of blood over it.  Do not miss the cost of your sin.  Do not underestimate the price that Jesus paid.  See your sin for what it is and what it did.  Before it drove the nails in Jesus’ hands and feet, before it drove the spear in His side, it drove Him to His knees before the Father asking for any other way.  As you consider Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, ask the Lord to show you the true nature of your sin.  But be warned, just like Christ it will leave you on your face in anguish.

Second, we see the obedience of our Savior:

Not only do we see the unbelievable cost of our sin through the anguish of our Savior in the garden, but we also see the beauty of His obedience.  Let me note a few ways that this is evident.

First, we see Jesus’ obedience (and love for His own) in His care for the disciples.  In just a few short hours Peter would deny that he even knew Jesus.  He would turn his back on Christ.  Yet, even though Jesus is well aware of this and has already told Peter it would come to pass, He still encourages Him in the garden to pray.  They did not know what Jesus was facing.  They did not know what was coming (even though Jesus had already told them of His death).  They did not even watch and pray as He groaned in Gethsemane.  Yet, Christ loved them.  Even though they disobeyed, He would not.  He would take their place on the cross.

Second, we see Jesus’ obedience in His prayers.  Look at verse 39.  Jesus humbly submits to the Father’s will.  He knows that the cup will be full of the wrath of His Father against our sin, yet, He prays: ‘I will take your wrath against their sin.  I will bear their curse.  I will face their judgment.  Not my will but yours be done.’  It was the will of the Father to justify sinners through the death of His Son and Jesus embraced that plan in His prayer.  And we must note, Jesus’ sacrifice was the only way for sinners to be justly justified.  How do I know?  Look at verse 42.  This is the only way for God to be the just justifier (see Romans 3:21-26).  This is seemingly why Satan is continually tempting Jesus to take another way (see Matthew 4:1-11 and 16:21-23).  Again, in this prayer in the garden we see just how hard the sacrifice will be.  Jesus is filled with anguish as He considers the path He must take.  Yet, He obeys.

Finally, we see Jesus’ obedience as He embraces the final hour.  Look at verses 45-46.  He knows what is coming.  He knows what He is facing.  He knows that the plan to redeem sinners will lead Him straight into the fire of God’s righteous wrath.  Yet, He obeys.  He embraces the final hour and sets His face toward the cross.

In light of what we see of Jesus and His prayer in Gethsemane, let me offer two simple applications.  First, hate your sin.  If you are struggling realizing just how wicked and horrible and ugly your sin is, then picture Jesus on His face in the garden.  When you find yourself asking the question: ‘How do I fight against lust, or anger, or pride, or selfishness?’  Remember His prayer.  The Enemy will come to you this week and tell you that your sin is no big deal, that there is nothing wrong indulging yourself a little, that it really doesn’t matter.  When he does, you look him square in the face and call him the liar that he is.  It was sin that caused Jesus’ soul to be very sorrowful, even to death.  It was sin that caused Him to fall on His face in prayer.  It was sin and God’s wrath against it, that lead Him to the cross.  Do not forget it.  Hate your sin.

Second, love your Savior.  You will never face any circumstance in this life that is more difficult than the one Jesus faced in the garden.  The Father will never ask more of you than He did of His Son.  So then, when He comes and demands your soul, your life, your all, your money, your time, your affection, your worship…when He tells you to give to the poor and go to the nations and love your neighbor…when He commands you to take up your cross and follow Him, be so in love with Him that you don’t even think twice!  He is Savior who faced the full weight of God’s wrath against your sin, surely He is worthy of our all.  Amen.

1 Taken from this site: http://www.revolutionarywararchives.org/brandyblessing.html
2 D. A. Carson, God With Us (Ventura, CA Regal Books, 1985), p. 158.
3 Quote is taken from the reprint of Packer’s chapter in In My Place Condemned He Stood (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007), p. 45-46.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 26 January 2012 )

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