The Garden of Gethsemane - Matthew 26:36-46 (Sermon)
Hi, I am pastor Rob. Have you ever fallen asleep in class? You get the head bob thing going. Have you ever propped your head on your hand like you are focusing and attempt to hide the fact that you are snoozing? That didn’t happen to me until I got to college. The worst time was when I fell asleep doing an independent study one on one with my Greek professor. I felt so badly; I couldn’t hide it. I was working two jobs and going to school and studying and could not stay awake for the life of me. Even driving home was hard to stay awake.
SLEEPING AND PRAYING
I like resting. But I also enjoy doing things, so I push myself. I get so little sleep that I am embarrassed to say I have fallen asleep praying. Probably a couple of times in my eighteen years of marriage, Katie has asked while I am praying if I am falling asleep. Yep. Falling asleep praying is kind of nice. It's spiritual. However, if that is the only time or way I pray, that would be bad, especially for a pastor. God wants a relationship. None of us want our spouse or friend to fall asleep every time we talked. How do we relate to God? Prayer is one of those ways. How do we pray? Today, we will read about some men who can relate to those of us who fall asleep praying. We will see how God himself took on flesh, human flesh, and struggled through prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus’s prayer offers us direction for our prayers. The passage this morning challenges us to watch, pray, and submit ourselves to God: to be intimate, honest, and persistent in our prayers. This is the first sermon in a three-part series on prayer.
WE VALUE PRAYER AT THIS CHURCH (Can cut)
We value prayer at this church. Tomorrow we kickstart our season of 21 Days of Prayer. We will be praying at 6 in the morning, Monday through Saturday. If you can’t make that, join us, men, at 7 AM at Sawyer on Tuesdays. If that is too early, all of you can join us at 8:30 AM on Sunday downstairs. If that is too early, at 9:00 AM next week, I will do an intergenerational teaching about prayer. I would love for you to be there. If 8:30 or 9:00 are still too early, join us at Sawyer at 2 PM on Wednesday for devotion and time of sharing and prayer with what we call Intercessors. If that is still too early, why not check out a Life Group? If you are not in a small group, contact me. And for a number of you, Life Group is not going to work. In our weekly email, we have an attachment that we are using for our morning prayers that you can use any time of the day. Whatever time you find this month, know this: We desperately need prayer. It is our lifeline. Perhaps you are desperate today. After communion, we will respond by filling out sticky notes at the end of the service, and you can come up and put them up front. If you are tuning in online, use the chat feature, and the office can transcribe those to a sticky note. We will be praying for those requests for the next 21 days. At the end of the month, we will pick those requests up, and you can pray for them throughout the year. Here is one I had in my Bible. Maybe you need prayer today. We will have our prayer team upfront, ready to pray with you after the service. Friends, we can’t do this life alone. The disciples needed prayer. We do too. Jesus taught them about prayer and modeled it with his life. We can see it for ourselves to gain some direction for our prayers.
The text this morning is from Matthew 26 verses 36 through 46. I have asked KK to read for us. If you are able, would you stand with me in honor of God’s Word?
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.” (Matthew 26:36–46).
Thank you. Let’s pray. God, we need you and are desperate for you. You prayed, submitting yourself to the Father’s will. You were and are perfect, experiencing our humanity fully. You felt desire and flesh, temptations, and limitations. Jesus, thank you for being obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross. In these moments, open our eyes and ears to see you and hear you in new and powerful ways. Help us follow you where you lead. In your great name, Jesus. Amen. You may be seated. Could I have a couple of people offer to pray for me as I preach the Word? Thank you.
Matthew just finished describing Jesus in Jerusalem for the third time during his ministry. He was celebrating Passover with his disciples. It was the Last Supper. During the meal, Jesus predicted a disciple would betray him. They questioned who it was. Peter denied that he would ever do such a thing. Jesus told him that before the rooster crowed three times, he would deny him. Judas left. Jesus continued to teach. They sang, and they hiked a half-mile east of Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives. This is where the story begins.
Jesus had frequented this garden before, and is likely why Judas knew where to take the Pharisees and guards to take him captive. While Judas was finalizing his traitorous act, Jesus gave final instructions. Matthew, Mark, and Luke recorded this event. Matthew was there in person.
This morning I have three points if you are taking notes about this event in the Garden.
Point number 1 - Jesus and his humanity
Point number 2 - Jesus and his prayer
Point number 3 - Jesus and his heart
Let me go over those again.
Point number 1 - Jesus and his humanity
Point number 2 - Jesus and his prayer
Point number 3 - Jesus and his heart
Let’s walk through the story verse by verse.
Look at verses 36 and 37.
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.
Jesus asked his disciples to sit while he went off and prayed. That was simple enough. In Luke’s biography, he records, “he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Lk 22:40). Jesus asked his disciples to sit and pray. The disciples probably nodded a yes to Jesus’s command and kept nodding as they fell fast asleep.
TYPICAL PRAYER REQUEST
It reminds me of a typical problem. Someone asks for prayer, and we say, “Yeah, I will pray for that.” But the request is soon forgotten. We don’t pray. When we finally do, it is right before we start talking to that person because we are afraid to answer dishonestly or hide the fact we forgot. So, Jesus asked for prayer, and the disciples sat and eventually dozed off.
Why would they sleep?
- I imagine it was a long day of preparation for the holiday celebration. That could have tired them out.
- They walked on foot. That could have been a cause of their weariness.
- Maybe it was hot.
- Maybe it was the time they usually fell asleep.
- They had eaten. Perhaps they were full.
We don’t know why they fell asleep.
Yet, not everyone slept in that spot. Jesus called three to go further in the Garden with him: Peter, James, and John. They were the closest of the twelve. These were his three amigos. The Bible calls John the Beloved. Peter, Jesus named the Rock. James, John’s brother, was one of the Sons of Thunder. All were crucial figures in the early church. James would be the first apostle to die for his faith. Peter would die, as well. Peter wrote several letters which we studied last year from the Bible. He preached and was a figurehead for the church. John was Peter’s fishing buddy. He would be the only apostle to survive a death sentence and live out his days in prison for his faith. He would write much of the New Testament. They were all friends and disciples. But the picture here depicts their frailty and failure, not perseverance and power. Jesus wanted their help, and they couldn’t for the life of them stay awake. Their failure, as we will see, contrasts Jesus’s example in prayer.
NOT MY WILL
Keep reading. Look at verse 38.
38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed,
Jesus asked them to watch. And they did. They did enough to help us learn from Jesus’s example, which leads me to my first point. Point number 1 - Jesus and his humanity. In these verses, we see that Jesus was troubled and sorrowful. He was troubled to the point of death. Death can be troubling and depressing. What specifically was bothering Jesus? Look at verse 39. Jesus prayed,
“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.”
The cup was troubling and saddening. What was the cup? It was not a literal cup. The cup in the Bible referred to destiny. It could be good or bad. Jesus knew this cup. He predicted it many times. In chapter 16, Matthew wrote,
“From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”(Mt 16:21)
In chapter 17, Matthew wrote again,
Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed. (Mt 17:22–23)
In chapter 20, Jesus said,
18 “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death 19 and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified.” [Later Jesus said,] “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:18–19, 28).
And again, in chapter 26, the final week of Jesus’s life. Matthew recorded,
“When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, 2 ‘You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.’” (Mt 26:1–2)
That was the cup.
If Jesus knew what was going to happen, why was he troubled and sorrowful? Why would this cup be such a big deal? I think it was because he was fully man. We see his humanity in these moments.
Think about it. I tried imagining what it might be like to have some pain in my leg this week. It would be bad, really bad. So bad, I couldn’t walk. I would have to go to the doctor. There, I imagine him telling me I need surgery. Would knowing that someone with so much education has an answer for my pain make me feel better? Yeah. But would I still worry, be troubled, or maybe even sad? Yeah. What if he offered some educational videos on the procedure, watched a youtube, or read some articles online? What if I become a resident expert on the subject? Would that make me feel better about being put under or being on the operating table? Maybe. But could I still be troubled? What if the doctor assured me I wouldn’t feel a thing and would wake up fine? Would that make it better? Maybe a little, but I could still be troubled. What if I had plenty of money in the bank and an excellent insurance plan and know I am going to heaven. Does that take away every drop of trouble in my soul? I don’t think so.
In the same way, Jesus saw the cup before him and was greatly troubled and sorrowful. That kind of concern was not a sin. It is okay and normal to be troubled and sad in life. Jesus never sinned. The Bible says he was tempted in every way yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus understands us in our predicaments because he was fully man.
This raises the question, why did he want a different cup? The cup was worse than death. Remember, this was an innocent man dying an unjust death, one of the most painful deaths possible: crucifixion. And this was not just excruciating torture Jesus was anticipating. Jesus was taking on God’s punishment for the sin of the world. That was the cup.
The Bible teaches that the wage of sin is death. That is why, year after year, the Jewish people had to make animal sacrifices. In the moments following the Garden prayer, Jesus became the ultimate, once for all sacrifice for sin. He died to purify us from all our guilt and shame. He satiated the holy anger of God at injustice, rebellion, and wickedness. All lies, lusts, slander, and stealing, envy and jealousy, mayhem and murder, are paid for on the cross for those who put their faith in him. That, my friends, was what I think terrorized Jesus during those moments of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew this cup was the worst drink ever drunk and reacted in his person with pleading in prayer. That brings me to my second point. Point number 2 - Jesus and his prayer
Point number 1 - Jesus and his Humanity
Point number 2 - Jesus and his Prayer
How did Jesus pray? Verse 39 again, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Mt 26:39). And then, in verse 42, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Mt 26:42). We can learn to pray, to hear, and to see Jesus.
What is happening here can be a bit confusing. Let me talk briefly about the theology of the Trinity. The Bible teaches that God is one. However, he exists in three persons simultaneously, each distinct, all equally. How this works is a mystery. We are going to explore this in our TM4L next Saturday. If I say too much, I step outside of Scripture. We know Jesus was not talking to himself. He was talking to God the Father. Another example of this we saw last week. Jeff mentioned how at Jesus’s baptism, people saw the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove and heard the Father speaking a blessing to Jesus from heaven all at the same time. They were and are all distinct but one essence. We don’t have three Gods, but one in three persons.
What can we learn from Jesus calling God Father? First, he had an intimacy with God. We, too, can have that kind of intimacy with God by grace through faith in Jesus’s death on the cross on our behalf. Through faith, God becomes our heavenly Father. We become adopted children of God. Jesus becomes our spiritual brother. We can go before God humbly and earnestly asking for help in our troubles and sorrows as Jesus did. Jesus modeled intimacy in prayer.
Secondly, Jesus models honesty to God in prayer. He told God what he wanted. Are we honest with God? Do we tell God what is going on inside of us? Do we share our internal battles? Jesus did. He prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Mt 26:39). “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Mt 26:42). Are you honest with God? You may feel like you cannot share your heart with anyone. It is too scary and uncomfortable. God knows. You won’t be sharing anything surprising. He wants you to come to him like a little child. He is a good loving Father, the best Father ever. You can share your troubles and sorrows with God. Paul, the Apostle, was honest in his prayers. He shared his battles with God. In 2 Corinthians, Paul wrote,
A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me (2 Co 12:7–8).
Do you plead with the Lord in your troubles and sorrows? Do you talk to God? I think we would do well in 2021, to be honest with God. Maybe you think you don’t have time. Try rethinking what prayer is. It is just talking. How long would it take to share your burdens with him as you drive the car, or take a shower, or run around? Share your troubles with him. Jesus did. We should share our problems with God too.
Jesus teaches us by his actions to be intimate with God, honest with God, and, finally, persistent with God. In this passage, we read he keeps on praying and praying and praying. It is okay to ask for something from God again and again and again. It is okay to tell God something again and again and again. It is good to pray to God in good times and bad, at night and during the day, alone and with each other, standing and sitting and lying face on the floor pleading. So we see Jesus’s intimacy, his honesty, and his persistence are all examples for us. He teaches us how to pray as he heads to his execution.
In verse 40, Jesus finished his first prayer, gets up, and walks over to his friends. The text says,
40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
As a side note, I don’t think Jesus was saying Peter was sinning. This temptation was more like his weakness on display, not sin. His flesh was weak, and the disciples’ failure to stay awake highlighted Jesus’s example in praying intimately, honestly, and persistently to God.
This brings me to my last point: Point number 3 - Jesus and His Heart. We talked about Jesus and his Humanity and Jesus and his Prayer, now let’s talk about Jesus and His heart. He followed the Father, saying, “Your will be done.” Jesus was obedient to the Father to the point of death, even death on the cross. He was faithful to do what he said. That was Jesus’s heart, one of obedience. Look at verse 45.
45 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. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
Jesus’s heart was fixed. He was not turning back, running away, or fighting. His betrayal and crucifixion was God’s sovereign plan before all time. It was not a shock or accident. God ordained this evil for the greater good. Jesus would submit to the Father’s will, take the cup, and drink it dry.
This raises a challenge for us. Are you willing to follow God wherever he leads? Are you ready to give up everything you own to follow him? Take a moment to think about what would be the hardest thing for him to ask you in 2021?
ABRAHAM (Could cut)
This question reminds me of a story, the story of God asking someone to do several things that would have been very hard. That, someone, was Abraham. I see two parallels in Abraham’s life.
The first was in the negative. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his one and only son, Isaac. What did he do? He hiked up Mount Moriah, the very same hill the Temple in Jerusalem, and near where Jesus would die hours later in our story. There on the mountain top, Abraham made an altar. He put the wood down for the fire. He put his son on the wood. He raised his knife to his son. And God stopped him and provided a substitute, a ram in the thicket. Abraham passed the test. He believed God. He was willing to follow. That was extreme. God won’t ask us to do that. But he might ask us to sell something and give the money to the poor. He might ask us to forgo a promotion to spend time doing something with him or for him. He asks us to give up sinful idols and practices to follow him. Maybe you have a sin, a little compartment of your life you just can’t give over to God. Perhaps it is something secret no one knows about. Maybe you justify it as small or common or okay. What if, in 2021, you sacrifice that to follow God? What is one thing God might you? From time to time, I assess what I treasure and ask would I give that up? POSITIVE
Now, the positive challenge from the life of Abraham is his journey. Suppose you remember the story of Abraham. God asked him to go to an unknown land and follow wherever he leads. Sometimes God doesn’t ask us to sacrifice but to take on, go, do, or speak. “What might God ask of you this year?”
As we discern God’s voice, remember, God will not lead us to go against his Word, the Bible. He doesn’t contradict himself. If you question your sense of God’s leading, find other godly people to test your understanding of calling.
As we conclude, the Garden prayer is help and encouragement for us in our prayers. Talk to God intimately, honestly, persistently. Follow Jesus and the Father in 2021. Jesus said,
23 “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? (Lk 9:23–25).
Friends, the world would like us to invest all our resources here and now: in this stuff, this life, and these years. What are you living for? Whom are you living for? Live for eternity. Live for our Father, who loved you so much that he gave his one and only Son.
The reality is, none of us can do that perfectly. None of us are Jesus. All of us may feel more like the sleepy disciples than faithful, righteous Savior. This passage leads us to the cross and resurrection, where Jesus forgives us of our failure and empowers us by the Holy Spirit to pray to the Father.
COMMUNION / CLOSE
I will pray now, and pastor Jeff will come up and lead us in communion and close the service.
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