Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? “Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done.” And again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. Then He came to the disciples, and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. “Arise, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!”
We can almost see the severity of the situation and taste the tension in the air. Even with Matthew’s brief description we are with Jesus, maybe more than the disciples were, because they slept, but we’re carefully considering the context of Matthew’s perfectly worded account. Such as; Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt.’” And, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, thy will be done” and, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.”
Over twenty years ago I was in Israel during the anniversary of her independence and becoming a nation again after over two thousand years. I was able to walk where Jesus walked and pray where Jesus prayed; except for Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives. The day that our group went to the supposed sight of Gethsemane, which is at least near to the actual site, if not the actual site, because it is adjacent to the Mount of Olives, which is certain, I was sick. Sick being a gross understatement, I was violently ill with a contradictory high, hot fever and bone shaking chills. I won’t go into much further detail because I don’t want you to lose your lunch–like I lost my lunch, breakfast, dinner and I am pretty sure, half a lung and parts of my liver. I could not leave the bathroom for several hours and when I finally could, it was only for five or six minute intervals before I had to rush back. Luckily for me it was not on the Sabbath. But by night-fall, I was so completely emptied, I was able to fall asleep and wake up feeling good as new. I had food poisoning, I remember eating a foul piece of fish the night before, thinking, “uh-oh.” It was a random occurrence, the rest of the fish was fine and no one else got sick but I had missed the garden of Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives. These were the two places that I most wanted to see, by far. Because they were authentic. The Mount of Olives was a favored place of Jesus and Gethsemane was right there too. I wanted to see the place where Jesus, put his humanity on display, where he poured out his earthly anguish to the Father. I was literally minutes away, on foot, to this place but much too sick to even consider going. I had travelled half-way around the world to see this specific sight but now less than two miles away I was unable to make it. In a surprising slice of maturity for my 20 year-old self, I thought, “I am blessed to have seen all that I have seen and I have already been to Gethsemane, numerous times”–everytime I read one of the Gospel accounts. Today, I am there again, to the place where I have never been. Yet spiritually speaking, we have all been there, though not to the magnitude of the Messiah.
After 40 days and 40 nights without food, Jesus withstood the wiles of the devil. Yet here in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is facing the greatest test of all time. The author of Hebrews writes; “In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.” And we all have needed this; “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.”
There are many blessed pastors left in the West nevertheless, less blessed, than mediocre-at-best, far less than the infest of the specious false-witnesses. I have been blessed with solid, decent, pastors. We put too much on our pastors as well. There are no perfect pastors and while they have Spiritual help, they are only human. Yet many act the part of the pious, superhuman pastor, not admitting that they are weak like us, placing undue burdens on their congregations like the yoke of the Pharisees. Things such as, “thou shalt not wear blue jeans, ever, it is an abomination to the Lord.” I am not making that up. One of my favorites; “No single, solitary drop of alcohol ever touched the lips of Jesus or his disciples.” Then why are the disciples alseep in today’s text, from all the grape juice? I have heard this one too many times; “the Bible is absolutely black and white, there are no gray areas, at all.” This, of course, being a metaphor for the Bible telling us exactly what to do and what not to do in every situation. It’s this bogus claim that I will attempt to debunk–you will simply have to throw out your blue jeans until we come across it in the context.
We are going back to the garden of Gethsemane, in which we have all been to some degree, crying out to God to change our situations– Jesus is doing this very thing. Make no mistake, the Master is not merely going through the motions for our motivation, he is distressed as any human would be in a similar situation. Problem; Jesus is One with the Father. Nevertheless, he has emptied himself and become flesh but, perfect flesh. And in his perfection of flesh, he cries out to God, that of which he knows cannot happen. “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me;” Notice the metaphorical Master, mentioning the metaphorical cup, again. Don’t take things too literally. Jesus knew it was not possible for the metaphorical cup, which was the spilling of his blood, to be passed. I have taught, numerous times to teenagers, Jesus came to teach, preach, restore, and heal but ultimately he came to die. The book of Hebrews does a very good job explaining this. From the second sin entered the world, the Bible has progressively revealed that the perfect Messiah would come to die for his people. As we have walked through the book of Matthew, we have also seen Jesus progressively revealing that he was to be crucified to his disciples. How then is it now, that he asks the Father, “let this cup pass from Me,” and remain sinless? Because God is good, not a dogmatic, blue jeans hating, finger waving, psuedo-pious pastor. We must also consider the complete submission of the Savior.
“Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” Was Jesus wanting a way in which he wouldn’t have to suffer at the hands of the men that claimed to know God? Absolutely, consider the context. He was on his face pleading with the Father for help. Nevertheless, he also said, “yet not as I will.” He is not bargaining or trying to make a deal with God but asking, in his humanity, for a way out but not according to his humanity but God’s will. Fortunately for our sake, “the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering.”
When we find ourselves in the proverbial garden of Gethsemane, which is a fragment of what Jesus faced, we will often times try to bargain with God. Do this Lord and I promise I will do that, and this is where we fall short. Nevertheless, we find ourselves often in a gray area. At what point does our pleading with God become more than pleading? When does our bargaining cross the line? Because bargaining can quickly cross the line, very quickly. I would say, based upon the example of Christ, it is when we become immovable. I believe we cross the line from gray into black when we draw the line in the sand, demanding something from God. Asking God for something not in his will, like Jesus did, is clearly in the white if one completely claims, “but not as I will but as you will.” We enter the gray when we try to influence God, who knows best but often acquiesces to our requests for his own purposes. We enter the black when we won’t take “no,” for an answer. In conclusion, be careful of bargaining and be movable. I know, that is easier said than done; I write to myself–“do not dig in your heels, Russell P.” Nevertheless, God is good even in the gray; but he excels in the black and dwells in the white. Which is why this cup couldn’t pass.
Now that we have looked towards our example, let’s look at his followers, fast alseep. Jesus “said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.'”
Oh the humanity of the Son of God! Jesus knew what he had to do, die and yet his psychological status was already to that point. No, the metaphorical Master wasn’t literally going to die from stress but he was close. We must see the severity of the soul of the Savior’s stress level. We have not been there, though we have been in similar situations. We can relate to Jesus by remembering our garden of Gethsemane, which pales in comparison. Because Jesus is not only facing humiliation, scourging, whipping, beating, flogging, spitting, mocking and death, but the sins of the world will be placed on him, the only innocent man in the history of mankind. This is what we are intended to see when Jesus says to his disciples, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” Jesus never spoke this way before to the disciples; and they fell asleep. Other accounts have Jesus sweating drops of blood. See the severity of the situation.
“And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? “Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Literally or figuratively, Jesus considered one hour a short time. He prayed for an hour or so, came back and found the disciples sleeping. I don’t think that I have ever prayed for a half an hour alone, much less an hour. There are some who may read this of whom I have prayed for for ten or fifteen minutes, and that felt like an eternity. Still, given the hour, the feast from which they came, the alcohol consumption, the long prayer of Jesus and the severity of the situation–all things considered, I have a difficult time accepting that the disciples fell asleep. Except for one thing that Jesus said that is so spot on that I have to look inwardly; “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
“He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done.” And again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. Then He came to the disciples, and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?
I absolutely love that Jesus even prays in metaphors. Do you pray in metaphors? This is one reason why I write, “context is king;” if the cup and drink are metaphors of what Jesus must do, why do some take the cup and drink of communion literally as his blood? The metaphorical Master, through metaphorical prayer, has surrendered to the will of his Father. Notice the slight change in the prayer; “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done.” Jesus, through prayer, is now ready to face not only his betrayer, but the hands of the sinners. Now there is something that I want us to notice and consider, but that I also don’t want to be dogmatic about–we never hear or are given any indication that God answered Jesus verbally.
We know the location, we know who was there, we know 8 were close, we know John, James and Peter, were closer, a stone’s throw away–from another account, we know how Jesus prayed, we know that the disciples fell asleep but we don’t hear one audible word from the Father. And I am not sure that Jesus did, literally speaking. The Father heard Jesus and answered him, but how? What and how did he answer Jesus? Again, I am not being dogmatic but considering the context I believe that God answered Jesus by the footsteps of Judas. Remember, the disciples who were supposed to be keeping watch, fairly close by, fell asleep. But Jesus, with his human senses piqued and the Spirit with him, was alert and heard the mob coming in the no-so-far off distance. Notice; “And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. Then He came to the disciples, and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Arise, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!’” For clarity we will jump ahead one verse; “And while He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, came up, accompanied by a great multitude with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and elders of the people.”
I believe, based on the context and lack thereof, the Father answered Jesus through the actions of others. Make no mistake, Jesus was being tested and he passed with flying colors, accepting the will of the Father though it was against his humanity, through deep prayer and in agony.