This morning we return in our study of God’s Word to the 26th chapter of Matthew. Let me encourage you to take your Bible, or one near you, and turn to that 26th chapter of this wonderful testimony of the life of our Lord. And as we have come to the 26th chapter, we are fast approaching the cross of Jesus Christ. In fact, in our text this morning, we’re going to be looking at the section verses 36 through 46, the Son in sorrow. Now, I think most of us who have been in the church for any time are somewhat familiar with a hymn about our Lord, a very beautiful hymn written by a man named Philip Bliss many years ago. The hymn says, “Man of sorrows, what a name for the Son of God who came, ruined sinners to reclaim, hallelujah, what a Savior.” The hymn writer says, “Man of sorrows, what a name” and he borrowed that from Isaiah chapter 53, where Jesus is said to be a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. When you study the life of the Lord, you realize that indeed He was a man of sorrows. There is no record in Scripture that Jesus ever laughed. There are statements about His grief. There are statements about His sighing out loud, about His being grieved, about His feeling sad.
We all remember in John 11 when He wept at the grave of Lazarus, and prior to His weeping, how He groaned deep within Himself when He saw the impact of sin and death. We remember Luke’s record, chapter 19, verse 41, where Jesus looks over the city of Jerusalem, sees that evil, wicked, unbelieving population and weeps. He indeed is a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. But there has been no sorrow in His life, not the sorrow of disease, or unbelief, or disobedience, or ignorance, or rejection that can match the sorrow that we see Him experiencing in our text in Matthew 26. The Lord knew sorrow upon sorrow upon sorrow. But the sorrow here seems to be an accumulation and intensification of all the sorrow He ever knew, and that which was yet to be experienced. Frankly, as I pored through this particular text for many hours this week, during the day and during the night and in my thoughts, I found it almost impossible to describe in my own understanding what happened here. Oh, I can see the events, and I can understand the external circumstances, and I can understand what the words mean by what they say in the text. But I do not understand the profound nature of the suffering of Jesus Christ, because He, as infinite God, could experience something that I cannot comprehend.
And so, in a very real sense, to enter into the suffering of Jesus in this text is to tread on very holy ground, and to try to understand something that is really ultimately not understandable; to try to explain something that is really inexplicable. There is mystery here that is too profound for me and you and any other human being, and maybe even the holy angels. We find here that we stand in awe of the God-Man, fully aware that He is God, and yet seeing Him suffer in pain as a human, almost as if He were not God. And it is too much for us to understand. But what is the purpose of a passage on the suffering of Christ? Let’s read it and find out, beginning in verse 36: “Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, ‘Sit here while I go and pray yonder.’ And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee” – that would be James and John – “and began to be sorrowful and very depressed. Then saith He unto them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death. Wait here and watch with Me.’ And He went a little further, and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.’
“And He cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and He saith unto Peter, ‘What, could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if this cup may not pass away from Me except I drink it, Thy will be done.’ And He came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. And He left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then cometh He to His disciples, and saith unto them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray Me.’”
Now, this passage is a powerful passage. It is the Lord Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, immediately before His capture, mock trial, and execution. It is part of the preparation of the cross. It is part of our Lord’s being made ready to die. We have already seen Matthew outline for us elements of preparation, haven’t we, all through this 26th chapter. We saw the preparation of God’s plan early in the chapter; the preparation of the religious leaders, who were setting the plot to capture Christ. We saw the preparation of Mary, who loved Him and anointed Him for burial, as it were. We saw the preparation of Judas, who set out to betray Him. We saw our Lord bring to an end the old Jewish economy in the final Passover. We saw Him introduce His table, the Lord’s supper. We saw Him warn the disciples about what they were going to go through when He was captured and they were scattered. All of those elements of preparation moving toward the cross, and now we come to this. And this is His preparation.
But not just His; it belongs to the disciples, too. Because while it is a struggle that He must go through to bring Himself fully into harmony with the plan of God, and to once more defeat the devil, it is also an important element of preparation for the disciples, because out of it they will learn a profound lesson stated in verse 41, where our Lord says, “Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Ever and always the teacher, even in the midst of this unbelievable, inexplicable struggle with the enemy, who would divert Him from the cross, the Lord goes beyond His own experience to teach His own. He sees in His own struggle a great lesson that we must learn about how we are to face temptation and severe trial. And so as we look at the passage, we will not only see Him preparing Himself for His death, but preparing the disciples as well. They should learn from this, and we should learn with them from this, the proper way to face severe temptation. The Lord becomes the pattern. The Lord becomes the example in this text.
Now, the unfolding of the text comes to us, I think, very readily. It’s just a narrative text. But in order for us to be able to see our way through it clearly, and to draw it to some poignant conclusion, I want to give you five words that I’m going to use this morning and next Lord’s day. And I regret that, believe me; if I had my choice I’d preach for two and a half hours now, but I can’t do that. To go through the whole thing, it is so impactful. I don’t know how I’m going to survive the week in between, to be honest with you. But I want to give you five key words to hang the thoughts on: sorrow, supplication, sleep, strength, and a final word, sequence, and I’ll unfold those as we go.
But before we look at the key words that open up the understanding of this experience, as much as at least we can understand, let’s look at an introductory verse, verse 36; and this will allow us to establish our scene a little bit. “Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, ‘Sit here while I go and pray yonder.’ And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee,” and we’ll stop at that point. That’s introductory. That’s just setting the scene. The first word is “then,” and “then” is a word that is intended to put us in some kind of a chronological flow. “Then” is a word of sequence. Then – when is then? Well, it’s right after what just happened. Well, what just happened? Well, the Lord just stopped on the Mount of Olives to tell His disciples that they were going to leave Him, that they were going to forsake Him, that they were going to be scandalized and offended and trapped, and they were going to deny Him, and run from Him. And they said, “No, no, it will never happen, it will never happen.” But it would. It’s just after that.
Well, what scene is this? What’s going on here? Well remember, this is midnight Thursday of the last week of our Lord’s life. The years of ministry are over. The Galilean ministry, the Judean ministry, the Perean ministry east of the Jordan, it’s all over, the miracles, the healings. He is now come to Jerusalem at the Passover, in the year 33 A.D., most likely, perhaps 30 A.D., one of those two years. And He has come not only to attend the Passover but to be the Passover. And Thursday was the day to get ready, because that evening they ate the Passover, and so the disciples made ready the Passover, and Thursday evening they ate the Passover. The meal is over, the final hymn has been sung, they have left the upper room, gone through the city of Jerusalem with the bustling crowds, near midnight because of the holiday, because of the festival, because of the Passover season, out the gate north of the temple, which would be the eastern gate, down the slope of the temple mount, across the Kidron, up the Mount of Olives. And after the little interlude on the Mount of Olives where the Lord warned them about their defection, they now come to the garden of Gethsemane.
It will be in that garden in a very brief time that Jesus will be taken prisoner. It is imminent. It is momentary. And before that must occur, something else must occur, and that is a time of intercession with the Father. But the Lord uses this time to be instructive to His disciples and to us as well. In what way is it instructive? It is instructive in so many ways, but primarily it gives us profound insight into how to deal with temptation in severe cases. Now, would you notice that He came to a place called Gethsemane? That means “olive press.” Apparently was the name of a garden, or an area in which there was a garden, on the mountainside. It was on that hillside, the western slope of the Mount of Olives, on the east of Jerusalem, just beyond the temple mount, that the wealthy people of Jerusalem had their gardens. They didn’t have them in the walled city; there was no room for that. The population was dense and compressed. The gardens were on the hillsides outside. And here was a garden called Gethsemane, a familiar place. In fact, it tells us in John 18:2 that Jesus went there often with His disciples. It was a place of privacy, a shaded place, away from the crowd, the thoroughfare, the city, the busyness. It was a place where He could go and be uninvolved for just a time, to spend the night in prayer with His Father or instruction with His beloved.
We don’t know who owned the garden. He’s another one of those wonderful nameless people who came to the aid of Jesus Christ toward the end of His life. You remember there is the nameless man who provided the animal for Him to ride. There is the nameless host who gave Him the upper room. There is the nameless owner of the garden. And in the midst, as William Barclay says, of a desert of hatred, there are a few oases of love, and some nameless people, who are not unknown to God but to us, gave to Jesus in those final hours what He needed. And so He reaches this place on the gentle slopes of the Mount of Olives, no doubt somewhere near the top. And there He says to His disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray yonder.” He entered in, and probably the garden was fenced or walled in some way to keep it from the other things that were there on the hillside, and He says, “You stay here,” no doubt just a little bit inside the entrance, “and you wait, and I’m going to go and pray yonder.”
Now, the disciples are told to stay. They know what is to happen. They have already been told that this is the time for Him to die. In chapter 26, verse 2, Jesus said to the disciples, “Two days and the Son of Man is betrayed to be crucified.” This was the time. Those days had passed. Jesus had said to them in verse 31, “This night you’re going to face a temptation, and you’re not going to be able to handle it; and you’re going to be offended, and you’re going to run.” So they knew they were at the very nexus of a very significant time; they were at a crisis point. And they should have seen this as a time to pray. And when they were told to stay here, and He said, “I’m going to go and pray,” they should have caught the drift of what He was saying: “You stay and pray, I’ll go and pray.” He had a couple of things in mind. He wanted seclusion, and if He piled the disciples up toward the entrance, there wouldn’t be people coming to try to bother Him. He didn’t want that. He didn’t want any intrusion into His time with the Father, as He wrestled through this absolutely unbelievable and beyond an understanding experience. And so He set the disciples, as it were, like a watch, to guard Him and also to pray. He even says in verse 41, “Watch and pray;” be on the alert and spend your time in intercession. And He says, “I’ll go yonder.”
By the way, there’s no indication that they even uttered a breath of prayer. There’s no indication anywhere in the gospel records that they called on the Father at all. They knew what was coming; at least they had heard it. But they existed in a kind of smug self-confidence. They thought themselves to be somewhat invincible. You see, they mistook their good intentions for power. They mistook their good intentions for strength, and that was foolish – that was foolish. And so they didn’t pray, from all that we know; they just were left there, and the Lord went on. Verse 37 says, “He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, who were James and John.” Now, it’s little doubt what He was going to do. He says, “I’m going to go and pray.” And when He says “while I go and pray,” He uses a very intensive word – the normal word would be euchomai [???], this is proseuchomai [???], an intense word, an intense word always used of praying to God. Other words may refer to begging or asking something from someone else, but this word always refers to God; it is an intense word of prayer to God. “I’m going to go and talk to God – I’m going to go and pour out My heart to God.”
And so He leaves the disciples there, with the exception of Peter, James and John, and notice in verse 37, He takes them with Him. They were there when He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, and they alone, of the disciples, and they alone of the disciples were there at His transfiguration, when He showed Himself in glory. And by the way, they fell asleep there, too. And maybe it was because they had seen His glory that He specially wants them now to see His humiliation. But there’s more than that. Commentators through the years have asked, “Why did He take Peter, James and John?” Well, let me tell you why. First of all, He couldn’t take them all, because if He took them all there would be no one to guard the gate. Secondly, He had to leave enough people at the gate so that there was a significant guard there; in case a group of people came looking for Him, they would be able to stop them. Furthermore, if the group of disciples were at the gate, they would attract the attention of anyone coming and looking for Him until He was done with His prayer, and He could find some seclusion that way. So He had to leave a large group there.
But why would He take these three? Well, somebody says He took them for companionship. He wanted those who loved Him the most to spend some time with Him and be sympathetic and supportive of Him. That’s a nice sentiment. And I think – I think there may be an element of truth in the fact that He loved their companionship. But I don’t think that was the reason He took them. Someone else has said He took them because they were the weakest of the bunch, and He couldn’t let them out of His sight. And if you study the New Testament, and you watch Peter and James and John, you might come to that conclusion. But that doesn’t really fit either, because after all, He had given more of Himself to these three than any others. And it wouldn’t speak very much of the success of His discipling efforts if after three years they were still the weakest of the bunch, would it? The truth of the matter is He took them because they were the three leaders. He took them because there was a lesson that had to be taught to the rest, and He couldn’t take them all or there wouldn’t be anybody left there to watch. But He took the significant leaders, because whatever it was He wanted them to learn, He wanted them to be able to communicate it to the rest, and these were the ones the rest looked to. They were the ones who would be the teachers.
And here was the Lord, always the teacher. I mean it isn’t enough that He’s going on to do what He’s going to do and agonize over the cross. He sees it also as a means to instruction, and He wants to capture that. He wants to teach them how to face temptation – not with a smug self-confidence, not denying the possibility of failure, not imagining yourself invincible, but through dependence on God in passionate prayer to face a trial. He wasn’t looking for their help. He wasn’t looking for their sympathy. He never asked for sympathy. He never asked them to pray for Him. He wasn’t taking them so He could watch them, because if He did that, why did He leave them and go on further? Because it says He took the three with Him and He went a little further in verse 39. In fact, He went probably 30 to 50 yards beyond them; Luke says a stone’s throw. So He wasn’t there to patrol them, and He didn’t have them there to support and sympathize with Him, or He wouldn’t have left them and gone on alone. He had them there because there was something they needed to learn out of this experience about how to face a trial that they could pass on to others. And I believe, too, that they might see something of the agony of their Savior; that they might understand His love.
He wasn’t looking for their help. That would be incongruous. I mean there’s a Gethsemane in all of our lives. There may be many of them. There may be many agonizing experiences, agonizing trials and temptations. There seems a deep sorrow and trial through which we all must pass sooner or later. The dark hour of death lurks around all of us, and the bitter cup we drink at some time or another, and maybe often we drink it. And our social nature sort of pushes us manward, to reach out to men for our strength, and we expect too much from them. Even our dearest and holiest friends, however willing their spirit may be, will find their flesh is feeble, and we need to learn to turn to God. He wasn’t taking them for support. He wasn’t taking them for sympathy. He found support in God, and He asked no sympathy. And He wasn’t taking them to patrol them, because He wouldn’t have left them alone, and He had done His work for three years, and He was ready to leave, and the Spirit would take over where He finished. No, He took them for instruction’s sake, that they might learn how He faced a trial. What a lesson they needed to learn.
And it’s really a remarkable contrast, because we have just come out of the confident boasting of Peter and the other disciples, who, “O Lord, we’re going to be able to handle this trial, we’re going to be able to take this, we’ll never deny You, we’ll never forsake you, why, we’ll die before we do that.” And out of the confident boasting of the disciples, we come immediately to the humble acquiescence of Christ to the fact that humanity is weak. Sinful, fallen humanity will not acknowledge its weakness. Unfallen, sinless humanity acknowledges its weakness. You say, “You mean the humanity of Jesus was weak?” Yes, the humanity of Jesus was humanity, and humanity is weak, and if you don’t think that, then you’ve forgotten that He died, and death is the essence of weakness. Jesus was fully human, and He knew that in humanity is weakness. Tears are a sign of human weakness, because they’re a sign of pain. Agony is a sign of human weakness. Suffering is a sign of human weakness. God knows no pain, no agony, no suffering, eternal God in deity – except that which He chooses to consider on behalf of man.
So, He could die, and in that was weakness. He could hurt, and in that was weakness. He could hunger, and in that was weakness. He could thirst, and in that was weakness. He knew humanity was weak. And he knew, in His unfallen sinlessness, what those foolish disciples wouldn’t recognize in their fallenness; that when you enter into a severe trial, if you are human, you must not look to men, but you must look to God. And He did what they refused to do. They flunked a less severe test. He passed the severest test in the history of humanity. And that is why the writer of Hebrews tells us, in Hebrews 4:15 – and you may see it with new eyes – “We have not an high priest” – speaking of Christ – “who cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” When you go to the Lord Jesus Christ with your needs, you’re not talking to a high priest who doesn’t know how you feel. He is fully human. He has been touched with the feelings of our weaknesses. He knows weakness. He feels infirmity. That’s the word weakness. He is touched with the feeling of infirmity. He knows what it is to experience the weakness of humanness – not at sin, yet without sin, but its weakness. And even in that cross, as He went to that cross, and in the garden, and in all the suffering and sorrow and grief of His life, He experienced what it is to be human. And here He is tempted severely by Satan, and in the middle of that temptation, we begin to sense His dependence on God, and out of that comes victory, and there is the lesson that we learn from this marvelous passage: to trust God in the midst of our trials.
Now, let me give it to you in a bigger perspective. Jesus’ ministry began and ended with a severe temptation. You go back to when it all began in Matthew, chapter 4, and you will find Satan came to Him, after 40 days of fasting in the wilderness, and Satan tempted Him, right? How many waves of temptation came to Jesus in that first temptation? Three – three times. How many waves of temptation come to Jesus here? How many times did He go to pray? Three times. Satan came at Him at the beginning and came at Him at the end, in three great waves of temptation. And Jesus was victorious in both of those, the beginning and the end of His ministry. And what is so marvelous about them is they were both very personal, very intimate, very private solicitations to evil between Satan and Christ. And we would have no knowledge of them and no insight into them if they had not been revealed to us in Scripture. Even the disciples couldn’t know, because they were asleep through the whole thing, and they weren’t even there the first time. But Jesus reveals both of those encounters to teach us profound truth.
The first wave of temptation early in His ministry, Jesus replied every time with what? Scripture. The second time He responded to every wave of temptation with what? Prayer. And the lesson that He teaches is that when you face temptation, you face it with two weapons. The weapons of our warfare that are not carnal but that are spiritual are the weapons of the Word of God and prayer. And that is why in Ephesians 6 it says, “Take the sword of the Spirit, praying always.” And there are the weapons of our warfare, and if the disciples never learned anything else but that, that would be enough to meet the enemy. And so Jesus is completing the lesson He began in His early temptation, teaching them that if you’re going to handle temptation, you handle it on the strength of the Word of God and the power of God sought through prayer.
Now, with that as a background, let’s look at the first word, key words that help us unfold the text. The first word is the word “sorrow” – the word “sorrow.” I only wish to God that I were a person of eloquent words and could express what I feel in my heart about this. I’ll do the best I can. In verse 37, after having gone on with Peter, James and John, some distance further from the other eight, it says, “He began to be sorrowful and very depressed” – very depressed. Now here our Lord is entering into deep anguish. If you think for a minute that Jesus just lived His life, and went to the cross and died, ho-hum, and rose again, and said, “There, it’s done,” you’re wrong. Every single thought of anticipation of that cross that dwelt in His omniscience repulsed everything about Him. He agonized every conscious moment of His incarnation over the reality of the cross, because everything in it He despised – the guilt, the sin, the death, the isolation, the loneliness, the estrangement from God. This is not something He coolly and calmly engaged in, as if it were turning the page of a book on redemptive history, but something which brought Him to an indescribable agony. His whole soul is so repulsed with everything that has to do with the cross, the horror of it is so large, that it’s beyond our description. And in that I think lies a new understanding of the love and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
You see, He not only died on the cross when He died on the cross, but He died on the cross every conscious moment before He died on the cross, because in His knowledge He prelived through His own death every conscious moment. And because He fully understood everything, He fully experienced it before it ever happened. It’s little wonder that He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. The pain was always there, and here it reaches its apex, its epitome. But the fact that He endures this, that He goes through this victoriously, shows how much He loves the Father, how submissive He is to the Father’s will, how much He loves sinners who need salvation. But the anticipation of this brings terror and pain and sorrow. And we remember how it was at the grave of Lazarus, in chapter 11 of John’s gospel, verses 33 to 35. He walked up to that grave, and He began to ache on the inside, and He began to groan for sorrow, and finally it burst out in tears as He began to anticipate the meaning of sin and death, even in the case of Lazarus; and he could no doubt see Himself dying as well as Lazarus had. He certainly wasn’t weeping for Lazarus; He was about to bring him out of the grave. It was the power of sin and death that gripped His soul there, just a little time before this event.
The word here for being sorrowful means deep sadness – not superficial, but deep. And it says He was very depressed – that is a very interesting word, adēmoneō [???]. The word literally means, in a sort of a wooden sense, to be away from home, so it’s a beautiful concept. Home is where comfortable things are. Home is where you belong. Home is where your family is. Home is where love is. Home is where you’re at ease. Home is where you’re accepted. Jesus was away from home. He was isolated in conflict with hell. This was depressing, so that the word “to be away from home” ultimately came to mean “depressed.” It says in Psalm 42, and I think in a Messianic way describing Christ’s experience, that wave upon wave rolled over Him, waves of grief, deep called unto deep. There is a desolate, profound kind of loneliness and sorrow here that causes Him to be depressed, deeply depressed. And I tried to think about that, in my own mind asking myself why was He so depressed, what was it that mounted up this great depression? And I thought of many things.
First, remember this: He was depressed not only about what had happened, but He knew what would happen. And all of it came together to give this depression. First there was the defection of Judas – depressing. I mean, He, Jesus Christ, was the all-together lovely one, the most attractive human that had ever walked on the earth, the God-Man who knew only love, and did only what was right, and was all goodness, grace, and mercy, and kindness, the trusted friend, the lover of souls, the gracious master adored by holy angels, guarded by Seraphim. Is He to be brought to this humiliation by a wretched traitor? By an earthly Lucifer who spits on his holy privilege? Is He to be the victim of a Judas, who is the God of Gods? And how can Judas treat Him this way? Depressing. And then there was the desertion of the eleven. He who was the source of their life, He who was the resource for all they ever needed, He who was the comforter for every grief, He who was the lesson for every point of ignorance, He who was the faithful teacher, loyal friend, encourager, forgiver, supporter, is He to be forsaken by those He would never think to forsake Himself? Is He to be so humiliated? Is He to have spent three years with men who will turn their backs on Him in the night and run to save their own life? Depressing. You would be depressed by the forsaking of all those you loved and invested your life in.
Then there’s the denial by Peter. If He invested anything in anyone, He invested most in Peter. He was the one who was not ashamed to call sinful Peter His friend. He was the one who was not ashamed to give Peter the leadership of His disciples. He was not ashamed to make Peter His brother, and to share with Him all His eternal riches, including His own Kingdom. Is He to be the object of Peter’s shame? Wretched Peter, sinful Peter, unfaithful Peter, denying Peter, a sinner ashamed of a holy Lord, Peter with whom He had spent so much time, and to whom He had given so much, will deny Him and curse His name? Depressing. And then I imagine we have to think of the rejection by Israel, too. This is His people, beloved, called by His name. He is the Lord of the covenant. He is the King of glory, the King of grace, the source of their hope. He is the bringer of the Kingdom, who loved Israel and calls Himself Israel’s Lord and King. He came to redeem this people. Is He to be rejected by them? Is He to be murdered by their unbelief?
And then there is the injustice of men. It is depressing. I mean here He comes into a world in which He has made the laws. He is the God of equity and the God of what is fair, and what is just, and what is true, and what is right. Is He to be cheated in the petty courts of lying men who will deny Him His right to justice and truth? It’s depressing. And then there is the cursing and the mocking that’s going to come, already has come. But He is the one whom angels praise. He is the one for all eternity who knew nothing but the praise and the adoration of holy creatures. He is the one always exalted. He is the one blessed beyond all, glorified, adored for eternal perfection. Is He to be spit on? Is He to be mocked? Is He to be blasted by the profanity of stupid men? And then there’s the loneliness – the loneliness. He who is the companion of God, who is the fellow of the Holy Spirit, who is a part of the angelic association, who communes with holy creatures, the eternally glorious friend; is He to be alone, forsaken by all, so that even the holy hosts turn their back?
And then there’s the bearing of sin, isn’t there? Think about that, depressing. The spotless, sinless, without blemish, holy Son of God is to become sin – what a statement – so that His name is sin. He is so identified with sin He becomes, in the moment of death, so sinful that He is called sin who knew no sin. Such an event repulses everything in His holy nature. And then He must have been depressed by the forsaking of God. He is the beloved of the Father. He is the one of whom the Father says, “In whom I am well pleased.” He is the object of eternal love. Is He to be abandoned by God? Depressing. And then there’s death itself. You have to realize, people, Jesus as God is the undying one. Jesus as God is immortal and eternal; knows no death. You see, we as human beings come into the world with the taste of death in our mouth, and we taste it all our life long. And even though we are fallen and sinful, we are repulsed by death, which we taste all the time. How much more would death repulse one who never knew its taste? One who is eternally deathless? But as the writer of Hebrews says, “Has now taken on the taste of death for every man.” And so He faces something which an eternally undying being can never face. And He does not face it for Himself, for He cannot die, but He dies as man for man. As Edersheim once said, “He disarmed death by bringing its shaft into His own heart, and death had no more arrows.”
But all of this was overwhelmingly depressing. This is not theater, this is reality. And this is the struggle of the Savior. And this is the struggle that He’s in with Satan. You say, “You think Satan is here?” I know he’s here. There’s no struggle without him. You say, “Well, maybe it just came out of Jesus’ nature.” Not really, because His nature was sinless. It came because Satan was approaching Him again. You say, “What was Satan saying to Him?” Well, it’s easy. I could tell you what he was saying to Him. It isn’t even here, but I can anticipate what it is, because I know what he said the first time. And the gist of Satan’s temptation the first time was he came to Jesus, first he said, “Make stones into bread,” right? Then jump off the tower and then look at the kingdoms of the world, bow down to me, and I’ll give them to You, right? Now, what was he doing? Did Jesus have a right to eat? Sure. Did Jesus have a right to have anything He wanted? Sure, He is sovereign God. Did Jesus have a right to be hailed as the Messiah? Yes. Did He have a right to rule the kingdoms of the world? Yes.
Do you know what Satan was saying to Him? “Take Your rights, grab Your rights. You have been out here in the wilderness 40 days and You have not eaten, and You’re the Son of God. Don’t let that happen to You, grab some satisfaction. You deserve it. This isn’t right that You should be deprived of food, turn those stones into bread. And You are to be hailed as the Messiah, don’t wait for a life of humiliation, and don’t wait for rejection. Just dive off the high point of the temple and land in front of the crowd, and they’ll hail You as a Messiah who can fly right out of heaven, and You can bypass all the pain and all the agony and the cross and the whole thing. And then just take a look at all the kingdoms of the world that You can see from this mountain; I’ll give them all to You if You just bow down to me, and you can bypass the cross and bypass the agony and bypass the rejection.” And the point is this: “You’re too good for that. You’re too worthy for that.”
See, that’s how Satan came. Satan came playing on Jesus Christ’s worthiness. “You should not be so deprived.” And I believe when he came back in the garden, it was the same thing. It was “What are You doing here? What are You doing humiliated? What are You doing with a rabble coming out of the city of Jerusalem to take You captive and execute You? Why are You here on the ground with Your face in the dirt, crying out to God in agony, sweating great drops or clots of blood? You are the Son of God. Why are You to be humiliated by eleven deserting disciples and one betraying wretched traitor named Judas? You deserve better than this, don’t let this happen to You, You’re too worthy for this. You are the Son of God. Take what You’re entitled to.” And Satan wanted to keep Him from the cross, always. In the first temptation, “Take it now without the cross.” Here, “Take it now without the cross.” Even in Matthew 16, when Peter said to Him, “Don’t go to the cross,” Jesus said, “Get thee behind Me” – who – “Satan,” because that was Satan’s approach all the time. “You savor the things that are men’s and not the things that are God’s,” you don’t know God’s plan.
And so I believe Satan was coming at Him in these three waves, trying to get Him to stop trusting God for the plan the way the plan was designed, and to short circuit the thing, avoid the cross, that was the temptation. And it was starting heavy, and He spoke to the disciples in verse 38, and He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful.” That word “exceedingly sorrowful” is perilupos [???]. It means to be surrounded by sorrow, like the periphery, peripheral. He was surrounded by sadness. He was engulfed in sadness. And He uses the word “My soul,” My inner person. He’s a real person. “My inner being is literally drowning in sorrow.” How sorrowful? “Even unto death.” Listen: the sorrow was enough to kill Him. That’s right. The sorrow was enough to kill Him. You can die from sheer anguish, you know that? You can burst your capillaries, which later begins to happen as He sweats, and His sweat is mingled with the blood escaping through the sweat glands. He could die from sheer anguish. If it were not for the fact, as we see next week, that God sent an angel to strengthen Him, I think He would have died in the garden before He ever got to the cross. When He did get to the cross, He died very fast, so fast they didn’t even need to break His – what – His legs. The anguish was so severe that death was imminent.
So you see, you can’t look at the cross as if it’s some isolated event of anguish. His life was a life of sorrow, and His anguish anticipated the cross. And He did it for you, and He did it for me. And in that sorrow He retreats to the Father. He says, “Wait here and watch with Me. Stay here,” and obviously He wanted them to pray. He had warned them about what was coming. “And keep a watch,” and He would go to a more secluded place, in the shade of a tree, away from the rest. As I said, Luke says, “He went about a stone’s throw,” 30 or 50 yards away, “to pray.” And that really brings us to the second word, and we’re just going to introduce this, cover it next time. But His heart is at the breaking point, and He does the right thing. It says, “He went a little further, and fell on His face,” verse 39, “and prayed.” Verse 42, “He went away again the second time, and prayed.” Verse 44, “He left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time.” With each wave of temptation, there came the response of retreat to the place of seclusion with the Father in prayer. His grief, His sorrow, I believe begins to accumulate. It says in verse 37, “He began to be sorrowful.” And I believe it was a continual process of increasing sorrow.
One hint of that is Luke says, “He went away the first time and kneeled,” and then in Matthew, it says, “He fell on His face.” Obviously, He started in the kneeling position, but not much time passed before He was prostrate with His face on the ground. And what does He say in this? Here comes the second key word – supplication – supplication. “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” I don’t think He prayed it quite as fast or as glibly as I read it, but that’s what the text says. First, He said, “O My Father.” He called God “Father” every time He prayed to Him except one, and that was on the cross when God forsook Him. But this is the only time in Scripture He ever said, “O My Father.” And He takes the idea of intimacy, which was so foreign to Judaism. When Jesus called God “Father”, the Jews just couldn’t handle that, because they didn’t call God their personal Father. He was the Father to the nation, but there was no intimacy to that.
Here Jesus goes a step further, and doesn’t only say “O Father,” He says, “O My Father,” and Mark says He cried “Abba,” Daddy. He is holding on to intimacy. It’s as if Satan is trying to rip Him apart from the Father, and the Father’s will, and the Father’s purpose, and Jesus is holding on, and He is articulating the intimacy of His relationship with the Father, which He will not release. “O My Father,” very possessive, very personal, very intimate, and He holds on to that. He will not distrust God, like He wouldn’t make bread on His own, and He wouldn’t credit Himself as Messiah on His own, and He wouldn’t take the kingdoms of the world on His own, but He waited for the Father. He will not here divert the cross or divert from the cross on His own. He will go through the plan, and so He says, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”
In other words, He says, “If it is possible to do this any other way, I would want that, but if it’s not, let it be.” And that is a prayer of resolution and resignation to the will of God. By the way, when He says “if it be possible,” He’s not asking if it’s possible within the power of God, because anything is possible within the power of God. God has the power to do it. He is asking, is it possible in the plan of God, you see. If it is possible morally, if it is possible redemptively, if it possible in the consistency with the plan to save sinners, is there any other way, let it happen another way. This is an unbearable thing that is killing Him in the garden. And it was after this first prayer of the three that He began to sweat clots of blood, thrombos [???], from which we get thrombosis, means clots. We’ll see that in Luke’s passage next week.
The agony was almost killing Him, and He says, “If there’s any other way, if it’s possible to do it any other way.” He’s not trying to avoid redemption; He’s just at the point of dire agony. “Is there any other way, but if there’s no other way, then let it be – let it be.” “This cup” – the cup is the symbol of the experience He will endure. He will drink the experience. He will consume the cup to the bitter dregs. The cup is often associated with divine wrath. Psalm 75:8, Isaiah 51:17, Jeremiah 49:12, all three of those, and other scriptures, speak of the cup of judgment, or the cup of wrath. And the cup that Christ was going to drink was the fury of God over sin, was the attack of Satan, the power of death, the guilt of iniquity. All of that was in the cup. And He could wish that He could escape if there was any other way. But you remember, He said, “I have come for this purpose.” Remember John 12? “For this cause came I into the world.” So He says, “If it’s not possible, I just want to do Your will.” Now, there’s commitment. See, He said to Peter, in Matthew 16:23, “You think like men, you savor the things of men, not the things of God.” He says, “I want God’s will, I want to do God’s plan.” He came into the world to do God’s will, and that was His absolute total commitment.
And so the Lord Jesus Christ then begins the supplication, and the supplication shows us genuine agony because it shows us the desire to be relieved of it, “Please, if there’s any way it could be done through another means – let it be. But if not, whatever Your will.” That is the way to face temptation, in confident prayer and commitment to the will of God. He trusted God. The intensity of the struggle brings out in Him the very best, because of how He approached it, as we shall see next week. He brings out in the disciples the very worst, because of how they approached it – even though their trial was infinitely less severe than His. We leave Christ in that agony until we come together next time, and we’ll complete this marvelous passage.
Our Lord Jesus, we come to You with thankful hearts. Words fail us at this moment, as we have just with our mind’s eye lived through the agony of the garden. And, Lord, what is so overwhelming about it all is that when You were there, You knew my name, You had already written my name in Your book, and so You were bearing my sin, and the sin of every believer. You knew us in the garden. We were there in Your agony and in Your anguish, for it was our sin that You would bear. And though we were yet unborn, and our fathers and forefathers unknown to this world, You knew us, and You were there for us. We’re overwhelmed at Your grace. We’re unworthy. We thank You. We want to thank You more than with our words, with our life.
While your heads are bowed in a closing word, if you don’t know the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, this is the day. Open your heart to the one who suffered and died for you, to take away your sin.