Matthew 26:36-46: “Overwhelmed With Sorrow”
Sunday morning worship, September 30, 2018
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
After Jesus asks Peter, James, and John to “stay here and keep watch with me” Matthew says Jesus went farther and the rest of them fell asleep. So how did the Gospel writers know what Jesus prayed and that He came back the second time and found them sleeping? The only way is if Jesus told them Himself or the Holy Spirit revealed it to them supernaturally.
Luke 24:45-49 tells us that during one of Jesus’ final post-resurrection appearances to the Apostles, Jesus “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” Then Jesus went on to explain many things from the Scriptures about Himself to them. My best guess is that during this or a similar encounter Jesus revealed these things to them.
So if that is true, or even if it came through a revelation of the Holy Spirit, we still have to ask ourselves, “Why was it so important for the Apostles to know the content of Jesus’ prayers and of His actions in Gethsemane while they slept?”
We know Jesus didn’t reveal this truth to the Apostles to make Himself look good. We know from Matthew 6:5 that Jesus chastised the “hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” Jesus knew what He prayed in the Garden. So this revelation has to be for the benefit of the Apostles and for our benefit. So let’s explore together the benefits we can draw from this passage and see what changes we might need to make in both our everyday lives and our prayer lives.
Let’s begin with the most obvious. Jesus told at least Peter, James, and John to “watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (v41). Think of how many times we have started to pray and either been interrupted by a phone call and another person in the house. Think of how many times we have started to pray and something comes into our minds that we feel we must take care of immediately. Think of how many times we have started to pray and our minds have wandered off into some tangent and we never finished praying. Think of how many times we have started to pray, and like the Apostles, fallen asleep.
Now stop and compare those prayer sessions to the times when we have been really hurting or in trouble and called on Jesus. Did we fall asleep during those prayer sessions? Did our minds wander off on some tangent or were our prayers focused and directed in those moments? Even though their “spirits were willing” I think it is fair to project that the Apostles didn’t understand the enormity of what was about to happen even though Jesus had done everything He possibly could to impress upon them the coming reality. He had warned them on multiple occasions of His impending death. He just said, “I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (v29).
Would we admit we live so much of our lives without a sense of urgency about the things of Jesus? In Matthew 24, where Jesus gives us the signs of the impending end of this age of kingdom history, Jesus says, “If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into” (v43). In Luke’s version of Matthew 24, Luke quotes Jesus saying, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap…Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” (21:34-36).
Jesus knew what was about to happen to the Apostles. Jesus had specifically warned them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me” (v31). He had warned Peter he would deny Jesus three times (v34). Prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit the Apostles could have accessed in prayer could have changed what was about to happen in their lives. Scripture is full of warnings even for us living today. It tells us over and over and over again the general consequences of disobedience and rebellion.
Hebrews 4:12 tells us the “word of God is living and active.” Whether we understand the “word of God” as the written Scriptures or the revealed word of the Holy Spirit in our lives doesn’t matter. Accessing the throne of God in prayer will change what is about to happen in our lives. Primarily, if we are in communication with God at all times, we will be able “escape what is about to happen and we will be able to stand” in faith. Jesus told us bad things will still happen to us, but we will face them differently and our actions and the results will be different. What matters most in our lives is taking the time to open the communication channel with the Holy Spirit from the moment we get out of bed each morning till we fall asleep at night. Even then we should ask the Holy Spirit to keep watch over us through the watches of the night.
Living with such urgency is probably beyond our own strength. I’m not sure if many of us even want to live that way. As the Mercy Me song offers, many of us want to live “somewhere in the middle.” So I ask this morning, “Do we want to live in constant communication with God and Jesus through the Holy Spirit or do we want the blessings of such a way of life without paying the price to become such a friend of Jesus?” The answer to that question is why I believe Jesus revealed to the Apostles the content of His prayer, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
James and John confidently and ignorantly told Jesus they could drink the cup Jesus was about to drink (Matthew 20:22). I think most of us wouldn’t be so confident knowing the cup Jesus drank was the cup of becoming sin and being forsaken by God at that moment of His existence. I wonder if we even recognize when we are beginning to drift away from the presence of the Spirit. Jesus wanted us to know He was a man. Jesus lived and died in communion with the Holy Spirit in the same manner He has now made available to us.
We will not be asked to die for all mankind. We will not be asked to become sin for the salvation of the world. But we already have been asked to lay down our lives for our friends and for the kingdom of God (John 15:13). But the old self, the person the King James translation called the carnal man and the NIV calls worldly (1 Corinthians 3:3f), still rears his or her ugly head in our lives all too often. We are tempted. There are things we want to do. There are things we want to experience.
When we decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong, what we will do and what we won’t do, what price we are willing to pay and when the cost is beyond the scope of our commitment to Christ, we sacrifice intimacy with the Creator God of the Universe and the Savior of the World for a boat, a car, a ballgame, a date, a dinner, or even some sleep like the Apostles in this section of Scripture. Sometimes I wonder if even our spirits, our human spirits not our redeemed spirits, are even willing. I often wonder about the quality of our love for Jesus, myself included.
I admit to being a little more tightly wound about things than most. But when I read the Scriptures I believe that every moment of our lives is important. I believe every decision has consequences. I believe Jesus wants to share every moment, even every thought, with us—both His and ours. I believe He wants to sit and talk to us like we talk to our friends. I believe He wants to go everywhere we go and share both the good and the bad we experience in every day. That’s how I read the Scriptures. If I’m wrong, I want to be shown.
Despite these beliefs, I also believe no failure is ever final. I believe Jesus is capable of redeeming us, our lives, and our actions both past and present, to the cause of His eternal glory. I believe it is never too late to make a decision to seek God with all or our all, with all of our love, mercy and grace. I believe it is never too late to put on the full armor of God stand firm in our faith, never too late to stoop and show God’s love and grace to a child, to someone who is hurting, or to our families. I believe we must live as if every moment counts but also never get so wrapped up in our failures that we forget who is in charge.
Still I know we can’t be “on” all the time. We need quiet times. We need seasons of reflection and peace. God created our world with “seasons” to show us this truth. Ecclesiastes 3 tells us there is a time or a season for every purpose under heaven. So tightly wound isn’t the right approach, but neither should we let down our guard. Staying in the center of God’s will is an art, not a formula we can discern or a pattern we can predict. We all need sleep and rest and family and friends and love. The sleepy Apostles in the Garden became the foundation stones of the church of God. We can still allow God to do everything in our lives He wants.