Date: March 31, 2019
Speaker: Erik Raymond
Scripture: Matthew 26:36–26:46
What scares you? What one thing, if you were forced to do it, would grip you with fear? In a 2018 study it was found that for people living in the US, the number one fear was public speaking, followed with a close second with a fear of heights and then a fear of spiders and other insects. In another study looking at this on a state by state, basis found most of what you’d expect, but you know what people in MA were most afraid of? Dying.
What strikes fear in you?
In our passage this morning we have a riveting keyhole into the life of Jesus. It’s clear he is deeply gripped by what he is going through. We find him pleading with God for, if possible, another option. In the end, Jesus while fully embracing God’s will, prepares to meet his fate with full obedience.
What I want to show you this morning, and hopefully convince you of is, Jesus prized obedience to God above everything else—even at great cost to himself.
We will look to see Jesus’ obedience in verses 36-46 through these three words: the cup, the contrast, and the cost. And I do hope that by seeing Christ’s obedience in this light we will be more moved by his work and compelled to obey God ourselves, even when it’s costly.
As we read the words of this section we taken back a bit, aren’t we? The descriptions of how Jesus is feeling and what he is saying — even his posture—are surprising. We haven’t seen this before, have we? We see in verse 37, Jesus is described as “sorrowful and troubled.” Then again in verse 38, “my soul is sorrowful, even to death.” Further, we see in verse 39, Jesus falls down upon the ground, on his face to pray. Luke describes the agony that he encountered as so intense that Jesus’s sweat was like drops of blood (Lk 22.44).
Why? Well, we know what comes next in the story. Jesus is betrayed, arrested, tried, and crucified. The gross miscarriage of justice will be punctuated at every turn by beating and tormenting Jesus. The cross itself—with all of its torturous malevolence—looms before them. Is this the explanation for the sudden change?
Has Jesus just now realized that he is going to die? No, he’s referenced it many times before. He’s fully aware of his impending death. This is the reason why he came into the world.
Has Jesus just now realized how he is going to die? Has the reality of a Roman cross just now been made aware to him? No, I don’t think so. Again, he has been predicting not only his death but his death upon a cross. He knew.
I don’t think it’s the fact of his death or even the means of his death that have him so troubled. The Romans were proficient in their killing. Crucifixion was common. There were some days when the Romans would crucify thousands of people at once.
Why then such agony? The answer is found by thinking about a word that takes center stage in this passage. I’m talking about the cup. You'll notice it is the reality of the cup that Jesus is wrestling with. It is about the cup that Jesus prays in verse 39, “let this cup pass from me.” In Mark 14:36 Jesus prays, “Remove this cup.” What is this cup?
We have to remember that the context of writing here is from within a biblical framework. And in an Old Testament understanding, the cup refers to the punishment of God’s wrath. What is wrath? Wrath can be defined as the expression of God’s settled opposition to all that do not uphold his holy standard. It’s judgment. Some examples from the Scriptures:
“Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.” (Psalm 11:6)
“but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another. For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.” (Psalm 75:7–8)
“Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.” So I took the cup from the Lord’s hand, and made all the nations to whom the Lord sent me drink it:” (Jeremiah 25:15–17)
It is the cup of God’s wrath that is causing Jesus such a reaction. This cup is set before Jesus. The Father has set it before him. And, he is to drink it down to the dregs. It is a matter of obedience. Will he drink it?
Jesus’s upcoming death would be the drinking of the cup of wrath. Here you can see how this death is unique. His suffering would be unique. Many people die but nobody dies like he dies. We will talk more about this in due course. But for now, do see that it is the cup that brings this reaction. And the contents in the cup, which he is to drink, is the fully fermented, unmitigated, divine wrath. The prospect of Jesus drinking the cup or bearing God’s wrath is terrifying. And by looking at the cup we learn about this costly obedience of Christ.
Second, let’s consider the contrast.
This scene provides an instructive contrast between Jesus and his disciples. But before we look at it, let’s set the scene. We have Jesus in verse 36 going over to Gethsemane. This is a section of the Mount of Olives. It’s a familiar place to Jesus and his disciples. He is leaving the Last Supper where he instituted the meal of the New Covenant as well as predicted his own death and their abandonment. There are fewer disciples now because one of the twelve, Judas, has left. As they are traveling to Gethsemane he is making final arrangements to turn Jesus over to the religious leaders.
And so they go away to this familiar place. And Jesus gives them instructions in verse 36. He tells them to stay put while he goes away to pray. And then he brings Peter, James, and John away with him as he goes over to pray. It is not infrequent that Jesus spends time here with those who are called the leaders. They also accompanied him to the Mountain in chapter 17 where he was transfigured and they beheld his glory.
And what we have in this scene is a contrast between Jesus and his disciples. In a nutshell, Jesus is faithful and the disciples are not.
Jesus tells them to do something very specific but they cannot do it. In verse 38 Jesus tells them to watch with him. I think watching and praying are going together. We see this pair in verse 41, “watch and pray that you may not enter temptation.” This is what he wants them to do, watch and pray. Why? So that he can adequately prepare for what is coming. He is facing a great trial—the drinking of the cup! He must properly prepare alone with his Father in prayer. He is asking the disciples to join him in the watching and praying.
But what do we find? Are they able to? No, they aren’t. Instead, they are falling asleep. Instead of urgency, they are drowsy. Failing to grapple with the threat they are nodding off. And, failing to identify with and enter into their friend’s struggle, they doze off.
Instead of faithful they are faithless.
Jesus, on the other hand, is faithful. Three times he returns to the posture of prayer (v. 39, 42, & 44). He continues to pray. And they continue to sleep. He prays for periods of at least an hour. His heart is heavy and he brings it to his Father. Jesus is preparing for his hour with prayer. This is what faithfulness looks like.
The disciples are lacking faith, underestimating their vulnerability, overestimating their strength, and neglecting prayer. If you were to hold up an image of the characters in the story, who do you look more like? The disciples or Jesus. I think if we are honest, it is the disciples. And this is the problem. It provides a proper contrast that frames up all of history and all of humanity throughout all of history. Where does this come from?
I want you to think back to another Garden that had temptation. Do you remember the Garden of Eden? Adam and Eve are there in a lush garden with everything they need or could ever want. God is there with them. There is no sin. Just a perfect, happy marriage, life, and fellowship with God. Nothing better. Heaven on earth.
But then the serpent makes his way in. He brings a caravan of ideas. He gets them to consider what he is saying and the possibility that God is not giving them what’s best. He plants ideas in their heads that God is neither good nor loving. And the serpent tempts them to take and eat fruit from the forbidden tree. And as a result, Adam and Eve sin against God and plunge humanity into sin.
This Garden is a stark contrast. Shrouded in the darkness of night, Jesus, the last Adam, comes to grapple before God about his will. He is tempted. Will he obey God’s will? The serpent who deceived Adam has already influenced the scene by peeling off Judas. The scene is expediting with the accent of his fork-tongued hiss.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, we have a vivid contrast. Not only between Jesus and his disciples. But also between himself and everyone else who ever lived. You and I. Look and see him so faithfully grappling with this. He, the perfect man, in full humble humanity, he is truly wrestling with the will of God amid the fierce temptation.
It’s here in the contrast that we see his obedience emerge.
We have seen the cup that makes Jesus is causing Jesus great agony. We’ve also considered the marked contrast between Jesus and everyone else. Now as we turn our attention to the cost, we will put it together and see his obedience with clarity.
We might be tempted to think of Jesus in comic book terms. Like some type of a superhero. It is true that he is God. And he possesses all of the muscles of omnipotence. But at the same time, he is human. And part of accepting his role as mediator is his willingness to embrace the voluntary limitations of his divine attributes. For example, he is omnipresent; he is confined to space. But even more in his humanity, he takes upon himself the limitations of being an embodied creature living in a sinful world. Jesus would weep, get tired, feel hunger, mourn the loss of a loved one, suffer rejection, and even encounter temptation. As a man, he is truly human. What you see here in Matthew 26 is real. It’s not staged. It’s not acting. It’s real. Jesus really is in agony.
In order to see this costly obedience, I want you to consider what Jesus gave up.
Prior to coming as a little baby, Jesus had existed as eternal God. As the Son of God, he has enjoyed the beautiful, loving, glorious fellowship of a holy relationship amongst the Trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit co-equal, co-eternal, uninterrupted perfect union and communion together.
In the midst of this communion, a covenant was made. A covenant is an oath with obligation. This covenant was made between the Father and the Son.
See God is holy, loving, and good. This means that he cannot compromise. He will always be holy, loving, and good. He will never be unrighteous. Even in eternity past, he knew of course of our sin. Adam and Eve did not surprise God. And so we can imagine the conversation with God being holy, loving, and good. He will not compromise.
Informed by Scripture, I can imagine some of the conversation going like this.
My Son, says the Father, look at these people, these poor souls who have made a mess. They have broken the divine law and now lie open to my justice. The soul that sins shall die. The wages of sin is death. Justice demands satisfaction for their sin or it will be exacted upon them throughout all eternity in hell. What shall be done for them?
Jesus answers his Father, Oh, my Father, I meet you with love, pity, and mercy for them. And I know the way. I know the answer. Rather then them perish forever, I will be responsible for them. I am not only able but I am willing to put my life down for theirs. Bind up all of their sin, all of their outstanding balance, and charge it to my account. Whatever they owe you, I will pay. I would rather suffer the wrath they deserve than they pay. Upon me, my Father, upon me be all of their debts.
My Son, if you take this responsibility for them you must pay the last cent. The cup of divine wrath will be emptied. It must be drunk down to the dregs. If I spare them, I cannot spare you.
Let it be so, my Father. Charge all their sin to my account. I can fully discharge the duty. Even if this task impoverishes me of riches, wears me down, cuts me to the depths of my soul, even still, I am willing; for your will is my will. Your will be done.
And here in the Garden of Gethsemane, we have Jesus the man, struggling with this. It is heavy. It is pressing upon his soul. The place where he is, is named Gethsemane, which means literally, the olive press. Christ is being pressed upon. Squeezed by the intensity of this trial. He is sweating so profusely it is like drops of blood, says Luke. He is falling upon the ground in desperation. The cup of divine wrath is set before him. Our cup, dear friends, the one we deserve. The one we have earned. It is set before him. And he is staggering under the weight of it.
It is not simply the physical pain and suffering he will feel. Many men suffered and died in the same way as him. But, no one suffered in exactly the same way. His suffering was unique because of how he suffered.
Notice, as the one who is infinitely holy and righteous, he knows the requirements. There is no wiggle room. The unflexibly rigid and demanding law of God is known by Christ. There will be no comfort for him as he drinks the cup.
He also knows the fury of divine wrath. There is no abating it. There is no relief. The cup of wrath must be fully satisfied. And he will do it. This is agonizing.
He also knows what it will cost him. He knows that upon the cross he will suffer the full abandonment of his Father. For the first time in eternity the joyful fellowship of the Trinity is broken as the Father will visit the Son in wrath. While the Son drinks the cup, he will be present in judgment.
Mark it down: there is nothing more terrifying than bearing the wrath of God. Jesus in all of his holy perfection is brought to his face to lay out in the pleading puddle of sweat before this holy God. He is truly feeling and knowing this price.
You will also notice the progression through the passage.
“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.”” (Matthew 26:39,)
“Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”” (Matthew 26:42)
“So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.” (Matthew 26:44)
Jesus is wrestling through drinking the cup. This prayer solidifies his will with his Father’s. There is divine harmony. There is a hearty resolve to drink this cup. When considering what he prizes and can imagine losing, the intimacy of union with his Father, Jesus is willing to sacrifice it for the will of God. This is why, in verse 45, Jesus bounces up from prayer and tells his disciples it’s time. It’s time for the cross.
Argument: Jesus prized obedience to God above everything else—even at great cost to himself.
A few quick items to consider as we close.
First, we take sin too lightly. Sin makes Jesus weep, stagger, fall to the ground, and sweat drops of blood—why are you and I not moved and repulsed by it?
Second, do you have a sense of your own unfaithfulness and sin before God?
Third, see Christ’s prizing the will of God above all else as a model for your own living.
Fourth, because obedience to God is hard and often costly, prayer is essential. This should inform our praying, watching, and costly obedience.
Fifth, we must love and esteem Christ more. Look at him here in Gethsemane being pressed upon because he loves sinners like you and me.
When faced with the cup, and all of its terror, Christ did not pass it, but with a loving resolve, he grasped it and drank it. What a cost. What a Savior.