************ Sermon on Matthew 26:41-42 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 1, 2009
"Christ's Battle Within Himself"
I His Weakness
The unnatural position made every movement painful. The lacerated veins and crushed tendons throbbed with unrelenting anguish. The wounds, inflamed by exposure, gradually gangrened. The arteries -- especially at the head and stomach -- became swollen with blood. And while each type of misery gradually increased, there was added to them a burning and raging thirst. Now death, as we all know, is the final enemy; at its approach man usually shudders. But all this physical suffering put together made the prospect of death itself seem like a delicious and exquisite release.As you probably realize, I am talking about crucifixion.
In our Bible reading Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knows what horrors await Him on the cross. He knows how cruel death by crucifixion is. After all, crosses were common sights in the Roman world. In Bible times most people witnessed this most horrible of deaths. So Jesus, knowing what crucifixion is like, does not look forward to it. The Bible says "he began to be sorrowful and troubled" (vs 37). He said to His disciples, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death" (vs 38). Though Jesus hopes in God, He knows He soon will be faced with unbelievable pain and suffering (cf Psalm 42:5,6,7; 43:5).
B There is more to the cross than physical pain and suffering – much, much more. There is also spiritual pain and suffering. In fact, it is fair to say that the spiritual pain and suffering is far greater, far more intense, far more terrifying than the physical pain and suffering. Jesus knows this too. That's why He prays, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me" (vs 39).
What is this "cup" that Jesus is praying about? It is the cup of judgment that appears often in the Old Testament. For instance, the psalmist says,
(Ps 75:8) In the hand of the LORD is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs.Or, consider the words of Jeremiah the prophet:
(Jer 25:15-16) This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: "Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. (16) When they drink it, they will stagger and go mad because of the sword I will send among them."(cf. Ps 60:3; Is 51:17-23; Jer 25:15-29; 49:12; Lam 4:21; Zech 12:2).
We all know of the Greek philosopher Socrates. He was found guilty of neglecting the gods and of corrupting the morals of Athens' youth. He was sentenced to die by drinking a cup of poison, a cup of hemlock. In the same way, the wicked of the earth are sentenced to die by drinking from God's cup of wrath. The cup of wrath means judgment upon sin, it means rejection by God, it means hell fire.
Jesus is going to be drinking from God's cup of wrath. This means He will experience God's judgment upon sin, this means He will be rejected by God, this means He will experience the torments of hell-fire. Remember the three hours of darkness at midday? Remember the cry from the cross, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" During those three hours Jesus experienced all the wrath and anger of God against the sin of the entire human race. During those three hours Jesus drank deeply from God's cup of wrath. No wonder Jesus is sorrowful and troubled.
C Jesus is "sorrowful and troubled." "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow ..." So He prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me."
Do you sense what is happening here? Jesus is struggling to be obedient. Jesus is struggling to do the will of God. Jesus is facing temptation again.
Previous times it was Satan who battled Jesus directly. Previous times it was the old Devil himself who tempted Jesus. Think of Satan in the wilderness tempting Jesus after Jesus fasted for 40 days (Mt 4:1-11). Think of Satan tempting Jesus through the words of Peter,
(Mt 16:21-22) "Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you! You shall never suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers! You shall never be killed by them!"Think of Satan tempting Jesus through the betrayal of Judas (Mt 26:14f).
Jesus is facing temptation again. But this time the Devil is not in sight at all. Because this time Satan tempts Jesus through His own flesh and blood. This time Jesus battles with His own weakness as a man.
Jesus Himself identifies this weakness when He says, "The spirit is willing, but the body is weak" (Mt 26:41). Jesus knows what He is supposed to do so we are saved from our sins. Jesus knows He is supposed to go the way of the cross and the grave. Jesus knows He is supposed to suffer and die. Jesus even wants to do this in His spirit. In His spirit Jesus wants to be obedient to God and the plan of God. His spirit is willing. There is no problem there.
But the body, the flesh, is weak. Most little children poke at electrical outlets. They need a shock only once and quickly learn to never poke at them again. Or, most children play with fire. But they only need to be burned once to learn they don't ever want to do that again. All of us, Christ included, instinctively want to avoid pain. None of us, Christ included, willingly embrace death.
So Jesus is being torn: His spirit is willing to suffer and die but His body wants to avoid pain and suffering. His spirit is willing to submit to God's plan for our salvation but His body recoils from what awaits Him. "The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."
In his letter to the Romans the Apostle Paul wept over this conflict between his body and his spirit. Paul says,
(Rom 7:18-19) I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. (19) For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing.He ends by crying out,
(Rom 7:24) What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?We all know what this is like, don't we?! We all know what it is like to want to be holy and righteous yet to do the opposite. We all know what it is like to have a willing spirit but a weak flesh.
D I don't know about you, but I feel awful for the Lord whenever I read about His struggle for obedience in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was wrestling with the will of God. He was wrestling so hard that His sweat was like great drops of blood falling to the ground (Lk 22:44). He was "sorrowful and troubled."
I feel awful for the Lord and yet I also am glad. I am glad because Jesus said "No" to temptation. I am glad because Jesus remained the righteous mediator Who is able to make us right with God. Because Jesus resisted temptation in the Garden, He went the way of the cross and the grave and I am saved from my sins.
I am also glad when I see Jesus in the Garden, because I get another glimpse of a Jesus Who is just like you and me. In the Garden, I see a Jesus Who has been tempted in every way, just as we are. In the Garden, I see a high priest Who is more than able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses (cf Hebrews 4:15). It is the book of Hebrews that explains the significance of this for you and me:
(Heb 2:18) Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.Jesus knows what it is to be human. He knows our struggles. He understands our trials. He experienced first-hand that the spirit may be willing to be obedient to the Lord but the flesh keeps getting in the way. So He not only is able to help us but even wants to help us when we are tempted.
(Heb 4:16) Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
II His Weapons
A "The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." Jesus is facing temptation. Jesus does battle with His own flesh and blood. Jesus battles with His own weakness as a man.
We know Jesus triumphs over this temptation. We know Jesus does not allow the desires of the flesh to win out over the desires of the spirit. We know Jesus does not fall into sin. Listen to the last two verses of our Scripture reading:
(Mt 26:45-46) "Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. (46) Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!"Jesus sees Judas and a large crowd armed with swords and clubs. He knows they have come to arrest Him. Yet, He meets them with a majestic confidence. He has triumphed over His struggle to be obedient.
Now,how is it that Jesus has succeeded? Scripture identifies three weapons used by Jesus in His struggle to be obedient: submission, prayer, and friendship.
B Jesus' first weapon is submission – submission to the will of God. Jesus' flesh does not want to suffer and die. "Yet," prays Jesus, "not as I will, but as you will" (vs 39).
From Jesus' agony and self-surrender, we learn that submission means much more than shrugging our shoulders and saying, "If I can't have it my way, let God have it His way."
"Not as I will, but as you will" is not a prayer of resignation; it is a prayer for submission. Resignation is "Yes" with a sigh and a moan. Rebellion is "No" with a shout. But submission is an "Amen!" Submission means accepting the present – not as it is mapped out in our minds but rather as it is mapped out in God's plan. Looking at Gethsemane, we learn that submission means we should be so united with God's holy purpose that we are prepared to do His will at any cost. I came across a poem that speaks to this:
All those who journey, soon or late,
Must pass within the garden's gate;
Must kneel alone in darkness there.
And battle with some fierce despair.
God pity those who cannot say,
'Not mine but thine'; but only pray,
'Let this cup pass'; and cannot see,
The purpose in Gethsemane.
To be like Jesus, to avoid falling when tempted, we need to have an attitude of submission to the will of God. We need to become so submissive to God's holy purpose that when we are faced with temptation we are prepared to do His will at any cost.
Submission. On the one hand, I dare say that 90% of our trouble with sin is just here. On the other hand, 90% of our temptations are overcome when our hearts are ready to submit to the Lord's will, whatever it may be.
C Jesus' second weapon in His battle for obedience is prayer. Three times Jesus prays to God. Three times Jesus struggles with God in prayer. The reason is simple: unless Jesus is steeled with prayer, He will take the easy way instead of the obedient way.
What is true for Jesus is also true for us. Jesus says, "Watch and pray so you will not fall into temptation." Unless we watch and pray we will follow a life of sin instead of a life of obedience.
Do you remember what happened in December 1984? Doubled over and choking, people staggered to hospitals by the thousands, crying for help and refuge from a colorless cloud of gas that turned Bhopal, India into a tomb. Several thousand died in the accident at the Union Carbide plant, many never fully aware of what hit them.No enemy is harder to fight than an invisible one. Believers also face an unseen adversary – Satan. He uses the weakness of our flesh to lead us into temptation and sin. Unless we watch and pray we, like the people of Bhopal, will also fall.
So pray, dear people. Pray like Jesus prayed. Pray so that you pick the obedient way rather than the easy way.
D Jesus' third weapon in His battle for obedience is friendship. As I am sure we all realize, Jesus had 3 disciples among the twelve – Peter, James, and John – to whom He became especially close. Strange as it may sound, Jesus needed the fellowship of others.
In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus wants and needs His 3 closest friends to be with Him – to help Him through His darkest hour. He wants them to support and encourage Him. He wants them to pray for Him. He wants them to keep watch with Him.
I'm afraid, though, that Jesus' three friends are not much help to Him. Three times He returns and finds them sleeping. The three friends should be able to stay awake. After all, it is customary to stay awake late on the Passover night. They had probably stayed up late on most other Passovers of their lives. But this time they don't. They fall asleep instead of watching and praying.
I see a certain irony here. It is Jesus Who is struggling with the weakness of the flesh; yet, His spirit wins out over His flesh. On the other hand, the disciples, who are there to help Him in His struggle, are the ones whose flesh win out over their spirit.
If Jesus – Almighty God, without sin, perfect in every way, knowing all things – needs the fellowship of His companions in His struggle to be obedient we certainly do too.
Look also at Paul. He never traveled alone. Barnabas was with him or John Mark or Luke or Timothy or Silas. He had problems with John Mark. He had an argument with Barnabas. He could have said, "Forget this togetherness stuff. From now on I'm traveling alone. It is easier that way." But no! He always took someone with him. It was more than not wanting to be alone. He wanted Christian fellowship. He needed Christian fellowship. If anyone could have been a "Lone Ranger" Christian, it was Paul. But he knew better, and so should we.
The Bible commands and encourages us to seek fellowship with each other so we can grow and develop and mature as believers. The Bible commands and encourages Christian fellowship so we can support each other in our struggle for obedience.
Jesus is facing temptation. Jesus does battle with His own flesh and blood. Jesus battles with His own weakness as a man. Using the weapons of submission, prayer, and friendship, Jesus triumphs over this temptation. We see that Jesus continues to follow the way of the cross and the grave, the way of suffering and death. For this we have to thank and praise the Lord.
From this we also learn how to battle our own temptations. And for this too we have to thank and praise the Lord!
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