Matthew 26:36-46 (Holy Thursday)
“Christ in the Garden”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
April 9, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text is recorded in Matthew 26:
36Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” 37And taking Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful unto death. Remain here and be alert with me.” 39And going a little farther, he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “So you all are not able to stay alert with me one hour? 41Be alert and pray in order that you might not enter into temptation. To be sure, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42Again, he went away a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to pass away from me unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43And he came again and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44And leaving them again, he went away and prayed a third time saying the same words. 45Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Finally, are you sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour stands near and the Son of Man is handed over into the hands of sinners. 46Get up; let us go. Behold, the one who is handing me over stands near.”
It was what one might call an “epic fail.” Peter, James, and John with Jesus in Gethsemane. Jesus’ soul—His very being—greatly sorrowful unto death! His request in His time of need, “Remain here and be alert with me.” And they couldn’t. They could not watch and be ready and pray. These disciples were not, in fact, strong enough to watch with Jesus for even one hour.
How terribly sad and tragic! In a few hours of time, Judas the betrayer would come and hand Jesus over to the chief priests and elders of the people. All the disciples would run away. Jesus would be bound and taken before the high priest, Caiaphas, and the whole Jewish ruling council. He would be condemned to death and taken before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who, despite finding none of the charges against Jesus warranting death, would end up handing Jesus over to the will of the Jewish leaders to be crucified. On the cross, even God the Father would forsake Jesus as He bore in His own body the sins of every human person from Adam and Eve until the end of time.
Jesus—alone in the garden. Jesus—alone on the cross. Is it any wonder that the Lord’s entire being was very sorrowful unto death? As true God and true Man, Jesus knew what was going to happen to Him. It was the eternal plan of salvation! The path that He walked to save us from our sins, from death, and from Satan’s power was not an easy one. Jesus endured poverty, contempt, and persecution in His earthly life. Consider, He had only strips of cloth and a manger at His birth. When He came to share the good news of the reign and rule of God at Nazareth, the people tried to throw Him down from the brow of the hill. Once, in the temple, they picked up stones to stone Him. And yet, Jesus was strong enough to go all the way to the goal of the Scriptural plan laid out for Him. But the disciples could not watch for one hour.
Maybe the hymn says it best, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so, little ones to Him belong, I am weak, but He is strong.” We are weak because we are sinners. The bonds of our sin hold us in weakness so that we cannot obey perfectly the commandments of God. We, like the disciples, are often unable to even watch and be alert with Him for even one hour—in God’s House, to receive His Word and Sacrament, to be showered with Gospel gifts of forgiveness and new life. No, we decide we’d rather have that extra hour in bed, or on the athletic field, or in front of the TV. I wonder if this time away from God’s House will kindle a strong desire in God’s people not to neglect the great opportunity that we will have again of being together in the place where God meets with us in Christ through the power of the Spirit, where we can be with Jesus for an hour to receive from Him and His strength the gifts He wants to give.
Jesus was strong for us. He used His strength for others, including you and me. The Lord Christ did not want to drink the cup of suffering, death, and hell if there was another way possible to save people. “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me.
. . . My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to pass away from me unless I drink it, your will be done.” Nevertheless, He always knew that He would. And He would drink the cup of God’s anger and wrath for the punishment of the sins of the world willingly. In facing the suffering of the cross, the abandonment by God the Father into hell on that cross, the shedding of His blood to atone for the sins of the world, and dying the death of humanity, Jesus grieves and is in distress in Gethsemane. But His strength doesn’t fail Him in the least. He remains the spotless, sinless, holy Lamb of God who goes forth to offer His sinless life on behalf of our sin-filled lives.
Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection on the third day means that His strength becomes ours. We stand before God our heavenly Father with sins forgiven. We are filled with the promised Holy Spirit by means of Word and Baptism so that we are strengthened in faith and in holy living. We are able, not perfectly, but most assuredly able, to keep the commandments of our God by loving Him and our neighbors. This is the work of Christ in us by the Holy Spirit. He enables us to be strong in faith and in love. He enables our obedience. He enables us to withstand the temptations of the devil, world, and our own flesh. St. James writes with this confidence, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7 ESV). St. Paul says in Ephesians 6, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. . . . Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance. . .” (Eph. 6:10–18 ESV).
This is the strength and the power of the Gospel that we have through faith in Christ, the Crucified and Risen Savior. Where we failed in our sins, Jesus did not. He walked the road to death and hell in our place so that we would have eternal life and the forgiveness of sins. We now live in the power and grace of the Holy Spirit and in the strength of the Lord. Isaiah 12:2, “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation” (Is. 12:2 ESV).
So, “Be steadfast in the Savior’s might. Trust the Lord, who stands beside you,
For Jesus from all harm will hide you. By faith you conquer in the fight.
Take courage, weary soul! Look forward to the goal! Joy awaits you.
The race well run, Your long war won, Your crown shines splendid as the sun” (LSB 668:2). Amen.