Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 02/18/1996
Luke 22:39 And he came out and proceeded as was his custom to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples also followed him. 40 And when he arrived at the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and he knelt down and began to pray, 42 saying, “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will, but thine, be done.” 43 Now an angel from heaven appeared to him, strengthening him. 44 And being in agony, he was praying very fervently—and his sweat became like drops of blood falling down upon the ground. 45 and when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow, 46 and said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
We come today to a very solemn and strategic portion of Scripture. For though the Lord Jesus Christ was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief throughout his earthly ministry, though he had accepted the role of Sin Bearer at his Baptism , and though it is his long obedience to the Father which has brought him to this moment, still it is here that the sufferings, the Passion of Jesus Christ, begin in earnest. G. Campbell Morgan said, “As I ponder it, through that darkened window there is a mystic light shining, showing me the terrors of the Cross more clearly than I see them even when I come to Calvary.” And so it is. By that light we may see something of the Mission of Christ, something of the Submission of Christ, and something of the Commission of Christ to us.
In order to understand this passage, we must ask a question whose answer might at first seem obvious, but which turns out to be anything but. Why is the Lord so upset over his impending death that he sweats, as it were, drops of blood? Well, you say, he knows that he is going to be betrayed and rejected and killed. Indeed he does. But many of his followers have since faced their own deaths with courage and even joy—with an equanimity that Jesus himself seems to lack here. How can this be?
The Apostle Paul said, “And now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen there, except that in every city the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course” (Acts 20:22-25). A little later when his friends tried to dissuade him from going, he said, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13). And he wrote to the Philippians, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). There is nothing about the passing of any cups! And it is not just the Apostle. Ignatius of Antioch, on his way to martyrdom in Rome at the turn of the Second Century, writes, “May nothing seen or unseen begrudge me making my way to Jesus Christ. Come fire, cross, battling with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs, crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the Devil—only let me get to Jesus Christ!” A few years later, Polycarp, the disciple of John, on being offered the chance to live if he would only curse Christ, replied, “Eighty-six years have I served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my king who saved me?” These were not just empty words, for those men proceeded to die as bravely as they had written or spoken. Years later, as Hugh Latimer was being led out to be burned at the stake for his testimony for the Gospel of Christ, he turned to his fellow prisoner and victim Nicholas Ridley and said, “Be of good cheer, master Ridley, and play the man, and we shall this day by God’s grace light such a candle in England as shall never be put out!” It would almost be worth a burning at the stake to be remembered for words like that. (I said “almost”—don’t get any ideas.)
Now, let me ask you: Is it possible that the One who was the very source of the life, strength, and courage that allowed so many of his followers to face death with courage and even joy—is it possible that he should face it himself with less confidence and peace and serenity than they? Is it possible that the stream should rise higher than its source? Is it possible that Jesus’ disciples should outshine their own Master in bravery? That the Lion of Judah should be less bold in the face of death than we mice? No, no, a thousand times no, it is not possible! So what are we to make of all this sweat like blood and this request that the Cup might pass away?
There is only one thing that we can make of it. The only answer is that the Cup did not represent the pains and the agony of physical death, even that cruelest of prolonged tortures, death on a cross. What made even the Lord of Glory so upset was the fact that in less than one day he faced the prospect of being identified with, of bearing, the sin of the human race—your sin and mine. That was a burden so great and oppressive—especially to this holy One—that even Omnipotence could well shrink from bearing it. And shrink he did.
What is coming to a head here is a whole stream of Scriptural teaching that overflowed into drops of sweat like blood on the brow of our Lord. Isaiah had said it well, looking forward to the Cross: “All of us like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way. But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on him” (IS. 53:6). And looking back on it, Paul described Christ as having been “displayed publicly as a propitiation in his blood” (Rom. 3:25). The word “propitiation” simply means precisely what Isaiah had said: the iniquity of us all, and with it the full display of the Father’s wrath and displeasure against sin, fell on the shoulders of Christ. He goes on to explain the basis of our reconciliation with God: “He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). And he concludes that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’” (Gal. 3:13). Christ was about to die a propitiatory death as our substitute. He who knew no sin was about to be so closely identified with our sins in the Father’s eye that Paul said he would be sin. That was his mission, the very reason for which he had come. And only in Gethsemane do we begin to see what it meant to him.
The Cup then was the emotional and spiritual agony of being associated with our sin. Think of the worst sin ever committed. What do you think it was? Hitler and the holocaust? The even greater genocides committed by Stalin or Mao or Pol Pot? The degradation of pornography? The callousness with which our society values no-fault promiscuity over the sanctity of human life in abortion? The betrayal of Christ by Judas? The betrayal of the entire human race by Adam and Eve? Never mind. Do not think of that. Think of the worst guilt and shame you have ever felt personally! Then multiply that by infinity and try to imagine its impact on a heart totally pure, untainted, uncalloused, unjaded, undulled by sin. You begin to get just an inkling of what our Lord subjected himself to for us!
Worst of all, he would have to face the displeasure of his heavenly Father, the One whose will was his meat and drink, the One with whom he had been in perfect unbroken loving communion for all of eternity. But now it would be very different. The hatred of sin which drove the moneychangers from the temple—the hatred of sin which rained fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrha—the hatred of sin which slew the firstborn of Egypt—unleashing all the righteous judgment against sin held back for all the millennia of human history, concentrated now in all its infinite force: that is what would nail Jesus Christ to the Cross! No wonder, in spite of his love for us, in spite even of his devotion to the Father’s will, he prayed, “Father, if it be thy will, let this Cup pass from me!”
Brothers and sisters, Sin is a terrible thing! When you are less than honest in your financial dealings—when you repeat that bit of idle gossip—when you allow those angry and bitter words to escape from your lips—when you allow your mind to dwell on impure thoughts, much less act them out—when you put anything ahead of God in your life—you are guilty of sin. And it took nothing less than the agony of Jesus Christ on the Cross, foreshadowed by his agony in Gethsemane, to atone for it. Do you want to know what sin is? Ultimately, look at Jesus Christ on the Cross. Do you want to know what sin is? First, look at Jesus Christ in the Garden. And then you may begin to understand why the Cross is such Good News. For he did bear it there—all of it—so that we would not have to bear it any more, if only we will give our hearts to him!
Are you beginning to understand what this moment meant to our Lord Jesus Christ? There is yet more to be revealed. The burden of sin was so great, so painful, so oppressive, that even Omnipotence shrunk from bearing it. But the love of our Lord was so great that he committed himself to bearing it anyway. It is not until we begin to understand what the Cross meant to our Lord that we can begin to understand the depths of his love expressed when he said, “Yet not my will, but thine, be done” (vs. 42).
There are actually two different Greek words translated “will” in verse 42. “If it be thy will (ei boulei), let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not my will but thine (plen me to thelema mou alla to sou) be done.” Boulomai means to make plans and carry them out; thelema is preference or desire. So we could translate our Lord’s words more fully thus: “If it is in accordance with your plan [to atone for the sins of the race], let this cup pass; nevertheless, it is not what I prefer, but what you do, that I embrace as needing to happen.” If there is any other way to atone for the sins of our people, please, let’s find it! But if not, I am fully committed to doing this thing, not matter how costly. Or, as Paul would put it later, “God commendeth his love to us in this, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
We must understand what the crucifixion meant to our Lord so that we can understand the way his submission to the Father’s will manifests his love both for us and for the Father. What could cause the Son of God to take on his pure unsullied shoulders this burden from which even Omnipotence shrank? Only the love of God. “God commendeth his love to us in this, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Yes, knowing full the cost, he embraced it for us. What wondrous love is this? To bear the fearful curse for my soul! We cannot see very far into these depths, but the least glimpse must be enough to change our lives forever.
Some of you are holding back on your Christian commitment because you are afraid of what you might have to give up. I can only say this. Take a long, hard look at the Lord Jesus Christ kneeling here in the Garden of Gethsemane. And if you still don’t want to follow him, then don’t. But for me, I have to look also from him to the disciples, sleeping as Jesus was making his peace with the Father’s will—and doing it for them! And what I see then is our Lord longing for someone to step out from the crowd, to say, “This man cannot stand alone!” That would not be the disciples, yet; later it would. They did not yet understand—but now some of us do. Can we not watch with him one hour? Not that we could be of any help in bearing that burden—none whatsoever.
But we could cast ourselves at his feet!
I don’t know about you, but I cannot look at this scene which is before us today and find myself in any other place than on my face at his feet. Only there can I too be submitted to the will of the Father as I should be.
We then are to watch with him, and pray. Specifically, we are to pray that we do not enter into temptation. The prayer is not that we will not experience trials. To “enter into” temptation is an idiom that means to yield to it—to say, in whatever trials may come to us, something different from what Jesus said in his: “Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” To understand what the disciples should have been praying, we must attend to what Jesus was praying. The lesson for us is that, in whatever our trials may be, we should face them as Jesus faced his. And the only way we can do that is by facing them with him. When that kind of temptation comes, then prayer itself, communion with God, is the only way through. And when we find ourselves needing to pray that way, we can now have the added encouragement of knowing that our Lord has been there—indeed, in an infinitely worse place—before us. When we need the strength to say, “Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done,” the One sitting at the right hand of the Throne as our Mediator is this very one we are watching in the Garden this morning. If you do not turn to him in your time of trouble for the strength to pray as he prayed, then you are letting those drops of blood-like sweat fall to the ground in vain.
What then do we learn from this strategic and sobering scene? We learn to hate sin as God does, because of what it did to our Lord. We learn to love Jesus as we should, because of what he let it do to him instead of to us. We learn to love God the way Jesus did, who was obedient unto death, even death on a Cross. And so we learn to pray, daily, hourly, constantly, that we may not enter into temptation. Amen.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams