Child Games: Jesus & Prayer (Matthew 26:36-56)

MOTIVATE

I see many of my friend’s families who live in different states are already starting back school. AACO starts after Labor Day. As you know, school will be a bit different this year with many students and teachers educating online.
School reminds us that tests are coming. Who enjoys tests?

  • Students tested by exams & grades / by circumstances & peers
  • Adults in 40’s start having annual physical exams: dermatologists, other tologists & oscopies.
  • Covid testing is key diagnosis & recovery, along with minimizing spread.

There’s different tests: classroom, exercise, taking blood, swabs & symptom observations; and you may feel fine taking a test, but the indicator of health is not how you feel but what the tests reveal. Similarly, when we study the arrest and trials of Jesus, we are actually seeing how God is placing the human race on trial. If we don’t just read the Bible but let it read us, we see ourselves in the religious leaders and crowds who mock and murder Jesus; and then, by grace, we’ll become humbled by the inexplicable love of God to die for undeserving sinners such as us.

EXAMINE           Matthew 26:36-45                Jesus & Prayer
36  Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane,

Jesus is constantly walking. Unless you’re familiar with the territory or study on a map, we miss the geography. Previously, Jesus was in the Temple area, and then took the disciples up the Mount of Olives for teaching (Mt 24:3) and eventually sharing the Passover (26:30). Leaving there and walking downhill, they enter Gethsemane, which means “oil press.” The area was filled with olive trees, and olives were a common fruit pressed for its oil. Also, this garden area was a frequent place Jesus took the disciples to pray (Jn 18:2). Undoubtedly, Jesus took comfort in having a “go to” place with friends and faith.

  • Gethsemane is symbolic of both pleasure and pressure. It would be the last place on earth Jesus would have His freedom, and it was a place Jesus would use to prepare Himself for the spiritual and physical battle of the cross. Prayer is our weapon against adverse circumstances or adversarial people. When you are facing a spiritual battle, how do you prepare? If you fail to pray, you plan to fail.  

36-37  and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled.

38  Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”

Jesus took the disciples to pray, but specifically He took three disciples: Peter, James, and John to express vulnerability and humanity. It’s a tender and affectionate moment with Jesus needing His friends. We must learn from these events in so many ways.

All through the life of Jesus, He displays calm and control. He is completely confident in His identity and a clear understanding of His purpose. His whole life has been building to this moment in time, and He starts to feel the gravity of His circumstances.

It is astounding why this Jesus who has for so long calmly faced the prospect of death (Mt 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19; 26:12) should now seem horrified? We can only read with shock and awe at the eternal Word of God who spoke the world into existence; who entered earth as an infant; who calmed chaotic storms and walked on wild waves, cast out demons, healed diseases and raised the dead – our Savior is now immensely suffering.

Matthew records Jesus being sorrowful (λυπέω = deep pain; sometimes used describing pain by war[1]) and troubled. Then Jesus says, He is περίλυπος – all-encompassing sorrow, even unto death. Such extraordinary grief is the kind of emotion you’d face if a family member was kidnapped, viciously tortured, and inhumanely murdered. While some may know these earthly experiences, none have known it on the grand scale of all humanity for all eternity.

Jesus is not prone to dramatize any event, but is literally almost dying with agonizing prayer, and sweating great drops of blood (Lk 22:44); a condition called “hematidrosis” where your body is under such trauma that your capillaries burst. An example would be a drowning victim forcefully screaming for help and the blood vessels in your face rupturing. Luke also notes an angel from heaven strengthened Jesus during this moment (Lk 22:43). We also know from John’s Gospel some of the items Jesus prayed for was not just for himself facing the cup of God’s wrath, but for Christians facing the world’s wickedness (Jn 14-17). The author of Hebrews reminds us Jesus prayed “with loud cries and tears with godly fear” (Heb 5:7).

  • Christians need community.[2] Think about Jesus’s example who came as God in the flesh to rescue the world from sin’s curse and redeem it with a new way to be human by being born again of the Spirit. Did Jesus come to spend time among affluent world leaders and create financial income to build buildings and install a headquarters for God’s kingdom? No. Instead, Jesus “wasted” 30 years in rural community and then spent 3 final years nomad camping with 12 ordinary friends, one of which He knew was a fraud. The short-term evaluation was that Jesus was a failure, but when we examine His life, teachings, message, and resurrection, He’s the most phenomenal revolutionary in world history.   
    If we want to have influence and impact, we must invest deeply with vulnerability. Friendship and community happen through availability – taking initiative and time to be around one another. Jesus invested in three, so they would be present in His darkest moment.


39  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.”
40  And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?
41  Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
42  Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”
43  And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.
44  So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.

Other times in the Gospels we see Jesus praying, and there’s an immediate response from the Father. Yet, this time Jesus is falling under the weight of pressure and laying prostrate in prayer. And then, inexplicably, Jesus prays for an alternate path to providing salvation – “let this cup pass from me.” Any words that I could offer to help anyone understand what is going on will fail. Jesus the Son of God is beginning to feel the separation of intimacy He has eternally shared with Father God. Jesus consistently draws strength, power, hope from prayer, but this time He receives silence. Jesus has nowhere else to turn but asking the disciples to stay awake and pray. Asleep… the disciples are asleep in the most significant moment of human history, and much more the most stressful moment of their friend and Lord. Three times Jesus prayed and found sleepy friends and a silent Father. I/we cannot imagine the restless loneliness Jesus was facing in this moment.

I try to imagine… Anyone who claims to fully understand is woefully overestimating ability to discern divinity.

  • one of my children about to experience a significant surgery, or a critical circumstance in their life and they come to me for help, but I close my eyes and turn my face away. This is merely a micro-hint of what Jesus experienced.
  • a spouse having a dark and troubled time wanting just to be held, but I am unresponsive.
  • Jesus shoulders the sin of the entire world.

Isaiah 59:2 “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”

Isaiah 53:6 “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all

2 Corinthians 5:21 “For our sake, [God] made [Jesus] to become sin, who knew no sin, so that in [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God.”

Even before the humiliation, horrors, and hell faced in the crucifixion (mocked, stripped, beaten, scourged, nailed, stabbed), the spiritual separation Jesus faced in Gethsemane was as worse than the physical pain of the cross. Jesus drank the cup of God’s bitter wrath[3] that we might drink the cup of blessed salvation[4].

  • Praying with submission. Jesus was not praying to avoid the cup but endurance to drink it. Many times we pray and give up. We blame God for not listening or loving us if we don’t immediately get what we ask. We undervalue God’s wisdom for waiting. But Jesus worshiped through the waiting of God’s affirmation, even through the point of death to enter the exalted honor of God (Php 2:8). Let us not short circuit prayers for short lived pleasures, but let us endure pursuing faith for the eternal promises of God.   
  • Wake up. Many times Jesus demands the discipline of watchfulness/vigilance.[5] The spiritual discipline of watchfulness keeps all the other faith practices sharp and effective.[6] The key to watchfulness is not merely keeping an eye on sin but keeping our eyes on the Savior. For every review of a sin habit, we must multiply the reflections on the cross and grace of Christ. Gethsemane should awaken us from our casualness toward sin and our negligence to pray. The NT writers warn us to “be constant in prayer” (Rom 12:12), “pray always” (Eph 6:18), and “pray without ceasing” (1Thes 5:17). Prayer is the most talked about discipline but the least practiced. We think of ourselves like a cell phone – the more it’s used the quicker battery power is lost; but the opposite is true – the more we pray, the more we gain power. Our spiritual adversary knows the power of prayer. He will try to use a signal jammer to our prayer walkie-talkies by causing distractions over non-essentials. He will seek to knock down communication lines by creating relational conflicts. The enemy’s goal is to attack and overwhelm central command (our heart!), but we must remain watchful.
  • PS: Let us never minimize Gethsemane and Calvary by speaking of multiple ways to salvation or magnifying cheap substitutes idols.
    • Do you refrain from sharing faith from fear of how you might be perceived?
    • Do you unknowingly consider yourself more compassionate than Jesus by excusing someone’s unrepented sin and indifference or rejection of the gospel by seldom/never bringing up the topic of faith with them?
    • Do you spend more time listening to news or social media about politics than you do spending reading the Bible and praying to God?
    • Do you make excuses for policies or politicians, even though they undermine a gospel witness?
    • Do you deem yourself having noble motives when it comes to your politics, but judge and assume the worst motives of those who have a different perspective?
    • Are you more concerned about convincing people of your political views than helping people to know the grace and truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
    • Are you more offended by these questions than in how they potentially indicate idolatry and reveal your need for repentance?[7]


45  Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
46  Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
47  While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people.
48  Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.”
49  And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him.
50  Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.
51  And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear.
52  Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.
53  Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?
54  But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”
55  At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me.
56  But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled.

Jesus wakes up the disciples because the time of betrayal, arrest, and trial has arrived. A crowd with swords and clubs arrives in the garden, let by Judas. Judas has invaded and violated the brotherhood, kissing Jesus the Rabbi. One Jewish scholar writes[8], “in any group of teacher and disciples, the disciple was never permitted to greet his teacher first, since this implied equality. Judas’ sign, therefore, was not only a final repudiation of his relationship with Jesus and a signal to the mob, but also a studied insult.” In other words, Judas was claiming superiority and resentment to the authority of Jesus.

Jesus’s responds to Judas with patience not punishment. Even though Judas was disloyal, Jesus was faithful to the end. It’s almost as if Jesus is giving Judas one last chance to repent before he walks away with regret. Indeed, Judas could not live with regret and sadly committed suicide. My friends, we do not have to let regret from past or present circumstances haunt us; we can grow in repentance and faith with a God full of forgiving grace and fresh starts.

One of Jesus’s disciples – Peter (Jn 18:9) – attempted retaliation against the religious leaders by cutting of a servant’s ear with a sword. Jesus also responds to Peter with patience and not punishment. Luke tells us Jesus heals the servant. Additionally, Jesus exclaims he could call twelve legions of angels (1 Roman legion = 5K soldiers; so 60K angels). FWIW, the book of Revelation describes the destruction and end of the world by the power of 4 angels, so Jesus has abundant power at His disposal, but sacrifice is a greater display of His power. Interestingly, back in Gen 3:24 after the curse of Adam’s sin, God guarded the Garden of Eden with an angel with a flaming sword. Jesus, in a Garden, has the right to used the sword, but instead is slain by the sword in our place.

Further, Jesus’s sacrificial actions would set in motion a host of fulfilled prophecies

  • betrayed by a close friend (Ps 41:9)
  • betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (Zech 11:12)
  • disciples’ fleeing (Ps 31:11; Zech 13:7)
  • silence under accusation (Ps 38:13; Isa 53:7)
  • mocking (Ps 22:7-8), dehydration (Ps 22:15), pierced (Ps 22:16; Isa 53), divided garments (Ps 22:17-18)
  • lifted up in death (Jn 3:14-18; Nu 21:9)
  • commending spirit to God (Ps 31:5)
  • burial in wealthy tomb (Isa 53:9)
  • resurrection (Ps 2:7; 16:8-10; 30:3; 41:10; Isa 25:7-8)
  • Judas’s death (Zech 11:13)
  • Etc. Etc. Etc.  
  • We flee and fail Jesus when we think we can have greater influence through worldly power than spiritual sacrifice. It is easy to watch the news and scroll media feeds only to get dismayed at the world’s evildoing. As Christians, we know the darkness of human depravity. We know there is wrong and wickedness welling up inside every heart, ready to erupt at any moment. Yet, we must not succumb to the same hate or revenge. When the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain, the Lord laughs (Psalm 2:2-4). Heaven’s throne is never threatened by the turmoil on earth.
    The words of the famed preacher Charles Spurgeon illustrate in a manner only he could[9]:
    “Let all the infidels in the world know assuredly that the gospel will win its way, whatever they may do. Poor creatures! their efforts to oppose it are not worthy of our notice; and we need not fear that they can stop the truth. As well might a gnat think to quench the sun. Go, tiny insect, and do it, if thou canst. Thou wilt only burn thy wings, and die. As well might a fly think it could drink the ocean dry. Drink the ocean, if thou canst; more likely, thou wilt sink in it, and so it will drink thee. Ye who despise and oppose the gospel; what can ye do? It cometh on ‘conquering and to conquer.’ I always think that, the more enemies the gospel has, the more it will advance… God’s truth must and shall conquer; wherefore, then, dost thou, foolish creature, hope to oppose the gospel because it offends thee? The stone, cut out without hands, cannot be broken by thee; but if it falleth upon thee, it will grind thee to powder.”

APPLY/THINK

Jesus is the Rock. Yet, Jesus is also Relatable, especially to disciples who sleep and stumble.

The world and 2020 is offering us a test: we can say, “look what the world has come to” or we can say, “look who has come into the world.” We will either be crushed by worry or we will confess “Lord, I Need You” and operate with confidence of His plan and with compassion for the lost people yet to know Jesus.


[1] https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/λυπέω

[2] This paragraph has thoughts from https://renovare.org/articles/practicing-availability-and-vulnerability

[3] See Mt 20:22-23; Jn 18:11; Rev 14:10; 16:19; Isa 51:17, 22.

[4] See Psalm 116:13

[5] See Mt 24:42; 25:13; 26:41; Lk 12:37; Col 4:2; 1Cor 16:13; Eph 6:18; 1 Thess 5:6; 1Pet 4:7; 5:8; Rev 3:3; 16:15.

[6] See https://growinggodlygenerations.com/2018/10/07/making-a-difference-colossians-42-6/ and https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/spiritual-discipline-watchfulness/

[7] Some questions adapted from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/how-know-if-made-an-idol-politics/

[8] Moses Aberbach in the Anchor Bible, as quoted by Leon Morris, Pillar NT Commentary: Matthew 26:49.

[9] https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/the-offence-of-the-cross/#flipbook/

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