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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

Garden Prayer

Matthew 26:31-46

Lesson audio

The emotional scenes in the Garden of Gethsemane have a powerful influence on Christians of all ages. There are many things we can learn here.

Peter’s Protest

Matthew 26:31-35 NIV Then Jesus told them, "This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:

" 'I will strike the shepherd,

and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'[3] (32) But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee." (33) Peter replied, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will." (34) "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." (35) But Peter declared, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." And all the other disciples said the same.

Motives

“It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re sincere.” Oh yes it does. Let’s look at the motives here:

·         Christ, of his foreknowledge, is warning Peter and the other disciples of what is to come. Have you ever been warned, ignored the warning and come to regret it?

·         Peter’s motive is, in some ways, higher. He reacts out of his great love for Christ. He genuinely loves; he genuinely believes that therefore he will be faithful.

There is a lesson here: the more we are sure of our faith, the more we should beware of the weakness of the flesh.

Peter’s faults

So, since we should take warning, can we identify what Peter did wrong?

·         First, he contradicted the Lord’s words. If the heavens were to open and God Almighty gave you his instructions, would you tell him that he’s wrong? Why then would you think the Scripture doesn’t apply to you?

·         Next, he set himself above the others (big mouth.) When Christ is explaining your failings it is not wise to act like you’re the cream of the crop.

·         Worst, he presumed he had the power to persevere, as well as the will. James tells us that we should preface our plans with, “If the Lord wills…”[1] After the Resurrection, his attitude was changed.

Results

It is a truth: God allows no evil out of which he cannot make a greater good. Peter’s fall here is an excellent example:

·         It certainly had the effect of healing his pride. (Did you ever think that pride needs to be healed?)

·         It convinced him of his human frailty.

·         Most of all, it convinced him of his own unworthiness.

That last might be most important. This is a man who was crucified upside down, saying that he was not worthy to die the same death as his Lord. Remember “silver and gold have I none, but what I have I give you?”[2]

Going to Prayer

Matthew 26:36-38 NIV Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." (37) He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. (38) Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me."

Overwhelmed

This can be a troubling passage. How is it that the Son of God can be sorrowful and troubled? Is it possible he is afraid?

Indeed, yes. We must always remember that Christ is completely human, like us. He was hungry; he wept. So what was the cause of this agony?

·         Pain and death were coming, and he knew it.

·         Worse, there would be separation from the Father.

·         This would happen after Judas betrayed him and all his disciples – his friends – left him.

Humanity of Christ

We can see the humanity of Christ in a homely way here.

·         He takes his three closest friends with him. In times of trial we do not want to be alone; nor did our Lord.

·         But, also, he wants to pray alone. He wants his personal agony to remain just that: personal. Have you ever had a trouble so deep that you could share it only with God?

·         He asks his friends to “keep watch.” The word implies staying awake. Maybe he just wanted someone to watch his back while he prayed.

Disciples

We can see the great love that the disciples had for Jesus, for they had to be told to “stay here.” They were inseparable from Christ, though now they were to be separated. Indeed, all the disciples went with him to the Garden; three came further on in. Could the others have been left behind somehow? Such a request would have caused division among those for whom Christ had just prayed for unity.

We can glean some examples from this with regard to our prayer life:

·         We are taught to pray alone – as Christ does here.[3]

·         Christ prayed three times – did you think the Father didn’t hear him the first two? Surely this is our example in persistence in prayer.

·         Christ fell on the ground to pray, in humility.[4] If the Son of God approached the Father in such humility, how then should we pray?

Christ at Prayer

Matthew 26:39-46 NIV Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." (40) Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" he asked Peter. (41) "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." (42) He went away a second time and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done." (43) When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. (44) So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. (45) Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? 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!"

What does he ask of his friends?

It often amazes Christians that Christ does not often make great demands upon his followers – rather he asks faithfulness in the ordinary. Here is the great example of this:

·         He asks them to “keep watch” – simply put, stay awake and alert. Spiritually, this is sound advice. Don’t let the world lull you into security, but watch!

·         He asks them to pray – to avoid temptation. The frailty of the flesh is such that we should pray, “lead us not into temptation” long before we plead for strength in temptation.

·         He tells us to remember that the flesh is weak. We are inclined to examine ourselves based on what we believe rather than what we really can do. Just because I believe I could be a weightlifter…

Tension

There is a simple lesson here in opposing tensions. The human nature of Christ asks that the cup pass from him – that his frail flesh should not be subjected to the Passion to come. The divine nature asks, as always, “your will be done.” The lesson for us? We should never seek out pain and suffering, nor temptation, always seeking to be sheltered under the wings of God – but if it comes, we should submit to it as being God’s will. (There are many things I don’t understand; “why” precedes most of them.)

If possible

One last problem remains. Christ prayed, “if it be possible.” Apparently it was not possible – but we are told that all things are possible with God. How can this be?

We must, with Aristotle, distinguish the “possible impossible” from the “impossible impossible.” God can do the first, and will not do the second. How so?

·         Putting the words “God can” in front of nonsense does not make nonsense possible. “God can … make yellow either square or round.” It’s nonsense; God does not do nonsense.[5]

·         God is not the author of confusion.[6] He will not intentionally befuddle us; we have sufficient capability for that ourselves.

·         God’s actions will not contradict his character. He will not lie; he will love at all times.

Christ’s prayers reflect this. He begins with “if it is possible.” He goes on to “if it is not possible.” But in every prayer, “Your will be done.” All of his humanity is in submission to the Father. It is a great example for us.


[1] James 4:15

[2] Acts 3:5

[3] Matthew 6:6

[4] Mark 14:35

[5] Which also answers whether or not God can make a rock so big he can’t lift it. Great mysteries of kindergarten, now solved.

[6] Eloquently expressed in the King James, 1st Corinthians 14:33

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