March 30, 2021
When life gets hard, what’s your first instinct? When things get a bit overwhelming, what’s your first reaction? If you’re like most people, you try to grin and bear it and deal with it the best you can. Or sometimes you take out your frustrations on those you love. Or when life starts to overwhelm you, you get angry, you vent, you stew, and sometimes you just throw in the towel. You quit. You quit on your marriage, you quit on your children, you quit on your job, and sometimes you just quit on life. You just give up and turn to drink or drugs, or you just find some other means to escape the difficulties or struggles in life. But here’s the thing, life is hard. Evil exists. Suffering is inevitable. People will fail us. Circumstances can derail us. Bad things do happen. So when life gets hard, what’s your first instinct? What do you do? Where do you find the strength or courage to get up and keep going when life tries to knock you down?
Well, that’s what we’re going to look at today from the life of Jesus, as he is about to face the hardest day of his life. Jesus has just washed the feet of his disciples, shared the Passover meal with them, instituted the Lord’s Supper, and sent Judas away to do what he was destined to do. Up till this moment, this was an ordinary night for Jesus celebrating Passover with His disciples. But all that was about to change.
Jesus was about to be betrayed by Judas, abandoned by His disciples and denied by Peter. Jesus was about to be falsely tried by the Chief Priests and Elders of Israel, handed over to Pilate, beaten and mocked by the Roman guards: cursed at, spit upon and flogged to the edge of death; and then condemned by the very people he came to save. Jesus would be forced to carry his cross to Golgotha, have his feet and wrists pierced with 6 inch nails. Then spend 6 hours of excruciating pain, humiliation and judgment nailed to that cross. Then at the height of his crucifixion as Jesus becomes sin for us; the Father will turn His back on him and he will die alone for the sins of the world.
Yes, Jesus was about to suffer the worst evil could throw at him. So how would Jesus prepare himself for the harsh realities he was about to face? Well, Matthew tells us in Matthew 26:36-46, how Jesus found the strength and courage to face the hardest day of his life. So if you have your Bible with you today, let me encourage you to find Matthew 26. For it is from this passage, we will not only see how Jesus found the strength and courage to face the crucifixion, but how we too can find the courage and strength to face hardships that come our way in life. So if you’ve found Matthew 26, let’s discover together how Jesus prepared himself to the sufferings of the cross:
So what did Jesus do? Let’s look at the text: Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, 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. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”
Now the very first thing Jesus does to prepare himself for the cross, is to take his disciples with him to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. And after instructing his disciples to sit while he prays, he turns to his closest companions: Peter, James and John, and he opens his heart to them. He gets real with them and shares the burden that’s weighing on him, saying, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” You really can’t get more vulnerable than this. Jesus gets brutally honest with those he trusts most in life. He reveals to them that he is grieving. He confides in them the unbearable grief he is carrying as he is about to face the cross.
Now, we are not told the source of his grief. But the context reveals it. He’s about to betrayed by one he has loved. Judas is on his way with armed soldiers to arrest him. He’s been betrayed for 30 pieces of silver. Not long after that, his disciples are going to run away. He’s about to be abandoned by his closest friends. Then there’s Peter. Peter truly is going to deny he even knows Jesus. And we will deny Jesus three times. But what’s even worse, is that the very people he’s come to save – all of them will reject him and cry out for his crucifixion. So yes, he is filled with grief. And the weight of this grief is crushing his soul.
You see, if you’ve ever felt grief, it’s not just all consuming, it’s actually quite painful. There’s a hollow ache in your heart. Some say, “It’s like an elephant is sitting on my chest.” So the intensity of Jesus’ grief is so great at this very moment, he feels like he’s going to die. It’s painful. It’s unbearable. So after confessing this to Peter, James and John, what does he ask of them? He asks them to stay with him and watch with him, while He prays.
What’s Jesus teaching us here about handling hardship? First, We are not to go it alone. Rather, we are to get real with those we trust. We are not to be stoics. We are not to grin and bear it and hope we can weather whatever we are facing. Jesus didn’t do that. Jesus shared his burden with those he trusted. And we can do the same. In fact, God’s Word commands: Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
And in this instance, Jesus shows us how we can carry each other’s burdens: By just being there for him. Jesus just wants their company, their presence. In His weakness, he wants his closest friends to be near, and watch with him as He prays. Sometimes that’s all the strength we need. We need the presence of those who will be with us in whatever we are facing. That’s how we can carry each other’s burdens. And that’s one way we can find strength and courage to face the hardships of life. We can find strength and courage from those who will stand with us and share our burdens. That’s what Jesus did here. He got vulnerable with His disciples and shared His burden with them.
And next we see Jesus doing the same thing with His Father. 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.” Matthew 26:39
There alone in the garden, Jesus takes the posture of abject humility and lays his life before the Father and asks… if it be possible that this cup would pass from him. Here Jesus shows us how fully human he is. He is simply being raw and real with His Father. He knows what this cup entails. He knows this cup is a metaphor for God’s wrath that’s about to be poured out upon Him on the cross. On that cross Jesus who knew no sin, would become sin for us. On that cross God would pour out the full fury of His judgment for our sin. Jesus will be pierced for our transgressions. Jesus will be crushed for our iniquities. The weight of every sin you have or will ever commit – will be placed on Him. And there on the cross by His wounds we will be healed.
So Jesus is just being honest before God – to face what’s coming is more than he can bear. And He wonders aloud if there might be any other way to save humanity from our sin. But this wondering doesn’t mean Jesus is going to bail. Jesus isn’t going to throw in the towel. Jesus isn’t going to find another way. Rather, in the depth of his prayer, in the midst of his deepest anguish and grief; in the face of his most severe temptation – Jesus willingly surrenders to God’s plan: “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
I don’t believe a great prayer has ever been prayed: “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” For here in this prayer, Jesus is reminded there was no other way. In this prayer, Jesus is reminded that this is what the Father sent him to do. And in this prayer, Jesus trusts that God’s will is best. It’s on his face in prayer, in the presence of the Father, that Jesus finds his faith. And as He finds his faith, He chooses to obey. And I for one am glad he made that choice. Because that tells me, that whenever I am tempted to find another way, I need to pray. I need to wrestle with God to know God’s will, not my will.
That’s why we must be a people who pray. That’s why when life gets hard, our first instinct, is not to grin and bear it, get angry or frustrated, or give up and throw in the towel – No, when life gets hard, our first instinct must be to pray.
For whenever we are tested by life’s difficulties we will always be faced with a choice – to believe your way is best or trust that God’s way is best. And here we see that in Jesus’ darkest moment, in prayer, he chose to trust God’s way: “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
Now as we come back to the scene in Gethsemane, we see that Jesus’ disciples hadn’t yet learned this truth. In fact, as soon as Jesus makes his choice in prayer, Matthew tells us And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:40-41
We are quick to forget that in the midst of the hard stuff of life, we will always be tempted to think of ourselves. That’s what has happened here. Jesus had asked his friends to stay and watch with him. Their intentions were good. They wanted to be there for Jesus. But something happened. As much as they wanted to be there for Jesus, their flesh was weak. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The weakness of their flesh overpowered their desire to watch with Jesus, so they gave in to the temptation for sleep. Imagine that. At the time Jesus needed them most, they took a nap.
So Jesus says: Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. And what I love about this is that when Jesus is facing his darkest hour, he’s still focused on helping his disciples. You see, Jesus knew that these men would need extra strength to face temptations ahead – temptations to run away or to deny their relationship with Him. So Jesus wanted his disciples to pray so their faith would not collapse. Jesus wanted his disciples to pray for strength to go through the coming ordeal. They were about to see him betrayed, beaten and brutally crucified. Would they still think he was the Messiah? These men, whom he had poured his life into for three and a half years would soon face confusion, fear, loneliness, guilt, and the temptation to believe they’d been deceived.
So here’s a key truth buried in the middle of this garden encounter: When life gets hard, Jesus wants our first instinct to be like His – to go to the Father in prayer. The evil one is still working overtime to breed fear, confusion, loneliness and guilt in Christ Followers. Because he knows if he can get us alone; he knows if he can keep us from prayer, he can get us to do our will, not God’s will. So the last thing he wants us to do is pray! But the first instinct Jesus wants for us is this: Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.
So Jesus ministers to his disciples when he should be frustrated with them. He loves them and teaches them, even in his darkest hour. And then we read: Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. Matthew 26:42-43 Now for a second time, his disciples fail him.
So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 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. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” Matthew 26:44-45
Three times Jesus prays. Three times he says the same thing. In Luke’s gospel, Luke adds to the intensity of Jesus wrestling with His Father in prayer saying: And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Luke 22:44 As the moment of his betrayal drew closer, Jesus drew closer to God. He poured out his heart to the Father. He confirmed His commitment to obeying His will. So that at the moment of His betrayal, after wrestling in prayer with His Father, Jesus was not just ready to obey, he was ready to rise and run to the battle.
This is phenomenal. Only an hour earlier, Jesus’ heart was full of anguish and sorrow. He desperately needed the support of his brothers. But they had failed him – three times. But did Jesus give up on them? No, at this point he simply tells them they can sleep later. Now is the time to get up and go with Him as he faces his betrayer. I can’t help but see myself in this scene. I keep failing Jesus, but Jesus wants me to get up and keep going with Him. That’s grace. This is incredible: In his hour of greatest need, when his disciples constantly fail him, Jesus never gives up on them.
For what we see here is that not only has Jesus found the strength and courage to run to the battle, but he has the grace to gather his men and take them with Him. We should take great encouragement from this. For you and I will fail Jesus over and over again. We will sleep when we should be praying. We will be weak when He wants us to be strong. We will go our own way when He wants us to follow. We will fail him, but he will never fail us.
This is a Jesus worth following. In his darkest hour, Jesus submits to God’s will in prayer, then rises to the occasion and runs to the battle. Most of us just want to run away when life gets too hard to handle. So let’s learn from Jesus. Let us be the kind of people, that when life gets hard, we instinctively go to our knees and wrestle with God until we surrender our will to His: May we become a people who pray: “Not my will, butyours be done.”
I don’t know about you, but if Jesus had to continually wrestle in prayer with the Father when life was more than He could bear, how much more do we need to follow His example.
So the next time circumstances derail you, or a loved one fails you – the next time you’re tempted to escape life’s trials, to run away when life gets too hard: rather than run way, may you go to the mat with God in prayer – and stay there – until He gives you the strength and courage to run to the battle. “Not my will, but yours be done.”