As the weather starts getting a little better in the spring, are you someone who starts thinking about how great it will be to finally be able to spend more time outside – like maybe spending a day in a park or taking a walk in the woods? If you have ever taken the time to just sit in the woods and think about life a bit, you know that it can be a very meaningful experience to be surrounded by the quiet of nature as you watch what God has created and to pour out the depths of your soul as you talk to him in prayer – to watch and pray. It can be uplifting, therapeutic, spiritually enriching. It can be something that just helps you relax for a while and take a deep breath.
But what if the woods in which in you are watching and praying is, spiritually speaking, a place that makes you think of the garden filled with olive trees just outside of Jerusalem? What if you find yourself in your own Gethsemane – with Jesus but trying to figure out why it is taking him so long to come back to you or to answer you or to make his will known to you, especially since you are so weary and so tired. Tonight’s lesson gives us three more important words of truth: In your Gethsemane Watch and Pray. Watch and pray in a way that thinks about Christ’s Gethsemane as you think of your own. Our lesson is from Matthew 26:
36 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.” 39 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.”
Gethsemane must have been a quiet place that Jesus knew and loved well, since he decided to spend the last night of his earthly life going there to pray to his heavenly Father about what lay ahead. Whenever you or I in our earthly Gethsemanes worry about what lies ahead, it can be a very good thing to think about what was going through the head of Jesus on this horrible, but holy, night. It really is good for us to watch and pray with Jesus, just as Jesus told his three disciples – Peter, James, and John – to do that very same thing, since, like us, they had a willing and eager desire to follow Jesus, but, also just like us, their bodies were so weak in the ability to do so.
It can be so hard, can’t it, to keep watching and to keep praying? Sometimes we are simply exhausted by all the running around, especially if we have children. Sometimes we are simply worn out by all the decisions we have to make, especially if we are caretakers for others a generation older than us. Sometimes we are simply confused, especially if we are going through a heartache that makes our body feel like it weighs a thousand pounds or a temptation to do something that we know is not what God wants for his people, but about which the devil is trying to get us not to care. At any and all of those kinds of times, we can do what we were encouraged to do in the hymn we just sang: Go to dark Gethsemane, All who feel the tempter’s pow’r; Your Redeemer’s conflict see, Watch with him one bitter hour; Turn not from his griefs away; Learn of Jesus Christ to pray.
So, if you are right now wondering about something in your life or worrying about anything in your life, first of all, watch. First of all, Watch Christ’s Cup. Watch – and listen to – what Jesus says about his cup in verse 39: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.”
What is the cup Jesus asked his Father to take away from him? It has to be something horribly dreadful, doesn’t it, to lead Jesus to be described as being sorrowful and troubled, and to have led Jesus to say about the thought of drinking it, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” The picture of those words is of something surrounding me from every angle. It is pressing in on me. It is pushing in on me. It is crushing me. And all you and I can say in any of our Gethsemanes as we watch Christ’s cup in his Gethsemane is, “I am so sorry, Jesus. I am so sorry because the cup you will be drinking is the cup that has my sins in it. It is what I have done to you or thought about someone else or said against your plan for me that is pressing in on your soul and threatening to overwhelm the Son of God. I am so sorry, Jesus, because the cup of God’s wrath is what should be poured out on me. I wish it could be taken from you, Jesus. I wish it could instead be me falling facedown on the ground and begging for mercy from my Father in heaven.”
But what if you or I had taken Jesus’ place to drink the cup of suffering and death? What would that have meant for the sins of the world – including my sins – that filled that cup? They would still be there, right? Even if you or I actually had died on the cross, while it would have been deserved, it would not have paid the price for any of my sins, because one who is a sinner cannot pay an adequate price for sin, since God said it had to be innocent blood that was needed to be shed. It was holy blood that needed to be poured out from the cup that would be drunk by the One who could not have anyone take his place on the cross, but the One who in his great love took our place on the cross. When you and I watch Christ’s cup, we see a cup filled with sin, but a cup from which sin is poured out to be immediately dried up by the ground below, because the One who drank it – and poured it – is my Savior and my God. All that I have done against him is gone. All that I fear about being without him is gone. In any Gethsemane of mine, the Gethsemane of his means I am his, and he is mine. He will never go away from me.
And all that is because as we see Jesus’ Gethsemane and watch Christ’s cup, we also see him pray what you and I truly want to pray as his children — to pray God’s will. “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me… Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Sometimes it honestly seems that the hardest prayer to pray is really what is at the heart of every prayer of a child of God: “Your will be done.” God’s will can seem hard – and often even scary – because it involves something in the future, right – whether later during that day or sometime later during our life. What could be more scary than Jesus being overwhelmed with sorrow when thinking about the cup of death as a punishment for sins which he did not commit, and then saying, “Heavenly Father, your will be done.
But isn’t that exactly why you and I don’t have to be afraid to pray God’s will as we watch and pray in any Gethsemane in which we find ourselves? Because our Lord Jesus did bow to his Father’s will, we can also know that whatever God’s will for us is, it is something that is good for us, even though it may take every ounce of faith we have to believe that, because with our eyes we may not be able to see it.
But what we can see is a Savior who got up from his knees after saying he would do whatever was his Father’s will and who walked back toward those disciples whose companionship he had requested as the work of salvation was entering its final stage, encouraging them to watch and pray, because no matter how willing their spirit was to serve him, their body was so weak to carry it out. They needed their dear Savior.
As you and I watch and pray with Jesus in his Word, that is exactly what we see and need for ourselves, as well – a Savior who understands and who cares, a dear Lord Jesus described in this way in one Bible verse: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” – in our Gethsemane.
In your Gethsemane watch what Jesus went through and was willing to do in his Gethsemane, for that is exactly what he did. Watch Christ’s cup and pray God’s will. What Jesus Christ did with the one means that what God will do with the other will always be one more way of showing you his wonderful love. Never be afraid to go to dark Gethsemane, for there is always Someone Else right there with you. Amen.