God in the GardenPastor Lutzer | April 1, 2012
Sometimes the most earnest prayer is not answered the way we want it to be.
Selected highlights from this sermon
Before Jesus was betrayed, He went to a garden called Gethsemane to pray. Even though He was fully God, His humanity was on full display as He asked for the company of His closest friends to join Him. While He prayed, He was filled with grief and sorrow.
The time had come for Christ to bear the cup—He, the sinless One, would take upon Himself the sins of this world and the wrath of the Father. He accepted this cup from the hands of the Father, just as we too must endure suffering for the glory of God.
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You know that word Gethsemane refers to a wine press, and Jesus there was trodden – the wine press, as it were. It is there, I like to think, that he was squeezed as a flower, and the beautiful aroma arose to God because of what took place there. And that’s why I titled this message God in the Garden. Wow! We almost want to take the shoes from off our feet as we listen to this passage of Scripture and as we contemplate it, because we know that we are eavesdropping on a marvelous prayer, but a prayer that is excruciating in its implications as Jesus is there wrestling in the Garden of Gethsemane.
You know, sometimes we think to ourselves that Jesus is not really an example for us, and the reason that we think that is because we say, Well, He was God and I’m not.” Well, of course, He was God. He had a divine nature, but I want to remind you that Jesus did not take refuge in the divine nature when He was going through this struggle. He endured this struggle as a man without depending upon the divine nature to help Him. We see His incredible honesty. This is, of course, in Matthew 26, if you’d turn there in your Bibles please. It’s in Matthew 26 where we see the story here of Jesus in Gethsemane. We see His humanness in two different ways.
First of all we see it because Jesus calls three of the disciples to be with Him. Matthew 26:36 says, “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. He said, ‘My soul is very sorrowful even to death. Remain here and watch with me.’” Wow!
He took with Him Peter, James, and John. Those who had seen Him in his glory, who were there on the Mount of Transfiguration, now see Him in His agony. And when you are going through agony you need your friends next to you, don’t you? You know sometimes we say to somebody, “Oh, I’m praying for you.” Well, that’s wonderful but there are times when we have to have people pray with us and watch with us because there are times when things are so dark and so bleak and so hopeless we can’t make it unless somebody is next to us, watching with us. Jesus invites them to do that. The humanness of Jesus!
The other thing that strikes us about His humanness is His honesty. You’ll notice very clearly he says, “My soul is sorrowful, even to the point of death.” These are very strong words. What He means is that He has a sorrow that is a killing kind of sorrow.
Martin Luther looked at this passage and said that no one feared the process of death as much as Jesus. Nobody has feared death or the prospect of dying as much as Jesus did right here. The question, of course, is, what is the cup? You’ll notice I read it a moment ago. He fell on His face (verse 39). Or I should read it: “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.’” What is that cup?
Some people have thought that the cup is simply the sorrow of Jesus dying on the cross. Have you ever stopped to think about how awful it must be to die on a cross? I mean hanging would be a blessing but to go through the experience of being nailed to a cross and then writhing there for maybe two or three days before you die! I can’t even put my mind around it. So some people are saying that Jesus feared the death of crucifixion, but of course we know that that can’t be the complete answer because there were other people who were crucified who accepted it much better. And of course we have in the history of the church martyrs who went to their martyrdom with a great sense of victory.
During the days of the Huguenots in France when they were marching Christians to their death, it is said that the Christians sang so loudly that their enemies got a band to drown out their singing as they went to their death. Wow! It sure looks as if they accepted it much better than Jesus here. It can’t be simply because of the death of crucifixion and the pain that would be inflicted as a human being, awful as that was.
There’s a second answer that people have given and that is that Jesus feared that maybe the devil tried to kill Him prematurely before He went to the cross, and so Jesus is wrestling there because He knows He has to go to the cross, but He and the devil are duking it out there in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the devil wants to kill Him. That can’t really be the answer. First of all I think we’re giving the devil more credit than he deserves because Jesus said just a couple of hours before that, “I go and the prince of this world has nothing in me.” In other words, there’s nothing within me that corresponds to him so that he can derail God’s eternal plan. Now the devil was working in a different way. He was putting it in the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus, but we cannot say that it is the devil for that reason.
But there’s another more powerful reason. In John 18 after Gethsemane is over, and they come to arrest Jesus, and remember Peter tries to cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest. Actually Peter was aiming for his head and missed and just cut off his ear. Do you remember that story? Jesus said this: “Put up your sword,” and then he said this after Gethsemane, “The cup which my Father has given me, should I not drink it?” He said that well after Gethsemane. The attack of Satan, whatever it might be, was not the cause of Jesus Christ’s anguish.
What was the cup? The cup was the fact that Jesus was going to become sin for the world, and we don’t know what all that involves. We speak about it and we contemplate it but nobody can really understand what that is like for the holy Son of God to come in contact with sin. He who was with sinners in life is now going to stand in their stead in His death.
Jonathan Edwards, the great theologian, said that Jesus Christ looked into the furnace of God’s wrath and the fury of God’s wrath, and He looked into that furnace knowing that it was into it that He soon would be thrown. And so Jesus began to see what He would have to go through.
In order for us to grasp that even a little bit, think of it this way: Those who are in hell and will be in hell will suffer for all of eternity——a lot of suffering and a suffering that lasts for all of eternity. Now take that length of suffering and squish it together into three hours during the darkness when God turned His face away from the Son. Think of squishing that into three hours and bearing all that in that period of time. Think of that. Jesus is praying here to the Father, and He’s saying, “Father, if there is some other way.” You’ll notice that the text says, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless not as I will, but as you will.” If it’s possible!
You know, during the Medieval times they used to have huge discussions on theology and one of them was whether or not the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was absolutely necessary and whether or not God could have used some other blood, the blood of another person or even the blood of a donkey, the discussion went, and therefore simply choose to say that that’s the sacrifice. Well, the answer to that question is no. There is no other way by which redemption could have been accomplished except that the holy Son of God came and shed His blood and died in our place. (applause) There is no other way. And that’s one of the reasons in your discussions in university classrooms, in colleges, across the backyard fence, people with whom you work, say, “Well, why Jesus? Why not somebody else?” Well, somebody else may be a teacher or a guru, but there is no other person who is a sacrifice that God will accept. It was Jesus Christ’s sacrifice alone. There is no other way.
“Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me.” But obviously it wasn’t possible, because the cup did not pass from Him. He prayed it three times. You’ll notice that the text says, “And again a second time (in verse 42) he went away and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible.’”
So that’s what the cup was. The cup is the wrath of God the Father against sin. That’s what the cup is, and we cannot even begin to fathom what that really means. We’ve only spoken about it and tried to grasp it.
What about the acceptance of the cup? “Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will but as thou wilt.” That was the Son’s final word on the topic. “Father, if there is no other way to do this, thy will be done. Thy will be done.” And so He offered Himself and said that He would go through it, and thankfully He did, because if not, you and I would not be redeemed today.
There were really three cups on Calvary, actually. There was the cup of compassion. The Bible says that they took myrrh and they mingled that myrrh with some wine and they gave it to Him. And the reason for that was it was a sedative so that it dulled the pain to some extent. Jesus really didn’t drink it, because He wanted to taste death in all of its horror without a sedative.
And then there was also a cup of mockery. Do you remember the soldiers? They took some cheap wine like vinegar and they put a sponge into it and then they held it to His lips. They were kind of mocking him at that point.
There was the cup of compassion. There was the cup of mockery, but here we have now the cup of iniquity, and that’s the cup that Jesus drank without medication, without anything that would deaden the pain of what the wrath of God really was against sin. See, you and I treat sin so lightly. We say, “Well, you know there’s a good cure for it and that is repentance and faith and forgiveness.” Yeah, but think of what the sin did to Jesus and what the sin does to the Father.
Death and the curse were in our cup,
Oh Christ, was full for thee,
But thou hast drained the last dark drop.
‘Tis empty now for me.
He drank it completely to the dregs. Wow! Thank God he did.
Now, what are the takeaway lessons for you and me? Why should our lives be changed because we’ve heard this message? A couple of thoughts that are transforming, I think, for all of us, and that is that sometimes the most earnest prayer is not answered in the way in which we would like to see it answered. It may be answered, but not like the way we want it answered. “If it be possible let this cup pass from me.” That’s His desire prayed to the Father three times and three times the answer is, “It is not possible.”
Now the question is: Does God answer Jesus Christ’s prayers? Yes, I believe that even this prayer was answered. It’s interesting that in the book of Hebrews it says that Jesus cried to the Father with longsuffering and tears and was heard in what He cried. And the Greek word heard means that God got the point, and God heard it in a sense of responding. He didn’t respond to the desire of Jesus to find another way, but He did respond to the desire of Jesus ultimately to say, “If there is no other way, I’m going through with it.” Not my will but thine be done, so God answered, but not according to Jesus Christ’s human desire.
And sometimes our prayers aren’t answered either. God heal that person. Take care of this. Look into that situation and resolve it. And we pray this with a great deal of fervency, and over and over again. And it’s okay to repeat the same prayer, especially when you are in distress. But Jesus said it’s not possible, because I have another way, and we have to bow with Jesus and say, “Thy will be done.”
Sometimes you hear on television those who want us to believe in prosperity and health in every situation and they say, “Never add that because if you add that it negates the whole prayer because that really shows that you don’t pray in faith.” Well, I don’t know if I agree with those folks. I think I’m going with Jesus on this one, like I frequently do. I like to go with Jesus on this one (applause) and a lot of other things too. I like to go with Jesus. “Now, if it be possible,” but the answer is no. Wow! “Nevertheless thy will be done.”
Let me give you a second lesson and this is very transforming and should be used by God to deliver you from a lot of resentment and anger and all kinds of other things, if you grasp this theologically. And that is simply that our cup (because we all have a cup that God has asked us to drink) must be accepted from the hand of God, not the hand of man. Our cup has to be accepted from the hand of God, not the hand of man. Now I hope that you understand how the Scripture functions at this point and how theology works.
You see, Jesus didn’t say, “The cup which the Sanhedrin had given to me, I will drink it. Shall I not drink it?” He didn’t say that. We might think that he should have said, “Well the cup, which Pilate is giving to me, I shall drink it.” That’s not what He said. He could have said, “The cup, which the Jewish leaders are giving to me to drink I shall drink it.” That’s not what He said. He could have said, “The cup, which the Roman soldiers are giving to me, shall I not drink of it?” Now God was going to use all the different people and groups that I just mentioned to do the terrible deed of nailing Jesus to the cross, but how did Jesus see it? “The cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it?”
You and I need to see beyond the instrument. We need to stand and look beyond the immediate cause. Is there somebody in your life who wants to crucify you? Is there somebody who wants to do you in? Is there somebody who’s out to get you, somebody who wants to minimize you, somebody who wants to put you in your place once and for all? And you are angry with them, and you are angry with your situation, and you say to yourself, “It’s their fault, etc.,” which it may be, but do you see this as coming from Satan and from people, or do you say, “The cup which my Father has given me, I shall drink it”?
Every once in a while people send me poems, and you know I don’t use poems very often. There’s nothing wrong with them. I just don’t. But this one was given to me a couple of years ago by somebody who had a dispute with somebody else, and this poem delivered this person from anger and resentment and gave them the grace to forgive, and it is really, really excellent theologically. This is good theology. It’s entitled, “From His Hand.”
I will not take that bitter thrust,
which rent my heart today,
As coming from an earthly soul,
Though it was meant that way.
But I will look beyond the tool
because my life is planned.
I take the cup my Father gives.
I take it from his hand.
He knows and even thus allows
these little things that irk.
I trust his wisdom and his love.
Let patience have her work.
Though human means have brought the sting,
I firmly take this stand.
My loving Father holds the cup.
I take it from his hand.
Now those who watch may wonder why
These things do not disturb.
I look right past the instrument
And see my Lord superb.
The trial, which would lay me low
Must pass through his command.
He holds the outstretched cup to me.
I take it from his hand.
You are today where God wants you to be, and if you begin to accept that cup as from His hand instead of from the person who wants you crucified, it will give you a whole different perspective, because God’s perspective is so much bigger than ours. Remember the cup comes not from those who would harm us. The cup comes from the Father.
There’s a final lesson and that is that it’s really not about us at the end of the day. It’s about God and his purposes. You know, you and I are born with such a sense of self-aggrandizement. We are all narcissists at some level. [I heard an “amen” over there, and actually there should have been a couple thousand of them right now. I’m sure that your wife appreciated it when you said it.] (laughter).
It’s hard for us to realize that it’s not about us. It’s not about our happiness. It’s not about whether or not we like the cup that has been laid upon us. It has everything to do with Jesus. It was William Barclay who said, “The love of God wants what is best. The wisdom of God knows what is best. The power of God can accomplish it.” At the end of the day it is His will and not ours. So I am asking you today, what are you hanging on to that you say, “This is mine? I close my hand and I refuse to open it to God and give it to Him. I refuse His intrusion into every area of my life.” It has nothing to do with us, folks. Look at Jesus in Gethsemane. It has everything to do with Him, His will, His desires, and what God has planned.
You know, I love this song, and I mentioned it once on the radio because I don’t think it’s in our hymnal, and thank God, a lot of people connected with me and said, “We can send you the words,” and so somewhere in my file I now have the words, so those of you who are listening, you don’t have to send me the words anymore. I can find them if I really, really had to. I love this though.
My Jesus as thou wilt,
Oh may thy will be mine.
Into thy hands of love
I will my all resign.
Through sorrow or through joy
Conduct me as thine own,
And help me still to say,
“My Lord, thy will be done.”
At the end of the day, it’s not about us. When you begin to think that you need your own way, you need your prayers answered, you can’t live with your predicament because God isn’t coming through for you and He’s not doing what you think a good God should, you think of Gethsemane. And let us not forget Gethsemane because it reminds us of the humanness of Jesus and what He endured, and He went through with it so that you and I could be redeemed. He didn’t back out of a tough assignment and He bore that cup.
Of course, as all of us know, Jesus also during the same period of time, just before this, was with the disciples and the Bible says that He took bread and broke it and said, “This bread is my body which was broken for you.” He took the cup and He said, “This cup is the cup of the new covenant in my blood. This drink in remembrance of me.” Why? We don’t have His cup to drink exactly, but when we drink the cup that He left for us, the cup that reminds us of the sacrifice of Jesus, and we remember His death until He comes (and by the way, He is coming), when we do that, we are reminded of His suffering on our behalf. We worship, we repent, we yield, and we give ourselves without reservation to the one who is willing to drink the cup on our behalf.
And if you are listening to this and you have never trusted Christ as Savior, you have never believed on Him, let me assure you that when you come to Him and you receive His forgiveness, you too are accepted because then you will know that He drank that cup for you too.
Let us pray.
Father, we stand in awe of what Your Son endured. We stand in awe of Calvary. We stand in awe, Father, of the Son of God dying, giving the world words of forgiveness, words of hope, and then in the end saying, “Into thy hands I commit my spirit.” We thank you from the bottom of our hearts that the work was accomplished. It was done and we praise you. Help us now, Father, to worship you acceptably. May we withhold nothing. May nothing else matter than your glory. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.