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Mount Olivet - The Faith of Our Lord, Seen in His Prayer

Matthew 26:36-45

Pastor Robin Fish

Fifth Wednesday in Lent
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church  
Laurie, MO

View Associated File

Wed, Mar 24, 2004
Wed of Fourth Sunday in Lent

Matthew 26:36-45

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray."  And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed.  Then He said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me."  And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt."  And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?  Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done."  And again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.  And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more.  Then He came to the disciples, and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners."

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

This evening we come to Mount Olivet - the Mount of Olives.  It is really not much of a mountain.  It is hill, with an olive grove on it, and an olive press for making olive oil.  This oil was not only used for cooking, but for light, and for medicine, and for anointing kings and such.  It was a first aid treatment of sorts, used to soften wounds and sores and keep them soft for the healing process.  But olive oil has nothing to do with our visit tonight.

On this hill, there is a garden - a small park, more or less.  It is part of the olive grove, I think.  It is a place where Jesus and His disciples often came in the cool of the evening to get away from it all, for discussion, and for relaxation, and for prayer.  The garden is called Gethsemane.  The name means "Oil Press".  It is probably where the oil press was located, near the trees so they didn't have to carry the olives too far.  We have come here on this particular night because Jesus and His disciples have come from their Passover Seder.  We have come to watch and listen as Jesus prays on this fateful night.

What can we see here?  We can see the faith of our Savior in His prayer.  I know, you don't think of Jesus as having faith.  He is the object of faith, our faith, at least.  But while Jesus walked this earth He also had to have faith.  He was not given to knowing everything.  He could have, but He chose not to.  It was part of the humiliation, when Jesus did not always or fully use all the divine powers and knowledge according to His human nature that He had at His disposal because of His divine nature.

Jesus chose to live as we must, by faith.  He knew certain things that we do not, but He also did not know many thing we do not know.  He knew, for example, what was ahead of Him this night.  He knew about the beatings.  He knew about the mockery of a trial.  He knew He was going to be falsely accused, falsely charged, falsely convicted, and falsely condemned.  He knew that He was going to die on the cross before the sun had set on Friday.  I can imagine that He even knew what it was going to feel like.

But He did not need much divine knowledge to know most of those things.  They were all prophesied.  He had spoken those prophecies to the prophets Himself, but before He was born of the Blessed Virgin.  He studied, as a human child and as a Jew, and learned what the Scriptures prophesied.  I suspect, however, that He permitted Himself to look forward with divine sight to the torments of the coming hours.

But He did not look past the cross and His death there.  He knew what the Bible said was going to happen.  He knew what the Bible said it was going to accomplish.  He knew what the Bible said about how it was all going to work out.  He knew what the Bible said.  Although the Bible does not say so explicitly, I believe that He did not permit Himself to know by divine omniscience as man how it really did work out.  If He had, I doubt that He would have been so deeply troubled by the coming night that He would say to His disciples, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me."

Jesus was made like us in all things, except sin, of course.  He had to walk 'that lonesome valley' (as the song puts it) as each one of us must -- by faith.  This, of course, wasn't the first time Jesus had to walk by faith.  It took faith that day on the mountain, when the devil came to tempt Him, to refuse to make stones into bread, and trust in God instead.  We fail that test regularly, whenever we place our own needs or pleasures before the will of God.  When we place convenience before Bible Study, personal pleasure before worship, or self-chosen interests before doing what we know is right and God-pleasing.  Jesus made the difficult choice that day, and just seemed easy to us, to walk by faith.

Tonight, even Jesus was staggering.  His faith never faltered, but His flesh was pressed to His limits.  When Jesus prayed and wrestled with the terror of what was to come, "His sweat came like great thick drops of blood.  He was in agony," according to the gospel of Luke.  In the midst of mind-boggling terror and anticipation, Jesus prayed, "Not My will but Thine be done."

The text says, "He fell on His face."  It was an ancient posture of humility and prayer.  He did not hold back.  He did not merely kneel and fold His hands, but prostrated Himself in the dirt and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt."  Jesus did not want to die.  He did not want to suffer.  He was just like you or me in that regard.  But He was willing -- and obedient.

I suspect that this is not the entire prayer, as the movie portrayed it, but it is the gist of it, or a single line from it which summed up the prayer.  Matthew tells us that the prayer was about an hour long.  It was so long that the disciples fell asleep in spite of themselves.  Jesus wrestled with God in prayer, pleading that if there was another way, God would permit it to come to pass.  He knew what He was there for, but standing at the brink of the precipice, Jesus earnestly desired to avoid the tremendous pain and sorrow and loneliness that stood before Him.  And we call it "Good" Friday.

Just like our prayers, Jesus' prayer said, in effect, "This is how it looks to me, and this is how I would like to see it work out, but You do what is best."  I have trouble facing a trip to the dentist, with Novocain and laughing gas at the ready to numb me.  Jesus was looking forward to something far more difficult than a high-speed drill.  Yet He said, "If You want me to do it, Your will be done."

Jesus knew what that answer would be, but He still prayed.  How else could He deal with the fear and pressure of expectation?  He knew He was supposed to rise, that He was prophesied to rise, but all He could see clearly now was that He was going to die, and that in awful agony!  But His confidence in God was such that He could still say, "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done."

Like Abraham of Old, Jesus believed the promise and power of God.  The promise was that He would rise from His grave.  The power was that God could do it!.  Of course, He had given a brief resurrection to Lazarus, and Jairus' daughter, and to the Son of the Widow of Nain.  But it is different when it is your death and your resurrection.  Except for Jesus.  He trusted God.  That is why He prayed, and that is why He deliberately and voluntarily approached Judas in the Garden that night, knowing what was to come.

He knew that it had to be done the hard way.  Adam and Eve had tried the easy way - "if you eat this fruit, you will become like God, knowing good and evil."  There could be no short-cut.  If the Father wanted it this way, Jesus would do it this way.  He did it even for men like the disciples who wouldn't stay awake and pray and watch with Him for an hour.  They slept on, even though His sorrow was clearly evident, and His terror had been confessed to them.  He understood, "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

So, Jesus prayed, and showed us how to pray in our times of terror and trouble -- "not as I will, but as Thou wilt."  This is the prayer of faith, and the prayer by which Jesus showed us His faith.  He stepped willingly into death because He knew it was the will of God, and He knew the power and the promises of God.  The gospel writers were inspired to record this incident so we would understand it was not easy or comfortable for Jesus, nor did He stumble into something He hadn't expected.

Jesus did it the hard way, the way we must do our things, trusting God, believing the promises, in faith that God the Father would give Him the strength He needed to do what lay ahead.  That is how we need to face our Gethsemanes.  We need to pray earnestly, and trust God.  We need to believe what God has promised - and God has made sweet and precious promises to us.  We need to depend on God to give us the strength we will need to do what He will have us do.  And we need to look with confidence toward the promised resurrection.  We can see through the example of Jesus that this is how God would have us to walk through the situations of life He presents us with, and we can also see, through Jesus, that God keeps all of His promises -- even resurrection from the dead.

This example is what we have come to Mount Olivet to see tonight.  We have come to see the faith of our Lord reflected in His prayer on what had to be the most difficult and anxious night of His life.  If you listen to His prayer closely, and imitate Him, our journey by faith to this garden on the Mountain has been well-worth the time.  Listen to His heart-felt prayer one more time:

"My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt.  .  .  .  My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done."

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due. Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.

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