This is the message I preached in view of a call to Bellevue Baptist, Nashville TN. 3/21/2021
Beyond the Tomb: You Have a Prayer
My junior year of High School I ran for student body president. I got up the morning of the elections, put on a suit (I even had a handkerchief stuffed in my pocket.) I put some product in my hair, and I shined my shoes. The time came for me to give my speech; I walked to the podium and looked out over the hundreds of faces. I would like to say that I rocked the house, that I had them cheering, that I even won the election but — the bright lights of the auditorium were hot, and my mind went completely blank. I have no idea what to say. You see, I was supposed to prepare a speech, but I thought I could wing it. I looked good on the outside, but when the pressure came, I crumbled like a solo cup.
We know Christ rose from the dead, it is the foundation of Christianity – but what does it mean for our lives? How are our lives different beyond the tomb, beyond the resurrection? Christ has left us with a life mission, and it is only in following His example and in His strength that we can accomplish it, and hold up when the pressure comes.
I. Beyond the Tomb, We Can Be With Christ (vv. 36-37)
“36Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.”
The setting is midnight on Thursday of the last week of Jesus’s life. His few years of his ministry are complete. It is now the Passover in Jerusalem in the year A.D. 33. On Saturday He arrived in Bethany to stay with His friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. On Sunday crowds came to Bethany to hear Him teach. On Monday He rode into the city of Jerusalem to the hosannas and praises of the people, who proclaimed Him as their Messiah.
On Tuesday He cleansed the Temple. On Wednesday He entered the Temple and both taught the people and rebuked the religious leaders. On Wednesday evening He ascended the Mount of Olives and taught the disciples about His Second Coming. On Thursday Peter and John made preparations for the Passover, and that evening Christ and His disciples ate the Passover meal.
The time is now near midnight. Christ and the disciples had finished the meal, sung the final hymn, and left the upper room. They passed through the city of Jerusalem and out the Eastern gate just north of the Temple, descended the slope of the Temple mount, crossed the Kidron brook, and ascended the Mount of Olives.
They stopped for a brief time on a slope of the Mount of Olives where the Lord warned the disciples about their impending defection. Finally they had arrived at the garden of Gethsemane. Here, in a short time, Jesus would be taken prisoner. But before that, Christ interceded with the Father. The Lord used that time of prayer to instruct His disciples and us how to deal with severe temptation.
The garden of Gethsemane was a familiar place to Christ and the disciples. John 18:2 tells us they often went there. It was private–secluded from the bustle of the crowds in the city. Christ could go there to spend the night in prayer to His Father or instruct His disciples.
When they reached the garden, somewhere near the top on the gentle slopes of the Mount of Olives, Christ told His disciples, ” Sit here while I go over there and pray ” (v. 37). Most likely, the garden was fenced or walled in, and Christ probably positioned the disciples just inside the entrance.
The disciples knew what was about to happen. Previously Jesus had told them it was time for Him to die: “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” (Matt. 26:2). In verse 31 He tells them, “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.’ 32But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
With such a significant crisis before them, they should have taken the opportunity to pray. When Christ said He was going to pray, the disciples should have followed His lead.
Christ had a good reason for asking the disciples to stay at the entrance of the garden–He needed some seclusion. With the disciples guarding the entrance, He could be assured His time with the Father would not be interrupted. So He set the disciples like a watch to guard Him, but also to pray.
II. Beyond the Tomb, We Can Pray With Christ (vv. 38-41)
38Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39Going 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.” 40Then 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.”
There is no indication that they even uttered a breath of prayer. They had heard Christ’s prediction, but they existed in an arena of smug self-confidence. They perceived themselves as invincible, confusing their good intentions for power. That was foolish. As a result, they didn’t pray as the Lord went on.
Jesus told them He was going to pray. The Greek word Matthew used is proseuchomai, an intense word always used of praying to God, as opposed to euchomai, which can refer to begging or requesting something from someone. Christ was going to pour out His heart to God.
The three disciples were sleeping at the moment of the greatest spiritual conflict in the history of the world. Jesus left some disciples to guard the gate, and he chose three to be “within a stone’s throw from where He was praying.”
Jesus chose Peter, James, and John to be with him, to be close to Him when, other than the cross, he was under the most anguish. He wanted friends close by, Jesus needed to talk to His Father – but they slept.
Christ’s anticipation of the cross brought terror, pain, and sorrow. The Greek word translated “sorrowful” means “deep sadness” in this context. According to one commentator the word translated “very depressed” (ad[ma]emone[ma]o) probably means by derivation “to be away from home” Home is where comfortable things are. Home is where you belong, where your family is, where love is, where you’re at ease and feel accepted. Jesus was away from home.
He was isolated in conflict with hell. Such a conflict was deeply depressing. Psalm 42:7 is a Messianic psalm that contains a description of this experience: “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” Desolate loneliness and sorrow caused Christ to be deeply depressed.
The Greek word translated “exceedingly sorrowful” is perilupos, which means “to be surrounded by sorrow.” He was engulfed in sadness. Jesus said His soul–His inner being–was drowning in sorrow to the point of death. His sorrow was enough to kill Him.
It is possible for a man to die from sheer anguish. The capillaries can burst, and that happened to Christ. As He began to sweat in His agony, His perspiration mingled with the blood escaping through His sweat glands (Luke 22:44), a condition known as hematidrosis.
Christ could have died from His anguish right there in the garden if God had not sent an angel to strengthen Him (v. 43). When He was crucified, Christ died very fast, so fast the soldiers didn’t have to break His legs. His anguish was so severe that death was imminent.
Christ’s anguish on the cross cannot be isolated–His entire life was full of sorrow. So He retreated to the Father, saying to the disciples, “Stay here and keep watch with me ” (Matt. 26:38). Obviously, Christ wanted them to pray with Him. They should have because He warned them about what was coming.
“he asked Peter. 41″Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” It would be Peter in a few moments who would grab a two-handed sword and cut off an ear of a soldier who was trying to arrest Christ. Why? Because he slept when he should have been praying. It was Peter who would deny Jesus three times – even though he had said “not me, never.” Why? Because he slept when he should have been praying.
“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39). That is a prayer of resolution and resignation to the will of God. When Christ says, “If it be possible,” He was not asking God if He had the power to let the cup pass from Him, but He was asking if it were possible within the plan of God. Was it morally possible–was it consistent with God’s plan to save sinners–to let Christ redeem sinners in another way?
Christ did not try to avoid God’s redemptive work, but the degree of such agony led Him to ask if there were another way to accomplish it. Christ would endure the fury of God over sin, Satan, the power of death, and the guilt of iniquity. Our Lord desired to avoid that part of God’s plan if there were another way.
The natural thing for the disciples to do after midnight was sleep. After all, they were weary from a busy week of activity. Additionally, they recently had eaten a huge meal – all eleven had consumed an entire sacrificial lamb and everything that went with it, including unleavened bread and four cups of wine.
Then they had just completed a long walk and a hard hike up the Mount of Olives. I’m sure they felt weary just from that. Luke adds that they also were sleepy because of sorrow (Luke 22:45). Jesus is asking them to do the difficult thing – to walk the extra mile with him (Matthew 5:41).
III. Beyond the Tomb, We Can Serve With Christ (vv. 42-46)
42He 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.” 43When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. 45Then 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. 46Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
The intensity of Jesus’ struggle brought out the best in Him because He approached it correctly. But it brought out the worst in the disciples because they approached it incorrectly, even though their trial was infinitely less severe than His.
“Are you still sleeping and resting?” Jesus comes back and asks them, even though I have told you that I am going to be crucified, even though you know that I am in great anguish, even though you know that a great spiritual battle is going on all around you – you still sleep and rest?
Indifferent to the needs of Christ and the power of the enemy, the disciples were about to be totally overwhelmed by the circumstances and forsake Christ (v. 56). They would never pass the temptation. They would fall into sin and reject Christ. At the moment of crisis, they would run away.
They weren’t ready. Our Lord’s last lesson is clear: victory belongs to those who are alert in all spiritual battles–those who have recognized their weaknesses. The disciples were foolish, believing they would never be rejected because of Christ, and claiming they were prepared to go to prison or die before denying Him. Victory isn’t won by those who sleep when the battle is immanent, but to those who are vigilant.
“Rise, let us go!” Christ was not encouraging the disciples to flee with Him. The Greek word translated “going” is a military term meaning “to go forward,” as in going to meet an advancing enemy. Jesus was strengthened. He was victorious. Now He was ready to confront His captors – they didn’t have to find Him. He was going to them.
After His first session of prayer, Jesus said to Peter, “What, could ye not watch with me one hour?” (v. 40). Then He gave the principle I believe He was intending to teach them.
Solid Principles for Staying Awake
1. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” They were not to let their self-confidence lull them to sleep. The way to avoid temptation is to stay alert to it – to be aware of Satan’s schemes (2 Cor. 2:11) – and then to go to the Father in prayer.
2 Peter 2:9 “The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations.” You go to God for deliverance. The scout for the army doesn’t engage in battle with the enemy once he finds them; that would be foolish. Instead, he returns to tell the commander what he’s learned, and then the commander leads the troops into battle. No Christian can be victorious in fighting Satan by himself; he must report to the Commander. Jesus Himself sought out our heavenly Father for divine strength.
2. “The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” Christians love God and desire to do what is right. No doubt, Peter, James, and John loved the Savior and wanted to do what was right. I’m sure the other eight disciples also wanted to do what was right, but they were weak.
I’m sure Peter suffered greatly over his denial because that was the last thing he wanted to do (Matt. 26:33, 35). In 1 Peter 5:8 he says, “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary, the devil, like a roaring lion walks about, seeking whom he may devour.”
Peter learned that lesson right in the garden of Gethsemane. He could teach that with conviction because Satan devoured all the disciples on the night the Lord needed them the most. They didn’t want to abandon the Lord, but they did.
Whereas the disciples’ confidence led to sleep, Christ’s humility led to prayer. But after the temptation came Christ’s obedience to the will of God. And that was followed by victory.
You have a choice. You can either be self-confident and end up in disaster, or you can be humble, fall on your knees before God in prayer for strength, and then commit yourself to God’s will in the midst of temptation. The latter is the only way to victory.