Jesus in Gethsemane
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Jesus in Gethsemane

Luke 22:39  (ID: 2345)

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told His disciples to pray lest they fall into temptation. But why prayer? Scripture assures us that God will protect us from temptation and unbelief; Alistair Begg clarifies, however, that God uses His chosen means of prayer, worship, and fellowship to keep us in the faith. Prayer and faith may not keep us from great sorrow here on earth, but Jesus promises us an eternity that will undo all the suffering

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Luke, Volume 13

The Day Jesus Died Luke 22:39–23:56 Series ID: 14215

Sermon Transcript: Print

Father, we pray that as we study the Bible together now, that you will help us—that you will come by the Holy Spirit and do for us what we’re unable to do for ourselves. We pray that we may, beyond the voice of a mere man, hear your voice and, in hearing it, that we might obey. We look to you, Lord, in humble dependence. And we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, I invite you to turn again to the portion of Scripture that was read earlier in Luke, chapter 22, beginning with verse 39. And as you turn there, I want to read just three familiar verses from Hebrews chapter 12. The writer says,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.[1]

Now, for those of you who have been following along in our studies in Luke’s Gospel, you may feel, and with some legitimacy, that we have got stuck here in this little section that begins at verse 39, because it seems that we’ve been reading it for weeks now and coming back to it again and again. I feel a little bit as though I’ve been watching a video of myself, and somebody hit the “freeze frame” button on the thing, and every time I look back, it’s stuck on the same position. But in actual fact, I’m quite comfortable with that, because it appears to me that we’ve done this purposefully, that we’ve done it properly. And the reason is that our gaze is turned towards Christ, which is always important and which is, frankly, phenomenally helpful to us. If we do not believe, we need to look at the Lord Jesus and examine who he is and what he’s said and what he’s done. And if we do believe and profess to follow him, then we need to hear his voice, and obey it, and make sure that we are in the company of those who love him and serve him.  So I’m not concerned about the fact that we’re apparently stuck here. If there’s anywhere that we want to get stuck, or any place we may get stuck, then to be stuck on the Lord Jesus would be a fine place to be stuck for a while.

Jesus, as Luke tells us, is in a familiar setting. The context of the Mount of Olives, the garden of Gethsemane, is not a new area for them. They are in familiar geography. And he is in the company of his eleven followers. They’re down to eleven now. Judas is about to pop up again in verse 47. But here they are in Jerusalem.

Some twenty-one years have elapsed since the Lord Jesus was up in Jerusalem with Mary and Joseph—was separated from them, as Luke records, causing Mary and Joseph to backtrack into Jerusalem and finally find Jesus in the temple precincts. Those of you who know the Gospel will recall this fascinating incident. And speaking to Jesus about the fact that they had missed him—misplaced him, if you like—they receive a quite staggering response. It comes across best, I think, in the King James Version rather than any of the modern translations—or maybe it’s just my background. But Mary says to him, essentially, “Jesus, we’ve been looking everywhere for you. What do you think’s going on?”[2] And he says, “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”[3] “Don’t you know that I need to be doing what my Father wants me to do?”

Now, the very natural response on the part of Mary would be to say, “Well, maybe. But we’ve also been looking for you for ages, and it’s time to get back down the road.” In fact, she was fairly clueless as to what was going on. Luke says that his parents… Neither Mary nor Joseph understood what he was saying to them. In other words, when they went back down the road together, as he trotted on in front as children usually do, Joseph turned to Mary and said, “What do you think he meant by that?” And Mary said, “Search me. I’m not sure. I really don’t understand. Some of the things he says are mysterious things. There’s no question.”

If we do not believe, we need to look at the Lord Jesus and examine who he is and what he’s said and what he’s done.

You fast-forward into the Gospels, and Jesus is now moving inexorably towards Jerusalem. He has his disciples with him, and he pauses every so often to tell them what is going to happen to him—for example, in Luke 18.[4] We considered it last time. And Luke is honest enough to tell us that the disciples did not understand any of this. So Mary and Joseph do not understand when he says, “I need to do what my Father says.” He explains to the disciples; the disciples do not understand. So this should be an immediate encouragement to some of us who are not immediately grasping what we are studying here in these few days. The hymn writer puts it in a prayer:

Oh, make me understand it,
[And] help me to take it in,
What it meant [for you], the Holy One,
To bear away my sin.[5]

Now, the reason that we’ve paused is because the events that are unfolding are awesome in the extreme. The reason that we’ve paused is because we have recognized that if we fail to ask the question “What is happening here?” and instead just allow ourselves to feel it, or to experience it, or to let it sort of ooze over us, then we may get ourselves in dreadful difficulty. And, of course, that’s the way many people study the Bible. They just read the Bible in the hope that it’s going to “hit” them. And if it hits them, then they say, “Whoa! That was terrific.” And if it doesn’t, they say, “Hey, there was nothing in that at all.” Or if it “moves” them or “stirs” them… I’m not sure how that is actually supposed to happen, because every other book that I read, I have to read it. I have to read the sentences, distinguish the verbs from the adjectives and the adverbs and so on, put all the pieces together, and then, actually, it goes through your mind; and then, as a result of understanding, certain things happen physiologically and otherwise as a result of grasping information. Failure to grasp what is happening here may allow us to be sentimental about the scene without ever grappling with the implications of it. And that’s why, these last couple of weeks, we have belabored the point. I think some may feel that way. But we paused last time to recognize, in the words of the prophecy of Isaiah, that “it pleased the Lord”[6] to “crush him and cause him to suffer”[7]—that when we look at Jesus here in the garden of Gethsemane, “it pleased the Lord” to “crush him and cause him to suffer.”

Now, you see, it’s for this reason that you need all of the Bible. And you need to read all of the Bible, from Genesis all the way through to Revelation. It’s for this reason that we need the Epistles, or the Letters: in order that we can understand the Gospels. Every so often, I have people come to me and say, “Well, I like the Gospels. I like the Sermon on the Mount. But I don’t really like the apostle Paul, and I’m not very keen on many of his letters.” “Well,” I say, “thank you for sharing that information with me, but you’re really in great difficulty. Because the Bible as we’ve been given it in its sixty-six books—a compendium, if you like—has been placed in its entirety for us in order that in reading it in its entirety we might understand the message that it conveys.” And so, for example, when you begin to read the letters—Galatians chapter 1—Paul, writing to the Galatians, says of Jesus, Jesus “gave himself for our sins.”[8] The writer to the Hebrews, speaking of what Jesus has done on the cross, says in 2:17, Jesus was turning aside God’s wrath and was taking away the sins of the people. Now, this is very, very important.

Right at the moment, a number of my friends have been in touch with me to tell me that they have been in the company of none other than Mel Gibson. Yes, in the last couple of weeks—making a number of ladies here feel very jealous and wondering who these friends are and what’s their telephone number. But nevertheless, they have been with Mel Gibson. And the reason they’ve been with Mel Gibson is because he has been doing preview showings of the movie that he’s been shooting in Italy called The Passion. And he has been showing it to select groups of people in order to see if he can’t encourage the promotion of the movie in which he has invested a vast amount of money and which is set to cause incredible controversy.

Now, I did not get invited to one of the previews. And therefore, I should be very careful about what I say, and I will be. So I’ll only say this: nobody will be able to benefit properly from whatever that movie conveys without a solid understanding of what the Gospel writers convey and the Epistles convey concerning the nature of the event, concerning what is happening there. The pain, the suffering, the blood, the agony, the tears, the passion are not the focus of the Epistles. In fact, the way in which the passion of Christ is covered is discreet, it is succinct, it is brief to the point of being striking in its brevity, isn’t it? “And Jesus was crucified between two thieves, one on the right and one on the left”[9]—end of the story. Oh, yes, it says that they nailed a crown of thorns on his head, but it doesn’t go into… You would think maybe it would go into a chapter or a chapter and a half or maybe two driving home the implications and the drama of all of this, as this movie is about to do. Now, that’s not necessarily illegitimate. But I say to you again that unless we ask the question, “What is happening here?” then it is possible for us to respond on a superficial level, on an emotional level, on a psychological level to the impact of this truth without ever being touched and changed by it.

Now, we’ll return to what Jesus was accomplishing on the cross when we reach Golgotha, when we reach Calvary. But we’re still here in Gethsemane, and we need to keep moving.

What Compassion!

I think I’ve painted in sufficient background for us to go back to the aborted outline of last Sunday. The first point you will all remember, I’m sure, was “What Compassion!” I don’t think anyone of you remembers that. That was just a marginal joke. “What Compassion!” “What Compassion!” Some of you are nudging one another, saying, “What outline?” not “What Compassion!” But anyway, that’s fine. Some of you are nudging each other, saying, “What Sunday?” Some of you are nudging each other, saying, “Where am I?” But anyway, that’s by the way.

Now, the compassion of Christ is conveyed here in a very simple way. It would have been understandable had he left the Eleven on their own—if he’d said to them, “You know, I’ve really given my best to you fellows. I’ve preached my sermons. I’ve done my miracles. I’ve lived with you now for the last three years. I loved you and lived with you, but as of now, I am focused on my own predicament, and therefore, you’re on your own from here.” But if you look, you will see that the picture is very different from that. You find that the gaze of Jesus is towards his followers—these individuals whom he had called and taught and lived with and loved. Look there, and you see him speaking to them. I’m sure he’s not talking into the air. He turns his gaze towards them. Look at him, and then listen to what he says: “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” What he’s doing there is he’s making their concerns his own. He’s urging them to maintain close communion with God so that they might not fall in the face of temptation.

What kind of temptation would there be before them? Well, all kinds, but perhaps these areas primarily: Tempted to doubt him. After all, he had said these remarkable things, and it appeared to be going dreadfully wrong. Tempted, then, to disown him. Tempted, perhaps, to deny that they ever knew him. Jesus says, “Now, fellas, I want you to pray so that you don’t fall into temptation.” Very practical stuff, isn’t it? At least I find it incredibly practical. It was a concern in relationship to them and certainly a concern in relationship to me. I don’t know about you. Are you ever tempted to doubt him?

This week, in the early part of the week, I was at the Chautauqua Institute for about an hour. That was as much as I could stand. It is for me, now, a very sad and paralyzing place. It’s hard for me to imagine that Martyn Lloyd-Jones once spoke there for a week to vast crowds. It’s a bastion of liberalism and syncretism, both avowed, practiced, and encouraged. I walked around there; I felt a tiny bit like Paul must have felt on Mars Hill. I looked at all of the people, and in my mind I could hear the word of Jesus: “I am the way … the truth and the life. [And] no one comes to the Father [but by] me.”[10] And in my mind I could hear the voice of the Evil One saying, “Do you really believe that, Alistair? Do you really believe that?” I was sitting on a bench, and he was saying, “Do you believe that? Do you realize, Alistair, that no one in here believes that? Do you realize that if you stood up right now and said that, that is the most unbelievable notion in this place?”

Tempted to doubt him. Tempted to disown him. Tempted to just flat-out deny him when you get with all your golf club buddies, and nobody believes, and nobody cares, and everybody swears, and everybody says, “Jesus!” but only when they miss a putt. Well, you live there, don’t you? There’s tremendous compassion on the part of Christ.

In light of all that he’s about to walk through, he takes a moment, and he says, “Fellas, I need to say something to you: I want you to pray now. Pray so that you do not fall into temptation.” Satan’s plan was to put them through the grinder. He’d already told them that back in 22:31: “Satan has desired to sift you like wheat—put you in the grinder. But I’ve prayed for you.”[11] If you want to know how he prayed for them, read John 17 for your homework. You’ll find that he prayed that the Father would protect them. You’ll find that he prayed that they would have their joy full—his joy fully working through them. You’ll find that he prayed that they might be sanctified by the truth.

God keeps his followers from temptation by the means of prayer—by their prayers for themselves and by his prayers for them.

What he’s saying here is “Chaps, I want to make sure that you stay the course. I want to make sure that you run right to the end of the journey. I want you to make sure that you do not find yourself sidelined and taken out of the game.” “Well, but,” you say, “they couldn’t be sidelined and taken out of the game. They’re the followers of Jesus.” We know that. I mean, why would he even say these things? Why would he say, “Pray so that you will not fall into temptation”? Because if they didn’t pray, they would fall into temptation. And when you and I don’t pray, we’re susceptible to temptation as a far greater onslaught than when we do.

In other words, he is urging them to keep themselves in the love of God. “Keep yourselves in the love of God.” Isn’t that a Bible verse? It is! Jude verse 21: “Keep yourselves in the love of God.”[12] “You mean we keep ourselves?” Yes. “Oh, but I thought God kept us. I thought the benediction was verse 24 of Jude.” It is: “Now unto him [who] is able to keep you from falling…”[13] It’s a very comforting verse, and it’s important, and it’s good to use at the end of a service as we go out into the challenges of the week. He’s able to keep you. But three verses before, he said, “Keep yourselves.” Then, in verse 24, he says, “God will keep you.” You see how these two things work together? God doesn’t keep his children in a vacuum. He keeps his children by means. He keeps his followers from temptation by the means of prayer—by their prayers for themselves and by his prayers for them.  And the same is true for you and for me this morning.

When you read old books—and I know some of you do—you’ll discover every so often the phrase comes “the means of grace.” And depending on your background, you may have difficulty with understanding what that’s about. What those fellows are saying there is simply that God uses means in the lives of his children which are graciously given so that in the exercise of these areas his children may be strengthened and equipped and kept for every good work.

Well, what kinds of things?

Well, one of them is prayer. Prayer. For in prayer, we commune with the Father; the Father communes with us. We talk to him, and he speaks into our lives.

Preaching. “Oh,” you say, “here we go. This is you just trying to keep a job for yourself: ‘Preaching is a means of grace.’” Well, it is actually a means of grace. That’s why I need to be preached to all the time. That’s why I’m looking forward to this evening and to sitting with my wife and at least one of my children and having somebody preach the Bible to me. I love that! I listen to preaching in my car all the time. I play CDs of people preaching, teaching the Bible. I need to be preached to. I actually listen to my own preaching. I don’t like it much, but I hear it! It’s a strange sensation to be preached to every single week by yourself. I don’t recommend it, but it comes to you depending on your circumstances. It is a fact, and it’s marginally humorous, but it is actually distinctly true. I’m not here to give you a talk. I’m not here to disburse information. I don’t fully understand the mystery of what this is about.

But I do know that part of the means of grace is not only prayer and the preaching of the Word but also the fellowship of God’s people. That’s why Hebrews 10 says, “Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together, as is the habit of some, but make sure that you hang tough together, and all the more as you see the day of God’s return coming back.”[14] Why is that? It is because coals intermingled with one another stay hot; one coal taken out from all the other coals and put over on the hearth, and it goes out. So when I hear people say, “Well, you know, I don’t need to go to the services. I mean, I can meet God on my own. I don’t need to go back again, you know? I mean, once is enough. I’m fine on that. I don’t really need any more preaching. I’d like a little less preaching. I don’t want to be footering around with prayer. I would much rather… I just say the Lord’s Prayer and so on. I don’t want anyone asking how I’m doing. And I don’t really want to do anything that I’m told.” Then you’re in grave difficulty. Grave difficulty.

Are you baptized? Have you professed faith in Christ and followed him in baptism? If the answer is no, then you’re setting aside one of the means of grace in your life. “If you love me, you will obey my commands”[15]—not as a legalistic entity but as a mechanism, as an expression, of love and of devotion. And were you present for the Lord’s Supper last Sunday evening? Because Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me, for as often as you eat and drink of this cup and of this bread, you proclaim my death until I come back.”[16]

Now, you say, “Well, you’re well off the point.” Well, I may be off the point, but I’m on the point I want to be on for now. It struck me forcibly: “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He doesn’t say, “Hey guys, relax! You’re not going to fall into temptation.” He could’ve said that, and it would have been true. But he doesn’t say that. Why? Because God uses means. How does God evangelize the world? Through people! How is God going to reach your family with the gospel? Through you! How is God going to speak his Word into the lives of people? Through the preaching and teaching of the Bible. You say, “Well, it’s not a very good mechanism. People don’t like it, you know. They won’t listen to those things and so on. It seems to be a very foolish way of trying to go at things. After all, we live in such a technological age, and people can’t listen to any kind of dialogue or monologue for very long.” Well, that’ll be just all the more indication of the fact that God uses some of the strangest means in order to save and keep his kids.

What Commitment!

Well, that’s enough on the compassion, at least for now. “What Commitment!” was my second point. What compassion, that Christ, facing what he does, would take time to give them a word of exhortation. What commitment!

Compare the Gospel records—you must do this at your leisure—and you’ll find that Jesus apparently left eight of them about a stone’s throw away. I was throwing a baseball this week. I’m not very good at that at all. I was never brought up to throw baseballs, and that’s my excuse. But I was staggered at how far some of my little friends could throw the thing. And so, it got me thinking about how far a stone’s throw was. So, however far it was, that’s how far it was. And he was that far away from eight of them, and three of them were a little closer to him—close enough, presumably, to hear what he had to say.[17] Otherwise, no one would have known and been able to write it down in the Gospels. But you already figured that out. That’s fine.

Now, notice his posture: “He withdrew about a stone’s throw, and he knelt down.” One of the other Gospel writers says that he prostrated himself on the ground.[18] It’s interesting, because the last picture we have of anybody praying is in chapter 18—at least from Luke. And the Pharisee and the publican were praying, remember, and they were both standing. And one stood up and said, “I thank [you], that I[’m] not as other men” and so on, and the other “would not lift up … his eyes [to] heaven.” He said, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”[19] But here, in prayer, Jesus is kneeling. He falls to his knees and apparently falls on his face. Do you kneel down sometimes when you pray? It’s an expression of urgency, isn’t it? It’s an expression of necessity. So Jesus says, “I want you to pray,” and then he practices what he preaches.

Now, look at his prayer, verse 42: “Father, if you’re willing, take this cup from me; but not what I want but what you want; not my will but yours be done.” Here in the garden, there is a preview of all that he’s about to face, all of the agony. Here in the garden, there is the onslaught of the Evil One, like roaring lions tearing at him, their mouths wide open against him.[20] And here in this scene, he’s almost beside himself with the horror he’s about to experience.

It’s for this reason that we’ve taken time to establish the humanity of Christ: because I think that sometimes we’re tempted to believe that Jesus, in going through this experience—it was a kind of charade, you know? That he said these things, and it said that he felt that way, but we say to ourselves, “How could he possibly feel that way? After all, wasn’t he God?” Well, of course he was very God, but he was very man.[21] And in the perfection of humanity, he recoils. There’s something wrong with somebody when they don’t recoil from pain, when they don’t recoil from fire. Somebody walks into a fire, you say, “There’s something wrong with that guy,” right? And there is. Either they can’t see the fire, or their senses are so dulled, or they’re on substances, but you don’t just walk into the fire! Any normal person recoils from the fire, recoils from pain. And when the nurse says, “Just bend over slightly,” and she has that thing in her hand, the blood pressure goes right through the roof—in a normal person. Now, if you’re brain-dead, they can inject you all you like. It’s not going to make a bit of difference. Nothing will happen to your blood pressure when they approach you. But in the normality of Christ, in the perfection of his humanity, he is recoiling from the humiliation. He’s recoiling from the suffering. He’s recoiling from the death. He’s aware that he’s not only going to suffer and die, but he’s going to suffer and die as the propitiatory sacrifice for our sin. And in all of this there are multiple dimensions. We noted this before; I can go through very quickly.

There is a physical reality to what he is about to face. Crucifixion is inhumane—probably the most brutal, cruel, and unnatural punishment known to man. There was nothing in the humanity of Christ to blunt his emotions or to anesthetize his sensitivity. It’s a reminder to us that the atonement is not a theory worked out by theologians but that the atonement is a flesh-and-blood reality. So he recoils from the physical dimension of it.

There is a social dimension to it, isn’t there? That the Lord Jesus was a friend to people. He loved his neighbor as himself. That’s why he told others they should do so.[22] In Mark 3:14, Mark says that he went out, and he put this little group of fellas together; he called the Twelve, says Mark, to “be with him.” To “be with him”! Not to walk fifteen paces behind him, not to do his bidding, but actually to be with him, to be his companions. And everything that we read in the Gospels suggests to us that he loved that, that he enjoyed relationships, that he enjoyed being with these fellas. Therefore, it is not difficult for us to recognize that he wouldn’t think highly, kindly, of the idea of being removed from all of that. So Jesus was marginalized and condemned by the religious authorities. He understood that his family were embarrassed by him. And he recognized, too, that those who had been his closest companions were ready either to betray him or deny him or desert him. And he’s about to die without any support, without any encouragement, without any appreciation at all—certainly from those who were his main group. He’s going to die aware of the fact that the folks who were his followers just thought he let them down.

I’m unashamed in asking people to hold my hand—I don’t care—at the slightest approach of one of those hypodermic needles. And I’ll hold anybody’s hand! I just am shamefaced about it. I just say, “Who will hold my hand?” I say in the room. You say, “Are you kidding me?” I say, “No, I’m not kidding you. I’m dead earnest. Who will hold my hand?” I just laid down in the Cleveland Clinic a couple of weeks ago, and they brought the thing down with the laser surgery, and I said, “Who is going to hold my hand?” And no one would hold my hand! So I just held my own hand, just like that, like I was dying—or dead. Jesus dies with no one to hold his hand, no friendly face, and no word of encouragement. This is not a theory. This is a reality. The hymn writer says in that wonderful hymn, you know,

There were ninety and nine that safely lay …

But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep [was] the [water] crossed;
[Or] how dark was the night that the Lord passed thro’
[When] he found [the] sheep that was lost.[23]

In fact, the experience is so draining that verse 43 tells us that an angel is dispatched from heaven to strengthen him. I love this little verse, 43. We won’t delay on it, but I think it’s fascinating. Here is Jesus: “And I want you to pray, fellas. I’m going to go forward here.” And now he prays. He recognizes the social, spiritual, emotional, physical, psychological reality of everything that is before him, and it is devastating to him, and an angel is dispatched from heaven to strengthen him. I wonder what that was like. I don’t know. It’s not important for us to really delay on it.

But what I find most fascinating is that verse 44 follows verse 43. You say, “Well, it’s supposed to.” Well, I know that, but I’m not talking about mathematically. Wouldn’t you have expected that once the angel came from heaven, he would have made all the bad stuff go away? No. The Father sent an angel. Jesus is having a dreadful time. Angel comes. Jesus says, “Oh, okay. That’s much better.” No! Look at verse 44: “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly.” After the angel shows up, apparently, he’s even in deeper straits than he was before the angel ever came!

Again, loved ones, don’t buy any of this silly stuff that’s on TV about angels coming to you, and making everything better, and kissing all your boo-boos, and all that kind of stuff. There is nothing in the Gospel records to make you believe that—not for a split second. And even if the angel were to come to you, what do you think they’re going to do? Do you think they can do more than the Holy Spirit? Do you think they can do more than the Word of God strengthening your mind by grace through faith? Of course they can’t. And after the angel had gone, he was in anguish and prayed even more earnestly, and he sweat so profusely that, apparently, his sweat was like drops of blood falling on the ground.

Now, let me move quickly to my final point and say this as I’m bridging to it: surely, we have here the mandate, if you like, for the legitimacy of our own human suffering. Surely, we must be very, very careful in saying to our loved ones, “Come on! Cheer up,” you know. “If you were a half-decent Christian, you wouldn’t be feeling the way you’re feeling.” You know, “If you were taking the Bible seriously, you would be strong and tough and ready for anything at all. And here you are, down with your face in the ground, crying in the garden, beleaguered, overwhelmed, anguished to the point of apparent sorrow and to almost death. You’re so bewildered by your grief that you’re living in such a way as to make it seem that your grief is insupportable, and it is likely to be fatal.”

Well, here Jesus, in this garden scene, stands beside those of us who are emotionally overwhelmed, those of us who found that the loss of a loved one almost unhinged our minds, who found that a broken relationship so devastated us that it took month after month after month, we couldn’t drive past that corner of the street; as we felt that we would get in our car and we would drive it as fast as we can in the hope that perhaps, when we came around a bend, we might hit something coming in the other direction. And then we said to ourself, “How could we ever think such thoughts? Aren’t we Christians? Don’t we follow Christ? Don’t we have the Bible? How could I be so overwhelmed to the point of devastating sorrow? And is it legitimate ever to be so?” Well, apparently, Jesus was. This is certainly an antidote to the smarty-pants, slick, methodological, Christian-counseling “Snap out of it” stuff. Half the time, we would be better just to hold each other’s hands and cry together than start bouncing around with calendar verses. There was no calendar verse for Jesus here—even the visit of an angel from heaven. “And he prayed all the more earnestly and sweat all the more profusely.”

What a Contrast!

What compassion that, facing such circumstances, he should care for those who were his companions. What commitment that, in light of all that he was to go through, he should determine, “Not my will, Father, but yours be done.” And what an amazing contrast we find—a twofold contrast. One, between verse 44 and 45: from his experience in the garden in prayer and when he rises from prayer and goes back to the disciples. The wrestling is over. I don’t think he came back beleaguered and overwhelmed. There’s no reason for us to think that he did. The reality that he had gone through was reality, but now he stands, and ready to walk the path of suffering. And when he comes back to the disciples, here’s the other contrast: “He found them asleep.” He’d said, “Pray that you [won’t] fall into temptation.” He’d gone forward and prayed. They had ceased to pray, if they ever began, and they’d fallen asleep instead.

Now, Luke—Dr. Luke… Don’t you love Dr. Luke? He seems to be such a gracious fellow. He explains that they were “exhausted from sorrow.” That’s nice, isn’t it? It’s not a cop-out. It’s true! Have you ever been exhausted from sorrow? Do you remember when your mom died? Or when your father died? Or when your child died? Or when your best friend was killed? And it was so easy—you could sleep at the drop of a hat. You could close your bedroom door; you could lie down and go to sleep. “How can I go to sleep so many times in such a short period of time? I’m not even tired! But I can sleep. What is this sleep?” It is the exhaustion that comes from sorrow. The exhaustion that comes from sorrow—that all of my best longings and aspirations… “Yes, Jesus, I’m going to pray. Oh yes, I’m going to pray.” [Snores.] “No, I’m going to try again. Thanks for coming back again. Yes, I’m praying now, Jesus. Yes.” [Snores.] The third time he came and said, “Could you not pray a little bit?” Says, “Yes, we’re going to pray! We’re starting now!” [Snores.] Read the other Gospel records. I’m not making this up. This is not… Three times he came back.[24]

With God, failure is never final nor fatal.

Look at this. It’s fantastic. “‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them.” It’s a good question. “I didn’t tell you to sleep. I didn’t say, ‘Stay here and sleep.’ I said, ‘Stay here and pray.’ What part of that was hard to understand? So, I said, ‘Stay and pray’; you stayed and slept. Why are you doing that?”

But I love the end—and it is the end. “‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them.” “I’m done with you guys. Finished. Sick of you—the whole twelve of you. One of you already has done a bunk. One of you is about to blow it out, within a matter of moments from now. The rest of you are a bunch of scaredy-cats. You’re all heading for the hills, running in, closing the doors, battening down the hatches so that no one’ll find you in case you come the same way as me. Really, I’m tired of you. I’ve done my best for you. I preached some of my best sermons. I’ve done terrific miracles. We’ve had a fantastic time. We’ve slept out here on the Mount of Olives on multiple occasions. I’ve given you everything I could give you. I gave you one word of counsel: ‘I want you pray so that you do not fall into temptation.’ I go away; I come back; you’re sound asleep. You’re done.”

That would have been perfectly legitimate, wouldn’t it? I mean, God looks down from heaven, he sees the state of affairs in the day of Noah, and he says, “This is it. I’m going to flood the world.” I mean, he’s God. The whole world turns its back on him, says, “We don’t want you, God. We don’t want you interfering with us.” He said, “Well, why don’t I just flood the world? I’ll have an ark. I’ll preserve my own. But the rest are gone.”[25]

But look at this wonderful finish. Did they make a mistake? Did they get it wrong? Yes. “Why are you sleeping?” Why are you sleeping? Why am I sleeping when I should be praying? Why am I sleeping when I should be telling others about Jesus? Why am I sleeping Sunday nights at half past six when I should be here in the company of God’s people, praising his name, and worshipping him? But with God, failure is never final nor fatal.  And look what he says: “We’re going to run the play again. We’re going to do the same play. We’re going to run 22:40 again. Get up and pray.”

“Was there ever kind[er] shepherd, half so [tender], half so sweet,” as Jesus?[26] I mean, I don’t put up with this kind of stuff from people. I wish I did. I mean, if I did, I’d be a nicer person. Most of you don’t either. I move around. I hear your stuff. I see what you do. I know how you treat people. I sit in coffee shops and overhear conversations. “Yeah, well, he told me he’d give me another chance, but I was out the door—done, canned, finished. I was just going to fix it! If he’d give me one more chance, I was getting the sales figures this month. But gone!”

You know, last Sunday was last Sunday. Right? We left. We said, “Okay, let’s give it a go.” Here it is, Sunday again. How did you do? And if Jesus said, “Okay, that’s enough,” how many of us would be ready for another Monday? But with the Lord Jesus, failure is never final nor fatal. He says, “Let’s run the play again.” It’s a reminder to them that they’ve got a future. They’ve got a future despite the fact that they had a bad past. They had a bad immediate past. That’s grace! Did you have a bad Friday? Did you mess it up yesterday? You saying to yourself, “There’s really no point in me trying Monday again”? You just took a triple bogie on the first hole, but there’s seventeen holes to go, and the devil comes and says, “You might as well chuck it. You took a seven on a par four? You call yourself Tiger Woods? Lost your ball on the first attempt! Give it up!” “Resist him … firm in the faith.”[27]

One of my friends on the West Coast wrote a great little song. I wish I could remember it. I shouldn’t try and quote it when I don’t know it. But it goes something like, “You knew me.” He’s speaking of the Father. He says,

You knew me;
You knew I was lost.
You knew me;
You went to the cross
Because you knew me.

You knew me;
You knew all my shame.
You knew me;
The reason you came
Was because you knew me.
You knew that I needed your love.

And God knows his children today. And he loves his erring children. And he’s the God of the second and the fourth and the sixth and the six hundredth chance. And he’s the God of new tomorrows and clean sheets and fresh beginnings and open doors and new opportunities.  He is the God who comes to his beleaguered eleven and says, “Guys, I wasn’t gone hardly any time at all! The instructions were clear, and look what you did!” But he doesn’t say, “You’re done. Get out of my sight.” He says, “We’re going to run the play again—22:40: watch and pray. Let’s see if we can’t run the play this time.” Go out and run the play, will you? Come on! Who’s going to reach Cleveland for Christ? America? The world?

What a funny group he started with. Not a lot has changed, has it? Look at yourselves. Look at you.

Father, thank you for the Bible. Thank you that it is a living book that searches us and knows us. Thank you that “there’s a way back” to you, the Living God, “from the dark paths of sin; there’s a door that is open” that we “may go in”; and “at Calvary’s cross,” that’s “where [we] begin when [we] come as a sinner to Jesus.”[28]

Wounded for me, wounded for me,
There on the cross he was wounded for me;
[And] gone my transgressions, and now I am free,
All because Jesus was wounded for me.[29]

Father, then, help us to “consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that” we may “not grow weary and lose heart.” Strengthen us that we may be a help and an encouragement to one another.

And to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory, and majesty, and dominion, and power, now and forevermore. Amen.

[1] Hebrews 12:1–3 (NIV 1984).

[2] Luke 2:48 (paraphrased).

[3] Luke 2:49 (KJV).

[4] See Luke 18:31–34.

[5] Katherine Kelly, “Give Me Sight, O Savior” (1944).

[6] Isaiah 53:10 (KJV)

[7] Isaiah 53:10 (paraphrased).

[8] Galatians 1:4 (NIV 1984).

[9] John 19:18 (paraphrased).

[10] John 14:6 (NIV 1984).

[11] Luke 22:31–32 (paraphrased).

[12] Jude 21 (KJV).

[13] Jude 24 (KJV).

[14] Hebrews 10:25 (paraphrased).

[15] John 14:15 (paraphrased).

[16] 1 Corinthians 11:25–26 (paraphrased).

[17] See Matthew 26:36–39; Mark 14:32–35.

[18] See Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:35.

[19] Luke 18:11, 13 (KJV).

[20] See Psalm 22:13.

[21] The Chalcedonian Definition.

[22] See Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:25–28.

[23] Elizabeth Cecilia Clephane, “There Were Ninety and Nine” (1868).

[24] See Matthew 26:40–46; Mark 14:37–42.

[25] See Genesis 6.

[26] Frederick William Faber, “Come to Jesus” (1854)

[27] 1 Peter 5:9 (NIV 1984).

[28] E. H. Swinestead, “There’s a Way Back to God.”

[29] W. G. Ovens, “Wounded for Me” (1931).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.