Mar 2020

Jesus' Prayer In The Garden

Barry Rodriguez

Mar 22, 2020

This is the second week of our series, "In the Moment," looking at the last moments of Jesus' life before his crucifixion, all through the eyes of the Apostle Peter.

Even though everything is turned upside down because of Coronavirus right now, we felt it was important for us to continue studying these passages and preparing our hearts for Easter, whatever that might look like.

It's also why our teams have been working hard behind the scenes to create curriculum for children and students so your families can continue to learn the Bible in age appropriate ways.

You can find all of those resources on our website.

All that to say, we're going to keep digging into these passages, and I think we'll see that they have a lot to teach us, even in these very unprecedented times.

Today's story is a perfect example. We're going to see that in times of crisis, our true motivations are tested. For Peter, what we're about to read was the beginning of his discovery that he was not as "all in" as he thought he was.

Before we dive in, though, I'd like to pray for us:

Please turn with me to Matthew 26, starting in verse 30. Feel free to use whatever Bible you have at home (New Living Translation)

While you're turning there, let me remind you where we've been.
Last week, Peter and the other apostles were plunged into the craziness of the last supper, where Jesus washed their feed and served them bread and wine which represented his body and blood.

It was intense and provocative, and it raised all kinds of questions for the disciples. Their heads would have been spinning.

Today we pick up with what happened after the meal was over.

Matthew 26:30-35
Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.
On the way, Jesus told them, "Tonight all of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say,
"God will strike the Shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'
But after I have been raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there."
Peter declared, "Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you."
Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, Peter, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me."
"No!" Peter insisted. "Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!" And all the other disciples vowed the same.

Let's stop there and try to imagine the scene.

After this intense meal, the disciples are following Jesus out of Jerusalem and onto the Mount of Olives nearby. They'd be walking at night, maybe the moon was out, and on the way, Jesus says, "tonight you're all going to desert me."

Woah. Ow. They've been following him faithfully for years. They're his disciples. They're his crew. They're not about tuck tail and run after all they've been through. Are they?

Peter, hotheaded and optimistic as he always is, says, essentially, "No, Jesus. You're wrong. Even if all these other guys desert you, I never will." Totally sure of himself.

This, by the way, isn't the first time the disciples have been overly confident.

A few chapters before, James and John, part of Jesus' inner circle (Peter, James, and John), they wanted to be Jesus' right hand men when he took the throne.

(Actually it was their mom, but whatever. My mom always told me I was the most handsome boy at school, but you know how it goes).

Anyway, Jesus tells them this in 20:22:

Matthew 20:22
Jesus answered by saying to them, "You don't know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?"

"Oh yes," they replied, "we are able!"

"We can drink from the cup of suffering. Sure!"

Youthful arrogance, perhaps, but also proof that the disciples really didn't understand what was about to happen. Same with Peter on the way to the garden.

(By the way, that cup of suffering? That will be important in a moment. We'll come back to that.)

So, again. Imagine the scene. On the way to the Mount of Olives, Jesus tells chest-thumping Peter, essentially, "Not only are you going to desert me, but you're going to deny that you even know me. Three times."

"No," Peter insisted. You're wrong, Jesus. "Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!"

The thing I love about the Apostle Peter is that he is just like us. How many of us talk a big game about our commitment to our faith? We say it's the most important thing in our lives.

But I wonder... when push comes to shove, when a crisis hits, when we are given the choice to either trust God or rely on our own self-sufficiency... how many of us would really stand our ground?

"Even if everyone else deserts you, Jesus, I never will..."

Let's keep reading.

Matthew 26:36-46
Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, "Sit here while I go over there to pray." He took Peter and Zebedee's two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. He told them, "My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me."

He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, "My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine."

Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, "Couldn't you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!"

Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, "My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done." When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn't keep their eyes open.

So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. Then he came to the disciples and said, "Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look, the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Up, let's be going. Look, my betrayer is here!"

I find this story so powerful for two reasons.

The first is that it gives us a very unique glimpse into the inner life of Jesus. We get to see what he's thinking and feeling.

Remember, he is both fully God and fully man. And in this moment we are seeing his deeply human anguish at the price he's about to pay.

In his prayer he says, "My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death." In this, he's using a Greek word - perilupos - which is the same word as the Greek translation of Psalm 42.

"Why are you downcast, oh my soul!"

He's quoting the Psalmist because in Scripture this is not an ordinary sadness. This is the cry of a godly person staring directly in the face of the brokenness of our world.

This is not just his anguish, in other words. It's the anguish of the people of God.

Jesus also taps into another Old Testament idea when he mentions the cup of suffering. You can find references to this cup in Isaiah 51 and Jeremiah 25, but also in the Psalms.

Psalm 75:8
The LORD holds a cup in his hand
that is full of foaming wine mixed with spices.
He pours out the wine in judgment,
and all the wicked must drink it,
draining it to the dregs.
This cup of suffering represents the consequences of humanity's rebellion. The inevitable death our sinful choices bring in this world.

When we choose our own path - sin in other words - it's as if we are drinking deeply of this rich, foaming wine. At first it looks enticing, but the more we drink, the more we can't stop.

We stagger and sway, unable to break free from sin's consequences as our mind and judgment is clouded. We drink our fill and it destroys us.

The cup of God's judgment - it's a powerful image of the chaos and disorder that sin brings. And yet now, Jesus, who never sinned, who only brought life into this world, is going to have to drink every last drop.

He will be consumed by the consequences of sin. No wonder he says his soul is downcast - "crushed to the point of death." It's a bitter cup to drink.

So that's the first thing that's so profound about this story. We see Jesus' full humanity on display. And yet in the midst of this fear we see him choosing to trust in God completely.

"I want your will to be done, not mine."

By the way, that cup of suffering is the same cup the disciples bragged they'd be able to drink with him. They couldn't.

In fact, that's the second major part of this story. They couldn't even stay awake to support their grieving friend.

What happens to Peter, James, and John in the garden is a foreshadowing of what is about to come. The moment things are starting to get real the disciples can't keep their eyes open.

You'll notice in verse 40 that, even though he's talking to all three of them, he addresses his question to Peter. "Couldn't you watch with me even one hour?"

Peter was the one boasting on the way to the garden that he'd die for Jesus. Now he can't even fight sleep to lend him moral support.

Soon Peter was going to deny he even knew him.

This is why Jesus tells him to "keep watch and pray" so that he won't give into temptation. He says, "For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak."

Now in Greek, the word "body" (literally, "flesh") means more than just your physical body. It also means your human nature - your human capacities and limitations.

So yes, Jesus is talking about staying awake after a long, emotional day, but it's more than that. Even though Peter's spirit has high expectations about just how faithful he'd be, his human nature - his body - was about to be tested.

And as we know, it would come up short. This moment in the garden was only a taste of the denial to come.

The following morning, as Jesus was put on trial, people asked Peter three times if he was one of the disciples, and three times his response was, "I never met the guy."

Stop for a moment. Can you imagine how much guilt and shame Peter carried with him after all this was over?

Think about it. Playing back his tapes from these moments. Replaying them in his mind.

All that confidence and bravado and how quickly it all just crumbled. How foolish would you feel?

Imagine remembering the sounds of your best friend weeping and groaning in anguish, but you just couldn't bring yourself to stay awake to support him.

"Jesus asked me to be there for him, and three times I let him just go off and pray alone."

"All those years I followed him - I was in his inner circle - but the moment the heat turned up I fell apart. Three times I left him to weep alone. Three times I left him to die."

How much would those kinds of memories shape a person?

How much do your shameful memories shape you?

The way you used to boast about your faith... until that temptation came along and dragged you down.

That time you were too embarrassed about your faith to even mention you followed Jesus...

That awful thing you did a long time ago which you still wear like a badge of shame...

That time things got tough for you and you didn't even think to turn to God...

The time you experienced great freedom in Jesus, but then went right back to that addiction.

These are the kinds of memories that make us question our faith. That make us wonder if we're worthy to even call ourselves a Christian.

These are the moments that make us think, "the love of God may apply to everyone else, but I've lost that privilege..."

In some way, every one of us can relate to Peter in this moment. We've all failed Jesus in one way or another. We've all come up short.

And more likely than not, we've asked the question, "Am I too far gone to come back?"

Jesus groaning in anguish, and us, like Peter, just a little too sleepy to care.

Now, technically we could end the story there and pick it up next week. But that's a pretty dark place to leave it. And so I want to leave you with a little light.

There is a very important epilogue to Peter's failure to stay awake in the garden and his denial of Jesus. It's in the gospel of John, chapter 21. Why don't you turn with me and take a look?

This is after Jesus has risen from the grave. He's met with his disciples. They know he's alive.

And now, he surprises them one morning by meeting them on a beach while they're out fishing. He eats breakfast with them, but then takes a moment one on one with Peter.

John 21:15-17
After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?"
"Yes, Lord," Peter replied, "you know I love you."
"Then feed my lambs," Jesus told him.
Jesus repeated the question: "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
"Yes, Lord," Peter said, "you know I love you."
"Then take care of my sheep," Jesus said.
A third time he asked him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, "Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Then feed my sheep.

In this moment, Jesus is calling Peter to a deep and important task.

On the way to the garden of Gethsemane Jesus says, "strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered." Remember that?

But now he's saying, "Peter, I want you to be the shepherd now. I want you to lead my followers. I want you to lead the church."

You can imagine Peter's inner turmoil at this. "I'm not worthy. I denied Jesus. I'm a failure. He's not even sure I love him. He had to ask me three times... three times."

"I left him to weep alone three times. I denied him three times. And three times he just called me back."

For Peter this was a moment of healing. A moment where Jesus called Peter to a greater purpose not in spite of his failure, but through it.

It's as if Jesus said, "Peter, yes. You failed. You messed up. But you're here. I don't want you for your perfection. I want you for your love."

"And the very fact that you failed means you're exactly the right person to tell others about my grace."

In this moment, Peter - the one who literally abandoned Jesus at the crucifixion, who let him suffer alone in the garden - that Peter became the bedrock foundation upon which the entire Church was built.

Peter was the leader Christ chose to take his mission of love to the world.

And in that moment, Peter became the first of many who find themselves called by God not in spite of their brokenness, but through it.

Every one of us has a different story. We all face different kinds of brokenness.

Regardless of where you are on your spiritual journey, Peter's story represents all of us.

Jesus calls you to a life of purpose - he offers you his salvation - not when you've got everything all sorted out, not in spite of your brokenness. No. Jesus calls you through it.

You're imperfect. Fine! Do you trust him enough to call you beyond yourself?

You've spread death in this world. Ok. But are you ready to spread life?

Do you love Jesus? Alright, then feed his sheep.

We're going to take a few moments to reflect. Wherever you are - whether you're with your family, or watching this alone - I want you take some moments and listen for the voice of Jesus.

Put yourself in the garden. Put yourself on that beach.

What does he want you to hear?