“Jesus Wants Out”

Matthew 26:36-55

We are about one year away from the next Presidential election. Candidates are putting their hats in the ring and we have already heard comments and news reports on what percentage of voters would vote for whom. Don’t worry I am not going to venture too far into this subject because this is not the venue. I have been actively involved in the voting process ever since I was 18 years old. I had a Civics teacher, Miss Ames, at Morse High School who made sure each of her senior students signed up to vote.  Through the years, I have noticed, maybe you have as well, that even though they spend millions of dollars to promote themselves, there has not been one candidate who was admitted they were human, by telling us about their mistakes. Have you ever heard a candidate share how they voted for one thing ten months ago, but were now voting for something entirely different, and because of that you should vote for them? Even if it is true, and if it is, you can bet the opponent is running an ad to share it. 

We understand that is not supposed to happen. We realize candidates who are running for leadership roles will only be putting their best stuff out there. So if you want someone to follow you, in our culture, you minimize your failures, and you maximize your strengths. Our presidential campaign is a prime example of that value we hold in our culture. None of us are surprised by this. 

Today, as we continue to read through the Gospel According to Matthew, have you noticed the very person who is writing this account of what happened makes himself out to be totally clueless. 

In fact, if you were to read any of the gospels, which are personal accounts of their time with Jesus while here on earth, you will discover that all of them put themselves in that same bumbling idiot category. All of the disciples were absolute failures at following Jesus. 

Think about it. These men were the leaders of the Christian movement and they wrote these very documents in order to keep the movement going. And yet, in any culture, leaders should be maximizing their strengths and minimizing their failures. This demonstrates just how upside-down the Christian movement really was. It wasn’t the failure of Jesus, but the people who led the movement to follow Jesus. Today’s story from Scripture marks the ultimate example of just how clueless the disciples were and how badly they failed at following Jesus. 

As we read through today’s Scripture I would like you to keep this in mind because I think it has a lot to do with not only how we understand the story, but how we understand what we are doing in church today, and especially about who Jesus is. 

We left off last week with Jesus and His disciples celebrating the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Well, it may not have been a “celebration” this year. Every other year they had focused on celebrating the freedom from slavery, but this time Jesus added some morbid details about them eating His body instead of the bread and drinking His blood instead of the wine. They finish their celebration with a song and leave at the wee hours of the morning and go to Mount of Olives. This has been a regular spot for Jesus to retreat to and pray. They arrive and Jesus drops another bomb. 

They were sitting there and Jesus told them that in the next few hours, all of them were going to leave Him. It wasn’t a big surprise to Jesus as He explains that Scripture has foretold in Zechariah 13:7, Jesus quotes, 

“‘I will strike the shepherd,

    and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

Jesus continued by telling His disciples that after He had risen, He would go ahead of them into Galilee and meet up with them. Hello! Was anyone listening? 

Check out Peter’s reply, 

“Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”

He was so stuck on being the “best” disciple, better than anyone else, he wasn’t even listening to what was being said. He sounds like a presidential candidate. 

“Not me, you can’t count on the other candidates, but you can count on me.” He has no idea that he is going to have to eat those words. Jesus makes an even more specific claim that before the night is over Peter will have denied Him three times. Peter is bound and determined to let Jesus know he has His back and counterclaims that he was ready to go to death for Jesus and would never disown Him. Matthew tells us all of the other disciples say the same. 

At this point, Jesus and His disciples walk to the foot of the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. This would have been a place they had prayed many times on their way back and forth from Lazarus, Mary and Martha’s house to Jerusalem. It is at this point in the history of the Christian religion that we get to comprehend the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ. This moment is iconic to what our faith is built upon. 

We have learned a lot about Jesus through the Scriptures but this story reveals a part of Him that no other story portrays. It is this story of Jesus that allows everyone the opportunity to invite themselves into the story of Jesus. 

When they arrive, Jesus divides His disciples up and tells one group to sit under one tree, while He, Peter and the sons of Zebedee, James and John, go to another place to pray. We then read that Jesus became “sorrowful and troubled.” When was the last time you were “sorrowful?” Not a very common word. “Troubled” may be a word we can relate to. There are some other translations such as “grieved” and “distressed.” Those are words we may have experienced, or not, because at this point Jesus has reached the bottom of His ability to withstand. He was basically experiencing a panic attack. He tells the three men with Him, His inner circle, verse 38,

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 

It was like, hang with me guys, because right now I am at the end of my rope emotionally. Stay awake and watch with me. 

Up to this point, we have seen Jesus take on all situations like a rock. He has been confident and calm. We have seen Jesus get angry, be full of joy and express overwhelming compassion, but He has always been seen as composed and in control. It’s at this point in the story where we see Jesus fall apart, where He crumbles. It is the middle of the night, He’s with His safest circle of friends and He becomes unglued.

Let’s take a minute and ponder this. 

Has there ever been someone in your life who has always had it together and seemed to be able to hold it regardless of what was going on around them? Perhaps it was a parent, maybe you can remember a time when you saw your mother or father cry and be vulnerable. It’s a watershed moment. 

For Jesus at this moment, He has become so emotionally distraught over what is about to happen to Him that He doesn’t even use His own words to describe it. He has taken it from Psalm 42:9-11

I say to God my Rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?”
My bones suffer mortal agony
    as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

The poet of this psalm was speaking directly to God and asking the “why” questions. You know the kind of questions they are, the ones that address how such deep pain has been created and you just can’t figure out what you did to deserve it. And then the poet goes on to answer their own question with, Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Then we read Jesus went a little further and fell with His face to the ground and prayed. 

I am not sure if any of you have been that distressed, maybe not on the ground but you have dropped to your knees or onto your bed because the weight of the sorrow and pain was so heavy you can’t even stand up anymore. At this point, Jesus personalizes Psalm 42, with 

 “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

This won’t be the only time Jesus says some sort of prayer like this. Do you recognize this prayer? Are there parts of this prayer that ring a bell? 

“My Father” 

“Your will be done” 

We share that prayer every Sunday. It’s the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples to pray every day. And for good reason. Because right now, even Jesus has demonstrated the necessity for knowing that prayer. 

At this point, Jesus was at the darkest point in His life. Things are bad, so bad, Jesus has what we would call a panic attack. He’s not sure what He needs, other than His closest friends to be with Him. He doesn’t know what to say, so He says words He grew up on in the Psalms. When He finally verbalizes something, it is the prayer that He taught His disciples to pray. At this point we realize Jesus wasn’t just lecturing, “Oh, this is how you pray.” He was actually giving us “His” prayer, the “Lord’s” prayer. It’s the very prayer He went to in His darkest moments when He was wondering what was happening. 

Who was He? What was He supposed to be doing? Really? This prayer became His sense of stability.

Think about it. The fact that Jesus was going to die was not new information for Jesus. He has been telling His disciples for the past ten chapters that this was going to happen. 

His closest disciples don’t seem to grasp what He has been saying, but Jesus knew what He was saying. He’s not learning a new fact about God’s will. What He is doing is being human. God became flesh and dwelt among us. This is where Jesus comes to terms with His human side and His whole person and specifically about His calling to be the Messianic King. 

This means somehow 

He is going to save and rescue the world, 

by somehow 

Himself not being rescued, 

but by being brutally killed. 

We recognize here that it is a calling He doesn’t want. He was asking His Father if it is possible, even though He knows He has been telling everyone He would have to die. Could there be another way? 

He is revealing He doesn’t want to drink this cup. 

However, Jesus finds Himself caught up in the story that God wants. He realizes it is not about what He wants, but about God’s will which is ultimate. 

He gets up and walks back to where He left His three support team members. What does He find them doing? Sleeping! He wakes them up, “Come on guys! You couldn’t stay awake for even an hour?” Then He addresses Peter directly with, “You should be praying that you won’t give in to temptation!” Eugene Peterson put it like this in “The Message,”

without even knowing you’re in danger. There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there’s another part that’s as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.”

Jesus walks away again, to pray. But did you notice, this time, His prayer is a bit different, verse 42,

“My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

He comes to the realization that taking the cup away from Him is NOT possible. But ultimately, may God’s will be done. He is reckoning with His calling and with all that it really entails. 

He doesn’t think this is because His Father doesn’t love Him. 

He still calls Him “my Father.” 

But He has come to grips with the fact that He has been called to live the upside-down kingdom He has been talking about. 

He returns to Peter, James and John and what does He discover? They were back asleep. We are told it was because their eyes were heavy. 

He doesn’t even wake them up. Jesus leaves them there and goes back to pray, one more time, the same request, was there any chance He could escape this mission? It was definitely Jesus’ dark night of the soul. He has just spent the better of a couple of hours where His emotions were catching up to His brain. His human condition was checking in and we get a glimpse of Him as someone who is weak and frail and is meeting up with His fear and confusion and pain. Some of us know this kind of night, when the world becomes too much to handle and the circumstances that surround us create a dark night of the soul. What is incredible is the fact that God became human and connected to this bottomless pit emotion and understands it in a personal way. God joins us in those moments when your world is unraveling, your prayers hit the ceiling and you are convinced that no one is listening, and nobody cares, in fact they are all asleep on you. 

This is where this story steps into our century. To realize that the God who created the universe is not only with us when we are in our darkest moments, He resonates with us just how desolate it feels. He comprehends and has experienced the depths of our human condition. In fact, He knows it to a degree and depth that many of us never will. And yet, He moved through it. Everyone fails Him, but Jesus never fails. Take a look at verses 45 & 46,

“Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

There He is again, calm, collected and prepared to complete His mission. 

Who should arrive? But Judas, along with a large crowd armed with swords and clubs. Notice the signal Judas had arranged in order to show which one was Jesus. 

We are back to the spy novel again. I am surprised the leaders couldn’t pick Him out of a crowd? But it was dark, they were in a garden of olive trees, so we will go with the secret spy movie tactics of the Kiss being a signal to give away who Jesus was. This was a common Middle Eastern custom to greet your friend with a kiss on the cheek. How ironic! “Greetings, Rabbi.” Notice Christ’s reply, “Do what you came for friend.” Basically, let’s get it over with. 

The signal happened, immediately the guards came forth and captured Jesus. No sooner does this happen but someone cuts off the ear of a servant for the high priest. 

Good grief! They fall asleep when they are supposed to stay awake and failed. They have a sword? Then while trying to cut off the head of a guard, they fail and end up cutting off his ear. Jesus immediately reprimands them, confirming another failure, back to the message from the Sermon on the Mount, haven’t they learned anything? And to top it all off, don’t they realize if God didn’t want Jesus to be captured He could call a legion of angels to come and save him. Hasn’t anyone been reading their Scripture? It has to happen like this in order for Scripture to be fulfilled!

Jesus turns and begins talking to the crowd. What were they doing? It wasn’t like Jesus was leading a rebellion or fighting with them. He had been in the temple, teaching respectively all week long. The reason they had to come in the middle of the night with swords and hadn’t arrested Him in the courtyard was to, again, fulfill Scripture. Jesus had no sooner finished addressing the crowd when He turned around and all of His disciples and followers were gone. 

So much for hanging on until the bitter end, unto death. 

Jesus is the stability in the universe for us. With His love, with His confidence in the Father’s love and commitment to Him. Even though Jesus knows that by drinking from the cup before Him will bring death, He trusts God implicitly that it won’t be the final word. In fact, Jesus knows He will meet up in Galilee with those who have deserted Him and they will reboot the story and try again. 

Time to check in. What does this mean for us today? 

This story has a comfort and a realism. We have Jesus, the rock, who crumbled but was put back together again, and then we had the leaders who were basically absolute failures. And who are we? We are but a tiny amount of the hundreds of thousands of believers who are meeting together today to worship Jesus. Hopefully we are not here because our faith and hope is in one of us. Not that the local church isn’t a necessary and vital part of our faith. 

In fact, in order to grow in our faith and relationship with God we need each other. However, it is not called “Churchianity.” We are not “Churchians.” We are called “Christians.” And in order to become more like Christ, we need to go to the garden together and open up with our failures. Pray for each other and lift each other up. In the process of doing so, our hope should be that we see a pattern of less failures and living that is more like Jesus. At the end of the day our hope is not in each other, because we are like Peter. Or take Paul, who spent the majority of His life following Jesus and teaching and preaching about the Kingdom, and when he got close to the end of his life what does he say, “I am the chief of sinners. Actually, I’m not that good of a guy.” That’s what real Christianity is all about. We are a community of believers who allows space for each of us to fail, so that we can grow together. 

It’s not about our church community, which in its greatest moment will let us down, but it’s about creating an environment that leads us to Jesus, who never fails. 

Jesus had a moment, but He passed the test. 

Peter didn’t, I usually don’t, but Jesus did. 

My hope and my love is for Jesus. It was His love and commitment that drove Him through His most lonely moment of agony and pain. Because He loves us, and He knows the Father loves Him and us. 

I am not sure where you are today. I am certain we can all claim some sort of failure and like Peter, we can come to Him and seek forgiveness, knowing that His love is always greater than our messes. You may be in a dark time of the soul and need to be reminded you are kneeling right next to Jesus. 

This story is powerful, so I pray that God will take it and bury it deep in our hearts where we will always have it wherever we go. 

Let’s pray.