Jesus, In Agony For UsErwin W. Lutzer | March 15, 2009
Selected highlights from this sermon
Agony. Many of us have experienced it, but none of us can ever fathom the agony that Jesus went through to redeem us. The last three hours of His crucifixion were spent enduring all of the wrath and punishment for all of our sins that we should have suffered for all of eternity. He endured that horrific, immeasurable pain for us.
Would you just bow your head for a moment? Can I ask you to do that? I want you to pray a very simple prayer. I want you individually to pray to God and say, “God, speak to me and change me.”
Father, you’ve heard the prayers that have been prayed, and we ask now that you will answer in the life of your servant who speaks and in the lives of all who listen. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
Today I have the very happy privilege to preach on one of the greatest passages of Scripture that you could ever read or contemplate. It’s a passage that has much mystery. It’s a passage that also is filled with holiness. You almost feel guilty reading it because you realize that you are listening in to a conversation that is taking place in Gethsemane by Jesus the night he is going to be betrayed. What a story! Today I begin a series of messages entitled For Us on what Jesus did for us. For us he is in agony. For us he is betrayed. For us he is tried, and it leads to the cross. Today for us he is in agony!
Why should this message change your life forever? First of all, I hope it will give us a greater appreciation for what Jesus did. Surely at the end of this message all of us need to fall on our knees and to say, “Jesus, why do you love us so much?” But there’s another reason that I preach it, and that is because it will give us some insight into our trials and how we bear our burdens and our emotional distress. I speak to some of you today who struggle with depression. You struggle with panic attacks. You struggle with emotional turbulence and I look into the Scripture and I say, “Jesus did it too,” and if you are struggling like that, you listen because God may change you because you’ve heard his word.
Our passage is Mark 14:30-31. The context is that Jesus has just given the last supper. He just told the disciples that they were all going to flee and leave him, and Peter says, “No, I won’t.” “Jesus said to him, ‘Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ But he said emphatically, ‘If I must die with you, I will not deny you,’ and they all said the same.” This is a parenthesis but you do not know your heart, nor do I know mine. Peter spoke truly and sincerely but he had no idea how spiritually weak he really was.
Now also in verse 32 Jesus goes to a place called Gethsemane. Some of us have had the opportunity of being in Israel, and for me Gethsemane is the site in Israel I most love. We don’t know exactly where the Garden of Gethsemane was. It was essentially where it is today on the slope of the Mount of Olives. It means olive press because there were many olive trees that were there. And so we read that Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane where the disciples often gathered with him, and he said to his disciples in verse 32, “Sit here while I pray.” Verse 33 says, “And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled.”
The question is why did Jesus ask these three to come with him? At this point there were only eleven disciples. Judas had already gone off to betray Jesus. In fact, Judas is the topic for the next message in this series. And so there are eleven. Eight are allowed to come with him also but they stand back, and he takes with him Peter, James and John. There are two reasons why he chose them. First of all, these are the disciples who bragged that they would be able to suffer with Jesus.
We’ve already spoken about Peter, and if you were to take your Bible very quickly and turn back to Mark 10:35 you’ll notice that “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ (I get a bang out of this. They are saying, “Agree no matter what we ask you to do.”) And he said to them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant unto us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ Jesus said to them, ‘You don’t know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’ And they said to him, ‘We are able.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit on my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant.’”
Jesus, in effect, says, “All right. You are willing to drink the cup along with me. Fine. Come with me and watch with me for an hour while I go through this agony.” Eventually they will drink a cup. It won’t be the same one Jesus drank, but all three of these will be martyrs. On this particular occasion they don’t do very well, but Jesus allowed them close up to see his agony and his cup.
There’s another reason why he invited them, and that is I think he wanted them to be with him during his time of agony, and that’s why he said, “Watch with me,” but they are sleeping, and they sleep because the prediction of Jesus had to be fulfilled that he’s going to have to go through his agony alone, and he alone is going to be able to drink the cup that the Father has given him.
Well that’s by way of introduction! Now let’s look at the passage and let us move through the sequence of what happens here in Gethsemane. Figuratively speaking, let us take the shoes from off our feet because we are on very holy ground.
First of all, there is the sorrow of Jesus. Mark uses two terms that are very vivid and very gripping. He says, “My soul is troubled,” and you’ll notice it says he began to be greatly distressed. That’s the first phrase. He was greatly distressed and troubled. Wow! Jesus here is going through what can best be termed emotional turbulence. As a matter of fact, it says in verse 35 that as he began to go a little farther he fell on the ground. Matthew says that he fell on his face. The agony that he was going through was so great it was like convulsions within him emotionally. How could we describe it? Fear
What is the cup that he needs to drink? Well, we continue reading the text and we notice that he falls on the ground and prays that if it were possible the hour might pass from him, and he says, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me.” What is the cup? In order to understand that you need to realize that in the Old Testament especially, the cup always refers to the wrath of God. Sometimes the cup may have good contents in a different context, but usually it is a time of God’s wrath. For example, in Isaiah 51 it says, “Wake yourselves. Stand up oh Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath who had drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering.”
What the cup was that Jesus was about to drink is the wrath of God leashed upon him because of your sin and because of mine. He was going to take the hit. He was going to endure what rightfully would be coming to us were he not to throw himself between God and us as a shield and take it for us.
Let’s jump into the deep end of the pool theologically for a moment. When the Bible talks about the death of Jesus, who was responsible? Well, the Jews crucified him. The Romans crucified him. You and I crucified him because we’re all guilty and it is because he laid down his life and died for sheep like us, but to that list we should add God. The Bible says that it pleased the Lord to crush him and to put him to grief. Now God didn’t do the evil of crucifying Jesus. Wicked men did that, but Jesus died within the providential plan of God because this was God’s way to bring about redemption. God said, “When wicked hands crucify my son, on him will be laid the iniquity of all who trust him and believe him.” What a statement! Jesus had no sin in him because he wasn’t a sinner, but he did have sin laid on him. He was declared to be a sinner because our sin was legally transferred onto his shoulders and he, as the holy Son of God, came in contact with evil and with impurity, and with our sin.
I speak to you candidly. You and I have no idea what contact with sin meant to the sinless, spotless Son of God. We have no idea what it meant for Jesus Christ to be made sin and then break fellowship with his Heavenly Father because of the iniquity that was laid upon his shoulders, and in those first three hours of suffering on the cross Jesus is suffering under the hands of men. The last three hours he suffers under the hands of God. Think about this. In those three hours was condensed all of the wrath and all of the suffering that you and I would endure in an eternity of hell. Jesus absorbed it all in a three-hour period when he drank that cup.
You should not think that God is the vengeful God and Jesus is the wonderful member of the Trinity who is loving. Don’t ever pit the Trinity against one other in that way. The Father is also loving. God so loved the world that he gave, the Bible says, so the Father also loves. This was a plan that was arranged, the Bible teaches, before the worlds began. Before creation God had a plan of redemption, and the plan was that the Son would pay to the Father the penalty of sin for those who trust Christ, and therefore, having done that, redemption would be accomplished for those who believe and receive it. This was the plan of God and that was the cup. You and I cannot imagine it. We can talk about it but it’s difficult for us to understand it. So that’s the sorrow of Jesus.
Now what about the plea of Jesus? Notice the text. Your Bible is open. You need to see this. In verse 36 he said, “Abba, Father.” Abba is a term of endearment. Sometimes it’s like Daddy. It shows you the intimacy of Jesus and his Father. He says, “Abba, Father.” The fellowship is still there. The Father’s presence still surrounds him. He still knows and has contact with the Father, and by the way, on the cross, he uses the word Father twice. The very first time he uses it when he says, “Father, forgive them,” and the very last time when he says, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit,” but during those moments when he became sin for us he did not use the word Father. He cried out and said, “Oh, my God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” because the relationship with the Father had now been interrupted when he was made sin for us. But the fellowship is still there and he comes now and says, “Abba, Father, if it be possible remove this cup from me,” and the Greek text would indicate that Jesus is expecting that if it were possible, the Father would do it.
Was it possible? Well, looked at from the standpoint of power, of course it was possible. Jesus at any point could have called 12 legions of angels and they would have come to deliver him. The Father could have taken Jesus right out of Gethsemane and taken him straight to heaven. Of course, it was possible in the sense of God’s strength. What made it impossible is that if that prayer had been answered in the sense that God said “Okay, let’s end it here,” you and I would die in our sins and the whole plan of redemption would collapse because this was the only way. Jesus is saying, “Is there any other way?” and the answer is, “No, there is no other way it’s not possible,” and here you have Evangelicals today wondering whether or not there is some other way, wondering whether or not some other teacher, some other guru might be able to save people, when clearly Jesus and the Father answered that question in Gethsemane when Jesus realized that if it were possible the Father would do it. But it wasn’t possible to do it and have us redeemed, and so he said, “Not my will but thine be done,” and what Jesus was really saying here is that, “I am willing to submit,” and that’s the plea that Jesus gives, and now we come to the submission of the Son to the Father.
Here we have a conflict of wills. Here we see Jesus most clearly in his humanity. He was both God and man but sometimes we see his humanity very clearly, and this possibly is one of the clearest places in the entire Bible where we can see his humanness. You’ll notice he says, “Father, if it is possible for you, remove this cup from me, yet not what I will but what you will.” He’s saying, “Father, humanly I don’t want to do this. Humanly I cannot even imagine what it is like for my holy nature to be in contact with sin directly and to be accused of having committed all those sins legally. Humanly I can’t grasp that. If there is some other way, do it, but not my will but your will.”
You say, “How can the will of the Son and the will of the Father be out of harmony?” Well, in this particular instance you can see that Jesus in his humanness is asking that question, but it is exactly here that the will of the Son and the will of the Father come together in harmony when he says, “Not my will but thine be done.”
My friend, doing the will of God often involves a conflict of desires. We live in a culture today that basically says, “You can follow God and do whatever you like, and your desires somehow just fall in line.” No, no, no. There are times when our desires go in one direction and the euphoria of following that direction is so powerful and overwhelming, but the will of the Father is greater, and what we must do is to be like Jesus who simply said, “Not my will but thine be done,” and so Jesus goes through with that. What that meant is that once the battle in Gethsemane was over, from now on everything would follow like dominos inevitably. It would all come together. When Jesus came through this experience, he had to wake the disciples because they couldn’t even watch with him for an hour (which by the way was the basis of a message I preached a few years ago encouraging people to watch one hour a week with God). Isn’t it true that we are just like the disciples? We forget and we sleep, but once Jesus made the decision and this huge battle was over, once he heard from the Father, “There is no other way,” from then on everything followed inevitably. Judas would betray him, he would have kangaroo courts and sham trials. He would be crucified, he would drink the cup, and it would all be accomplished as God willed.
Like the words of the poet said, “Death and the curse were in our cup. Oh, Christ, it’s true for thee, but thou hast drained the last dark drop to sanity now for me.” Jesus said, “I’ll drink the cup, and I won’t drink half of it. I won’t drink three-quarters of it. I won’t drink 95% of it. I’ll turn the cup upside down and I shall drink every drop so that sinners who deserve the judgment that I am experiencing can walk free because of what I have done. Redemption will be accomplished. Sinners will be redeemed. The purpose of God from all of eternity will not be thwarted but will march forward to its triumphant conclusion.”
We look at this text and we say to ourselves, “Why should we be changed because of it?” There are a couple of reasons. First of all, sometimes we have to do the will of God whether we feel like it or not. I’ve already implied that, haven’t I? The fact is that the will of God isn’t often the easiest path. We live in a society where we make the easy decision to take out all of the pain. If Jesus had done that you and I would still be in our sins and we’d be in our sins forever. There are times when you have to say no to your emotions.
Let me ask this question. Was Jesus Christ filled with the Holy Spirit in Gethsemane? We know that the Holy Spirit of God came upon him when he was baptized, and the Spirit was with him and the Spirit did miracles. Did the Spirit leave him in Gethsemane? No, no, no, not in Gethsemane. The Spirit was there. Jesus was still Spirit filled. Did that mean that he was happy, happy, happy all the time? No, you can be filled with the Spirit and you can be walking through a dark tunnel of bewilderment and pain and anxiety and dread. Jesus proves that we don’t always have to feel right to do the will of God. See, you and I live in a culture in which the great sin is to feel bad. That’s really a sin. Especially you should never feel bad about yourself, but if you do feel bad, there are pills that you can take. I’m not knocking medicine as such, but what I am saying is that there are times when you don’t feel good, but you can be filled with the Spirit and do the right thing.
Now, to add to this, we always think to ourselves, “If I obey I want to obey because I feel like it. So if I get the right feeling I will obey,” when actually the opposite is true. There are times when we have to obey even when we don’t feel like it and then eventually we find that the feelings follow, and what we sought becomes ours. That was true also in the case of Jesus because this is what Hebrews says. “Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.” The joy set before him! Jesus knew that having gone through drinking that terrible cup on the other side there was going to be a resurrection. On the other side there was going to be joy. On the other side there were going to be a group of redeemed people with whom he would be forever, and on the other side he would be hailed as King of Kings and Lord of Lords because he is, but also because of his obedience, and he’d be magnified throughout the whole earth. But you don’t see that when you are going through Gethsemane. Do you? You can’t predict the outcome. Jesus knew the outcome but we don’t. Sometimes you just need to make the hard choice.
There may be some of you who are in a sinful relationship and you say, “Pastor Lutzer, I just can’t tear myself away from it.” Oh yes you can. You can do the right thing, no matter how you feel as you call on the Holy Spirit to help you.
There’s a second lesson that is obvious, and that is that our own suffering (even when it is inflicted on us by evil people) ultimately comes to us from God. Jesus knew that the wicked hands that were going to crucify him, and those who spat on him and humiliated him were part of the divine plan. They were part of the cup. They were part of what God willed for him, and that’s why he said, “If I be lifted up, I shall draw all men to me.” What he was saying is, "This is part of God’s will and I will accept the nails, and I will accept the insults. They mean it for evil. There’s no doubt about it.” I mean you can imagine the glee of Satan and the glee of those who hated Jesus to see him nailed there. I’m sure that many people walked by who thought it was so great to see him up there because he was such an irritant. They meant it for evil, but God comes along and turns it all around and means it for good.
Many years ago I was preaching at a church in the suburbs and the pastor handed me a poem. I don’t know the author of the poem but here it is.
I will not take that bitter thrust,
Which rent my heart today,
As coming from an earthly soul,
Though it was meant that way.
But I will look beyond the tool
Because my life is planned.
I take the cup my Father gives.
I take it from his hand.
He knows and even thus allows
These terrible things that irk.
I trust his wisdom and his love.
Let patience have her work.
Though human means have brought the sting,
I firmly take this stand.
My loving Father holds the cup.
I take it from his hand.
Now those who watch may wonder why
These things do not disturb.
I look right past the instrument
And see my Lord superb.
The trial, which would lay me low
Must pass through his command.
He holds the outstretched cup to me.
I take it from his hand.
If you, my dear Christian friend, see your trials (whether they are physical difficulties, or people inflicting harm on you) as only coming from the devil, you will become cynical and bitter, but when you see them as part of God’s plan, and that you receive them from his hand, you can walk through whatever lies on your path.
There’s a final lesson. Sin, you know, is the most expensive thing in the Universe. You know that! Nothing comes close to it. That’s why redemption was so costly. It’s because sin is so costly. Someone made a very interesting observation about obedience. The first Adam in the garden said, “God, my will and not thine,” and he turned Paradise into a dessert. The second Adam, Jesus Christ, comes along and says, “Not my will but thine,” and he’s the one who takes the desserts of life and turns them into Paradise. It is always best to be obedient to God. It is never wise to fight God.
Well, the message is almost over so I want to have a personal talk with you. It’s just between us now, and wherever you may be seated, or wherever you may be listening to this message, at what point are you fighting God? Some of you know that you need to receive Jesus as your Savior. God has worked in your life, you’ve heard messages, you have read the Word, and you’ve met other believers, and you know it in your heart, but there’s something that stands between you and God. At what point are you going to say, “I’m going to obey because this business of cutting God out of my life is a bad idea?”
Some of you are believers but your are walking distantly from God, and issues have piled up in your life that you haven’t been willing to deal with, and you know that if you were absolutely fully right with God, and you were able to sing, “All that I am I give into your hand,” you know right well that on the computer of your soul all kinds of issues would crop up. What about this, and what about this? Why don’t we just take all our “What about this’s?” and give them to God? Why don’t we just say, “Not my will but thine be done?” Why don’t we just lay down the weapons of a rebel and say, “Jesus in Gethsemane is our model.”? Not my will but thine be done. It’s not what I choose, but I’m not God,” and because of Jesus Christ’s obedience, you and I can walk away free. Guilty, but acquitted! Separated from God, brought near! Ousted from the family of God, now a son, now a daughter. All because our hero, Jesus, our Savior, said, “Not my will, but thine be done.”
Could I ask you something? Can you and I say any less than that?
Father, we began this message by asking you to speak to us individually. We believe that you’ve done that. We ask now, Father, that you will give us such a sense of being willing to say, “Your will be done.” May it overcome all the barriers, all the excuses, all of the rationalizations. Just come into our lives and may that all end.
And before I close this message, are there those here today who would say, “Pastor Lutzer, today despite the battle I am saying, ‘Thy will be done.’”? Would you raise your hands please? You are willing to say, “Despite the battle, God has talked to me. Your will be done.”
Father, work in our lives, we pray, until there is no daylight between your will and ours. It’s all one and the same, and thank you for our redeemer who modeled that kind of obedience. We love him and we love you. Amen.