Since there was no recording of this morning’s sermon, I am posting it here in manuscript format.
The Garden of Gethsemane Narrative – The Disciples Perspective
Matthew 26:31-46 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.’ 32 “But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 33 But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” 35 Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” All the disciples said the same thing too. 36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” 39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” 40 And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? 41 “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” 43 Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. 45 Then He came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 “Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!”
The story of Christ’s passion in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the weakness of the disciples, should resonate with most Christians. Our Lord has since returned to the glory He shared with the Father since before the world began (John 17:5). But in a very real way He fellowships with us through the Comforter. This is our connection with His disciples in the Garden. They fellowshipped with Christ physically. We fellowship with Him spiritually (1 John 1:3). Christ understands our weakness. He proved it over and over during his time on earth. He proved it once again in the Garden. He was “grieved and distressed”, but he did not lose faith. He asked the Father to let the cup pass from Him, but was content to do the Father’s will. Three times he returned to find His friends sleeping, but He did not forsake them in return. How often have we forsaken God, but God has not forsaken us? How often have we received forgiveness and mercy instead of payment in turn?
Over the next two weeks I want to approach this portion of scripture from two different perspectives. This morning we will look at it from the perspective of the disciples who fell asleep in the Garden. Next Lord’s Day we will look at it from the perspective of the Lord Jesus Christ. Next week we will also harmonize both perspectives. It is my hope that we will recognize our connection with Christ’s disciples. Their weakness and failure is not foreign to us. But neither is the Lord’s mercy and grace that He displayed to them in spite of their failure. It was not just to the disciples that Jesus promised not to leave them as orphans by sending the Comforter (John 14:18).
Men and sheep share something in common
Men and sheep are both predisposed to stray. Sheep stray because it is in their nature to do so. They are dumb animals and do not possess common sense. Men stray because of sin.
1 Peter 2:25a For you were continually straying like sheep…
When Adam sinned he wandered into a different pasture. Instead of remaining under the care of a loving shepherd who protected him and lead him to safe pastures, Adam went into wild and unprotected pastures. Sheep that are not protected by their shepherd are an easy mark for predators. But even when they are not preyed upon by those with evil intentions, wild sheep often find their own dangers. But there is something else that men and sheep have in common.
Sheep are members of a flock made up of other sheep. The Bible identifies two different types of men: sheep and goats. Christians are often referred to as sheep. Unbelievers are referred to as goats. We see this difference in Matthew 25.
Matthew 25:31-34 31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 “All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
Jesus has a special relationship with His sheep:
John 10:1-16 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. 2 “But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. 3 “To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 “When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 “A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what those things were which He had been saying to them. 7 So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 “All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9 “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. 11 “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. 12 “He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 “He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. 14 “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, 15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”
The 18th century hymn writer Robert Robinson, in his hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” wrote these lyrics: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love”. Even though Christians are sheep that are members of God’s flock, we are prone to wander due to abiding sin. The spiritual war that we are engaged in is real. Paul wrote that, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). The temptations that Christians face are real. Sometimes they come from outside forces and other times they are result of our sinful thoughts and desires. But regardless of where they come from, they seek to have us wander from God. And God will sometimes allow us to wander, if only to teach us a hard lesson that wandering from good pastures comes at a cost. But because He is a merciful God, He often brings us back to His good pasture. 1 Peter 2:25 but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.
Pride comes before the fall, every time.
The Apostle Paul is often portrayed as a caricature of himself. He is the impetuous and impulsive Apostle. He spouts off without thinking. So it would seem here in this passage. In response to Jesus saying that all the disciples would fall away, Peter exclaims, “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.” But we would too harsh on Peter if we pointed him out for special criticism. In Matthew 26:35 we read these words, “All the disciples said the same thing too.” Peter was the most vocal, but he was by no means alone out on the limb. Peter’s prideful statement “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You” was echoed by the other ten disciples present in the Garden.
We have discipleship all wrong in American churches. We have discipleship classes that give the impression, intended or not, that discipleship is something that can be attained. Finish the class, get your certificate, and you are now a mature believer. But that is not how the Christian life operates. Living the Christian life is not always a stroll in the park on a beautiful spring afternoon. Sometimes it is like walking on a narrow path on the edge of a perilous cliff in the dark. We are afraid to call out for help partly because we fear what people may think or say about us. Sometimes we do not even know we are on edge of the cliff. We press on in our own strength thinking we have a handle on the situation. But we soon find out that the path before us has crumbled into the chasm below. Instead of trusting in God, we trust in our efforts, and the end result is a predictable disaster. All of this is due to pride.
In Matthew 26 Peter leads the way. “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.” “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” The other disciples agreed with him. Their pride led them to make a rash statement that they would be incapable of backing up by their actions.
Romans 12:3 3 For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.
How does God wants us to think of ourselves? He gives us some clues in the first two verses of Romans 12.
Romans 12:1-2 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
The Apostle Paul instructs us that we are to present our bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God. What does it mean to present our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice? The Greek word for ‘sacrifice’ is thusia. It is used in Ephesians 5 to describe the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 5:2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
As a sacrifice Christ “gave Himself up for us”. He yielded His very life to purchase our forgiveness by His death on the Cross. His sacrifice was a fragrant aroma to the Father. His sacrifice pleased the Father. In other words it was acceptable to the Father. The sin-debt that you and I owed was paid-in-full by Christ and accepted by the Father. Our lives are to be living and holy sacrifices to God. Everything we do should be done in order to please God. In order to please God we need to know how to please Him. We learn how to please God by doing what we are all doing this morning. We are being taught by the Word of God. We receive sound instruction and act on it. We are to follow James’ admonition to “be doers of the word” (Jas. 1:22). But we should do so prayerfully and carefully.
Philippians 1:20 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
The Apostle Paul desired to glorify God in his body (through his actions), whether by life or by death. He makes this point more directly in Colossians:
Colossians 3:23-24 23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.
It is the lord Christ whom you serve! We serve Him boldly, but also in humility. Knowing that we are prone to pride we should always check our motives and consider our ways.
Our true self will always be revealed
Actors act. There is one movie actor that I greatly admire for his ability to actually become the character he is portraying. He puts many hours into studying the real person he is going to portray. He talks like the character, he walks like the character – in short becomes the character. But he is not the character. After the shoot is over the actor cannot remain in character for the rest of his life. Eventually he has to start acting like himself. It is the same for us when exposing our true motives. It is not just what we say, but what we do that matters. The disciple’s actions in the Garden in Matthew 26 are a perfect illustration.
After stating that they would never fall away from following Jesus, even to the point of death, the disciples are taught a valuable lesson in humility. Jesus takes His closest friends Peter, John, and James with Him a bit further into the Garden. Jesus asked them to keep watch with Him while He went alone to pray. The word for “watch” means to remain vigilant. How would the disciples have understood Christ’s command? They should have understood that they were to remain alert. Perhaps for danger from the coming authorities, or maybe even to stop the other disciples from interrupting Jesus as He prayed. But note how the disciples acted in response to Jesus’ request.
Matthew 26:39-45 39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” 40 And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? 41 “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” 43 Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. 45 Then He came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.”
Our Lord did not just pray, He fell on His face and prayed. He heart was deeply grieved and disturbed. He knew the way to the Cross lay directly in front of Him. He petitioned the Father to let the cup pass from Him, yet He was content to say, “yet not as I will, but as You will.” He returned from His first time of prayer to find Peter, James, and John sleeping. Jesus spoke to Peter and gave Him a mild rebuke. “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?” Their Lord was preparing to lay down His life to purchase their salvation, and they could not keep awake for one hour? Two more times Jesus went away to pray, and each time He returned to see his disciples sleeping.
How quickly had their earlier resolve disappeared! We will never forsake you. We will even die for you. Oh, but we will not be able to remain awake for any period of time. Their rash vow had already dissipated into nothing.
Now, I am not here this morning to take task with the Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am just relaying what the Bible says about their words and their deeds during Jesus’ time praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Through the power of the Holy Spirit these men would eventually acquit themselves well. Jesus forgave them of their sin and made them Apostles in His church. All but John would die as martyrs; ultimately fulfilling their vow that they would follow their Lord even to the point of death. But there is a lesson to be learned here.
Our Lord requires that we serve Him. Scripture says:
Colossians 3:3 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
If our life is hidden with Christ in God, then that means we should cease to live for ourselves and instead live for Christ. But because we still struggle with sin, we will face difficulties in living for Christ. When we fall into sin, one of sin’s byproducts is guilt. Guilt tells us that we are not worthy. I am almost certain this is what Christ’s disciples experienced after they fell away. How could they face their Lord after they had turned their back on Him? Instead of receiving scorn from the Lord they received mercy and forgiveness. Jesus even said to them in Matthew 26, “But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee”. Jesus planned to see His disciples again. He offered them mercy, forgiveness, and restoration.
I end by looking at this story of Jesus appearing to His disciples.
John 21:1-13 After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way. 2 Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will also come with you.” They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing. 4 But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 So Jesus said to them, “Children, you do not have any fish, do you?” They answered Him, “No.” 6 And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.” So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish. 7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish. 9 So when they got out on the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have now caught.” 11 Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples ventured to question Him, “Who are You?” knowing that it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and the fish likewise.
Peter had denied Jesus three times after Jesus was taken into custody in the Garden. Peter’s vow in the Garden now stood to mock him. But here we read of Jesus standing on the beach calling His disciples “children”. This was a term of affection. In obedience to Jesus’ request they cast their net on the right side of the boat and made a great catch. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, recognized that it was Jesus. Jesus had repeated the same miracle in Luke 5. When Peter learned that it was the Lord Jesus, he threw himself into the water. He could not wait to see His Lord! Peter certainly remembers Jesus’ words to him from the first miracle with the fish. Peter said to Jesus, “Go away from me Lord, for I am sinful man!” But Jesus, loving and tender, said to Peter, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10).
So, what do we make of this this morning’s passage from the disciple’s perspective?
- We should always view ourselves as servants of Christ and follow the instruction of God’s word.
- We should be genuine and transparent with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We cannot live the Christian life by ourselves. Together we all make up the body of Christ, and as a body we need each individual member.
- We should be careful not to make rash statements or actions that expose our pride instead of our faith.
- If we do sin in these areas we should be quick to confess it so that we can be restored. 1 John 1:9 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Next Lord’s Day we will look at the events that occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane from the perspective of Christ.
Jude 1:24-25 24 Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.