“They went to a place called Gethsemane and Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took Peter, John, and James along with him and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’ Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father,’ he said. ‘Everything is possible for you, take this cup from me yet not what I will, but what you will.’ And he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Simon,’ he said to Peter, ‘Are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall in to temptation. The spirit is willing but the body is weak.’ Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. And he came back and he again found them sleeping because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him. Returning the third time he said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough, the hour has come. Look the son of man is betrayed in to the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go. Here comes my betrayer.'”
Chemistry. I had to have two science courses to satisfy freshman curriculum requirements so I took Chemistry because Carl Stewart told me I should. I never took it in high school, believe it or not. I stayed away from Chemistry in high school, but in college, I found myself in Chemistry 101 on the first day. And by the third day, I was completely lost. In terms of what was being taught, and having had no background, I am somewhat embarrassed to tell you that I cheated my way through to a “C” in Chemistry 101. I knew nothing substantial enough to start Chemistry 102. I didn’t know anything. I figured I would get through 101 just like I got through 102. The problem was that the professor of the Chemistry 102 course was much different from the 101 fellow. He was a watchdog when it came to test time. Actually, I think he was the head of the Chemistry Department at the university. So it’s no exaggeration to say that the final exam was a complete roll of the dice. My strategy should have been to study, but instead, my strategy was to sit behind the smartest girl in the class and hope that I could get a peek at her paper. Now these are my “BC” days you understand, this is before I was a Christian. My most encouraging moment came when a knock came at the door and she was the one who got up to answer. I tried to scan those dots that she had on her answer sheet as quickly as I could but she wasn’t gone long enough. What do you think my final grade in Chemistry 102 was? “F!” Flag. The funny thing was that I had the nerve enough to go and complain to the professor for giving me an “F.” I mean I wasn’t even there half of the time, and the other half I didn’t understand anything and I complained. Nobody deserved an “F” more in a course than I did. And when I came back in the fall of my sophomore year, I thought, ” Well I better try this again” and I figured I had to take Chemistry 102 because if I didn’t, I would have to take two other Science courses to satisfy the requirement. So here’s what happened. I walked in to the classroom, saw the same professor behind the desk, did an immediate about face and went to Drop-Add-Land. There was no way I was going to make it through Chemistry 102.
I would like to suggest today that for three men named Peter, James and John, Gethsemane was their Chemistry 102. Although there is a major difference between the disciples at Gethsemane and me in Chemistry 102. In spite of the difficulty ahead, in spite of their unpreparedness, these guys thought they were ready. In fact, right before this test, Peter proclaimed that he would pass the exam with flying colors. He said, “Lord, even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you.” I’m not sure what some of your beliefs are about this text, but I think there has been a bit of misconception. I think sometimes I have preached this text and said, “You know, when times are tough you got to have your friends along with you.” We may have heard sermons preached like that, like Jesus was asking his friends to support him. But from every indication in the Gospels, the closer the disciples got to the cross and to the passion, the more confused they became. Even in this text, in the midst of all the spiritual intensity, the Bible says they didn’t know how to answer him. They didn’t know what to say. They were in a stupor. And they were no more prepared to offer support to our Lord Jesus Christ, than I am to be a Chemistry tutor. Jesus knew that Peter would deny him. In fact, Jesus said that he would. He predicted it. And only a few days earlier James and John, the other two that were with him in this garden, came to him and said, “Lord, can we sit next to you in heaven?” And do you remember what the Lord asked them. He said, “Can you drink the cup that I drink?” Jesus was basically saying, “Can you suffer in my suffering?” And they said, “Oh yes, Oh yes. By all means we can do it.” The same three men who stood on the Mount of Transfiguration, perhaps in some measure of self confidence, who speak of their allegiance only days before, think they are going to pass the test, but they are in need deep help. Jesus was not asking for their support. He already knew that they couldn’t give it. Ever the teacher, Jesus was trying to teach them how to face trials that were beyond them. How to face the trials and endure them even though they were beyond their ability to endure. He was warning them that the final exam of testing was about to be administered. And he was not asking them to pray for him. He was asking them to pray for themselves. This is why I think he was so disappointed each time he came back and they had fallen asleep. They were not doing what he said to do. And what is absolutely remarkable that in the midst of his deepest distress, he does come back and check on them three times and he tells them how to avoid failing the test. He says to watch and to pray with full reliance on God’s Spirit. Jesus is basically saying to those three and he is saying to us, YOU CAN NOT MAKE IT THROUGH GETHSEMANE ON YOUR OWN STRENGTH. We are no different from the three. Often we read this text and we identify with Jesus’ noble struggle. But we are more like the three stuporous disciples.
The son and daughter-in-law of an eighty-year old woman were trying to persuade her to come and live with them. “Mom, now that Dad is gone you shouldn’t live alone, you should be with us.” But the woman resisted, protesting, she said, “No, a thousand times no. I’ve always said that I would never live with one of my children. It brings on too many problems. It just raises too many issues.” The daughter-in-law insisted, “That’s true mother, but you’re different.” The mother-in-law looked at her said, “Yes, I know dear, but you’re not.” The Word of our Lord today as we look at this text, is that we are no different than the disciples. We are exactly the same as they are. And if we don’t watch and pray the same will happen to us when our Gethsemanes come. We must also watch. We must stay awake. Do you know that the word watch in this text is where the name Gregory comes from. I don’t know how many Gregory’s there are with us today, but your name is a great name. Gregorete, means “to watch”. And it was used to describe the posture of a leopard lying in wait. It speaks of a certain spiritual posture. And the opposite of this word involves spiritual sleepiness. It’s spiritual laziness as it were. It’s anything that moves our focus from our Lord’s strength in us to our strength. It would be something like this: expecting nothing to happen when we come to church. Expecting no touch from God. We just go through the motions and we are just here, and we leave and we’re no different. That’s a kind of spiritual unwatchfulness. Even worse, it’s coming to church and hoping nothing will happen. “God, now let’s not get too intimate here.” That’s spiritual sleepiness. To watch, to be alert, is to say in our heart what Jesus told to the disciples, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” It’s to fully confess and admit our need for the Lord, and to put away every claim of self-sufficiency. Three times they fell asleep. Three times the word of the Lord came and said, “Watch, admit your neediness. You can’t make it; you can’t make good on your promises just because you think you can or because you have been up on some mountain and had a wonderful experience. Everyday, everyday you must watch.” The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, when you’re in Gethsemane. That flesh is who we are apart from dependence on God. It’s our own strength. And in Gethsemane, we’re beyond our own strength. Do you know what Gethsemane means? Gethsemane means “the press of oils.” There, at the foot of the mountain was a press. We’ve all been to the State Fair or to some sort of fair where we see apple cider being made. They put the apples on a conveyor belt, they go in to this one part, they go in to the press and it’s pressed down and you see all the juice coming out of the bottom for preparation for apple cider. Well, that’s the way they did with olives. And they pressed the olives and extracted the oil. Gethsemane are those times in life where we get squeezed beyond recognition, where we go in an olive and come out pulp, unless God is with us. It’s the last stop before the hour of trial. It’s like death row. What is your trial today? What have you been saying perhaps, “I can handle this, I can do this in my own strength.” The Lord comes today and says, “No, you can’t do it anymore than my disciples thought they could.” But conversely whatever your trial is today, whatever the fear, whatever your difficulty, the Lord Jesus is with you and he says, “I’ll be with you, watch and pray.” Because only by His grace can you pass the test. How we need to pray. Because there are times when we know that God is calling us to do something and we don’t want to do it. Gethsemane prayers are needed when we sense God is asking us to take a step and there’s a voice inside our head that say’s it’s too hard. Gethsemane prayers are needed when we want to be close to God, but we don’t want to be. Like a moth and a flame, the moth is attracted to the flame and yet it gets to hot and so it goes away from the flame. In the same way we think about God’s will calling us to something and it seems too intense so we back away; we need to pray and watch. Gethsemane prayers are needed when we are reluctant to trust God with our lives. We’re afraid that he might change our itinerary, but doesn’t it make sense for Him to have his way with our itinerary since He knows us so deeply? If He wants to change it, it’s the best thing for us. Beloved, please listen. Gethsemane is that place where we realize over again that we need a Savior and we can’t make it through this life apart from Him. He loves us so much, He endured the agony of this week that we are going to walk through and He said, “My soul is very sorrowful even to death.” And He went and He prayed and He asked that God would remove the cup of suffering. It wasn’t just a physical torment. I mean the physical torment alone would have been enough, but it was the horror of being alienated from God, the one who always lived to please God, who was always in union with God, was facing alienation from the Father. He was going to become sin for the whole world in order to bring us back to God. He staggered at the thought. He stood on the precipice of Hell, so that when it comes time for our judgment, we won’t have to go through that. He was anticipating our very judgment. Jesus did for us what we could not do, and now He calls any of us who are in deep need to trust Him.
Someone here today may need to put their faith in Him, to accept Him as their Savior, so that when we stand before God He will be there. Just as rebellion in a garden brought death, so submission in a garden brings life for all those who believe. Perhaps someone today is facing a hard decision and think “I can’t do it, it’s too hard, but God says, “Oh no, you can with my strength, you can do it.” You know the beautiful thing about all of this is that after Pentecost and after Jesus ascended, these same men by the power of the Holy Spirit, were able to face their own martyr’s deaths. They found that strength because they were united with Jesus. Others here today are being confronted to move beyond spiritual complacency. Sure, we all want to be better Christians, but we’re just wanting to be; we don’t make any commitment to be.
There’s an old story about the man who sent out a floral arrangement to celebrate the launch of a good friend’s new business. When the sender got to the grand opening celebration, he was shocked to find his flower basket with a card that read, “Rest in Peace.” So, furiously he phoned the florist and complained about the mix up. The florist said, “Hey, don’t be upset. Think of it this way, somewhere in town today someone was buried under a sign that said, “Good Luck in your new location.” Well Gethsemane is about two things. One, it’s about being jogged out of our spiritual complacency, it’s basically saying that there may be some who need a new location spiritually and it’s going to take death to get there. It’s going to take dying in some way to make it happen because some think that they are just fine today and whatever comes they are going to handle it, just like Peter, James and John. Don’t make that mistake. Anyone who thinks they can make it in this life or the next without Jesus really needs to rethink that idea. And secondly, some are facing a time in life that feels like hell. And you think you’re not going to make it, Jesus knows. And He wants you to know that He has been there too. He knows what it’s like to be plotted against, he knows what it’s like to be confused. He knows what it’s like to be tossed between two desires. Some of you may go to work everyday or wherever and you just don’t want to be there, the Lord wants you to know that He’s been there. He’ll come to the aid of any who will trust Him, who will rely on Him for what’s ahead. He won’t let you down. Believe and trust in the one who suffered and rose again for us.
Let us pray. Gracious Lord we do give you thanks that upon You all our iniquity was laid. And this day Lord when we start Holy Week we realize that there is a hard road ahead. Thank You that You give us the Holy Spirit, the grace that we need and we ask again your forgiveness for those times that we have not believed that You would be there for us. So lift O Lord the drooping hands and strengthen our knees, help each of us to make straight paths knowing that you’re with us all the way. For we ask it in Christ’s name. Amen.