Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
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!”
Now skip to verse 55:
In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
When I read this and re-read the account of the Last Supper I think about four things that are part of our story and not just that of the disciples.
But first the four agonies of Jesus.
The agony is physical, of course, but it is not just the fear of what is coming in the crucifixion. If he were not thinking of that at all he would not be fully human. But this is more than physical. The text reads that his very soul was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. The only other time we see that word for this kind of sorrow is in the story of the rich young ruler. “When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth.” In other words, he was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death because he could not give up what he loved more than eternal life itself.
Jesus was faced with the same decision and this is the first of four agonies. He has to choose between what he loves – the disciples, the lost, the blind, sick and lame, the people without a shepherd – and the sacrifice of that life. In the book “The Last Temptation of Christ” Jesus is taken down off the cross before he dies by an angel telling him that he is not the Messiah and that God is pleased with him and wants him to be happy. In other words, the agony and the sacrifice are unnecessary. His best work can be accomplished by staying alive. Why would anyone choose an untimely and meaningless death over a productive life? Everyone looks for options in those moments.
But, I don’t believe that is the last temptation while it certainly must have been in his mind. “My work is not finished. There is so much more to be done.” Wasn’t that the first temptation? Turn stones into bread. Do what only you can do to make the world a better place. Why leave so many millions now and in the future in misery?
Second, there must have also been the agony and temptation of doubt about the sufficiency of one man dying for many. How can this be enough? What if this is not final and people will need to make sacrifices for their sins over and over again?
Third, there must have been the agony of being assaulted by Satan with everything he had. I have often said that there must have been no temptations anywhere else in the world for these few hours as all the concentrated evil forces were focused on this one man.
Finally, there must have been the agony of separation from the Father and to give up that relationship that was so close he could say, “I and the Father are one.” He became what the Father most hated in order to bring us back to the Him. This is the cup for which there is no option. He must become Sin and take on all the sin of the world. He must be abandoned by and separated from the Father.
We talked a little about this last week. What does it mean to be separated from God for eternity? It means to become nothing and to lose all hope. To go from having all things and the one for whom all of creation was made to being nothing and completely separated from the love of the Father is, for us, unimaginable. It is not just loss. It is not just sacrifice. It is abandoning everything for the sake of the love of those who have done nothing to deserve it.
Jesus did not choose to suffer. He chose God’s will that included suffering.
“To choose to suffer means there is something wrong; to choose God’s will even if it means suffering greatly is a very different thing. No healthy saint ever chooses suffering; he chooses God’s will, as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not.” Oswald Chambers
But not only Christ was tempted. Not only the disciples disappointed him. Their temptations are ours as well. We fall into temptation.
First, there is the temptation of the Christian desiring greatness. It is so deceitful that even at the Last Supper when they should have been focused on communion they were competing with each other. They were not arguing about true greatness but being greater than others. That is the temptation of pride. C.S. Lewis writes that, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man… It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone.”
There is such a thing as healthy pride like the pride we feel when our children do well or the pride in our friends when they are honored. But there is the other pride – the pride of comparison. It may be the spiritual pride that the Pharisee felt when he looked at the tax-collector. “I thank you, O God, that I am not like that sinner.” It may be the misplaced pride of accomplishment wanting the world to know what we have done and to be recognized for it. It may be the false pride of country that makes us say, “Our country first” or the pride that separates us from others by the pleasure of having more of something than someone else.
Second, there is the temptation of falling asleep in the midst of the agony of others. It may be from great sorrow as it was with the disciples but their selfish sorrow made them fall asleep instead of being awake and helpful. We do that sometimes. We see things that disturb us but instead of waking up and doing something we ignore them or simply hibernate in our cave.
I’ve had the pleasure of being with Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chick-fil-A and I was impressed by this conversation he had last year at his church. It is with the musician Lecrae and his pastor, Louie Giglio.
The title is “Chick-fil-A’s Dan Cathy Asks White Christians to Repent of Racism, Fight For Black Americans.”
“I think we have to recognize we are in a very special moment right now that the answer is not just for this to go off the radar screen, go back to talking about COVID-19, to talk about world peace, or the environment…I believe if we miss this moment we would have failed in our generation..We’ve got a real bad situation. We don’t need to let this moment miss us. And we as Caucasians until we’re willing to just pick up the baton and fight for our black, African American brothers and sisters, which they are as one human race, we’re shameful..We’re just adding to it. Our silence is so huge at this time. We cannot be silent. Somebody has to fight, and God has so blessed us, but it is shameful how we let things get so out of whack..We’ve got to have a sense of empathy of what led to this. This is the tip of the iceberg of incredible amounts of frustration and pain that the whole spectrum of the African American community experiences and that somewhere or another can quickly illustrate that most of us white people feel are just simply out of sight out of mind. We’re oblivious to it. We cannot let this moment pass.”
Third, there is the temptation of the Christian that flees. We run away from the conflict because we are possessed by fear or by not wanting to be associated with those who would threaten our reputations and position. We are ashamed of them – just as Peter was ashamed of Christ. We deny knowing them. When the hard times come we leave. When it looks like associating with someone is going to cost us something we desert them. We don’t want our image to be blemished or our standing to be diminished in the eyes of others. There are no words of rebuke but it is one of the most powerful scenes in Scripture when after Peter three times denies knowing or following Jesus the Lord turns and looks straight at Peter. “And he went outside and wept bitterly.”
Sometimes we flee because the work is too hard. We lose heart and courage. We quit.
“In 1921 David and Svea Flood went with their two-year-old son from Sweden to what was then called the Belgian Congo. With another couple they moved to the remote village of N’dolera. They were rebuffed by the chief so the two couples built their own mud huts and prayed for spiritual breakthrough – but there was none. The only contact with the villagers was a young boy, who was allowed to sell them chickens and eggs. Svea Flood lead eventually the boy to Christ.
The other couple died having contracted malaria and the Flood’s stayed on alone. Svea became pregnant and a little girl, Aina, was born but Svea died. Something inside David Flood snapped and he went back to Sweden after saying, “I’ve lost my wife, and I obviously cannot take care of this child. God has ruined my life! He rejected his calling and went home.”
We quit because we are discouraged.
Fourth, there is the temptation of despair. How must the disciples have felt after thinking about their behavior at the Last Supper. How must they have felt about falling asleep three times? How must they have felt about deserting Jesus instead of standing with him? How must Peter have felt after denying him three times? Despair is the right word. Shame. A deep sadness and troubling of the spirit.
I love what Oswald Chambers writes about despair:
In the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples went to sleep when they should have stayed awake, and once they realized what they had done it produced despair. The sense of having done something irreversible tends to make us despair. We say, ‘Well, it’s all over and ruined now; what’s the point in trying anymore.’
If we think this kind of despair is an exception, we are mistaken. It is a very ordinary human experience. Whenever we realize we have not taken advantage of a magnificent opportunity, we are apt to sink into despair. But Jesus comes and lovingly says to us, in essence, ‘Sleep on now. That opportunity is lost forever and you can’t change that. But get up, and let’s go on to the next thing…’
There will be experiences like this in each of our lives. We will have times of despair caused by real events in our lives, and we will be unable to lift ourselves out of them. The disciples, in this instance, had done a downright unthinkable thing— they had gone to sleep instead of watching with Jesus. But our Lord came to them taking the spiritual initiative against their despair and said, in effect, ‘Get up, and do the next thing.’ If we are inspired by God, what is the next thing? It is to trust Him absolutely and to pray on the basis of His redemption.
Never let the sense of past failure defeat your next step.”
Now, let me read the rest of the story about David and Svea Flood.
The baby, now called Aggie, was adopted by American missionaries and taken back to the United States. Aggie grew up, married a man who became the president of a Christian college in Seattle, and settled into a productive life of ministry. One day in a magazine she saw a picture of a grave in the Congo that read “Svea Flood” It was a story about her parents.
“It was about missionaries who went to N’dolera, Africa, long ago. A baby was born. The young mother died. One little African boy was led to Jesus before that. After the whites had all left, the boy all grown up finally persuaded the chief to let him build a school in the village. He gradually won all his students to Christ and the children led their parents to Him. Even the chief became a follower of Jesus! Today there are six hundred believers in that village, all because of the sacrifice of David and Svea Flood.”
On a trip to Sweden Aggie sought out her birth father.
David Flood was an old man now. He had remarried, fathered four more children, and generally dissipated his life with alcohol. He had recently suffered a stroke. Still bitter, he had one rule in his family: “Never mention the name of God! God took everything from me!”
Aggie walked into the squalid apartment, which had liquor bottles strewn everywhere, and slowly approached her 73-year-old father lying in a rumpled bed.
“Papa, I’ve got a marvelous story to tell you!”
“You didn’t go to Africa in vain. Mama didn’t die in vain. The little boy you won to the Lord grew up to win that whole village to Jesus! The one seed you planted in his heart kept growing and growing! Today there are 600 people serving the Lord because you were faithful to the call of God in your life!”
“Papa, Jesus loves you. He has never hated you or abandoned us.”
The old father turned back to look into his daughter’s eyes. His body relaxed.
He slowly began to talk.
And by the end of the afternoon, he had come back to the God he had resented for so many years. A few weeks after Aggie and her husband returned to America, David Flood died.
And a few years later….
Aggie and her husband were attending an evangelism conference in London when a report was given from Zaire (the former Belgian Congo).
The superintendent of the national church, representing some 110,000 baptized believers, spoke eloquently of the Gospel’s spread in his nation.
Aggie could not help going to ask him afterward if he had ever heard of David and Svea Flood.
“Yes, madam,” the man replied in French, his words being translated into English.
“Svea Flood led me to Jesus Christ! I was the boy who brought food to your parents before you were born. In fact, to this day, your mother’s grave and her memory are honored by all of us.”
When I read that I thought of the verse in Joel 2:25 “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten”
We all face temptations and trials – pride, falling asleep, deserting and despair – but God knows the flesh is weak – just as it was with the disciples. We all could probably point to times of loss and perhaps even years that were eaten by the locusts. But, God is patient and kind. His love is everlasting and underneath are the everlasting arms.