Dr. Charles F. “Chuck” DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
MAY 22, 2016
36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
— Matthew 26:36-46, ESV
Do you remember back in school days when you pulled an all-nighter? It probably revealed some of the priorities in your life. If partying was your purpose in life, you stayed up all night partying. If making a good grade on the final exam was important to you, you stayed up all night studying. If faith was your priority, or if you didn’t understand what you were studying, you stayed up all night praying. Priorities and purposes in life can be revealed by what you are willing to stay up all night to do.
On the night before he was betrayed, arrested, and crucified, Jesus pulled an all-nighter. The place was a garden called Gethsemane, named after an oil press in the midst of an olive tree grove. The purpose was neither to party nor to study, but to pray. For hours into the night, Jesus just prayed and prayed. Charles Haddon Spurgeon called it “the holy of holies of our Lord’s life on earth.”
Christ’s agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane tells us a lot about His priorities and purpose in life. It also reveals those of His disciples. And, it offers a concise but complete teaching on prayer. This sacred episode in Scripture serves to remind us of why we love Jesus so much, of how we often fail Him, and what we can do to magnify our love and minimize our failures, even if it takes all night. Jesus stands, or rather kneels, as a perfect man among imperfect men offering a perfect prayer to God.
What makes a perfect man? Most young ladies are looking for him, and are destined for disappointment. The perfect man doesn’t exist, does he? Not exactly, but He did exist, and lived on the earth for a little over three decades. We find Him here, on His knees, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The deity of Christ is a cardinal doctrine of Christianity. Sometimes, however, we get so caught up in the biblical truth of Jesus as Lord, we forget for a moment he was also Jesus the man, a perfect man. Jesus Christ was perfect in His relationship with God and His fellow man.
Jesus had a perfect trinitarian and perfectly experiential relationship with God. Of course, Jesus was, is, and always will be “God of very God,” but for a season He divested Himself of the privileges of deity (ref. Philippians 2:5-11). During this time, Jesus experienced God in much the same ways we do, through everyday providence and unceasing prayer. God the Son acknowledged God the Father every millisecond of His earthly life, just as we should do. When Jesus spoke to God, the perfection of their relationship sounded out loud.
Jesus called God, “My Father” (Mark’s Gospel uses the very personal term “Abba”). He was absolutely honest and transparent with God in prayer, even admitting a desire not to suffer the terrible fate that stood before Him. At the end of the prayer, Jesus professed a willingness to do whatever the Father’s will dictated Him to do. The perfection of Christ’s life is unattainable to mere mortals, but Christians can grasp this perfect spirit of prayer. We can call God our Father, by grace through faith in Christ. We can be honest with Him, for He already knows everything anyway. And we can surrender our wills to Him in total commitment and trust.
Having a perfect relationship with God makes it possible to be perfectly related to others, too. Either you are using other people to serve you, or you are spending your life in service for other people. For the sake of others, Jesus turned away from His feelings, contrary to those who live by the motto, “If it feels good, do it.” Jesus turned down His rights, contrary to those who are demanding theirs on every corner. At the end of this Calvary’s eve prayer, Jesus turned in His life in order to sacrifice for others, including the three fickle friends who were sleeping beside Him in the garden.
While Jesus prayed, Peter and James and John slept. In their defense, the prayer lasted hours, consuming most of the time between the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday and Jesus’ arrest in the early morning hours of Good Friday. They just couldn’t pull an all-nighter. Is sleeping sinful? Not necessarily. But anything is sinful when it refuses an invitation from God, fails to fellowship with God, or contradicts a clear commandment of God.
When Jesus crossed over to Gethsemane, His eleven true disciples were with Him. He invited three, His inner circle, Peter and James and John, to pull away from the others for a very special and sacred opportunity. Christ commanded them to “watch” and “pray,” both in the imperative tense. How did they respond? By sleeping on the job.
The first sermon I ever preached was on this passage, focusing on these disciples who were sleeping on Jesus. To this day I remain dumfounded by those who profess to be disciples of Christ who would rather sleep in on a Sunday morning than gregariously gather with other believers for worship. Physical sleep on the Lord’s Day usually leads to spiritual sleep the other days of the week, as so many professing Christians are so slow to surrender their time, treasure, and talents to God. Sleeping on Jesus has been going on for two thousand years now, mostly from nominal Christians; but, genuine believers often fall into the same trance. Now is the time for stay awake, all night if necessary, to watch and pray with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Perfect prayer is intimate communion and two-way communication with God. Jesus entered into it in a most sacred and complete way in this famous episode. Let’s go back and look at His prayer again.
Perfect prayer loves, laments, and listens. Jesus expressed love and devotion to God as “My Father.” The greatest love any person can have is a prioritized love for God that calls on Him day and night. Jesus lamented that things in this present world are not as they should be, and even the most joyful Christian should carry sorrow for the ways in which sin has corrupted this present world. Jesus begged the Father to fix it, if possible, in a way that did not include His suffering, which was an honest, noble, and sinless request. Yet at the end of the prayer, Jesus simply listened, and looked for an answer from God.
When prayer is perfect it can determine the will of God for out lives. When prayer is perfect it can fortify us with the spiritual determination to do the will of God, no matter what the cost. When prayer is perfect it gives God the final word. Jesus, the perfect man, poured out a perfect prayer before God the Father, then listened and looked for the perfect answer.
I have prayed for healing and many times received an answer from the doctor that it was just a matter of days before death. I have prayed for marriages only to learn that divorce papers were served. I have prayed for financial help and then had to make do with what I already have.
Often times God’s perfect answer to our most perfect prayers is “No.” The mark of a mature believer is a willingness to take “no” for an answer. Then, as did the Lord Jesus Christ, we must move into the sometimes painful but always perfect will of God.
Since it was Passover, the moon was full that night. The temperature was moderately cool, and visibility at night would have been high. Jesus arose from prayer that third time, listened to God, then looked for His providential answer. There it was.
God’s answer cam walking across the ravine between the eastern gates of Jerusalem and the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus arose from prayer and could see a shadowy mob. Their torches were lit, their spears were sharp. Jesus no doubt recognized the outline of the figure walking in front of the lynch mob. It was Judas Iscariot. The traitor, the mob, and the cross were God’s perfect answers to Jesus’ perfect prayer.
What was God saying to the Son of God? It is time to sacrifice yourself for the souls of men. This is the same answer He will give to you if your pour out your soul to Him in prayer. Of course, our sacrifices will never be the same as the atoning sacrifice Jesus made for us. But God is calling all of us to arise from our slumber and be more, do more, love more, give more, and reach more for the cause of Christ. Walking with the Lord Jesus Christ, through this all-nighter in the Garden of Gethsemane, is a perfect place to start.
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org