Sermon title:  Arrest in the Garden

Matthew 26:36 and following

Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, May 17, 2020

 

When our Lord Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane

he told his disciples to “watch and pray.”

 

Those are instructions

that we, too, need to follow today.

 

For a few weeks now,

we’ve been looking at the events

of Jesus’ final night on earth.

 

That evening began with the Last Supper,

where Jesus set up the celebration of Communion

to remember him

until he comes again.

 

And then our Lord spoke to his disciples at length,

and we spent a few weeks

looking at what he said to them—and to us.

 

But, now the Gospel of Christ

becomes an action story,

covering Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion,

burial, resurrection,

and his appearances to the disciples

after rising from the dead.

 

All 4 Gospels record and report on that action—

these dramatic historical events—

each Gospel from a different perspective,

and each filling in details

the others don’t mention.

 

If you'd like to read ahead,

and see how all 4 Gospels fit together,

just open the large brown paperback

 Matthew Mark Luke & John Side-by-Side

that was given away at church last year,

or find the Parallel Gospels online

at the website BibleNook.com .

 

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BibleNook.com

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And there you’ll see, for example,

how Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

all describe the moment

when Peter used his sword

against those who came to arrest Jesus,

as you can see

when the Gospels are placed side-by-side.

 

This morning we continue our coverage

of those events of Jesus’ last night on earth

at Matthew 26:36.

 

Christ has led his disciples

from the place in Jerusalem

where they ate the Last Supper together

to the Mount of Olives,

just outside the city.

 

And there, on the Mount of Olives,

they enter the Garden of Gethsemane.

 

36 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.”

 

Christ still had his ELEVEN faithful Apostles

with him when he entered the Garden.

 

Judas Iscariot was no longer with them,

but the 11 faithful Apostles accompanied Jesus

as he entered the Garden of Gethsemane.

 

But then he tells them to

“Sit here

while I go over there and pray.”

 

He signals only 8 of them to do that,

and he takes 3 of them with him,

when he goes “over there” to pray.

 

Those three were what we might call

the “inner circle” of disciples—

the ones closest to our Lord,

and perhaps the ones

who were strongest in faith

at that stage of their spiritual growth.

 

Those 3 were Peter, James and John.

 

James and John were brothers,

sons of a fisherman named Zebedee.

 

So, the next verse tells us,

 

37 He took Peter

and the two sons of Zebedee

along with him,

and he began to be

sorrowful and troubled.

 

Yes, our Lord Jesus felt emotions.

 

He was both fully God, and fully man.

 

He felt human emotions.

 

And he knew what he was facing later that night

and the next day.

 

The knowledge of what lay ahead of him

in the next few hours left him

“sorrowful and troubled.”

 

In Verse 38,

 

38 Then he said to them,

 

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow

to the point of death.

 

Stay here and keep watch with me.”

 

39 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.”

 

Eight of the Apostles were some distance away—

probably out of sight—

where Jesus had left them.

 

And now he asked Peter, James and John to keep watch,

while he went a little father on.

 

And Jesus,

“fell with his face to the ground

and prayed.”

This was earnest prayer—fervent prayer—

desperate, heart-felt prayer.

 

There were other times when Christ

raised his eyes to heaven,

and prayed to his Father.

 

There were other times when he prayed

in different postures.

 

But this time, he

“fell with his face to the ground

and prayed.”

 

It was real supplication,

begging the Father to grant his request.

 

And what was that request?

 

“My Father, if it is possible,

may this cup be taken from me.”

 

The figurative cup Jesus was about to drink

included being arrested, mocked,

spit upon, humiliated,

tortured by scourging,

and crucifixion.

 

More than that, the cup involved taking upon himself

all the sin of mankind.

 

Jesus was about to “become sin for us.”

 

He was without sin.

 

He was the sinless, perfect Son of God.

 

Yet, he was about to become sin for us.

 

And he was about to suffer in his own body

the penalty for all of our sins

and all of mankind’s sins.

 

What he was about to suffer

was more awful than we can imagine,

more horrific than we can imagine.

 

The painful death of crucifixion was horrific enough,

but Jesus would also take all of our sins upon himself.

 

John’s Gospel tells us

that Jesus was in such agony as he prayed,

that

“his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” John 22:44

 

Matthew’s account continues,

 

40 Then he returned to his disciples

and found them sleeping.

 

“Couldn’t you men keep watch with me

for one hour?” he asked Peter.

 

41 “Watch and pray so that

you will not fall into temptation.

 

The spirit is willing,

but the flesh is weak.”

 

It was a simple thing

that Christ asked of his disciples: “Keep watch!”

 

When he left them

to go a short distance ahead and pray,

he said,

Stay here and keep watch with me.”

 

But they didn’t “keep watch.”

 

He returned and found them sleeping.

 

Verse 42 says,

 

42 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.”

 

Our Lord dreaded what he was about to undergo,

but he surrendered to his Father’s will.

 

There are times when we need to do that, too.

 

Nothing that we have to undergo

even compares to the suffering Christ endured for us,

but he set an example for us

in humbly accepting his Father’s will.

 

Have we had times when our prayers

were not answered the way we wanted?

 

We should remember that even Jesus said,

“if it is not possible”

 then

“may [God’s] will be done.”

 

Christ was willing to surrender to his Father’s will,

but he still persisted in prayer,

while he had the opportunity.

 

The disciples, on the other hand, were another story.

 

Even when he told them to

“Watch and pray so that

you will not fall into temptation,”

 he acknowledged that “The spirit is willing,

but the flesh is weak.”

 

Verse 43 continues,

 

43 When he came back,

he again found them sleeping,

because their eyes were heavy.

 

44 So he left them

and went away once more

and prayed the third time,

saying the same thing.

 

Christ persisted in prayer,

but the disciples persisted in falling asleep.

 

They were supposed to be ‘keeping watch,’

because of the danger

that lay immediately ahead.

 

While Jesus was earnestly praying,

his enemies were making their way

from the gates of Jerusalem

toward the Mount of Olives.

 

They were coming to arrest him,

and to take him away to his death.

 

How important it was!—

for the disciples to “keep watch.”

 

Jesus had told them to

“Watch and pray so that

you will not fall into temptation.”

 

Have you ever had disaster strike

while you were sleeping?

 

It’s bad enough when problems occur

while you’re awake and alert to deal with them.

 

If you smell smoke in the house

or hear the sound of someone breaking in,

you can deal with it.

 

But how much worse it is to be sound asleep

and wake up to a smoke-filled room

or wake up to a robber

rifling through your dresser drawers!

 

We can deal with things better when we are awake.

 

That’s why Jesus told the disciples to

“Watch and pray so that

you will not fall into temptation.”

 

It would be harder to cope with the situation,

if the crowd coming to arrest Jesus

came upon them while they were asleep.

 

Waking up groggy and off balance

would leave them more prone to do the wrong thing,

to “enter into temptation.”

 

So, now Jesus adds to his request

that they “keep watch with me”

the additional admonition to “pray so that

you will not fall into temptation.”

 

Watching and praying

would help them avoid being caught off guard

and keep them from falling into temptation.

 

But they didn’t do it.

 

They didn’t heed Jesus’ words.

 

Instead of watching and praying, they fell asleep again.

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45 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.

46 Rise! Let us go!

Here comes my betrayer!”

 

47 While he was still speaking,

Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived.

 

With him was a large crowd

armed with swords and clubs,

sent from the chief priests

and the elders of the people.

 

What a time to be caught off guard!

 

What a time to be caught not watching!

 

If they had been watching,

they no doubt would have seen the torches

carried by the crowd to light their way.

 

John’s Gospel tells us that the betrayer, Judas Iscariot,

arrived with

“a detachment of soldiers and of officers

from the chief priests and the Pharisees”

who came

“with lanterns, torches and weapons.” (John 18:2)

 

Instead of watching and praying,

the disciples woke up to this frightening situation,

confronted by these hostile armed men.

 

Matthew continues,

48 Now the betrayer

had arranged a signal with them:

“The one I kiss is the man;

arrest him.”

 

49 Going at once to Jesus,

Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!”

and kissed him.

 

50 Jesus replied,

“Do what you came for, friend.”

Then the men stepped forward,

seized Jesus and arrested him.

 

The groggy disciples,

just now awakened from their sleep,

were in no condition to deal with the situation.

 

They hadn’t been praying,

as he had asked them to,

and so they were off balance emotionally.

 

Instead of reacting spiritually,

they reacted in the flesh, violently.

 

Matthew tells us,

 

51 With that, one of Jesus’ companions

reached for his sword, drew it out

and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

 

All four of the Gospels tell us this happened.

 

But only John tells us it was the Apostle Peter

who wielded the sword,

and only Luke tells us that Jesus healed the man,

touching him and restoring his ear.

 

Jesus then addressed Peter.

 

52 “Put your sword back in its place,”

Jesus said to him,

“for all who draw the sword

will die by the sword.

 

53 Do you think

I cannot call on my Father,

and he will at once

put at my disposal

more than twelve legions of angels?

 

54 But how then

would the Scriptures be fulfilled

that say it must happen in this way?”

 

Some wonder why Christ had earlier told the disciples

to sell their cloaks, if necessary, and buy swords,

to have weapons available

but then stopped them

from using those weapons.

 

Apparently, Jesus wanted to show

that he could have resisted his arrest,

but chose not to.

 

He could have called upon armies of angels

but he chose not to.

 

Telling Peter to

“Put your sword back in its place,”

was a visible demonstration

that Jesus was surrendering voluntarily to die.

 

And the reason he gave, was so that

the Scriptures be fulfilled

that say it must happen in this way.”

 

Christ’s going to the cross for us,

to die for us, so that we might live—

this was prophesied

throughout the Old Testament,

and the events we read about in the New Testament

fulfilled those prophecies of the Old Testament,

in every detail.

 

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.

 

56 But this has all taken place

that the writings of the prophets

might be fulfilled.”

 

Then all the disciples deserted him

and fled.

That was prophesied, too,

that the disciples would desert Jesus—

that they would be overcome with fear

and would abandon their Lord.

 

And this brings us to an important lesson

we can learn from the events of that night.

 

As those momentous events

foretold in the Old Testament

were about to be fulfilled,

in the Garden of Gethsemane,

Jesus had told his disciples

to “watch and pray.”

 

But they didn’t.

 

Instead, they fell asleep.

 

We are at a time, now, when momentous events

foretold in the Old and New Testaments

are about to be fulfilled.

 

Christ’s Second Coming

is about to catch this world by surprise.

 

We shouldn’t be surprised,

because Jesus told us what to watch for,

as the time draws near.

 

In Luke 21:36,Christ told us:

 

36 Be always on the watch,

and pray that you may be able

to escape all that is about to happen,

and that you may be able

to stand before the Son of Man.”

 

“Watch” and “pray”that’s what Jesus tells us to do—

just like those disciples

in the Garden of Gethsemane.

 

“Watch” for his coming,

and “pray” that he will find you in the right condition,

doing what you ought to be doing

when you find yourself face to face

with Christ, “the Son of Man.”

 

But many of the churches today

have quit watching for Christ’s return,

and have fallen asleep.

 

Here at Immanuel Baptist, we preach Christ crucified,

risen and coming again.

 

But Christ “coming again” is seldom, if ever,

mentioned in most churches today.

 

They are asleep, instead of being on the watch.

 

Still, a major public opinion poll released this week

found that 2/3 of Americans who believe in God

see the COVID-19 crisis

as a message from God

telling people to change their lives.

 

If we “watch and pray,”

we can see how today’s news headlines

reflect the events in Bible prophecy.

 

But if we’re wrapped up with “the anxieties of life,”

not reading the Bible,

and not praying for God’s kingdom to come,

for his will to be done on earth

as it is in heaven,

then Christ’s return will catch us

off guard and unprepared.

 

We don’t want to be caught off guard

like the disciples in the Garden,

who abandoned their Lord and fled,

because they were sleeping

instead of watching and praying.

 

Let’s all learn from this lesson,

and follow Jesus’ instructions to watch and pray!