Last week I asked you to read Matthew 26:36-46 as a reminder that Jesus was both fully God and fully human, and as “God incarnate” or “God in the flesh”, He experienced pain, anxiety, and fear. In this passage Jesus is beginning to feel the full weight of the horrific events that are about to unfold, and He’s not looking forward to it. Who would be?
37He(Jesus) took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Matthew 26:37-38 NIV
Jesus knew what was coming and why it had to be done, but He was still “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” In Luke 22:44 it says, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” Some say that Jesus was so overwhelmed and stressed out that He was actually sweating blood or experiencing Hematohidrosis, a very rare condition in which an individual actually sweats blood. However, this verse says that his sweat was “like drops of blood”, not actual blood. The King James Version says, “as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground”. Again, the writer is making a comparison like “sweating bullets”. It may feel like it, but we’re not actually sweating bullets. The point is that Jesus was “troubled” to put it mildly. Was Jesus having an anxiety attack? We’ll never know, but Jesus in his humanness had every reason to be concerned about what was going to happen to Him, so in Matthew 26:36-46 Jesus prays three times that the “cup be taken from me(Him)”.
What cup? What is Jesus talking about?
Well, what do we do with a cup?
We fill it with something: coffee, tea, cocoa, soup, etc. Jesus uses the ”cup” here as a metaphor for life. Our life or “cup” is filled with a variety of experiences, and Jesus’ “cup” was about to be filled with unimaginable suffering that included a trial, public humiliation, torture, and ultimately an agonizing death by crucifixion. So, He is asking God, His Father, to spare Him from all of this. Again, Jesus was God, but He was also human. Therefore, He would not be spared the physical and psychological pain of torture and death by crucifixion. He would have to endure it like the rest of us. Was Jesus afraid? You betcha, He was scared to death.
Fear is a powerful motivator and deterrent to faith, so it is our first pressure point in this series that can chip away at our ability to believe and sustain our faith. No one is immune to it, not even Jesus.
What if Jesus fear of suffering had caused Him to change His mind and abandon the mission and will of God?
1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV
Of course, we know that Jesus didn’t change His mind. Fear and doubt didn’t win, He went through with it, endured the cross, and fulfilled the mission. While He may have been weary and overwhelmed, He didn’t “lose heart” or give up. In fact, the writer of Hebrews encourages us to consider following Jesus’ example, to endure opposition, to ”not grow weary and lose heart.” Jesus leads and we follow. He endured and called us to endure. Is it going to be hard? Absolutely! Will we be overwhelmed and scared to death? At times, yes. Jesus told His disciples that “people will hate you because of me” (Matthew 10:22). Being a disciple of Jesus was not popular and it came with a price.
24Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? Matthew 16:24-26 NIV
Jesus says this right after He informs the disciples of His upcoming death and resurrection. This is not the first time that Jesus tells the disciples that being a disciple will be hard, but Peter is naturally upset that His teacher and friend is predicting His own death. It freaks Peter out and he says, “No way Jesus, that’s not happening to you. Don’t even say it!” I can imagine Peter putting his fingers in his ears and saying, “La, la, la. Jesus I’m not listening. La, la, la, la. I’m not listening to you!” It was painful for him to hear. Apparently, that didn’t go over very well because Jesus told Peter to “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Ouch!
Peter, nor the rest of the disciples, fully understood until later that the whole savior-messiah gig came with a price, and so does following Jesus. The idea that Jesus was going to have to suffer, and die was unthinkable for the disciples. They probably thought they would all ride off into the sunset together.
It makes me wonder if the disciples would have followed Jesus in the beginning if they would have known this was coming. I’m not saying Jesus withheld information, but once the disciples finally realized what was happening, they may have said “we didn’t sign up for this”. It was most assuredly more than they “bargained for” or expected. Up until this point they really hadn’t seen much persecution. While the Pharisees, religious leaders, and devout Jews probably gave them a hard time, they weren’t in danger of losing their lives yet. So, when Jesus starts talking about being arrested and dying, the disciples start getting a little anxious and probably wondering what was going to happen to them. Where would they be without their fearless leader?
Well, we find out what happens to this merry little band of followers in Mark 12. Immediately after Jesus is arrested and a brief moment of heroism from Peter who pulls a knife and cuts off an ear to defend Jesus, it says in verse 50 that, “everyone deserted him and fled.” They ran! They were afraid and running for their lives. Peter even denies knowing Jesus. They are terrified and overwhelmed like Jesus was earlier. What Jesus said about “taking up their cross” and “losing their lives” to follow Him are becoming all too real.
What were they going to do? Would they “lose heart” and give up? Would they throw their faith and the last three years with Jesus out the window? I would imagine that their faith and belief system was rocked to its core. They were probably having some serious doubts about whether Jesus was who He said He was. Well, we know they were because of Thomas. He was the only one brave enough to say what everyone else was thinking. Fear had become larger than life and their faith.
Now, before we get all sanctimonious let’s put ourselves in their shoes. What would we have done? Understandably, after Jesus is crucified, it takes a while for the disciples to recover. It was a game changer. They got sucker punched, so how would they bounce back. It was time to put up or shut up. Would they “grow weary and lose heart”, quit, stop believing, or double down?
We all know the answer, but part 2a of this series will “B” continued next week.
Have a great weekend! Love y’all!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC
Remember that the Christmas Eve Service is at 6:30 and we are having church on Christmas Day at 11am, but we’re not having Sunday school.