Matthew 26:36-46 Part 4


Last Lord’s Day we began to think on the suffering of our Lord at Gethsemane; and today we must continue that.  That one day in all the days of creation (never before, and never again, repeated)… that one day planned in eternity has begun.

The last Passover; and the first Lord’s Table.  And now… Gethsemane.  Without question this is incomprehensible.  No matter how long we explore it and preach it and hear it; and no matter how many new words and phrases and paragraphs we put together to describe it, its inexplicability will remain.

But this we do know… that without Gethsemane there is no victory; and there is no salvation; and there is no Christianity.  For without it there is no payment for our sin.  Our only hope is that by our reading it and preaching it and hearing it, God will be merciful to us in bringing us an awareness of what He has done.

Faith comes by hearing; and hearing by the Word of God.  From the least one still in its mother’s womb here in Tyler, and the newborn in its mother’s arms in the Church in other places, to the oldest of us… hear; and believe.  Jesus paid the whole price to ransom us from sin and death.

Children… hear and understand.  On this one day, unique in all of history, Jesus began to be vexed (aggrieved) and to sorrow.  And He said to His three disciples, verse thirty-eight:


“My soul is aggrieved beyond measure – unto death.”


The beginning of His extreme vexation coincides (as we said last Lord’s Day) with God the Father’s withdrawal from Him.  And He casts Himself face down on the ground in desperation; and with loud crying and tears (and, according to Luke in a disputed passage, great drops of bloody sweat rolled off Him onto the ground) He suffers near death.

Now, these things are too holy and too incomprehensible for us to “play” with in any way.  But the writer to the Hebrews says in chapter five at verse seven that Jesus learned obedience through suffering; and that He was heard because of His great fear!  And (in that same disputed passage in Luke) it is said that an angel was sent to strengthen Him… presumably to regulate His heartbeat and keep Him alive.

But, the “withdrawal” of God the Father from God the Son…!  It began here.  It wasn’t complete here, but it began here.  The separation… thrusting the Anointed One near the abyss of death.  He was “sorrowing” (which, as we said before, carries with it the idea of “separation”).

He was immediately aware of the isolation from the Father, which vexed Him beyond measure.  And the words “unto death” are descriptive of the state without God.  He had already been isolated in any number of ways, and singled out to stand alone.  One of His Own had left Him to deliver Him up; all the others had been told that they would deny Him and “be scattered” by entrapment.  All the nations of the earth were gathered, at this very moment, against Him (as prophesied in Psalm two).  And they would all cry out (very soon) for His death by crucifixion.

And now God the Father withdraws form Him.

Now, I’m not about to attempt a description of what it means that God the Father withdrew from Jesus Christ the Son… or to what degree there was withdrawal… or by what means there was withdrawal; but there is an abandonment of Jesus Christ which begins here – in the grove called Gethsemane.  And the “vexation” was so great – the “aggrievement” and the “sorrowing” was so great – that He was near death.

And that description is certainly consistent with what (from the rest of Scripture) we know to be the case when the “Presence” and comfort and help and sustenance of God is “removed”.

From the beginning the instances appear in the Scriptures.  When Adam and Eve sinned there was an immediate withdrawal of the countenance of God; and they were full of guilt and shame.  And they were cursed.  And their offspring began killing and committing adultery and lying and stealing and rebelling.  Death reigned in men!

I also think of that instance in which God gave Canaan over to Israel because its sin was “filled up”.  And it was ordered that all men, women and children… and all the animals were to be destroyed.  Canaan was covenantally separated out from God for utter abandonment – destruction.  The same was true for Sodom and Gomorrah.

And, as it was prophesied (and as Jesus Himself explained to His disciples in chapter twenty-four) Yahveh withdrew Himself from the temple and from Jerusalem… leaving it to destruction and removal.

And the place called “Hades” or “hell” itself carries with it the idea of death, abandonment and separation from God.  One goes “down” or “under”… into the “deep” as a result of judgment and wrath.  It’s a place of no comfort and no help and no hope.

Separation from God (like the scapegoat which bore the sin and was separated out from covenant inclusion and cut loose in the “wilderness”) is perdition; it is ruin.

We spoke last Lord’s Day of there being two (and only two) groups of people – those included in Christ and those not included.  There is covenantal inclusion and covenantal separation.  And those who are within the scope of God’s covenant are afforded the Presence of God and His comfort and sustenance and hope.

But there is “necrosis” on the outside.  And necrosis is the process of corruption.  That which is outside the comfort and Presence of God “decomposes” and unravels… it disintegrates.  There is a deterioration and putrescence in necrosis.

This is the reason (exactly) why those who, for whatever reason, are removed… or remove themselves… from all the benefits of God’s covenant, go down.  As an animal (like the scapegoat) was cut loose in the wilderness was subject to all the pressures of isolation from help, and had none of the benefits of inclusion in the camp, so those isolated from the Covenant find themselves subject to every wilderness evil.  The “smell” of sin and rotting and death pervades.

The “constraints” imposed by virtue of Covenant inclusion are removed as if the “bonds” and “cords” connecting one to God are cut away; and the birds and animals of prey are free to scavenge and feast.

Having been “cast away”, the short-lived exhilaration of “freed” inhibitions becomes as rancid and fetid as tainted meat or separated milk.  And the “fragrance” of the covenant becomes the “stench” of corruption.

I don’t want to get too far afield from the text, but such is separation from God.  We tend to think of those who are not included in Christ as hanging over an abyss by a string (that abyss being hades itself), but such is not the case.  Those abominable odors arise from current debasement.  Separation from God is a “cesspool” of filth.

As pigs love to wallow in fecal material, and as dogs will return to their own retch, those excluded from God and segregated out emit a foul odor.  There is a base “fecundity” about them; and all things of a “lower” nature are natural to them.  Corruption is the commonality in all cursed humanity.  The smell may be very slight, or it may be strong; but it is there.  They are separated out from God, and there is no concern with living in the holiness and righteousness of the Risen Christ.

Now, I wanted to paint that little short, but vivid, picture of what it is to be “outside” the covenantal Presence of The Holy God…to be “excluded” from His countenance… to be “without”.

And although we can’t argue from the lesser to the greater where God the Son is concerned, that might give you a little understanding of what it meant to Jesus that God the Father was “withdrawing” from Him… and the overwhelming aggrievement and sorrow in being “separated” from Him.  It had begun… the abandonment of Jesus Christ by God the Father had begun.

And I want to tie this in with what Jesus prays in verse thirty-nine.  Remember, He says (in essence) to the Father that should there have been any other conceivable way that this cup could have been passed from Him, His Father would have done it.  “Nevertheless, not as I will, but You,” He says.

With the “vexation” of being separated from the Father, Jesus desires (and proceeds toward) that which the Father wills for Him.  Vexed nigh unto death, He wills to do His Father’s pleasure.  Even in abandonment, acutely aware of the separation and what it meant, He loves and obeys the Father and submits to the fact that “drinking this cup” is His to do; and He loves His Father’s elect people and knows that their salvation is His Father’s desire.

Now, what is “the cup”?  More specifically, what is “this cup”?  “My Father if it is possible pass this cup from Me…” (verse thirty-nine).  “My Father if this is impossible to pass except I drink it…” (verse forty-two).

When we began this morning I mentioned that this is one day, and one hour, unique in all of history… never to occur again in all the creation of time and space.  (And, by the way, since it is the “unique” hour and “unique” day, there is none other suffering like it.  And therefore there must never be an example of human suffering by which it can be illustrated.  There must never be an instance of human suffering used to provide us an example of it.  Should there have been several times in which Christ suffered; or should there have been other “gods” who suffered in like manner; or should there have been other perfect humans who suffered so… then there could have been examples and illustrations by which comparisons could be made.  But since this is the unique hour and day in history in which the sinless God-man was so vexed unto death, there are no comparisons… and no examples… and no illustrations.)

But within this day, and this hour, there is also this cup.  This “unique” cup which none drank before or since.  And it would be “blasphemy” to assert that there might be “analogous” cups in the lives of men.  To say that men have their “Gethsemane days”, or their “Golgotha days” is to belittle and redact the one, unique cup drunk by Jesus on this day.  Our Lord was made subject to this creation called “time”, and the historical clock doesn’t repeat itself over and over.  It struck once on this hour… never to repeat the same hour.  (Schilder)

Otherwise He is only one of many who suffered.  And if so, then we have only a “companion” in suffering and not a Redeemer!  Not to say that cursed and depraved men don’t need “companions” when they suffer; but our great necessity is to have One, Unique Man Who suffered one day in history, and Who drank of one unique cup in order to redeem us!

God subjected Him to it once, and there are no others, and there are no others by which we might compare it.  And because of “this cup” we see our Lord Jesus Christ fall on His face, rises, falls forward again, rises again, goes, returns, and goes again… repeating the words!

Men and women and children who avail themselves of the Arms of God in prayer, in the Name of Christ, are never rejected.  He is always there to receive us and to hear us.  Our prayers are a sweet-smelling sacrifice in the sacrifice of Christ.

The Pattern of our Lord was to go off to Himself, to prostrate Himself before the Father, and to speak to Him out loud.  And all of us (children too!) must purpose to pray.  As our catechism question indicates, it is our duty.  Get alone. Speak to God… out loud.  We tend to say and do many things alone with God that we won’t say and do (or can’t say and do) when we’re in company.  It would be embarrassing, or seem ostentatious.  But if Jesus’ practice was to be alone and speak to the Father out loud, then it would be madness (and prideful of us) not to do the same!  We can be simple and familiar with God when alone with Him.  And we can pour ourselves out to Him, as Jesus did, with our wishes and groans and anxieties and fears.  Our Father hears; and He loves the prayers of the saints as we pray in the Name of His Son.

But, as we see here, God isn’t prepared to receive the Christ at Gethsemane; He thrusts Him away!  And our Lord is fully conscious of the fact that the Father doesn’t accept Him.  He is altogether rejected, and He knows it!  And He is full of “dread” because of it.  For God has filled this cup with specific intent which is causing the near-death, bloody reality of this event.

And then, so to intensify even this unique suffering comes an additional humiliation for Jesus.  Even though it isn’t in our text; and although the passage isn’t as well documented in the ancient manuscripts as it might well be some day, the Gospel writer Luke, in the same passage in which he describes the bloody sweat, now tells of an angel which comes to strengthen Jesus.

And this angel has no intent to do anything except serve the Father, Who has rejected the Christ… a rejection which has caused Him to be vexed even unto death!  So this angel is not there to bring Jesus the love and comfort and hope and grace of the Father; but he is there for His further humiliation.  How severe His sorrows and His aggrievement!

He is near death in His separation and abandonment; He’s face down on the ground and bleeding through His sweat-glands.  And a servant is sent.  The Father doesn’t come to Him to accept Him again… the Spirit doesn’t come for comforting; but a servant is sent!

And for what reason?  To bring Him a message from the Father?  To provide hope for mercy?  To gladden His heart that the Father truly loves Him?  No.  You see, there would be no punishment for our sin if any of those things were the case.  We would have no Savior, and there would be no salvation for us who were lost if that were the case!

The servant/angel was sent to strengthen Him.  And for what reason would He need to be strengthened?  So He wouldn’t die!  And why was it that He shouldn’t die?  So He could suffer some more!

Some might think that the heart of Jesus leapt for joy at first cognizance of the angel’s presence… that there might have been some “message” to build His confidence and His inner strength.  But no; it was to regulate His body’s functions in order that they not shut down!

The body only has limited potentiality; and if the angel hadn’t been sent, Christ would have succumbed to death before it was time.  It wasn’t finished.  The blood wasn’t spilled; sin wasn’t paid for; ransom hadn’t been made… the justice of God hadn’t been satisfied.  There would have been failure; and your sin and mine wouldn’t have been dealt with.

And yet, at the beginning of His suffering here, unbelievably intense and severe as it was, there would have been an active desiring and pursuit, on Jesus’ part, of the strengthening given by this angel; for Jesus could not passively surrender or yield to death having not paid the full price.  He willingly submitted to the strengthening by this “servant” in order that He might willingly lay down His life at the appointed time!

But this is the cup which would not, could not, pass except He drink it.  This cup was the unique cup of abandonment and separation from the Father.  God began to forsake Him.  The sinless Man, crying and sweating blood, was near death… being vexed and sorrowed even unto death.  And His Father refuses to hear Him; instead, He sends a servant to strengthen Him for more to come.

The severity of the punishment is incredible.  How do we understand even some of it?  There are no known comparisons.  The sinless God-man, forsaken by God the Father; separated out from any covenant inclusion and hope and love and comfort.  And He became sin.

Having been excluded from the Father’s countenance, He became corruption for us (as the scapegoat).  And the Father would not look upon Him with mercy – but withdrew in disgust and wrath… cutting the cords and the bonds, and leaving Him and bringing the curse of the covenant – law – against Him!  And the weight of the world’s depravity (that of the human race), and the abandonment of God the Father, worked necrosis and decomposition and unraveling of His physical stature to such a degree that the composition of His body would not adhere!  It began to come apart!  And it required an angel to help hold it together until the wrath of Almighty God could be satiated upon Him.

How terrible this angel.  And how terrible His task.

But ours was worse.  For it was our sin.  The angel prolonged His suffering.  We caused it.  And now you must confess and believe Him; and be justified through faith.  For God freely gives (through faith) eternal life in this Man Jesus Who He abandoned to wrath, and sacrificed, that we might be forgiven.