WILL YOU REMAIN FAITHFUL?

 

Week of August 30, 2009

 

Bible Verses:Matthew 26:36-46; 1 Peter 4:12-14,19.

 

Lesson Focus: This lesson is about following God's will even when doing so involves paying a difficult price.

 

Reach Out to Believers for Encouragement: Matthew 26:36-38.

 

[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." [ESV]

 

[36-38]Then indicates a move on to the next stage in the narrative. Jesus had not come to this quiet spot in order to engage in some light conversation. This was to be His last period of freedom in His life here on earth, and He was facing rejection and an agonizing death. The important thing is that He saw the need for quiet prayer, time alone with His Father, before the terrible ordeal He was facing. But Jesus did not immediately separate Himself from the whole band. He took Peter, James and John with Him. In view of what lay ahead of Him it is not surprising that Jesus should be sorrowful and troubled. Jesusí deep anguish comes out in the words spoken to Peter and the sons of Zebedee. In words reminiscent of Psalm 42:6,11; 43:5 Jesus speaks of His soul as being very sorrowful. Even to death indicates that this is no normal trouble, but something that goes very deep. Matthew does not leave his readers to think that Jesus was troubled in the same way as we all are from time to time. In Gethsemane He underwent a most unusual sense of being troubled that we must feel is connected not only with the fact that He would die, but that He would die the kind of death He faced, a death for sinners. Jesus was a brave man, and lesser people by far, including many who have owed their inspiration to Him, have faced death calmly. It is impossible to hold that it was the fact of death that moved Jesus so deeply. Rather, it was the kind of death that He would die that brought the anguish. In due course Matthew will record the cry from the cross that says the Father had forsaken Jesus at the point of death. Jesus would be one with sinners in His death, He would experience the death that is due to sinners, and it seems that it was this that brought about the tremendous disturbance of spirit that Matthew records. In His anguish Jesus calls on the three to remain here and watch with me. Clearly Jesus wanted to feel their fellowship with Him in the great crisis that was so near. There is the sense in which He had to be alone in prayer, for only He could pray the prayer He prayed.

 

Find Strength and Commitment in Prayer: Matthew 26:39-46.

 

[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."

 

[39]Jesus fell on his face, an expression that means Jesus adopted the lowliest posture for this very significant prayer. If it be possible precedes the substance of the prayer and makes clear that Jesus was not pressing for anything that was against the will of the Father. The question at issue was not whether Jesus should do the Fatherís will, but whether that necessarily included the way of the cross. Jesus prays for the avoidance of this cup but only if that accorded with the divine plan. In the Old Testament the cup has associations of suffering and of the wrath of God, and we should observe the same kind of symbolism here. Jesusí death meant suffering, and because it was a death for sin, there are associations of the wrath of God connected to it. Jesus knew that, on the cross, He would face, for the first and only time in eternity, total separation from the Father and would have poured out upon Him all of the wrath of God stored up for the sins of His people. This is the cup that He prays might pass from Him, but only if it is the Fatherís will that it pass. Thus the final petition of the prayer rests in the will of God. Jesus is not seeking to impose His will on the Father, but to accept the will of the Father. Throughout His whole life He had sought only to do the will of the Father. As He now faces the climax of the redemptive plan, he insists that it is the will of the Father that is His chief concern.

 

[40-41]It is one of the saddest things in the Gospel accounts that in this critical time, when Jesus was so disturbed in the face of the ordeal that confronted Him, and when He had appealed to the three who were closest to Him on earth to watch with Him, they were so far from understanding the situation that they went to sleep. Jesus addresses Peter with a question: could you not watch with me one hour? His closest followers had professed their loyalty and their readiness even to die for Jesus [35]. But when the first test came, they were tired and lacked the strength to watch with Jesus even for one hour. Despite all the excuses that might be made for them, Jesus goes on to exhort the sleepers to keep awake and to pray. Watch is the same verb as Jesus used in verse 38; they had failed to obey, but it is important and He renews the command. This time he adds, and pray for they need the help that only God can give; prayer recognizes the limitations of the human frame and seeks divine assistance. Both verbs are in the present imperative, which points to continuing action. Jesus urges them to pray so that they may not be led into temptation. Jesus recognizes that the disciples wanted to do as He had asked, but that they were not strong enough. Their physical bodies let them down. Just at the time when Jesus was showing the victory of spirit over flesh, the disciples were manifesting the victory of flesh over spirit. But Jesusí words will also have relevance to what His followers would face in the future. Because of the frailty of human nature there is the constant need for prayer. A willing spirit is not enough; it must be supplemented by prevailing prayer.

 

[42-44]Jesus resumed His prayers. Matthew brings out the fact that this was the continuation of what He had been doing previously, with his again, for the second time. As on the first occasion Jesus addresses God with the familiar My Father, but there is a small advance in the content of the prayer. Whereas previously Jesus had prayed, if it be possible, now He prays, if this cannot pass unless I drink it. There is the recognition that the drinking of this cup is indeed the Fatherís will. In the first prayer there is a reference to the will of Jesus, but not in this one. Your will be done is a further submission to the will of the Father (and a further reminiscence of the Lordís Prayer in 6:10). That is what Jesus had come to do, and He would do it even though at this moment He was vividly conscious of what it would mean. Jesus comes back to the disciples and again finds them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. Matthew does not record any conversation, and perhaps no words were spoken. Mark says that the disciples did not know what to answer Jesus, which may mean that there was conversation that Matthew has not recorded, or perhaps that they did not reply to a reproachful glance from Jesus. But Matthew does not bother even to mention that Jesus woke them. Once more Jesus left them and went away to pray. Matthew tells us two things: Jesus prayed the third time, and he used the same words. On the second occasion Jesus had expressed submission to the Fatherís will, and this is reaffirmed with the third time of praying.

 

[45-46]For the third and final time Jesus comes back to the disciples finding them still sleeping. They had persisted in sleeping when they should have been praying, but the time for prayer was now past: the hour is at hand. The hour is clearly the decisive hour when the action that meant the salvation of sinners throughout the world would have its beginning. He lets them see something of what that means with the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Ten times in this chapter Matthew uses this verb betray; he will not let his readers overlook the dreadful fact of treachery among the followers of Jesus. And He characterizes the Jewish leaders, high priests, and other leaders of the people as sinners. Jesus would go to His death in accordance with the will of His Father, but that excuses neither His follower who handed Him over, nor the religious leaders who bought His arrest. Rise, let us be going is not a call to run away. Jesus had fought the battle as He spent the time of waiting in fervent prayer. Now events would take their course. He is telling the disciples that their time for sleep is over; it was time to move on. He explains, see, my betrayer is at hand.

 

Consider Difficulties as Opportunities to Glorify God: 1 Peter 4:12-14,19.

 

[12]Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. [13]But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. [14]If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. [19]Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. [ESV]

 

[12-14]A new section of the letter begins here. This is evident because the previous section closes with a doxology, and the new section in introduced by Beloved and an imperative as was the new section in 2:11. In addition, Peter again took up the subject of suffering, tackling it from a fresh and final angle, giving another perspective on what has been discussed earlier. Peter began by admonishing them not to be surprised at the fiery trial they were enduring. If they were astonished at the suffering that occurred, they may have been overwhelmed, concluding that God did not love them. An advance warning of suffering helps the readers to be prepared for suffering, so that their faith is not threatened when difficulties arise. Their sufferings are not a sign of Godís absence but His purifying presence. Such suffering is to be expected because its purpose is to test you. Peter returned here to the theology of 1:6-7, where suffering is allowed by God to refine the faith of believers. God uses the trials of life to strengthen the character of believers and to make them fit for His presence. Verse 13 serves as a contrast to verse 12, as is indicated by the word but introducing the verse. Instead of being shocked that they were suffering, they should rejoice at the privilege, to the decree that they share Christís sufferings. This refers to sufferings that come because of their allegiance to Christ. Suffering for Christ is a cause for joy, but being mistreated because of oneís own sins is nothing to brag about. Rejoicing in their present suffering is mandated, precisely so that believers will have joy in Godís presence at the day of judgment. How believers respond to suffering is an indication of whether they truly belong to God at all. The promise of future joy, in fact, energizes the joy that will be theirs in the future. Peter exhorted readers to rejoice in their present sufferings so that they will be able to rejoice and exult forever when Christ returns. By implication those who do not rejoice in their sufferings do not truly belong to Jesus Christ. If they groan about sufferings now, they will presumably be disappointed on the future day. This verse emphasizes that believers are blessed by God if they are insulted because of their allegiance to Jesus Christ. The sufferings of believers are described here as being insulted for the name of Christ. The main point of the verse emerges in the second clause. Those who are insulted as Christians are actually blessed. They may be insulted by human beings, but they are blessed by God Himself. The last clause explains why believers are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. They were blessed because they possessed even now the glory that would be theirs at the end time and also that the eschatological gift of the Spirit even now rested upon them.

 

[19]Aconclusion from all of verses 12-18 is now drawn. Those who suffer according to Godís will are those who share in Christís sufferings [12], who are insulted in Christís name [14], and who suffer as Christians rather than for doing something evil [15-16]. The reference to Godís will here as in 3:17 indicates that all suffering passes through His hands, that nothing strikes a believer apart from Godís loving and sovereign control. When suffering strikes, believers should entrust their souls to a faithful Creator. Christ modeled what Peter enjoined, for when He was suffering, He entrusted Himself to God [2:23]. The reference to God as Creator implies His sovereignty, for the Creator of the world is also sovereign over it. Therefore believers can be confident that He will not allow them to suffer beyond their capacity and that He will provide the strength needed to endure. Such confidence can be theirs because He is a faithful Creator, faithful to His promises and faithful to His people, never abandoning them in their time of need, always vindicating the righteous and condemning the wicked. The way believers will reveal that they are trusting in God is by continuing doing good even while suffering.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† Why was Jesus so sorrowful and troubled in Gethsemane?

 

2.†††††††† What was this cup that Jesus asked His Father to take away? What did the hour refer to?

 

3.†††††††† What do we learn about praying from Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane and from His instruction to His disciples?

 

4.†††††††† What are sufferings a sign of? Is this true of all sufferings? Why are we to rejoice in the midst of our suffering?

 

References:

The Gospel According to Matthew, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

The Message of 1 Peter, Edmund Clowney, Inter-varsity Press.

1,2 Peter, Jude, Thomas Schreiner, NAC, Broadman.