Have You Had A Gethsemane?

Bible Book: Matthew  26 : 36-46
Subject: Prayer; Gethsemane; Yielding to Jesus; Will of God

If I were to ask you to name the top five spiritual experiences that you have had since your salvation, what would those experiences be? One of those memorial spiritual experiences was that December Sunday night in 1958 when I surrendered to God's call to preach the gospel. It was almost 40 years ago, but I can remember it as if it were yesterday.

Another spiritual experience which I will never forget was on February 6, 1970. That was the day the twins were born. There were complications and the doctors did not give Jerry a lot of hope for making it through the crisis. During that period of time, Martha Jean and I found out what it was like to cling to the Lord tenaciously in a spirit of desperation. But the Lord used that experience to teach us again that He is our only hope.

The third memorial spiritual experience that I would list took place in October of 1972 at a Bible conference at the Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. It was at that conference that I really came to know something about the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit. It was a conference that changed the direction and thrust of my ministry. At that meeting I came to understand God's Word that says, "It is not by power, nor by might, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts."

Another unforgettable experience took place exactly one year ago when I was in the midst of the 40-day fast. That was an occasion that brought a deep sense of God's presence into my life. It was a time that challenged me to be a better Christian and a better pastor.

But then there is one other spiritual experience that I would have to rank at the very top of my list. This was an experience that Martha Jean and I shared together. This experience took place in August of 1974. Martha Jean and I were treated to a trip to the Holy Lands by our church in South Carolina. One afternoon, while we were in Israel, we got off the bus on top of the Mount of Olives. We could look out over the Kidron Valley and see the beautiful city of Jerusalem. We began to walk down the side of the mountain through those old knarled olive trees until we came to the place called Gethsemane. There is a little church there called "The Church of All Nations." And near that church is a rock where they said Jesus knelt to pray in that garden. We too knelt by that rock and we prayed the prayer that Jesus prayed, "...not my will, but thy will be done." Somehow the Spirit of the Lord gripped our hearts as we thought of the agonizing prayer of Jesus in that garden, and the tears flowed.

So this morning I want to ask you a question. Have you had a Gethsemane? A number of years ago Bill Gaither wrote a song, and that's what he entitled it. I want you to listen to the words:

“In the garden Christ went to pray,

When it seemed hope was gone.

He prayed with a broken heart,

And He prayed all alone.

“Have you had a Gethsemane?

Have you prayed in despair?

In the dark of the dreary hour,

Did the Lord meet you there?

“Have you had a Gethsemane?

Have you prayed the night through?

Have you shed tears of agony

When no hope was in view?

“Have you prayed, "If it be thy will,

May this cup pass from me,

But if it's thy will, dear Lord,

I will bear it for thee."

Now, let's look at our text. Let us notice first

I. The Struggle Of Jesus

Jesus and His disciples had just concluded their observance of the Passover Feast - the Last Supper. In the darkness of night they had made their way through the narrow streets of Jerusalem toward the sheep gate, or Saint Stephen's gate as it is now called, which opens toward Gethsemane. Jesus cannot help but know within His heart that the sentiment of the people has begun to run against Him. The chief priest has denounced Jesus publicly. He has fired scathing reprimands at Jesus time and time again, and has attempted to discredit the words and the works of Jesus whenever possible.

The scribes and the Pharisees have also lent themselves to the effort to scandalize the name of Jesus. Many of the people were beginning to swallow the anti-Jesus propaganda hook, line and sinker.

After the Lord's Supper experience, Jesus and the disciples departed Jerusalem and went to a place outside the walls of the city, the place called Gethsemane. Apparently, the Lord did not stay in the city of Jerusalem at night. He had been rejected by the city, and so He rejected the city. It is thought that He spend every night of the final week of His life either in the garden of Gethsemane or in Bethany.

But our Savior must have carried a heavy heart as He made His way up the Mount of Olives into the garden of Gethsemane. How He must have been concerned for His disciples -- knowing what they would have to face in the weeks and months ahead. How He must have been burdened for those whom He had not been able to reach. On that night in Gethsemane, His countenance must have expressed every care, every heartache, every grief, every sorrow, every concern, every apprehension known to man.

Now, we know that Jesus took three disciples with Him into the garden. These three men were to constitute His support group. Our text tells us that it was Peter and the two sons of Zebedee. In other words, it was Peter, James and John. This is the third time He had shared a special occasion with these three men. The first occasion was when Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead. The second occasion was when Jesus went up to another mountain and was transfigured and "the fashion of his countenance was altered."

Dr. G. Campbell Morgan has pointed out that each of these occasions had something to do with death. In the house of Jairus, Jesus proved himself to be victorious over death. On the mount of transfiguration we see a preview of Jesus being glorified through death. In the garden of Gethsemane we see that Jesus was surrendered to death.

Since James was the first of the apostles to die, John, the last to die, and Peter experienced great persecution and eventually was crucified, these three lessons were very practical for their own lives.

Now, Jesus was the son of God and He knew full well that He would be raised from the dead, yet His soul experienced agony as He anticipated what lay before Him. In the hours ahead, He would be humiliated and abused and suffer shame and pain upon the cross. But even more, He knew that He would be made sin for us and separated from His Father. In verse 44 of Luke's account of the Gethsemane experience, the Bible says, "And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground."

Do you see the struggle? Do you see the intense struggle of Jesus to submit His will to the will of God? The breath of death was upon Him. No one wants to die at 33, and least of all does any man want to die in the agony of the cross.

So, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus had this supreme struggle. This is no play acting. This was a struggle in which the outcome swayed in the balance. The salvation of the world hung in the balance in the garden of Gethsemane, for even then Jesus might have turned back and God's purpose would have been frustrated. So in the garden He wrestled with an unseen foe. You see, at the beginning of our Lord's ministry Satan came and tempted Him. Satan offered our Lord the kingdoms of this world if He would worship him, but He would have to miss the cross, of course.

We are told by Luke that Satan left Him for a season. When did Satan return? I have an idea that Satan returned on many occasions, but there was a special effort at the beginning of the Lord's ministry to get Him to avoid the cross. Now, at the end of the Lord's ministry, this is the temptation of Satan once again.

So Jesus is in a struggle. That phrase, "in an agony," comes from two Greek words that is used only here in the New Testament. It speaks of a real conflict. It speaks of a contest between two mighty forces.

Our text tells us that this struggle was so intense that His sweat was "as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground." The Greek terminology here is "hosei thromboi hainatos." That is the terminology used to describe thick clotted blood. I don't know how to explain this, but there is a rare physical phenomenon known as "hematidrosis." This is a condition in which, under great emotional stress, tiny blood vessels rupture in the sweat glands and produce a mixture of blood and sweat.

I find it interesting that Adam sinned in a garden and was condemned to living by the sweat of his brow. Jesus, the last Adam, began to pay the penalty for the first Adam's sin by sweating those drops of blood as He sought to win the victory over sin's domain.

You see, in Gethsemane Jesus wrestled with an unseen foe. He overcame the enemy there and gained the victory. The victory of Calvary was won in Gethsemane.

So, in the garden of Gethsemane, we see the struggle of Jesus. But we also see

II. The Surrender of Jesus

This struggle in Gethsemane was a contest which issued in a surrender to the will of God, a submission to God's way.

Jesus said once, as He and His disciples talked at Jacob's well, "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work."

On another occasion, when Jesus and the disciples were in Capernaum, He said, "for I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me."

Earlier in His ministry in Jerusalem, Jesus said, "I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me."

The entire life of Jesus was a life of surrender and submission to the heavenly Father. But in this text His words, representing His yieldedness, are unequaled in their meaning, for He said, "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me, nevertheless, not my will but thine be done."

I've always enjoyed playing checkers. I used to play the kids a lot, and I always thought I was pretty good. But as they got older they got smarter and they began to beat me. It diminished some of my enthusiasm for playing checkers. But now my interest has been increased again, because I have found that most of the time I can beat my 3-year-old granddaughter Hayley.

We were playing on our vacation down in Hilton Head three weeks ago. And I was reminded that it is impossible to win at checkers without getting a king. The king can go in any direction. He is the king. It was always an exciting moment when I could slide my checker onto that back line and proudly declare, "Crown me!" It was such a good feeling to have a king.

Life has certain similarities to checkers. You like to be "crowned." We like authority because it lets us move whenever we choose. It lets us have our own way. Most people today seem to be bent on having their own way. Jesus did not do that. He did not seek His own will, but the will of the Father in heaven.

I got a letter a couple of weeks ago from this organization that provides speakers for churches and conferences and seminars, and I noticed that one of the speakers they had on their list was Dave Dravecky. Maybe you don't know who Dave Dravecky is, but he is a handsome, articulate Christian who was an outstanding left-handed pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. In 1988 he noticed a lump in his left arm. The doctors thought it was probably scar tissue and Dave forgot about it.

After beating the Los Angeles Dodgers on opening day in 1988, Dave thought that would be the year that he would win 20 games. But it was not to be. The lump in Dave's arm seemed a little bigger.

In September of 1988 Dave and his wife, Janice, learned that Dave had a tumor. They prayed immediately, and they prayed for God's will to be done, and surrendered to His will.

Dave underwent surgery and 50 percent of the deltoid muscles in his left shoulder were removed. The doctor said Dave would never pitch again.

But Dave Dravecky beat the odds. After extensive rehabilitation and training, Dave started his comeback in July of 1989. He pitched three complete games -- all victories. The Giants called him back to the big leagues. And only ten months after his surgery, Dave started against the Cincinnati Reds in Candlestick Park.

Dave prayed with several of his teammates and then started down the runway, expecting a small crowd on a Thursday afternoon. Butterflies swarmed in Dave's stomach and the lyrics to one of his favorite songs ran through his mind: "Give thanks with a grateful heart. Give thanks to the holy One. Give thanks because He's given Jesus Christ, His Son." When he stepped outside, this young pitcher could not believe his eyes.

A 60-foot line of reporters and photographers was there to greet him. The spectators leaped to their feet, cheering loudly. Embarrassed, but pleased, Dave Dravecky tipped his hat and began warming up while silently praising God.

When it was time for the game to start, he walked to the pitcher's mound. Again the crowd leaped to its feet and cheered. It was too much. Dave stepped off the mound...took a few seconds to pray and reflect. He thought about the day in 1981 when he had accepted Christ as his personal Savior. He knew that the real miracle was not his comeback experience in baseball, but his salvation experience with Christ.

Well, he won that game against Cincinnati. After that game he signed autograph after autograph. If any of you boys have an autograph by Dave Dravecky, you know that underneath his autograph he signs Romans 10:9, which says, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

Five days later, after that game with Cincinnati, Dave Dravecky was pitching a great game against the Montreal Expos. Then, in the sixth inning, thousands of viewers saw Dave release a pitch and fall to the ground clutching his left arm. The bone in his upper arm, made brittle from radiation treatment, had shattered. His professional baseball career had come to an end, the cancer reappeared and he later had surgery. But when asked about his situation, Dave Dravecky smiles and says, "Everything is in the Lord's hands. He knows what He is doing. He has already worked a miracle in my life. He died on the cross for me and now I have eternal life. What could be more miraculous?"

Everything that I can find out about Dave Dravecky would indicate that he is a genuine Christian who is submitted to the will of God. Have you been able to say, "Thy will be done," as Jesus said? Every man needs to have his own private Gethsemane experience so that he can learn to say, "Not my will, but thine be done." How we need to subdue our stubborn wills and lose our wills in the will of our heavenly Father.

Now we have looked at the struggle of Jesus and the surrender of Jesus. Let us consider

III. The Strengthening Of Jesus

In Luke's Gospel the Bible tells us that after the Gethsemane experience "there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him." In the Bible you will read of several occasions where angels ministered to the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible says that angels are "ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation." If you are a Christian, it is important for you to know that angels are one of the resources the Lord provides for you to encourage you and strengthen you in your daily walk.

You know, sometimes we fail to realize our potential because we fail to understand what is available to us. I don't know how you went about taking exams when you were in school. I was one of the eager beaver types. As soon as the test paper hit my desk I frantically tried to answer the questions as quickly as possible. I guess I had crammed so hard that I was sure I couldn't contain all that information very long, so I just let it gush out quickly.

Did you ever take a test that was so demanding that it seemed to require a thorough knowledge of the entire textbook. You found yourself sitting there agonizing to retrieve all the bits of information that you had stored up over the entire semester. You left the class drained and sure that you had performed poorly. You were eager to find someone to see if they had as much difficulty as you.

I remember going out one time and saying, "Boy, that was a tough exam. I can't believe anyone could expect us to recall all that information. I'm sure I must have flunked. How did you do?"

The guy I was talking to said, "What do you mean, hard? I thought it was pretty easy. Any time we have an open book test, I know I can do well."

I said, "Open book? Are you kidding?"

The other student said, "Didn't you read the directions? Didn't you use the book? No wonder you found it hard. Without a book it would have been impossible."

Sometimes we just don't understand all the resources available to us in Christ. We have angels to help us through our Gethsemane experiences. In fact, Dr. George Morrison said, "Every life has its Gethsemane, and every Gethsemane has its angel."

So the Lord Jesus Christ was strengthened by the angels. Once He had renewed His strength, He had the courage to face the one who would betray Him. In verse 46 of our text, Jesus says to the disciples, "Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me." In other words, Jesus was saying, "The time for prayer, the time for the garden, is past. Now is the time for action. Let us face life at its grimmest, and men at their worst." So strengthened by an angel, He arose from His knees to go out to the battle of life. That's what prayer is all about. In prayer, man kneels before God that he may stand erect in the face of men. In prayer, man enters heaven that he may face the battles of earth.

But let us move from the struggle of Jesus, the surrender of Jesus, and the strengthening of Jesus to consider

IV. The Sadness Of Jesus

Of course, the sadness of Jesus came about as a result of Him finding the disciples sleeping. So often today the church is not on her knees. The church is not wrestling in prayer. We have not had our Gethsemane experience, and consequently the church has not either. Folks, I'm just saying if there is no Gethsemane, there is no surrender to the will of God; there is no going on with God; there is no victory with God; there is no power with God.

I had the privilege of playing high school football. I started playing on the varsity team when I was in the tenth grade. The year before, our high school team had won the western North Carolina state championship. The year before, as a ninth grader, I had played on the junior varsity team. We had won every game on our schedule. We were looking forward to another excellent year. Because of the success we had had the year before, the team got new uniforms. Additional bleachers were added to the football field. We started the season with great enthusiasm. Our new gold helmets looked sharp. Our crisp gold pants and gleaming white jerseys with black numerals looked great.

But there was a minor hitch. We weren't playing up to expectations. I remember one particular game where the score grew more lopsided as the game progressed. Nothing was going right, and the enthusiasm of the fans began to diminish by half-time. The stands grew more vacant and the crowd more silent as the time wore on. That is to say, with the exception of my dad. Now, you need to know that my dad is the eternal optimist. He can see the silver lining behind every cloud. He is an encourager. As the stands emptied, he kept improving his seat. Finally, he was down front on the fifty-yard line. He was still yelling as if the outcome was still in question.

As the seconds ticked down, I began to watch my dad. I knew exactly what he was going to do. When the horn sounded he was going to turn onto the field and congratulate me with some positive comment on our performance.

I knew that he was going to congratulate me, but I knew that that was absolutely out of order. We were getting slaughtered. What would he possibly find good to say about this game? I decided that if he said anything good about the game I would deck him right there on the field. I want you to bear in mind that if I hit my father it would have been my only tackle of the night. I played defensive end.

Finally the horn sounded. I sprinted for the locker room, hoping to get inside before my dad could find me. No luck. He beat me there. He should have been playing, not me. He came up, threw his arms around me and declared, "You guys look great!"

I thought to myself, "Look great. Which game had he been watching? Maybe he is delirious with a fever."

But after a short pause, he finished his statement, "in the huddle." And he was right. We did look good in the huddle. We had crisp new uniforms, and mine wasn't even dirty. We lined up in good order, we broke the huddle in unison, we hustled to the line of scrimmage. We really did look good in the huddle. Our trouble started when we snapped the ball.

That's our problem in the church. We look pretty good on Sunday morning when we come together. We're all shined and polished and look real spiffy. We talk about our programs and our ministries and we call all the right plays. We gather in our Bible study classes and we talk about the power of God's Word to change our lives. We sit in our ministry meetings and talk about what we're going to do to enhance the kingdom of God. But then we dismiss and limp back to the line of scrimmage, not expecting anything to change. We just sort of look good in the huddle.

Folks, that's the only place we'll ever look good until we wake up from our sleep and really get before God and begin to agonize in prayer and surrender our wills to His will. Then we'll be strengthened by angels, and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit, to do mighty exploits for God.

So this morning I want you to stand in the hush of Gethsemane and listen. Do you hear the sob of our Savior's soul? Do you hear the falling drops of blood? Look yonder in the garden by an olive tree and see bending low an agonizing Savior who took upon himself your sins and mine. I believe that His surrender to the will of God in that garden ought to inspire our surrender to the will of God in this place today. Amen.