Never Alone

Matthew 26:36-44


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.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 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.”

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.”

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.”

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.

Dear Friends in Christ,

Have you ever noticed how many areas have urban legends floating around of ghosts and goblins and other scary creatures that supposedly inhabit the woods or the neighborhoods?  For example, when I met Marilyn many years ago down in Campbell Hill, she told me about the headless woman who supposedly roamed the cemetery located right next to the old country church she attended.  I spoke to others about this scary apparition and they confirmed the reports.  Some even claimed to have seen her.  People who lived in the former parsonage next to that church spoke of hearing strange noises in the night and of things being moved around in the house.

When I was in high school a real urban legend started making its way around our school about a Big Foot creature who supposedly lived beneath the train trestle a couple miles outside of town.  So guess what some of my friends and I did one night?  Our curiosity got the best of us and we headed out there.  For a good long while we sat on the thick beams that made up that trestle, waiting, watching, whispering, listening.  And then it happened.  We heard some rustling in the woods beneath us.  Though it was probably nothing more than a raccoon or possum, our overactive imaginations got the best of us and we hightailed it out of there and took off running down those railroad tracks.  In fact, I can distinctly remember being at the rear of the group, but when my adrenaline kicked in, I went streaking by everyone else at a speed I know I had never attained before and have never attained since.

Fear will do that to you, won’t it?  So may I ask you, what is your greatest fear?  While I was working on this sermon I came across a survey in which people responded to that very question.  Here are some of the answers they gave: outliving my children; being diagnosed with a terminal disease; bankruptcy; nuclear attack; a permanent disability; an extra long sermon from the preacher.  So what about you?  What would your list include?  Big foot monsters of fear are lurking out there, just waiting to suck the joy right out of our lives, the peace right out of our hearts, and the faith right out of our souls.

So what do we do?  Well, I want to suggest to you this morning that we look to Jesus and take note of how he faced his fears.  For as we look to him we will discover that he never faltered.  He never wavered.  He never caved in or gave in to his fears.  And at no other time in his life do we see a better example of this than when we behold him in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he was to hang on a cross and die.

How many of you here this morning have ever seen the Mel Gibson movie that came out 12 years ago entitled “The Passion of the Christ”?  Do you remember how that movie began?  It shows Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  And far from the typical pictures that we have of a stoic Christ praying in the garden like this one, we see a Jesus who is sweating, struggling, weeping, on his face, clawing the dirt.  Listen to how Luke describes the scene in the 22nd chapter of his Gospel: “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”  In one of my Lenten sermons this year I mentioned how I’ve always found it interesting that Luke is the only Gospel writer to record this part of what Jesus endured in the garden.  But it would have been of special interest to him since Luke was a physician.  And the bloody sweat that he alludes to here is an actual medical condition known as hematidrosis.  It occurs on rare occasions when a person is under an extreme amount of pressure, like that of a prisoner about to be executed, and that pressure causes tiny capillaries in the sweat glands to rupture, forcing the blood to come out through the pores in the skin and mingle with the sweat.

Matthew gives us even more insight into this volcano of anguish that was erupting within Jesus as he prayed in the garden.  In our text for today he writes: “Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 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.”  The original Greek language used by Matthew here suggests a repeated, constant action on Jesus’ part that kind of gets lost in our English translation.  It seems to me that to the original readers it would have sounded more like this: “Jesus went and fell and walked and fell and stood and prayed and fell.”  The picture that Matthew paints for us here is that of Jesus anxiously pacing around the garden, wrestling, agonizing, struggling as he prayed over what he knew was about to happen to him.

Now I don’t know about you, my friends, but I find it very tough to see Jesus like this, probably because at no other time in his ministry or life do we see him behaving in this manner.  Instead we see him fearlessly calming the storm at sea with a single statement: “Peace, be still.”  We see him courageously standing up to demons, resisting the temptations of Satan, opposing the powerful religious leaders of his day.  But when Jesus says to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” I think a good English paraphrase of that would be, “I’m scared to death, guys.  I need some help.  I need your support.”

Now what’s going on here?  I mean, isn’t Jesus the Son of God?  Isn’t he the Lord and Ruler of the universe?  Well, yes he is.  But by his own choice, he became a man, a man who allowed himself to feel and identify with the same emotions and fears that you and I experience when the pressures of life come crashing in upon us.  Which to me is very comforting for the writer to the Hebrews tells us: “…we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.”  What that means is that when I bring my fears to Jesus he call the angels together and say, “I wish that Doug Meyer would get his act together.  I wish he’d buck up and pull himself up by the bootstraps and get on with his life.  I heard all this fear talk from him last week.  What’s wrong with this guy anyway?”  No, Jesus doesn’t do that.  Instead, he understands and sympathizes with us because he’s been there and done that himself.

In fact, consider this about Jesus.  While we typically fear what might happen, he feared what he knew would happen.  According to his all-knowing divine nature, he could already feel the spit in his face; the fists of the Jewish leaders pummeling him, beating him, bruising him; the whip of Pilate’s soldiers shredding his back; the crown of thorns penetrating his scalp; and those rusty old spikes piercing his hands and feet.  He could hear the shouts of the crowd demanding his crucifixion, the taunts of those who would pass by the cross, the weeping of his mother at the foot of the cross.  But most of all, he could also foresee the sheer horror of bearing the sins of all mankind upon his shoulders and receiving the hellish punishment those sins deserved as he hung from the cross those 6 long, agonizing hours suspended between heaven and earth.

Yet in spite of all that he didn’t cave in to his fears.  He didn’t abandon his mission.  He didn’t try to escape out the backside of the garden when the soldiers came to arrest him as I’m sure I would have done.  He didn’t fall at all.

So how did he do it?  How did he hold up?  How did he face his fears?  We need to know the answer to those questions because sooner or later we’re going to find ourselves wrestling with our own fears.  So what can we learn from Jesus?

Two things: first of all, he gave his fears to his Father.  Apparently Jesus thought it was worth his time to spend some dedicated hours in prayer talking to his Heavenly Father about the fear that was gripping him.  Did you notice what I said there?  I said “hours.”  The way I read our text for today, Jesus spent approximately 3 hours there in the garden talking to his Heavenly Father about his fears.  Now you probably know what I’m about to say.  And you’re right.  If Jesus, the One who could walk on water and still the storm and heal the sick and raise the dead, felt that much of a need to pray in his time of turmoil, how much more shouldn’t we feel the same when the fears of life begin to overtake us and overwhelm us.

I don’t know how true this is because I’ve never counted them, but sometime ago I read an e-mail that said that the words “Fear not” appear in the Bible 366 times.  If that is true that’s pretty neat because that would equal out to one “Fear not” per day for an entire year including even a leap year.

The point being, God does not want you to face your fears alone.  He wants you to be like the bird Martin Luther once wrote about.  He said: “I have one preacher that I love better than any on earth.  It is my little tame robin, which preaches to me daily.  I put his crumbs on the windowsill.  He takes as much as he needs, flies to a little tree close by, lifts up his voice in praise to God, tucks his head back under his wing, and goes to sleep, leaving tomorrow to look after itself.  He is the best preacher I have on earth.”  Jesus would agree because he said something very similar in his Sermon on the Mount when he told his audience to pay attention to how God takes care of the birds of the air and reminded the people that they are of much more value than those birds.

So give your fears to God.  And then secondly, share your fears with a friend.  Please note that Jesus did not go into the heart of the Garden of Gethsemane alone, did he?  He took with him his 3 most trusted disciples Peter, James, and John and asked for their prayerful support.  So again, I ask you.  If Jesus needed a friend or friends to help him face his fears, don’t you think we just might too?

It’s been some years ago since I experienced firsthand exactly what I’m talking about.  I had a fellow Lutheran pastor in the area who disagreed very strongly with my attendance at Promise Keepers gatherings.  He also didn’t like some of the hymns that we were singing here since they weren’t right out of an official Lutheran Hymnal.  And in essence, his goal at that time was to get me removed from the ministry of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.  He made that very clear to me.  Needless to say, I was a bit fearful, a bit anxious about all this because this pastor was very determined and strong-willed.  So finally I shared my fears with our Elders.  And bless their hearts, one morning shortly after that about 6:30 there was a knock on my office door.  And in they walked.  They were there to share my burden, to express their support, to pray for me, and to give me this little sculpture that shows a compassionate Christ standing over a kneeling and anxious pastor.  The title of it?  “Never Alone.”  And oh what a lift it gave me that day to know that with Elders like that and a Savior like this, I would never be alone no matter what I would have to face.

So give your fears to your Heavenly Father as Jesus did and share your fears with a friend.  It might not make all your fears go away completely, but it will definitely help you to do what we’ve been talking about in my current sermon series.  It will help you to live a good news life in a bad news world because it will encourage you to know exactly what this sculpture says and what I’ve stated in my sermon title, namely, that you are never alone.