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.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 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.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 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. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” (Matthew 26:36-46)
I just finished reading Tim Keller’s The Obedient Master and I can’t remove my mind from the passage of Scripture above. I’ve just been meditating on it and considering it and allowing the Spirit to teach me from it. My goal is to share one point Keller makes and expand on it.
Through out the Old Testament, “the cup” is used as a picture of judgement, a picture of God’s wrath being poured out on a people who had broken covenant with him. It’s never used in connection with those who are faithfully keeping the covenant. The Prophets use a variety of images to describe this cup but one that’s arresting is “cup of staggering” (Is. 51:17, 22; Zech. 12:2). His wrath is so intense and so complete it makes even the most steadfast stagger. It takes them by surprise and knocks them off their feet.
In Matthew 26, we have Jesus who has faithfully kept all the law and fulfilled the covenant entering the Garden and getting a taste for the coming wrath of His Father. Something his tongue had never tasted before. The wine he shares with his Father previously had always be celebratory and joyful--the cup of communion. But here he is in the Garden: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”
What occurs next is astounding--the disciples fall asleep. They fail their friend in his most dire hour. They are children struggling to stay awake and engaged during family worship. We’ve all been there, am I right?
Jesus, on the other hand, prepares himself for the flood of God’s wrath on the cross by sampling that cup of staggering. He cries out, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Again he finds his disciples sleeping.
If that were you and I, in desperate need of friendship and communion, and instead receiving neglect and abandonment we would most likely be boiling over with anger. “How dare you sleep while I’m suffering! You call yourself friends? True friends would be listening and sympathizing with me.”
Yet Christ, while tasting the cup of wrath to come, chooses to cover the sin of his disciples. In the midst of their neglect, he still chooses to go to the cross for them. He sees their inability and declares, “I will not lose any of them.”
Many people say they will not follow Christ because they do not believe his grace will cover their filth. Keller responds and assures,
I know people who have said: “I would follow Christ, but I do not think I can keep i t up. I do not trust myself. I think he’d get tired of my failures.” Please look at him in the garden. Look what his love for you has already enabled him to endure for you. If he had turned away from suffering and the cross, we would have been lost, but he didn’t do that. Hell came down on him, and he would not let go of us. His love for us has already taken everything that the universe could throw at it and it held fast--and you think that you are going to somehow going to upset him? Is Jesus going to look at you and say, “Well, that does it! Infinite existential torment was one thing, but I can only take so much!”? (Kindle Location 245 of 842)
Friends, his disciples slept for you and me. They slept so God could show us how steadfast He is in pursuit of his beloved. He chooses suffering, death, and wrath in the very face of their failures, not in spite of them. Do not doubt he does the same for you. He does not bear the full brunt of God’s staggering cup of wrath only to be petty and trite with you and me. He bears the wrath so we can be clothed in righteousness. We then share his glory because we are united with Him by the Spirit.