SERMON TEXT BELOW
2nd Wednesday in Lent
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Vicar Kaleb Yaeger
March 8, 2023
Text and Audio: immanuelhamiltonchurch.com click “sermons”
Full Service Audio: bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship
I am afraid of heights. Well, less afraid of heights and more afraid of falling. Standing at the top of a well-engineered building? Fine. Sitting at the top of a waterslide, knowing that I am about to send myself hurtling toward the ground? Not fine. I get a gut-wrenching feeling of dread, the kind you can’t really think your way out of. In many ways, the anticipation is worse than the actual event.
I’m sure you can relate to that feeling of dread. It’s not just for heights or spiders or any kind of other phobia. It’s the same dread you get when you’re getting ready for the funeral of a loved one. It’s the kind of feeling that sits in your stomach, not in your heart or your head. Your body rebels against you. Your heart rate increases, your pupils dilate, your hands get sweaty. You, as is good and natural, don’t want to suffer. The anticipation is dreadful.
Jesus is no stranger to anticipation. He and the disciples have finished the Last Supper. Now, He goes out into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He knows what comes next. Judas is probably meeting with the Pharisees and scribes right now, arranging the details of his betrayal. This moment in Gethsemane is the calm before the storm. It is the moment before war breaks out.
Jesus is about to walk the road to Calvary. He is going down to fight. Jesus is going to Calvary to win. There, at the cross, He will accomplish victory. He will face the powers of sin, death and the devil and deal the final deathblow. Jesus will be like a juggernaut in battle. His presence will inspire fear in the enemy and comfort in His friends. Victory awaits Jesus on Calvary.
Suffering awaits Jesus too. He will be stripped, scourged and crucified. He will be beaten, mocked and condemned. Finally, His arms will be spread out on the cross and held there with nails until he suffocates. Pain and suffering. All in service to God. All in service to His victory. All so that He can deal the final blow to death itself.
But Jesus doesn’t want to suffer. Jesus has that feeling of dread in the pit of His stomach. Last week, we pondered Jesus’ divinity. This week, we see His humanity on full display.
Jesus is fully man. He has wants and needs. He gets hungry. He gets tired. He rejoices with His friends. He walked and talked on this earth in the same way that you or I do. Jesus is fully man. As full man, He shares completely in His humanity with you. Jesus weeps. He grieves. He faces hardship.
In our text today, Jesus dreads His suffering and death. He does not want to suffer or to die. He doesn’t want His disciples to abandon Him. He doesn’t want to be betrayed by Judas. In His divinity, Jesus knows what is coming. In His humanity, He doesn’t want to face it. He can almost hear the crack of the whip. He looks down at His hands and knows exactly where the nails will soon pierce Him. He knows each and every ounce of suffering that He is going to experience. So what does Jesus do?
He goes out into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. The burden of all the world’s sin weighs heavy on Him as He falls to His knees before the Father. Jesus takes His dread to His Father in heaven. He begs God that the cup of His wrath would be taken from Him. That there would be some other way to accomplish salvation for the world. Some way that would not leave Him scarred. Some way that would be less painful. If there is another way, another less dreadful way, then Jesus asks that God would do that instead.
But Jesus is not just full of dread. He is full of faith too. Jesus is perfectly obedient. God has given Him a charge, and He will surely do it. So Jesus, in perfect faith, says
“...not my will, but thine, be done.”
Jesus does not want to suffer. But He will obey His Father’s will. What is the will of God? In Jesus’ case, God’s will was for Christ to suffer. God did not answer with a voice out of a cloud. God did not take the cup of His wrath from His son.
This says two things about prayer. First, Jesus brought His dread to God. Jesus told God what He earnestly desired, that the cup of God’s wrath would be taken from Him. Jesus did not sin in this. This tells you that it’s ok to bring your full, honest feelings to God. Your feelings of dread. Your feelings of grief. Your pain and suffering, your tears and sadness.
It is alright to lament to God. To scream at the heavens. To ask God why He would let something so wicked and evil happen. It’s alright to ask that God take your pain and suffering away. Jesus did it and He did not sin.
But the example of Christ also tells us a much harder truth. You can ask God to take your pain away. But God might say no. It’s hard to hear, but God’s will may be for you to suffer. It was for Jesus. So not only should you pray that God would take our suffering away, but you should also pray as Jesus did:
“Not my will, but thine be done.”
God may not take your suffering away. But He will give you the strength to bear it. Because that’s what God did for Jesus. God strengthened Him to face what was to come. God will do the same for you. God will help you face what is to come. But God will not make your suffering easy. After Jesus prays, the text tells us
His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
Jesus is in agony. There is worse agony yet to come. The cross is not an easy thing to face. Sin is not an easy burden to bear. Even for Jesus. Jesus who is God. As full God, you might think that carrying sin should be easy for Jesus. But it’s not. The burden of sin is heavy, even for Him. So if Jesus, who is fully man and fully God, finds it hard to carry your sins to the cross, how much harder must it be for you to carry your own sins? You are a mere human being. So it should be no surprise that you cannot bear your suffering alone.
In this way, suffering is a gift. It reminds you of the impossible weight of your sin. It reminds you that you cannot stand on your own. It reminds you of your weakness. But God’s power is made perfect in weakness. Suffering shows all the parts of your life that aren’t perfect. It destroys your self-image. It shows you your faults and failures.
Most of all, suffering shows you that you need help. You cannot bear the evils of this life alone.
Dear Christian, you are not alone.
You are not alone in your pain. You are not alone in the darkness. You are not alone when you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Right there, by your side, is Jesus. Jesus, who loves you. Jesus, who humbled Himself to die for you. In the midst of your suffering, your loving Lord is with you on the cross.
Jesus is not some distant, far-off God who doesn’t really understand you. Jesus is fully man. Jesus knows what pain is. He knows grief. He knows sorrow. He knows suffering, physical, mental and spiritual. And through it all cuts His love for you. Love that drove Him to accept God’s will. Love that gave Him the strength to face His betrayal. Love that carried Him to the cross.
Jesus suffers with you. He knows what you are going through. He’s been through it too. He’s been in the darkness. His life was hard. His life was short and full of pain. Jesus knows from personal experience just how difficult life can be. That’s why He went through it all. So He could be with you when you need Him most.
Jesus submitted to God’s will. He subjected Himself to the evil of Judas, the Pharisees and the Romans. All in service to God’s will. God’s will is always right. God works all things for the good of those who love Him. You might not see that good now. You might not see the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe your world is dark, bleak, and full of pain. Pain has a way of blinding you to its end.
Let me assure you: Better days will come. The darkness will not last forever. God will work it for your good. God has your eternal good in mind. Maybe your suffering will last your entire life. But it will not last forever. Through the sufferings and death of Jesus, God has prepared a place for you. There, you will finally be free from sorrow and pain. There, your suffering will come to an end. There, you will meet your Lord face to face. You will see His tender love for you marked in His hands, His feet, and His side. At last, you will join in the heavenly feast that those scars won for you. Everlasting to everlasting, your joy will know no end.