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Rock Springs Christian Church

Preparing for Easter

Title:Preparing for Easter

Text:Matthew 26:36-46 NLT

 

            If Easter had a logo it would be most associated with bunny rabbits, chocolate eggs, chocolate coins, and really chocolate anything. For many of us chocoholics after 4 months of famine since the Christmas gluttony, Easter comes as a welcome reprieve from regular candy. Yet how often do we think about preparing for Easter?

 

            Are you expecting some advice on how to prepare yourself for the ability to consume 5 chocolate eggs in 24 hours, are you expecting advice on what to pack for trips to the relatives over the Easter period. Well if so I fear you will be sorely disappointed.

 

            Even within churches Easter is seen as a high point. A time of celebration where we remember a risen Jesus Christ today. A time for joy, happiness, and triumph both within and outside the church. Again if you are expecting this you will be disappointed. Today I want us to spend some time looking at how 1 character in the Bible prepared for Easter. I want us to consider what they did, what they said, and the circumstances that surrounded them, and from that I hope we may draw some lessons for our lives.

 

OPENING PRAYER

 

            The passage is Matthew 26:36-46, “36 Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” 37 He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. 38 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 40 Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? 41 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” 42 Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open. 44 So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!” NLT.

 

            I want to share a story with you that will help to set our minds on the right path for this morning’s message. There was once a small girl who had never seen her father anything but cheerful. As long as she could remember, he seemed to have been smiling at her. He had smiled when she was born, the daughter he had longed for. He had smiled as he held her in his arms and helped her to learn to eat and drink. He had laughed as he played with her, encouraged her with games and toys as she learned to walk, chatted brightly as he took her to school.

           

            If she hurt herself, his smile and gentle kiss helped her to relax and get over it. If she was in difficulties or trouble, the shadow that would cross his face was like a small cloud which hardly succeeded in hiding the sun; soon the smile would come out again, the eager interest in some new project, something to distract, to move on to new worlds, and then one day it happened.

 

            To begin with she wasn’t told why. He came back home from a visit, and with a look she’d never seen before went straight to his room. Ever afterwards she would remember the sounds she then heard, the sounds she never thought to hear.

 

            It was the sound of a strong healthy man weeping for a dead sister. It was of course a necessary part of growing up. In most families, grief would have struck sooner. Looking back, she remained grateful for the years when smiles and laughter were all she could remember. But the shock of his sudden vulnerability, far more than the fact of the death of her aunt and all that it meant, were what made the deepest impression.

 

            I think Gethsemane was the equivalent moment for the disciples. Up to this point in the gospels Christ has been surrounded by 100’s. So many different characters, so much activity, so many healings, so many miracles, tax collectors, politicians, prostitutes, divorcees, soldiers, priests, Pharisees, and fisherman.

            The gospels paint a picture of a Jesus who interacts, cares and loves the world, and yes spending time on his own. Here in this story, we begin to see the characters surrounding Jesus melt away into the background, and the weight of what’s coming starting to truly take its toll on the man Jesus. Matthew 26:38, “38 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” NLT.

 

            Jesus wept, Jesus embraced others, Jesus healed, but nowhere have we read before such sentiment as this. Something is different, in this story we are entering into new territory, and just as the crowds around him peel way we are invited in to an even greater depth of who He is than ever before.

 

            Even then He leaves a distance between them. Asking them to “stay here and keep watch with me”, and then He prays alone. This is the first picture I want us to hold on to the Christ who goes on alone (picture of Jesus alone in the Garden). We see in the later verses how even the disciples fall asleep.

           

            This story follows after the Last Supper so it is pretty late, and the disciples are tired and here in the depths of the night Jesus is alone poring out his heart to the Father. Why is he alone? In virtually all of his ministry He has invited his disciples alongside to get involved to share the work. Yet here He is alone

 

            Why is this so important? Only He can take up the Cross and die for the world, only the Son of God can be hung on the cross for the sins of the world. No other can walk this path; no other can go this way. Only him. Some have said that Christ is in sorrow because He will die.

 

            There are many times He has been in danger for his life, and yet showed no fear, surrounded by Pharisees who wanted to stone him and yet we read that He was unafraid. Yet here alone we see a man frightened and troubled. There can be only one reason, because He knows that his life mission has come to save each one of us by dying on a cross and suffering for our sins so that we are forgiven.

 

            Let us never forget this picture of the lonely Christ. At every stage of life we can feel that we are alone. As a teenager we can feel like no one understands us. As a 20 something we can sense people don’t know the pressures that confront us. As a married couple we can feel alone in times of pain and trouble. As a family we can feel the weight of burden to provide or to care and look after the household, and as we get older there is that very real sense that we are alone.

 

            At each stage of life and in the different circumstances we can see “they don’t understand, others cannot fathom what this is like, to bear this burden, to face this problem”. Yet here we have a Christ who stood alone in the knowledge that He bore the sins of the world. Christ went alone that we might never be alone or separated from him. The Christian promise is that when we become Christians Christ promises to live in us, by His Holy Spirit, Matthew 28:20,“…I am with you always to the very end of the age.” NLT.

 

            Isn’t it remarkable that people can ask the question “Where is God?” Here in Gethsemane we have a Christ who stood alone for us. In Christianity we proclaim a God who stood alone so that we might never be alone whatever our circumstance in life. I would hope as a church we would stand together with each other in the circumstances and situations that we face, but the reality of it all is that may not be there for whatever reason.

 

            Second image(insert picture of Jesus looking up in prayer) I want us to consider is that of the prayer of Christ in Matthew 26:42, “42 Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.” NLT.

 

            If you look at the difference in the prayers found in v39 & v42. You will see the contrast between these 2 prayers, and you will see how Christ moves from “if it is possible” to the realization “if it is not possible”.

 

            This phrase “your will be done” should sound familiar – as it comes straight from Matthew 5 where Jesus is teaching the disciples how to pray. How different have our prayers become? Look at the standard transition in our prayers: “Lord thy will be done” becomes “Lord if it’s really needed then OK” to “Lord I don’t think it’s really necessary” to “Lord I don’t want to do this and here are 10 good reasons” to “I don’t want to do this because of these logical rational reasons”.

 

            But here in the moment, at the place where the battle was fought will the Son submit to the will of the Father? We see his answer in the prayer “thy will be done.”

            Do you remember the Lord’s Prayer? In a very real way God’s kingdom could not have come unless Jesus was willing to do the will of the Father, but also we should not expect God’s kingdom to come, to transform our lives, our neighbors lives, we shouldn’t expect to see healings, and answered prayer UNLESSwe are willing to seek the Lord’s will.

           

            I fear that far too often we expect God’s kingdom to come and great things to happen to us in our church and our lives without submitting to the will of God. Yet often we run our lives as if God doesn’t exist.

 

            One of the integral steps of preparing for Easter is to pray “thy will be done”.The way of Jesus was the ways of obedience to the Father’s will, the cross. The last picture (insert picture of sleeping disciples)I want us to consider is that of the sleeping disciples.

 

            I remember being a new Father where sleep was a word that was very sweet to my ears, and in some ways I have sympathy for the disciples. The hour was late, they had shared a meal together so they would have likely had full stomachs, and Jesus is calling them to watch and pray.

 

            I believe there is both a near range and a long range meaning for the disciples. Clearly, Christ wanted others to stand with him as He faced the cross, to watch and pray, but the disciples show their humanness by failing to do so. In his moment of need He wanted them to stand with him, to pray with him, but we see that He was to tread the path that only He could tread alone.

 

            By sleeping they revealed their own sinfulness and it stands as a picture of the uniqueness of Christ to stand in our place. So in these words there is a very real short-term meaning. It was here in Gethsemane, without the Holy Spirit, that when they were asked to keep watch they failed.

 

            I also believe there was a longer term meaning. Jesus knew that they would face beatings, persecution, that their faith would be tested after He left them: Matthew 24:9-13, ““Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. 10 And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. 11 And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. 12 Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” NLT.

 

            Christ knew what was needed for them, and that was a devoted prayer life. When someone says that Christianity is a man made religion I challenge them to look at the disciples before and after the resurrection. Here in Gethsemane we see Christ pleading with them to stay awake with him, to pray with him. I think that the spirit was willing, but the flesh is weak and they fail him and fall asleep TWICE. Just a few weeks later we see a Spirit filled people who can’t stop praying.

 

            In Gethsemane we can see the picture of Christ standing alone, praying thy will be done, but urging the disciples to “Stay awake and pray.” That they might be a people who did not fall asleep and become self reliant, but would be committed to prayer. How true it is that though the flesh is weak we have a Spirit that is more than willing to help us in our prayer.

 

            I believe we live in an age where these words of Christ are more relevant than ever. Temptation is around every corner. Temptation to be unfaithful to one’s partner, temptation to put one’s job above all else, temptation to strive after the bigger and better, temptation to hide Christ from those who need him. Yet the words of Christ come back to speak to us “Watch and pray, Watch and pray.”

            Every day we should watch how we live, watch what we do, watch who we are copying, watch our lives, and commit them in prayer to Jesus. Will we listen to these last words of Jesus to us, “watch and pray.” Yes – the body is weak, but how good it is that the Spirit is stronger. Christ died to rescue us from the penalty and consequence of sin and temptation, and urges us to watch and pray so that we will not fall.

 

            So, as we prepare for Easter there are 3 pictures that I want you to take with you to contemplate and own for yourself. One may be more relevant than another, but each of them requires an action.

 

            We have looked at the loneliness of Christ (insert picture of Jesus alone) so that we may not be alone. I don’t know if you have accepted Jesus Christ into your life. If you haven’t yet the offer of Christ is here for you today. He prayed alone in a garden, and hung alone on a cross that you might be forgiven.

 

            You may feel alone in a situation or a circumstance. Christ stood alone in a garden for you, took upon himself your sins and that of the world, so that you could come to him in your aloneness.

            We have looked at the submission of Christ to the Fathers will (insert picture of Jesus looking up in prayer). Maybe there is a situation where you are trying to do it on your own or a something you are struggling with, but Christ’s example calls us to pray “thy will be done.”

 

            Finally we have looked at the command of Christ to “watch and pray” and the failure of the disciples (insert picture of sleeping disciples). Maybe there is temptation that you are struggling with at the moment. Just remember that though the flesh is weak the spirit is stronger!

 

            I want to end with one last scripture (insert picture of empty cross). Hebrews 4:14-16, “14 So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. 15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” NLT.

 

CLOSING PRAYER

 

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