The Wound of Apathy: Matthew 26:36-45

Jesus did not want to be alone as He wrestled in prayer that night.  How often we forget that our blessed Lord was, and is, fully human!  He needed the comfort of companionship.  He needed encouragement from others.  And so, as Jesus leaves the larger group of His disciples behind, He takes with Him His closest, three friends: Peter, James, and John.

It is then that Jesus can no longer contain the sorrow and grief that is weighing Him down.  He says, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow–to the point of death.  Stay here, and keep alert with me” (Matthew 26:38).  Jesus then stumbled a few steps further and fell down on His face in prayer.

Before the eyes of His soul that night was the cup.  For us to understand “the cup,” we must go back to the Old Testament.  David sang: “In the hand of the LORD is a cup full of foaming wine.  It is well mixed, and He pours out of this.  All the wicked of the earth will drink, draining it to the dregs” (Psalm 75:8).  Isaiah foretold of a time to come when the cup would pass from the people: “Thus says your Lord, the Lord, your God who pleads the cause of His people: ‘Behold, I have taken the cup of staggering, the goblet of my wrath, from your hand.  You will never drink it again’” (Isaiah 51:22).

So, the cup that God the Father set before our Lord for Him to drink to the last drop, to the bitterest dregs, was the cup containing His wrath.  It was God’s wrath against your rebellion, your lack of love, your passing of judgment on others, your selfish acts, your indulging the flesh, and your spiritual apathy.

Such wrath was set before Jesus–and He saw it!  And He knew exactly where it would lead.  Jesus quotes from Zechariah: “I [the Lord] will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered” (Matthew 26:31).  And so our Lord receives His Passion fully from the hands of His Father.

But how Jesus struggled with it!  None of us is nearly as frightened of hell as we should be.  For hell is being in eternity without Christ’s righteousness to make you holy.  And if that’s the case, you will experience eternity, not as a child of Light, but as if being on fire.  None of us can begin to fathom this burning and unsatisfied thirst.  But Jesus–the Eternal Word of the Father, made flesh of the Virgin–He knows.  And before this reality, looking into the eternal poison in the cup, He trembles.

He trembles and begs the Father that, if possible, some other way may be found, some different approach, something other than the cup before Him.  He looks over the brim of the cup into its fathomless depths, and He shakes in terror.

We sin so carelessly.  We say, “God will forgive,” as if it’s nothing.  “After all, He’s merciful, loving, and kind.”  Go with your Lord toGethsemanetonight, and see with your own eyes whether it’s nothing.  Look at Him as He trembles before the eternal poison, which we foolishly choose over and again when we willingly sin.

See Jesus as He lifts His eyes from the cup to His Father and pleads for some other way.  But then see our Savior show that radical and supreme difference between Himself and all the other sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.  See Him lower His eyes to the cup again and say, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.”

Looking into that cup has exhausted and terrorized Jesus.  And so He turns back to His friends for the comfort they can give.  But here another wound strikes Him.  As He has struggled with the terrors of death and hell for them, they have fallen asleep.  “Peter!” He cries, startling them awake.  “Couldn’t you stay awake with me one hour?  Stay alert and pray, so you won’t give in to temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:40-41).

Weak: that is what our flesh is.  It’s weak.  And so we wound our Lord with our apathy.  We wound Him with our unconcerned sinning.  We add to the terrors of the cup He must drink.  Surely, Jesus’ words of warning will keep His disciples awake and in prayer!  The most-terrifying events of their discipleship are only moments away now.  Surely, they will realize and pray.  But no!  They are like us after all, or we are like them?

Jesus turns back and again makes the same struggle in prayer.  Then He returns for comfort from His friends and again He receives only apathy.  They are sound asleep.  He is alone.  He turns back for His final prayer.  The sweat falls from Him like drops of blood under the pressure of His “yes” to the Father’s will.

Jesus will do it.  He will go forward to drink this cup.  He will do so, trusting that, after drinking down the poison of our fallen race and experiencing the penalty of our disobedience, His sacrifice will not be in vain.  The Father will accept His suffering in your place.  Look into the face of your Lord as He rises from that final prayer.  What do you see now?  You see peace.

Such peace came from His prayer.  Such peace came from His trust in the Father.  To surrender to the One who has loved you with an everlasting love is, in the end, not terror, but joy.  It’s joy no matter how dark the path.

In such peace, Jesus turned back to His disciples for the last time.  Their apathy can wound Him no more.  He is going forth to swallow it down with all their sins and the sins of the whole world.  So, while they slept, He won the battle–and He won it alone!  He will now go forth to meet His betrayer.  He wakes up His disciples from their sleep to meet the terrors to come.

And seeing Him march forth to meet this end in peace, we sing these words.

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered was all for sinner’s gain.  Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.  Lo, here I fall, my Savior!  ’Tis I deserve Thy place.  Look on me with Thy favor, and grant to me Thy grace. (LSB 450:3)

As Jesus looked in pity on the three disciples, so He looks in pity on me and you.  By our Lord’s struggle to drink the cup and empty it for us forever, He shows us that He will never be apathetic about us.  The One who drained that cup can be counted on to save us to the utmost.

Indeed, to Him be all glory with His all-holy Father and the life-giving Spirit, now and into the ages of ages!  Amen.