“Lessons From Gethsemane” (Matthew 26 sermon)

I read this last week where the famous pro golfer Jack Nicklaus said that if he had only one round of golf left to play in his life, he would play it at Pebble Beach (just south of San Francisco, California, one of the iconic golf courses in the country).

Which raises the question: what would you do, if you had one more day to live; one more thing to do with your life?  In Matthew 26 this week, we read where Jesus had one more hour before He would be arrested and go to the cross to die for our sins. What He chose to do with that hour says something important, doesn’t it? He didn’t spend it getting one last lesson in with His disciples; He didn’t spend it trying to preach one more sermon. Matthew 26 says He spent that last hour in prayer, in the Garden of Gethsemane. That should tell us something about what Jesus thought was the most important thing He could do in His last hour.

There are several very important lessons we can learn from Matthew 26 and the Garden of Gethsemane. Let’s look at some of them:

I.  There Is Only One Way To Heaven

Now, someone could say, “I don’t remember seeing that when we read that passage a minute ago …” and the truth is, it does NOT explicitly declare anywhere in these verses that “there is only one way to heaven,” but what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane does in fact teach that very clearly:

— In :39, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” Jesus was asking the Father, if it is POSSIBLE, please let me not have to go through this.

— Then in :42 He prays again, “If this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.”

— Then :44 says He prayed the same thing again … 

So three times Jesus asked the Father that IF it were possible, to “let the cup pass;” that He would not have to go through what He was about to face at the cross. If there’s any other way to do it besides that, let’s do it. Now let us be clear: Jesus was not “afraid” of the physical suffering of the cross; of the scourging and the nails and the crown of thorns. Heroes throughout history have faced great physical suffering and torture and Jesus could have too. It was not that physical suffering which caused Him such revulsion; it was that God going to pour out His wrath for the sins of the world upon HIM on the cross. Jesus was perfect, and had never sinned, He had always had a perfect love relationship with His Father, but He was going to bear in His body the sin of the whole world (as I Peter 2 says) and God would pour out His wrath and punishment for all our sins on Him, and treat HIM as if He were sin, so that Jesus would call out, as we read this week in Psalm 22, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” That suffering of the wrath of God; that separation of the unbroken fellowship He had had with His Father, is what Jesus did not want to undergo. 

So basically, Jesus was asking His Father here, that if there is any other way that He could accomplish what they were aiming at here — the redemption of mankind from sin — if there was any other way to do it, would you please do it that other way instead. But then He added those crucial words, but if not, “Thy will be done.” 

That’s a reasonable request, isn’t it? If there’s some other way, let’s do that. If not; I’m on board; I’ll do it. But if there IS any other way, please, let’s do it that way instead. 

So what happened? God sent Jesus to the cross. So what does that tell us? It tells us that THERE WAS NO OTHER WAY OF SALVATION! Had there been any other way, God would not have sent Jesus to the cross, and poured out His wrath for our sin on Him. You don’t do something like that unless you HAVE to; unless it is the only way. 

During World War II, the United States was advancing on the territories the Japanese had captured in the Pacific. Several islands had been captured at great cost to American lives. General Douglas MacArthur, on the other hand, seemed to be just “inching along” in his battle front, in the Philippines. Some of the American press asked MacArthur why he was moving so slowly, and he told them he wanted to use his artillery and aircraft to pummel the enemy first, before he sent his troops in. He said I could capture Leyte (the Philippine island) in two weeks if I wanted to, but he said, “I won’t!” He said, “I have too great a responsibility to the mothers and wives in America to do that to their men. I will not take by sacrifice what I can achieve by strategy.’”

I think most people can appreciate what MacArthur was saying. He was saying, the blood of our soldiers, our sons, our husbands, is precious. He was saying I am not going to shed their blood unless it is absolutely necessary; and if there is another way to do it, I’m going to do that. I’m not going to send them to their death unless there is no other way. (William Manchester, American Caesar, p. 395)

That’s exactly how it was in the Garden of Gethsemane. God the Father was not going to send His only begotten Son to die on the cross, and pour out His precious blood, unless it was absolutely necessary; unless there was NO other way. Had there been any other way, God would have taken it. But God sent Jesus to the cross, because it was absolutely necessary. There was no other way.

That’s why it’s no good talking about any other ways of salvation. There are none. If there are, why did God send Jesus to the cross? Just take one of those other ways instead! But the truth is, there IS NO OTHER WAY. Jesus Himself said in John 14:6, “I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” 

Jesus didn’t go through Gethsemane and the cross for nothing. He did it because it was THE ONLY WAY you could be saved. That means if you want to be right with God; if you want your sins forgiven, and want to go to heaven one day, there is only one way for you to do it: repent of your sins and trust Jesus as your Lord & Savior. There are no other options; there is no “plan B.”

And by the way: that means there is no “Plan B” for your loved ones, or your neighbors, or for people in Bulgaria and all around the world. That’s why we need to be sharing Jesus with people we know; that’s why we need to be going on mission. Because there is no “Plan B.” It’s Jesus or nothing. Gethsemane showed us that there is only one way to heaven. 

II. We Need A Personal Gethsemane

As we saw, Jesus prayed, ”My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39) The words Jesus spoke here are some of the most important that any of us can ever speak:  “Not as I will, but as YOU will.” 

Those words are the essence of obedience, and submission to God. Jesus did not “feel” like bearing our sins in His body on the cross. He had just asked that if it was possible, that He wouldn’t have to go through this.  But then He added those crucial last words: “Yet not as I will, but as You will.” And with that climactic decision to obey His Father despite the battle raging in His soul and body, our salvation was secured. He would go to the cross, despite the agony that lay ahead. He would pay for our sins. We would have an opportunity to repent and be saved.  

But these words, or something similar to them, are also crucial for us as followers of Jesus. Through the course of our Christian life, God will from time to time command us to do things which we may not “feel” like doing at the moment. We may feel like they are very costly, or very humbling, or very painful. But it will be a major step in our growth as Christians, when we  come to a point like Jesus did in His prayer, in which we say “Yet not as I will, but as You will;” when we have a “personal Gethsemane,” and say to God, “I don’t ‘feel’ like doing this, but because You ask me to, I am going to do it, and I will obey You. Thy will be done.” That’s what Jesus did for us; and that’s what God wants US to do as His followers too. 

John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, wrote to a friend of his and said:  “And as we have chosen Him for our physician, let us commit ourselves to His management, and not prescribe to Him what He shall prescribe for us.” (John Newton to Miss Mary Barham, Letters of John Newton, Josiah Bull, ed., p. 221)

Newton had a great ministry of counseling through letters, and that is some great advice right there, isn’t it? You’ve chosen God to be your Great Physician; then LET HIM BE the Physician; (You could picture a doctor saying that to you, couldn’t you? “Let ME be the doctor!”) It’s the same with the Lord. Don’t tell Him what’s best for you; you let HIM tell YOU what the best is. We need to just submit to God’s “prescriptions” and say, “Thy will be done.”

So as Christians, we shouldn’t get up in the morning and ask ourselves, “What do I want to do today” or “What do I feel like doing today?” As followers of Christ, we have surrendered our will to Jesus Christ as our Lord. We are not here today to do “our will” or “whatever we feel like doing;” we are here to do GOD’S will; what HE commands us to do — and that may very well NOT be what “we feel like doing”!  

We need to remind ourselves of this, every day as we start the day. And in fact, Jesus has built this IN to our day, in the third request of the Model Prayer: “Our Father who art in heaven; hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come … (What’s next?) THY WILL BE DONE.”  Jesus put that line in the Model Prayer which we can use as an outline for our prayers, so that every day (hopefully every morning as you begin your day) you will start off that day praying, “Lord, YOUR will be done today.” Not MY will; not what I want to do; not what I “feel” like doing. But what YOU have for me to do today. Jesus is teaching us in that prayer to surrender our wills to God’s will  every day. It is a kind of “Daily Gethsemane,” in which we give up our plans and our wills to God every morning, and say to Him like Jesus did, of the events and activities of our own day: “Yet not as I will, but as You will.” “God, YOUR will be done.” It’s one of the best things you can pray at the beginning of the day. Make sure you surrender your day, your plans, your will to Him every day, in a personal, “daily Gethsemane”: “Thy will be done.” 

III. The Importance of a Committed Hour 

And speaking of our morning devotional times with God, this is another lesson we find here: the importance of an hour committed to the Lord.

:40 says: “And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter: ‘So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?'”

What a pathetic response the disciples had, to an amazing privilege!  How blessed Peter, James & John were, that Jesus took them with Him into the heart of the Garden of Gethsemane! Verse 36 tells us that He had commanded most of the disciples to “sit here” while He went further to pray. But then :37 says that He actually took Peter, James & John with Him deeper into the Garden, where He poured out His heart to His Heavenly Father in prayer. It was an amazing invitation: to be invited into His “inner ring”, and to witness one of the pivotal moments of all history, as Jesus conversed with His Father about His impending atonement. That would have been the single greatest highlight in the life of any person who could have been there. 

But what did they do with this amazing privilege that Jesus gave them? Verse 40 says “He … found them sleeping.” They didn’t gaze at the glorious spectacle of Jesus’ prayer with the Father. They didn’t hang on His every word. They didn’t wait breathlessly, knowing their own salvation and indeed that of the whole world hung on the outcome of this. Instead, they fell asleep! Let that sink in: They. Fell. Asleep!!  And Jesus confronted them about it: “So, you men could not watch with Me for one hour?” His disappointment is just dripping all through the words of the verse: “not … for one hour?” It wasn’t asking that much: just an hour of their attention and prayer. And yet they were unwilling or unable to make even that minimum commitment, in the midst of one of the greatest opportunities that anyone has ever had, in all of history! 

But before we condemn these men too harshly, maybe we should examine our own lives first? We too have received an amazing invitation, haven’t we? Through Jesus Christ we have been reconciled to God, and we are now we have the amazing opportunity to have personal fellowship with Him, every day. Every day we can speak to God in prayer, and He says He will hear us! Every day we have the opportunity to hear straight from God in His word. John exulted in I John 1:3, ”Our fellowship is with the Father”, he said. What an amazing privilege: we have the opportunity every day to fellowship with the God of all creation, who has all wisdom, power, glory and love!  

And yet, what have we done with this glorious invitation? Have we made it the first and greatest priority of our day to get up and spend time with Him in His word, and speak to Him in prayer? Or have we instead followed in the footsteps of His disappointing disciples and made sleep a bigger priority than we have the Lord?  Some of us may need to hear the voice of Jesus this morning, saying to us what He did to Peter, James & John: “So, you could not watch with Me for one hour?” Are WE making sleep more important than the Lord? Are WE giving an hour to other things, that we are not willing to give to Him? 

I think SO many people would agree, at least “in theory,” that it would be good to give God an hour of prayer and worship and His word every day. “Can you not watch with Me one hour?” It’s a legitimate request from the Lord. He’s given us 24 hours a day. Spend at least one hour with Him. But how hard we find it.

I think of the testimony of a man when we were living in Norman, who said that he was convicted to pray for an hour; he had never done that. So he went outside to a garden spot, got down on his face, and he said he prayed for everything he could think of; and then prayed for it all again; and then prayed for it all a THIRD time. And he looked at his watch — and literally only FIVE MINUTES had gone by!  

Most of us are just not used to giving God an hour. It’s so hard!  But what’s so ironic is that we give other things an hour, don’t we? Or even more! And it’s not hard, either!

— When we’re watching tv, an hour’s not that long … that’s just one show; or maybe two sitcoms … it’s not that much …

— Or shopping. Some of you ladies would say, if someone was going to give you an hour to shop; why bother? That’s not long enough, is it? An hour is nothing when you’re shopping.

— Or golfing, or hunting or fishing — an hour doesn’t even get you started, does it?

We give an hour or so much MORE to so many things. 

So I have a question: Is it only for the things of GOD that it is hard for us to give an hour? 

— Some of us should really examine our commitment to the things of God, and be willing to give HIM what we are giving some other things in our lives.

— Some of it just a matter of “stretching” ourselves. I am not saying you necessarily need to just jump in and start spending an hour with the Lord tomorrow morning if you haven’t been doing anything near that; but START giving Him MORE time. 

I bet some of us have been doing that with our Daily Bible Readings. Maybe last year you were just reading a chapter, or a verse, or a devotional — but now you are spending 15-20 minutes or more doing the three readings. And then you spend some time in prayer in addition. That starts adding up; soon you are going to find it is not a stretch for you to spend 30 minutes, or 45 — or an hour, by the time you do your Bible reading, write down what God is showing you, spend some time in prayer — maybe using the outline of the Model Prayer. You can spend an hour pretty easily — and really, as you grow in your walk with the Lord, it’s very easy to do much more than an hour.  

And we should be WILLING to give Him that; we should work towards. Over time, you can find it to be your greatest JOY in giving the Lord an hour each day. Let’s make it to where spending an hour with the Lord is not a big deal for us any more. Jesus says here: “Could you not watch with Me one hour?”  May our answer to Him be: “YES, Lord, I will!”  

IV.  We Can Pray To Avoid Temptation

When Jesus found His disciples sleeping, unable to watch for an hour, :41 says that He told them: “keep watching and praying, THAT YOU MAY NOT ENTER INTO TEMPTATION.” I think that is a very instructive statement.  Evidently there are certain temptations we can avoid, IF we will seek God in His word & prayer beforehand.

And we see this, again, in the Model Prayer Jesus gives us in Matthew 6. The very last of the 6 requests of that model outline is: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Just like here in Matthew 26, Jesus is teaching us there to PRAY that we will not come into temptation. 

As I mentioned when we studied the Model Prayer last year, I think the placement of this request not to be led into temptation is significant. It comes right after the 5th request, which is: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  So after we spend time asking God to forgive us of our sins in the 5th request, THEN we come to the 6th, where we pray, “AND … lead us not INTO temptation.” Do you see how they go together? We just confessed our sins to God, and now we ask Him, “Lord, lead us not INTO temptation.” Help me not to go into sin again. But instead of asking forgiveness, now it’s “help me not to DO IT in the first place.”  It’s kind of like the old adage: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” If we spend more time praying to AVOID temptation today, we may spend less time asking forgiveness tomorrow!  

If this is true — and from the scriptures here we see that it is, then we need to be praying these kinds of prayers; we need to be praying not to be led into temptation — and not only for ourselves; we need to pray it for our husband or wife, for our kids, grandkids, and our other loved ones. Don’t wait until they get into trouble to pray for them; PRAY NOW! Pray PREVENTIVE prayers. Pray, “Lord, lead them not into temptation, but deliver them from evil.” It’s got to be one of the most important kinds of prayers you can learn to pray. 

And again, I think it’s why it’s such a good practice to follow the prayer outline Jesus gave us in the Model Prayer. There are some “good” prayer outlines out there: ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication) and others — but I haven’t seen ANY other prayer outline that has you specifically pray against temptation for yourself and others, like this one Jesus gave us. And after all, JESUS gave this Model to us; why not use that outline to pray?!  

But regardless of what specific “model” we use as an outline for prayer, we need to learn to pray against temptation. John Newton, whom we talked about a minute ago, wrote to one of his friends that there are three great means of overcoming temptation. Number ONE, he said, was prayer, just like Jesus said here. Two is using the word of God like Jesus did against the devil in Matthew 4, and the third was related to the first: to “reflect,” he said; to consider, early in the morning, the temptations that you are likely to meet with later in the day — and pray against them. 

That’s what Jesus is saying here: don’t wait to ask forgiveness later; avoid the sin in the first place, by praying not to be led into temptation. If you don’t take anything else out of this message today, this one thing could be one of the most important practices you ever begin: if you aren’t doing it already, put Jesus’ words here into practice: 

— Pray for yourself every day, before you go out into the world, “Lord, lead me not into temptation.” 

— Pray for your husband or wife, for your kids, for your grandkids (maybe before they even get up for the day!) “Lord, lead them not into temptation today.” 

It may be one of the best, and most powerful, and most beneficial prayers, that you will ever pray. 

Jesus spent His last great hour at Gethsemane, leaving us some precious and powerful lessons:

— that He is the only way to heaven

— that we need to pray “Not my will but Thine” ourselves every day

— that we should be willing give Him a special hour

— and that we need to pray for ourselves and those we love, NOT to be led into temptation, every day.  


As we bow our heads, would you pray and talk to God about which of these “Lessons From Gethsemane” you need to apply to YOUR life today?

— Maybe you need to add this practice of praying against temptation to your daily prayers in the morning, for yourself, for your loved ones …

— Or maybe God’s convicting you: Give Me an hour. I’ve given you 24; give Me one back. Or at least ask Him to help you to start working towards it. 

— Perhaps there is a specific area of your life today in which you need to willing to say, “Lord, YOUR will be done; not mine” — you know what that is … talk to God about it, and say, “Thy will be done.” And learn to pray that same kind of prayer every morning.

— Or maybe you’ve never made the commitment to come to God, the only way a person CAN come: through the way that Jesus made at Gethsemane and the cross … 

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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1 Response to “Lessons From Gethsemane” (Matthew 26 sermon)

  1. Greta Farina says:

    Thank you. I shall pray that from now on.

    Greta Farina

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