Our Lord in the "Oil Press"
(Delivered Sunday, March 22, 2009 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
We continue our study of the Gospel of Matthew. And if ever there was a text of Scripture that we should consider to be "holy ground", it would surely be our text this morning.
Matthew tells us that after our Lord had announced to His disciples that He would be betrayed into the hands of sinners, He enjoyed a final supper with them. And he tells us that after they had arisen from supper;
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This is a portion of the story of our Lord's life that it must have been very important for us to know. The Holy Spirit led three of the four Gospel writers to give us this intimate look at our Lord's darkest hour of trial—just before He went to the cross.
But have you ever considered why we need to know this? If I may say it without seeming irreverent; this passage doesn't, at first glance, seem to give a strong impression of our Lord. It describes Him as sorrowful and deeply distressed. It has Him asking His friends to stay and keep Him company during this difficult trial; and even includes His appeal to the Father that He might be spared the dreadful things ahead. Why, then, would the Holy Spirit make sure that this story was forever recorded in the message of the Gospel?
Some Bible teachers have put the emphasis on the example of behavior that we, as Jesus' followers, can gain from this story. It teaches us to turn to God in prayer during our own times of trial. It shows us how to lean on the close companionship of Christian friends in times of testing. It shows us how we need to keep alert and awake in our Lord's service. And I have no doubt that those are legitimate things to learn from this passage.
But I don't believe we properly honor this passage if that's all we do with it. The trials we may undergo in life—no matter how great they may be—are not worthy to be compared with the trial that our Lord underwent on that night. Shortly after all this was over, Jesus would then go forth to bear the sins of all of humanity upon Himself and die in our place. As Isaiah 53:5-6 says, He would be "wounded for our transgressions", and "bruised for our iniquities"; "the chastisement for our peace" would be upon Him, and it would be "by His stripes" that we would be "healed", It would be on Him that the Lord would lay "the iniquity of us all".
I believe that a clue to properly understanding the events of this morning's passage is found in the name of the place in which Jesus experienced them—that is, in a garden upon the Mount of Olives at a place called "Gethsemane". I believe that He deliberately chose this very place in order to illustrate the significance of what was happening to Him.
The name "Gethsemane", in the Aramaic language that our Lord spoke, meant "olive-press". A grove of olive trees grew there; and its name evoked the image of the place in which the fruit of the olive trees was crushed in a large vat and pressed-over with a large stone; until its sweet, pure oil flowed forth. That oil could not come forth unless the olives were "pressed". And I suggest that this passage tells us about our Lord's spirit being "pressed" in anguish on that dark night; until—as it were—the sweet, pure oil of His own holy character flowed forth as our Savior, and Redeemer, and greatest Friend. In other words, the proper focus is not to be on us but on Him. It's not so much about what we can learn to help us in our own times of trial as much as it's about what we can learn of Him in His great trial!
Our Redeemer's holy character was wonderfully revealed to us in His dark night of anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane. And so, let's look at this passage together and learn about Him—and relish in His holy character and His deep love for us.
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The first thing this passage shows us about Him is . . .
1. HIS ALONENESS AS OUR REDEEMER.
Do you notice that as our Lord made His way further into the garden, He became increasingly and progressively alone? After supper, He went with His eleven disciples to the garden—without Judas, who had already gone to betray Him. Matthew tells us that, as they came to the placed called Gethsemane, He told eight of the eleven, "Sit here while I go and pray over there" (v. 36). He wanted them nearby; but they were permitted to go only so far.
And then, He took three others with Him—Peter and the two sons of Zebedee (that is, James and John). These three disciples were with Him at some very crucial moments of His earthly ministry. They were with Him when He went to raise the little girl who had died—the daughter of Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue. He permitted no other disciples to go in with Him except Peter, James, and John (Luke 8:51). And then there was that night when He took only Peter, James and John with Him up to a high mountain by themselves, and was transfigured before them (Matthew 17:1-5); so that those three disciples alone were "eyewitness of His majesty" (2 Peter 1:16-18). These three men had a very close relationship with the Savior. They were, you might say, His 'inner circle'. And just as He drew them near to Himself so they could see His power and His glory, He also drew them near to Himself to behold His time of deep anguish.
But even still, there was a portion of His anguish they could not share. He drew these three away with Him and said, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death" (v. 38). But He then told them, "Stay here and watch with Me"; while He Himself went on more deeply into the garden to commune alone with the Father (v. 39). And even then, His three closest earthly friends didn't keep watch with Him; but fell asleep instead. At each step along the way, it seems that our Lord had fewer and fewer of His friends with Him; until at last, in the darkest hour of His trial, our Lord was truly alone.
And I suggest that this is an important thing for us to see with respect to His suffering for us. His sacrifice for us truly was something that He could only perform alone. Peter had wanted to go with Him. "Lord," he asked at dinner, "where are You going?" And Jesus told him, "Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward" (John 13:36).
The pathway to the cross was not something even Peter could share. It was a pathway that Jesus could only tread by Himself for us. We cannot in any way atone for our own sins; nor could we even have a part in His work on our behalf. Only One who had no sin could pay the price for sinners; and the only part we sinners can play in it is to receive that payment as a gift of grace.
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Another thing we see about our Lord that was "pressed forth" from Him on this dark night of trial was . . .
2. HIS SORROW OVER THE BURDEN OF OUR SIN.
Matthew tells us that, as He took Peter, James and John with Him further into the garden, "He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed" (v. 37). They hadn't seen Him in such sorrow and distress at any point in His ministry before that time. But now, He began to be outstandingly so.
And it wasn't simply that Peter, James and John merely saw Him to be in this state, but He actually told them that it was the case. He revealed to them what was in His heart and said, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death" (v. 38). He expressed His condition to be that of very great sorrow—with Matthew using the same Greek word for "sorrow" as we find in verse 37; but with a prefix added that intensified it, so that He was "exceedingly" sorrowful. He expressed this exceeding sorrow to be very deep within His innermost being—saying that this great sorrow had its seat in His very soul. And the force of this sorrow was so overwhelming that it was "even", as He says, "to death". If His sorrow had been any greater, His heart would have broken under the strain and He would have died.
What was the cause of this great, "exceeding" sorrow? It wasn't only because He was about to suffer a horrible, brutal death on the cross. I believe, of course, that such a prospect did cause Him great distress and sorrow. Our Lord, in His humanity, couldn't help but recoil from the cross. But I believe it was much more than that. I believe He was sorrowing—almost beyond description—because He Himself was unspeakably holy; and yet, He was about to bear the sin of all of humanity upon Himself.
Do you have any sins in your life about which you have sorrow and deep regret? Do you feel shame for anything in your life that you have done? It's silly to even ask; because of course you do! If you are like me, you have many such dark pages in your story for which you are deeply sorrowful and ashamed. When you think about them—even long after you have repented and sought to make things right with the people you harmed—you still feel a horrible pit in your stomach. Some of us have lived a life filled with such regrets.
But think of our precious Redeemer—who never experienced such guilt! He never sinned—not once! Throughout all of eternity, He had enjoyed nothing but unbroken fellowship with His heavenly Father in perfect, glorious holiness and purity! There was never anything of sin upon Him—never anything that stood in the way between Himself and His Father. But shortly after this time in the garden, it would be—as Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:21—that the Father "made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us". It would be in just a short while that—as Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:24—He Himself would bear "our sins in His own body on the tree". And it would be that, as He bore the guilt of our sins upon Himself in our place—for the first and only time in all eternity—the Father would turn away from His beloved Son; and the Son would cry on the cross, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46).
No wonder He was distressed! No wonder His soul was exceedingly sorrowful, even to death! But He did this for you and me! How much He must love us!
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We can't ignore another aspect of His character that was brought forth during this dark evening of trial; because it's repeated for us three times in this passage. And that is . . .
3. HIS PRAYERFUL DEPENDENCE UPON THE FATHER.
When He told His three close disciples, "Stay here and watch with Me" (v. 38), He wasn't asking them to watch out for His protection. He was already resolved to be handed over unto death. Rather, He was calling them to keep watch in the sense of prayer. He told them in verse 41, "Watch and pray". His 'watch' was a watch of prayer; and they were told by Him to watch "with" Him.
Three times, He went away from them to be alone with the Father—even to the point of falling on His face and praying (v. 39). In this most momentous evening of His life on earth, He spent His precious remaining hours in prayer to the Father.
What an example He gives us of humble dependency on the Father through prayer!
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And along with that, let's also notice . . .
4. HIS SUBMISSION TO THE PLAN FOR OUR REDEMPTION.
There's a progression with respect to His submission to the Father's will. We're told that, the first time, He went to the Father and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will" (v. 39).
The "cup" He speaks of is a metaphor for an experience or situation that God Himself deals out to someone. You may remember that Jesus spoke of such a thing in Matthew 20:22. James and John asked that they be permitted to sit next to Him at His throne in His kingdom; and Jesus said, "You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" In that case, He spoke of the "cup" that was the experience of suffering and death that God would give Him on the cross.
But the "cup" that Jesus is speaking of here isn't just the experience of physical death. Rather, it's the dreadful experience of God's wrath for our sin poured out upon Jesus Himself. The righteous God of heaven has a "cup"; and that cup is filled with the "wine" of His righteous indignation for sin. It's a cup that is reserved for the wicked; and it's a cup that absolutely must be drank from and drained to the very last drop. As Psalm 75:8 says, "For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is fully mixed, and He pours it out; surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth drain and drink down."
That "cup" came about because of you and me. We are sinners before a holy God. And the wrath of God cannot in any way be satisfied unless that cup is drank from and completely drained. And yet here, we see that it's the righteous Son of God that now faces the prospect of drinking that cup on our behalf!
What a horrible prospect that must have been for One so holy! This first time in prayer, Jesus asked the Father that, if it were possible, this dreadful cup may pass from Him. And yet—in a prayer that many of us have prayed since—He said, "nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will" (v. 39). If there was another way, He asked that it be granted; but if there was no other way, He was resolved to drink it for us.
And notice that He went before the Father a second time and said, "O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done" (v. 42). The first time, He asked that the cup pass from Him; but the second time, He affirmed that there was no other option, and that He was resolve to drink. And do you notice that there was also a third time? In that third prayer, we're told that He went "saying the same words" (v. 44). I believe this was meant to affirm to us that the Lord was utterly unmoved in His resolve to drink.
Now, dear brothers and sisters; the holy Son of God asked the Father that, if it were possible, this dreadful cup—brought about by our sin—might pass from Him. But because He did drank from it on our behalf on the cross, it must have been that it was not possible for it to pass from Him. In the eternal council of the triune Godhead, there was no other option. That the cup absolutely had to be poured out by the Father and drank by the Son. It was certainly "possible" that the cup could have passed from the Son in the sense that the Son was under no obligation to drink it, and that the Father was under no obligation to pour it out to Him. But it was "not possible" in the sense that there was no other way for you and me to be able to enter into fellowship with a holy God throughout eternity than by our Redeemer drinking the cup for us.
And do you see the greatness of the love that God the Father and Jesus His Son have toward you and me in this? Jesus could have called forth twelve legions of angles to rescue Him from betrayal that night (v. 53). But He didn't do so. In accordance with the Father's will, He stayed in the garden, was handed over for crucifixion, and completely drank that dreadful cup for you and me. And this was all because it was not acceptable to the Father and to the Son that we should not be saved from wrath, and not be brought into eternal fellowship with Jesus!
He loved us and wanted us with Him forever; and so, it was not possible for that cup to pass from Him!
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Another thing we see flow forth from our Lord on this dark night in 'the oil press' was . . .
5. HIS PATIENCE TOWARD OUR WEAKNESSES.
He told His three closes disciples, "Stay here and watch with Me" (v. 38); and He went away to pray to the Father in great anguish of soul. But when He came back, He found them neither watching nor praying; but sleeping! "What?" He said, "Could you not watch with Me one hour?" (v. 40).
He spoke these things, I believe, in the hearing of all three. But do you notice that, in verse 40, we're told that He spoke these things specifically to Peter? Peter was the one that had made all the great boasts about how He would never be made to stumble because of the Lord; and saying that, even if He had to die with Jesus, he would never deny Him. And yet, where are all of Peter's resolves now?
Once again, Jesus told them, "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (v. 41). All of Peter's resolves were sincere in his spirit at the time that he made them; but they were limited by his own power in the flesh to fulfill what he resolved to do.
After Jesus had left to pray alone that second time, He returned again to find them asleep. And notice that, instead of throwing His arms up in frustration and declaring that He'll do nothing for men like this who won't even stand faithful to Him in His darkest hour, He goes once more to the Father, and once more prays those same words, "O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done."
What immeasurable patience Jesus must have for His weak, fallible followers! I'm so very glad that I can rest upon His long-suffering spirit toward us; because I fail Him often. Aren't you glad too?
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May I close with one more observation—one more portion of the sweet, pure oil of our
Savior's holy character drawn forth in this dark night of pressure? We see last of all . . .
6. HIS COURAGE IN SUFFERING FOR US.
When He came to His disciples that final time, after His final prayer of devotion to the Father, we read that He said, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners" (v. 45). The moment had at last come. Even then, as He was speaking to them, He could see the torches of the multitude coming toward Him with swords and clubs. He said, "Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand."
And note that He didn't tell them to hurry up and rise, because now was the chance to flee away. Instead, as we read in John's Gospel, "Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said, 'Whom are you seeking?'" (John 18:4). Having spent this dark night of suffering and anguish of soul in prayer of dedication to the Father, as our sinless Substitute, Jesus stepped bravely forward and gave Himself into the hands of those who would lead Him to His crucifixion.
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It wasn't in the Garden of Gethsemane that Jesus became our Redeemer. It was at Golgotha that He accomplished our redemption. But it was at Gethsemane that His beautiful character as our Redeemer is revealed to us.
And so; whatever else we may gain from this morning's passage, let's be sure that we learn most of all to worship and adore our beloved Savior. His pure character—His aloneness as our Redeemer, His deep sorrow over the burden of our sin, His prayerful dependence upon the Father, His submission to the costly plan of redemption, His patience with regard to our weaknesses, and His courage with respect to our need—is all gloriously brought forth to us in this dark night in the "oil press".
Let's love Him who, as the writer of Hebrews says,
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