On Mount Carmel with Elijah, we saw that the prayed-for outcome of that great demonstration power was this (1 Kings 18:37): “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know [that these men in London may know] that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” God is God.
And if any idolaters in Israel or in London turn to the true God, God has done it. This whole power encounter on Mount Carmel is happening, Elijah says, that they may know this! God is the one who turns hearts back to him! That is what it means for God to be God.
God Turns Hearts
If you were blind to the beauty of Christ, but now you see Christ as your supreme treasure, God turned your heart (2 Corinthians 4:4–6).
If you were dead in your sins, with no spiritual taste for Jesus, but now you love him — savor him — and hold fast to him as your only hope for lasting joy, God turned your heart (Ephesians 2:1–5).
If once you loved your possessions more than Christ, and your family more than Christ, and your mortal life more than Christ, but now you sing from the heart, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also! The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever!” God turned your heart. And that is how he has a people in this city. And will have the people!
Are there hearts of stone in London? Or in your family? God says, “I will remove the heart of stone . . . and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19).
Are there uncircumcised hearts in this city that have no love to God at all? God says, “The Lord your God will circumcise your heart . . . so that you will love the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 30:6).
Are there stiff-necked, disobedient hearts in this city that will not submit to God’s law? God says, “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes” (Ezekiel 36:27).
Are there men in this city who are in bondage to the devil and utterly unrepentant? God says, “I grant repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, so they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil” (2 Timothy 2:25–26).
Are there women in this city with no interest in hearing the gospel of Christ? God says, “The Lord opened Lydia’s heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14).
Go On, Speak Up
When Paul was up against the massive, sophisticated, pagan population of Corinth where there was not a single Christian church, the Lord Jesus came to him one night in a vision and said, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (Acts 18:9–10). That was true in Elijah’s day (“I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal” [Romans 11:4; 1 Kings 19:18]). It was true in Corinth. And it is true of London today. God has a people. They are not all converted yet. He will turn their hearts.
“God has a people. They are not all converted yet. He will turn their hearts.”
Wherever we begin to secure the sheepfold with despair or fear or indifference to the shepherdless crowds, Jesus speaks to us from John 10: “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. . . . My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish” (John 10:16, 27–28).
“I know them. I have them. I call them. I bring them. They hear, and they come. And I give them eternal life. I turn their hearts back.” It doesn’t matter how hard they are, because, “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27). “And I am God,” says the Lord Jesus.
Possible with God
And do you know what it cost him to have a people for himself? It cost him his life. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). This is the song of heaven that we will sing to Christ: “By your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
The reason God can freely and righteously turn back the hearts of sinners — as Elijah said (1 Kings 18:37) — is because that’s what Jesus bought for all the saints, Old Testament and New. That’s what he paid for. This is “the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33).
Christ Died, We Speak
The text I want to focus on with you in this session is Matthew 26:36–46. It’s the story of Jesus in Gethsemane the night before he died. The way it relates to the first message is that it describes the battle that Jesus fought on his way to making it possible for God to justify and turn the hearts of condemned traitors from death to life. And what I hope to show is that this story from the garden of Gethsemane teaches us not only how Jesus fought his way to the cross, but how he set up the whole evening to show us how to join him in this fight.
Because in order for God to freely and righteously justify and turn the hearts of condemned traitors from death to life, and from Satan to God, and from blindness to seeing, and from unbelief to faith — not only did Jesus have to die for sinners, but we have to take up our cross and open our mouths and tell people what Christ has done.
God does not turn the hearts of rebels to himself apart from (1) the death of Christ on the cross, and (2) the word of God in our mouths. Christ had to purchase sinners. We have to tell them. When God turns the heart, faith happens. And faith comes by hearing the word of the cross (Romans 10:17).
Christ must die; we must speak. This is how God turns hearts. This is how he gathers his people in London — and among all the peoples of the world. Without the blood of Christ and the word of God, nobody is born again (1 Peter 1:23) — that is, no hearts are turned from death to life. So in Gethsemane Jesus was doing two things.
He was fighting for the success of his death — that he would not be overcome by death, but that death would be overcome by him.
He was showing how his followers must join him in the same fight. That’s how his mission of turning the hearts of men from death to life will succeed. And how you will make an eternal difference in this world.
Let’s move through this text twice. Once to watch Jesus fight for his own victory over death. And then a second time to watch how he draws us into the fight.
Battle for the Cup
Jesus says in Matthew 26:38, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” This is very dangerous for his mission. It is possible to become so sad, so heavy, that reality is distorted, the future seems hopeless, and action seems impossible. Perhaps you have tasted this. This is not small. Jesus’s mission is in jeopardy. He must fight against the immobilizing effects of this horrible weight of sorrow.
He fights by crying out for help to his Father in heaven. Matthew 26:39, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” The cup would be all the horrors of the next eighteen hours — the physical torture, the abandonment of his friends, the turning away of his Father while he becomes sin for us.
He asks that if there is any way to achieve God’s purpose of salvation without drinking this cup, then let the cup pass without my drinking. And then he submits: “Nevertheless, not as I will but as you will.” So Jesus’s way of fighting against this first crushing sorrow is to ask that if possible he would not have to drink the cup of agony.
‘Your Will Be Done’
Now, passing over for the moment his interaction with the disciples whom he found sleeping, let’s go straight to Jesus’s second time praying in Matthew 26:42. Something has happened that causes his prayer to be dramatically different this time. Listen carefully to what he says, “Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’”
“Christ must die; we must speak. This is how God turns hearts.”
In the first prayer (verse 39), the passing of the cup meant not drinking it. In the second prayer (verse 42), the passing of the cup is by drinking. “If this cannot pass unless I drink it . . .” In other words, Jesus did not go on praying that he would not have to drink the cup. He went on praying for success in drinking it. The battle lines shifted between the first and second prayer. The first battle line was, “Keep the cup of death and suffering from me if possible.” The second battle line was, “As I drink the cup, don’t let me fail to do your will and accomplish my mission.”
What happened in between these two prayers? There are two pointers, one in Luke and one in Hebrews.
Strengthened from Above
In Luke 22:43, Luke tells us that after Jesus’s first prayer, “There appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.” Strengthening him to do what? To drink the cup. “My Son, there is no other way. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
So, before this first battle of Gethsemane was done, the battle line had shifted from “Keep the cup from me” to “Give me success in drinking it to do your will and finish my mission to conquer death.”
Saved from Death
The second pointer to what happened between Jesus’s first and second prayers is found in Hebrews 5:7, where the writer says, “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” He cried out to be saved from death. And God answered him: he saved him from death. Yes, he did.
Yes, he died. But he was saved from death. Death did not destroy him. The fear of death did not destroy his obedience before death, nor did the experience of death destroy his life after death.
The sorrows of death were threatening to drive him off the path of obedience. If they succeeded, death would have been victorious even before he died. This is what his loud cries were about: “Father, don’t let this happen.” And God answered his prayer by sending an angel to strengthen his body and mind and heart so that the sorrows of death did not deter his obedience. And he was saved from the power that death has to make us afraid to die.
So the first battle of Gethsemane (Jesus’s battle) was fought in two phases as the battle lines shifted. Phase 1: Jesus fought to be saved from death by escaping it, if possible in God’s will. Then God sends his angel to strengthen Jesus, and clarifies once for all: the cup must be drunk. So a new battle line is drawn. Phase 2: “Oh God, since I must drink the cup of death, don’t let the sorrows or the pain or the fear of death divert me from the path of my obedience!” God answered that prayer, which is why we are in this room today following the risen Lord Jesus. That’s the first battle of Gethsemane.
Battle to Join Jesus
Now, move with me one more time through this battlefield of Gethsemane — only this time, watch how he draws us into the same battle. Sometimes we are so familiar with a Bible story that we don’t pause to realize it might’ve been totally otherwise.
For example, Jesus might have come to Gethsemane with the eleven disciples, and told them all to sit and wait to be sure he wasn’t disturbed. And he goes fifty yards away out of earshot, and returns just in time to meet Judas. It didn’t happen that way. Why? Because Jesus didn’t set it up that way. He intentionally set the scene up another way. And he has his reasons. And they include you. So let’s watch how he sets it up and then step back and draw out lessons for us.
Watch and Pray
In Matthew 26:36 he tells eight of them, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And he takes with him, according to Matthew 26:37, “Peter and the two sons of Zebedee.” James and John don’t even get named anywhere in this text — only Peter. Why not take all eleven with him so that they can all hear him fight the battle of Gethsemane?
I don’t know, except that we learn later (in Galatians 2:9) that Peter, James, and John were something like pillars in the early church, and perhaps pillars must be given extraordinary training on how to be strong.
To these three, Jesus says, “Remain here, and watch with me” (Matthew 26:38). In other words, stay awake and be spiritually vigilant with me. Huge forces are at work tonight. You need to be awake and spiritually alert.
Willing Spirit, Weak Flesh
After the first phase of this battle, Jesus returns and finds Peter and the sons of Zebedee sleeping (Matthew 26:40). They did not follow through in obedience. And strikingly, Jesus addresses Peter directly, “He said to Peter, ‘So, could you not watch with me one hour?’” So Peter alone gets named when Jesus picks the three (Matthew 26:37). And Peter alone gets named when he rebukes the three (Matthew 26:40).
Then Jesus gets more specific as to why their wakefulness and prayer are so crucial (even though Peter is named, the verbs in Greek are all second person plural, not singular). Matthew 26:41, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” In other words, “You are about to face the hardest temptations of your life in the next hours. And you will be sucked into them and destroyed if you do not watch and pray. Because, even though you have all said, with your valiant spirits, ‘Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you’ (Matthew 26:35), your weak flesh is more vulnerable than you think.” And according to Matthew 26:43, when he came a second time, they were sleeping again.
No Defeat for Jesus
This was how they joined Jesus in the battle of Gethsemane. They slept through it. And we read the outcome in Matthew 26:56, “Then all the disciples left him and fled.” They were defeated at the battle of Gethsemane. And the only reason there is a Christian church today — a New Testament, a hope for London — is that Jesus was not defeated in Gethsemane, but did exactly what he came to do: He laid down his life for the straying sheep, and prayed that their faith, though it had failed, would not fail utterly (Luke 22:32; John 17:11, 15).
Then Jesus came a third time (Matthew 26:45–46) and said, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” And in those next minutes Jesus defeats the fear of death, and the disciples are overcome by it. He won the battle of Gethsemane. They lost it.
But clearly this story is in the Bible so that we can watch all of that and be ready for the battle of Gethsemane. That is, be ready to move with Jesus into his saving work. To join him in making the greatest difference in the world.
One Who Made a Difference
Jesus was just hours away from making the greatest possible difference in the history of the world. He was about to do something on Good Friday and Easter which would make a greater difference in the history of the world than any other events that have ever taken place.
“I intend to win this battle with you at my side, speaking my word.”
He would bear the wrath of God that was owing to millions upon millions of rebellious traitors against the King of the universe — “become a curse for them” (Galatians 3:13), “smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4). He would bear our sins in his body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). He would give his life as a ransom (Mark 10:45). He would die for the ungodly (Romans 5:6). He would rise from the dead, never to die again. He would pour out his Spirit and turn the hearts of millions to himself in faith. He would justify them (Romans 3:28), adopt them into his family (Galatians 4:4–6), give them eternal life (John 3:16), conform them into his image (2 Corinthians 3:18), keep them from falling (Jude 1:24–25), and bring them into his presence where there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
By this means Jesus has made a greater difference for the good of people and the glory of God than any other person or event in history.
Join Jesus in the Fight
And the point of Gethsemane for our lives is: “Come with me into this battle. I have done, and will do, the decisive work of turning the human heart to myself. But I intend to win this battle with you at my side, speaking my word. I didn’t invite Peter, James, and John into my warfare for nothing. I didn’t warn them about the weakness of their flesh and call them to vigilance and prayer for nothing. I did it for you. I intend for you to fight and suffer and triumph with me.
“I am God. And I will turn the hearts of my elect from darkness to light and from Satan to God. I did it on Mount Carmel through Elijah. I have done it in ten thousand cities and villages for two thousand years through my people. And I intend to do it through you.”
When Judas finally approached with swords and clubs, and the battle of Gethsemane came to a climax, Jesus did not say to Peter and the others, “Farewell, I go.” He said, “The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going” (Matthew 26:45–46).
Do you want to make a difference in this world? He has taught you in Gethsemane how to fight. And as the sermon ends, he does not say, “Farewell, men of London.” He says, “Rise, let us be going.”