Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries




Matt 26:36-46

    Take the Cup Away

We come today to the final stage of this series on prayer; to a prayer prayed in a situation that none of us would ever want to be faced with. Words poured out in the moment of impending death and suffering beyond imagining.

The scene is one familiar to us from reflections on Good Friday. Jesus has come from the last supper with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane at the base of the Mount of Olives. He knows what’s coming. Several times in the previous week he’s told his disciples that the Son of Man must be put to death and now the moment approaches.

Notice he takes with him the 11 disciples who are still there after Judas leaves. Why does he take them with him as he goes to commune with his heavenly father? Well, because he’s a human being just like us, who need friends around us in the worst moments of our lives. This is the Son of God, but he is also a real human being with all the needs of a normal human being. See what he says to them: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Jesus is no macho strong man who insists on standing by himself, feeling nothing, showing no emotion in the face of pressure and hurt. No, he’s prepared to show his vulnerability to those who have been his closest companions for the past three or four years. We’re told he began to be sorrowful and troubled. The NRSV has “Deeply grieved and agitated.” His distress, in other words, was obvious to those who were with him. This was the sort of thing that we might experience in a moment of stress, when we know something’s wrong but aren’t sure what will happen and whether we’ll be able to cope with it.

Of course the stress Jesus was about to face was something beyond anything we’ll ever face. For him the suffering that lay before him was far more than just the physical pain of crucifixion. Far greater than that was the separation from God, the severing of a relationship that sprang from eternity.

What do you do when you’re faced with the possibility of some tragedy or impending danger? Does your prayer life suddenly become more focussed, more earnest? Do you find yourself praying constantly “Lord let it not happen; Save me from this danger, this heartache; Please Lord, take it away.”

That of course is what Jesus prays: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” No-one walks into a situation of sacrifice without first looking for an alternative.

In fact Jesus had been offered an alternative hadn’t he? Do you remember at the start of his ministry him being approached by Satan, being taken to the top of a high mountain and what did Satan offer him? All the kingdoms of the world would be his; all he had to do was bow down and worship Satan. Well he refused that offer then; and now the question arises again: what will he do? Is there no other way to bring salvation to this world that God has made, to restore his people to the image of God that they were meant to express?

Well, Jesus knows this is the only way and so he continues: “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Now let’s not think that this was a simple decision. “There’s no other way so I guess I’ll go for it.” No, Luke 22 tells us that “44… being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” As I said, Jesus is a human being with all the survival instincts of any normal human being. He has no desire to be nailed to a cross, let alone to be separated body, soul and spirit from God the Father. No, his decision is one that’s fought out within his soul, with an inner storm of protest, yet fuelled by a faith and trust in God, an overwhelming conviction that the plan of God for our salvation was a good one; that God would see it through to the end.

Mind you this decision making process takes some time. He goes back to his disciples after a while and finds them asleep. He gently berates Peter: “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” and he gives them a warning: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” None of us will ever have to face the sort of temptation that Jesus faces at this moment but he knows that there will be many temptations put before us to divert us from serving him and the first step to avoid them is to be watchful and to be prayerful. Keep your spiritual eyes and ears open to the temptations that Satan may throw your way and pray that God would keep you safe.

Have you ever thought about the way Jesus comes back from this struggle in prayer, sees his disciples asleep, and apart from this gentle rebuke proceeds to care for them, to warn them, to prepare them for the struggles that they’ll face in the future? Even in the midst of his own deep struggles he still manages to look after those in his care.

To demonstrate what a difficult decision this is Jesus goes back in to the garden three times. Again we’re told he prays: “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

You know some decisions we make are easy. We make them in the wink of an eye. But some decisions we face may require us to pray over and over again before we come to a conclusion. We may struggle at times to know what’s right for us. This is particularly true of course for those life changing decisions that have to be made from time to time: changing jobs, moving house, finding a church to go to, deciding to marry, to have children. It might be something as terrible as deciding whether to turn off life support for a dying loved one; maybe choosing a nursing home for your parents or spouse or yourself. When those moments arrive perhaps we can take comfort in knowing that Jesus understands how hard it can be to make those decisions. 

But notice that having come to his decision Jesus comes back and wakes the disciples again and says, “Get up! Let’s go! The betrayer is on his way to take me to my trial.” In Luke’s gospel we’re told that when one of the disciples pulls out a sword to defend him and cuts off the ear of the High Priest’s servant Jesus stops them. You see, his decision is made. What will happen now is in God’s hands. So he goes with them freely.

Before we go on to think about the final three prayers of Jesus I thought it was interesting to think about how we sometimes pray about things that we’re facing. Are you like me and regularly find yourself praying something like this: “God please take this way from me.” God please make me a better person.” God please help me to resist temptation.” “God, please change the circumstances I find myself in.” When I was thinking about Jesus’ prayer here I reflected on those sorts of prayers that I pray and I realised that they’re often me passing the buck; asking God to fix things rather than me making a decision. Now it’s OK to ask God, as Jesus does, whether there’s another way, but in the end we have to make a decision, as Jesus does. God expects us to act; not just to wait for him to solve whatever problem we may be facing at the time. He expects us to move forward trusting him to provide for us and care for us.

“Father, Forgive them”

Jesus is hanging on the cross naked, struggling to breathe and at the same time to relieve the pain of the nails in his hands and feet. His back and brow are dripping with blood from the whipping he’s received and the thorns on his head. People are mocking him, cursing him. The soldiers are arguing over what to do with his clothes; who’ll get what. Imagine the thoughts that’d be going through your mind or mine, if this were happening to us: resentment, bitterness, anger, hatred, self-pity. We’d be praying that God would pour down his wrath from above on all those who were doing this to us, wouldn’t we?

But what does Jesus pray? "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." Jesus’ love for his creation, for his people, is what’s brought him here and it transcends any of those human emotions and desires for revenge that we might expect. Romans 5: 10 tells us: “10while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.” Jesus sole purpose for being on the cross is to bring forgiveness to those who are his enemies and so he prays that God would forgive them.

This is perhaps one of the hardest lessons for us to learn as Jesus’ disciples. When Jesus calls us to follow him and to love others the way he loved us, he includes his willingness, indeed his desire to forgive those who are our enemies, those who have perhaps done terrible things to us. Is that something that you need to think about?

I’m part of a group in the diocese called the Parish Support Team. Our task is to go into parishes where there’s been unresolved conflict, to help people work through the breakdown in relationships that’s spoiling the atmosphere of the church, of their worship or their community life together. So I can tell you that even in the church there are times when people feel they’ve been hard done by, where someone has hurt them, offended them, perhaps just acted in some ungodly way and forgiveness is hard to come by. Well, Jesus’ example here should make us sit up and take notice shouldn’t it? No-one could possibly do anything to us that’s worse than what the Romans and Jewish leaders had done to Jesus, yet he lets it go and in his love he asks God to forgive them.

If this seems too hard for you; if the resentment you’re feeling is too great for you to just let it go, then perhaps the place to start is by doing what Jesus does. Pray to God asking him to forgive them just as God has forgiven you. Perhaps they don’t know what they’ve done to you. At least that would be a good start.


As we hear Jesus next prayer to God we get a feel for the depth of sacrifice that Jesus endured for our sake. “46My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” Jesus, the only Son of God, who had been in intimate communion with the father for eternity is suddenly cut off in a horrendous, terrifying abandonment. If you’ve ever wondered what hell is like, this is a pretty good way of thinking about it. Cut off; entirely separated from God and from all that’s good and pure. So terrible that even with the lack of oxygen caused by hanging from the cross, Jesus cries out in a loud voice, bewailing his loss.

We occasionally feel something like that; like God is far away, not really paying attention to us. It’s not true of course but that’s how we feel. And when we feel like that it’s OK to cry out to God: “Where are you God? I can’t feel you near me. Come and speak to me.” Read some of the psalms of lament, or the book of Lamentations and you’ll see that that’s often the core of what they’re saying.

God hasn’t abandoned you but he understands how you feel, because in Jesus he’s experienced this actual separation from God. Jesus cries out “why”, even though he already knows the answer, because he’s a human being just like us and his reaction to that loss is just like ours would be. Sometimes experience overrules our theology doesn’t it? We know the theological explanation but our experience needs something else. That’s why it’s seldom helpful to give someone who’s grieving a theological explanation of death and loss in a fallen world. They may just need to let the tears fall until the pain eases a little and you might just need to sit by quietly with tears in your own eyes sharing their sorrow.

The Last Prayer

Shortly after this Jesus came out of this dark place and again, calling out with a loud voice, prayed “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.” His task is complete. He’s suffered the separation from God that we deserve and has come through it. He’s again able to commune with God and so in faith he calls on God to take care of him as he passes into death. What better way to pass out of this world, assuming our faculties are intact at the time, what better way than to commit our spirit to the Lord as we move towards that final moment of death.

Jesus’ final prayers may not be something you will need to use for yourself, but there are plenty of lessons to be drawn from them for our normal daily life. Our prayers at difficult moments of life may need to be persevered at. We may need to ask God to help us think through the possibilities and alternatives available to us. But we might also need to stop praying and make a decision, then proceed with the next step.

We can learn from Jesus compassion for his disciples and then for his persecutors, his enemies, as we deal with difficult people in our lives, praying for their welfare, praying for forgiveness for them.

And finally we can have confidence as we approach the final moments of our life that, just like Jesus, our spirit is safe in God’s hand.

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