The Agony of Gethsemane
June 28th, 1959 @ 10:50 AM
THE AGONY OF GETHSEMANE
Dr. W.A. Criswell
6-28-59 10:50 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message, the 11:00 morning hour’s message, entitled The Commitment in Gethsemane; a sermon on the earnestness of the mediation of the gospel of Christ. In our preaching throughout the Bible, we have come to the fifth chapter of the Book of Hebrews. And the text is Hebrews 5:7-9:
Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared;
Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered;
And being made perfect – achieving that purpose for which God sent Him into the world – He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him.
This is the climatic description of the agony and suffering of our Lord in the garden. It is described in Matthew [Matthew 26:36-44]. It is described in Mark [Mark 14:32-42]. It is described in Luke, especially in the twenty-second chapter of Luke:
And He entered into a garden and He was withdrawn from them, His disciples, about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying: Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Thine, be done.
And there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him.
And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
Then, this word, which closes that scene: "offering up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death" [Hebrews 5:7]. There are many theologians who think that it was this hour of agony in the garden where the soul of our Savior was offered as an atonement for the sins of the world, in keeping with the passage that you read in Isaiah. "It pleased the Lord to bruise Him; when Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin. God shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied" [Isaiah 53:10-11] – the offering of the soul of our Savior as an atonement for our sins, an expiation of our guilt, the taking away of our transgressions and iniquities. It was in the garden that God saw the travail of His soul and was satisfied. It was in the garden that God made His soul an offering for sin.
Those theologians who present that would say that what followed after the garden of [Gethsemane] was but a natural outworking of that great commitment made by Christ on His knees as He prayed unto God. What followed after was but a natural result: the betrayal, the condemnation, the trial, the scourging, the crucifixion, the cross. The agony and suffering on the tree was but a concomitant, a corollary, a following after of what happened here in the garden of [Gethsemane].
Now, I’m going to speak of this text under three major headings: first, the grievous task and trial that was laid upon our Lord; and, second, the tears and the agony in which He faced it; and, third, the fruit, the results of those tears and of those prayers. Our first major thought concerns the grievous task that was laid upon Him; the salvation, the redemption of all of the lost of this world – you and you and they and they, all of it laid upon our Savior.
For our Master to heal just one sick body took out of Him a great strength. There is no more revealing incident in the life of our Lord than when He was thronged on every side, He suddenly said:
Who touched Me?
And, Simon Peter answered, Lord, they throng Thee on every side, and yet Thou sayest, Who touched Me?
But, Jesus said: Yea, somebody touched Me, for I perceive that virtue, strength, is gone out of Me.
Then followed, of course, the self-disclosure of the woman with an issue of blood, who said within her soul: "If I can just touch the hem of His garment, I will be made whole" [Matthew 9:21]. Just to heal one sick body took out of Him virtue, strength. How much more the bearing before God’s throne all of the illnesses and all of the infirmities of humanity? And how much more beyond the illnesses of our bodies is the saving of our souls? We do not have a plumb line long enough to fathom the depths of that mystery. Nor is there any standard of comparison by which we might ever know or enter into it; the staggering, grievous task that was laid upon our Lord. And it took a self-commitment beyond any that we could ever know for our Lord to be pray; "Not My will, but Thine, be done" [Luke 22:41-42]. It has never been easy to follow the mandates of God. It has never been easy to yield ourselves in the complete choice and will of heaven. It has always been grievous. It has always been difficult. And it has always been hard.
It was not easy for Jeremiah, who was very sensitive, to be placed in the stocks and to be mocked by those who passed by; Jeremiah, who said in his soul: "I will speak no more in His name" [Jeremiah 20:9]. It was not easy for Job to say, when he had lost all that he possessed in this world, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" [Job 1:21]. It was not easy for Nehemiah, as he went around the city of Jerusalem, to look upon the walls that were broken down and the houses that were empty and desolate and face the staggering task of building again the city of God [Nehemiah 2:12-17]. It was not easy for the apostle Paul, who spake of the five times he received forty stripes save one and the thrice numbers of times he was beaten with Roman rods [2 Corinthians 11:24-25]. It was not easy for the apostle John who said to the churches in Asia: "I am your brother in tribulation, on the isle of Patmos, for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ" [Revelation 1:9].
It will never be easy to do the full will of God – not as long as the symbol of the Christian faith is a naked, rude cross, silhouetted against the darkening sky. So it was with our Lord: "Not My will, but Thine, be done" [Luke 22:42]. And He offered that prayer unto Him who was able to save Him from death with strong crying and tears. The message of God that we mediate today is always at a cost and at a sacrifice. It is in tears. It is in agony. It is in prayer. It is in supplication.
There is no other religion, there is no other praying, there is no other coming unto God. It is the only faith of the Book. It is the only Word from heaven. Our entrance into glory is in tears. It is in repentance. It is in crying. It is in praying. It is in supplicating. I do not know of any other gift that is offered unto men except at a cost and at a sacrifice. We have received from our fathers immeasurable blessings because they have suffered. They have bled. They have died. Our children come into this world in travail, in labor, and in sorrow. A candle gives its light by giving its life. All of the blessings that accumulate, that are inherited by the human family, are at a great cost.
I, like so many of you, lived through the days of the darkness of this last World War, when it looked as if the dark would overwhelm the light, when it looked as if slavery would overcome freedom, when it looked as if this whole world would fall under the heels of an iron oppressor. In those days, on the thirteenth day of May in 1940, Winston Churchill assumed the government of Great Britain, and in the first speech he made before Parliament, he said, "I say to the House, as I said to ministers who have joined this government, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us, many, many months of struggle and suffering." This morning, we have welcomed as guests a great group of Gold Star mothers. They know the price of the freedom and liberty that we enjoy today. But the task was grievous and the cost was great.
How did our Lord face this grievous assignment: in prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears? [Hebrews 5:7]. It has never been mediated any other way. It has always come at a cost, at a sacrifice. And the only mediation by which it is ever brought to us is in that cost: those tears, those prayers, that sacrifice.
It is a strange thing how God has put together this world. It was not Erasmus – brilliant, scintillating, the greatest intellectual genius of his time – that brought truth and Reformation to an oppressed and darkened world, but it was Martin Luther, rugged, yearning, weeping, praying – Martin Luther that brought life to a darkened, sixteenth century humanity. Isn’t it a strange thing? It was not Crawford H. Toy, the brilliant professor at Harvard College, writing his learned books on the Hebrew Scriptures, but it was Dwight L. Moody unlettered and unlearned but consumed with a great, moving passion for the lost of God’s humanity. Isn’t it strange? It was not the bishop of Canterbury, in his beautiful silken and flowing robes, but it was unlearned, poor, shoe-cobbling William Carey that poured out his life for the lost of the heathen of the world.
It is a strange thing. Brilliance doesn’t do it. Affluence does not do it. Ease does not do it. Indifference does not do it. "It is with strong crying and tears." It is in prayer and in supplications that does it.
I speak of this third avowal: the fruit of His dedication.
Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared;
Though He were a Son, He learned the obedience by the things which He suffered;
And being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation unto all of them that obey Him;
Two things; the fruit of His tears, of His crying, of His supplications, and of His prayers; He was heard. God answered His prayers. What the author means is not that the Lord was delivered from the cross, that He was delivered from the agony, from the crown of thorns, the scourging, the blood, the horror, the sacrifice of that atonement. He does not mean that. What he means is that in strong crying and tears, in prayers and in supplications, God heard Him. And He met that inevitable choice of God with absolute calm and fortitude. When He was betrayed, when He was tried, when He was scourged, when He was crucified, He met it with perfect resignation and yieldedness. He did not whimper. He did not find fault. He was not bitter. He did not reply. He did not castigate. He did not blaspheme. He did not curse. But having prayed with strong crying and tears, He went out of that garden to do the will of God with fortitude of soul, with calmness of heart, having given Himself to the will of God, an answer to His prayers [Hebrews 5:8]. God enabled Him to carry through, to be strong, to be calm, to be yielded, to give Himself. God enabled Him. God heard Him pray and that was an answer.
I was moved last week. Out in the country, way out in the country, there was a little girl who became ill. And in their country ways they ministered to the little child the best they could. And finally in desperation the country mother brought her little girl here to our hospital. The able physician, the head of the staff in our hospital, the able physician, sought desperately to save the life of the child. Upon a day, the call came from the hospital, "Doctor, the child is dying." He said to the nurse, "Tell all of these waiting patients to come back some other day. I’m going to the hospital." He made his way to the hospital, to the room, and by the time he had arrived, the child had died, and there by the bed, this country mother, holding the hand of her little girl.
The doctor and the nurse said to the mother, "Now, mother, your child is gone. There’s nothing more you can do. Now let’s leave." And the mother replied, "No, doctor, I had a little boy who died a few months ago. They asked me to leave and I left too soon. And this time, I’m going to stay. You go on, doctor. You’re busy. I am going to stay."
"No," said this fine physician, "I’ll stay with you. I have nothing else to do but to stay with you."
And the doctor said to me, "She held the hand of the child and then felt of the child’s body, turning to the doctor, said, ‘Doctor, my child’s body is getting cold. I know my little girl is gone.’"
The doctor said, "She knelt down by the bed and prayed a child’s prayer."
Now, I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
And after she prayed the child’s prayer, she arose from her knees, tucked the little thing in, as for sleep in the night, straightened up, said to the doctor, "Now, Doctor, I am ready to go," without a tear, without a qualm. And the doctor said to me, "The strong faith and the perfect resignation of that mother was one of the finest things I had ever seen in my life." That comes to those who, in prayer, in supplication with strong crying and tears, call unto God and are heard.
I repeat. The author does not mean that the death was not set before Him. In God’s will, Christ died, and He faced the agony of the day of the cross. But God heard Him in His strong crying and in His tears [Hebrews 5:7], and God enabled Him to face that day of agony and death with calm fortitude and resignation. It is hard to say: "Lord, not My will, but Thine, be done." Lord, let this cup pass from Me. It is not always God’s will that the cup is taken away. Many, many times, God means for us to drink it, but God hears us in our prayers, and He enables us to bear the day of the cross with strong yielded calm and resignation: "Thy will be done."
The author says here a second thing, a result of His prayers and His supplications and His strong crying and His tears: God not only heard Him and made Him able to carry through, to face the trial of that day of the cross, but God did something else. As a fruit of His tears, and His crying, and His prayers, and His supplications, God gave Him the souls of these for whom He wept and cried and bled and died. He became – "He became the author of an eternal salvation unto all them that trust in Him" [Hebrews 5:9]. These, these – and look around you – we are a part of the fruit of those tears and those prayers and those supplications. "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him" [Psalm 126:5-6].
No more impressive, meaningful sight have I ever looked on in my life than, around this world, visiting the graves of the missionaries. There is a soldier of the cross who’s given his life for the preaching of the gospel across the seas, and around him will be buried the converts that he has won – the missionaries and these who have found light and life in Christ, because of his devotion, his mediation, his love, and his tears, and his prayers. I have thought, "What a day, what a day, the great resurrection day will be; when the missionary arises and these whom he has won to Christ stand around him – the fruit of his love, and devotion, and sacrifice, and prayers, and tears." And God’s Book says that this is to be the reward of our Savior forever; our being with Him in glory and we, the blood-bought children of God, singing praises to Jesus:
For Thou hast bought us and redeemed us unto God with Thine own blood,
Worthy is the Lamb to receive honor, and blessing, and dominion, and power forever and forever.
For Thou hast redeemed us, bought us out of every tribe and language and tongue,
And hath made us kings and priests unto God; and we shall reign with Him forever and ever and ever.
[Revelation 1:5-6; 5:9-11]
That is the fruit of His prayers, His supplications, His strong crying, and His tears [Hebrews 5:7]; – you! That’s the reason we’ll make it to glory, because He poured out His life unto death for us [Galatians 2:20]. Oh, blessed, blessed, precious day when we can see Him and look upon the wounds in His hands and in His side and say, "Lord Jesus, these were for me. These wounds were for me!" God bless us and keep us in His love and in His mercy, forever and forever. May we pray?
Our Lord, if there has ever been a time when lightsomely, indifferently, we looked upon Thee; if there has ever been a time when we have been prone to forget the great cost by which our Savior brought to us life and hope and forgiveness of sins; our Lord, if there has ever been a time when we, enticed by the frivolity and lightness of this world, forgot, the great price the Savior paid for the redemption of our souls, dear Lord, today, forgive us. When we break bread, to remember He did it for me. When we drink the cup, to remember He died for me [1 Corinthians 11:24-25]. When we read the story of the cross, to call to mind again He was my substitute. He died in my stead. O Lord, that there might come into our hearts that personal devotion that those early disciples felt, who looked upon the sobs, and tears, and cries, and prayers of the Son of God. Our Lord, help us to remember. Help us never to forget. Then help us, Lord, as we seek to fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, even as Paul did [Colossians 1:24]. Help us to do it in a like yieldedness and a like willingness. If God makes demands of us that are grievous to be borne, in prayer, in our supplications and tears, may God hear us and enable us for what God hath assigned. And if the Lord hath called us to burdens too heavy to be borne, help us to remember that He was burdened. If the tears that He cried, if the suffering that He was nailed to the tree, and if the Father in heaven who heard Him will much more even now hear us because He is present in glory to make intercession for us [Romans 8:34]. Now, our Lord, at the close of this service, we make appeal for Thee; somebody this morning to give his life in trust to our Lord; somebody to put his life with us in the ministry of this precious church; and thank Thee for those Thou shalt give us, trophies of grace to lay at Jesus’ blessed feet, in His name, for His sake, amen.
While we sing our hymn of appeal, in this balcony round, somebody you, these stair steps at the front or at the back, out of your place, down these stairwells and here to the front, "This morning, I give my heart in trust to Jesus; this day, placing my life in the fellowship of the church." A family, or one somebody you, as God shall call, shall make the appeal, "Here I am and here I come." On this lower floor, in this throng of people, into the aisle and down here to the front, "Here I come and here I am. Today, I give my heart in trust to Christ." Or, "Today, we’re coming into the fellowship of the church." While our people prayerfully, earnestly sing this song of invitation, will you come? Will you make it now, while we stand and while we sing?
THE COMMITMENT OF GETHSEMANE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. The tears and agony of Gethsemane(Hebrews 5:7-9, Luke 22:41-44)
B. Many theologians think it was here the soul of Christ was offered as atonement for the sins of the world(Isaiah 53:10-11)
1. They say the suffering on the cross was a following after what happened here in the garden
II. The grievous task laid upon Him
A. To heal just one sick body took out of Him a great strength (Luke 8:45-46)
1. How much more the bearing of all the infirmities of humanity
2. And beyond illness, the saving of our souls
B. Required self-commitment beyond any we could know(Luke 22:42)
1. It has always been difficult to yield to the will of heaven(Jeremiah 20:9, Revelation 1:9)
C. The message we mediate today is always at a cost and sacrifice
1. Winston Churchill
III. He faced the task in prayer and deep earnestness(Luke 22:41-44)
A. The gospel was born in a blood-red earnestness
B. It is never mediated any other way
1. Not Erasmus, but Martin Luther
2. Not Crawford H. Towy, but Dwight L. Moody
3. Not Bishop of Canterbury, but William Carey
IV. The fruit of His dedication
A. He was heard
1. Not that the Lord was delivered from the cross, but that God enabled Him to carry through
a. Mother at the hospital
B. He became the author of an eternal salvation – God gave Him souls(Hebrews 5:9, Psalm 126:5-6)
1. Visiting graves of missionaries(Revelation 5)