13th Day of Lent
Dear friends in Christ. Tonight we meet our Lord in the midst of that struggle as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane [Lk. 22.42]: Father, if it is Your will, remove this cup [of suffering] from Me; nevertheless not My will but Yours, be done. What a great sorrowful mystery! Here is the true, holy, sinless God-man about to suffer the wrath of God over every single sin of every single person ever to live. Here He is right before accomplishing what He came to do. As true God, Jesus knows exactly what lies before Him; and as true man, how He recoils at the thought of enduring the full wrath of God over the world’s sin. The apostle describes it this way [Hb. 5.7]: In the days of His flesh, when…He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death... Here we see that Jesus was not just some machine going through the motions. Instead, we see how difficult it was for Him to carry out His work to save the world from sin and death. And what made it so difficult was that because He is true God, Jesus knew exactly what He would suffer, and the depth of His suffering. Jesus’ humanity shines forth here in the Garden so clearly as few places elsewhere in Scripture as He struggles and prays asking His Father to spare Him what is before Him if only there is some other way to save the world from its sin: Father, if it is Your will, remove this cup from Me. But in the end He submits to His Father’s will: nevertheless not My will but Yours, be done. It is clear: there was no other way. If sinful humanity is to be saved from sin and its consequences, God’s wrath would have to be appeased and Jesus the God-man would have to be made the world’s sinner and endure God’s wrath and punishment. Thanks be to Jesus for His faithful obedience to His Father’s will and for His love of us sinners.
The two passages serving as our text cover the same event; and together they give a fuller, more complete picture. And as we examine them, we will see that our Lord Jesus was strengthened for the struggle that He was soon engaged in and that strengthened for what was ahead, He faithfully carried out the work for our salvation; and so we can be sure of it.
St. Matthew writes: After they sang a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Jesus had celebrated the Passover with the disciples. In that Passover, He had instituted and given to His Church for all time the Blessed Sacrament of His body and blood. Even before His actual suffering and death in time, He gave them His very body and blood with the bread and wine. But now the Passover meal was over and according to the custom they sang a hymn, that is, they sang psalms 115-118. What is so wonderful is that these psalms brought to mind the Israelite’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. That great Passover rescue/ deliverance of the Israelites out of Egypt, which was praised by future generations and glorified by holy men in songs and psalms, was a foreshadow of the rescue/ deliverance that Jesus would bring by His suffering and death. Greater and more glorious is the work of redemption of the NT when Jesus rescued His people from the rule of darkness, from the power of the devil, from sin and death. This is an eternal redemption, and the praise of this mighty act of God will sound forth in all eternity!
But here, at the Passover, Jesus and His disciples were singing these Passover psalms. Psalm 115 proclaims the superiority of the true God over the idols and to remember the Lord’s mercy and steadfast love, as does Psalm 117. Psalm 116 is really a psalm that preaches/ prophesies Jesus and His work and that God would rescue Him from death. In it are the words: The snares of death encompassed Me; the pangs of hell laid hold on Me. I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord; “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!” How can we not see/ hear Jesus on the cross? And then deliverance: For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living. How can we not hear Jesus’ resurrection in these words? Psalm 118 again points to the Lord’s mercy and steadfast love and this psalm has a couple prophecies of the Messiah. The first is one quoted several times in the NT by Jesus and the apostles: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. Another verse of this psalm is prophecy of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem: Save us, we pray, O Lord [or, Hosanna!]…Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.
The point behind all this? Jesus is strengthened for the struggle that was before Him by these psalms He and His disciples sung. With these psalms Jesus not only remembered His Father’s faithfulness, mercy and steadfast love toward His people, but He was comforted with the fact that His heavenly Father, no matter how it looked and no matter how much of His Father’s wrath He was suffering for the sins of the world, His Father would be faithful and deliver Him from death and give Him the victory over sin, death, devil and hell. Several of these psalms are prophecies of Jesus’ victory and how this must have comforted Him mightily as they were freshly brought to mind and God praised for the sure victory He would give Jesus!
As true man, Jesus would need to be strengthened for the upcoming trials—and He was! –by the remembrance of the Passover—which was a foreshadow of His saving work; certain of the completion of His work and His victory, Jesus could then give His disciples His body and blood, which would be offered up as the one perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world; by the Holy Spirit at work in the word of psalms, Jesus would be reminded and strengthened that both His suffering and death were prophesied as well as His victory! How He needed that!
Remember, these psalms were hymns of praise! That’s exactly what Jesus was singing with His disciples—hymns of praise. And that, even though as true God, Jesus knew exactly what would happen to Him—betrayal, arrest, sufferings and death as the world’s sinner! The remembrance of the Lord’s faithfulness and His work in the past and the certainty of His present help, no matter what lay ahead, call for thanksgiving.
The disciples, whose hearts had earlier been filled with sorrow [Jo. 16.6] that evening, too, were strengthened for what was ahead for them. Not only did they celebrate the Passover and were reminded of God’s help and deliverance in the past but they also received the body and blood of the new covenant for the forgiveness of sin. So, yes, their faith was strengthened so that they could then, with gusto, sing a hymn, these 4 psalms. To be sure, they had a misplaced confidence in themselves and their own abilities so that even though right after our text Jesus warned them, All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, Peter and the others answered: Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You, nevertheless they, too, were strengthened for the struggle even though they would fail; but yet their praise was true and sincere: After they sang a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
What lesson do we learn here? Look at how Jesus filled His final hours—with Scripture, with looking to the Lord’s help and faithfulness in the past, with prayer, and in serving His disciples. Just as Jesus spent His final hours being strengthened for what lay ahead, so too, let us live our lives being strengthened for whatever is ahead of us. Since we never know, literally, what one moment to the next may bring—what trial, hardship, or suffering—in the times of “quiet” let us follow our Lord’s example and be around His holy word and sacrament. We need always to strengthen ourselves with the promise of our Lord’s help and rescue; we need always to see that He is a faithful to His word and promise—His word and the promise He made to us at baptism; we need always to be around His holy Sacrament where He feeds us His very body and blood giving us the forgiveness of our sins, assuring us in the strongest possible way that we sinners are forgiven and reconciled to God, who, in Christ, is our dear loving heavenly Father. As we are gathered around our Lord’s holy word and Sacrament, there too are our fellow Christians as we encourage each other in the faith. In the hour of trial, Satan will try to rob us of these, try to take them from us, to lead us to despair. But as we do like Jesus did here and filled His last hours with fellow Christians, Scripture, sacrament, praise and prayer, we are strengthened for whatever trial we may face and grounded and strengthened by our Lord we may still praise Him firm in the faith.
- After they sang a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And St. John fleshes this last part out a bit more in his Gospel. Jesus…went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered. And Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with His disciples. Dear Christian, what glorious words these are: Jesus often met there with His disciples. It was a garden, an out of the way spot, a place free from the hustle and bustle of the city. In this spot where Jesus often met…with His disciples, He spent time alone with them, talking about things that were not meant for the crowds to hear. It was a place free from distraction so that they could focus and fix their attention on what He had to say. This, too, Jesus intended for the strengthening of His disciples in their struggles at that time and as He would call upon them to go into all the world, preach His saving word and spread His Church. It was not out of the ordinary for Jesus to meet with His disciples like this: Jesus often met…with His disciples.
Let us use this holy and penitential season of Lent as that garden [where] Jesus often met…with His disciples. Lent is a more quiet and introspective time. Let us follow the centuries old custom of the Church in Lent and get rid of some of the busy-ness of our lives so that we can go to this garden [where] Jesus often met…with His disciples. The quietness of Lent helps give that heavenly rest and clarity of spirit we so desperately need. Let us set aside more quiet times in our lives for the reading, studying and pondering/ meditating on what Jesus says in His word. As He speaks to us in His word, we then speak back to Him in our prayers praising Him, thanking Him, asking Him for strength and guidance. Especially in Lent let us be more intentional about going to the garden [where] Jesus often met…with His disciples, that is, let us go to church and meet Jesus where He has promised to meet us—in His holy word and Sacrament, making use of the extra opportunities we have to meet Jesus. He will strengthen us for the trials ahead and keep us firm in the faith.
What a great comfort we have from our text. Jesus…went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered. And Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with His disciples. Not only was Jesus strengthened for that struggle He would face in Gethsemane—and beyond—but He willingly entered that battle. He didn’t stay in the city where it would be harder to find Him or where there would be more of a commotion that might hinder His arrest; He didn’t slip out of the city to some undisclosed spot. Instead, He went to a familiar spot that Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew, making it easier for His enemies to find Him. In other words, the great comfort for us this Lenten season is that here we see Jesus fulfilling what He said earlier [Jo. 10.18]: No one takes [My life] from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. Jesus willingly carried out the work to save us from sin and death. He is our salvation. It is certain! INJ Amen.