Read Matthew 26:36-46
The stories we have looked at have all had triumphant endings. David slew Goliath, Elijah was victorious over the prophets of Baal; 3000 were converted on Pentecost; 10,000 people (maybe) was fed miraculously. It was miracle after miracle after miracle. So where is the miracle in this story?
Jesus was within minutes of being arrested, then tried, found guilty, mercilessly beaten and executed. The resurrection was a miracle but not this.
It was a terrible low point for Jesus. He was in anguish. In His words, He was overwhelmed by sorrow to the point of death. Can you imagine Jesus being overwhelmed? He was normally on top of the situation, wasn’t He? Here is Jesus not coping very well. He was overwhelmed by sorrow. To the point of death. This was a sadness so profound that it was killing Him. He was experiencing physical trauma because of the sorrow. He was dying. There is nothing victorious about this.
So, where is the faith? At the end of it all, Jesus said, “Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” That is stunning! He was then ready to go through with what God had asked of Him. His anxiety had become peace. And so He walked out to meet Judas and the approaching crowd, trusting God. That was faith.
It was a risk. Jesus was intentionally putting Himself into the hands of His enemies. He was walking towards His own death. Not long before, He had prayed. “Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” Jesus didn’t want to die an excruciating death, bearing our sins and alienated from His Father. He had said to the disciples that God would raise Him from the dead – but did He believe it? He had to trust that God truly would do as He had promised. Jesus would be helpless. He had to trust God.
As we have seen several times, Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as confidence in what we hope for and certainty in what we do not see. In the end, Jesus believed what He could not see – that God would indeed raise Him from the dead. Jesus couldn’t do anything about it. He just had to trust and He did.
There was a negative attitude everywhere. The disciples had been fearful and had tried to persuade Jesus not to go to Jerusalem. Judas had betrayed Him. Peter had disowned Him. All of them would flee. Their failure to stay awake and support Him at this time must have been hugely discouraging and left Jesus utterly alone. But Jesus trusted.
There was also a temptation to rely on the visible rather than on God. Peter drew his sword to fight. Jesus reprimanded him. “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?”
Besides swords, Jesus could have called down 12 armies of angels. But that wasn’t God’s will. God had already determined what must happen. Jesus chose do what was asked of Him.
It was by going out to meet His betrayer that the faith became action. Faith without action is dead. Jesus put feet on His faith when He put His shoulders back and said, “Come on. Let’s go.”
None of us will face a situation like Jesus faced but we will all face suffering of one sort or another. Life is painful. We lose a loved one or we lose a job. We are rejected or face criticism – maybe justified, maybe not. A business dream crumbles; our savings are lost. We get a bad diagnosis. Life sucks at times.
When someone suffers but still trusts God and loves God and does the right thing, that is faith.
Last week we said we need faith in order to exercise our ministry.
We also need faith is when things go wrong. Many people have turned away from God when times have got tough. They have felt that God has let them down; that faith in God hadn’t protected them from pain so what use is it? It is very easy to get disenchanted – to blame God.
On the other hand, some people say, “Despite all the evidence, I still trust God. Even when the circumstances seem to say that God has forgotten me, or God has let me down – even when people might say, “Where is your God now?”, I will still trust God.” Great miracles are spectacular and exciting – and they are real and I am sure God wants to do more of them – but I think the faith that holds onto God in the midst of suffering, and does the right thing, is at least as wonderful. That is also a miracle.
Job suffered unimaginable pain but, even in the midst of that, he said, “Though He slay, yet will I hope in Him” (Job 13:15). Even if God kills me, I will trust Him.
God had told Habakkuk that great judgement was going to come on Judah at the hands of their enemies, the Chaldeans (or Babylonians). Habakkuk argued with God about that but in the end said:
Habakkuk 3:17-19 Though the fig-tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the sheepfold
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Saviour.
19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.
Even if everything goes wrong, I will rejoice in the Lord. He is my strength. My faith in God doesn’t fluctuate with the circumstances. I will trust Him even when I have nothing left.
Suffering tests our faith. Some turn away from God; some hold on tight to God.
1 Peter 1:6-9 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
How can we have faith when things go wrong? In the midst of suffering, how can we continue to trust God? How can we have the faith to do what seems impossible? Jesus provides valuable lessons.
- Be a person of faith before the trial hits
When tragedy hits, it is too late to suddenly become a person of faith. There may be exceptions, but generally, it is those who are in the habit of trusting God who are able to trust Him in suffering.
Jesus had lived a life of consistent faith. But even such a well-engrained faith was severely tested. Be a person of faith now – trust God and act now – so that you know how to trust God when that is harder.
- Know the scriptures
Jesus knew that what was happening was the fulfilment of scripture. In v.56 He said again, “This has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.”
It is much easier to trust God when we know that He is in control and we know the promises He has made. If we know them, the Holy Spirit can bring them to mind again when we really need them.
- Remember God’s past goodness
Jesus and the disciples were in Jerusalem celebrating the Passover. Along with thousands of others they recalled how God had passed over the Hebrews’ homes in Egypt, because of the blood of the lamb on the doorposts, sparing the first-born son and delivering the Israelites out of slavery. There were so many parallels between that event and Jesus’ coming death as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus must have been encouraged by the reminder that God’s plan was being worked out.
If we can tell stories of God’s past goodness, that strengthens us to trust Him for future goodness as well. The God who has done these things in the past, can be trusted. Do you have stories of God’s grace? Do you know from your own experience that God can be trusted?
- Do not stop reading the Bible, praying and meeting with other Christians.
When we suffer, praying and Bible reading can be hard. We might withdraw from Christian fellowship because we are preoccupied with our own pain or we don’t want people to see we are struggling. But Jesus did the opposite. He prioritised time with the disciples. They shared the Passover. He took them with Him into Gethsemane and specifically asked for their support. “Stay here and keep watch with me.” He gave time to prayer. He wrestled with God in prayer until He had come to the point of faith.
In suffering we need to draw closer to God even though the temptation might be to move away.
And ask other people to pray for you, just like Jesus did.
- Trust that God knows what He is doing
Although Jesus prayed to not have to die, he repeatedly said, “Yet not as I will, but as You will.” He still hadn’t come to the point of peace but there was a submission to God’s perfect will.
Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
In all things, God works for our good. Can we believe that God will use even our suffering to do something good in our lives? Do we believe God is in control, bring good out of bad?
During the worst period of my life, people said to me, “God is going to make you a better person because of this experience.” I didn’t necessarily appreciate that. I thought I didn’t need any improvement – no not really! It is true. God uses suffering to grow us and refine us.
Romans 5:3-5 3…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
In Jesus’ case, of course, the good God was working out was the salvation of the world.
- Think about eternity
Pain is temporary. This world is temporary. Faith is eternal. We can abandon God. We can decide that He is not to be trusted. That might give us some short-term satisfaction but it doesn’t compare with the joy of spending eternity with Him. We need to see beyond the immediate.
Hebrews 12:1-3 …Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Jesus endured the Cross because of the joy on the other side. Go through the pain trusting God for the joy. Sometimes faith just means holding onto God when it is hard – but because we trust Him and know that He promises joy in the future.