A Saviour who sympathises - Matthew 26:36-46

This is a sermon by Peter Birnie from 21st March 2021.

Click here to read the bible passage. Click here to use larger text.

An audio recording of this sermon is available.

Click here to download and save for future listening

Passion 3 Matthew 26v36-46 “A Saviour who Sympathises”



Have you ever felt like this; “Surely no one has ever been through what I am going through right now – the situation in our country is very difficult, but even apart from that, I have so many personal difficulties that I can’t be anything but discouraged and down.” Perhaps you personally aren’t in a position like that right now but probably someone you love is feeling at least a bit like this. That is actually a quote from a 400 year-old book (I have modernised the language a bit) and it shows us that these feelings of desperation that many people experience are nothing new – they are a sadly common and normal part of the human experience in this world.


And they often lead a person to asking the heart-felt, sincere question, “Does God not care about me?” I am not talking about the philosophical question that many people ask to deflect away any real engagement with Jesus - “How can an almighty God of love be compatible with suffering?” – for me that is not a particularly interesting question to spend time on anymore because even when you show that there is a logical satisfying answer it doesn’t change the attitude of the questioner at all. Why? Because they aren’t really interested in an answer, they just want to keep Jesus at more than arm’s length.   


However, the heart-felt question of “Does God not care about me?” is a wonderful question to spend time on because the answer to it can fill us with love for Jesus and utterly change the way that we live. In Matthew 26 v 36-46 we see the richness of God’s care for his people – Jesus is a saviour who sympathises, and as we study these verses you can be certain that the love he has for you is deeper and wider and higher and purer and better than anything you could ever imagine. God cares about you.   


          1) We must see that the saviour suffered (v36-38)


V36 “Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray’.” They have just finished eating the Passover meal together, a meal at which Jesus had both stooped down as a slave to wash the feet of the disciples and where Jesus had declared that the bread and the wine were his body and blood, signs of a wonderful covenant (solemn promise) that God had made with his people. Jesus knew he was about to serve his followers in the greatest possible way by dying bearing their sin so that the full forgiveness and new life with God that had been promised in God’s word for centuries could be offered to anyone of us undeserving sinners. Jesus would soon die, but his suffering had already begun and it is so important for us to see that the saviour suffered.  


In this garden overlooking Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives, a garden near where, only 4 days previously, Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey to the shouts and praise of the crowd, Jesus allows his closest friends to see him in the midst of the deepest struggle he will ever face. Think of a family with young kids that you love. If you saw their youngest child crying you might be a little concerned (but kids cry don’t they), however, if you saw the Mum or Dad crying then you would be really rattled – something seriously bad must be happening.

Jesus was a proper hard strong man – he had faced more opposition in his life than all of ours put together, he had come face to face with Satan himself and said no to temptation, he had thrown the money lenders out of the Temple courts in righteous anger, where the disciples were often gripped with fear and worry, Jesus had been calm, even sleeping through a storm that should have killed him. It is going to take something extraordinary to lay him low – v37+38 “He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’” For the first time ever, the disciples see Jesus staggering under the weight upon him.

The terror of what lies ahead weighs dreadfully upon Jesus. He knows what is coming – bad enough is the spiritual, emotional, psychological, and physical torture within the next few hours  as arrest, a disgrace of a trial, beatings, insults and many other humiliations beckon.

But even worse will be the parade through the streets to the place of execution dragging his cross with him and then the agony of nails tearing into flesh, the ripping of wrists and feet as the cross is juddered into place, and then the slow crushing asphyxiation of crucifixion as breaths are less and less possible to take.

Worse still, the bitter taste of sin as Jesus becomes that curse, as the one without sin becomes sin on our behalf – the one who had never so much as disobeyed his parents or exaggerated a story bears God’s anger against war and abuse and murder and oppression, as he feels the weight of every one of my sins and your sins and the sins of the whole world from ages past to ages future.

And then worst of all, the separation from His Father as God’s face is turned away for the only time in eternity from the one and only loved Son.   


Our saviour Jesus, God in flesh, as he prepared for this ordeal, was already suffering to such an extent in the garden of Gethsemane that a doctor called Luke in another account described him as sweating drops of blood. And the disciples were there to see this – they saw the suffering that qualifies Jesus to be the sympathetic God, the God of real tenderness, concern and care for his people when they suffer. “Does God not care about me in my suffering?” – oh he cares, God himself remembers suffering, he remembers suffering for you. We too, along with the disciples, must see that the Saviour suffered.

          2) We must see that he suffered to deal with our weakness (v39-44)

And we must understand that he suffered to deal with our weakness and sin. Verses 39-44 highlight both the motivation for and the necessity of Jesus’ sufferings.

The Motivation is seen in verse 39: Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’” Jesus’ motivation for going through such extreme suffering, willingly stepping out of the trench and walking through no man’s land to the cross, was obedience to his Father. “Not my will, but yours be done.” Of course Jesus desired another way (3 times makes the same plea to his father) – the cross is the lowest point of human history as well as the highest point of divine love. The fact that he was fully God as well as fully man didn’t downplay the suffering around the cross, rather it increased that suffering to an unmeasurable degree (Holiness tasting sin, perfection being punished). But Jesus was going to drink the whole cup full of suffering because that was what His Father commanded.

And the necessity of Christ’s sufferings is shown up starkly by the weakness of the disciples in this account. One of the things that people have found most difficult during the Covid19 pandemic has been the rules stopping us from spending time with loved ones as they suffered in hospital or suffered in isolation at home. “We should be with them” is such a strong conviction in our lives when those we love are in great difficulty. 

But the disciples here, and Peter, James and John in particular, failed to an incredible extent. They had such a great chance to be with Jesus in his trials and they blew it. For years Jesus had been there for them to stir them to courage when they faltered, to comfort them when they struggled, to put them back on the right track when they fell. And he had constantly given out to the needy all around him as well. So at this point, when Jesus pours out his heart to his closest friends and asks them to keep watch while he is sorrowful to the point of death, they who loved him would have been desperate to stand firm on his behalf; but verse 40 “Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?”

The answer, unfortunately, is no. No once, no twice, no three times in a row. Out of all the crowds who loved Jesus, the disciples were the ones you would be sure would stand by Jesus when it really mattered. And out of all the disciples, Peter, James and John were his closest friends and most loyal allies. Peter, James and John end up being giants of the New Testament, men so vital to the beginning of the church. They were the best men for this job, and they failed miserably. Because as Jesus said, even though their spirits were willing, their flesh was weak. What we have got to understand here is that the strongest, most courageous, most noble people in the world are absolutely incapable of saving themselves. Sin means we are completely helpless when it comes to obeying and pleasing God – you and I are weak, you and I are far too weak to beat sin. Which by ourselves puts us in a hopeless position before God. Judgement and punishment – hell.  

Ever since people first turned away from God this has been the case; one of the most sobering verses in the bible that echoes all the way through until the cross is really near the beginning in Genesis chapter 3 when God is talking to Adam and Eve’s son Cain and says; “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted, but if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Cain couldn’t do what is right, couldn’t rule over sin, and in his weakness it had him – he killed his brother Abel. That has been humanity’s pattern and experience ever since and the brokenness of the world is evidence for this. (Home group and prayer requests on Wed night – illness, mental health trials, loved ones caught in terrible patterns and friendships, death).


So Jesus suffered. Because from eternity past, before the creation of the world, the plan of the Triune God to make for himself a people to love, required also that he would redeem for himself that loved people (buy them back in the most costly way). Because we are weak. Because of our sin. Even with a willing spirit our flesh is captive to sin and its desires. The sympathy that God has for weak creatures like us drove him to love-steeped action. Because the creator sympathises with you in your weakness, because the almighty judge loves you in your weakness, because there was no other way, Jesus said “not my will but yours be done” and he went willingly, lovingly, obediently, courageously, victoriously to the cross.



Conclusion: His suffering is THE answer to ALL questions (v45&46)

Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!’”

When people ask “Does God not care about me?” the cross is not a cop-out answer to give. The cross is God’s full and final answer. I am tempted to say to people who are suffering “we don’t know why you are suffering but we do know God cares” – but that is not the best I can do. The best I can do is to take them to the cross of Jesus Christ because there, at the cross, all the questions that matter most are answered;   

Does he love me? YES

Is he strong enough to do anything about my suffering? YES

Why won’t he do anything about my suffering? HE HAS.

The big problem we have is not that there aren’t answers but rather than we have to wait. The cross has already dealt with the cause and the consequences of our sin and those who trust Jesus will never be let down but the cross hasn’t taken away our need to wait patiently in this broken world with faith – in our own suffering, we are to believe God, wait for God, let our trials make us copy Jesus as he asked the questions and then obeyed, as he waited upon his father, as he trusted in God’s will.

Let me finish with another quote from that (nearly) 400 year-old book I started with; “If ever God’s people here in England had cause to be afflicted, troubled, and humbled under the hand of the Lord, and to run together in prayer, surely they have reason now.” It wasn’t Covid19 then, it was the aftermath of civil war, but that quote contains the correct response to the sufferings that we feel so acutely. Our trouble and affliction should humble us, should let us see clearly how weak we are, and should lead us to run to God in need. And the God we can run to, the one True God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is the God of love. The God of the cross. The sympathetic saviour who even now still offers you his deep, sin-defeating, death-crushing, eternity-guaranteeing love. Let’s pray.   



Copyright information: The sermon texts are copyright and are available for personal use only. Sermon media provided by Newland Media. If you wish to use them in other ways, please contact us for permission.