Matthew 26:41 - Our King, Majestic in His Solitude
The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.Matthew 26:41
The cross on Golgotha was an altar but also a throne. As a priest, Jesus Christ offered his body on the cross to deliver us from our sins; as King, He fought against the enemy of his people in horrible agony on the cross and triumphed. God’s people should see his royal dignity exalted on the cross and not just his priestly office.
Though the words of our passage were spoken by the Lord to his three closest disciples, Peter, James, and John, yet they were recorded in order to reveal the glory of Jesus the King.
Many things in the last week of his suffering point to the majesty of his royal office. On Sunday Jesus went up to Jerusalem upon the songs and praise of the people. On Monday and Tuesday He fought against the religious leaders in the temple area and won victory after victory. On Thursday He dealt majestically with his own disciple Judas Iscariot who plotted to betray his Lord. And now He had told the disciples, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” A shepherd is a well-known image in the Bible for Israel’s king.
But now, when the Lord arrives at the garden of Gethsemane, we discover the awful humanity of his royal office. Awful not because we recoil at his humanity but because He had to bear such weight upon human shoulders. His suffering as King is beyond comprehension. He did not triumph with divine distain, untouched by the conflict. He trembled so deeply at the battle He was about to fight that He cried out in prayer,
My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.
And He confided to his three closest disciples, My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.
These words show that He really did share our flesh and participated fully in the weakness of our human condition. He was “made like his brothers in every way” (Hebrews 2:17) and “He truly assumed a real human nature with all its infirmities” (BC Art 18). He knew from personal experience that the body is weak – his body was weak. In his human nature, He dreaded the agony that his royal office would demand of Him.
He had brought his disciples with Him to Gethsemane in order that they might support his weak human nature. They had all promised that they would. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you,” Peter said. And all the other disciples said the same. The Lord did not doubt their zeal. The spirit was willing. But they could not live up to their promise. The body was weak. After praying to his Father, the Lord came back to his disciples and found them sleeping. They could not keep watch with Him for one hour because the body was weak.
And precisely there we see the awesome love of God in Jesus Christ. His spirit was willing and, despite the weakness of his body, He went forward. He said to the Father, “Yet, not as I will, but as you will.” He knew that He must fight the enemy alone. He knew that He would confront the horrors of hell itself by Himself. But when He came back and found his disciples asleep, He was confronted by the awful reality: He must fight the battle all alone. And still, He goes forward: “Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” Though He longed for the support of his disciples, He knew they would fail Him. With majestic dignity He advanced on the foe, into a battle which He knew would bring Him into the torment of hell.
That victory is ours by faith in Jesus Christ. The disciples failed the Lord. We all do. The body is weak. But Christ went forward to bear the punishment our sins deserved nevertheless. He came to save not the strong but the weak. Though his body was weak, yet by the sheer power of his love for us, that is, by the strength of his spirit, He fought for our freedom all alone. Let us meditate on his glory and find in it strength for our spirits. The King triumphed in majestic solitude, but now He reigns with us and through us, strengthening our bodies to serve Him. May our Lord be pleased to use our commemoration of his suffering and death to kindle greater spiritual zeal and bodily strength.