1st Sunday in Lent February 18, 2024


Who Was There?

Matthew 26:42-44

Scripture Readings

Genesis 22:1-14
Matthew 26:36-56


140, 142, 144, 150

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) (TLH) unless otherwise noted

Sermon Audio: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/ministrybymail

Prayer of the Day: Almighty and everlasting God, in Your tender love for us You sent Your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon Himself our nature, and to suffer death upon the Cross, giving us the example of His great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of His suffering, and come to share in His resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our meditation is based on the passion narrative, our Savior suffering in the Garden alone. You will see that every detail of Holy Scripture is recorded to give certainty of the forgiveness yours in Christ Jesus. Again, the Evangelist Matthew records:

Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy. So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.

O Lamb of God, bless Thy Word that we may trust in Thee. Amen.

Some years ago on a home visit, a child went into great detail about her parents’ wedding day. A little girl around the age of four started out pointing to a picture on the wall, telling me how beautiful her mother’s dress was. She then went on about the food they ate that day and how nice all the flowers were. Before the twist, where the little girl told me all about the dress she herself wore for the occasion, that she was in the wedding too.

At which point, the parents, with a mild look of horror on their faces, abruptly hushed their daughter’s tall tale: “You weren’t there. You weren’t even born yet.”

For any story you’re told, it serves you well to verify that the one you’re talking to is a first-hand source. And especially when considering the accuracy of the details being relayed, to ask: “Were you there?”

Today we gather together to read through and reflect on Jesus’ passion and death, to thoroughly review that night in which He was betrayed, the hours of a hectic predawn trial, and the bitter smart of a crucifixion the following afternoon. In one narrative compiling each detail recorded across each of the four gospel accounts, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But in full disclosure, we have to be honest enough to admit that only some of the four evangelists saw some of these events first hand, others none at all.

So today, we consider the important question, “Who was there?”

Well, there were the disciples. Hand-selected by Jesus to wander three years with Him to listen to the good news He preached and watch Him perform miracles throughout the land. All twelve of them are there but not the whole time. They’re in and out. Judas is busy betraying his dear Teacher. The other eleven scatter, only some of them eyewitnesses to a few events here and there throughout. Would you trust any of them to put together a solid rendition of what happened that night?

The priests and Pharisees were there. In fact, they’re the main characters under the leadership of Annas and Caiaphas, who question Jesus and mock Him. But they are so determined to get Jesus out of the way, they’re willing to twist any fact or word out of context in order to have Him put to death. Would you consider their version of the story to be credible?

Pilate and Herod also serve as first-hand witnesses. But Herod the Tetrarch seems to be throwing some sort of early morning party for friends. Is an inebriated jokester’s story the one to trust? Pilate might be the one who talks to Jesus most that day, but he’s also the one who asks, “What is truth?”

Everyone involved in this story is so consumed in manipulation, lies, confusion, and postmodern subjectivism, none of them can be trusted for an accurate account.

You see, four year old girls aren’t the only ones who make up stories. We all do. Sometimes, they start out well intentioned enough. Exciting stories which become even more so with each retelling of the events, replete with extra adjectives and extenuated drama.

Like the little girl who was so captivated with the story of her parents’ wedding, she had actually convinced herself she was there, we make up details without meaning to, not only so the story sounds great, but so your version comes across the best one out there. We gently mold individual words, actions, and reactions in a way to make sure people know you’re not the one really at fault.

Stories which cover up personal guilt or shame; fabricated fables which explain away your sins. Details which keep changing depending on who you’re trying to convince at any given moment.

Judas had his version of what happened that night. So did Peter. So did Annas, Caiaphas, and Herod. So too, our stories conflict, one for your spouse, another for your coworkers, another for complete strangers, the one you tell yourself. Such that when confronted with so many conflicting versions, Pilate’s question almost seems genuine, “What is truth?”

But your God has no such question. He knows. And His truth shushes all our tales. His Law reveals our sin. Recorded by His prophets and apostles long ago, that Law shows your stories for what they are. And the Bible says what all such sinners deserve is eternal death.

But the God of love refuses to tell a half story; refuses to leave you with a cliffhanger trapped in sin and destined for hell.

No, the center and pinnacle of all He has to say to you is our focus during Lent. The story of Jesus and how He came to free you from your sins by His bitter suffering and death. It is the good news of your eternal life by His blood and merit alone.

But take a good look at who was there when all this went down. If you can’t trust what they have to say, how can you have any certainty what actually happened that night to Jesus?

Well, the answer to that question is found in none of the people who were there. It is found in no event on public display for any crowd to see. No, the answer comes at a point in the story when absolutely no one was there.

When Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane, He took but three of His disciples along, and then left those three behind to venture deeper into the Garden all by Himself about a stone’s throw away. A stone’s throw away, though not a three-mile hike, just far enough to make clear Jesus was out of their sight. And then, the added detail that once Jesus was hidden away in the olive grove all alone, the disciples fall asleep.

There, with no one around, the closest few eyes closed shut, Jesus expresses out loud the severity of what He’s about to endure: If Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me. Boldly declaring His determination to do whatever necessary to save your soul: Nevertheless not My will, but Thine, be done. And then when the sins of all mankind are placed on the innocent Lamb of God, an anguish so severe that He trembles in bloody sweat.

But how do we know any of these details? Who was there? The Bible clearly says in this case, Not one soul. No one saw this happen with their eyes.

Then how do we know? Who wrote it down? Who’s even telling this story?

God is.

God writes every detail of Holy Scripture. And the Garden of Gethsemane is proof, because no one was there to see Jesus take your sins as His own except God Himself.

Some of the four evangelists saw some of the Passion happen. Some not at all. That matters not, because those holy men of old, who wrote as moved by the Holy Ghost, were inspired by God Himself to record what He wanted them to write… what He wanted you to read, hear, and believe.

God can do anything in an instant. Jesus could have died for the sins of the world in a minute and a half or less, but in His infinite wisdom, Jesus’ Passion stretches out across a 24-hour span of time, evening and morning, the day of your redemption.

And everything which happens across those 24 hours, every detail recorded in Holy Scripture is there from Him for your comfort.

Anything which brings you shame, you can see it become Jesus’ in Gethsemane. Any sin which weighs you down, see Him sweat it away in drops of blood. If you fear the consequences of your mistakes in word or deed, see your sins took Him to the crucifixion as the guarantee that He suffered it all in your place.

When your stories bring you pain. When you’re caught in a lie. When you’re ashamed of tales you have told others or that you’ve convinced yourself of, turn to this one story, the Passion of our Lord, and find balm and healing for your heart.

You see, once it was all over and Jesus is buried in the ground, everyone who had been there now had to somehow cope with what happened in one way or another. Those like Herod who were confused from the start, dismiss the Passion as some insignificant story not worth giving second thought. Those like Annas and Caiaphas who deal with their guilt by telling even more false stories to cover their first. Judas kills himself.

But there were some, filled with genuine sorrow and regret, so burdened by their own part in the story, that they gather together behind closed doors in fear. It was to these penitent disciples that the resurrected Lord appears to show them the marks in His hands and the wound in His side, and declare, Peace be to you. (John 20:21) These are words of forgiveness He gladly repeats to every repentant heart.

That’s why back in the Garden Jesus kept going back to nudge His disciples out of sleep, Watch. Look, something is happening. And it’s for you.

He says the same to you throughout these weeks of Lent. Watch. Look at God’s Son suffer and die. Look at all this written by your God for you.

So when others come to you with their tales of sin, sorrow, and pain, tell them this story of Jesus. You might doubt your authority, your expertise to do so, “Who am I to say what happened so long before I was born?”

True enough, but God makes you as much the eyewitness as any other believer, gives you the authority to tell this tale as if you were. For with your sins on His cross, your soul in His heart… Who was there? The Bible says you were. Amen.

—Pastor Timothy T. Daub

Prince of Peace Lutheran Church
Hecla, SD

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