O Sacred Head, Now Wounded
The Wound of Apathy
A sermon based on Matthew 26:36-46
Sunday, March 19, 2017 – Lent 3
Which is worse: Ignorance? Or apathy? I don't know. And, honestly, I don't care. (See what I did there? Ignorance; "I don't know." Apathy; "I don't care.") J
Actually, the case could be made that apathy is worse than ignorance. Jesus once scolded the people of the cities in Galilee who saw his miracles. He told them, "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you." (Matthew 11:21-24)
They could no longer claim ignorance as an excuse for their unbelief. They knew better. They weren't ignorant, just apathetic toward Jesus and his claims. And so, they, who should have known better, would suffer a harsher punishment.
Well, if anyone should have known better about who Jesus was and what he had come to do, it was the disciples. Even after Jesus repeatedly told his disciples that he would be betrayed, arrested, and killed… Even after Jesus told them when this would all happen—during the Feast of the Passover… Even after Jesus told them to keep watch for a few hours, indicating the events would be set in motion that very night… Nevertheless, the disciples, who should have known better, were apathetic to our Savior's plight. And instead of keeping watch, they fell asleep.
If anyone should know better about who Jesus is and what he came to do, it should be us, who have the New Testament and, with it, 20/20 hindsight vision, who have heard and read and studies these accounts countless times! Nevertheless, aren't we too all too often apathetic to our Savior, choosing to ignore what he says that we might be more comfortable? And so it ought to be more bearable for Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom on the day of Judgment than it is for us.
Thank God, then, that Jesus endured the wound of apathy to pay for our sins of apathy, so we won't go down to the depths, but will be lifted up to the skies by his grace.
Our text for this morning is found in Matthew 26:36-46…
36 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." 37 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."
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."
40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" he asked Peter. 41 "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."
42 He went away a second time and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."
43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!"
Apathy is defined as a "lack of feeling or emotion," or a "lack of interest or concern." And that's exactly what Jesus' disciples showed him on Maundy Thursday. Though Jesus was distraught, "sorrowful and troubled" at the thought of what was about to happen to him, his disciples didn't seem to care. Though Jesus told them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," they showed little concern for him. Though Jesus asked them to, "Stay here and keep watch with me," so he could focus on his prayers without having to look over his shoulder for the soldiers who would arrest and abuse him, his disciples showed little interest. They were too tired.
Having just enjoyed the Passover dinner and a few cups of wine, their bellies were full and they grew drowsy. And while Jesus wrestled with his fears and his prayers, they were sound asleep. The same three who were excited to see Jesus in his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, were now apathetic to see Jesus in his suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane.
How does that feel—to be the object of apathy among those you love? Has it happened to you? You're eager to share some exciting news with a friend or a parent or a spouse. You rush through the door and blurt out the news that brings you such joy—the promotion, the aced exam, the good news you just heard from the doctor—and the other person doesn't even look up from the paper or magazine or TV. The one who you care about and want to share in your excitement just says in a monotone voice that makes it clear that he or she could care less, "Uh-huh. That's nice."
How does it feel when you're desperate for help and come to someone you care about seeking their assistance and they say, "I don't really care. That's your problem."? It hurts, doesn't it? It hurts because they aren't just saying that they don't care about your news or your problem. They're saying that they don't care about you. You don't mean that much to them.
Jesus was hurt by this apathy his disciples—his three closest friends!—displayed in the garden that night. Can't you hear that hurt in his voice? "Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" "Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!"
And Jesus is hurt by the apathy we show him. And you can't argue that we don't. We show apathy toward his Word when we don't read it and study it and learn it. We show apathy toward his church when we don't come to worship or come to serve. We show apathy toward his people when we show little concern or interest in a brother or sister in the faith who's been absent from worship, who's hurting or suffering, who's lonely and longing for a visit or a call. And what we really say to Jesus by such apathies is, "Jesus, I don't really care about you. You don't mean that much to me."
So when we cry to him for help, "Jesus, I can never save myself! Without you, I am surely bound for hell forever!" we ought to hear Jesus reply with apathy to our plight, "That's nice. I don't really care. That's your problem." We deserve to hear him say to us on Judgment Day, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." (Matthew 25:45) And we deserve to go away to eternal punishment for the apathy we so often show to Jesus.
That's what we deserve. But that's not what we get because Jesus was anything but apathetic toward us. He showed the greatest feeling and emotion, interest and concern for you and me. And we see that clearly in the garden that night as he was about to go off to the cross alone, while others were apathetic to his fate.
As Jesus was in the garden all alone, abandoned by his friends in their apathetic slumber, he knew things were about to get waaaay worse. He would soon be abandoned by God the Father on the cross—the very next day. And he prayed to the Father in earnest.
"My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me…"
"Abba, please! I don't want to do this! You can do anything! Please, take this cup away! Hell is in that cup! Death and damnation are in that cup! My Father, it will tear me away from you if I drink that cup! I don't want to do this! Sin is in that cup! And if I drink it you won't look at me. You will loathe me. I will hate myself. I don't want to drink it. Abba, Abba, please… take the cup away!"
And yet, the Father wouldn't take it away and Jesus would drink it, because so great is their love, their emotions, their feelings, their interest, their concern… for you, for me, who are so often apathetic toward them.
So Jesus prayed, "Yet not as I will, but as you will…. My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done." And he went "into the hands of sinners," to be abused by them, to be mocked and beaten by them, to be scourged and bled by them, to be tortured and crucified by them. He went to drink the cup and to be abandoned by the Father who seemed so apathetic to the Son's cries of agony, to endure the hell of separation from his love, to rescue you and me from our sins of apathy and from every sin! Yes, he was anything but apathetic to our plight.
And we can no longer be apathetic toward him who loved us so much! No! Now, "We love because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19) We love him with an undying love. We love his Word—his love letter to us! We love his church where we hear his Word and especially that Word of his forgiving love! We love his church where we receive the tangible expression of his love as he give his very body and his blood. We love his people because we love him. And we long to show our love, as we put it into action, as we serve Jesus and serve others.
Don't be apathetic to God's great love for you. But stay awake! Keep watch! "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into… [apathy.]" You know what Jesus has done for you. And I know that you do care. So, ignorance or apathy? Let's have neither one! But let's continue to learn more about our Savior and his great love for us as we daily dig into his Word! Let's continue to care about what he did for us and love him for it and show our unending thanks in all that we say and do. In the name of Jesus, who drank that cup for us, dear friends, amen.