Now Matthew, the 26th chapter, beginning at the 36th verse: "Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt" [verses 36-39].
I want you to see this picture tonight because the last twenty-four hours in the life of Christ was the darkest period in the history of the entire world. Here we find an incident in the last hours of the life of Christ which I want us to think about tonight and see what practical application we have in our own lives and the world in which we live.
Many people write to me and say, "We do not understand the Gospel. We do not understand what you mean by receiving Christ or being born again." But I think more people write to me and say this:
They do not understand why Christ had to die on the cross in order for us to be saved. They do not understand the dark hours of Gethsemane. They do not understand why Christ voluntarily laid down His life. They do not understand why He endured the shame of the cross. They do not understand all the phrases in the Bible that talk about the blood.
Many times in the Scriptures you find the phrase, "the blood of Christ" [Hebrews 9:14]; "the blood of Christ cleanseth us from all sin" [see 1 John 1:7]. People revolt against that. They do not like that, and they wonder why that is in the Bible. They wonder why so much stress is placed upon the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Tonight I want us to see that these last twenty-four hours in the life of Christ were the darkest in history, yet it was the darkness just before the dawn.
I believe that history repeats itself. And when the world comes to that moment of despair--that moment when it is about to blow itself apart, that moment when it seems there is no solution--at that moment, the sun will rise. The kingdom of God shall come because we have the promise in the Scripture that Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, is coming back to this earth again. He is going to set up His kingdom and then shall the prayer be answered as He taught in the Lord's Prayer, "Thy kingdom come" [Matthew 6:10]. His kingdom shall rule.
But before the triumph, before the crown, before the kingdom, before the victory, there had to come the suffering. Before you can share in Christ's victory, before you can have a new life here and now, before you can go to heaven, before you can claim the promise that we shall someday reign with Christ, you, too, must come to that same cross. You, too, must come in simple faith and stand at the foot of that cross and receive the Savior who was willing to go to the cross.
I want you to see Him on this night before He died. He has had the last supper with the disciples in the upper room, and they have gone now to the Mount of Olives. Now they are in the garden that is called Gethsemane. And Jesus leaves eight of His disciples on the outskirts of the garden and He takes three with Him--Peter, James and John. He goes a little further into the garden, and He tells these three disciples to watch and pray. Then He goes about a stone's throw farther along and falls prostrate on the ground and begins the agonizing prayer. Before He was finished, the Bible says He sweat, as it were, great drops of blood [see Luke 22:44].
What agony! How Christ must have prayed that night. Many times in Scripture you find Christ praying all night. If Jesus Christ had to pray all night, what about us in 1958? With our race problems, with our problem of communism, with the problem of crime that is getting worse with every passing day, with all the social problems that we face in the world and the personal problems and the problem of sin, we Americans are not praying. We are not calling upon God. We give lip service to God, but our hearts are far from Him [see Matthew 15:8].
Why, when the President of the United States gave a proclamation for a day of prayer the other day, you did not read very much about it. Very few churches observed it. Very few people spent any time in prayer. When the President said we should call on God, the people did not call on God.
We cannot call ourselves a Christian nation tonight. There are Christians living in America, and Christian influences have been felt in this country; but we today are a heathen, pagan country. We are away from God. We have beautiful churches, but our hearts are far from God. We are not spending time in prayer. The blackest hour in history since the last twenty-four hours of the life of Christ we are living in today. We are living on the brink of hell itself, living on the brink of annihilation. And we are not praying. We are not calling upon God.
Jesus prayed and agonized until blood drops came out from Him. That night Jesus prayed a mysterious prayer, an unusual prayer, a strange prayer. He said, "O God, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done." What did He mean by that prayer, "Let this cup pass from me"?
A cup of medicine is offered to a child, and he shrinks back. Then, at the bidding of his father, he takes it. That night a bitter cup was offered to Jesus, and He shrank from it. Why? I want you to see it tonight. Always the cross had been before Christ since the day He was at His baptism [see John 1:29]; at the temptation [see Matthew 4:1-11]; and at the marriage of Cana when He said, "My hour is not yet come" [see John 2:1-4]; when the crowd wanted to make Him a king at the Mount of Transfiguration, when He talked to Elijah and Moses [see Matthew 17:1-4]. He knew that He must die.
He told His disciples He must go to the cross. He read in the Old Testament Scriptures about the suffering the Messiah must endure. The shadow of the cross was before Him all the time. He knew that He had to go to the cross to pay for our sins if we were to be saved. But here was the final hour, and the cup of suffering was bitter.
In order for us to understand the chemical formula of the elixir of the cup that night, I want us to look into it deeply for a moment. I want us to see it and analyze it. I want us to see how much Christ endured that we might be forgiven of sin, that we might go to heaven, that we might have some hope of the solution of our problems.
The first element in that cup was physical pain. Men had died terrible deaths before. Men had been thrown into boiling water; men had been burned at the stake. Other men had died and suffered physical pain. But the death of the cross was something even worse than that. The death of the cross is said to be the worst possible torture that a man can endure. Because, first, they would strip a man to the waist. Then they would tie his hands together and bend him over and take long leather thongs with lead pellets or steel pellets embedded in the leather thongs, and beat him across the back until his back was in ribbons. And many times the lash of those thongs would come around his face and take his eyes out by the sockets, even tear his teeth out. Often death followed just the scourging and the floggings that were given by great muscular men. Jesus endured that kind of flogging for you and for me.
Then they took a crown of thorns and placed it on His brow, and His face bled as they jerked His beard off. Then they spat in His face until He was covered from head to foot with the spittle of the people. Hatred, prejudice, intolerance, bigotry, all that the human heart could devise against Christ. Christ was not killed by Rome or Israel. The Bible tells us that Christ was crucified by you and me; my sins and your sins crucified Christ. We had a part in it, all the hatred of mankind.
We have seen in the past few days what hatred can do. We have seen how some men with sticks of dynamite can blow up synagogues just to express their hate. May God have mercy upon them. The human heart is expressed in that cross as they flogged Him, as they beat Him, as they spit on Him, as they put a crown of thorns on Him.
Then they gave Him a 250-pound cross to carry. He stumbled along the road with that cross until Simon of Cyrene had to come and help Him carry the cross [see Mark 15:21]. And I am certain Simon, today in heaven, is thrilled and proud of the fact that he helped Jesus carry the cross. Have you helped Jesus to carry the cross, or were you one of those putting nails in His hands?
You say, "But, Billy, I would never put a nail in Jesus' hands. I would never flog Him." Wouldn't you? You did it today! The sin that you committed today helped to crucify Christ because those people were all representative. We were expressing ourselves in them. You and I helped crucify Jesus. He was dying for our sins.
Then they took Him to Golgotha's mountain, and they put spikes in His hands. They tore His hands. They tore His hands and His feet. He never uttered a sound. The pain, the thirst--His tongue was swollen double. He hung hour upon hour on that terrible cross. Then at the end--many times when a person is dying on a cross the ravenous birds, the vultures, would come with their iron-like beaks and pick at him while he was still alive. That was the cross.
And night--the night before He died, Jesus was on His knees before God and saying, "O God, if it is possible to save Billy Graham, if it is possible to save Jim Jones, if it is possible to save men and women some other way without me having to endure that pain, O God, find it."
But there was another suffering. There was the suffering of loneliness, because Jesus went to the cross alone. No one else could go with Him. He was the Son of God. He was the only one in the universe who could bear all of our sins. He was the Paschal Lamb that passover season, and the lamb had to be without blemish [see Exodus 12:5]. He was the Paschal Lamb being slain from the foundation of the world for our sins [see Revelation 13:8]. He alone had in His body and His soul the capacity to bear our sins.
Because, you see, we had sinned against God. We had rebelled against God, and we deserve death and we deserve judgment and we deserve hell. But Jesus said, "I will take the judgment, I will take the hell, and I will take the suffering." And He went to that cross alone because only He could suffer. Only He could be offered as a sacrifice that would be pleasing to God and would reconcile God and man together. So He endured it alone.
Judas was betraying Him for thirty pieces of silver, about twenty-one dollars [see Matthew 26:14-16]. You have betrayed Him today. The lie you told betrayed Jesus, the lustful thoughts that you have, the immoral deed that you did, the cheating that you did in business. How many times we have betrayed Him! We were a part of that betrayal and are just as guilty as Judas. And we will go to the same place as Judas went unless we repent of our sins and come to Jesus Christ and ask Him to forgive us.
Jesus died alone. The disciples forsook Him, and Peter denied Him. There He is, alone and hanging on the cross for our sins.
There are many types of loneliness. There is the loneliness of solitude. You have been alone when all you could hear was the thunder of the surf alongside the ocean on some faraway beach. I stood on a lonely beach in India, and I did not see a person for miles. The most beautiful beaches in the world, I think, are along the coral strands of India. I heard only the beating against the surf, against the rocks. Loneliness.
Admiral Byrd wrote in his book how he spent five months in the loneliness and darkness of the South Pole. Louis Zamperini, a friend of ours in California, spent thirty-five days alone on a life raft in loneliness, not knowing at any moment when he might be pulled down by a shark or when a Japanese plane would come and machine-gun him. Loneliness.
There are other types of loneliness. There is the loneliness of society. There is the poor creature who is living in a tenement house in New York tonight watching this telecast. You never receive a letter. You never hear a word of encouragement. You never know the handclasp of a friend. Or there is the wealthy society leader whose money has bought everything but happiness and joy. Or there is the country girl in New York or Los Angeles tonight who is seeking fame and fortune in the big city and has been disillusioned and disappointed, and now she is lonely. There is loneliness in a crowd, and some of you living in the midst of the big city are very lonely tonight. There is an emptiness in your heart.
I want to tell you something. You give your life to Christ tonight and He can become your friend, even closer than a brother [see Proverbs 18:24]. He can be with you in your loneliness.
Then there is the loneliness of suffering. Some of you are watching from hospital beds right now, from hospitals all over the country; and you are lonely lying there. A lady gave her life to Christ some time ago. And she said, "I've been crippled for five years with arthritis, and I have suffered. What a terrible suffering I have had." Then she added, "I have spent many a day alone, but never a lonely day."
Give your life to Christ, and you need never have a lonely day. Because, you see, Jesus has also suffered. He knows what it means to suffer, and in suffering He understands your suffering. He can come and put His hand on your brow and comfort you, and be there by your side during those lonely hours of suffering.
Then there is the loneliness of sorrow. You have been in the sickroom and you have seen a loved one snatched from you. You could not do anything about it. Your heart has been crushed by sorrow.
There is disappointment in your life. Maybe your husband has walked out on you. Maybe your boyfriend has left you, and your heart is crushed.
Jesus also suffered, and He knows. He stood at the grave of His friend Lazarus and wept [see John 11-35]. He knows what it means to have a crushing sorrow. He can be there with you right now. He can wipe those tears away. He can give you a joy and peace in your heart and take away that loneliness.
Then there is the loneliness of character. A man may find himself in a community or a society where he has to take a stand alone on some moral issue. It is not easy to stand alone. Moses had to stand alone [see Exodus 3:13-22]. Elijah on Mount Carmel had to stand alone. Everybody in the country was against Elijah. He was the only man that stood for God. [See 1 Kings 18:17-46.]
The fact is, we who know the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior are in a small minority in the world. We are going to be standing more and more alone. Someday we may have to pay with our blood and our life for our faith in Jesus Christ. You are standing alone in your office. You are the only one who is trying to live for Christ on the high school campus. You are the only one in your class. You are the only one in your community trying to live for God. Sometimes you get discouraged and you feel lonely. Well, remember that almost everybody whom God ever used knew those hours of loneliness.
Then there is the loneliness of sin. That is the worst of all. The Bible says when Judas betrayed Jesus on that last night at the supper, he left the meeting of the disciples and he went out-- because it was night [John 13:30]. You remember when you were young and your conscience was sensitive. If you told a lie, your conscience spoke to you. But now it has become hardened and seared. There are many of you sitting at a bar right now. You wish your life were different. You wish that you were not chained by the habits of sin tonight. You would like to be through but you cannot, although you have tried. Yes, there is loneliness of sin. The older you get the more lonely you will be, because you will be farther away from God. There is nothing but loneliness and remorse.
Go ahead and continue for awhile. The Bible says there is pleasure in sin for a season [see Hebrews 11:25]. You can get away with it for a while.
A man told me one day, "I'm not afraid of going to hell; there are going to be a lot of other people down there." But, listen, the Bible indicates that hell is a lonely place. You won't see anybody else there. You won't even see the devil. A lot of people have an idea that hell is a place where the devil is standing at a furnace and giving the orders, or sitting in a big office running hell. That is not the picture at all.
The picture is one of separation from God and the blackness of night, darkness and loneliness. You will be all alone. You won't see your husband or your wife. You won't see your friends. You will be alone--the loneliness of sin. Sin pays wages [see Romans 6:23]. And it crushes your personality, it crushes your life, it crushes your soul, and it ends up in hell.
Turn to Christ tonight from your sins. Let Him free you. Let Christ come in, and then heaven will be a place of fellowship with your loved ones. Heaven will be a glorious world of fellowship and friendship. There will be no loneliness in heaven. The Bible says there will be no night there [see Revelation 22:5]. What a hope we have, those of us who know Jesus Christ as our Savior.
The Bible says Christ suffered alone. "I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me" [Isaiah 63:3], said Jesus.
The third element in this bitter cup was the mental anguish. Jesus had quoted Isaiah the prophet. Jesus knew He had to suffer. He knew something about the affliction of the next day and that night in the garden. He knew what was going to take place, and naturally He was suffering much anguish as He thought about the suffering of the next day.
We have thousands of people in America who are suffering mentally. We have thousands of psychological problems. We have thousands of people in our mental institutions. We have thousands of people today who are confused mentally. I want to tell you that Jesus can touch your mind if you will let Him come in. Because thousands of our mental problems are the result of spiritual separation from God, or they are the result of idolatry. They are the result of putting other things before God, and that causes mental unbalance many times. There are thousands of people who are suffering mentally.
Down here in the South there are thousands of people who are suffering anguish at this particular time. It is not just a southern problem. It is a world problem. It is the problem on Cyprus, it is the problem in the Middle East, it is the problem in New York, it is the problem in Chicago, it is the problem in the Far East, it is the problem in India. Thousands of people are searching their souls. Their minds are tortured and bewildered, wondering what is the right thing to do in such a complicated situation.
I tell you Christ is the answer. Come to Christ. Come to the foot of the cross and let Him touch your mind, and your heart, and relax your soul. Then shall we have love for our fellowman, as love knows no bounds, and we shall love our neighbors as ourselves [see Matthew 19:19].
There are thousands of people who want to obey the law, but they don't know what the law is. The federal government says one thing and the state government says another, and they are confused. The tremendous confusion comes because it is a constitutional problem as well as a race problem. Many people are making emotional statements at the moment, flag-waving statements, hysterical statements. Would to God that all of us could come to the cross and see in Christ a solution to all the problems that bewilder us and confuse us.
That may not be your problem. There may be some other problem in your life, but you need Jesus. You need Christ. The country needs Christ.
The fourth element in this bitter cup that Jesus was about to drink was the cup of the anguish of soul. The physical pain, the loneliness of its shame, and the mental anguish was nothing compared to the spiritual suffering which Jesus Christ suffered on the cross that day. That night He was thinking about God, and His suffering was wrapped up in one little word "sin." Because that next day Jesus was going to become guilty of your sins and my sins. A cloud was going to pass between Him and God--a cloud, for the first time--and His pure righteous soul was going to be filled with sin. Your sins were going to be laid on Him. The Scripture says that God "had laid on him the iniquity of us all" [Isaiah 53:6]. The Bible says He was "made . . . to be sin for us, who knew no sin" [2 Corinthians 5:21]. He had never known sin, but He was made to be sin.
His soul must have shuddered. His soul must have been shaken. How Jesus must have looked with horror. He said, "O God, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. O God, I don't want to have to drink this cup. If there is any other way to save men, if there is any other way for the world to be saved, let it be done."
But the Bible says you cannot work for it. The Bible says, "By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast" [Ephesians 2:8,9]. You can work your fingers to the bone doing good work, but that will not save your soul. You are not saved by works. Suppose a man could pay for it. Suppose you had a billion dollars tonight, suppose you were the richest man in the world, and you gave it all to charity, and you gave it all to God. Would you go to heaven? Not unless you had come to the cross. Because, you see, if you could have bought your way, or if you could have worked your way, or if you could have schemed your way to heaven, Jesus need never have gone to the cross. That night God would have said, "Jesus, you do not have to go to the cross." But God did not say that to His Son. There was no other way.
If I could tell you another way of salvation that is easier, I would tell you. I tell you tonight after studying this book for twenty years, there is no other name given among men whereby we must be saved except the name of Jesus [see Acts 4:12]. There is no other way of salvation except at the foot of the cross.
When I look at the cross tonight, I see four things. I see, first, the terribleness of sins. I know that I am a sinner. When I look at Christ dying in my place on the cross and realize the things that I have done and that it was my sins that nailed Him there, I must cry out to God, "O God, I am a sinner."
The second thing I see is the amazing love of God, that "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" [Romans 5:8]. You have rebelled against God, you have sinned against God, you have done things that you know you should not have done. You have helped even crucify Jesus. But in spite of it, God loves you. And on the cross there is written in gigantic letters in neon fire, "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" [John 3:16]. There is the love of God. And if you have any doubt concerning the love of God, look at the cross. It was there that He died for us.
Third, in that cross I find my complete redemption. Christ bowed His head and said, "It is finished" [John 19:30]. I cannot add anything to it. I cannot take anything away. If I am ever to get to heaven, I will have to come to the cross. If I am ever to have my sins forgiven, I will have to come to the cross.
I want to ask you tonight, have you ever been to the cross? Are you sure that you have had this encounter with God at the cross? You may be a member of the church. You may live a moral life. You may be a decent person. I don't know who you are or what you are. It doesn't make any difference where you come from or what your nationality background is, what state you live in, how rich or how poor, how educated or uneducated, you have to come to the cross. Jesus said it's a narrow gate, and the gate is the cross.
If you are not sure that you have been there, renouncing your sin and receiving Christ, you come tonight. Because I do not see how any person can resist the love of God. Many people ask me what is the unpardonable sin. I tell you it is the sin that God cannot pardon. Any man or woman that rejects or resists His Son, Jesus Christ--that's the unpardonable sin. "There remaineth no more sacrifice for sins" [Hebrews 10:26]. There is no other way. I tell you, my beloved friends of this great nation, there is only one way of forgiveness and redemption and salvation, and that is the cross of Christ.
I am asking you to come to the cross tonight. I am asking you to come by faith and say, "O God, I have sinned. O God, I am sorry for the things I have done. I am coming by faith to receive thy Son, Jesus Christ." Don't neglect it. Don't put it off until another night. You may never have another moment quite like this tonight.
God says, "I want to meet you. I want to help you. But I'll only meet you and help you at one place, and that is at the cross." It may look foolish for me to say, "Get up out of your seat and come." Don't ask me how it happens. I only know that when a man comes to Christ, he can never be the same again. I only know that his life is changed if he comes to the cross. And I am going to ask you to come right now.