Helplessness Matthew 26:17-25

Matthew 26:17-25

Introduction:  raise your hand if you think you’re God.

That’s good…no one raised their hand

  • We all know that we aren’t God, but sometimes we act like it when we read the Bible
  • We get to a place in our reading where there’s supposed to be tension so thick you can cut it with a knife and we just read right over it, because we know what’s going to happen—like God
  • In real life, though, we rarely know what’s going to happen, how things will turn out, and if we do, we still get a lot of details wrong

Just one example—Genesis 4

  • The context:  Adam and Eve just sinned and were evicted from the garden
  • But –Big BUT here:  before they were thrown out, God promised deliverance from Satan’s evil through Eve’s son
    • Gen. 3:15  I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
  • So we’re supposed to expect good things, redemptive things, from Eve’s sons—notice the masculine pronoun:   “he shall bruise your head”
  • And good news in Genesis 4, Eve has two sons
    • God is fulfilling his promise for redemption already!
  • But by v. 8 Abel’s dead, and it’s clear that Cain isn’t the godly son we hoped for
  • This is supreme TENSION—what about the promise God just made?  Did he lie?  Is he not the Sovereign ruler of the world?
  • I bet most of you just read right over the tension there
    • I know I do
    • If we do, we miss God’s extraordinary work of sustaining his promise no matter how many ways his people try to screw it up
    • From one aspect—this tension is the story of the Bible; the story of redemption itself

It’s the same here in our passage

  • It’s not so much we become the Father, but we read like we’re Jesus
    • He’s the perfect person
    • No sin
    • No sinful nature
    • Perfect faith
    • That doesn’t describe you
  • In Jesus’ we see absolute trust and strength
    • V. 24 “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”
    • Jesus is headed to the most brutal form of execution man has ever devised and all he says about that is “it was written about in the OT”, he’s saying I’m just fulfilling my purpose.
      • Don’t make this aspect of Christ a divine work—because all that he does for us as our savior, Jesus does as a man like we are
      • His willingness to go to the cross was evidence of his faith
        • Faith in the Father’s love and sustenance
        • Faith in who he is—the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world
        • Faith in his power that is held in check by his humility—26:53-54  Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”
        • His perfect faith as a perfect man
  • No, we don’t believe like Jesus did, no, we read this passage, and we should put ourselves in the disciples’ place
    • They are Confused at Jesus’ somber mood when the world around him is celebrating—“My time is at hand” a deeper meaning, a seriousness to it
      • Palm Sunday—they celebrated Him
      • Each night in Bethany—they celebrated being with friends
      • Every day in Jerusalem—God’s people celebrating Passover!
      • Yet Jesus’ mood isn’t celebratory
    • Confused at Jesus’ pronouncement—“truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me”
      • Is it I, Lord
      • Leon Morris—”Will I do this?” Perhaps they were thinking of some involuntary act of betrayal. At the same time we should notice that their question is put in a form that expects a negative answer: “Surely, not me?” It is clear that Jesus’ statement was shattering; nobody had expected that there would be treachery in this tightly knit little group[1]
      • So, now it’s beyond confusion—the disciples are troubled, sad, and downright undone
        • One their own would betray Jesus

Today:  Helplessness—why being helpless is a good thing.   1.  God’s in Control;  2. Our Response to God’s Control;  3.  Helplessness leads to Humility

  1. God is in Control—we all know this, It’s implied in the word “God”
    1. Behind the tension of the Bible’s narrative is the truth we’re supposed to see:  no matter what we do to screw things up, God’s promise won’t ever fail
      1. Even if Cain kills Abel—Eve will have a Son who redeems God’s people
    1. That’s what the book of Genesis is all about
      1. Think about Abraham
      1. Chapter 12:  Called out of Ur—he starts off great, God calls Abraham to leave his city and family behind to follow him and Abraham does it
      1. Chapter 12b:  Famine—Egypt—lies about Sarah—who did he think the promise of Gen 3:14 is talking about?  “your seed and her seed”  God said to the serpent.
        1. God steps in and saves Sarah
      1. This happens over and over again
        1. Gen. 16 the Hagar Method
        1. Gen. 20 Sarah and Abimelech
        1. Gen. 27 Isaac blesses Jacob and protects him from Esau—using sinful means for a good purpose
        1. Gen. 38 Joseph thrown in a pit so he could ultimately save all of Israel
    1. At every point in life, God’s plan is being worked out, but in our sinful and limited understanding we often doubt it.  That means we’re doubting God
    1. At the end of Genesis we’re given a simple verse that explains God’s absolute control and commitment to honor his promise, after Joseph saved all of Israel by bringing them to Egypt he tells his brothers, “what you meant for evil, God meant for good, to save the lives of his people”.
  2. Our Response to God’s Control
    1. God’s control isn’t an issue when everything is great, is it?  But at the darkest points of our lives we begin to question God’s ability or his goodness.
    1. We’re brought to the edges of deep, spiritual darkness and shown God’s sovereignty not so we can see all the reasons God has in ordering sin, but to simply know that he’s in charge of it and his plan is better than we can imagine.
      1. Abraham thought any old son would do—just so long as he had an heir.
      1. God’s plan was that Abraham’s son was Sarah’s son too, and that his inheritance would actually be the kingdom of heaven
      1. Gal. 3:16  Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.
      1. God’s plan was so much better than Abraham’s
    1. So, let’s look at this passage from the disciples’ perspective
      1. They heard Jesus say, “the Son of Man must go as it was written and one of you will betray me”
      1. Imagine what’s going through their minds.  Denial, grief, uncertainty.
      1. Jesus said he has to die and one of them would be the cause of it. He previously told them that he had to die.  Three times, in fact—Matthew 20:18-19; 17: 22-23; 16:21
      1.  And, when he told them he would die before, he also told them he would be raised.  God’s plan is better than ours!
      1. In the next several hours we see a lack of trust on the part of the disciples.  They disbelieve or forget Jesus’ words and his comfort—that his death is God’s plan and that the resurrection is coming, too.
      1. We shouldn’t be too hard on the disciples, though.  Because, They’re just like us, aren’t they?  When life sucks, when disaster strikes, we fail, like they did, to believe that even this disaster is part of God’s plan.  Or to believe that God’s plan is still better than we can imagine.
      1. “Of one thing I am perfectly sure: Gods story never ends with ashes.” —Elisabeth Elliot
    1. Let’s think about the disciples’ timeline in light of God’s greater plan and their struggle to believe.
      1. Tonight, after they eat the Passover dinner, Jesus and the disciples will sing a hymn and head out of town to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus will be arrested,
      1. Later Jesus will be beaten, and questioned by the high priest
      1. Tomorrow morning Jesus will be taken to Pilate, where he’ll be beaten again, questioned again, and this time condemned, not by Pilate or Rome, but by the Jews who ask for Barabbas instead of their Messiah
      1. At that point the disciples feel like their world has come to an end.  They hide for their lives and question everything they thought they knew.  I’m sure I would be too. 
      1. This is spiritual darkness—the edge of the abyss we can’t see into.  God’s sovereign plan was to kill the Messiah.  Or you fill in that blank with whatever the darkest struggle is you face or have faced.
    1. One of the most beautiful Reformation phrases is “Post Tenebras Lux”—after darkness, light.  It’s so appropriate here, because in four days, Jesus will be raised from the dead! 
      1. Remember, it’s not that they weren’t told about the resurrection, each time he said he would be crucified, Jesus also said “and on the third day be raised.”
      1. In the darkest of times, like when you’ve just watched Jesus die naked on a cross and be buried under ground, all you can do is to hold on to the truth.   “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” 
      1. Just hold on to the truth, believe what Jesus said.
      1. Believing won’t make you strong, in fact, faith in what you can’t see comes from a place of weakness and feeling helpless.
  3. Helplessness leads us to humility
    1. We can emulate Christ to a certain degree, and we should—we’re called to, Paul says to imitate him as he imitates Christ Jesus.
    1. But our helplessness isn’t how we imitate Jesus—he wasn’t helpless, he was humble
    1. Jesus didn’t need helplessness to achieve, because he was sinless.
      1. Sin is what keeps us from being humble.  Sin keeps us from seeing just how weak we really are and it makes us think we deserve more than we do.  Jesus wasn’t sinful—he didn’t have an over inflated ego. 
        1. Jesus humbled himself by becoming one of us, and humbled himself by dying in our place.
      1. God uses our helplessness to make us humble. 
        1. Here’s an analogy—we’re all beach houses built on stilts over the water.
        1. Helplessness takes away all those stilts that were holding you up over the ocean of chaos beneath.
    1. In this sense, I’m using helplessness as an attitude we should have.  Feeling helpless is a good state for a believer, otherwise we start to trust in those stilts underneath our house instead of the God who gave us the stilts and is sustaining the stilts no matter how strong the storm.
      1. Don’t be afraid of your helplessness.  I’ll be honest with you:  I hate that feeling. I’ve had situations this year that have made me feel more helpless than I’ve ever felt.  There were times I was angry, lots of confusion, depression, I’ve been torn apart because I knew I was helpless and I felt like it.
      1. When you really, truly feel helpless, your response won’t be simple.  It will be complex, you’ll be all over the place, emotionally and spiritually.  Don’t be afraid of it—something we learn from the book of Jobe is that when life really sucks, even godly Job has responses that are all over the place. 
        1. God made us emotional.  Emotions aren’t sinful.  Our emotions are part of us, and they are the part of us that give us so much joy in life and even joy in our faith. 
        1. So, don’t fear being all over the place when you’re at the edge of the abyss trying to see what you can’t ever see.  When you’re confused at God’s plan and you have to acknowledge there’s nothing you can do.  You’re helpless.
      1. Helplessness is the best place, the best attitude we can have, especially as we seek God’s help. 
        1. Do you think that you’re so smothered in this trial that you can’t really pray right?
        1. Maybe you’re feeling so weak that you can’t even drag yourself to pray at all.  I’m sure we’ve all been there.
        1. But there’s comfort for you in God’s unchanging kindness.  He treats us like a mother treats her baby.  The baby can’t speak.  The baby may not even know what he wants, he just knows that he’s upset and he’s fussy and uncomfortable.  His mother simply reaches over, holds him, feeds him, rocks him, and showers him with love and affection.
        1. God does that for his helpless people. 

Do you feel helpless?  Do you think that God has abandoned you and isn’t answering your prayers, or that he isn’t even listening anymore? Let me tell you something, “your helplessness is the most powerful plea which rises up to the tender heart of God.”  It was a sense of your helplessness that made you accept Jesus as your savior, and it’s Jesus’ saving work in you that has caused you to turn to God in your trial.  “It isn’t your prayer that causes God to save you.  On the contrary, your prayer is the result of Jesus’ entering into your heart and dealing with your needs.  Your helplessness is the very essence of prayer.” (Ole Hallesby, Prayer, p.22)

The disciples were helpless after Jesus died and they knew it.  Not one of them exhibited ideal faith.  Did Jesus abandon them because they abandoned him and hid in the upper room?

  • No, he didn’t 
  • Jesus came to them, knowing that his infant children needed him—Jesus came to them, “ showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Be helpless, embrace helplessness and let it drive you to humility where Jesus will meet and equip you.

Philippian Creed

164 O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.


[1] Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 656.