The only way…

Sermon: Sunday, 26th February, 2023
Speaker: John Johnstone
Scripture: Luke 22:39-46

In our passage today (verse 39), we read that Jesus went out ‘as usual’ to the Mount of Olives. We could easily gloss over the phrase ‘as usual’. However, we need to bear in mind that Jesus knows he is walking into a trap. He knows that Judas knows this place, the Garden of Gethsemane, and had he wanted to avoid the cross, Jesus could have chosen a secret location. He does not. In love, in order to rescue sinners, he goes to the usual place.

“The Shepherd is in the process of laying down his life for the sheep.” (Hendriksen)

Let’s try and keep the love of Jesus in the foreground as we study this passage. Sometimes we speak about people having the ‘weight of the world on their shoulders’. Here, Jesus is about to take the sin of countless people in his shoulders. He is aware that soon he will be forsaken by his Father. And yet, with unmatched love, he still manages to think about other people. He is concerned about his disciples, and the temptations they will face to deny him and abandon the faith.

1. Jesus’ request
‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’ (Luke 22:40)

Jesus knows that temptation is only avoided by continued dependence on God in prayer. Not only does Jesus tell them this in words, but he also models this principle in his own actions. Jesus himself is facing unparalleled temptation here. All the forces of evil want to see Jesus turn away from the cross. He faces temptation at its most intense. But he knows what to do, and he depends on his heavenly Father.

What do you do in the place of temptation? You might be tempted to lose your temper, or to look at something online that you shouldn’t or you might be thinking proud thoughts. You might be tempted to go for days without opening your Bible and enjoying fellowship with God. You might be tempted to focus too much on money or pleasure. What should you do? You might be tempted to skip church, or live in a way that you know God tells you not to. You are tempted to ignore God and his instructions. What should you do? It might sound too simplistic to say, ‘Just pray.’ And yet, that’s exactly what Jesus wants the disciples to do and it’s what he wants you to do too. Sometimes temptations are subtle. Yet we can still fall into them. For example, the temptation to ‘look after number one’ to live life with your own needs and desire and personal happiness at the centre. This is the culture we are living in. Or the temptation to just fit into our surroundings.

Why do we need to pray? Why is prayer the solution? Again, it is simple. We are too weak and frail to resist temptation in our own strength. In the parallel account in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus says: ‘The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ (Mark 14:38) My flesh is weak. Your flesh is weak. Paul says a similar thing about Christians in his letter to the Romans. ‘I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.’ (Romans 7:15) We end up doing things we don’t want to do deep down because our flesh is weak.

So, what can we do with all of this teaching? Perhaps, when we wake up in the morning, we need to think about the day ahead and pray ‘Lord, you know how weak I am – please help me in these things’. Perhaps there’s a besetting sin, a sin which trips you up again and again, and every day you might have to keep on praying the same thing. We also have a promise to help us in this : ‘And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.’ (1 Corinthians 10:13) We can turn that promise into a prayer: ‘Father, please provide a way out for me today’.

We do not just pray: we also have to act. If we’re in circumstances where we’re likely to be tempted then there’s not much point in praying that God would keep us form it – if we walk straight into it. Sometimes we want to sin and invite temptation. We put ourselves in that place and then we fall into sin. Total avoidance of sinful situations is the order of the day.

A man was looking for a new chauffeur asked 3 interviewees how close they could drive to the edge of a cliff. The first woman said, ‘Within 2 feet. The second man said, ‘Within 6 inches.’ And the third woman said, ‘I wouldn’t drive anywhere near it.’ She got the job. When it comes to our temptations, it is wise to keep away from the edge of the cliff.

Friends, let’s ensure we remember the basics of the Lord’s Prayer and pray as Jesus instructed: ‘And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one’ (Matthew 6:13). The disciples don’t manage to do this, and end up falling asleep (verse 46). We are so often like them. But our model here is Jesus, and not the disciples.

2. Jesus’ prayer
On the one hand, Jesus’ prayer here is so unique. None of us will ever have to endure what he was enduring immediately before and during the crucifixion. One the other hand, Jesus’ prayer is a model prayer for us. Luke only gives us a line, and yet there is so much depth in these words: ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ (Luke 22:42) There are two aspects to this prayer: there is Jesus’ honest plea; but there is also his readiness to submit to the will of God. This is how we should be praying.

What should we make of Jesus’ wish for the cup to be taken away from him? Has Jesus come all this way and ‘set his face towards Jerusalem’ only to falter in the last hours? At first glance, we might even feel disappointed by Jesus’ request. He seems to be wavering. ‘In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day – for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!’ (Luke 13:33) Why have second thoughts now?

We need to understand what Jesus means when he speaks of a ‘cup’. What is this cup? It is the cup of divine wrath on human sin. It is a terrible cup. ‘In the hand of the Lord is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs.’ (Psalm 75:8) :

‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: ‘Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.’ (Jeremiah 25:15)

Jesus knows he is about to experience God’s judgment on human sin. It’s hard for us to imagine what it must be like to be perfect, but Jesus is perfect, and he is recoiling at the thought of becoming sin for us. ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ (2 Corinthians 5:21)

“He became the greatest sinner that ever was.” (Luther)

The greatest murderer; the greatest adulterer; the greatest blasphemer; the greatest law-breaker. He would answer for the sin of the world. He would answer for your sin and for my sin.

Jesus is exploring the limits of the will of God. Is there another way Jesus can save his people? Or, is the only way by drinking the cup of God’s wrath himself? Jesus is saying, in effect, ‘Father, if there is another way, please tell me now.’ This is a model prayer for us: Jesus makes a request but qualifies it by saying: “… yet not as I will, but as you will.’ He is willing to carry out the will of the Father, no matter what it costs him.

Here is a challenge: is this the way you pray? You are free to ask your Father for anything you want and with honesty pour your heart out to him, but always, above everything else you desire for God’s will to be done. ‘If it be your will’ should never become something we just tag onto our prayers. It’s just at the end of the day, we believe God knows best. We don’t want our will to prevail over his.

If we’re honest, sometimes it’s hard to pray like this! We’ve been praying for those seriously unwell in the church family. It’s easy just to pray – ‘Lord, restore that person to us.’ It’s harder to pray: ‘Lord, please heal them, but not our will but yours be done’, knowing that God’s plan might be to take them ‘home’. Pray honestly. Pray with all your emotion and pain. But pray submissively, trusting that God knows best!

3. Jesus’ suffering
‘An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.’ (Luke 22:43-44)

It’s amazing to think of God the Father sustaining Jesus by sending an angelic to strengthen him. I’m not sure specifically how Jesus is strengthened at this point – we’re not told. But it does remind me of another occasion when Jesus did battle with Satan, in the wilderness. ‘… he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.’ (Mark 1:13)

“How often we find Heaven’s resources suddenly appear for earth’s emergencies.” (Dale Ralph Davis)

Perhaps you are going through extremities of your own just now. Cry out to your heavenly Father in faith, and see what he will do to sustain you. It might not be what you expect, or even what you want, but it will be what is best. And it will strengthen you.

Jesus’ anguish is so great that his sweat was like drops of blood.

“No one ever feared death as much as this man.” (Luther)

The blood in his sweat speaks of Jesus’ physical and emotional trauma. How should we respond to this? We read stories of Christian martyrs facing death with great calmness. Why then can Jesus not do the same? The sorrow is not just because he is facing a death- nor even because he will face crucifixion. This is no ordinary death. For Jesus, death means the judgment of God the Father. He is overwhelmed by the huge burden he will have to carry- the sin of the whole world. He must face this alone – no one will be there to help him.

Why was this suffering necessary? The debt came about by human sin and so a human price must be paid. The punishment we deserve so great, that only a sacrifice of infinite worth could pay it. This is why Jesus must drink the cup of wrath. This is why the Father says, ‘No.’ to his Son. We’re the ones who ought to be forsaken by God.

“…he entered our God-forsaken condition so that we might share his God-accepted relationship to the Father!” (Sinclair Ferguson)

And so, there was no other way for human beings to be saved from Hell. There were no other options. No other religion could save us; only the blood of Jesus can save, and not our own efforts. We cannot be saved by trying our best to please God.

Behold the man upon a cross, my sin upon his shoulders;
ashamed, I hear my mocking voice, call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held him there, until it was accomplished;
his dying breath has brought me life – I know that it is finished.