Monday, March 3, 2008

Praying Against Temptation (Luke 22.39-46)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
March 2, 2008
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For the last three weeks we have looked at Jesus’ temptations. Hebrews 4 tells us that Jesus is our great high priest who fully sympathizes with us because he has been tempted in every way as we have, yet is without sin. We have looked at some of the temptations Jesus faced as his ministry began. Today, and for the rest of the weeks leading up to Easter, we will look at some of the temptations Jesus faced during the last week before he was crucified.

We will continue to see how Hebrews 4 is proven true as Jesus turns away from temptation and remains faithful and obedient. He continues to show that he is both the Way and the way through. He is the Way of salvation, because of his perfect obedience on our behalf. He is the way through because he shows us and calls us to follow after him.

Jesus’ Prayer

The situation in our text was this. Jesus and the disciples had just finished the Last Supper. Luke tells us the story that is so interesting to consider alongside the foot-washing that followed: the disciples got into an argument about which one was the greatest among them. Judas had slipped away to meet with the religious leaders and was preparing to betray Jesus. And Jesus, knowing what lay ahead, went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Apparently all the disciples went, but Matthew tells us that he took Peter, James, and John into the Garden to pray. I’ve been there. It’s about a 15 minute walk from the Jerusalem city gate, and it’s a small area with trees, perhaps twice the size of this sanctuary.

Jesus said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

Then, Jesus went further in, not far, to pray alone. Now listen carefully to the words of his prayer:

Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.

Remember, too, the context. This is not a sweet bedtime, prayer… Jesus is sweating blood and is very near the end of his earthly life, about to face a grueling 12 hours of torture, suffering, and death. This is the prayer of a man facing death and worse.

Consider three things about his prayer and his situation:

1. He shares his desires with God. He asks God to spare him and find another way. I don’t think we can begin to comprehend what he was going to go through. But notice this: Jesus was perfect and sinless, and he expresses his desires to God. This scene is the counterpart to what we talked about last week. He is testing God in the right way, asking God to reveal His perfect will to him… making sure that he is indeed following the right path. But he wraps those desires in prayer for God’s will to be done.

2. As we talked about last week, he wraps his desires up with the prayer that God’s will be done. He is not putting God to the test, denying God’s existence if God doesn’t answer his prayers the way he wants. He is seeking God’s will and does not hesitate to make his suffering and desires known to God.

3. Remember the third temptation? Satan wanted Jesus to test God by hurling himself from the Temple, and quoted scripture to say that angels would catch him so that he would not be hurt? We noted the misapplication of hurling oneself into danger. Here, that scripture is shown to be true and applied in the right context. To the godly one, who is suffering in anguish and seeking God’s will, God sends an angel from heaven to strengthen him. In his moment of need, God provides what Jesus needs to continue in God’s will.

The Disciples’ Prayer

Now let’s consider the disciples. They were instructed to pray so that they would not enter into temptation. I’m not sure what their temptation was, whether the coming temptation to fight or flee or the temptation to doze off, as they do. They were not facing the same thing as Jesus, but the root temptation was probably the same: to not diligently seek God’s will in the moment.

As you know, they fell asleep. It was not late – probably only 9 or 10pm. And this was the night of the Passover, when Jews normally kept vigil and stayed up all night. Luke, alone of the Gospels, tells us that they were sleeping “from sorrow” (v. 45). Jesus had already told them (cf. John 14) that he was going to leave them, and they were apparently worn out with grief and emotional weariness.

Jesus wakens them saying, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” This suggests that there is still temptation to face, specifically the fight or flight that many will display in the hours to come.

What we should note here is two-fold:

1. Though Jesus presents us to the Father and the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf and the Father knows our every need, we are commanded to pray. One of the things we are to pray about is that we will not yield to temptation. Even when we sin and fall short of God’s will, we are again challenged to pray.

2. Sometimes the easiest time to pray is when we are desperate. But sometimes that is the hardest time to pray. When we are exhausted, depressed, discouraged, and weary from sorrow, it’s easy for our spirit as well as our body to “go to sleep.” Jesus says, “Wake up and pray!”

High Priest for our Sake

But remember Hebrews 4. Remember who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Our turning from temptation, praying faithfully, and being obedient are not the basis of our salvation. If those were, we wouldn’t be (saved)! Jesus’ faithfulness, obedience, and self-sacrifice are the basis of our salvation. He is high priest for our sake. His prayer in the garden and his submission to God’s will purchased our forgiveness and rescue for all time. Jesus is the one and only Way of salvation.

There is a place for our faithfulness, obedience, and prayers. It is in response to what Jesus has done and is part of our discipleship – our following after him. And our obedience bears fruit in our life. Through it God blesses us. For this, Jesus has shown us the way through temptation.

The whole story of the Bible is in this one story. It begins with Jesus asking his human disciples to be faithful and pray. And they aren’t and don’t. It is dominated by Jesus’ faithfulness on our behalf, despite the full weight of his impending sacrifice on his shoulders. And it concludes with Jesus, having been faithful, asking the human disciples once again to awaken and pray faithfully. Doesn’t that remind you of God’s charge to Adam and Eve, their disobedience, God’s perfect provision, and our ongoing challenge to faithful follower-ship?

How Shall We Pray?

Once the disciples asked Jesus, “How should we pray?” I think that is a natural question that comes out of a text like the one we have looked at today. You know one answer to that question… Jesus taught his followers the Lord’s Prayer, and we still say it today. It has the key phrase in it that we’ve focused on today and the past few weeks: thy will be done. (Matthew 6:10) Remember, there is no better place we can be than seeking and following the will of God.

But Jesus demonstrated that it is faithful and right to also pray and ask God for the desires of your heart, while wrapping those prayers up in not my will, but yours. Consider then these verses also as a model for prayer, and note the blessing that is promised in them:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
It was this same peace that God gave Jesus in response to his own prayer, letting his requests be made known to his Father, wrapped in “Thy will be done.”

When you pray, pour out your heart to God; wrap those desires up in the prayer that God’s will be done, not as magic words to say, but as an attitude of trust and faith; and know that God promises his presence and peace as we live out His will. Amen.

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