Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 22:39-46 – Praying During Life’s Encounters

Grace For The Journey

The passage this morning begins with, “Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives” (Luke 22:39).  Luke is telling us that after spending a considerable amount of time indoors, inside the upper room where Jesus and the disciples ate the “Last Supper” together and where Jesus did some important teaching, that they are now going outdoors and outside to a favorite gathering place, the Garden of Gethsemane in the Mount of Olives.

It was about a 15-minute walk from the house with the upper room in Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives in Gethsemane.  That word “Gethsemane,” means “olive press.”  There were and still are a number of olive trees scattered around Gethsemane and there are actually trees there today that date to the time of Jesus.  Trees that are 2,000 years old!  You could visit Jerusalem today and lean against an olive tree there that, perhaps, Jesus Himself leaned against 2,000 years ago.  The Bible teaches that Jesus and the disciples gathered there frequently and spent the evenings outside there under the sky, maybe because of the overcrowding in Jerusalem that week as it was Passover Week.

That is a little background before we study this passage.  It is important to remember the context of Jesus’ recent teaching.  Jesus tells Simon that Satan plans to shake up the disciples, to “sift them as wheat” (Luke 22:31).  Jesus tells Simon in particular that He has prayed for him that his faith would not fail.  This is what every Christian should do, to pray that our faith would not fail.  Jesus had taught earlier back in chapter 11 that we should pray regularly, “Lead us not into temptation” (Luke 11:4).

Now what we read in our passage this morning is a failure on the part of the disciples to pray.  And – do not miss this – their lack of prayer helps us understand why they stumbled in the coming hours, why Peter denied the Lord three times and why the remaining disciples would all run away when the going got tough. 

It is pretty clear this passage is about praying.  The word “pray” occurs in some form nearly half a dozen times in this short passage.  The passage begins with Jesus telling the disciples to pray and ends with Jesus telling the disciples to pray; then in the middle you have Jesus Himself praying.  When someone starts talking about prayer, preaching about it or teaching about it, we often find ourselves a little uneasy.  It is easier to talk about prayer than to actually pray, so it is helpful to remember that . . .

Prayer is not so much a discipline

To be worked into a routine,

But rather a means by

Which we talk to God,

To commune with God.

The Bible is God talking to us, prayer is our talking to God.  The Bible is God talking to you and your prayer is your talking to God.  It is not really important how “perfect” those words come out of our mouths.  Someone has said, “God can pick sense out of a confused prayer.” 

Of course, it is wise to begin each day talking to God in prayer.  John Bunyan wrote, “He who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find Him the rest of the day.”  I read where early African converts to Christianity were especially disciplined to have a regular time of prayer.  Each one would find a private place in the thicket where he would pour out his heart in prayer.  So frequently would these men and women find their place of private devotion each day that the grass would be worn away from the path they took to their daily spot of prayer.  You can imagine that when one of these brothers became negligent in his daily prayer that it would be readily apparent to the others as the path lost that well-worn look.  When this happened, one of the other Christians would find him and kindly say, “Brother, the grass grows on your path,” and this was a way of saying, “You have neglected to do the most important thing each day, to pray.”

But prayer is not only what we do

At the beginning of a day

Or at night before bedtime,

But prayer is something we do

Frequently throughout the day.

Remember that prayer is our talking to God, so there are many times we should talk to Him when facing different challenges and difficulties.  From this passage we will see three different times we should pray to God.  First:

1) Pray When You Are Tempted: Verses 39-40,46.

Verses 39 and 40 tell us, “Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him.  When He came to the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”  There it is, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”  That is the same phrase Jesus uses again at the end of this passage.  In verse 46 is says, “Then He said to them, ‘Why do you sleep?  Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.’”

Pray when you are tempted.  What was the temptation the disciples faced?   The immediate temptation was the temptation to sleep rather than stay awake and be an encouragement and help to Jesus.  But the temptation also included challenges and difficulties they would face in the coming hours.  Jesus would soon be arrested and led away to the cross and they would be tempted to deny Him and to flee from Him.  The temptation to abandon Jesus in times of difficulty is one reason Jesus teaches in Luke 11:4, “…And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”  We may also be tempted to abandon Jesus when we were are tempted to sin in some matter of personal holiness, tempted to speak hatefully to someone, tempted to sexual impurity, lust, tempted to do something we shouldn’t, tempted to take something that isn’t ours, tempted to complain, to be bitter, to not forgive.  Jesus says, “Pray, lest you enter into temptation.”

J. C. Ryle said, “To be assaulted by temptation is one thing, but to enter into it quite another.”  Throughout the day we should pray regularly when we are tempted.  Let me give you an example.  Most of you know 1 Peter 5:8-9, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.  Resist him, steadfast in the faith …”  That is God talking to you.  Now when you are tempted, you talk to God.  You say, “God, I am tempted to do something I know is wrong.  Your Word says, ‘Be sober, be vigilant; because my adversary the devil is going about like a roaring lion trying to devour me.’  God, help me to resist him and to stand fast in the faith.’”

Can you do that?  That is pretty easy, really.  Praying when tempted is not difficult.  The problem is that we do not do it.  And if we do not do it, we will find ourselves in sin.  Jesus says, “Pray, lest you enter into temptation.”  Try that out this week.  Whatever temptation you find yourself facing, do this: Stop . . . Bow your head . . . And talk to God.  Watch how just the doing of that helps you re-focus on truth and to avoid the lies of the adversary, the devil.  Pray when you are tempted.

2) Pray When You Are Troubled: Verses 41-44.

This is prayer during times of agony and stress; intense moments where you feel like you and your world are coming apart.  How many of you have been there?  Some tragedy you are facing, or a crisis, or a sudden turn of events, or you are very concerned about someone else, a friend, a family member, or you are troubled in your spirit.  It happened to Jesus – Verse 41 tells us, “And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed.”

Before we move on, note the posture of Jesus in prayer.  Prayer can take any form and the usual form of prayer in Jesus’ day was to pray standing up, but here Jesus kneels.   Matthew, in his Gospel, tells us Jesus eventually got down and prostrated Himself (Matthew 26:39.  This how most of us find ourselves when we are troubled in spirit?  You can pray in any number of postures.  You can pray standing, or sitting, or lying down.  You can pray with your eyes open or shut, head bowed or remaining upright.    When it comes to prayer . . .

It is not so much

The position of the body

As it is

The attitude of the heart.

There are times, when you are troubled, that you find yourself kneeling down and eventually prostrate on the ground pouring out your heart to God.

I remember hearing Adrian Rogers preach a sermon once where he was talking about a time he was making sure he was truly saved.  He was either a senior in high school or beginning college and he was by himself one evening on a baseball field.  And he said he got down on the ground to pray and he did not feel that was down low enough so he lay down on the ground with his face to the ground and that did not seem low enough.  So he said he dug a little hole in the dirt there for his face and placed his face down into that hole and he prayed.  I have felt that way, at times, haven’t you?  It is easy to prayer when we are troubled.  But how should we pray is the important thing. 

Listen to the content of Jesus’ prayer in verse 42, “Saying, ‘Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.’”  Jesus says, “If it is Your will, take this cup away from Me.”  That “cup” to which Jesus is referring is not a literal cup, but a metaphorical way of speaking of someone’s portion, of something given to him.  For example, how many of you know Psalm 23?  Remember the part where David says, “My [what?] runneth over?”  My cup.  The psalmist is like, “God, You have given me this and that and my cup is more than I can drink in!”  Similarly, the cup to which Jesus is referring is a cup that He must drink, a portion given to Him, but unlike the cup in Psalm 23, which was a cup filled with God’s blessing, this cup is a cup filled with God’s wrath.  It is a cup that Jesus must drink in order to die for our sins.

In John’s Gospel when Peter takes out his sword in the Garden and slices off the ear of the High Priest’s servant, Jesus says to Peter, “Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?” (John 18:11).  The imagery is seen throughout the Old Testament, just a couple of references here:

  • Psalm 75:8, where the Bible says, “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is fully mixed, and He pours it out; surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth drain and drink down.”
  • Isaiah 51:17, where the Bible says, “Awake, awake!  Stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of His fury; you have drunk the dregs of the cup of trembling, and drained it out.”

This cup is a cup of God’s wrath poured out because of sin.  Jesus, in drinking that cup, is taking upon Himself the punishment we all deserve for our sin.  He takes that upon Himself.  If you can imagine that cup sitting before God from all eternity and imagine that every time a person sins, the wrath of God for that sin goes into the cup.  Every single time you sin, you deposit into that cup something that needs to be punished.   Every single time.  Imagine just from those who are members of your church if you passed around a cup and each one present envisioned every single sin they had ever committed or would commit in the future, every single sin going into that cup.  That cup has is filled from the very first sin by Adam and Eve until the Lord comes.  Adam and Eve’ sin was the first ones to go into the cup.  And every sin throughout history goes into the cup.  Each one of those sins requires judgment, requires punishment.

The Bible in these verses that Jesus will willingly drink that cup of God’s wrath to take upon Himself the punishment we all deserved.  Someone said it is like . . .

A dam of water breaking,

And the water begins to rush

Out violently forward to destroy

Everything in its path and

Jesus stands in front

Of all the water like a wall

To absorb, to “drink in,” all of the fury

So that we are protected and saved.

As the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that we might In Him become the righteousness of God.”  The Bible also says in 1 Peter 2:24, “Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed.“  And in 1 John 2:2, the Bible says, “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”

The part of the prayer of Jesus where He says in verse 42, “Father if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me,” is Jesus’s way of saying, “If there is any other way, please allow another way.”  Why does He ask for this?  Well again, imagine taking upon yourself the wrath of God poured out for every sin committed by every person throughout history!  So here is Jesus, the God-Man, two natures in one person, two natures that cannot be divided but can be distinguished.  In His human nature, Jesus seeks some other way.  But in His divine nature He says, “Your will be done.”

By the way, praying, “Not my will but Your will be done” is an excellent way to pray, isn’t it?  It is a great prayer of faith.  It is not a cop-out.  It is asking for what you desire, but then saying, “God, I trust You as the One who always does what is right.  So while I am asking for this or that, I am trusting You to know me better than myself.  Let Your will be done.”

Jesus says, “If there’s some other way …”  But there is no other way.  Jesus must drink the cup of God’s wrath if we are to be forgiven of our sin.  He must become our substitute.  This is the only way God can at once be both just and the One who justifies (Romans 3:26).

love Jesus shows for us by dying is a death for us, a substitutionary death.  It is more like we are both in the water and you are drowning and I take off my life preserver and throw it to you and I die and you live.  That is the kind of love Jesus shows for us by drinking the cup of God’s wrath, taking our sins upon Himself, dying for us that we may live and go free.

Jesus is agonizing in the garden and what happens next?  Verse 43 tells us, “Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him.”  Note that the angel does not remove the suffering!  Modern notions of angels coming and fixing our hurts and sending us happily on our way are not helpful.  Sometimes it is God’s will for us to suffer.  Sometimes our prayers are not answered the way we would like.

A little boy’s father was a pastor.  The little boy noted every Sunday that as his dad stood in the pulpit, just before preaching his dad would bow his head for a moment.  The little boy asked him, “Why do you do that?”  His dad said, “I am praying the Lord will help me preach well.”  The boy said, “Well, why doesn’t He answer your prayers?!”  Sometimes God does not answer our prayers the way we would like.  Sometimes it is God’s will for us to suffer.  But God will also see that we are strengthened during the time of trouble: “An angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him.”

Verse 44 says, “And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”  Imagine bearing the burden of the entire world’s imputed sin, all of the sin of every person throughout the ages imputed – or placed upon – Jesus.  The strain of this is so great, the idea of bearing this burden so weighty, that Jesus is literally “agonizing” over us, praying more earnestly, so much so, “His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.”  Some see the word “like” here as Luke’s way of saying that Jesus did not literally sweat blood, but more that He sweat in such a way that His sweat dropped like blood drops from a body.  On the other hand, there are accounts both modern and ancient, of people sweating blood when undergoing extreme anguish or pain.  Blood vessels burst causing a person to both sweat and bleed at the same time.  The point is that Jesus is agonizing over the matter of dying for our sins.  It was a time of intense trauma and difficulty.

Jesus prayed when facing trouble.  How much more should you and I pray when troubled?  God says in Psalm 50:15, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” 

That’s what Joseph Scriven wrote in 1855:

Have we trials and temptations?  Is there trouble anywhere?

We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.

Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?

Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.

Pray when you’re tempted.  Pray when you’re troubled.  Thirdly:

3) Pray When You Are Tired: Verse 45).

There are times when you are so emotionally drained, so thoroughly exhausted because of grief and sorrow that you just feel like you can sleep forever.  Someone you love has passed away, or something has happened, and you are down and depressed, and just plain tired.  How many of you have been there?  It is natural.  It happened to the disciples.  Verse 45 tells us, “When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow.”  The other Gospel writers tell us that Jesus finds them this way three times.  Three times He comes and finds them sleeping.  Luke, in his compassion, provides this detail that Jesus found them “sleeping from sorrow.”  Why were they sleeping from sorrow?  Evidently the words Jesus had been sharing with them about His future suffering and death are beginning to sink in.  It is remarkable, really.  Not too long before they were ready to take up swords and battle the enemy.  Peter had said, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33).  Here they are now asleep.

There’s so much grace here in our Lord.  He does not go over and kick them and berate them for sleeping.  “Hey! I thought you guys were ready to go to battle for Me, what’s the deal?!”  Rather, He lovingly says, “Why are you sleeping?  Rise and pray so you don’t enter into temptation.”  Such love, such compassion, and such grace!

The best thing you can do when you are in sorrow and pain is to pray.  Talk to God.  When you are hurting this week, talk to God in prayer.  Say to Him something like,  “Lord, You have said in 1 Peter 5:7 that we are to cast all our care and anxiety upon You because You care for us.  So right now I am coming to You and I am saying that I do not understand why this happened and I hurt and I am in sorrow, but I am trusting in You.  Comfort me with the assurance of Your power and presence.”

Pray when you’re tempted.  Pray when you’re troubled.  Pray when you’re tired.

Prayer is what makes the difference in the Christian’s life.  Prayer is what brings peace.  The Bible says in Philippians 4:6-7, “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 understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  God will take care of you, Christian.  God will never be arrested for child neglect.  He will take care of you.

So, pray when you are tempted . . . Pray when you are troubled . . . Pray when you are tired.  And experience the peace of God.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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