How do you view Jesus? I think it is easy for us to forget that though God, he became human for us and experienced life as we experience life. He was tempted in the same manner that we are tempted. He dealt with the weaknesses of the flesh as we do. He is able to sympathize with us because in every respect he was tempted as we are. This is important to remember as we read this scene in the life of Jesus unfold.
Time of Temptation (22:39-40)
Jesus leads his disciples to the Mount of Olives. This was his custom. This is where Jesus slept at night when in Jerusalem. We know from the other gospel accounts that Judas had already left and made the transaction to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Jesus is left with his other eleven apostles. Notice that Jesus does not change his habits to allude Judas. Jesus knows that Judas is coming. Jesus does not change his habit. Jesus does not decide to leave Jerusalem, knowing that he is about to be betrayed and arrested. Now is the time. Now is the moment for the redemption of the world. Jesus goes to his place on the Mount of Olives with his disciples.
Jesus knows this is the critical moment. When he came to the place where they always stayed, Jesus told his disciples to pray rather than go to sleep. It is the middle of the night by this point in the story. Tonight is a different night. Jesus does not want his disciples to go to sleep and with good reason. Tonight will be a severe testing of their faith. The temptation to deny Jesus will be very great in these moments. Satan is going to sift them. Satan is trying to break apart their faith. But Jesus gives his disciples the solution to temptation. “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Prayer is the remedy needed to fight the attack of Satan. Pray, my disciples, pray! Friends, the answer to dealing with temptations and sin is a full dependence on God. Pray to the Father. We need to feel a desperate need for communion and connection to our Father in these moments. How unfortunate that so often we do not feel this desperation to cling to our Father in our times of weakness and vulnerability.
Time of Agony (22:41-44)
Jesus is not a hypocrite. He practices what he preaches. He withdraws from his disciples a short distance, kneels down, and prays. We are allowed to see an intense, intimate moment in the life of Jesus. We are allowed to look into the emotional state of Jesus as these betrayal, arrest, and death events are beginning to unfold. Tonight is the night and he falls down on his face in prayer.
We need to recognize that the temptation to not go to the cross is extreme. Satan is doing everything he can to stop Jesus from going to the cross and redeeming the world for its sins. We know this not only from this text but also from what we saw earlier in the life of Jesus. In the temptations of Jesus that we read about in Matthew 4, Satan offers Jesus the kingdom of the earth. The temptation is to receive his kingdom without the cross. Satan is offering Jesus to bypass the cross, to bypass the horror of his betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, and death. Simply bow down because you are the Son of God and Satan will give you the kingdoms of the earth. Move forward in the life of Jesus and consider the confrontation Jesus has with Peter. When Jesus explains that he must suffer many things and will be crucified by the leaders of Israel, Peter says, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:22). Do you remember what Jesus says to Peter? “Get behind me, Satan!” Not, “Get behind me, Peter.” This is the temptation of Satan to not go to the cross. The temptation is to not experience suffering. You are God. You do not have to go through this pain. You have the power to stop all this. You do not need all of this. Satan’s temptations are to achieve glory without the cross. We are reading about the strong pull of Jesus’ flesh at this moment.
I want to be honest with you. I love this scene. People are often confused by this scene, but I love this scene. Jesus is not impervious. This is a big deal. Jesus is human. If Jesus is the man of steel who feels no emotions and with great simplicity does the Father’s will, then I do not have a high priest that I can relate to. I feel no connection to my Lord if every temptation he faced was no big deal. This whole scene would not be real without this prayer. This prayer shows us his humanity. Jesus is experiencing the pull of his flesh. So Jesus asks if there is another way to let this cup pass from him. Jesus has described this cup on a few occasions with his disciples.
22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” (Matthew 20:22–23 ESV)
The cup that Jesus drank would be the same cup that his apostles would drink. Therefore, Jesus is not referring to the cup of God’s wrath for that is not what any disciple of Jesus must drink. Rather, this is the cup of suffering. This is the cup of violent suffering that he would endure. His apostles are going to experience this cup of violent suffering also.
But the greatest words are found in verse 42. “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Jesus placed his life in the hands of God. Jesus has the power to stop all of this. But Jesus’ will is not important. Jesus’ desire is not important. All that matters is the purpose of God. God’s will is the only thing that matters. Even for something that he is being tempted not to do and his flesh is screaming not to do, the will of the Lord is the only factor that matters. Jesus is going to be obedient to the Father, even to the point of death on the cross. This prayer shows us the battle between flesh and spirit. Jesus shows us how to answer that battle. Your flesh does not want to do what God wants it to do. You must obey the will of the Lord. This is humble obedience to your God. We really need to hear these words: our will is not important. Our desire does not matter. If the will of Jesus is disregarded in the face of the will and purpose of God, then our will and desire are certainly of no regard in the face of the will and purpose of God. If we balk at this idea, then we need to reread how the writers of scriptures would often begin their letters and writings calling themselves “servants” or “slaves” of Jesus (cf. Romans 1:1; James 1:1; Jude 1; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1). Servants and slaves do not have a say in the matter. The purpose is the will of the master.
Then verse 43 records another beautiful picture. An angel from heaven strengthens Jesus. God is with those who suffer according to his will. Jesus will not suffer alone. Help comes. God hears his prayer and sends help. Consider that we see angels come to Jesus in only two scenes. Both times it was during the temptation of Jesus. When Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted by Satan, angels come and serve Jesus (Matthew 4:11). Here now on the Mount of Olives we see an angel coming and strengthening Jesus. We are not told how. We simply accept that angels help in temptation. The writer of Hebrews said the same thing in speaking about angels:
Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14 ESV) We do not know how, but it is a spiritual truth from God.
Verse 44 brings us back to the anguish of Jesus. “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly.” Please consider and reflect on what we are being told. Jesus is in agony. The suffering of the cross is incalculable. Jesus is in AGONY. His agony is so great that he is sweating profusely. Please read verse 44 carefully. Luke does not say that Jesus sweat drops of blood. Read it carefully. This is a figure of speech, what we call a simile. His sweat was not blood but came down like drops of blood. The strain and agony is so great that sweat is pouring down from his head as his face is bowed to the ground. So Jesus increases the intensity of his prayer. In the time of intensity in your life is a time to increase the intensity of your prayers. Jesus is fully cognizant and embraces his agonizing death. So in this moment of great agony and intensity Jesus comes back to his disciples who are sleeping. Luke tells us something important. They are sleeping because they are exhausted from sorrow and grief. Have you experienced that tiredness and exhaustion that comes from crying so many tears and bodily exhaustion from great grief? We experience a little bit of that at funerals or in great times of suffering or trials. Perhaps they understand a little bit of what is about to happen. In either case, diligence in prayer is required, not sleeping. Prayer is the answer to these difficult times. Denial, avoidance, and sleeping are not what we need to do. It is not a time to slink into depression. It is not a time to recoil from God and shut the doors to your life closed. God is with us and will help us through.
- We must be amazed at the willingness of Jesus to accept the cross for us. We are all tempted to bypass suffering and sacrifice.
- Jesus shows us how to approach temptation and suffering — repeated prayer. God listens to those prayers and strengthens the one who prays.
- Entrust our lives into God’s hands. God is with those who will carry the cross and follow him.