In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
From the Upper Room
It was Thursday evening as Jesus and his disciples prepared to leave the upper room where they had celebrated the Passover Meal. Many other things happened in that upper room – Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, he announced that one of them would betray him, Jesus told Peter that he would deny knowing Jesus and that the other disciples would desert Jesus, Jesus prayed for his disciples, and he instituted the Lord’s Supper.
All this happened and now it was time to return to where they were staying for a quite rest or so the disciples thought. Luke tells us, “[Jesus] came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him.”
Jesus came to the Mount of Olives to pray. He also told his disciples to pray. He said to them, “Pray that you do not enter into temptation.” His words echo those he taught them in the Lord’s Pray, “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
Soon their faith would be tempted by what they saw in the suffering and death of Jesus. He wanted them to pray that God would guard and keep them strong in their faith despite the outward appearances of what was happening.
The evil one would tempt them to believe that all that they believe about Jesus was a lie, that all the Jesus taught them was untrue, and perhaps that God himself had let them be tricked.
“Pray,” Jesus said to them. He tells us the same, so that we do not give in to temptation, especial the temptation that Jesus did not conquer sin and death despite outward appearances in the world and in us.
Then “[Jesus] withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed.” He began his prayer saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.” Jesus was asking if he could be spared from the cup of God’s wrath that he would soon suffer. Was it possible that the sins of the whole world could be taken away and that forgiveness could be given without him being forsaken, suffering hell on the cross?
I hear the voices of prophets from the Old Testament; Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah, and others saying, “Lord, does it have to be me?” Now the final prophet, the One who alone could redeem the world from sin and death is asking, “Lord, does it have to be me? Does salvation have to be done in this way?”
Perhaps the sacrifice of animals, the continuing shedding of their blood, could spare the blood of the Lamb of God who was sent to be the final sacrifice. Perhaps the good works of each individual could be good enough rather than the perfect righteousness of the sinless Son of God.
In agony Jesus prayed. The longer he prayed the more earnest his prayers became. “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done,” was included in his prayers. Jesus trusted in the heavenly Father’s will. If it was the Father’s will that Jesus the Good Shepherd lay down his life for the sheep then that too was the will of the Son of God and the Son of Man.
An Angel Came
An angel came to minister to Jesus. The angel came to strengthen him. That is all we are told. We know that the angel did not come to protect Jesus from his suffering and death, from the shedding of his blood. The angel did not prevent Jesus’ betrayal by Judas, denial by Peter, or the desertion of his disciples.
We are strengthened in times of trial and suffering by the Word of God. God’s word tells us that he loves us. He says to us in his word that Jesus Christ came into the world to save us from our sins.
This was the message of the angel Gabriel when he came to Mary. It was the message of the angel when speaking to the shepherds. It was the message of the angel at the empty tomb, “why do you seek the living among the world.”
I believe that this may be the way the angel strengthen Jesus. As the Father’s messenger, the angel’s words may have been the Good News that the sacrifice of Jesus would provide the forgiveness of sin that leads to eternal life. The Good News is that the love of God is shown in the giving of his Son and the Son laying down of his life.
Jesus rose from his prayers knowing that he must bear the full wrath of God against the sin world. He accepted the will of the Father unconditionally. Again he said to his disciples, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
Lent is often spoken about as a time of fasting and prayer. Fasting is giving up something that we enjoy. It might be food that we especially enjoy, going to a movie or concert, going out to eat, taking a vacation, or anything that we might not like to give up.
Proper fasting is meant to help us remember how God blesses us for the sake of his Son, Jesus Christ. It is meant to lead us to repent about our lack of thankfulness to our gracious and merciful God. Fasting it is a way to remind us to pray for forgiveness.
It is not a way to earn God’s blessings or to somehow ensure that he will love us. We need to remember that while we were yet sinners Jesus came into the world to become sin for us.
Pray is what we see tonight in Jesus going to Mount Olivet. He prayed in a time of anguish asking God to change his circumstance. Jesus prayed with trust and faith in our heavenly Father. He prayed, “not my will, but thy will be done.”
Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done.” They are not empty words but words that he himself prayed. Jesus obeyed the will of his Father as he went uncomplaining to the cross. He went so that his Father could be your Father.
Jesus went so that your sins would not keep you away from a loving Father. Your sin of praying “Thy will be done,” but secretly only wanting “Your will be done,” is forgiven. Your sin of praying but not trusting in God’s answer is forgiven. Your sin of not giving thanks in prayer is forgiven.
You are forgiven for a poor prayer life. You are forgiven because Jesus prayed “Father forgive them.” Hear his voice as he tells you to pray that God would guard and keep you strong in your faith despite the outward appearances of what happens in your life.
Pray knowing that God loves you and will answer your prayer according to his good and gracious will. He knows what is best for you. Pray confessing your sins and hear his answer. He has answered your all your prayers with the outstretched arms of his Son on the cross.
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Ps. 32:1
In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria