Battle in the Garden

Posted: February 13, 2018 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 22:39-46, “Battle in the Garden”

What should be done to prepare for war? Armies send ahead spies and scouts in order to get as much information as possible. Weapons will be built, troops trained, and plans made long before a single soldier steps foot on the battleground. Without preparation, the battle will be lost. Without preparation, the battle will be over before its begun.

The night prior to the cross, Jesus engaged in battle. Although the majority of His suffering would take place as He actually hung on the cross, it began well before He ever got there. War was coming for the disciples as well. Granted, only Jesus would be arrested that day, soon to die, each of the disciples would face their own crisis of faith – some more than others. This should have been enough to cause the disciples to prepare – to spend their last few minutes remaining with Jesus to do as much advance work as possible. It didn’t happen. Battle was upon them, but they shut down & slept. Temptation was about to smack them right in the face, and they weren’t ready.

It’s not that Jesus hadn’t warned them…He had! On the road to Jerusalem, Jesus told them multiple times of the things that would take place. The Son of Man would be betrayed, suffer, and die – something difficult to believe for these 1st century Jews, but true nonetheless. Of course Jesus also told them the Son of Man would rise from the dead – fantastic news, but still difficult to believe. Once in Jerusalem, Jesus warned them again. That very night at their last supper together celebrating the Passover, Jesus let them know that the one who would betray Him was right there in the midst of them. That got the disciples’ attention for a while…until they descended into a petty argument over their own personal greatness.

In addition to warning them of His suffering, Jesus warned the disciples of their own sufferings to come. Satan wanted to thrash all of them, just as he had done with Judas Iscariot. Simon Peter would soon deny even knowing the Lord (much to his disbelief), and all of the disciples would need to be prepared to face hardships along the road. Life as they knew it was about to change, and change radically. They needed to prepare for battle…they needed to pray.

Christians don’t often think of prayer as doing battle, but that’s exactly what it is (or at least, an aspect of what it is). Sure, we might give lip-service to the idea, but we don’t really believe it. How can that be said so surely? Because if we did, we would do it more. Instead of prayer being the first thing done in the face of crisis, prayer is generally the last. We treat it as the after-effects – the thing you finally do when we’ve run out of all practical options.

Not Jesus. Faced with the mightiest battle of His eternal existence, what’s the one thing Jesus specifically make time to do? Pray. He could have given the disciples a specific strategy of how to handle the soldiers soon to approach. He could have planned with them where to go in Jerusalem during His arrest, or who to talk to among the Sanhedrin that might be an ally to them. We read of none of that. The gospels emphasize one final act of Jesus prior to His arrest: prayer. Jesus knew exactly what He would face in the hours ahead, and He knew the very best work He could do in that moment was to pray.

It needs to be mentioned that Luke’s account of this event is slightly different than Matthew and Mark. John doesn’t mention the prayer in the garden at all, but then again John recorded an earlier prayer of Jesus for Himself, the disciples, and all Christians who would believe. Normally, we’d expect the Synoptic Gospels to line up on an event like this – and although there isn’t any contradiction at all, Luke’s version is different. Luke doesn’t write of the three times of prayer, nor of the repeated chastisement of the disciples. His account is shorter, focusing on Jesus’ instructions to pray & Jesus’ own suffering and work in prayer. What becomes crystal clear for Luke’s readers is that Jesus labored in prayer, and that He wanted His disciples to do the same.

Christian: pray. Do battle & pray like Jesus!

Luke 22:39–46

  • 1st exhortation to pray (39-40)

39 Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him.

  1. Although Luke doesn’t mention the Garden of Gethsemane by name, he notes that it was located on the Mount of Olives. Not only was this simply convenient, being right outside the city (and likely where Jesus and the disciples camped every night during the Passover week), but it was a significant prophetic location. Remember that Jesus gave His Olivet Discourse from this same place (though we don’t know whether or not it was actually in the garden). This is the place the Messiah is prophesied to appear in power and glory (Zech 14:4), splitting it in two at the moment of His return. It was only fitting that He would be there in His final hours of freedom prior to His arrest. In His first coming, the King of Israel was arrested and rejected on the Mount of Olives; in His second coming, that is where Israel will see Him and mourn for whom they pierced!
  2. Beyond the location Jesus went is the regularity of how often He went. Luke makes a specific point to note that Jesus “went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed.” Interestingly, the word used for “accustomed” is ἔθος (ethos ~ethic). The word refers to a habit, custom, or established-practice. We use the same word in English to refer to the character or disposition of a community or other group. What is a group or culture known by? That is its ethos. For the Greeks, what was a person’s daily habit or regular practice? That was its ethos. What was Jesus’ habit – what was He known by? Jesus had an ethos of prayer. This is something that Luke has emphasized throughout his gospel. Jesus prayed at His baptism (3:21) – He prayed in the wilderness (5:16) – He prayed all night prior to naming His apostles (6:12) – He prayed on the Mount of Transfiguration (9:28), and more. Jesus prayed so often that His disciples asked Him to teach them to pray in the same way He did (11:1). There’s no doubt that Jesus understood the value of prayer – He established a solid habit of practice!
    1. Is prayer a practice for you? It can be so easy to let prayer slide to something done at dinnertime and bedtime, and no more. We say our normal words, rarely thinking about the content, and then check it off the list saying that we’ve prayed for the day. Have we? Prayer is the privilege of communicating with Almighty God – it’s our opportunity to talk with and spend time with Jesus. 30 seconds at breakfast, lunch, and dinner doesn’t really cut it, does it? A true heart and habit of prayer is more like that of David: Psalm 63:1, “O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You In a dry and thirsty land Where there is no water.” There is a longing – a true need to be in the presence of God, to know Him & learn from Him. When was the last time you were truly thirsty? How refreshing it is to have a drink of cool water! Christian, that is what prayer can be, and what it is to those who appreciate its privilege. So many Christians say that they want to have a better relationship with Jesus, yet spend so little time talking with Him to get that better relationship. Pray! Make it a habit – make it your ethos. A Christian who can be known for his/her life of prayer will be a powerful witness for Jesus indeed.
  3. Specifically, Jesus had a habit of going to this particular place on the Mount of Olives for prayer. When visiting Jerusalem, Jesus regularly went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Apparently, He & the disciples had done this same thing throughout the week, and that didn’t change the night of the Passover. This becomes crucially important when we consider what takes place immediately after prayer: Jesus’ betrayal by Judas Iscariot and His arrest. Judas knew he could find Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane, because that was where Jesus always went to pray. Judas could lead the soldiers straight to Jesus, based on Jesus’ custom/habit of prayer. Judas knew it, and Jesus knew it…and Jesus didn’t change a thing. Once Judas Iscariot left the upper room after the Passover meal, it would have been easy for Jesus to change things up & go someplace where Judas had never been. Jesus could have gone into hiding, but He didn’t. Instead, He stuck to His normal practice knowing exactly what would come as a result. Jesus was a willing sacrifice for us, even to the point of fully presenting Himself to His betrayer.

40 When He came to the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

  1. Not only did Jesus have His own habit of prayer, He encouraged it in those with Him. Jesus told the disciples to pray. On one hand, we might think this to be obvious – but it wasn’t. As Matthew & Mark demonstrate, the disciples needed to be told repeatedly to pray, as it was an obvious struggle for them. (It wouldn’t always be this way. After Jesus rose from the dead, the book of Acts shows the disciples praying over & over again. They learned the lesson!)
    1. As for us, we need to be careful not to point too many fingers. Just like the disciples originally struggled to pray, we do too. How many times does God through His word exhort us to pray, and yet we still rarely do it?
    2. Interestingly, most of the Biblical exhortations to pray are found in the New Testament. A simple search on the word “pray” in the Old Testament turns up not instruction, but description. People who are dependent upon their God pray…it’s just what they do.
  2. Jesus gave the disciples a specific reason to pray: “that you may not enter into temptation.” Of all the things they faced that night, the biggest danger? Temptation. Technically, the word could be translated either as “trial” or “temptation,” but the context is clearly that of temptation. After all, there was no avoiding the trials in front of them. Jesus Himself would face an incredible trial head-on. But although Jesus would be tempted, He would not enter into temptation. He wouldn’t give into the thoughts to run and hide, or to call down legions of angels to defend Him. Although Luke never identifies the specific place of prayer on the Mount of Olives as the Garden of Gethsemane, there’s a certain poetic wonder in this place of temptation. The first Adam was tempted in the Garden of Eden and failed miserably. The Last Adam faced temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane and experienced victory!
  3. The disciples, on the other hand, would give into temptation…at least a bit. That much is plain from the events later that night when all the disciples originally fled the scene, and Peter returned only to deny his Lord. Thankfully, they wouldn’t give in all the way, completely giving themselves over to Satan. Even so, their faith would get wrung out like a wet towel, and they would face some of the harshest temptation of their lives to that point. What did they need to do? What was it they did not do? Pray. (But we’re getting ahead…)
  • Jesus’ prayer and struggle (41-44)

41 And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.”

  1. Luke doesn’t describe how Jesus asked Peter, James, and John to go further with Him than the other disciples, but he does still note that eventually, Jesus prayed alone. Jesus didn’t need to go far – just “a stone’s throw” – but He did get by Himself in order to do the hard work of prayer.
    1. This isn’t to say that it’s not good to pray with others. It is, and it’s Biblical. The book of Acts notes several times that the disciples prayed together (Acts 1:24, 4:31, 6:6, etc.). But there are other times when it’s necessary pray alone. There are times when it needs to be just you and the Lord, and you do business together. Sometimes when praying with others, it can be easy to start praying for the ears of other people – when we want our language to sound more spiritually impressive, etc. When we’re praying alone with God, all of that stuff is left behind. It is just you and your Savior & God – and you pour out your heart to Him, listening carefully for what He will say back to you in your heart or through His word.
    2. BTW – how do you know when you’ve prayed enough? You’ll know. It is said that the common advice of the Puritans was to “pray until you’ve prayed.” On this DA Carson writes, “What they mean is that Christians should pray long enough and honestly enough, at a single session, to get past the feeling of formalism and unreality that attends not a little praying.” IOW, this gets past the mealtime/bedtime problem of prayer – when we give a few seconds to the Lord perhaps out of respect (but more out of ritual), but don’t give much thought to what it is we’re saying. Praying until we’ve prayed ensures we get past that initial stage, and we pray until we know we’ve gone to the throne of God, and spoken with our King. This sort of prayer is active and engaged – and it’s what prayer always ought to be.
  2. The Bible doesn’t always give us a record of Jesus’ prayers, but when it does, it’s worth close attention! Among other things, there are two aspects of Jesus’ prayer that stand out. First, Jesus prayed honestly. Some read Jesus’ prayer in the Garden and find it shocking. Was Jesus afraid? Did He really consider some other way, avoiding the cross altogether? Although we cannot say what was in the mind of Jesus other than what we read in the Scripture, His prayer ought not to be shocking, but reassuring. Even the Lord Jesus struggled in His heart with what He was about to face. He was troubled by it, and His laid out His troubles before His Father. This is nothing, if not simple honesty. Jesus knew what lay head in His physical suffering – He knew the far worse tortures coming with His spiritual suffering – and He prayed that the Father would remove it from Him. “Take this cup away from Me,” being a reference to the cup of God’s wrath due to all humanity about to be drunk down by Jesus to the dregs. Not even God the Son wanted to face that! This was the reason He had come, but it wasn’t something He looked forward to. Better than anyone, Jesus knows the extent of the wrath of God. We can hardly grasp the vastness of our sin against God, and the punishment that we deserve; not Jesus. Jesus knows every bit of it – and He knows it for every human that has ever lived and will ever live throughout history. It’s no wonder He asked the Father to remove the cup!
    1. Never forget that just as much as Jesus is God, He is also man. Jesus is every bit human as you and me. This is part of the wonder of the incarnation, and the very reason that Jesus could serve as our substitute sacrifice on the cross. If He was something other than human, then He could not be a substitution for another human. If He was something other than God, then His substitution could not be infinite. He has to be both human and divine, and He is. But this plays out in more areas than just the cross. When it comes to His nature, Jesus has both a divine nature and a human nature. ($50 word: theologians refer to this as the hypostatic union.) Examples of this can be seen when Jesus at times exercises His divine omniscience, while at other times He asks questions. Another example can be seen during His wilderness temptations. When Jesus was tempted by Satan after 40 days without food or water, Jesus was truly tempted. It wasn’t a fake temptation, all done for show – not at all! He was tempted in every way that we are, except without sin (Heb 4:15). Obviously, Jesus’ divine nature could not be tempted, but His human nature could. It would seem that the same thing is on display in the Garden of Gethsemane. There, Jesus faced one more temptation, and His honest plea in prayer was for God to remove the cup from Him.
    2. Again, this ought not to be disturbing or shocking, but comforting. After all, if Jesus can be honest in prayer, so can we! We often get a false idea that unless we can pray to God with perfect spiritual maturity, we shouldn’t pray at all. How wrong! As Christians, we can go to God at any time for any reason with any words. For us, the only wrong prayer is the prayer never prayed. If we waited until we had the perfect words to pray, then we might never pray at all! Don’t try to get the perfect phrasing – just be honest. If something comes out that exposes something in your heart, then you can deal with that – but at least you can deal with it with Jesus. Consider Job. He prayed honestly. Eventually he developed a bit of an attitude to repent of, but at least he didn’t cut himself off from God in his suffering. He prayed, even when he didn’t have the right words. As born-again believers, we can do the same thing.
    3. That’s not to say there aren’t any wrong prayers. The most obvious is the one not offered to the true God through Jesus Christ. Only believers in Jesus have the right to come boldly before the throne of grace to find grace and help in our time of need (Heb 4:16). We need to first become Christians before we can petition Christ. (And that invitation is open to all.)
  3. Second, Jesus prayed submissively. This is the balance to His honesty. Jesus could pray as honestly as His human nature felt, if He still submitted Himself to the Divine will and plan (which He did). “Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.” Keep in mind that it’s not that the will of the Son was opposed to that of the Father – only that the human nature of Jesus desired another way, if it was possible. It was not, so the will of God must be done. Human sin demanded a sacrifice, and only the sacrifice of the Son of God would be truly sufficient. The will of God since before the foundation of the world was that the Son would come to strike the head of the serpent, and right every wrong that took place in the Garden of Eden. To the members of the Godhead, the will of God had been clear from the beginning, and had never changed. Thus, Jesus clearly submitted Himself to it. Human nature is weak; God’s will is perfect.
    1. Jesus praying in this way ought to give us great confidence in our praying the same. Our situations may be different, but we’re praying to the same God. Likewise, we’re to pray honestly and submissively. We lay out our requests to God, yet we still ask for His ultimate will to be done. There are some who would claim this to be a cop-out. True faith (they say) would claim a certain situation in Jesus’ name, and demand that God bring it to pass. Let’s be clear: that’s not faith; that’s heresy. That sort of teaching elevates man above God, making God our servant and slave…and it’s not Christian doctrine. God’s God & we’re not. Are we to ask our prayers in faith? Absolutely! Jesus said that whatever we ask in prayer, we are to be believing, that we may receive (Mt 21:22). James wrote that when we ask, we are to ask in faith, without doubting (Jas 1:6). But none of our faith supplants the will of God. True faith is faith in God & in His plan. True faith is submission to God.
  4. Jesus went by Himself to pray, but He didn’t stay by Himself for long. 43…

43 Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. 44 And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

  1. These two verses unique to Luke, and there are some manuscript issues that cause some to question their authenticity, as to whether or not Luke actually wrote them. That said, they are still found in some of the earliest papyrus copies (though not all), and quoted by many of the Church Fathers. Some suggest that Luke did write the words, but perhaps added later to his gospel. Whatever the case, there’s no question that the Church overall received these verses as inspired by the Holy Spirit, fully belonging with the Biblical record.
  2. Though Jesus was alone, He was never truly alone. He had heavenly help, as an angel ministered to Him in His time of need. Something similar took place after Jesus’ wilderness temptations. The devil temped Jesus three times, and finally left Him – and after he left, Matthew tells us “behold, angels came and ministered to Him,” (Mt 4:11). Although it might seem strange that Jesus would receive help or strength from an angel, this again goes to His dual nature (human & divine). Divinely speaking, God the Son requires no help whatsoever. He is fully sufficient in & of Himself. Humanly speaking, Jesus of Nazareth needed help. His disciples weren’t far away, but they wouldn’t have been any help to Him if they were in arms’ reach, being that they were sleeping the entire time. That’s when God sent an angel. A whole legion could have been sent at a moment’s notice in front of Judas; the moment it was needed most was when Jesus was alone.
    1. Though in a different way, we also receive heavenly help in prayer. Yet we get even better help than an angel: we get God the Son and God the Holy Spirit! One of Jesus’ ongoing ministries to this day is to intercede for the saints, and the Holy Spirit prays for us in groanings we cannot understand. (Heb 7:25, Rom 8:26)
  3. As to why Jesus needed some strength at the moment, it’s because He was in physical and mental agony. When the English says Jesus was “in agony,” that is almost exactly the words of the Greek: ἐν ἀγωνίᾳ. In Greek, the word referred to a mental anguish, though there’s little doubt Jesus struggled physically as well. The fact that “His sweat became like great drops of blood” indicates a medical condition called hematidrosis/hematohidrosis, which has been documented in some persons undergoing extreme distress. Some scholars interpret this differently, as if Jesus was sweating so profusely that it looked like blood dripping from a wound – yet that’s a strange metaphor to make from a doctor (Luke) who routinely dealt with literal blood and medical conditions. It seems best to take Luke at his word, and see this as descriptive; not figurative.
  4. However one interprets the words, the bottom line is this: Jesus was stressed to the limit & He agonized in prayer. He was engaged in battle, and the proof was the blood spilled on the ground. – Again, Christians often don’t think of prayer as active battle, but at certain times that is exactly what it is. Not every time – some prayers are praise-filled worship sessions or simple requests for daily bread. Those prayers are just as Biblical and needed as anything else. But there is also a prayer that is to be done in agony – there’s a prayer that takes place during spiritual battle. When Paul wrote to the Ephesians about the armor of God to be metaphorically worn in spiritual warfare, he wrote very literally of “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit,” (Eph 6:18). All prayer, all the time, all in the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s how we fight the battle! How else do we expect to do it? When your world gets rocked, a Christian has but two offensive weapons: the Bible (the sword of the Spirit), and prayer. Someone comes against you at work, what do you do? You could fight back through fleshly means, get upset, get other people mad at you, and probably fail – all while ruining your witness as a Christian. Or you could fight through spiritual means, going to God’s word to remind yourself of what Jesus has to say on the matter, getting counsel from Almighty God – and you can plead your case before His throne, knowing that your Heavenly Father loves you and always watches over His children. When you pray, you take your battles to the Lord, and He is the One who fights for you.
  5. This is what’s available to every born-again Christian, yet so few Christians avail themselves of it. Why? Because they don’t pray. We don’t pray until we’ve prayed – we don’t agonize in prayer. We say a few simple words & go on to something “practical.” Prayer is practical! When done in spiritual battle, prayer can be difficult work. Want proof? Just look to the blood dripping off Jesus’ brow. But again, not everyone does it. Not even Jesus’ own disciples at the time. 45…
  • 2nd exhortation to pray (45-46)

45 When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow.

  1. We want to be careful not to put words in the mouth of Jesus & speak when Scripture is silent, but it’s difficult to imagine that Jesus wasn’t at least a little disappointed to find the disciples sleeping. The Synoptic Gospels show Him chastising the 11, particularly Peter (Mk 14:37), but it doesn’t literally speak of His disappointment. Surely He wasn’t surprised by their reaction. By this point, the disciples had been well-warned of the trials that awaited them. John’s gospel goes into great depth of Jesus’ teaching following the Passover meal, warning the disciples of rejection, trial, and tribulation (Jn 14-16). These things left them sorrowful, and they slept. Of course, they weren’t the only ones who were sad! Jesus was sorrowful, even unto death (Mk 14:34). But Jesus didn’t let His sorrow keep Him from prayer; Jesus’ sorrow drove Him to it.
    1. We’ve always got a choice, don’t we? We can always choose how we respond to a certain situation. We can allow ourselves to get overwhelmed & shut down from fear, sorrow, and exhaustion – or we can be proactive with the things we face, and take them to God in prayer.
  2. Beware the things that keep you from prayer! There will always be a distraction – there will always be something else demanding your attention. Don’t let those things take you away from what matters most…and time spent with Jesus in prayer matters most. That’s what we need to remember. Our priorities get all switched around, especially in times of crisis. Like a drowning man, we flail our arms about trying to anything we can to keep our head above water. Yet the way a person gets saved from drowning is to release him/herself to the rescuer. A lifeguard can pull a limp person to the shore; they can’t do anything with someone fighting the whole way. In prayer, we surrender ourselves to Jesus – we release ourselves over to God. The more things that distract us from that, the longer it takes for us to experience the help God offers.
  3. For the disciples (and us), there wasn’t time to waste! They needed to be praying, because there was an urgent need at hand. 46…

46 Then He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”

  1. Notice the repetition! What Jesus said in vs. 40, He repeats in vs. 46. Again, they were about to enter the greatest period of temptation in their lives – perhaps greater than even anything they would face after Jesus rose from the dead (though it’s impossible to say). Prayer should always be a priority, but if there was anytime it should have been prioritized, it was now!
  2. Why would prayer help? Prayer is a guard against temptation. What was the one thing Jesus told the disciples to do in order not to fall into temptation? Contextually, the temptation faced by the disciples was the temptation to deny or totally abandon their faith – that much is clear from the events of the next several hours. And there’s no question that the disciples did struggle with those things, ultimately coming out as conquerors in Christ after His resurrection from the dead. But the principle is true for all of us. What temptations do you face? Maybe you’ve also faced the peer pressures of denying the Lord Jesus. Or maybe your temptations have been more base, such as drugs, sex, or alcohol. Whatever it is that tempts you, pray. Pray! Remember the Lord’s model prayer: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Those aren’t just nice words – that ought to be heartfelt plea, and it is our example to follow. Plead to the Lord for strength – ask to be filled anew with the Holy Spirit – pray for Jesus’ help and intercession. When temptation rears its head, the last thing we want to do is to be left unprepared…we will fall every time.
  3. Just think back to the Garden of Eden. How different would the outcome have been if Adam and Eve had prayed the moment they encountered the serpent. Upon hearing the lies of Satan, they could have called out to God at any point, asking for help or for Him to clear up their confusion. Instead they did, as the disciples did, as we often do – believe we can handle it ourselves through our own strength and understanding…and then suffer the consequences. This is what Jesus would guard us from! He told the disciples to “Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” Should they continue to sleep, they would suffer the arrows of Satan; should they pray, they would know the power of God. Christian: rise and pray!

Conclusion:

While Jesus did battle in the Garden, the disciples slept on the sidelines. While Jesus labored and agonized in prayer, the discipled allowed their sorrow to exhaust them. It’s no wonder that while Jesus was prepared for the hours ahead, the disciples struggled and flailed. If they had but followed the example of their Master, they may have experienced something very different.

Beloved, we cannot afford to neglect the importance of prayer! It can be difficult work, but it is important work. It may just be the most important work you do all day long.

In all of this, don’t miss the reason why Jesus prayed: the cross. Jesus agonized in prayer in order to endure the agony of the cross & to provide a sacrifice for you & me.

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