Midweek 3 LSB #436
Text – Luke 22:41-42
[Jesus] withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, & knelt down & prayed, saying, ‘Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.’
Gethsemane: A Place of Strength
Periodically, our world calls us back to simplicity. Simpler is easier, more profitable, it seems to say. Companies are downsizing. Products are marked “All Natural Ingredients.” People are practicing the Paleo Diet. All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten says Robert Fulghum, & Stephen Covey writes of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
In all of this, there is the idea, & there is some truth to it, that if we just reduce life to the essentials, get back to the basics, halt the quest for more & return to what really matters, life will get easier. Simplicity will produce serenity. Clarity will mean less struggle.
So our world is calling us back to the basics, & yet isn’t it amazing how sometimes the simplest things, the very basics of life, can produce the greatest struggles. Take for instance two words: “I do.” Simple words. Simple words that start a lifetime of commitment. With these words, you promise to seek not your own interests but the interests of another.
How simple the words, yet how difficult the commitment. “Should I put my husband into a home?” your neighbor asks. Then comes an hour-long conversation of facts & feelings. Six months full of decision & indecision pours forth.
“If I help him stay at home, he feels secure & happy, but he’s fallen lately. His mind is failing. I worry about him & think he’d be better off in a home. If I place him into a home, he’ll have all the care in the world, the opportunity to make friends, & daily activities. But can any of that cure a broken heart? Can 24 hour nursing replace our marriage? He doesn’t want to go. Shouldn’t I honor his wishes?”
As you listen, you realize that these words have been said before to another: to God in long nights of prayer. She offered Him her tears & anger, her fear & love. And all this comes out of two simple words said not quite thirty-eight years ago:
“I do.” For richer, for poorer, in sickness & in health? “I do.” And so, your neighbor is standing there, in front of you, still saying “I do” as best she can. Yet, for her, the simple things in life have become the greatest struggle.
As Luke tells the story of our Savior’s prayer in the garden, he wants us to notice that our Lord’s agony is over the simple work of His life. Doing His Father’s will; taking upon Himself the cup of God’s anger; dying for our sin. That is what this prayer is about. It can be summarized in one simple sentence.
Luke writes, “[Jesus] withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, & knelt down & prayed, saying, ‘Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.’” (22:41–42) That is all of the actual prayer that we hear. In less than ten seconds, we’ve heard Jesus’ prayer. Then we’re on to the rest of the story.
It’s easy for us not to recognize the struggle. Perhaps for that very reason, Luke goes to great lengths to describe the agony. In anguish, Jesus prays. Earnestly, He offers His words. Sweat like blood falls to the ground as the life of our Lord flows out in prayer. An angel of God lifts the veil of heaven to come to His Maker’s aid.
What did Jesus say in all of this anguish? Luke records only one sentence. “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.” How long did Jesus pray? Luke doesn’t say. We only know it was long enough for the disciples to fall asleep.
Luke doesn’t describe all the words, & he doesn’t describe all the hours, because there’s
really no need for that. Anyone who has been there knows. Anyone who has ever said yes to the will of God in this world knows how long those nights can be. Honor your father & mother. Love your neighbor as yourself. Be faithful to your spouse. Care for your children. Love God with all your heart, soul & mind.
Simple words. Simple words to guide us in this life, & yet anyone who has said “I do” to these simple words knows how draining the struggle can be. When one’s father is dying of cancer, when one’s child is not coming home at night, when one’s spouse is absent with long hours at work & silence in the bedroom, the agony is strong & the nights of prayer are long.
Words cannot contain the depth of our pain, so we find ourselves saying the same thing again & again & again. Time stands still as emotions rush by:
Sorrow at what’s being lost, joy at what had been found, fear at what could happen, hope for what might be, confidence that God is watching, uncertainty that He hears, anger at our situation, compassion for our loved one, longing for it all to be over, fear that it could all end. We watch & we pray, & we cry, & we fear, & in exhaustion, we finally fall asleep.
There is only so much agony that we can bear, & our lives, like the disciples, shut down under the struggle. Luke writes that the disciples slept that night a sleep like no other: “sleeping from sorrow.” (v. 45) There are times in our lives when we’re brought to that place of agony & sorrow from the simplest of things.
Desiring to do the things of God can lead to places of deep exhaustion & sorrow in our lives. Yet, our Lord continues to pray. While the disciples sleep from sorrow, while God’s people fail under the weight of the struggle, while the world is too weak to accomplish the will of God, Jesus goes on. Jesus prays. Jesus rises to wake His disciples & do His Father’s will.
By showing us this contrast, Luke reveals that there is one thing stronger than even the
simplest sorrow. That is the simplest love: God’s love for the world giving His only Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Here, we see that love of God. The Father’s will is to give up His Son, to forsake Him in punishment for the sin of the world.
The Son’s desire is to do the will of His Father, laying down His life that all the world might be saved. Only God can love like that, & only God could serve like that. A Father’s love, a Son’s service, a world’s salvation are all gathered here tonight in this garden & offered up to God in the agony of this prayer.
What Luke wants you to know by recording it is that God’s love is stronger than sorrow: Jesus in willing obedience submits to the will of His Father saying, “Thy will be done.” Jesus enters our places of sorrow & makes them places of His strength. He does not fail.
God’s will overcame human weakness that night. His love made a place of sorrow a place of strength. Tonight, then, I encourage you to live in that comfort. Yes, tomorrow we return to a world where the simplest things can create the greatest struggles. The simple will of God for us & our neighbor can produce times of agony & trial in our soul.
But God’s love is beyond our loving. God’s strength is beyond our weakness. Nothing in this world can ever separate you from that love. God forgives your sins. He claims your life as His own, & “He who did not spare His only Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
There is nothing in this world that God’s love has not conquered, & there’s nothing that can separate you from that love. Your life is in His hands &, when you are there, you are in the hands of the one who made you & adores you. Tonight, our Lord assures us that we are in the hands of our Maker. He conquered our weakness in the garden, so there’s nothing that can separate us from His love. When we engage in those long nights of prayer, we pray to a God who listens. When we don’t have the words to express the depth of our feeling, He gives us His Spirit, interceding with groans that are too deep for words, bringing what our mouths cannot say to the heart of God, who hears.
Even on those nights when we fall asleep from sorrow, we sleep in the kingdom of a God who loves. Sleep then. Rise then. Pray & labor knowing that you are members of a Kingdom where God watches over His loved ones even in their sleep. He has prepared a place for you to go in times of struggle & sorrow.
It is a place of His loving strength. Rest now in His love! Rest now in His strength! Amen.
Go to dark Gethsemane, all who feel the tempter’s power; your Redeemer’s conflict see, watch with Him one bitter hour; turn not from His griefs away; learn from Jesus Christ to pray. Calvary’s mournful mountain climb; there, adoring at His feet, mark that miracle of time, God’s own sacrifice complete. “It is finished!” hear Him cry; learn from Jesus Christ to die. Early hasten to the tomb where they laid His breathless clay; all is solitude & gloom. Who has taken Him away? Christ is risen! He meets our eyes. Savior, teach us so to rise. Amen. LSB 436:1, 3-4
Pastor Dean R. Poellet