The obedient King - Luke 22:39-53

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the evening service on 27th March 2011.

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There is an old English saying, ‘You are nearer to God in a garden than anywhere else on earth.’ Now you might think that is typically Victorian schmaltz, dripping with sentimentality, but it has to be said that for many people the sense of wonder, which points to Something beyond this world, is stirred up through experiencing the beauty of nature, as found, for example, in a garden. And this was the initial experience of someone like Charles Darwin no less.

In his early life Darwin’s visit to the Brazilian rain forest had suffused him with, “feelings of wonder, admiration, and devotion.” That, of course, was before he started to question his belief in God.  Later, as he began to be drawn more and more to philosophical naturalism-that is the idea that there is no God or spiritual world- he admitted that he lost the faculty to appreciate anything other than hard data. He said, ‘Now the grandest scenes would not cause any such convictions and feelings to rise in my mind. It may be truly said that I am like a man who has become colour blind.’  The same happened with poetry, drama, art and music, all of which used to delight him. He confessed in his autobiography, “But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry; I have tried recently to read Shakespeare and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost my taste for pictures or music…My mind has become a kind of machine for grinding laws out of a large collection of facts.”  Sadly, what you see in the case of Darwin is a withering of the soul so that he is becomes more like a machine and less like a man.

When you think about it, the whole story of the Bible can be conceived as a story of gardens-gardens, which on the one hand evoke the feelings of wonder and devotion spoken of by the early Darwin, but which on the other form the spiritual battle ground between God and Satan.- there is the Garden of Eden and the Garden of Gethsemane. In the first, Adam took a fall. In the second, Jesus took a stand. In Eden, Satan led Adam to a tree which resulted in his death. In Gethsemane, Jesus willingly went to die on a tree which led to our life. And in both cases the stakes were extremely high- namely, the soul of every man, woman and child living on this planet. You see, disobedience to God brings in its wake the judgement of God - being banished from God’s presence for which we were made. So like the fallen Adam we find ourselves east of Eden, feeling empty and lost, for ever wondering aimlessly through life, having that sneaking feeling that we are made for something more but not being quite sure what that something is as our senses become increasingly dulled as Darwin found. But even more than that, the eternal well being of our soul is at stake- we are talking about heaven and hell. Consequently we need Someone who is able to undo and reverse the effects of the havoc Satan and sin introduced in the first garden and that Someone we find in Jesus who maintains his lonely vigil in the second garden. So do turn come with me to what is very holy ground indeed in Luke chapter 22:39-53, as we listen in with hushed tones to one of the most moving and monumental events in the history of the world where we see the man who stands alone and the man who surrenders his life.


First, the man who stands alone vv 39-46- ‘Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”’ Although Luke doesn’t mention it by name, this is Gethsemane which is a Hebrew name meaning, ‘oil press’, and such gardens were commonly walled and often used by teachers as a sort of seminar room for the private tuition their pupils. Now isn’t it touching to see how even with all that lay before him and weighed so heavily on his mind, Jesus has his disciple’s spiritual well being uppermost in his heart- he tells them to pray so that they will not fall into temptation. As we shall see in a moment, he knows that behind the lynch mob with their swords and clubs is a dark, shadowy figure called Satan who is just hungry for human blood. He wants to lure Jesus disciples away from him and into the pit of despair, which, of course, is what he is always wanting to do with Jesus’ followers. And what is it that Jesus sees as their only form of defence? It is prayer, something which he reiterates again in verse 46 when he finds them sleeping instead of supplicating. He calls them to intelligent prayer, as children speaking to a Father asking for help. And it wasn’t even as if they were left to do this as individuals all by themselves, they were together, it was prayer meeting Jesus was urging. Now could it be that one of the reasons why we perhaps don’t feel we are doing too well when it comes to resisting Satan’s tricks is because we have not yet cottoned on to Jesus’ method in dealing with them- which is by praying together? I don’t think it is a coincidence that the times when the church has made most headway in the world is when the prayer meetings have been best attended and so conversely we should not be so surprised that the church appears so ineffective today when the prayer meeting is the least attended meeting in most places? John Newton of ‘Amazing Grace’ fame once wrote this: ‘Prayer, which is at all time’s necessary, is especially so in a time of temptation. But how hard it is to come boldly, that we may obtain help in this time of need! But however hard, it must be attempted. By discontinuing prayer, we give the enemy the greatest encouragement possible; for then he sees that his temptations have the effect he intends by them, to intercept us from our stronghold. And at least here we see Jesus practising what he preached, and if you want any evidence of the vital importance of prayer enabling us to overcome temptation then you can’t beat looking at what Jesus does in v 41, ‘"He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." 43An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.’

You know, some people have had tremendous problems with the passage. And the reason goes something like this: ‘If Jesus was divine, then he knew everything. And if he knew everything then he must have known that he had to go to the cross. Therefore, this prayer which he utters asking that somehow he could avoid it, could only be a sort of play acting designed for our encouragement.’ But it seems to me that if Jesus is merely engaging in some kind of ‘lets pretend’, then it has no relevance for us whatsoever. I don’t know about you but my life is far from ‘make believe’. It really is the case that when the going gets tough we too feel overwhelmed with fear, sometimes to the point of becoming enveloped by the dark cloud of depression. And to claim that Jesus simply went through the motions but never really experienced anguish is no comfort whatsoever. I need a Saviour who knows from the inside what it is like to go through the mill and who can therefore sympathise and help me when I too have to walk that lonely road, don’t you? And that is precisely what the Bible says we have. The writer to the Hebrews puts it like this: ‘ For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tested in every way, just as we are-yet without sin.’ (Heb 4:15).

But also such view of Jesus fails to take seriously the other important aspect of our faith, namely, that while Jesus was divine he was also human. He was made of flesh and blood, in the same way as you and me; though sinless, he was capable of experiencing the whole range of human emotions and feeling the pull of temptation, so making it highly likely that he would have been scared to death. Now I really don’t see any contradiction involved in claiming that as the obedient Son of God whose destiny had been revealed to him by his Father as he poured over the Old Testament scriptures-the destiny of the cross- that Jesus, the Son of Man could nonetheless frantically explore every possibility with God the in prayer that if there is even the remotest chance that there is some way of saving the world other than by going to the cross then he would embrace it, but who nonetheless having done that will submissively say in v 42  ‘Yet, no my will ,but yours be done.’

This is one of those rare passages which give us a glimpse into the inner emotional life of Jesus- and the emotions are raw. In verse 44 we are told that Jesus was in ‘anguish’ the actual word is ‘agonia’ from which we get our word ‘agony’, it is a very strong term meaning ‘deep consternation, appalled reluctance’ we might even say, ‘terror’. In fact Jesus was so filled dread and acute emotional pain at his future ordeal that it causes his subcutaneous capillaries to dilate and burst resulting in blood escaping through the pores of his skin mixed with his sweat. And it must have been exceedingly desperate because God sends an angel to help his Son.

Now tell me, what future horror could be so appalling, going beyond any nightmare, that even the Son of God is reduced to a state of near paralysis? Well, certainly there was the prospect of the physical agony of the cross. Jesus would have known on a purely human reckoning what that would involve. He would have been familiar with this particularly barbaric form of torture and execution from when he was a boy-the Romans were masters of this-crucifying rebels in their thousands. He would have been repulsed by the sight of roads aligned with men begging to be put out of their misery as they hung suffocating from their own body weight, impaled on a stake, with their wrists and ankles held in place by iron nails. And within 24 hours that was going to be his fate. Now, which man or woman would not be driven to distraction by that dreadful prospect?

But it is not crucifixion per se that Jesus speaks of wanting to avoid; he talks about wanting to avoid ‘a cup’. Now what is that? Many years earlier through the prophet Ezekiel, God warned Jerusalem that because of her rebellion against him, she would suffer the same fate as Samaria, which had been utterly ravaged, saying, ‘You will drink your sisters cup, a cup large and deep, it will bring scorn and derision, for it holds so much. You will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow, the cup of ruin and desolation, the cup of your sister Samaria. You will drink it and drain it dry.’ (Ezekiel 22:32). Jesus knew his Scriptures and he knew that the cup he was being offered contained the wine of God’s unrelenting fury towards the wicked which would cause a complete disorientation of the mind and body-like drunkenness. Psalm 75 uses the same imagery to depict God’s universal judgement, ‘In the hand of the LORD is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth will drink it down to its very dregs.’ That is what Jesus envisages having to suffer himself. Someone has put it like this: ‘Was he to become so identified with sinners as to bear their judgement? From this contact with human sin his sinless soul recoiled. From the experience of alienation from his Father which judgement on sin would involve, he hung back in horror. Not that even for a single second he rebelled. His vision had become blurred, as a dreadful darkness engulfed his spirit, but his will remained surrendered. Each prayer began, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me’, and each prayer ended ‘yet not as I will but as you will’. Although in theory ‘everything is possible with God’, yet this was not possible. God’s purpose of love was to save sinners, and to save them righteously; but this would be impossible without the sin-bearing death of the Saviour.’ (Stott, the Cross of Christ, p 77)  

Friends let me say this: When you begin to entertain the thought that there are many roads to God, come back to this scene in the garden. When you begin to think that your sin doesn’t matter all that much, come back to this scene on the garden. When times get tough and you start to wonder whether God really loves you, come back to this scene in the garden. And when you feel that God is calling you to do something or make a stand for him which will cost you something, then come back to this scene in the garden and you think about him the man who stands alone.

And then think on to the man who surrenders his life, vv 47-53.’While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?’

It sounds a little odd doesn’t it ‘and the man who was called Judas’. Luke never wrote of ‘the man who was called ‘Peter’ or any other of the disciples. But Judas is on his own, enveloped with singular notoriety. No mother now would ever dream of calling her baby ‘Judas’; for successive generations his name has become synonymous for treachery. And what is particularly repulsive is the way Jesus is betrayed- ‘with a kiss’, it is so cynical. That universal symbol of devotion- a kiss- becomes the means of denial. And the same is true today, what appears to be a devotion to Jesus can be nothing but a cleverly concealed device to deny Jesus. The Bible scholar or pastor who while appearing to be devoted to understanding the Bible while twisting the message of the Bible so as to deny it is offering a Judas kiss. The Christian who sings with gusto ‘Jesus all for Jesus’, while sleeping with his girlfriend or being bone idle is betraying Jesus before a watching world just as surely as Judas did. No wonder Jesus warns his disciples to stay awake and pray.

Yet it is not the crowd who come to make the arrest, nor Judas, nor the disciples, but Jesus who is the dominant figure throughout the arrest scene. Luke makes this clear in what follows: ‘When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.’ John tells us it was Peter who attacked and that it was a servant of the high priest called Malchus who was injured. And you are forced to ask: ‘What on earth did Peter think he could accomplish, surrounded as he was by armed guards?’ He might have achieved the death of himself and all the other disciples – and probably would have done so had the guards been Roman soldiers instead of Israelite temple guards. The fact is we never achieve the Lord’s ends by using the devil’s means and even when we feel force is justified (as it sometimes is) we are liable to find it quickly gets out of control. But things don’t get out of control because Jesus is still in control; ‘Jesus answered “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

This was the last healing miracle of Jesus and notice that it depended neither on that man’s faith nor that of the disciples but only on the sovereign will and kindness of God. It demonstrated the truth of his words that he was leading no rebellion, it demonstrated, too, the believer’s duty to ‘do good to those who hate you’ (Luke 6:27), and it anticipates Jesus’ prayer at the cross for the forgiveness of those who are crucifying him. That is the kind of King he is- a forgiving King. But this doesn’t mean he is a hapless King who can be pushed around. The arrest ends with Jesus confronting the group responsible with their culpability and guilt but looking behind them at forces which are darker and even more responsible: ‘Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour – when darkness reigns.’ And so we are reminded again of that shadowy figure which is also is in the garden- Satan. When we see someone caught up in evil and even when we ourselves are victimised by spite or malice, we should often look behind it all to see where Satan is in all that. It may then mean that ours prayers as well as our attention are better directed and our pity for those manipulated might be more real and more ready.

And so the King is willingly led away as a solitary figure to fulfil his God-given destiny for us and a wicked, rebellious world. A destiny which will end in another garden with an empty tomb, as the King steps forth into that bright morning light to announce that he has done everything necessary to ensure eternal life, a fresh start whereby we can face God not as our angry judge, but our welcoming Father by bearing our sin in our place.  ‘King of my life, I crown Thee now, Thine shall the glory be; Lest I forget Thy thorn-crowned brow, Lead me to Calvary. Lest I forget Gethsemane; Lest I forget Thine agony; Lest I forget Thy love for me, Lead me to Calvary.’

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