Jesus Prays on the Mount of Olives
39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 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.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Since last Sunday in my sermon we talked about the importance of living a life surrendered to God and I knew that I wanted to continue with that theme this morning, the thought of surrender has been very much on my mind lately. And it just so happened that I came across an amazing story of surrender recently about a 19-year-old American soldier in World War II who was awarded a medal for single-handedly capturing a large group of Japanese soldiers. Only instead of me telling you the story, I’m going to let him share it with you in his own words. He says:
“I want someone to know that I don’t deserve the medal. It happened this way.
“I was captured by the Japanese, with five of my buddies. We were marched through the jungle with bayonets at our backs. I had to see my comrades, one by one, killed and mutilated. I said the 23rd Psalm. I said the Lord’s Prayer. Die I must, but I determined not to let my captors see my fear. Trembling from head to foot, I began to whistle the way I used to when I was a small boy, and had to go through a dark street. So I whistled the hymn, ‘We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing, He chastens and hastens His will to make known, The wicked oppressing cease then from distressing, Sing praises to His name, He forgets not His own.’
“Suddenly I became aware that someone had joined me in my whistling–it was my Japanese captor! He, too, was whistling the hymn. Soon I felt his gun fall back into place. He walked beside me then, and suddenly I jumped when, in perfect English, he said to me, `I never cease to wonder at the magnificence of Christian hymns.’ And a few minutes of talk revealed that the Japanese soldier had learned English in a mission school to which I had contributed in my Sunday School days. The Japanese boy spoke of war and how the Japanese Christians hated it. We both agreed on the power of Christianity, and what would happen if people really dared to live it. We then began to talk of our families and our homes. Finally, at his suggestion, we knelt in the mud and prayed for suffering humanity around the world, and for His peace that passes understanding among all men on earth.
“When we arose, he asked me if I could take him back as a prisoner to the American headquarters. He said that it was the only way that he could live up to his Christianity, and thus help Japan to become a Christian nation. On the way back he found in various foxholes other Japanese Christians, and they too joined me. I shall never forget the hope and joy that came into their eyes as my friend unfolded to them, one by one, how we found each other, and why and where they were being taken. All the way back we talked of the Christian religion. When we neared the camp, by mutual agreement they put on poker-straight faces and somber looks, and I, gun in hand, marched them into camp. So you see, I don’t deserve a medal for the most wonderful experience of my life.”
What an incredible story of surrender made possible only because those Japanese Christians had totally surrendered themselves to God. Now last Sunday we not only talked about the importance of this in our own lives, but we also looked at 2 common barriers to this type of surrender, namely, fear that comes from not totally trusting God and pride that comes from not wanting to give up control of our lives to him. Today I want to look at one more barrier to surrender and then also spend some time looking at the benefits and blessings that go hand in hand with living a surrendered life.
And the last barrier we want to look at is confusion. Sometimes we just don’t know how to surrender to God. We don’t understand exactly what it means. So first of all let me make it very clear to you what surrender is not. It is not passive resignation. It is not hopelessly throwing your hands up in the air and saying, “Oh well, I give up. What will be will be.” Nor does surrender mean having to give up rational thinking as many skeptics and critics of Christianity believe for God does not want us to waste the minds he’s given us. Nor does surrender mean repressing your personality for God has created each of us as unique individuals whose differences and gifts and idiosyncrasies can be used in wonderful ways that honor and glorify him.
Well, if a surrendered life doesn’t mean any of those things, then what exactly does it mean? What does a surrendered life consist of? First of all, it is consists of obedience. It consists of saying “Yes, Lord” even though you may not want to do what he’s asking or commanding you to do or understand why you’re doing it. A great example of this in the Gospels can be found in Peter. Remember how after he and his companions had spent all night fishing with nothing to show for it and Jesus asked them to go out and try again, only this time with him in the boat, an exhausted and frustrated Peter responded by saying: “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” Surrendered people do things because God says so, even when it doesn’t make sense to them and even when they don’t feel like it.
Then another aspect of a fully surrendered life is trust. There are so many examples of this in the Bible. Abraham followed God’s leading without knowing where it would take him. Mary surrendered herself to God’s will without knowing how she, a virgin, would become pregnant with God’s Son. And Joseph, her husband-to-be, trusted God’s plan even though he did not understand all that it would involve for him.
Listen, my friends, you know you’re surrendered to God when you rely on God to work things out for you instead of trying to manipulate others or force your agenda or control the situation yourself. To put it another way, you let go and let God do his thing. Kind of like what we as a church have had to do recently with the whole call process we are involved in. Last Sunday was a wonderful day here as our pastor-elect Luke Jacob and his family visited us. And I believe we were all very impressed with him and are extremely hopeful that he will say yes to the call we have extended him, but the whole process and his decision ultimately rest in the hands of God. And it takes trust on our part to place it there, doesn’t it?
When we talk about surrender involving trust, I don’t think there’s any doubt that one of the most, if not the most difficult area for most people to surrender to God is in the area of their finances. Martin Luther would agree with that. He once said that the last part of a person to be converted is his pocketbook. I believe there’s a lot of truth to that because while we are more than eager and willing to receive from God the abundant spiritual treasures that he offers us in Jesus, giving some of our earthly treasures back to him doesn’t always come easily. Maybe that’s one reason why Jesus spoke more about money in his parables and his ministry than he did about other much more spiritual subjects like prayer, faith, heaven, and hell. He knew what a stumbling block our finances could be to us totally surrendering ourselves to God. And maybe that’s why he set the supreme example of what total surrender to God really looks like.
We see this in our text for today. The night before he was put to death, knowing full well all that was about to happen to him, he humbly and completely surrendered himself to his Father’s will when he said: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” I appreciate that so much in Jesus because what that lets us know is that he never expects anything out of us that he himself was not willing to do or go through. Do you think it was easy for Jesus to pray that way? Of course not. In fact, it was so tough that Luke tells us his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground. Well, if it wasn’t easy for Jesus to totally surrender himself to his Father’s will, you can rest assured it won’t be easy for us either. That’s why I want to spend the remainder of our time taking a look at some of the benefits that go along with living a surrendered life.
First of all, it brings peace – peace of mind and peace of heart that comes from knowing that One who is much greater and stronger and wiser than you are is in control of your life. And this One who is greater and stronger and wiser than you has also made it very clear in his Word that he loves you far more than you love yourself. And this One who loves you far more than you love yourself has also promised in Rom. 8:28 that in all things he is working for the good of those who love him.
I saw a great example of this recently when I was visiting with Erlene Hahn in her home a few days before her colon cancer surgery last Monday. As we sat in her living room she told me that she had placed everything in God’s hands and she had such a peace about it. In fact, at one point she said she was feeling on top of the world – strange words coming from a 91 year old woman about to undergo a major operation, but not such strange words coming from one who had completely surrendered herself to God.
So a surrendered life brings peace. Then secondly, it brings power. When the young shepherd boy David offered to go out onto the battlefield and fight the Philistine giant Goliath, the Israelite leaders asked him what made him think he could win such a seemingly lopsided battle. David’s response reflects a spirit of surrender to the God he had come to know so well and love so much. He said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And with that kind of trust and surrender, David in essence became the most powerful man in Israel and went out and did what nobody else would even attempt to do. And he not only fought Goliath, he defeated him.
May I ask you, my friends, what giants are you fighting in your life right now? A troubled marriage? A wayward child? Mounting bills? Declining health? Whatever they might be, surrender yourself to God for as you do so, you open yourself up to the power that he has to overcome those problems, or at the very least to help you cope with them better. William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, once put it this way. He said, “The greatness of a man’s power is in the measure of his surrender.”
By the way, surrendered people are the ones God loves to use the most and in the most incredible ways. Have you ever wondered why out of all the women in Israel he chose a teenage peasant girl named Mary from a hick town called Nazareth to be the one who would give birth to the long-awaited Messiah? It wasn’t because she was more talented or wealthy or beautiful than all the other women, but because she was totally surrendered to God. For when the angel explained God’s rather improbable and impossible plan to her, what was her response? She said, “I am the Lord’s servant…May it be to me as you have said.” That’s what you call total surrender.
In closing, let me say just one more thing about the subject of surrender. And that is that eventually everyone surrenders to someone or something. If you don’t surrender to God, you will surrender perhaps to the opinions or expectations of others, or to money, to resentment, to fear, to your own pride, lusts, or ego. And I can assure you, my friends, that none of those worldly things care about you the way God does.
So to borrow a modern day analogy, let me encourage you to put Jesus in the driver’s seat of your life and take your hands off the steering wheel. Maybe you’ve seen the bumper sticker that says “God is my co-pilot.” Listen, if God is your co-pilot you’re in trouble because that means you are the pilot. And I don’t know about you, my friends, but I know myself well enough that I can’t do nearly as good a job of running my life as he can. So don’t be afraid to turn the reins of your life over to him understanding that nothing under his control can ever be out of control.