“Gethsemane: A Place of Strength”

Luke 22:39-46


            Periodically, our world calls us back to simplicity.  Simpler is easier, more profitable, better use of space, they seem to say.  Companies downsize.  Products are marked as being made with “all natural ingredients.”  People are practicing the Paleo Diet.  HGTV has shows like “Hot Mess House” which are designed to help you declutter your home.  Robert Fulghum says “All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”  In all of this, there is the idea, and maybe some truth to it, that if we just reduce life to the essentials, we get back to the basics, stop the quest for more and 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, and yet isn’t it amazing how sometimes the simplest things, the very basics of life, how they can produce the greatest struggles.

            Take for instance these two words … “I do.”  Simple words.  Simple words which start a lifetime of commitment.  With these two words, you promise to seek not your own interests but the interests of another.  How simple the words, yet how hard the commitment. 

Should I put my husband into a home?” your neighbor asks you, and after she asks … an hour-long conversation of facts and feelings and six months full of decisions and indecision pours forth.  “If I help him stay at home, he feels secure and is happy, but he’s fallen lately and his mind is failing, and I worry about him, and 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, and daily activities.  But can any of that cure a broken heart?  Can twenty-four-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 someone else.  They’ve been said to God in long nights of prayer.  She’s offered God her tears and anger, her fear and love.  And all this comes out of two words said about 40 years ago.  “I do.”  For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health?  “I do.”  And so, your neighbor is standing there in front of you, still saying “I do” as best as she can.  But for her, the simple things in life have become the greatest struggle.

            Luke tells us the story of our Lord’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Luke 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.  We can summarize it in one sentence. Luke writes, “{Jesus} withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond {the disciples}, knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done’” (22:41-42).

            That’s all we hear from Jesus.  In less than ten seconds, we have heard his prayer, and then we move on to the rest of the story.  It’s easy for us not to recognize the struggle which is going on here.  And maybe that is why Luke goes to great lengths to describe the agony.  Jesus prays in anguish.  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 Jesus’ aid.  In all that anguish, what did Jesus say?  One sentence.  “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.”  How long Jesus prays for, we don’t know.  We know it’s long enough for the disciples to fall asleep.  Luke doesn’t tell us if there were more words or about the hours that went by because there’s 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 and mother.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Be faithful to your spouse.  Care for your children.  Love God with all which you are.  Simple words.  Simple words to guide us in this life and yet anyone who has said “I do” to these words … you know how strong 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 in long hours at work and the silence in the bedroom, the agony is strong and the nights of prayer are long.  Words can no longer contain the depth of our pain, and so we find ourselves saying the same thing again and again.  Time stands still as our emotions rush by.  Sorrow at what is being lost, joy at what for a time has been found, fear at what could happen, hope for what might be, confidence that God is watching, uncertainty that He hears us, 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 … and soon, in utter exhaustion, we simply fall asleep.  There is only so much agony one can bear and our lives, like those of the disciples, shut down under the struggle.  Luke says that the disciples slept that night a sleep like none other, “sleeping from sorrow” (v. 45).  There are times in our lives when we are brought to that place of agony and sorrow from the simplest things.  Desiring to do the things of God can lead to places of deep exhaustion and sorrow in our lives.

            Yet … our Lord continues to pray.  While the disciples sleep from sorrow, While God’s people fail under the power of the struggle, while the world is too weak to accomplish the will of God … Jesus goes on.  Jesus prays.  Jesus rises to awaken his disciples.  Jesus does the Father’s will.  By showing us this contrast, Luke reveals to us that there is one thing stronger than the simplest sorrow …  the simplest love of God.  God’s love for the world giving his one and only son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).  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, for you and me.  Jesus’s desire is to do his Father’s will, even if that means laying down his life so that the world might be saved.  Only God could love like that, only God could serve like that.  A Father’s love, a Son’s service, and a world’s salvation are all gathered together in this garden, in this prayer.  And by recording this prayer, Luke wants you and me to know that God’s love is stronger than sorrow.  Jesus in willing obedience submits to the will of the Father and says, “Thy will be done.”  Jesus enters our places of sorrow and makes them places of his strength.

            God’s will overcame human weakness that night.  God’s love made a place of sorrow a place of strength.  With this … I encourage you to live in that comfort.  Yes, when we leave here we return to a world where the simplest things can create the greatest struggles.  The simple will of God for us and our neighbor produces times of agony and trial in our life.  But God’s love is so beyond our loving.  God’s strength is so 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 own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).  There is nothing in this world which God’s love has not conquered, and there is nothing which can separate you from that love.  Your life is in his hands!  When you’re there … you are in the hands of the one who made you and loves you.

            You are in the hands of your maker.  With nothing being able to separate us from that spot, when we engage in those long nights of prayer … we pray to a God who listens.  When you don’t know what to say and all you can do is cry and groan … the Holy Spirit takes those prayers our mouths can’t say to the heart of God, who hears them.  Even when we fall asleep from sorrow, we sleep in the kingdom of a God who loves.  Sleep.  Rise.  Pray and work knowing that you are a child of God, you are members of a kingdom where God watches over his loved one … even in their sleep.  God has prepared a place for you to go in times of struggle and sorrow.  A place of his loving strength.  Rest now in his love.  Rest now in his strength.  Amen.

            The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever.  Amen.


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