Luke 22:39-62 “When Faith Fails”
Where is Jesus now according to the text? Last week he was still in Jerusalem proper. Now, he is outside of the city at the foot of the Mount of Olives. The bible tells us in the opening passage that this is a favorite place for Jesus to be. The place is also called the Garden of Gethsemane. It is more like an olive plantation with an olive press and all than a garden. Public gardens were not a thing back then. Important to note is the understanding that Jesus has frequented this place before as a favorite spot for prayer. That is how Judas knows where to bring the Roman guards. In fact, we get the sense in Luke’s writing that maybe even Judas’ betrayal was not needed as Jesus himself points out “You guys have been following me everywhere already, spying on me, keeping tabs of my whereabouts!” Check out verses 52-53.
When we look at all of the characters in this part of Luke, yes, we see that Judas has forsaken his faith in Jesus Christ for thirty pieces of silver. His faith fails with the incredible scene of his kissing the Lord to point him out to the guards.
Yet, we also see the eleven others of Jesus’ disciples also failing in faith as they are overcome with drowsiness and doze off even though Jesus had asked them to stay awake. This is the night of Passover, the night of death’s coming. They should have stayed awake for this reason alone. They failed in faith.
Peter, as we read on about the arrest of Jesus, fails in faith as he does exactly what Jesus forecasted in last week’s sermon text. Three times Peter denies having even known Jesus and the other disciples. Check out verses 54-62. The bible does not say what kind of look Jesus gave to Peter. Was it recrimination? Pity? We do not know, but it caused Peter to run off in tears, weeping bitterly. Jesus said Peter’s faith would fail. But, in that failure of faith, Peter must have known that every word that Jesus spoke was true. In this strange way his faith is reaffirmed. “Jesus already knew I was going to be troublesome–yet he chose me anyway!” Isn’t that every Christian’s consolation?
The last person to inspect in this part of the faith story of Jesus is none other than Jesus himself. You see, he asks his father in heaven to take “this cup away from me.” This is an idiom for the cup of death of course. It is not that it is cranberry juice and he might be allergic. This is the cup of death that he knows he will have to take into himself on the Cross. It sounds as if Jesus’ own faith is failing in this moment.
Just as an aside, I know that it is wrong to judge another’s faith! It sounds harsh when I stand up here and say “So and so’s faith has failed.” I feel uncomfortable talking that way. Who am I to say whose faith is strong and whose is weak? It is solely up to me to judge my own faith. But, how am I to judge my own faith if not against what is written here in the Word of God. I am more than sure that is why these verses are here in the Bible–not that we should judge others’ faith but that we might come to an understanding of our own personal faith in Christ. So, we focus on these stories of Jesus and the disciples coming to their time of trial, if you will.
The disciples are supposed to be in prayer that they will not be tempted or led into a trial of the faith. Jesus himself is in this trial of faith with God in heaven as he cries out “Take this cup away from me!” I have mentioned before that this idea of being led into a trial of faith has been in the news when three years ago Pope Francis publicly conjectured that God would not lead us into temptation as Jesus taught us to pray. The Pope took it upon His own Holiness to decide for everyone that the prayer that Jesus spoke to his disciples, and that has been repeated ever since, was in essence theological unsound. I do not agree. We are led into times of trial. That is in fact the story of every prophet in the Bible. The oldest story in the Bible, the story of Jonah, is specifically of how God leads Jonah into a time of trial. So, I do not agree with the Pope. I am not judging his faith at all either–I just do not agree.
Just as another aside, I like to point out that when the Lord came to Jonah, the first thing he said was “arise.” This is the same command from Jesus now to the disciples when they are sleeping. This is what Luke actually says about Jesus, “He arose from the prayer.” The “rising up” means that the direction of life is up towards God again. That is our calling when we are in distress, in a trial of God if you will, we arise! WE get back to the ministry–that is following what God wants for our lives.
At the first meeting of the new Bible Club at the Middle School, the idea was to ask the students what they wanted for their club this coming year. That was tempered with the asking “What do you think God wants from you this year in Middle School?” The one question can be answered with a hearty “Pizza,” that is what we want. The other question requires prayer and deep introspection. What is it that God wants from me in this coming year? Does God want me to eat pizza?
Now we see that Jesus does not just say it once in the prayer that we know today as the Lord’s Prayer, but that he repeats two more times with his disciples on the Mount of Olives before his betrayal: “Father, lead us not into a time of trial of our faith.” Jesus knows that these are the hardest times of our lives. There is no easy way through these times. These are the times that try us, and our faith in God itself.
So, what is Jesus’ temptation that he is praying against so hard that he is “dripping sweat like drops of blood?” His temptation would be to use all of his godly powers to avoid going to the Cross itself. After all, he is the all-powerful Son of God. Nobody can actually force him to sacrifice on the Cross. He is doing it for the sake of all of humanity, and it is by his sheer grace alone.
In the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis The Last Temptation of Christ that was later made into a movie, the author imagines that Jesus in this moment is being tempted with pictures in his mind’s eye of sitting on the front porch as an old man bouncing his grandchildren on his knee. He has enjoyed a good and comfortable life and is now enjoying his retirement years in full measure. This is what Jesus wants. This is what we all want. We want to live fully and see the progeny of our love. Then, Jesus corrects himself with the line: “Not my will, but your will be done!”
We know as a matter of historical fact that all but one (That would be John the Beloved) of the apostles will die before their time. All of them will sacrifice very much as Jesus did. That is why I encourage all of us to pray as Jesus taught us to: “Dear Lord lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the Evil One.” Jesus’ deliverance from temptation in this moment is our deliverance to eternal life through resurrection.
Back to our story of the time on the Mount of Olives: Who comes to help Jesus defeat this moment of temptation? An angel from heaven! In all the time that Jesus is with the disciples, this is the first time that an angel has come to spend time with Jesus. The disciples are asleep and miss the opportunity to hang out with an angel for real! We do know that they will meet angels later at the time of the resurrection and ascension. Who can forget that wonderful moment in the Book of Acts, chapter 1, when Jesus ascends to heaven, all the disciples are looking up to heaven with their mouths open, as two angels tell them to stop looking up and get to work on the ministry at hand?!
We also know that the angels are coming in the end times. All of the angels were singing when Jesus was born. The angels came to foretell of Jesus’ birth as well. What should we make of this? Satan is going to try to burn you in your life, but we have got the angels of God on both sides of every temptation. Like Jesus, we are strengthened in our times of trials. And, most certainly, after succeeding through prayer we will also be lifted up to heaven. We will rise. The command will be fulfilled.
I have to say that this has been one of the most difficult summers for our community of faith. We have suffered the collective trauma of the fire on Maui. Yes, that is so, but in our individual lives we have lost loved ones, been stricken with illnesses, have had to make difficult career choices, have had financial crises, etc. We have come to every form of trial one can imagine as church, a people of faith. However, can you imagine facing those trials without faith? Perhaps even denying the Lord himself as Peter did? Betraying your trust to the Lord as Judas did? That is where we dare not go. Instead, we arise and hear what God wants us to do in these trials.
Whatever you might be going through in your life, angels will be there. So, do not be asleep to prayer and angels. Jesus prays for God’s will to be done, and so do we.