Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek
If you have a Bible, please turn with me to Luke 22. We’ll be picking up right where Pastor Jason left off last week. As you’re turning there, let me mention that Easter is next weekend. We’d love for you to invite people to church. Easter is one of those times when people who typically might not attend church seem more open to attending. Jason will be preaching the resurrection story from Luke 24. Also, we have a Good Friday service. Our Good Friday service begins at 7 pm and will last less than an hour. At the service we’ll have various readers read Luke’s account of the crucifixion, and we’ll sing songs the magnify the cross of Christ.
As we pick up this morning’s passage in Luke 22 beginning in verse 39, you’ll hear about a certain cup. A few weeks ago as Jason preached through the Lord’s Supper passage, he discussed a certain cup—the cup of the Passover meal, which Jesus said should now be understood as his blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins. This morning, we are going to talk about a different but very related cup.
Follow along with me as I read from Luke 22:39–46, and then we’ll pray that God would be our teacher.
39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed,42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. 45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
Two years ago in June my wife and I were in Harrisburg hospital as she delivered our last child, Salem Robert Vrbicek. All of our children were born via Cesarean section or c-section. Not to be too graphic, but in a c-section, a mother’s abdomen is surgically opened to deliver the baby.
During one or two of my wife’s previous c-sections, and there were five of them, there had been a moment here and there that was sobering, moments when we realized surgery is a delicate, sometimes dangerous thing. But with Salem, our last child, we had several of those reminders. With Salem, my wife didn’t deliver in the regular delivery rooms. They moved her to one of the OR rooms so they could have access to more equipment, they told us, “You know, just in case we need it,” they said. And at one point before the surgery began, we started to notice that there were a lot of people in the room. My wife asked me about this, so I counted, and there were 15 people in the room. There was a sign on the wall that said only eight people were ordinarily allowed in the room.
I wouldn’t say we had a lackadaisical approach to Salem’s c-section delivery. In the days leading up to his birth, my wife was understandably anxious, just as anyone would be about any surgery. But there was a whole new level of sobriety when we realized that the medical professionals—the people who knew the most about performing a women’s sixth c-section—had double or perhaps even tripled their precautions.
Thankfully, all went well. But that is something like what we see happening in Luke 22. I couldn’t go so far as to say that the disciples were lackadaisical. But it certainly seems they are unaware of all that is going on around them. I think that was because of their self-reliance. They had previously just argued about who was the greatest, and Peter had confidently asserted his loyalty to Jesus. So, yeah, they knew things were about to get difficult, but the temptations seemed to them to be the kind of temptations that they, you know, could handle on their own. “Lord,” says Peter, “I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” (v. 33). And this, our self-reliance, that can make us spiritually drowsy when we should be most alert. As we get into this more, we’ll see the one who was most aware of what was going on, was also the most troubled.
1. The singular focus on Jesus as the only hero of the story
As this passage opens up, we should note a continuation of a theme that’s been happening for several passages. In a sense, it’s a great theme across the whole of the biblical story, but we see it especially on display in the last few chapters and the last few passages in each of the Gospel accounts. Luke 22 has a singular focus on Jesus as the only hero of the story.
Last week Jason very helpfully pointed something out, but I want to bring it up again to draw even more attention to it. As Jason said, one of the reasons we can believe the Bible is an accurate account of the story of God is because the men and women who we think should be the most heroic, are actually very un-heroic and sometimes even worse than un-heroic. Let me say it another way. We are helped to believe the Bible is a divinely inspired book because, if humans were ultimately behind what got included and what didn’t get included in the Bible, then they would not have made the closest followers look so bad. Let me say it another way. The disciples often look dumb and cowardly. And if we were creating a religion, we’d want to make us look a lot less dependent and dumb and cowardly than we are.
That’s helpful to note. But this more than an incidental thing. It feels intentional emphasized. During the last passages of each Gospel account, each author puts a singular focus on Jesus as the only hero of the story. The hero of the story is certainly not the religious leaders. In passage, after passage their duplicity is exposed. The only thing consistent about the religious leaders is that they are consistently hypocrites, speaking of the love of God out one side of their mouth and denying it with their actions. The religious leaders are not the heroes of the story.
But neither are the disciples. One disciple, we’re told, will betray Jesus. Another disciple will deny him three times. And all of the disciples argue about who is the greatest. And when Jesus gives them his last instructions about how to prepare for the difficult days ahead, none of them seem to grasp what Jesus is actually saying such that, in the end, Jesus apparently exasperated just says, “It is enough,” and then gets up to leave the room, which is where our passage begins in v. 39.
If this were a play on a stage, all the lights would dim, and a single spotlight would focus on Jesus. He’s the only hero of the story.
2. Jesus is a troubled hero
But we also see that Jesus is a troubled hero. Look again at verses 41–44.
41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed,42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
Many times throughout the Gospels we see Jesus making prayer a priority. Prayer was such an important part of his life that Luke even describes prayer as “his custom” (v. 39). Way back in Luke 5, during a hectic season of ministry, we’re told that Jesus often withdrew to pray. But this time, here on the Mount of Olives, things feel different. The passage says he is in agony, that he prays “more earnestly,” and that he is sweating so profusely that it’s like he has an open wound pouring on the ground. And the plain reading of this passage is that the suffering is real. This is not pantomime or lip-synching. He really is in agony.
This should strike us as odd. If we were alive at the time of Christ, we’d have been well aware of stories where martyrs went boldly to their death. For example, in the Jewish books of 1 & 2 Maccabees, which tell the Hanukkah story that took place almost 200 years before Jesus, many brave men and women give up their lives with extreme courage. And now Jesus seems, shall we say, reluctant? This is odd.
Many of us have heard the agony of this scene preached before and many have even read through the Gospels a few dozen times. But if we were reading Luke’s Gospel for the first time, as some of you might be, we would be caught off guard.
In Luke 2, we are told that when Jesus was a young man, he asked questions of the religious leaders that were way beyond his years. There’s no indication that Jesus was intimidated by their great learning, as most children would have been. In fact, they are impressed with his learning. When Jesus begins his public ministry in Luke 4, we see Jesus do battle with Satan. “You’re hungry, Jesus, skip all this suffering. Just make these stones into bread. And let me give you a kingdom,” Satan tempts him. “No, no, and no,” Jesus says. Later in that same chapter, Jesus preaches to a hostile crowd that tries to throw him off a cliff. Then, again in the same chapter, Jesus casts out demons. Do you get the idea? He’s fearless. He’s bold. He’s powerful.
And his impending death didn’t catch Jesus by surprise. In Luke 9 we read that Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem where he knew he would die (v. 51 along with vv. 44–45). He predicted his own death many times in veiled ways and a handful of times overtly. There’s no surprise.
But here on the Mount of Olives in a peaceful park called the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus, the only hero of the story, is so troubled that an angel comes to strengthen him as sweat pours off him like drops of blood. That’s odd, isn’t it? Why is Jesus in so much agony?
3. Jesus is troubled because he knows what’s in the cup
Jesus is troubled because he knows what’s in the cup. Do you? Jesus prays, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me” (v. 42). What’s in the cup?
To answer that question, let me show you just four verses, three from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament that speak of a cup. There’s poetic language in each, but the idea is clear.
Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering. (Isaiah 51:17)
Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.” (Jeremiah 25:15)
For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs. (Psalm 75:8)
He also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. (Revelation 14:10)
And these are only a few of the verses that say something similar about what was in the cup. There are others (Psalm 11:6; 60:3; Jeremiah 25:15–29; 49:12; 51:57; Lamentations 4:21; Ezekiel 23:31–34; Habakkuk 2:16; Zachariah 12:2). What’s in the cup? The cup is the symbolic container of the wrath of God against sin. Again, the cup is the symbolic container of the wrath of God against sin. The wrath of God is his intense hatred of sin. All of the foaming ferocity of the hatred of the Almighty Creator of the Universe directed at sin is stored in a cup that the Messiah was about to drink down to the dregs.
That’s why Jesus was troubled.
The idea of the wrath of God tends to trouble us—as it should—but there are better, and there are worse ways to deal with it. A few years ago there was some controversy about a line in the modern hymn “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend. It’s a good song. In fact, I consider it a great song. And so do many others. “In Christ Alone” was in the news because a denomination voted to exclude it from their forthcoming hymnal. The controversy had to do with this line in the second verse:
Till on that cross as Jesus died / The wrath of God was satisfied
But the committee tasked with creating the hymnal did not know that was the line. There was an unauthorized version of the song floating around that had a different line:
Till on that cross as Jesus died / The love of God was magnified
During the hymnal copyright process, the committee learned that the actual line was the first line, the line we sing when we sing “In Christ Alone.” And there were some on the hymnal’s committee, in fact a majority, who did not like the actual line. And before simply striking the song from the hymnal, the committee reached out to the authors asking if they would allow it to be modified, substituting the “loved of God” for “the wrath of God.” The authors said no.
So the committee had a debate. When the committee voted, those who said cut it, won. And so the hymn was kept from the hymnal and the 10,000 churches in this denomination (see the article in Christianity Today here from August 2013).
But when you think about it, you can’t very well have the love of God without the wrath of God. Look at it like this. If you love something, you’ll feel a certain way when what you love is abused and tarnished. If you love a football team, you feel angry if an official makes a bad call, especially if that call changes the outcome of a game. If you love your family, you feel angry when they are abused.
And God loves his own glory and he loves his creation. And when God’s glory is belittled and his creation abused, God feels a certain way about that: we call it wrath. The wrath of God is a troubling thing. But for the Christian, for the one who has turned from sin and trusted in Jesus for salvation, the wrath of God has been diverted. Praise God for that! If Jesus drinks down the wrath of God on the cross for our sins, then there is nothing left for you and me to drink. Not a drop has gone unabsorbed. On the cross the wrath of God was satisfied, and yes, also the love of God was magnified.
4. The panoramic focus also widens to include concern for us
At the beginning of the sermon I made the point that the gospel of Luke, as with the other Gospels, focuses singularly on Jesus as the hero of the story. That’s true. But that is not to say that the disciples and you and I are ignored. Look again in vv. 40, 44–45.
40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” . . . 45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
Don’t you find it wonderful that in his hours of greatest sorrow, Jesus is concerned about others. He’s concerned for the disciples. He’s concerned about us. That’s amazing. Wet get a toothache, and we can only thing of ourselves. And the concern of Jesus is that we would be prayerful. This is why we’ve even made one of our goals here at our church to increasingly become a church that values prayer.
But it’s difficult to value prayer when you are self-reliant. To say it a different way, our self-reliance tends to make us spiritually drowsy when we should be most alert. You can learn all the tricks and acronyms to aid you in prayer, but if you don’t feel your dependence, no trick or acronym will help you become more prayerful.
Years ago, I helped a church lead a financial class taught by Dave Ramsey. At the beginning of the class, Ramsey says something like, “I’m going to teach you how to give, save, and spend in ways that honor God. I’ll teach you tricks and programs to help you achieve financial peace, which isn’t simply having a lot of money.” But he then mentions that none of the tips and programs will help if you don’t feel the urgency. He uses this analogy: “Let’s suppose that you have a child, and you learn that your child is very sick, and 9 months from now, you’ll need to have $5,000 cash to pay for life-saving treatment.” Ramsey then adds, “If that’s true, you don’t really need me to teach you tricks and programs to help you save and budget. You’ll find a way to figure it out. You’ll have an urgency and intensity about things.” Then he adds, “Now the tips I teach help, but there is something more fundamental.”
I think it’s a bit like that with prayer. As long as we see ourselves as self-reliant, we’ll remain spiritually drowsy and prayerless. In Luke 22, Jesus pleads with those disciples, and I think it’s fair to say that he’s pleading with us to wake up to reality—the reality of the gospel and the wrath of God diverted, the reality of our spiritual dependence, the reality of temptations coming that can cause us to flounder as we follow Christ.
This morning, we’ll close by spending a few minutes in quiet, reflective prayer. I want us to have time to begin to do what Jesus told those disciples to do. Maybe there are areas of your life where you see yourself as spiritually self-reliant. Take this time to confess to God. Perhaps you’ve been coming to church for some time, but you know you are not really a Christian. Take this time to tell God you want to turn from your sins and trust the finished work of Jesus. Others of us are Christians, but we feel particularly tempted in a certain area. Take this time to ask for the Lord’s help.
If in the moments Jesus was in his greatest agony, he had concern for others, surely now that he has paid for our sins on the cross, risen triumphantly, and sits at his Father’s right hand, how could he now not delight to help us in any struggle we have as we seek to follow him?