Mount of Olives: The God Who Is Near
MOUNT OF OLIVES: THE GOD WHO IS NEAR
Luke 22:39-44 (ESV)
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 an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
Time and again, we hear stories of people who walked away from their faith in God because they earnestly prayed for something and they did not receive what they asked for. Here are some possible scenarios:
A loved one is terminally ill, and they prayed for God’s healing. Despite all the prayers, they still lost their loved one.
A family member lost his/her job, and they sought the Lord to supply this need. Nothing happened, so they decided to quit praying and pursuing God.
One of their children is rebelling against the Lord and started falling into dangerous habits. Everyone in the family was praying for restoration, but the child kept moving farther and farther from the Lord. So, they decided it’s useless to pray.
Today, one of the biggest lies that many Christians are buying into is the teaching that because they love God and are walking with Him, they won’t go through miseries and heartaches in life. Let me be clear that this is not proper theology. For example, in terms of prayers, I guarantee you that God always answers our prayers. This teaching is clearly what the Bible tells us:
Jeremiah 33:3 (ESV)
3 Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.
Let me highlight the first line in the verse, “Call to me and I will answer you.” God definitely said, “I will answer.” He did not say, “I might answer,” or “I possibly will answer.” No, He said He would certainly answer every time we call to Him. But He has the prerogative with regards to the “when He will answer” and “how He will answer,” right? What you and I need to be assured of is that God will always answer according to His goodness and according to the highest good of the ones He loves.
Added to this truth is the fact that in the Bible, it is quite clear that Christian suffering is not the exception, but the norm. Examine these plain statements:
John 16:33 (ESV)
33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
2 Timothy 3:12 (ESV)
12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,
Both of these verses should help us to recognize that God never promised us an easy or comfortable life; it’s not a life free from troubles. In fact, Jesus repeatedly told His disciples that His way—if they chose to follow Him—would be through “the way of the cross.”
Well, these truths are very visible as we move to the next mountain in our sermon series, Finding God on the Mountains. However, there’s a unique perspective that I would like to emphasize as we move to our study this morning. For the first five mountaintop experiences, we think of positive thoughts. We don’t think about the tough times or the trials we go through. We consider those as the “valleys,” the low times in life. But then, as we look at the mountaintop experience of Jesus Christ in Mount Olives, we find Him going through some dark and lonely times. Nevertheless, it is the same with the other mountaintop experiences because during those dark and lonely times also came a fuller understanding of God, a richer experience of Him.
To give us some historical background, our text this morning would lead us to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus would come to pray and face the heavy burdens of his coming death. At this time, Jesus was emotionally in agony because He was fully aware of the fact that one of his friends would betray Him, that he would be arrested and publicly humiliated—and, eventually, be put to death. Yet, He still chose to go to the Garden of Gethsemane to begin His journey to the cross. I believe that this mountaintop experience of Jesus is so significant because He himself is able to show us what we should do whenever we are going through difficult and agonizing times in life:
I SEEK GOD FOR SUFFICIENT STRENGTH
For some context, after Jesus ate the Passover feast with the disciples in the upper room, he led his disciples—minus Judas—to Mount Olives to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. If you go back to verse 39, we should not miss to highlight the words, “as was his custom.” In other words, going to the Garden of Gethsemane was not a random decision, but the place where Jesus regularly went whenever He was in Jerusalem for the purpose of spending an intimate time with the Lord.
Instead of worrying and stressing Himself out because of everything that was about to take place, Jesus decided to draw Himself near to God and sought His strength. If you check out other cross-references about this account, you will have a better understanding of the emotional state of Jesus Christ:
Matthew 26:37-38 (ESV)
37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled.
38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”
Mark 14:33-34 (ESV)
33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled.
34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.”
These verses provide us with some specific descriptions of how emotionally troubled Jesus Christ was – “sorrowful and troubled,” “very sorrowful,” “greatly distressed and troubled,” and “very sorrowful.” Evidently, these were the emotional state of Jesus Christ. To show the intensity of Jesus’ struggle, we can also skip to verse 44, where you find Jesus sweating like great drops of blood was falling into the ground. Imagine the agony, the pain of what Jesus was feeling emotionally.
You know, I read these words and I cannot help but be grateful to God for the truth that He allows us to see in these verses: to have a glimpse of the emotional state of Jesus Christ, showing us exactly what He was going through, and what He did in order to overcome them. For Jesus, the best way to handle times like these is to spend them in prayer.
Where do you go when you are so troubled emotionally? Do you have a Gethsemane? Unfortunately, we often respond to distressful times the same way the disciples responded that night. If you go back to verse 40, Jesus told His disciples, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” In other words, He impressed to them that they ought to be spending time in prayers because it will help them gain the strength; they need to withstand their coming temptations. But if you check the narrative, Peter, James, John, and the rest of the disciples chose to sleep, rather than pray. Jesus would even go back to reiterate to them the need to pray two more times, but they won’t heed His words.
Of course, there’s also a theological issue here that we should not fail to answer – If Jesus is God, why was there a need to even pray? It is important that we recognize that when Jesus became a man, He voluntarily surrendered to the Father the uses of some of His divine qualities. Meaning, while He was here on earth as a human being, in most occasions, He was acting and behaving just like anyone of us, except for committing sins. If He used His divine power in certain times, it was in accordance with the permission and will of the Father.
So, we need to see Jesus setting Himself as a perfect example to us in what we should be doing in our most difficult times. Remember, when we are in the midst of our crises, the safest place we can run to is in the arms of God.
II SURRENDER YOUR WILL TO GOD When you go to verse 42, you will read these words, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” It is quite obvious that Jesus was struggling with the fact that He was going to the cross. The question is, why? Was it because He was struggling to obey the will of the Father? Absolutely not! If you go through the Gospels, everything He did was in accordance with the will of the Father:
John 4:34 (ESV)
34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.
John 5:30 (ESV)
30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.
So, consistently, Jesus was committed to fulfilling the will of the Father who sent Him.
How should we understand then verse 42? Well, the key is really on properly interpreting the phrase “remove this cup from me.” What is this “cup” Jesus was referring to? We need to understand this in two ways:
Jesus was completely knowledgeable that going to the cross will include a great amount of agony and pain. As a human being, He would feel every bit of pain inflicted on Him. As prophet Isaiah foresaw it:
Isaiah 53:4-7 (ESV)
4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
5But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.
Go through these verses and underline the words that refer to Jesus’ violent sufferings – stricken, smitten, afflicted, pierced, crushed, chastisement, wounds, oppressed, slaughter. When we begin to imagine the Son of God going through all these, then we would understand why He was distressed in the Garden as a human being.
Remember, at one point, the mother of James and John went to Jesus asking that He grant her sons prominent places beside His throne. How did Jesus respond to her request? Listen to His words:
Matthew 20:22-23 (ESV)
22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.”
23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
Jesus told her that she doesn’t know what she was asking because the prominent places in the Kingdom are reserved for those who will drink of the “cup” of His sufferings.
Another interpretation of the “cup” in the Bible is related to the wrath of God against sin. Here are specific verses to show this truth:
Psalm 11:6 (ESV)
6 Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
Isaiah 51:17 (ESV)
17 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.
In both of these verses, we can clearly see that the cup that came from the Lord was the punishment or judgment for the sins of humanity. So, when Jesus went to the cross to bear the sin of the world, the Father Himself will lay His punishment on Him. So, the prayer of Jesus was whether there was any way to secure mankind’s salvation other than drinking the bitter cup of sin and His judgment.
But again, Jesus said, “Not my will, but yours, be done.” This is so important when we think about our difficulties in life, whether we are conscious of putting God’s will and purpose before us. Let me explain. I’m sure you have heard about Romans 8:28-29:
Romans 8:28-29 (ESV)
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
We all love the promise in Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Let me remind you that all things work for our good only when we attach everything according to the purpose that God is accomplishing in our lives, right? Verse 29 defines the ultimate purpose of God for us – “He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Meaning, God is actively involved in bringing us into the glorious image of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, every time we are going through tough times, we must be quick to remind ourselves that we should allow Him to mold and shape us in becoming like Jesus Christ in ways He deems best for us. We may not enjoy what He is doing, but let’s rest in the knowledge that God knows exactly what He is doing to us and through us.
III SECURE THE SUPPORT FROM GOD
Lastly, let’s highlight verse 43 with regards to the support that Jesus received from God during His agonizing time. “And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.”
I love these words because they depicted for us how the Father strengthened Jesus during His agonizing time – He sent an angel from heaven to support Him. You see, for us, it is always advantageous never to forget that just like in the life of Jesus, God will not leave us to suffer alone. He is there with us ministering and strengthening us through His angels.
For Jesus, this was not the first time that angels came and ministered to Him. We also see this at the time when Jesus went to the desert to be tempted by the Devil for 40 days.
Matthew 4:11 (ESV)
11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
Based on this verse, after the Devil was done tempting Jesus, he left. Then, the angels came and ministered to Him. Of course, we too can count on angels to protect us and preserve us during our times of difficulties.
Hebrews 1:14 (ESV)
14 Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?
The rhetorical question here has an obvious answer – yes, we have a lot of ministering angels sent out to help us, to strengthen us in our most difficult times.
As we close this sermon, I hope and pray that we can practically apply our studies by doing the following every time we are facing some crises in life:
Find your Gethsemane where you can draw yourself to be near with God. I guarantee you. If you draw near to Him, He will draw Himself near to you too (James 4:8).
Be honest and don’t be afraid to pour your heart to Him. Just like Jesus, tell Him what’s taking your joy and peace.
Watch out for the angels He will send to strengthen you. Sometimes, God brings these angels through people who come to you (Hebrews 13:2).