(painting: El Greco. The Agony in the Garden. c.1595. Oil on canvas. Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH)
"And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Lk. 22:44).
On Jesus final night with his disciples, he did what they often did. He took them to the Mount of Olives to pray. Late this evening, in the cold dark Jerusalem night this is where Jesus wanted to be – kneeling in prayer with his beloved disciples. On this dark night, they did not just pray any prayer, but the prayer that their Lord had given them to pray, “Our Father…who art in heaven…lead us not into temptation.”
As Jesus prayed, the plot to arrest him had already been schemed and hatched. The Roman soldiers had been sent out from the barracks. As Jesus prayed, “lead us not into temptation” – the soldiers and chief priests were being led out to put an end to Jesus. To find this religious trouble maker, who was hanging out with prostitutes and notorious sinners. This night, as Jesus prayed, the soldiers marched toward him in military formation. Their swords were ready and glistened under the moonlight. The metal clanked against their strong armor as they marched.
Jesus said to Peter as they knelt, "Peter, My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death…stay here and pray with me.” And here, they prayed, “Our Father…lead us not into temptation.” Even Jesus, needed help with temptation and fear, for he knew what was coming. He knew the chief priests were scheming to kill him. He knew Judas had already betrayed him. And he knew the soldiers with their swords were marching straight toward him.
Jesus was not only tempted during his forty days in the desert wilderness. He was tempted during his entire earthly ministry to give up and not go through with what he was sent to do. And here in the garden, the temptations reach their climax. He knew that he would be whipped and beaten – scourged and hung up on a cross to die. Though Jesus is fully God, here, we see him as fully man, utterly overwhelmed and terrified as any man could ever be.
From our own experience, we know the anticipation of getting a tooth pulled. Or we know the anticipation of waiting for a painful surgery to take place. We know the anxiety of a public speaking event. The anticipation is usually often far worse than the event itself. Now, try to imagine the anticipation of taking the penalty for all the sins of humanity. Imagine the weight of all sinful crimes being laid upon your own body. It is simply inconceivable.
Jesus, kneeling in prayer, was fully aware of each coming lash of the whip. He was aware of every thorn and every nail that he would bear. As Jesus was awaiting his arrest, he was already suffering for the sins of the world. As he prayed, he was fighting all the temptations of the world, the devil, and his own flesh to give up on the mission. The devil, stalking him like a roaring lion, was tempting him to quit while he was ahead. He was shooting out all his venomous arrows, saying, “Go back and be a carpenter, tone it down a little with your religious talk, Jesus, and just live a quiet life for yourself. Do what’s best for you. Let your disciples suffer for their own sins – they don’t deserve your help. You don’t need to do this. The price is too heavy to bear…just give up.” Although Jesus heard that serpent tempting him in the garden, he did not accept the sweet sounding offer – nor did he even entertain the offer - he knew it was rotten to the core.
And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. The Passion and suffering of Christ, here, praying in the Garden has well begun.
As dark and foreboding as this night seems, the glimmer of Easter morning flickers in the distance. For this is the night that Jesus goes to battle for us. Every temptation hurled at Jesus is cut down with the sword of faith – a faith that trusts and loves the heavenly Father above all else.
Like Jesus, we are all tempted during this earthly life. And these temptations certainly come, one after the other. The tempter Satan whispers also to us – to despair – to give up – to go on sinning. He tempts us to disrespect or neglect our parents. He tempts us to neglect the spiritual needs of our spouse. He tempts us to be lazy at work. We are tempted to be angry at others. We are tempted to withhold our forgiveness from those who don’t deserve it. Satan prowls about tempting us to neglect prayer, neglect worship, and neglect study of God’s word. He tempts us to think that we do not need the church. We are tempted to think that we are fine, without the help of God.
The great difference between Jesus and us is this. Though we are both tempted, He and us both, only He, and not us, rejected all the temptations lobbed at him. Only He gives us the power to cut down these temptations and win the victory. For where we fail and give in to temptation, he will not. When our patience fails, his patience wins out. When we neglect prayer he prays without sleeping for us. When we become lazy at work or in our vocation, he works tirelessly in His work to love us without measure. When we say, “yes” to the tempter He says “No…get behind me Satan.” When our faith is weak he makes us strong.
As death marched toward Jesus as he prayed, in the garden - He prayed that you be led out of temptation by being led unto him. For your victory over temptation lies with Jesus, and Jesus alone. He is your victory. The victory ‘all for you.’ Given for you and shed for you. Tears for you, blood and sweat for you, body and blood for you. Great joy for you.
Before the ending of the day, Jesus will be handed over to be crucified. But this evening, in the coming light of Easter, the tempters power has been cut down and Satan has eaten the dust of death. Not only have we been led out of temptation, but we have been led into the beaming light of the cross – where we stand as victors and champions under the crimson banner of Christ’s name. No temptation and no threat can stand in our way. The flickering light of Easter morning is just around the corner. And the good news will be proclaimed for us all. In the name of Jesus. Amen.