Sunday, September 17, 2006

Sermon Aha.

Today's sermon dwelt on the following passage:

Luke 22:39 "Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40On reaching the place, he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation." 41He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." 43An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground."

Some things that were pointed out here: 1. The word used for temptation is a word that actually means testing. It doesn't seem like much of a difference, but the subtlety here is that there are two faces to the coin: temptation for our downfall is the purpose of Satan, but testing for our refinement is the purpose of God. Satan tempted Adam and Eve, but God allowed the test, which they failed (this was no surprise to God, incidentally). All of us are tempted/tested. Jesus asks (OK, let's face it,; He is commanding ) us to pray that we will not fall into the hands of Satan. Clearly this is another one of those promises we can be confident that He will say Yes to. But He is not saying that we will not be tested.

2. We can see that Jesus was tempted by Satan and tested by God here. It was the ultimate test of all. Jesus knew it was coming; our sermonist said that this test followed Jesus around all His life like a black cloud, and at this moment it gathered above Him and descended on Him in all its fury. It was agony. It is at this point that it is arguable that Jesus 'descended into Hell'. He pleaded with the Father that this Cup should be taken away if possible, but a second prayer shows Him conceding His will to the Father in letting it come as necessary.

What I had never seen before is the ministration of the angel as He entered His darkest hours. And as Jesus experienced darkness, so can we experience it: asking for the power of Heaven to aid us. This reminds me of some favorite verses from Psalm 20:

1 May the LORD answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
2 May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.

3 May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.

4 May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.

All of us will enter times of darkness, but that does not mean that we have to go through them unstrengthened and in our own powerlessness. I don't for a minute want to minimise pain and suffering that millions of Christians go through, which Paul details in 2 Corinthians: 7But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

The help of the Lord, however, is at hand:

Psalm 23: 4 "Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, [a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me."

This should give us hope. We are never given up so long as we plead for help. Jesus suffered, but not without being equipped to bear it. And what is the outcome of the prayer of faith, even though we may die? Back to Psalm 20:

5 We will shout for joy when you are victorious
and will lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May the LORD grant all your requests.

6 Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed;
he answers him from his holy heaven
with the saving power of his right hand.

7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

8 They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.

If we are hidden in Christ, we can confidently ask for help, just as He did:

9 O LORD, save the king!
Answer [a] us when we call!


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