SERVICE VIDEO (link)
TEXT: Luke 22:41-44; John 18:4,10-11,33-40
“Thy will be done.”
Jesus taught us to pray in that way and he prayed in that way. But what does that mean? What does that mean for you and me, not only to pray it, but desire and seek God’s will in our lives?
Today we look at some of the timeline leading to the cross and to Easter morning as we continue “Preparing for Easter.” We will hear Jesus pray that prayer and the context in which he prayed it. We’ll look at what happened when one of his most devoted followers veered from God’s will. And we’ll ponder the interesting exchange between Jesus and Pilate as a way to better understand what the Father’s will was for the Son. My hope is that you will not only learn something new or deeper about this part of the story leading up to Easter, but that it will also shape your prayer life and understanding of following Jesus.
Not My Will, But Yours (Luke 22)
Luke 22 records several key events on the Thursday night before the Friday crucifixion. Jesus and the disciples have the Passover meal, the Last Supper in which Jesus identifies the bread as his body and the cup as his blood, broken and poured out for them. Shortly after that there is an argument among the disciples about who is the best. It is then that Peter so boldly declares he is prepared to go to prison or die for Jesus, but Jesus indicates Peter will soon deny knowing him.
From there they go out of Jerusalem and go up the hill outside the city to the Mount of Olives to pray. Once there, Jesus separates and goes off a little way to pray by himself:
41 And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, 42 saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” 43 Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. 44 And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.
There are a number of really interesting things in that short description of Jesus’ time of prayer. He clearly knows what is going to happen and it is interesting to note that he prays for another path, but only if the Father is willing. We’ll see this here and then in a later scene, but he speaks of “this cup” as a metaphor for the suffering he is to endure, or more broadly speaking, for God’s will for him. It was only a short time earlier (an hour?) that he held up a cup at the Last Supper and said “this cup is poured out for you in my blood.” (v.20) And now he is asking the Father to “remove this cup,” but once on either side of making that request: “if you are willing” and “yet not my will, but Yours be done.”
What a great model for us! In the Lord’s Prayer and here Jesus teaches us to pray for God’s will to be done, but it is okay to let God know what we desire.
Jesus seemed to really be struggling with what was coming. He is described as “being in agony,” “praying very fervently,” and sweating “like drops of blood.” That is really intense. Have you ever wrestled over something in prayer that felt like that?
But also look at v. 43 – “an angel from heaven appeared to him, strengthening him.” What a mercy in the middle of such an agonizing time! It is a comfort to think that God would strengthen us to yield to His will for us while also hearing our struggles and agonizing prayers. We do not have to clean up or pretty up or hold things in when we pray to the Lord, but we are wise to seek God’s will, even when it seems difficult or at odds with our own will.
My Will (John 18:4,10-11)
We will shift to a different book, to the Gospel of John, but the events pick up right after that time of prayer, which John actually records in much greater detail. After praying, they rise and the group coming to arrest him comes out. John tells us that Jesus knew what was coming and went out to meet them, even identifying himself to them. Though his prayers might have been agonizing, Jesus is surely strengthened in resolve and in his spirit to do the Father’s will. So he meets it head on.
4 So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5 They answered Him, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He said to them, “I am He.”
Peter, on the other hand is ready to defend Jesus and draws his sword. But listen to Jesus’ response:
10 Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave’s name was Malchus. 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?”
“The cup which the Father has given me, shall I not drink it?” Again, Jesus has set his face toward the cross, toward all that was yet to come.
What was Peter doing? On one hand, we might praise him for his bravery to defend Jesus. But Jesus had been sharing more and more with them about what was to come, how his was not an earthly Kingdom to take on Rome and soldiers. Just that night he had poured wine into the cup saying his blood would be poured out. He had just finished praying about doing the Father’s will; maybe Peter didn’t hear it, though John seemed to. At any rate, Peter did what Peter wanted to do. I can’t really blame him in the moment. Nonetheless, it was not the Father’s will, and Jesus corrected him, saying that he (Jesus) was intent on drinking the cup.
Sometimes we do the wrong thing, knowing it is wrong and not the Lord’s will. Other times, we do our own thing with all the best intentions and zeal… and it is not the Lord’s will. I have often been quick to do what I thought was the right thing, but did not stop to ask the Lord for guidance or search the scripture for direction. It’s also very easy to be so energized about MY plans, that I decide they probably are God’s plans… and I miss the mark.
Peter’s actions also remind me of something we talked about in the class Cathy has been teaching on Thursday nights. We talked this past week about intentions vs. impact. Sometimes we act toward others (of other races) with good intentions, but the effects or impact of our action are counter-productive or not received well. It behooves us to listen to people, to the needs of a community or person before acting, even if our intentions are good.
Christy has taught me about this with the youth and children’s ministry. Before coming to Good Shepherd she had significant training and experience in “community engagement.” One of the foundational pieces of community engagement is listening to a community to determine their needs and wants, then partnering with them to attain those needs and wants.
Like Peter, sometimes we forge ahead with good intentions, but we are not doing what is needed, wanted, or best. It makes me think that a necessary first step to the Great Commandment (loving God and loving others) is listening well. Whether it is loving and serving God or loving and serving our neighbors, we are wise to first listen to determine what it is that God asks or that our neighbor needs before offering our love and service.
Where might you and I need to hear “put away your sword?” Where might you and I need to listen more carefully?
Your Will (John 18:33-40)
This brings us finally to Jesus coming before Pilate. Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea and the one who could authorize execution. The chief priests wanted Jesus arrested and killed, but did not have the authority to do so. But they thought that if they presented him as someone trying to incite rebellion against Rome, then Pilate would act to have him killed.
33 Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” 35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” 37 Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” 38 Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him. 39 “But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?” 40 So they cried out again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a robber.
Pilate gets right to the heart of the matter, asking “Are you the King of the Jews?” then “What have you done?”
Jesus answers, “My kingdom is not of this world… [otherwise] my servants would be fighting.” (v.36) How important it was that Peter not veer from the path set before Jesus!
Hearing about a kingdom, even not of this world, Pilate asks again, “So you are a king?”
And this is where Jesus describes “the Father’s cup” rather specifically: “I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth.” Jesus came to announce the Kingdom of God, over which he is (or will be) King. Sometimes people ask how much Jesus knew about being Messiah, about being God. He covers quite a bit here; it’s not invented later by his followers. He has come to announce the arrival of the Kingdom of God – this much has been clear in his many, many teachings about it! And he understands himself to be the King of that Kingdom. It is his purpose; it is God’s purpose for him. And he says that this is the truth! (v.37)
Pilate notoriously asks, “What is truth?” (v.38) Jesus has just said that everyone who belongs to the truth – to God’s Kingdom – hears his voice. It appears that Pilate does not and will not believe. However, he does go back to the chief priests and say, “I find no guilt in Him.” (v.38) But just as we think maybe he is somehow on Jesus’ side, he then offers the Passover Swap – a custom of releasing one prisoner at the time of the Passover. He offers Jesus, whom he thinks is largely harmless, or Barabbas, a robber. And as we know, they choose Barabbas.
Just as I can relate to Peter’s rash behavior to do what he thought was right, I can also relate to Pilate, who seems more interested in making sure he doesn’t get in trouble either with Rome or with the influential priests. He rightly recognizes the charges against Jesus are false, but then he tries to appease the disappointed priests by offering a deal. Jesus holds out truth to him – a close analogue to God’s will – and Pilate misses it, listening to other voices and influences to make his decisions.
Drinking the Father’s Cup
The questions from today’s text are simple to name, but hard to do.
Do you seek the Father’s cup – God’s will – for the decisions you make and the things you do? We do that through prayer, through studying scripture, through seeking the wise counsel of other believers we trust.
And if you have a good idea what that is, do you seek to follow it, to pursue it.
It’s easy to just go with what seems right. It’s easy to just go with what makes the fewest waves and keeps us out of trouble.
But Jesus taught us to pray and to yield to “Thy will be done.”
Where do you need to pray this prayer and yield to God in your life? It may be on a deep level, like the very question of faith. But I’m really thinking more of day to day choices. I know I often wait and check in with God when I get in trouble. But Jesus taught us to pray “thy will be done” alongside prayer for our daily bread. This suggests frequent and regular seeking of God’s will.
Do you seek God’s will in your relationships? In your work? In your goals and priorities? In your free time? In your dreams? In your sense of purpose? In what you read and watch and listen to?
Or maybe you have some sense that God is asking something big of you: some work, some challenge, something hard. Remember that those even Jesus wrestled with the big thing, he yielded to God’s will and he was strengthened for the task!
What would it mean for you to yield to the Father’s will in any of these areas? To drink the Father’s cup?
May God strengthen you for the task at hand! Amen.
Some Music Used
- Let Your Kingdom Come
- Choir: Kyrie Elieson
- All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name