Second in our list of reasons is that prayer is an important instrument in our overcoming sin and temptation. Perhaps no experience in the earthly life of Christ is more instructive on prayer than Jesus’ teaching and subsequent modeling in the twenty-second chapter of Luke. The fact that his disciples were patently oblivious only shows us our same frailty today.
In verse 39, Luke sets the scene. Jesus and His apostles (now eleven) have left the upper room on the night before His death. They have navigated the winding path they knew well up the Mount of Olives to the olive grove called Gethsemane. The eleven are troubled and confused about all they have seen and heard so far, yet Jesus knows that the great temptations are soon to be before them -His capture, His trials, His scourging, His mockery, the lure of their denial, His Crucifixion.
In verse 40, mindful of their need for fortitude, He addresses them: “He says, “[in order] that you may not enter into temptation.” What did He mean? Simply that their antidote to yielding to the temptations that fear, discouragement, and horror would soon present them was fervent, heartfelt prayer. This would fortify their trembling faith and courage.
How could He know this? Because He, too, faced His own darkness. Looming in the next few hours was the eternity of death and hell for the combined sins of humanity. He now came to the culmination of His purpose on the earth, and the terror of the pit must have clutched at this throat. Even more subtle, perhaps, were the whispers of rationalization which rose venomously from the tempter.
“Certainly they won’t appreciate what I am doing for them. They will cast it away. Many will ridicule Me and trample My Father’s salvation underfoot. How can I bear the sins of Sodom, of the butchers of babies in Bethlehem. How can I stand to be clothed in the sins of all the child molesters and mass murderers and the Adolph Hitlers of all the ages? How can I bear the devil’s glee as he turns the screws of my agony?
“Perhaps there is another cup. Yes, perhaps I can let this one pass, return to My gracious Father from whom I have never in all eternity been separated. Yes, that possibility exists. I can go to Him now, avoid the dread cross, discuss it further, find an alternative plan...”
We are naive if we think these thoughts and these temptations to abort His mission in the eleventh hour did not occur to the man, Jesus. Far greater than the disciples’ temptation was the temptation He faced and how infinitely more cosmic in its ramifications. One sees the shadowing figure of Lucifer himself hurling these twisted ideas at Christ.
So what did He do? He modeled exactly what He had told His struggling band: He prayed so that He could defeat (not “enter in”) temptation. We are told by Luke that His prayers were so heartfelt, His struggles so intense, that His sweat was bloody, pre-figuring the flow that would come tomorrow. He was in such agony that, in answer, an angel became visible to help Him bear up under the strain.
And bear up He did! For triumphantly, at the end of that hour, He could rise for prayer, having settled with His Father, “not My will but Thine be done.” Prayer had been the means of His victory. He returned to His men to find them... asleep! He had told them to pray. Instead, they followed the college students’ motto: “When in doubt; sack out!”
He roused them (maybe none too gently). Perhaps He dodged Peter, who grabbed his sword, looking for an ear to cut off. He confronts their tiredness, their crankiness at being awakened, and says again (verse 46), “pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
Notice that He commanded this in the beginning of this passage, then He demonstrated it in the body of this passage, and He reiterated it at the end of this passage. When you face temptation, PRAY, PRAY, PRAY! That is what will see you through. That is what He is trying to teach.
Well, how about you? How about me? Usually we pray only after we have yielded. What about seeing prayer as our first (not last) option: the fortifying of our courage and strength prior to our temptations? If we would pray more, we would yield less!
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