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THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – SWEAT LIKE BLOOD

SWEAT LIKE BLOOD

“Leaving there, He went, as He often did, to Mount Olives. The disciples followed Him. When they arrived at the place, He said, ‘Pray that you don’t give in to temptation.’

“He pulled away from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, remove this cup from me. But please, not what I want. What do you want?’ At once an angel from heaven was at His side, strengthening Him. He prayed all the harder. Sweat, wrung from Him like drops of blood, poured off His face.” Luke 22:39-44.

This is a very different Jesus from the one we have been accompanying through the Gospel of Luke. He was a man of many emotions, as we would expect from someone who was the perfect representative of mankind. Unlike many men, He did not ignore, deny or hide His emotions. He felt compassion, He rejoiced, He wept, He laughed, He grieved, He got angry and He got frustrated. Luke describes Him as a very human Jesus but also, always, the true Son of God.

This is the first time He showed His emotion regarding His approaching death. The dark shadow of the cross fell across Him in the olive grove. “Gethsemane” means “press” reflecting the process by which the precious oil was extracted from the olives that grew there. He was feeling the press of His impending sacrifice.

There were many “last times” for Him in the next few hours. The Passover meal He had just shared with His disciples was the last time He would eat with them. These moments would be the last time He would fellowship with His Father in the solitude of the garden and in freedom.

The overwhelming weight of what was looming was crushing Him like the press that crushed the olives. Only the pure Son of God knew what it meant to become sin for us. Only He felt the terrifying prospect of separation from His Father with whom He had lived in intimate and unbroken fellowship as a human being for thirty three years, of being cut off, abandoned and left alone in His time of greatest need.

Unless He was able to come to terms with, and fully embrace what lay ahead in the next few hours, the battle would be lost before it even began. His entire human life was consumed by this one purpose – to do the Father’s will. “Then I said, ‘Here I am, I have come – it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God. Your law is within my heart.'” Psalm 40:7-8 (NIV). Now was the time to put His purpose to the ultimate test,

There is nothing wrong with the process by which He came to submission to the Father. There was no rebellion in His heart, not reluctance to submit, only the horror of His impending ordeal. He was to embrace His Father’s will by submitting to the worst that human beings could do to Him at the instigation of His arch enemy, the devil, without resistance, either physical or emotional.

This was a struggle so severe that His blood began to flow even before His skin was pierced by the whip, the thorns, the nails or the spear. Our minds cannot conceive of the suffering it meant, not only for Him but for the Father who loved and delighted in His Son beyond anything we can imagine.

In that moment, in the full understanding of what lay ahead, Jesus embraced the Father’s will once again, and the deal was sealed. From that time on, He was secure in the strength of His submission and the knowledge that He would overcome – and He did. No amount of torture or torment could remove from Him the peace that surrender had secured. He was the only one, in spite of being the prisoner and the one in trial, in absolute control of the situation.

“When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made not threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness…” 1 Peter 2:23-24a (NIV).

This is a great lesson for us to learn. Jesus won the battle before it began by embracing the Father’s will. He was not caught out or taken unawares. Unlike Him, we do not know what lies up ahead but, as we live in daily submission to God, we will be ready to face our own ordeals without resistance if we entrust ourselves to Him who judges justly.

“So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” 1 Peter 4:19 (NIV).

While The Church Prayed

WHILE THE CHURCH PRAYED

“Then the time came for Herod to bring him out for the kill. That night, even though shackled to two soldiers, one on either side, Peter slept like a baby. And there were guards at the door keeping their eyes on the place. Herod was taking no chances!

“Suddenly there was an angel at his side and light flooding the room. The angel shook Peter and got him up: ‘Hurry!’ The handcuffs fell off his wrists. The angel said, ‘Get dressed. Put on your shoes.’ Peter did it. Then, ‘Grab your coat and let’s get out of here.’ Peter followed him but didn’t really believe it was an angel — he thought he was dreaming.” Acts 12:6- 9 The Message).

While the church prayed, God was up to something! There were a few unusual things about this scenario. Firstly, Peter was on the eve of possible execution yet he was asleep and the guards were awake. Shouldn’t he have been awake, given the circumstances, tossing and turning with anxiety about his fate on the morrow? What does that say about Peter’s state of mind?

Was he, like Paul in similar circumstances later on, at perfect peace knowing that God was in charge? Whether he lived or died was not the issue. To live was Christ and to die was gain. That tells us a whole lot about Christ’s victory on the cross. “Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Hebrews 2:14-15 (NIV).

While Peter slept, the church prayed. The guards were watching; the church was praying; and God was working! He dispatched an angel and set the ball rolling for an amazing rescue. The prison cell was ablaze with light, yet the guards saw nothing. The angel woke Peter and spoke to him; his shackles clanked to the ground — yet the guards heard nothing. Were they blind and deaf?

Peter responded like a sleepwalker — no questions, no protests. Like a robot he got up, put on his clothes and shoes at the angel’s command and followed him out of the prison cell while the soldiers kept on guarding him! He thought he was dreaming — wouldn’t you?

Even though he had slept like a baby, what was going on in his subconscious mind that would trigger dreams? In the natural, he would probably have been morbidly dwelling on the outcome of tomorrow. Nightmares, not dreams, should have plagued his sleep. But he didn’t. Instead, he thought he was having a pleasant dream about being rescued.

“Past the first guard and then the second, they came to the iron gate that led into the city. It swung open before them on its own and they were out on the street, free as a breeze. At the first intersection the angel left him, going his own way. That’s when Peter realised it was no dream. ‘I can’t believe it — this really happened! The Master sent His angel and rescued me from Herod’s little production and the spectacle the Jewish mob was looking forward to.'” Acts 12:10-11 (The Message).

While the guards continued to watch, Peter and the angel slipped quietly out of the prison, locked doors and gates opening and closing for them, and neither guards nor prisoners stirred. Only when the cold night air touched his face did Peter realise that this was no dream. He really was free! God had miraculously thwarted Herod’s little macabre entertainment and left a whole group of soldiers with egg on their faces.

It is God’s way to partner with His people in getting His will done on earth. John Wesley said, “God does nothing but in answer to prayer.” The church in Jerusalem did not need to be made aware of Peter’s situation. They prayed and God acted. And that’s how God still administers His will on earth today.

Enter Cornelius

ENTER CORNELIUS

“There was a man named Cornelius who lived in Caesarea — captain of the Italian Guard stationed there. He was a thoroughly good man. He led everyone in his house to live worshipfully before God, was always helping people in need, and had the habit of prayer. One day about three o’clock in the afternoon he had a vision. An angel of God, as real as his next door neighbour, came in and said, ‘Cornelius,'” Acts 10:1-3 (NIV).

What a resume’ of upright living! It is heartening to know that there were people like Cornelius, a Roman soldier, usually hated and feared in Israel for their ruthless cruelty, who was the exception. He was one of those who were called “God-fearers”. He was a Jewish proselyte who had abandoned his idolatrous upbringing and embraced the God of the Jews.

But he was not one in name only. He also lived out in practice the teachings of the God he followed. He carried out the three primary responsibilities of a faithful Jew — he led his family in godly living:

“These commandments I give you are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7 (NIV).

He was generous to those in need:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 23:22 (NIV).

He took part in the regular prayer times of the Jewish people.

“One day at about three o’clock in the afternoon he had a vision…” Acts 10:3 (NIV).

It was at this time of the day that Peter and John went to join the regular daily recitation of prayer in Jerusalem and encountered the crippled beggar sitting at the Beautiful Gate of the temple (Acts 4).

These activities did not necessarily qualify him for what happened next. They were an indication of his heart’s desire to know God. He worshipped God with in sincere heart in the way he understood best.

Cornelius lived in a way that many believers in Jesus neglect in our modern world. These may have been God’s prescription for a godly life for His ancient people but His standards have not changed.

The fruit of a vital relationship with the Living God is still the same — a home life that honours Him and trains the next generation to do the same; a generous disposition that willing shares the resources God lends to us with those who have less than we have; and a heart that seeks after God and spends time with Him in prayer.

Although Cornelius faithfully did these things, there was still something missing in his life. He had not yet met the living Christ and been given the gift of forgiveness, faith and the assurance of sonship and access to the Father through Jesus.

As we step into Acts 10, we are witnessing God’s behind-the-scenes preparation to manoeuvre one of His sons into position so the He can set up a meeting with Cornelius. Such is the love and mercy of our God that He always hears the bleat of a lost lamb. He heard this man who, in spite of his background and upbringing, was crying out to be rescued.