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Luke 22:21-46

Following the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives His final discourse to the disciples. His discourse begins by predicting His betrayal and indicating that the betrayer has shared the meal with them. The betrayal after sharing a meal, a very intimate event in the culture, added to the shock for the disciples. More importantly, Jesus’ awareness of the betrayal illustrates that He is allowing it to happen, leaving no question of His choosing the path that leads to His crucifixion. Nonetheless, the disciples understandably begin to argue about who will be the one to betray Him, which leads to an argument over which one is the greatest. Although they have gone down that path before and been corrected for it, their pride still takes over. Jesus is giving them instruction in regards to how they should set themselves apart from those in the world, and to do so, He gives them examples of how they should not live. Earthly rulers seek power and glory and then abuse it, all while forcing those under them to give them benevolent titles such as “benefactor” to increase their prestige. In contrast, Jesus points out that He Himself has taken on the role of a servant, a role which in that culture would not only be associated with a lowly person, but would cause others to show them little respect. If He who is greatest is willing to do that, then they should be all the more willing to follow His example. That obedience does not come without reward; those that have stood by Him are promised that a greater reward than the earthly prestige they desired will come in the Kingdom.

Faithfulness comes with testing and trials, and Jesus makes clear that they will face those. Although He speaks to Peter, Jesus’ use of the plural form of “you” indicates that they will all be tested, but He then returns to a singular form of “you” to demonstrate that He is giving Peter specific responsibility to lead them. His challenge does come with a qualification though: Peter is going to first turn against Jesus. This apparently shocked Peter because He immediately insists that He is ready die with Jesus. Sadly, this is not true and Jesus predicts Peter’s three denials to come that night. Peter’s bravado may be partly based on their success in ministering under Jesus over the past few years, but they are about to enter a very different time with greater opposition. While they had been sent out once before with the instruction to rely on the provision of others, now they will have to fend for themselves. All of Jesus’ popularity is about to go away as He will be declared a traitor and criminal, and this will impact how the people look at the disciples as well. His instructions go as far as to tell them that they must be prepared for conflict, even selling their cloak to buy a sword if they don’t have one. The disciples misunderstand His comments and believe that He expects them to go out in armed conflict, and when they brandish their swords to show their readiness, Jesus ends the conversation.

Jesus had been returning to the Mount of Olives every evening, but this night He goes for a different purpose. Luke does not give as full of detail as Matthew and Mark, but we know from those Gospels that it is to the Garden of Gethsemane that He is headed. Once He gets there, He first leaves most of the disciples behind and takes only Peter, James, and John with Him further. He then instructs them to pray to prepare for what they will face, and then goes on further Himself to pray alone. He prays that the Father will “take this cup” from Him, a phrase that is used in the Old Testament for the wrath of God. Yet His prayer also reflects complete obedience to the will of the Father, which would be for Him to suffer the wrath and rejection that was owed for our sins.. As extreme as the physical suffering of His crucifixion would be, that is nothing compared to enduring the wrath of the Father, and His anguish is described using such strong terms that we have no good English equivalents. Unlike the martyrs that will follow Him, often going to their deaths bravely and joyously through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus will be alone in His suffering. In this moment of anguish, He cannot even count on His inner circle, who are too exhausted to stay awake and pray. As Mark tells us, He returns to them three times, but they still cannot follow His instructions to prepare for their coming trials through prayer. Although they may be willing in spirit to obey, their human nature is too weak.

The reminder of the weakness of our human natures is important for us as we prepare to be tested. Just as Peter’s bravado failed to hold up when he faced opposition for which he wasn’t prepared, we also may be prone to overestimate our own strength in times of comfort. Even then, we must prepare through prayer and Bible study to be tested. If we do fail, as we know that we will, we must be willing to repent and turn back, to strive even more fervently to obey and serve. Those tests will never cease in this life, but we have to make the choice to follow God’s will instead of our own. Jesus’ prayer serves as the ultimate example of such submission. Although sin had entered the world through Adam’s choice of his own will over God’s in another garden, the obedience of Jesus offers us forgiveness for our sin. Our challenge must be to demonstrate our thankfulness for that undeserved sacrifice and grace by continuously striving to live lives that are reflective of our identity as Christians.

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