In the beginning, God created a man and placed him in a garden. And because God wanted a son, not a robot, he gave that man freedom to choose obedience or disobedience.
But scripture tells us that a serpent entered the garden and tested the man’s relationship with God. He said to the man, “If you really are the son of God, then prove it! Use the privilege of your position to make yourself like God. After all, true freedom means doing your own thing, being a self-made man!”
But the serpent was lying. The man did his own thing! — but instead of setting him free, it turned him into a slave. The man lost his freedom to choose obedience or disobedience to God. From that day forward, everything the man did — whether good or bad — went to feed the serpent. Later on, scripture tells us that the serpent was actually a dragon: an ancient spirit-being, a demon named Satan, the Deceiver.
So mankind lived in slavery for uncounted thousands upon thousands of years…until a man named Jesus showed up. And at the beginning of Luke’s book here we saw how Jesus confronted the ancient dragon in the desert and declared war on him. We saw then how desperately Satan tried to negotiate. Three times he tempted Jesus, just as he had tempted Adam: “If you really are the Son of God, then prove it! Use the privilege of your position to set yourself up as king! Be your own self-made man!”
Jesus refused. And Luke told us that Satan backed off at that point, and disappeared, and decided to wait for the right moment to strike.
This is the moment.
In the beginning, the serpent poisoned the son of God, and made him a slave to sin and death.
Tonight, it happens again: the serpent is going to poison the Son of God and make him a slave to sin and death.
And as we consider this passage together, we are going to be asking this question: why? Why? If it happened before just like this, why did it have to happen again? We are all familiar with the saying, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Is God a fool then, that the dragon played the same trick twice and got away with it?
Why did it have to happen this way?
So with that question in our minds, let’s get started:
If you remember, Jesus has just finished eating the Passover meal with his disciples. It is now late at night, so Jesus leads them out of Jerusalem to a campsite on the Mount of Olives. Camping on the Mount of Olives was something Jewish families used to do during the Passover week, and Jesus’ family is no different.
So  On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”
Now this word “temptation” is actually a very strong word. We tend to think of temptation like this: “Ooooo, that extra piece of cake is really tempting me!” But actually this word “temptation” means “testing”, as in when someone attacks you in order to “test” your defenses…and destroy you. Jesus is using the language of battle here. All during dinnertime Jesus was warning his disciples, “pay attention, guys! The battle begins tonight! Satan is going to attack us tonight!”
And now, here, again, Jesus is telling them, “Satan is on his way! Pray and ask our Father to save you from being destroyed when the battle begins!”
Then  he withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,  “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”  An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.  And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
And these moments here, these verses — this is actually the climax of Luke’s book. This is the crisis point.
Because this is actually the moment of decision for Jesus. Just like Adam, Jesus has to choose whether he will obey his Father or not.
And this is a very important thing to realize: that Jesus has a choice. God the Father is not forcing God the Son to do anything. This is not divine child abuse, as some have said. See, even before time began the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — God the Three-in-One — made a plan together to save mankind. The Father agreed to send his Son to earth as a human being; the Son agreed to go, and suffer and die; the Holy Spirit agreed to bring the Son back to life.
Now, that is a great plan! But making plans is easy. This is reality. This is the moment of decision. And the entire weight of it has fallen upon Jesus.
That is why he kneels down to pray here. This is unusual: Jewish people prayed standing up. But Jesus kneels because he no longer has the strength to stand. He is God the Son; he is also completely human. Which means he is just like us when we are faced with a terrible decision, a terrible grief: the strength goes out of his legs and he falls down.
And that is why he prays like this: “Father, if you are willing, please don’t let me drink this cup of suffering!” He is asking his Father to rescue him from the weight of this decision. Jesus knows the plan; he agreed to the plan before the beginning of time; but this is the moment of decision, and while Jesus is God the Son, he is also completely human. Which means he is just like us when we are faced with a terrible decision, a terrible grief: we ask God to deliver us from it!
…and, by the way, this is where we are supposed to realize that the battle has already begun. Jesus’ cry for deliverance has the faintest echo of Satan’s temptation in the desert: “If you really are the Son of God, then prove it! Jump, and let the angels just carry you away!”
The serpent is already there, on the mountain, striking at Jesus’ heel, striking at the spot of human weakness: the desire to escape suffering at any cost. And Jesus, in his desperation, is doing what he told his disciples to do: “Pray, so that you will not fall into temptation!” As Satan attacks, telling Jesus to give up and fly away, Jesus is crying out, “Father, what is your decision? Are we going to do this, or not?”
And his Father answers. An angel appears — but not to carry Jesus away, as Satan wants. No, the Father sends the angel to strengthen Jesus, to keep him from falling into temptation. The angel is the Father’s answer: “Yes, Son, we are going to do this. And I am going to give you all the strength you need.”
Now, how does Jesus respond to his Father’s answer?
With more anguish. More grief. More prayer. Because — let’s face it, friends — knowing that our Father will give us all the strength we need is wonderful! — but suffering is still suffering.
And Luke tells us that the battle was so intense that sweat flowed from Jesus’ body as thick as blood. It poured from him —
— allow me to pause for a quick side-note: this word “sweat” is only used one other time in the whole bible. Can you guess where? Tell me if these words sound familiar:
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat from it…
By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground…” —
Jesus is living out Adam’s curse. Luke is describing Jesus’ painful toil, the agony, the anguish, as Jesus accomplishes the one thing he came to earth to do: to die locked in battle with the ancient enemy of all mankind.
And when the battle is over, Luke tells us, Jesus stands up…victorious. He has made his decision. He has chosen obedience. From this moment forward Jesus is in total control.
And as we are going to see, from this moment forward, Satan thinks he is in total control. Satan thinks that he will win either way: if Jesus disobeys his Father and avoids death, Satan wins. If Jesus obeys his Father, and submits to death, Satan wins! So we are going to see that Satan continues to taunt Jesus with his powerlessness, mocking him, testing him.
But Satan has forgotten one important piece of the puzzle, as we will find out before too long.
And so, Luke tells us, verse 45, When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.
What? Exhausted from sorrow? What sorrow?
Well, let’s look at things from their perspective. Some time ago they became convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, God’s king. And they knew the ancient prophecy that said that Judgement Day will come when the Messiah stands on the Mount of Olives. So they gave up their whole lives to follow Jesus to Jerusalem. He went, he stood on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the city…and nothing happened.
But they swallowed their disappointment, and followed him into the city, because they remembered the ancient prophecy that said that Judgement Day will begin when the Messiah arrives in the temple. So they followed him into the temple!…and nothing happened.
But they swallowed their disappointment, and ate the Passover feast with him, because they remembered the ancient tradition that said that the Messiah would reveal himself during the Passover feast. And all the way through dinner Jesus talked about war: his body broken, his blood spilled out. But then when they said, “Lord, look, we’ve got our swords, we’re ready to fight!” — he scolded them. And nothing happened.
So now here they are, back on the Mount of Olives…and they are emotionally worn out. Jesus told them, “Pray! The battle is about to begin!”
And here, again, he comes back and finds them sleeping, and he says, “What are you guys doing? Get up! Pray so that you will not fall into temptation!”
But for the disciples, they’re thinking, “What temptation, Lord? What battle? You tell us to be ready, but when get out our swords you scold us!…We just don’t know what we’re doing here anymore!” So they slept.
See, the disciples have overlooked something very important. Remember, the ancient prophecy said that Judgement Day would begin when the Messiah stood on the Mount of Olives.
The Messiah is standing on the Mount of Olives.
Judgement Day is about to begin.
But instead of falling on the disciples, on the city, on the world, Judgement is going to fall on the only one who does not deserve it: Jesus, the Son of God.
And  while he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of Jesus’ best friends, was leading them. And it’s dark, and there are thousands of families camping on the mountain that night, so Judas comes forward to identify Jesus with a kiss.  But Jesus asked him, “Really, Judas? Are you really betraying me with a kiss?”
And remember, this is not just Judas; this is Satan himself, coming to test Jesus’ resolve: will he really submit to being arrested? Or will he finally fight back?
 And just then the disciples figure out what is going on. And they say, “Lord, now! Right?”  And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.
The servant of the high priest is not a boy, by the way; this is the guy who represents the high priest: he is the officer in charge of the arrest.
 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.
Healed his enemy. Jesus healed the man who has come to arrest him.
Obviously, Jesus is not a terrorist. He is not a violent revolutionary.
And that’s the point Jesus makes next: …Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs?  Every day I was with you in the temple courts, you could have arrested me at any time, but you didn’t. Why not? Oh, that’s right: because you were waiting for this hour, your hour—when darkness reigns.”
The Hour of darkness when Satan reigns.
So they take him, they lead him back into the city at midnight. By law they cannot have a trial until the sun rises, so they take him to the high priest’s house. The disciples have scattered; they’re gone — all except Peter. He told Jesus he would follow him even to prison, even to death, and he means it!
So Peter joins the crowd and slips into the courtyard, and its a cold night so they light a bonfire, and Peter sits down to wait with everyone else.
 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”
 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.
 A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”
“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.
 About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”
 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
We have to notice something here.
At first, Peter said, “I don’t know him.” He denied his Lord.
Then he said, “I don’t know them.” He denied his brothers and sisters, the disciples.
Then he said, “I’ve never even heard of these people you’re talking about.” He denies ever hearing the gospel.
And just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed.  The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.”
 And he went outside and wept bitterly.
And around that time,  the men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him.  They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy! Who hit you?”  And they said many other insulting — and blasphemous — things to him.
And here we have a special irony. As the Night of Waiting comes to an end, as the Hour of Darkness draws to a close, Satan speaks again through the voices of these men, saying, “If you’re really a prophet, prove it!” If you’re really the Son of God, then prove it! Prove it, and we will set you free.
The irony is: Jesus did just prove it. He predicted that Peter would betray him three times before sunrise…and it just happened.
Jesus is a prophet. Jesus is the Son of God. He just proved it. And he is continuing to prove it: not through a demonstration of his power, but through a demonstration of his obedience to his Father.
And here we have to go back and ask the question again: why? Why did it have to happen like this? Why was it necessary for Jesus to suffer?
Why is human suffering part of our existence?
Well, this is the easy answer: we suffer because Adam had a choice. He could obey or disobey. He disobeyed. So we suffer.
But then we ask a harder question: why did God give Adam a choice? God knew in advance that Adam would eventually choose disobedience — why didn’t he just not let him have a choice?
Well, let’s think about that. If Adam had no choice but to obey, what do we call that?
But God did not create Adam as a slave; he created a son. The freedom to choose is what made Adam human, giving him the ability to have self-conscious relationships with God and with the world. The freedom to choose is what elevates our relationships above animal relationships. Animals obviously have emotional relationships with each other and with us! — but the quality of those relationships is different. That is why having a cat is never going to be as good — or as bad — has having a human spouse. That is why having a litter of puppies is not as fulfilling — or as terrifying — as having a litter of children.
So the freedom to choose gave us the potential for eternal perfect joy with God and with one another, a kind of joy that no other creature can experience. That is why God gave Adam a choice: because God is the God of freedom, not slavery.
But the freedom to choose also created the potential for eternal slavery and suffering, the kind of misery that no other creature can experience. That is why God allowed Adam to choose: because God is the God of freedom, not slavery.
Yes, God could have stopped Adam; but that would have turned Adam into a slave! And God created Adam to be his son, not his slave.
Yes, God knew in advance that Adam would become Satan’s slave. But that is why God planned in advance to rescue Adam and make him a son again.
Okay. So Adam’s freedom was a necessary part of knowing God — but it also led to human suffering.
But that still doesn’t answer the question: why did Jesus have to enter in to human suffering?
For instance, why didn’t God just allow the temptation, allow the fall, allow Adam to discover for himself just how miserable slavery is — and then just get rid of Satan, cast him into the abyss? Surely, if you get rid of the slave-master, the slaves would be set free, right? They would come running back to their Father and say, “Oh, we have learned our lesson, we will never do that again!”
Well…no. It is not as simple as that. See, when the serpent poisoned Adam in the garden they became bound together. Satan’s venom infected Adam, and through him, infected all mankind. If God had simply stepped in at that moment, seized the dragon and cast him into hell, then Adam — along with every human being who would ever live — would have gone to hell with him. The bible says that we all existed in the body of our ancestor when he sinned; which means we would all have woken up in the fiery darkness with Adam trying to explain how we never even got a chance to live and make our own choices!
And, friends, let’s think about that. If we were all condemned to hell before we even had a chance to act out our corruption, what would we call that?
But God is not the God of injustice. He always does what is right. Which means that he will give every human being who will ever exist the chance to make Adam’s choice, even though he knows that every human being will always choose slavery. It would be wrong for God to say, “Hey, look, I already know that you’re going to make the wrong choices, sooo…let me just send you straight to hell before you can do anything.” That is why God allows us to live and prove for ourselves that our will is enslaved by the evil one: because God is the God of freedom, not slavery.
In other words: yes, God could have simply condemned Satan and Adam; but that would also have condemned all mankind without giving us the freedom to condemn ourselves.
So: yes, God knows in advance that we will all enslave ourselves to Satan, generation after generation. But, again, that is why God planned in advance to rescue us and make us his children again.
Okay. So Adam’s freedom was a necessary part of knowing God; and God allowing evil to continue was a necessary part of justice.
But that still doesn’t answer the question: why did Jesus have to come and suffer the effects of evil?
This is why: in the beginning, the serpent poisoned Adam with his venom. And throughout human history, that poison has been passed from person to person. God’s Law confirms this; common sense confirms this: we all know that when something clean touches something dirty, the clean becomes dirty. Adam’s clean free will was corrupted by contact with Satan, and our human free will has been corrupted ever since.
There is only one exception to this rule: Jesus the Messiah. Again and again in Luke’s gospel we have seen that when Jesus, the clean one, touches the unclean — the unclean becomes clean.
Many people think that God cannot become human, because that would make God unclean. Such people are basically admitting that their God is very weak! The True God, the Christian God, is different. Our God was able to take on a human body because he is so great, so holy, so clean, that it is impossible for him to be made unclean. Everything our God touches becomes clean — including the human body, and the human will.
That is why it was necessary for Jesus to come and face the exact same choice Adam faced. In the beginning, the serpent poisoned the son of God in the garden. He corrupted Adam’s will, and made him a slave to sin and death. Here, tonight, during the Hour of Darkness, God allowed Satan to do it again. He poisoned the Son of God, striking his heel. The venom of slavery, sin and death entered Jesus’ body, his mind, his emotions, his spirit, just as it did with Adam. But where Adam received that venom and was defiled, Jesus received it and made it clean.
Over the next two Sundays we are going to see that Satan’s venom will take its full effect on Jesus, dragging him down even to a slave’s death on a cross. Satan believed he was defiling the Son of God, destroying him. But the greatest irony of all is that by doing this Satan participated in his own destruction! Satan led Jesus into contact with suffering, slavery, sin, and death, every unclean thing!
…but he forgot that everything Jesus touches he also makes clean.
That is why Jesus had to become a human being: to make humanity clean. That is why Jesus had to make his own decision on the Mount of Olives: to restore our corrupted free will. That is why he had to pass through suffering: to redeem it. That is why he had to be condemned by the law: to set mankind free from slavery to the law. That is why he had to become sin for us: to cleanse us of all our sins. That is why he had to die on a Roman cross: to undo the curse of death itself.
No wonder this is his cry of victory on the very last page of the bible: “Look! Look! Do you see how I am making all things new!”
Because he is.
All right. So it was necessary for Jesus to choose obedience in order to give us back our freedom of choice. Because of Jesus, we now have the freedom to choose obedience or disobedience.
And that’s great! But what does it mean? What difference does this make in our daily lives? What should we believe or do as we leave here today?
This is what our Father wants us to believe as we go: our free will is not completely restored, which means we will not be perfectly obedient. We will fall into temptation and sin. But we cannot fall out of Jesus’ love and care.
How do we know?
Well, let’s look at the text one more time:
Have you ever been “exhausted from sorrow” like the disciples? Have you ever waited so long for God to do something that it wears you out? I have. And well-meaning friends have told me, like Jesus did, “Ian, pray! Pray that you may not fall into temptation!” And they were right! But have you ever been so tired, so broken, so full of grief that you could not even pray? I have.
But did you notice that where the disciples failed, Jesus was obedient? He did for them what they could not do for themselves.
Have you ever gotten tired of waiting for God to do something, so you’ve decided to do it yourself? Have you ever said, like the disciples did, “Lord, now, right?” and then did something foolish, something unethical, something for yourself that hurt other people? I have.
But did you notice that what the disciples destroyed with their disobedience, Jesus restored? He redeemed the consequences of their decision.
Have you ever denied knowing Jesus to save your life or your reputation? Have you ever distanced yourself from your brothers and sisters because you were ashamed or afraid? Have you ever pretended as if you have never even heard the gospel because you wanted to do your own thing? I have.
But did you notice that even though Peter denied knowing Jesus, Jesus did not deny knowing Peter? Jesus looked directly at the friend who had just betrayed him — and that look broke Peter’s heart. He repented. He went outside and wept bitterly.
We will not be perfectly obedient. But Jesus is. We will not be perfectly faithful. But Jesus is.
That is what our Father wants us to believe as we go.
What does he want us to do because of this belief?
Our Father wants us to do two things. First, do what Peter did: repent.
God does not expect perfection from us; he knows we are weak, fallen, often self-centered children. We are learning to be obedient in a world where Satan still prowls around, trying to tempt us, like Adam, to do our own thing. He is always telling us, “You can be a self-made person! You don’t need God or anyone else!” — and we will often fail to pray, and fail to stand. Our Father knows that.
So he has given us this one weapon against the serpent’s venom: the prayer of repentance. Repentance is when we turn to our Father and admit that we cannot do it on our own. Repentance reverses the curse and neutralizes the venom.
Both Judas and Peter betrayed Jesus. The only difference between them is that one repented.
So repentance is the first thing our Father wants us to do.
The second thing our Father wants us to do is what Jesus told Peter to do during their last supper together. Remember? Jesus predicted that Satan would attack, and all the disciples would fall. And then he told Peter, “And when you have repented, turn back and strengthen your brothers.”
The Father sent an angel to strengthen Jesus in the midst of battle. Jesus sent Peter to strengthen the disciples after they had fallen in battle. We have been sent to strengthen one another.
So what does our Father want us to do because of our knowledge that we can never fall out of his love and care?
First, he wants us to repent, again and again, confident that he will forgive. Second, he wants us to strengthen one another after we have fallen. Brothers and sisters, if one of us is caught in a sin, let those of us who live by the Spirit restore that person gently. Do you know why? Because next week it could be you who is caught in a sin! It could be me. So let us be patient with one another, confident of this one thing: even when our patience fails, Jesus’ does not.
In closing, then:
What are we to believe, based on this passage? We sin, but Jesus does not — and that is how he saves us.
What are we to do, based on this passage? Let us repent every time we fall, and strengthen our brothers and sisters every time they fall.
And how are we supposed to strengthen one another? Like this: “Hey brother, hey sister, have you heard the good news? We sin…but Jesus does not — and that is how he saves us…”