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What Does God Say When People Pray (part 6)
Matthew 26:36-46 

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." [37] And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. [38] Then He said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me." [39] And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt." [40] And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? [41] "Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." [42] He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done." [43] And again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. [44] And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. [45] Then He came to the disciples, and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. [46] "Arise, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!" 
 

Do you ever read a passage of scripture and come away with more questions than answers? I know I do. Take this passage of scripture, for instance.

Jesus seems so vulnerable here. He confesses to His three companions, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me." Where is our confident Lord who spoke to the winds and the storm, "Peace be still?" Think of the prayers of Jesus. At Lazarus' tomb, he prayed, "Lazarus, come forth!" and he did. To the legion of demons He said, "Go out from him" and they did. To the lame He said, "Rise and walk, your faith has made you whole" and he did. But here He seems, tentative and broken down.

Should the Creator of the universe ever seem this vulnerable?

I know that all we have here is a synopsis of His prayer, because verse 40 indicates that Jesus prayed for an hour during His first prayer, but still, His prayer doesn't follow the pattern of prayer He taught us.

When I was a college student, my discipleship leader taught me to pray like this: Adoration first, Confession second, Thanksgiving third and then Supplication. He used the acronym ACTS to help me remember the formula.

ADORATION-We should begin our prayers, my teacher said, like Jesus did in the Model prayer in Matthew 6:9 "Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name." (KJV) Before we make any request, we should remember that we are approaching a holy God and should come before Him with reverence. 

CONFESSION-When we are aware that we've come before a Holy God, we will see our own sinfulness and be led into a natural state of confession. Proverbs 28:13 says, "He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy." (NIV)

THANKSGIVING-Confessed sin results in forgiveness which leads us to thank God for what He's done for us. The Psalmist teaches us the importance of thanksgiving. In Psalm 69:30, he wrote, "I will praise God's name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving" (NIV) And in Psalm 95:2, he said, "Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song." (NIV) and in Psalm 100:4, he wrote, "Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name." (NIV)

SUPPLICATION-Only after adoration, confession and thanksgiving, my teacher said, should the true disciple of the Lord bring supplications to God.

But Jesus doesn't follow any sort of order or discipline at all in His prayer. He gets straight to the point, and says, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me;"

Why? Now I know why He didn't confess. That one is obvious, He had never sinned. But where is the adoration and thanksgiving? Why would He teach us to begin our prayers with adoration, then not do it Himself?

But these aren't the only surprising things in this text. Why did Jesus have to keep asking the same thing over and over? I mean, doesn't it show a lack of faith to keep praying for the same thing more than once?

This passage indicates that He prayed the same thing, three times. Did He ask repeatedly because of a lack of faith? I can't help but recall the words of our Lord to the father whose son was demon possessed, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." Mark 9:23 [KJV]

Was Jesus showing a lack of faith?

Why does it surprise me that Jesus looks tentative and weak in this passage? And why didn't he follow a formula for prayer that the scripture teaches us? And why did he repeat His concerns three times instead of "taking his burden to the Lord and leaving it there?"

Well, for one thing, there is more to life than celebration and strength. Yes, there are moments of complete elation and celebration, but there are also moments of brokenness and pain. Isaiah wrote, "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." (Isaiah 53:3 KJV) I have no doubt that Jesus had a contagious laugh, and was a joy to be around at times, but I also know that He knew sorrow, and brokenness and suffering.

He was about to face beating, scourging, ridicule, suffering and death on the cross. He was about to shoulder the sin of the world and endure the Father turning His back on Him. Solomon wrote, [There is] "A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; " (Eccles. 3:4 KJV) This was a time to weep and mourn, not laugh or dance. This was a dark hour.

In His prayer, Jesus cut right to the point. He didn't linger over any ritualism, He cried out to His Father-He poured out His soul. Away with religion! Away with formulas! Away with legalistic praying! When our soul is troubled, we don't need an acronym to help us pray, or an order to follow, we simply need to pray, as Jesus did, and pour out our soul to the Father.

Why did He pray three times? If I wanted to go to seed on symbolism, I'd point out to you that 3 is the number for religious completion in the Bible. But I don't, instead let me just suggest that He prayed until He had to leave to meet His destiny. Did it show a lack of faith? Absolutely not! Remember the parable of the unjust judge in Luke 18:1-5? It says, "Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. [2] He said: 'In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. [3] And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, Grant me justice against my adversary. [4] For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, Even though I don't fear God or care about men, [5] yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!'" (NIV)

Persistence is not the opposite of faith; It is what builds our hope. In Romans 5:3-4, Paul wrote, "And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; [4] And patience, experience; and experience, hope."

Persistently, Jesus prayed, " . . .if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt." For over an hour, He agonized in the garden, pouring out His soul to His Father.

What happened? What does God say when people pray? This time He said "no," I can't take this cup from you, but "yes" My will will be done. 

Jesus walked from the garden into the hands of the enemy, who beat Him, mocked Him, and hung Him on the cross. He drank of the cup-it did not pass from Him. He experienced His worst nightmare, and when He did, He defeated sin, death, and the grave and made new life possible to all who believe.

A new life that is possible to you today, as a direct answer to Jesus' prayer, "thy will be done." 
 

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