Robert Jeffress - The Longest Night
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. Have you discovered that nobody is perfect, and that the people in your life will inevitably disappoint you? Well, that's true but perhaps the greatest hurt of all comes when we're betrayed or abandoned by someone we trusted. Well, Jesus is no stranger to the sting of betrayal. And today we're going to see how Jesus responded and in turn how we should respond when someone we love wounds us deeply. My message is titled "The Longest Night" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
The Psalmist said, "Sorrow endures the night but joy comes in the morning". Perhaps you've experienced that yourself. You know what it's like to go through a difficult night that seems like it would never never end. Perhaps you spent such a night sitting up waiting for a teenager to come home. Or maybe tossing and turning in bed unable to sleep because of some fear that had gripped your mind. Or maybe the night was spent sitting in a hospital room beside a loved one who was about to enter into heaven. There is something about nighttime, something about the darkness, that intensifies whatever struggle we're experiencing.
Today, we're going to look at the longest night in Jesus' entire life. A night in which he experienced temptation, betrayal by somebody close to him, and the abandonment by everyone he trusted in. If you have your Bibles, I want you to turn to Luke 22 as we talk about Jesus' longest night, Luke 22. Now in our more than year long study of the Gospel of Luke, we've come to the final week in Christ's life and we are now on Thursday night before the crucifixion that would occur just hours later.
And remember, Jesus had gathered his disciples in that upper room to celebrate the Passover meal, millions, perhaps of Jews had come into Jerusalem for this passover celebration. For 1.300 years, the passover meal had commemorated that night when God miraculously delivered the Israelites out of Egypt and into physical freedom. And Jesus took that passover meal that night and he changed the meaning of it. From this point on, it would be what we call the Lord's supper, and it would be a meal that would remind people of what Jesus was about to do on the cross and dying for our sins and providing that grace you all sang about. And from that point on, we would look at that meal as a remembrance of what Christ did for us, not delivering us from physical bondage, but from spiritual bondage, from the price of sin, and he did so with his own blood. And they did that during that passover meal.
And remember that meal was built around those four cups of wine and the Bible says, after the final cup, they sang a song and they departed. We continue that tradition in our church 2.000 years later, every time we add the Lord's supper, and we're gonna celebrate it in a couple of weeks in the morning, after we have the Lord's supper, we always sing a song and depart just like the Lord did. And it was that departure from that upper room that sets the stage for the first of three trials Jesus would experience that night. First of all the temptation he would experience, look at verse 39 of Luke 22. "And he came out," that is of the upper room, "And proceeded as was his custom". I want you to underline that, we're gonna come back to that at the end of the message, "He proceeded as was his custom to the Mount of Olives: and the disciples also followed him".
Many of us have made that journey from the upper room, down through Jerusalem, across the Kidron Valley, up to the Mount of Olives. Remember, it is the Mount of Olives where in about seven weeks, Jesus would ascend back into heaven. He's coming back one day to that very place. But this time, Jesus was coming to the Mount of Olives for a different reason. It's called the Mount of Olives because as you walk down from the pinnacle of that mountain, just a short distance, there is a grove of olive trees. Remember, olive oil was the most important commodity in Jesus' day and when you walk into that garden, the guide will show you trees that were there at the time of Jesus Christ, they've been there for 2.000 plus years. They will also point out a big stone, a cylinder, and that stone is used to press the olives into olive oil.
Now the garden of olive trees that Jesus and his disciples went to, Matthew and Mark tells us was called Gethsemane. And Gethsemane is a Hebrew word that literally means to press. It refers to the pressing of olives to make olive oil. But it also would refer to the great press that Jesus would feel that night as he struggled with the will of God. Look at verse 40, "And when Jesus arrived at the place, he said to them, 'pray that you might not enter into temptation'". That night, Jesus' disciples were going to be tempted to deny the Lord, and they failed that test. But Jesus was gonna face his own temptation, a temptation to disobey the will of his Heavenly Father. And fortunately for us, Jesus passed that test with flying colors.
Now notice this verse 41, "And they withdrew from them," that is the disciples, "About a stone's throw and he knelt down and begin to pray". Now that's an unfortunate translation, knelt down. We have in our minds because of an artist painting, we've seen that when Jesus knelt down to pray, it was in a very dignified way. He knelt down, places hand on a rock, looked up with that heavenly gaze as the shekinah fell on his face, haven't you seen that painting before? That's not what happened. That's not what happened at all. If you wanna find out what really happened, go to Matthew 26:38-39, this isn't a contradictory account, it is a fuller account of what happened. Verse 38 of Matthew 26, "Then Jesus said to them, my soul is deeply grieved to the point of death: remain here and keep watch with me". Verse 39, "And he went a little beyond them and he fell on his face".
That is he collapsed, he was so way down with a burden that he couldn't walk any further, "He fell down on his face and begin to pray, saying, Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me yet not as I will but as thou wilt". Let this cup pass from me, what did he mean by that? Most people are agreed he was praying, let this experience pass for me. But what experience? Some say he was praying from deliverance from the physical agony of having to go to the cross. There was no more painful way to die than by crucifixion. Next week, when we talk about the crucifixion, we're gonna look at the details of what actually happened to Christ, you won't believe the suffering he had to endure.
So it would be normal to pray, God deliver me from that experience, find another way. And yet John 12, the Gospel says on Monday when Jesus entered into Jerusalem, just a few days earlier, look at what he said, "Now my soul has become troubled and what shall I say, Father, save me from this hour? No, for this purpose, I came to this hour". Jesus said, why would I pray for deliverance when this is the reason that I've come, to die on a cross.
Other people say, well, it wasn't the physical suffering that Jesus wanted to escape, it was the spiritual suffering: that is having to bear the sins of the world, your sin and my sin. We have a hard time understanding why that's such a big deal. I mean, you and I sin all the time, what's one or two more sins, or a million more sins? It's different for Jesus, he was perfect. He had never sinned. He had never, for one moment, had a degree of separation from his Heavenly Father. And now he was experiencing or going to experience complete separation, God wouldn't turn his back on his son. That's why he would pray out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me"? It's understandable that Jesus would want to be exempted from that and yet he knew spiritual suffering was the reason he came, Matthew 20:28, "For the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve to give his life as a ransom for all".
So what was Jesus praying for then when he said, "Let this experience pass from me"? I think he was asking God to exempt him from the physical suffering of the cross and the spiritual suffering of the cross. He said, wait a minute, preacher, that doesn't make any sense. You just said, Jesus knew that's why he was coming to suffer physically and spiritually. Why then would he pray to be delivered from that experience if he knew that was God's will? Let me ask you something, have you ever known what God wanted you to do in a particular situation and you struggled with doing it? How many have had that experience before? You already knew what God's will, you aren't praying for a revelation of God's will, you are praying for the strength to do God's will and you would have loved to have done something else besides God's will. That was Jesus.
You see, Jesus was fully God but he was also fully man. And it was only natural that he would ask for another way to accomplish the Father's will, and that's why he said, Father, if you can, find another way for me to accomplish your mission. Notice verse 43 and verse 44, "Now an angel from heaven appeared to him, strengthening him. And being an agony, he was praying very fervently and his sweat became like drops of blood falling down upon the ground". I don't understand it. It's a theological conundrum to me. Jesus, the son and God the Father are one, I and the Father or one and yet that night in the garden, there is a struggle between the will of the son and the will of the Father. I don't understand it but I know this, when you and I struggle with doing God's will, God understands that because he's experienced it.
And that's why the writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 4:15-16, "For we do not have a high priest," talking about Jesus, "Who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who was tempted in all things whose we are, and yet without sin. Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace that we might receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need". Listen to me, when you know what God wants you to do but you're struggling with it, you can talk to Jesus about it, he understands, he's been there, he's not judgmental towards you, he is sympathetic. He's that sympathetic high priest. Jesus went through a real struggle in the garden that night in doing the will of God. My former seminary professor, Haddon Robinson, offers some great insight into this experience in Gethsemane.
In fact, I want you to listen carefully to it, it's worth the price of the sermon. He said, "In the life of Jesus, prayer was the work and ministry was the prize. For me prayer serves as preparation for the battle but for Jesus prayer was the battle itself. Having prayed, he went about his ministry as an honor student might go to receive a reward or as a marathon runner having run the race might accept the gold medal. Where was it that Jesus sweat great drops of blood? Not in Pilate's hall nor on his way to Golgotha, it was in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was there that he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save you from death, Hebrews 5:7.
Had I been there in the garden and witnessed Jesus struggle, I would have worried about the future. If he's so broken up when all he's doing is praying, I might have said, what will he do when he faces a real crisis? Why can't he approach this ordeal with the calm confidence of his three sleeping friends? Yet, when the test came, Jesus walked to the cross with courage, and his three friends fell apart and fell away". You see, prayer ultimately is not trying to align God's will with your will, prayer is aligning your will with God's will, that's the struggle. Not my will, Father, but your will be done. Jesus struggled with that but God's will ultimately won. And when Jesus settled that matter in his own heart, he got up with confidence to face the cross. And that set up the stage for their greatest betrayal he would ever experience.
Look at verse 47, of Luke 22. "While Jesus was still speaking, behold, a multitude came and the one called Judas, one of the 12 was preceding them, and he approached Jesus to kiss him. But Jesus said to him, Judas, are you betraying the Son of man with a kiss"? Remember, Judas had left the last supper early in the upper room, once he knew the game plan for the rest of the evening and where Jesus was going, he went off to tell the Jewish officials so that they could come and arrest him by night. Now, why is it that Judas kissed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, it seems a little strange.
Remember, it was dark, very dark. And Judas wanted to be sure that they got the right person in the darkness so he could get his money. And so in the darkness, he said, I'll signify Jesus by kissing him. They also probably wanted to prevent the disciples from hatching a plot in which one of them would pretend to be Jesus while they secretly carried off Jesus to another place. It was a sign of identification. Verse 49: "And when those who were around Jesus saw what was going to happen, they said, Lord, shall we strike with the sword"?
Now, remember, at the beginning of Jesus ministry, three years earlier, Jesus had said to the disciples, now when you go out in my name, don't bring the money purse, don't bring an extra pair of sandals with you, God will provide for your need. But then a few hours earlier, up in the upper room, Jesus basically said, hey, guys, the game plan is changing. After I'm gone, go ahead and carry money with you, carry sandals and by the way, take two swords with you as well.
Now, he wasn't saying to use those swords offensively but he was basically saying, once he ascended into heaven, there was gonna be a new level of hostility toward Christ followers. To be ready for that, to be ready to defend yourself. So they asked the natural question, hey, Lord, we've got these two swords, is this is the time to use them? Well, there was one overzealous apostle who didn't wait for the answer, look at verse 50. "And a certain one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear". That certain one, John 18 tells us was Peter.
Don't you love Peter? I mean, he was ready to do whatever it took to stand with the Lord, at least at this point. So he took the sword and he wasn't aiming for the ear, trust me, nobody would aim for the ear, he was aiming for the throat. And this slave probably ducked and ended up losing an ear. The slave was a slave of the high priest, Marcus. Now, to see what Jesus response to that was, hold your place here and turn over to the parallel passage, Matthew 26:52-56. "Then Jesus said to Peter, put your sword back into its place, for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword".
Now, don't read into that more than ought to be read into it. Those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. Some people use this to justify not doing anything to protect yourself, that's not what Jesus is talking about. There's nothing wrong and everything right with protecting your own life and the life of those around you. You know, we believe in the sanctity of human life. What Jesus is simply saying here is, you're not going to advance the Kingdom of God by physical force. There is no justification for a Christian jihad, okay? There are other faiths that say, we're going to use the power of the sword to convert people to our way of thinking, not Christianity. It is the power of the Holy Spirit of God that changes people's lives, not physical force. He's simply saying, my purpose is not going to be fulfilled through the use of the sword.
He goes on to say, "For do you not think that I could appeal to my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than 12 legions of angels"? One legion, a Roman legion was 6.000 troops. So 12 legions would be 12 times six, 72.000 angels. Jesus said, I could snap my fingers and my Father would send 72.000 angels to take care of these Jewish officials. Remember in the Old Testament, just one angel slew 185.000 Assyrian soldiers. Imagine what 72.000 angels could do. But then he goes on to say, "But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled that it must happen this way"?
Jesus said, Peter, put the sword away. This is part of God's plan for my life. You know, Judas' betrayal had been very painful for the Lord to experience. Have you ever been betrayed by somebody very close to you? You know, it's one thing to have somebody, a stranger slander you, or to do something against you, you can rationalize that saying, well, they don't really know me. But it hurts when it's somebody you've trusted, somebody close to you. You begin to think, you know, what's wrong with me that somebody could know me that well and still do such a thing to me? And that was Jesus. I mean, the disciples, these 12 men had become like his family for three years. He'd eaten almost every meal with them, he had laughed with them, cried with them, shared his innermost thoughts, and then to have one sell him out for 30 pieces of silver.
As we've said before, Jesus could have been consumed with bitterness if he had focused on that offense. But Jesus were saying to Peter, Peter, leave him alone, leave these people alone, they are simply pawns on God's chessboard to accomplish his ultimate plan. I know I've said it before, I'll say it again, the way to keep from being bitter against those who have hurt you is to remember God is bigger than they are. As Joseph said, you meant it for evil, but God used it for good. God can take the worst things that had been done to you and use them for your good and for his glory. That's what Jesus was saying.