Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. When He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow, and said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Luke 22:43-46 NASB)
Why is it we remember Jesus sweating drops of blood but not the angel comforting Jesus as he does? Luke adds two details, only one of which have made it into common imagery of Gethsemane. We don’t have verses 43 and 44 in the other Gospels, and, honestly, they are missing from the majority of the early manuscripts (Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, and especially the Bodmer Papyrus). There is a single reading in the Sinaiticus “original hand” which supplied an early witness, yet a “corrected” version doesn’t have it; as if it were removed later from that manuscript. The rest of the evidence is from later copies of these. So, our best evidence is that it was written, disappeared, and shows back up nearly 800 years later. Weird.
So, why do we remember the intensity with which Jesus prays but not the strengthening angel? Perhaps it’s because the angel comes, but Jesus still sweats blood (or like blood); as if we don’t think the angel was all that effective. On the other hand, the intensity with which Jesus prayed purged His will in total submission rather than obtained His own will. The prayer aligned Himself with the divine purpose rather obtaining an alternative. How often have we prayed with such intensity to purge our own will? How driven are we to obtain alignment with our Master that we will sweat out thick dark drops as we pray? Probably not as often as we pray to gain our own will.
Rising from this intense prayer for submission to His mission, Jesus finds the disciples sleeping. Only Luke provides the reason of their sorrow. The other Gospels record that their eyes were heavy, but we assume they were simply tired because it was late. Luke has the detail that their weariness came from sorrow. After the intensity of the meal they just shared, sorrow seems a fitting reason. Reading John 13 through 16, gives us a very intense picture of that event. It had to be confusing, yet leaving an indelible sense of Jesus’ doom. Just as Jesus had surprised them by changing the meaning of the Passover itself, He forced changes in their view of the purpose and work of the Messiah. It made no sense, yet left the impression that this was His end.
Jesus still returns to call them to prayer in order to avoid temptation. There is no statement about weak flesh and willing spirit. And there is only a single instance. Matthew and Mark both have 3 repeat prayers. John, as we’ve said, has none. And Luke has just this single instance. It’s likely that there were 3, and that Luke sees no need to repeat, and John sees no need to repeat the other Gospel writers. Therefore, that Luke has only a single prayer isn’t a disagreement, but a literary compression of the event.
It may be more important that Jesus repeats His call to pray to avoid temptation. Jesus sees their need differently. Matthew and Mark both have Jesus desiring that they “watch” with Him rather than praying to avoid temptation. Luke records a different reason for their act of prayer, just like He records a different reason for their sleep. Praying to avoid temptation is critical, and not praying a critical error on the part of the disciples. Is prayer our first defense against temptation? Or is it more often that we try another tactic to avoid it. Or would it be even more accurate to say we react against temptation rather than try to avoid it at all? Praying that we avoid temptation would sure simplify our struggles against our propensity to give into temptation. Perhaps we would do so much better to “keep the barn door shut” rather than trying to shut it as the horse bolts or after it escapes.
I have resisted praying to avoid temptation. Sometimes I prevent myself from surviving temptation because I want to fail. By not being proactive I have an excuse in that it caught me off guard. Yet simply being proactive would have prevented the problem from appearing, and once appearing from overwhelming me; or at least providing an excuse for my failure. I have to want to succeed to pray consistently to avoid temptation.
That’s my view through this knothole this morning. What do you see?