The Unanswered Prayer Matthew 26:36-46

Matthew 26:36-46

Introduction:  Any Star Wars geeks? 

But in that first movie—Star Wars, A New Hope—when we meet the characters we would grow to love:  Luke, Leia, Han, and Obi Wan Kenobi (Old Ben). 

  • the Rebel Alliance is fighting against the Galactic Empire led by Darth Vader who is squeezing the galaxy under its massive power
  • Darth Vader and the Imperial forces have developed a weapon that can destroy entire planets at the push of a button—the Death Star
  • The theme is classic:  the little guy defeats the bully, the fight for individual freedom, good triumphs over evil
  • George Lucas intrertwined these themes with a New Age spirituality around what he called, “The Force”.  The Force invisibly—we might even say providentially—controls every thing in the universe
  • And it’s “The Force” and this spirituality that becomes the deciding factor in how the Rebel Alliance will defeat the Empire
  • But no one believed that
  • No one except Obi Wan—the crazy old man who lived by himself in the desert
  • But because Obi Wan knew the Force was so important, he had a bigger vision for his own fate than anyone else did
  • When the little invasion party boarded the Death Star, instead of fighting Darth Vader tooth and nail, Obi Wan allowed himself to be killed knowing that he would be absorbed into the force and become a spiritual guide to Luke
  • In His last living words Obi Wan told Darth, “If you strike me down, I’ll become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.
  • He understood that so much more could be accomplished through his death than what would happen if he lived

Don’t base your spirituality on George Lucas’ New Age mysticism, but we can see a principle at play—there’s a bigger vision than what we can see, but we can grow in our trust of who has the biggest vision of all, even bigger than Obi Wan’s.  We grow in trusting God with his biggest of visions.

When Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane wasn’t answered, that was our Savior’s response.  He received a “no” from heaven.  The Cup wouldn’t pass by him, he would have to drink it.  Jesus responded by trusting in his Father’s plan, in his Father’s provision, and ultimately in his Father’s love.  Even though he knew what it would mean over the next three days.

  1. Jesus couldn’t have asked wrongly—
    1. Have you ever thought your prayer wasn’t answered because you didn’t pray correctly?
      1. You used the wrong words…
      1. You asked for the wrong thing
      1. This kind of reasoning reveals that you’re trusting in your prayer rather than trusting in the God of prayer
    1. That can’t be true of Jesus—he didn’t make mistakes, he didn’t believe only partially (he did faith to move mountains), he was untainted by sinful thoughts
      1. He asked correctly
      1. He didn’t say the wrong thing
      1. He asked for the right thing, at least in terms of it being morally correct to ask
    1. Jesus’ prayer reveals a very hard truth to us.  Not all prayers—not even correct prayers—will be answered.  Sometimes God will just say no to your desires.  Perfection will have to wait for the second Advent
  2. That dovetails into our second point:  God’s grace sometimes comes in spite of incorrect asking.   Jesus always prayed correctly, in perfect faith, and with the right words.  But,  we’ve been given other examples of prayer in the Bible, too. 
    1. Here’s two examples of requests that were answered even though they were asked wrongly
    1. Genesis 18:22-33 Abraham asks God to spare Lot who lives in Sodom by bidding God down in terms of righteous people living in the city
      1. What if there are 50?  All the way down to ten.
      1. God is so patient with his people—with us.
      1. In the end, Sodom is destroyed, but Lot is saved.
      1. Abraham didn’t care about Sodom, he cared about Lot and his family.  God answered Abraham’s prayer even though that’s not what he asked for.
    1. John 5  Jesus sees a lame man lying next to the healing pool at Bethesda and asks “do you want to be healed?”
      1. Instead of saying yes, the lame man says he doesn’t have anyone to put him in when the waters are stirred.
        1. It was part of the healing myth around this pool, that when the pool’s healing powers were at its peak the waters were stirred up by angels and you could see it.
      1. Apparently, he was asking for some friends to be there to put him in the water.  His request is even more unclear than Abraham’s.
      1. It doesn’t take the Messiah to see what he really needs. 
      1. But it does take the Messiah to be able to fix it—Jesus ignores what he really asked for and gives him what he really needs.
    1. What can we learn from Jesus, Abraham, and the lame man in Bethesda?
      1. Don’t be afraid of praying
        1. Don’t be afraid of asking for the wrong thing (not Confucious “be careful what you wish for”)
        1. Don’t be afraid of  using the wrong words (Sodom?  No one’s here to put me in the pool.)
        1. Don’t be afraid of praying with the wrong motive, even
        1. Just to be clear—you are a sinner, so you sin even when you pray  (I repent of my repenting)
          1. So, you should work at having pure, godly motives in your prayers, but don’t let that keep you from praying.
        1. Don’t ever be afraid to pray for anything or any reason—
          1. Jesus, your mediator will make your asking acceptable to God
          1. And over time, God will fix your heart so that you will pray with more holiness and precision
  3. Don’t miss thisAnother important point we see in Jesus’ prayer is submission—not my will, but yours
    1. This would have helped me in my ordination exam
      1. Does Jesus have two wills?  Yes he does.
      1. In this prayer we see that, it reveals something about Jesus to us.
      1. One person, two natures (human and divine), two wills (human—not sinful, but human–, and divine)
      1. His human will is separate from the divine will, but never sinful.
    1. Why did Jesus pray that the cup would pass by him? 
      1. Like we said last week—it’s not that Jesus doesn’t want to save his people, it’s just that Jesus has come face to face with the reality that he will suffer the almighty, holy wrath of God against sin and prays that if there is another wayany other way—could we do it that way instead?
      1. At the end of the day we see that Jesus was determined to save his people.  His to submit to his father, to save his people, was unbendable.  He would save his sinners no matter what the post cost was to him.  He finished this prayer with “your will be done”
    1. For us, prayer teaches us to submit, because there will be plenty of unanswered prayers in our lives, just like Jesus’ prayer was here.  But we still have to submit, like Jesus did.
    1. Submission begins in the act of praying—this passage ends with, “Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
      1. The worst, most difficult trial of his earthly life is moments away from beginning yet Jesus stops, he submits himself, to pray.
      1. Submission begins in the willingness to pray
      1. To live out what we believe—That spending an hour in prayer is more worth-while than finishing a week’s worth of our “to do” list
  4. How can we possibly submit to God who seems to allow the very worst things to happen?  Because God’s Vision is Bigger
    1. Two examples:  Joseph and Naomi
      1. Joseph’s sale, slavery, and imprisonment—Genesis 37-50; maybe 27 years separated
        1. His brothers didn’t have a godly vision
        1. He didn’t see any reason why
        1. Jacob definitely didn’t understand
        1. But when famine came—the family and nation of Israel was saved because of it
      1. Naomi’s grief in the book of Ruth—her husband and sons die while they lived in Moab
        1. She didn’t have a reason for it—submissive wife following her husband
        1. She couldn’t explain it—“call me Mara, the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.  For I went away full and the LORD has brought me back empty.”
        1. But at the end of Ruth we read, “So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the LORD gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.”
        1. And, of course, Jesus would be the ultimate son of David—and very great grandson of Naomi.  She had no idea of that when she said call me “Mara”, and in Ruth 1 we shouldn’t blame her for feeling that way.  The point of Ruth is that God’s vision was bigger and God’s work was invisible.
    1. It’s like Obi Wan Kenobi’s vision in Star Wars, but much bigger, much better, and much truer
      1. God’s vision for Jesus’ cup was cosmic in size—Isaiah 53:10-11  Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
        1. “He shall see his offspring”—in Jesus’ sacrifice sinners become his spiritual offspring
        1. “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied”—Jesus himself would be satisfied even in the depths of his anguish, knowing God’s redemption was being worked out
    1. It’s easy for us to be comfortable with the stories of the Bible as we read them, it’s not so easy when the story of loss, grief, and mourning is ours. 
      1. Be honest in your praying—don’t pray for Sodom when you really just want Lot to be saved, don’t say “no” to Jesus because you think you have his plan already worked out, just ask for what you need and desire
      1. You don’t have to agree with God’s plan in the midst of it
        1. I can’t imagine Joseph giving thanks in the bottom of the pit, or the jail cell
        1. And we know Naomi wasn’t expressing thankfulness when she said “call me Mara”
        1. And Jesus asked that the cup pass over him
        1. God is God, your prayers, your desires, won’t change that—but as you pray honestly and even disagreeing with God, He just might change your desires
      1. Here’s the freedom of having a sovereign, gracious, and good God:
        1. You can pray about his plan
        1. You can even pray against it
        1. You can pray for help through it
    1. At the end of the day, our cup isn’t Jesus’ cup, but our response to God’s plan can be like Jesus’:
      1. Pray, trust, and submit
      1. God’s vision is bigger and better than ours—make that a reason to pray and make that the foundation of your praying.  Pray to the one who sent his son and told his Son “no”, out of love for his people.

498  Jesus! What a Friend for Sinners

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to the gospel and preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.