John Piper on Gethsemane: The Double Battle

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According to John Piper on Gethsemane, the story of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his crucifixion is typically seen as Jesus battling his flesh to be true to the Father’s will.

While that’s true, John Piper points out that there is a second battle taking place that night and it is often overlooked. He says the second battle shows believers how they can overcome temptation and the weakness of the flesh.

John Piper on Gethsemane Message:  “Lord, Teach Us to Fight: The Double Battle in Gethsemane.”

The first battle is played out in two scenes. In Matthew 26:39, Jesus prays that this cup might pass from him, but adding that he is willing to do the Father’s will. The cup is the 18 hours of horror that he is about to face in the crucifixion.

There is a second prayer time recorded in Matthew 26:42. This time Jesus prays, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

Piper says the prayers in Gethsemane appear to contradict each other. In the first prayer, Jesus is asking to avoid the cup, in the second he’s asking for God’s help as he drinks it.

The Difference for Two Prayers in Gethsemane

“What changed?” Piper asks. He finds that answer in Luke 22:43. Luke tells us that Jesus was visited by an angel. The angel told him, in response to his first prayer, that there was no other way; the cup could not be avoided but the angel was there to strengthen him.

Piper says there is a lesson here. “That’s an awesome thought in your own welfare. If Jesus needs help, so do you.”

He pairs that verse with Hebrews 5:7, an instruction to us in hardship. Jesus prayed with loud cries and tears. He was heard because of his reverence.

The Second Battle Involved the Disciples.

Luke 22:36 tells us that Jesus instructed eight of the disciples to sit and wait while he prayed. But he tells Peter, James and John to come with him. He has them stop a few feet away from where he will pray and tells them to watch. He wants them to hear how he’s handling a fleshly desire to flee in times of trouble and his reliance on the Father’s help. He warns them to stay awake and pray in preparation for the most serious and difficult temptation of their lives.

Instead they fall asleep.

As Scripture documents, they and the rest of the disciples, abandoned Jesus in his time of need. Piper points out, “That’s what you get for sleeping.”  

In one battle in the garden, Jesus wins as he relies on the Father for strength in the face of adversity. In the second, the disciples lose because they fail to prepare for the fight.

Piper says the lesson for the church today is not that we’re all doomed to failure. It’s to encourage us in our failures and to remind us that Jesus is praying that our faith might not fail, like he did for Peter; and when our faith is strong, we should strengthen the brethren.

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Bob Ditmer
Bob Ditmer has worked in Christian media for more than 20 years including positions with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and Focus on the Family.