Overall point: The major battle we face in this life is not what is seen, but what is not seen—Satan is intensely and intentionally opposed to what God is doing. AND the greatest defense we have is not our offense, but rather our dependence. Jesus is prayerful and successful; the disciples are prayerless and careless.
First, we must understand from this story in Luke 22-23 that Satan intensely and intentionally opposes what God is doing in this world. In the last moments of Jesus’ life, it is remarkable how many times Satan is found in the story in obvious ways, much less how much he is found lurking behind the scenes. In 22:3, we read that Satan enters Judas. We could discuss the views on what this means, but it is not important for our purposes. For now, simply note that Satan is actively working against God’s purposes, seeking to destroy the Messiah. In Luke 22:31, we find that Jesus makes it clear that Satan wants to “sift like wheat” the disciples. Although Jesus is talking directly to Simon Peter, the “you” in verse 31 is in the plural form, which identifies all of the disciples as the target (in verse 32, it is singular, so the comment is directed toward Peter). The verb has the idea of “pick you to pieces!” or “tear you apart!” or “ruin you!” Satan aggressively wants to destroy these followers of Jesus, seemingly putting to death any momentum Jesus might have gained in drawing people to himself. Finally, in Luke 22:53, we see that the “power of darkness” seems to be winning the day, which will culminate in the death of Jesus on the cross. This calls our attention back to Luke 4. Satan even actively sought to lure Jesus away from the path that had been laid out for him by the Father.
This intense and intentional opposition of Satan to God’s purposes extends to us as well. In 1 Peter 5:8, Peter warns the believers who are under persecution to be on the alert because our “adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” In other words, he wants to tear us to pieces as well. Like a lion in its natural habitat, he sits back and looks for the vulnerable and weak so that he might devour his prey. Ephesians 6:10-12 underscores this battle as well. Our battle is not against “flesh and blood” but rather against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Verse 13 adds that we are to take up the armor so that we can withstand “in the evil day.” Verse 16 encourages us to take our shield in order to “extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.” We are in a battle, daily, until Jesus returns.
Second, we can note the strategies that are used in this story to prepare for the battle. I want us to see the contrast between Jesus’ preparation and the disciples’ preparation. I want to begin with the disciples. In Luke 22:33, after Jesus warns the disciples (the “you” is plural) and Peter (Jesus is addressing Peter) that Satan is after them, Peter basically states, “Bring it on!” He cannot imagine a scenario in which he might deny Jesus. He announces his willingness to even go to prison or to die, but he will never deny Jesus. We find a similar conviction in all of the disciples in Luke 22:22-24. After Jesus announces that one of them is going to betray him, they are speechless. They cannot imagine being at a place where they would consider betraying Jesus, much less actually doing it. In fact, their discussion turns into a debate about which of them is the greatest. Their questioning turns to arrogance. They believe that they are strong, even the strongest in the bunch, but they are weak. Knowing their vulnerability, in Luke 22:40, Jesus calls them to pray so that they will not be lured away from their conviction of faithfulness. However, they sleep. Peter and all of the disciples are in a vulnerable place and eventually lose their battle, succumbing to temptation. They all scatter from Jesus! The disciples are prayerless and careless.
Jesus is the contrast of the disciples. The intensity of what he is about to encounter will be far more intense than anything the disciples could ever imagine. However, in Luke 22:41-44, we find Jesus pouring out his heart in prayer. He wants to please his Father and continue in faithfulness. He recognizes his dependency. In the end, he successfully fulfills his mission and goes to the cross to die for our sins in obedience to his Father. Jesus is prayerful and successful.
Prayer is strategic for any follower of Jesus. In Luke 22:40, 46, Jesus had warned the disciples of their best plan of attack. They are to pray. In the end, we find that they are ready for physical violence but not the spiritual battle. See Luke 22:38, 49-50. The application for us is found in Ephesians 6:10-18. Paul encourages the church with these words, “praying at all times in the Spirit, which is the word of God, with all prayer and supplication … making supplication for the saints.” His point is that we must be battle ready! We continue the Lord’s work until Jesus returns. Prayer must be an important part of our lives. Today, Jesus’ words echo to us, “Pray that you do not enter into temptation.”
I find that prayer suffers in the lives of many, if not most, Christians. As a result, our lives probably look a lot more like the disciples who were found sleeping, and eventually fell away! Let’s learn a lesson from their lives. Let’s honestly answer the questions: Does prayer exist in your life? Are we engaging this battle that we cannot see by coming before the throne in prayer? And I mean prayer that does battle against the lusts of the flesh that wage war against the soul, that does battle against the pleasures, riches, and worries of this present age that can dominate our resources, that does battle against the course of this world that wants to suck us in, etc. Let’s not follow the example of the disciples in Luke 22-23 and be prayerless and, therefore, careless. Let’s follow the example of Jesus and be prayerful and, therefore, successful … until Jesus comes!