The Lord's Day Morning
August 28, 2011
“I Have Prayed For You”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 22. We’re going to be looking at verses 28 to 38 today. The last time we were together in Luke we were looking at a very embarrassing discussion amongst the disciples who were attempting to ascertain which of them was the greatest. They were aspiring to positions of esteem and importance among the number of the inner circle of Jesus’ followers and Jesus interrupts that conversation and Luke draws it to our attention and He reminds them that He is among them as one who serves.
Now it would have been very easy for the following passage after that instance to be one long critique and rebuke of the disciples, and yet what Luke shows us as we are on the way to Gethsemane are three encouraging words from Jesus. The first is a promise, and you’ll see those words in verses 28 to 30 and it stands in stark contrast to the encouragement to humility that He has given to these disciples who are aspiring to greatness. In fact, when you read what He promises them it may well take your breath away. How in the world can He promise that to people who are aspiring to their own greatness. Then, in the middle section, if you look at verses 31 to 34, you will see Jesus describe a spiritual struggle that is going on with the disciples and the evil one, and He brought attention to the prayer that He prayed in intercession for them. And then finally in verses 35 to 38, you will see Jesus again give words of provision to His disciples to prepare them for what they are about to face. And so if I could give you three words to kind of hang these three different pictures on they would be promise, prayer, and provision. Now as we preach the passage today we're going to preach it a little out of order. The promise of verse 28 to 30 will come first, but then I want to go right to the provision of verses 35 to 38, because where I ultimately want us to go and the blessing that I want you to get especially out of this passage is found in verses 31 to 34 and what Jesus says there to Peter and all the disciples about His intercession for them. So be on the lookout for the promise, then we’ll look at the provision at the end of the chapter, and then we’ll focus on the prayer in the middle of this section. Before we read God's Word, let's pray and ask for His help and blessing as we do so.
Heavenly Father, this is Your Word, but because our hearts are dull to the things of God and our minds are not quick to run to You and sit at Your feet, we need the help of Your Holy Spirit if we are going to appreciate the fullness of the comforts that You give us in this passage from Your Word, so we ask that, and I ask that now for everyone present. Break through to our hearts and get deep within and minister to places that we didn't even know existed and do us everlasting good and get glory for it. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is God's Word. Hear it, beginning in Luke 22 verse 28:
“’You are those who have stayed with Me in My trials, and I assign to you, as My Father assigned to Me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with You both to prison and to death.’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know Me.’
And He said to them, ‘When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?’ They said, ‘Nothing.’ He said to them, ‘But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about Me has its fulfillment.’ And they said, ‘Look, Lord, here are two swords.’ And He said to them, ‘It is enough.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
You and I do not often enough think about the spiritual realities in heavenly places the impinge upon the struggles of our own hearts. If we are mindful Christians, we do keep a watch on our hearts, we do think about the temptations that our souls encounter, and we try and think about those things Biblically; we take those things to the Lord in prayer. But we may not be mindful enough about the spiritual activity in heavenly places that is going on around and even in the struggles of heart that we experience. This is one of those passages that reminds us of that important reality.
But Luke gives us this passage especially as an encouragement and it feels almost like the gospel of Mark, doesn't it? We've been in a long extended passage as Luke walks us through the last week of Jesus’ life and it all fits together and makes sense and we're getting ready to go to the Garden of Gethsemane and there’ll be an almost seamless narrative of the history of the final hours of Jesus’ life before His crucifixion that Luke recounts for us there, but here it's almost like he took three quick pictures with his cell phone camera. It feels almost like Mark. You know how Mark gives you one picture and he hurries onto the next and then he hurries onto the next and he uses language like “and immediately” or “at once” and “then.” Luke is almost doing that here, isn't he? Three pictures, and it even feels a little disjointed, doesn't it, when you read through it. First, Jesus is giving a promise to His disciples and then suddenly He's rebuking Simon Peter and warning him of Satan's desiring to sift him like wheat, and then suddenly He's talking about what sort of provisions the disciples ought to take with them the next time they go out. And it looks like three things that don't go together, but in fact, each of these things contain great encouragement for us as believers. And I'd like to look at them with you today around those words promise, provision, and prayer.
Let's look at the promise first in verses 28 to 30. It's quite remarkable. Now just take it in for a minute. These men have just been arguing about which one of them is the greatest, and Jesus has just said to them, “In My kingdom, that's not how we think. We don't think about advancing our own self-importance. We don't think about our own greatness and accolades. I am among you as the one who serves. Be like Me. What we get up in the morning thinking about is how we're going to serve one another.” And yet He turns right around and He says to those very people that He has warned against their aspirations of greatness, “And by the way, here's a promise: I'm going to give you a kingdom and you’re going to sit with Me at My table in My kingdom and you are going to judge the people of God with Me in the last day.”
And not only does He say that to them, but notice what He says in verse 28 to begin with. He says, “You are those who have stayed with Me in My trials.” Now just take that in for a minute. Jesus already knows and has already been indicating to them that not just Peter but all of them are not going to stay with Him in His trial that night; they’re all going to flee. And they've been kind of hit or miss for the last three years, haven't they? I mean, is this your dream team of disciples that you would pick? And yet He describes them as those who have stayed with Him in His trials. Isn't that kind? Isn't that phenomenally generous, that to the very people who, a few moments before, were talking about which one of them were the greatest and He was having to say, “No, no, no, it's not about aspiring for greatness; it's about aspiring for service.” To those very people He turns around and He says, “By the way, I want to make you a promise. The kingdom that the Father is giving Me, I'm giving it to you. Oh, and where will you sit in that kingdom? You’ll sit at My table. And what will you do on the great Day of Judgment? You will sit with Me on thrones and judge the tribes of Israel.”
Does that blow your mind? Jesus is so kind in the way He rewards His people. He gives us things, He promises us things that we do not deserve. Jesus’ promises of blessings to the disciples are disproportionate to the service that they render Him. And even when He calls them “the ones who've stayed with Him in His trials,” He knows that they’re going to abandon Him that night. And they've been a little spotty all along, haven't they? They don't understand so much of what He's telling them. They constantly do things that require correction. Jesus had been going out and coming in with the Father from eternity. How long is that? And these men had been with Him for only three years. What's three years in an eternity? And yet He can describe them as “those who have stood with Me in My trials.” Isn't that kind? Isn't that generous of Jesus? You see, Luke is reminding us that Jesus’ promises of blessing to us are disproportionate to the service that we render Him. They are all of grace. You know if anything, this passage is yet another proof of God's grace to us. He rewards us with things that we have not earned and that we do not deserve but He just lavishes them on us. There's the promise.
Then I want you to see the provision. Let your eyes skip down to verse 35 and look down to verse 38. You know, Jesus, in the three years He had been with His disciples, they had seen both miraculous provision of their needs, like in the feeding of the five thousands, and then they had seen God in His extraordinary providence provide for them exactly what they needed. And He turned to them and He said, “Now when you've been with Me before and you haven't taken a moneybag and you haven't taken a knapsack and you haven't had a place to lay your head and you haven't known where you next meal was coming from, have you ever lacked anything that you needed?” And they respond, “No, Lord. The Lord's always provided. We've always had food, we've always had clothing, and we've always had a place to lay our head. The Lord provided all of those things.” And then Jesus says, “Things are about to change and they’re about to change in two ways. One is, I'm not going to be with you anymore and so you are going to need to take a provision for yourself in a way that you haven't in the last three years because I'm not going to be here and I'm not going to be feeding the five thousand and all of those miraculous and extraordinary provisions aren't going to be there so you make sure that you, you make sure that you prepare. You take the moneybag; you take a knapsack. You prepare when you go out now.”
But even more importantly than that, look at what He says in verse 37. “I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in Me: And He was numbered with the transgressors.’” And then He says, “For what is written about Me has its fulfillment.” In other words He's saying, “This is going to happen within hours. The prophecy of Isaiah from over six hundred years ago is going to be fulfilled in Me within hours.” Now what is Jesus doing? We have seen Him doing this consistently with His disciples in the final days of His ministry before the crucifixion. Even though He is about to undergo a deeper and greater and more profound trial than they are about to undergo, He is constantly concerned to prepare them and comfort them for the trial that they are going to encounter. And once again He is preparing them for the trial that they’re going to undergo as He is numbered among criminals. He's going to hang on a Roman cross having been condemned as a criminal by the highest spiritual court of His people. After having been condemned by a criminal by the Roman justice system, He is going to hang between two thieves and He is going to be numbered by the Jewish religious leaders, by the Roman civic leaders, and by the people of Jerusalem as one who is a criminal. And He's preparing His disciples for that again. He's saying, “Don't be taken off guard,” even though they were taken off guard. “Don't be taken off guard. I'm telling you ahead of time, this is what's going to happen. It's not an accident. It's not that I didn't see this coming. This is part of God's plan.”
Why is Jesus doing this? Because He's preparing them. He's providing for them by preparing them. And we see again the utter other-centeredness of Jesus. Surely if ever a man had a right to be concentrating on his own issues is was Jesus at this moment. You know, He's busy. He's saving the world. He's got a little work to do. But what's He doing? He's thinking about His bumbling, stumbling disciples and He's trying to provide for them, to prepare for them in the trial that they’re going to face. So that's another encouragement we find in this passage.
But the one that I really want to get you to is in the middle. Would you look with me at verse 31 to 34? Here, Jesus says something that's extraordinary. He speaks to Peter but He doesn't call him Peter at first. Notice He’ll get back to calling him Peter in verse 34, but here in verse 31 He calls him by his Aramaic or his Hebrew name. He calls him Simon. And He says it twice for emphasis and tenderness. He says, “Simon, Simon, Satan has demanded to have you that he might sift you like wheat.” Now I want you to think about a couple of things. One is, the word that Jesus uses here for “you” means what we would say when we say, “y’all.” In other words, He's not just addressing Peter; He's addressing all of the disciples, but He's addressing Peter, as you will understand from this passage and what follows, for a special reason, because it's going to be Peter who ends up denying Him three times. But His concern is that Peter understands that Satan wants to sift him and all of the disciples like wheat. The picture is almost like Job 1 where the accuser comes and he says, “Let me take my crack at Job and You will find that he cracks.” Jesus is saying to Peter and to the disciples that, “There is an ancient being possessed of power and malevolence that you can hardly comprehend, who has come to God and who has asked to sift you like wheat.” In other words, the disciples have no idea what they’re up against. It's not just a struggle of heart that they’re about to go through in the next hours. There are spiritual forces in heavenly places that are arrayed against them and one thing stands between then and that ancient evil — the prayer of Jesus. Jesus says to Peter, “Peter you have no idea the being who wants to sift you, but I do, and I have prayed for you.”
Do you understand that that's the difference between Peter and Judas? In the end, both of them were tempted in points of weakness in their personal experience and one believed and one never repented, but underneath the non-repentance of Judas and the repentance and the faith of Peter is the prayer of Jesus. We don't understand how at all times we stand in need of the intercession of our Savior. You see, it's not just that He died for us, it's not just that He was raised for us — He ever lives to intercede. He is whispering into the Father's ear, “Keep her from sin. Keep him from breaking, Lord. Keep their faith from failing, Lord. Bring them to repentance, Lord.” He is ever living to intercede and the one thing that stands between us and an ancient personal evil of incalculable power, the enemy of our souls, and our souls, is Jesus’ intercession. But His intercession is more powerful than that ancient evil. And we’ll learn why tonight, by the way, in Psalm 110. But Jesus’ prayers are invincible for His people. There is no power in the universe that can equal Jesus’ prayer for His people.
You know sometimes, sometimes we feel like our prayers just aren't working. We feel like they’re not getting through the ceiling. Sometimes we even feel hindered in our prayers and discouraged in our prayers and sometimes we can't even get a prayer out of our throat, but Jesus’ prayers are effectual and powerful and invincible. And when He calls down a legion of angels around His people, and when He calls down the help of God upon His people, nothing in this universe can touch them.
And don't you love what He says to Peter here? There’re two things that I want you to see that He says to Peter. Zero in on verse 33 – sorry verse 32. He says, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” Do you wonder what it was that Jesus prayed that stayed the hand of the evil one who wanted to sift Peter and the disciples like wheat? “I prayed that you would be strengthened in your faith and God gave you that strengthening by the Holy Spirit.” And then, secondly, “and when you have turned again.” Don't you love that? What was Peter going to struggle with after denying Jesus three times, the last time with cursing saying, “I've never even met Him”? What was Peter going to struggle with after that colossal failure? He was going to struggle with this — “Have I ever been a Christian? Was it ever real? Was anything that I've ever said that I believed true?” And he was going to hear ringing in his ears the words of Jesus, “I've prayed for you, Peter, and when you turn again, when you repent, not if you repent, not maybe, not hope, but when you repent.”
You know the early church had a delightful legend and I don't know if there's any reality in this at all, but they had a delightful legend that went like this — that every time after his restoration by Jesus on the shores of Galilee, that every time that Peter heard a cock crow for the rest of his life that he wept, that he wept remembering his denial of his Savior, but he also wept remembering the grace of the Savior to change his heart, to lead him to repentance, and to restore him to the ministry. Now I don't know whether there's a lick of truth to that, but I do know this — whether that is true or not, for the rest of his life, ringing in his ears and heart, he would hear these words from Jesus: “Peter, when you have turned again.” Before he ever failed the Savior, the Savior had said, “When you turn again.”
Now there's one more thing that I want you to see that Jesus says to Peter. It's at the end of that sentence. “When you've turned again, here's what I want you to do — I want you to strengthen your brothers.” Has the Lord ever turned you from sin? In His kindness He has shown you, He's opened your eyes to your sin and you suddenly realize how stupid and how evil and how wicked and how rebellious your sin is and He's not only opened your eyes to your sin, He's made you repentant of that sin and you've turned from that sin and you’re filled with gratitude to God because of what He's done in your heart? And have you ever wondered, “What could I possibly do for the Lord to say thank you for the deliverance that He's given?” And here's Jesus saying to Peter, “Now Peter, if you’re looking for something to do for Me, here's what it is — strengthen your brethren. You go tell them how I changed your heart and you strengthen them. You come alongside of them when they’re struggling with sin and you strengthen them. You come next to them shoulder to shoulder when their faith is weak and you strengthen their faith. Strengthen your brethren; that's the thank you that you can give Me.”
My friends, we walk as we've just sung, not by sight, but by faith, and there is a spiritual struggle in the heavenly places that is above and around and surrounds the spiritual struggle that goes on in our hearts, and there is an ancient enemy of power and evil who is beyond our comprehension and nothing, nothing that we can do against him can avail. But there is one word above all earthly powers who can defeat him and has defeated him and He is praying for you. What this reality does is it presses us back on Jesus, realizing that the only thing that we have in this life is Him. It's His help, His strength, His power, His Gospel, but that is all the help we need because that little word will fell the ancient evil one who seeks to sift us like wheat and like a crouching lion, seeks to devour us. Trust in Jesus and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight and even safe in the midst of danger.
Our Lord and our God, this is a lesson that we need to learn and we need to be reminded of it and we need to put it in practice by faith. And so we ask that You would do that in us by Your Holy Spirit, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Would you take your hymnals out and turn with me to number 609. All of the hymns that we've sung today give us wonderful words for the struggles and trials of life, so let's sing to God's praise number 609, “Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me?”
I’ll just remind the congregation that after the benediction we’ll be seated and we will reconvene our recessed congregational meeting to elect elders. And to our visitors and guests, our warm greetings to you. Thanks for being with us in the name of the Lord, and may the Lord bless you as you make your way to your homes.
Receive God's blessing. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus the Christ. Amen.