Saint Luke was a Greek doctor saved by grace of God and assisted Apostle Paul in all areas especially during difficult times to take the Gospel news to the gentiles. In his Gospel, Saint Luke has mentioned some astounding details about the Savior Lord during His prayer in the Gethsemane Park. ‘His sweat became like great drops of blood’ for He prayed earnestly being in agony and an angel ‘appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him’. How can the Son of God need strengthening and that too from one of His creation?
Lord Jesus was fully God and fully man also and this needs to be properly understood before one can perceive the reason for the need for strengthening. He is the Living Word who was with God right from beginning in eternity and in Him was life and the life was the light of men (John 1:1-3). The Jews had been waiting for the coming Messiah in fulfillment of the prophetic messages delivered by various prophets. They stumbled because of the ‘prayer of allegiance’ – the Shema – that they pray every morning, proclaiming that the LORD is one. LORD God the Father in His glory has the Son and the Holy Spirit and the three are One God in glory while being three in the same glory.
To become man in compliance of God’s plan of redemption of mankind, Lord Jesus emptied Himself (Philippians 2:5-8) of three things. First, His glory as God and on completion of the assigned task He ‘prays to the Father to glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was’ (John 17:5). Secondly, He emptied Himself of independent authority over everything and He accepted this ‘I can of Myself do nothing’ (John 5:30). His creation is filled with such glorious riches, given to mankind, then how much more would be in heaven where ‘the street was of pure gold, like transparent glass’ (Revelations 21:21). Lord Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords, yet He became poor – of no substance (2 Corinthians 8:9)– born in a manger where there was no room for Him in the inn and born in the house of a poor carpenter. He gave up all that because of His love for us and in obedience to the Father.
Why did He feel weak? – Lord Jesus is a Priest according to the order of Melchizedek and offered prayers and supplications with cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death and was heard because of His godly fear (Hebrews 5:6-7). The Messiah was made fully human so that He could share our weaknesses of the body, He was born as a baby to be dependent on His parents for everything, hungered in the wilderness for forty days, was tired in the body and slept in the stern of the boat while in a storm and He wept over the pain of Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus knowing well that He was raise him from the dead in a short while. As a man He suffered all the emotions of weakness of the body and revealed His condition to the disciples ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death’. Again He expressed His state to them “The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak” and admitted to the godly fear for His body weakness (Matthew 26:37 – 41).
The reasons for this weakness are related to His own being. He is God and as a man, the Second Adam, was born without sin or sinful nature of man and did not defile Himself even with a sinful thought. In the Garden the first Adam was tempted by Satan and in another Garden the Second Adam was also tempted to escape by leaving His task. He felt revulsion at contact with sin for He was numbered with the transgressors and then our inequities were laid upon Him (Isaiah 53:6 & 12). He felt His body and soul crushed with the evil weight of our sins. He is the light and in Him is life, yet He was to face and defeat the ‘last enemy’ – death itself and it was most agonizing for Him to face death. And finally, desertion by all whom He loved to fight the toughest battle of the history of mankind alone. Even His Father from whom He could not bear to be separated left Him to make Him cry out not to the Father but to God “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34).
How could an angel strengthen Him? – The important point is not how an angel could strengthen the Son of God but rather the fact that He allowed an angel to come near Him for this. And the second point is that He about His allowing or calling only one angel when He could call on the Father who would have placed twelve legions of angels at His disposal (Matthew 26:53). The might available at His beck and call was great since a legion is three to six thousand soldiers and one angel being capable of destroying 1,85,000 soldiers in one night.
Prophet Elijah prayed to God and slept and an angel strengthened him with food and water twice to enable him to walk continually for forty days (1 Kings 19). Lord Jesus had come to the Gethsemane Park after the Passover meal and was probably strengthened in other ways. In the wilderness angels ministered to Him after a victory over Satan’s temptation and the number was more than one. In Gethsemane, however, it was before an intense battle and only one angel came. It would be rejuvenating to share in the mere presence of pure and holy company when surrounded on all sides by complete darkness. Angels desire to look into the mysteries of the Gospel (1 Peter 1:12) and most would have been leaning over the parapets of heaven to understand the reason for the weakness of their Master – the Mighty Warrior to be ready to rush to join Him at the slightest command.
Name of the angel is not revealed though it could not be someone of a low rank for only the Archangels would be sent by the Father in such a situation when the fate of creation was at stake. Archangel Gabriel has been seen to carry messages to various people on the earth – to Daniel, Zechariah, Mary, Joseph and the Messiah. Gabriel means God is my strength and he brought that strength from the Father to the Son – a reminder of His might. It is always encouraging to be in the empathetic presence of one who is willing to serve diligently without asking. The angel probably revealed the message of God about the imminent victory by opening up the heavens to show the multitudes the Savior loved being redeemed. Also about He would lead “captivity captive” with Him after paying the ransom and about the victory over death itself. The angel would have probably sung that song of victory that King David had sung in His praise – “Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates!” (Psalm 24:7-10).
Lessons for us – The first thing is to believe in the supernatural and that the fallen angels with Satan and other forces of evil wage a war against God’s people. “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). There is no need for us to be afraid by overestimating their might but also not be foolish in underestimating them. Pray earnestly for God’s will to be revealed and for help from Him rather than seek angels help in times of deep distress.
Lord Jesus prayed before, during and after facing a critical situation – before starting His ministry He was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to fast and pray for forty days. After feeding the five thousand and before reaching out to the disciples in the storm, by walking on water, “He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray” (Matthew 14:14-32). After the woman with twelve years of blood flow touched Him in the crowd, He immediately turned back “for power going out from Me” (Luke 8:43-48). Spiritual battle, like every other battle, is extremely tiring and drains out the physical and spiritual strength from within. Prayer is the strongest weapon available with us for “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous person avails much” (James 5:16).
Daniel regularly prayed to the LORD and in his moment of crisis on being thrown into the lion’s den he prayed and “God sent His angel who shut the lions’ mouths” to ensure his safety and well being (Daniel 6:22). Lord Jesus was aware of desertion by the disciples as also the reason behind the same and urged them to “pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:40). If the Son of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, needed to pray earnestly during His stay on the earth, how much more is the need for this for us?
Thirdly, we must be humble enough to receive help from seemingly unimportant people in our lives for they act as instruments of God and do His bidding. Saul was a learned scholar of the Old Testament, a student of the greatest teacher of that time – Gamaliel. After his encounter with Lord Jesus and temporary blindness of three days, he received help from Ananaias sent by God to put his hands on Saul to open his eyes – both physical and spiritual (Acts 9:11-18). Many people are known to wait for the arrival of some great and a renowned missionary before getting baptized or to wait for such a one to baptize them. What guarantee is there that one will be alive till such happening and may end up for eternity in hell? May a senior preacher look down upon a beginner or one who has spent only a few years in ministry. Lord Jesus accepted comforting by an angel, the very same He Himself had created and commanded.
Fourthly, there is nothing wrong in admitting a weakness and seeking someone’s help. Joseph sought the help and was comforted by the cup bearer and cook of the Pharaoh while he was in prison on a false charge (Genesis 40:14 & 41:9-13). Lord Jesus in Gethsemane Park prayed to the Father to remove the cup of His wrath from before His Son but then sought implementation of His own Divine will by empowering Him to do the same (Luke 22:42). Seeking help in times of trouble is not weakness but humility in recognizing our own incapability in meeting the situation. Anything else and we are likely to even avoid praying to God for His blessings to tide over our daily battles that may seem to be small and unimportant.
Lord Jesus faced opposition from the Sadducees, Pharisees and the Jewish elders on every occasion even to the extent of being called an agent of Satan by them. His prayer in Gethsemane Park is the only instance where He sought a change in God’s plan though submitting to His will before and then. Lord Jesus has warned us of tough battles and of being rejected and persecuted by others for being His followers. But a crown is given only to those who overcome all odds and only in such difficulties do we find His might on our side. Apostle Paul prayed three times for removal of the thorn in his flesh that was given by Satan but was assured of sufficiency of God’s grace to face the same.
His angels hold in their hands and safeguard only those who are in battle situations. Are we prepared to lead the fight in His might and power – for He is with us to the end of the age!