Be Ready For His Return
But keep alert at all times [be attentive and ready], praying that you may have the strength and ability [to be found worthy and] to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand in the presence of the Son of Man [at His coming].”
Prayer is the means that Christ has appointed so that our hearts will not be overcome with indulgences, drunkenness, and the cares of this life, so that the day of Christ’s return will not come upon us suddenly as a snare.(Luke 21:34-35) We are warned in Scripture: “Watch, therefore, and pray always that [we] may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”(verse 36) According to this passage, there is only one way that we can be prepared for the coming of the Lord when He appears: through much prayer.
The second coming of Jesus is a subject that is awakening much interest and discussion in our day. It is one thing to be interested in the Lord’s return and to talk about it, but it is another thing to be prepared for it. We live in an atmosphere that has a constant tendency to make us unsuitable for Christ’s coming. The world tends to draw us down by its self-indulgences and cares. There is only one way by which we can triumphantly rise above these things- by constant watching in prayer, that is by sleeplessness in prayer. “Watch” in this passage is the same strong word used in Ephesians 6:18, and “always” means to pray at all times. The man who spends little time in prayer, who is not steadfast and constant in prayer, will not be ready for the Lord when He comes. But we can be ready. How? Pray! Pray! Pray!
On the night before the crucifixion, Jesus and the disciples went into the garden together. In this most crucial hour, the Bible says that Jesus requested that the disciples would watch and pray with Him. He removes Himself a distance- a stones throw and prays that prayer we have heard much about:
“And He came out and went, as was His habit, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed Him. When He arrived at the place [called Gethsemane], He said to them, “Pray continually that you may not fall into temptation.” And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup [of divine wrath] from Me; yet not My will, but [always] Yours be done.” (Luke 22:39-42)
Matthew’s gospel tells us the rest of the story:
“Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane (olive-press), and He told His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” And taking with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee [James and John], He began to be grieved and greatly distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, so that I am almost dying of sorrow. Stay here and stay awake and keep watch with Me.” And after going a little farther, He fell face down and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible [that is, consistent with Your will], let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not stay awake and keep watch with Me for one hour? 41 Keep actively watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” He went away a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, He went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words once more. Then He returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Listen, the hour [of My sacrifice] is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners [whose way and nature is to oppose God].” (Matthew 26:36-45)
From this story we learn that as Christ was facing His great hour of trial- bending His will to the Father’s will- He did so through prayer. And because He sought help from the Father so that He could submit Himself to the Father’s will, He overcame self and the world and carried out His work. We must see in this story that it was prayer that prevailed. It was through prayer that Christ overcame the temptation to resist the Father’s will. It was not because He was the Son of God but because as the Son of Man, He sought the Father in prayer. As a matter of fact, you will find this throughout His entire life here on earth. At every point and in every circumstances you will find Christ engaged in prayer.
The disciples, on the other hand, allowed sleep to replace prayer. To be sure it had been a tiring and stressful week. I’m sure they were worn out, confused, and discouraged. They had expected the week to be the climax of Christ being accepted as the Messiah and instead they had just heard that He was planning His death. Though we may emphasize with them, we must also learn a lesson from them. In the hour of crisis, they slept rather than praying. It is interesting to note that Jesus specifically called Peter, James, and John close to Him and listen to His words: “My soul is deeply grieved, so that I am almost dying of sorrow. Stay here and stay awake and keep watch with me.” What a request He made. What we find is that they did not do so but fell asleep. Jesus comes to them and finds them asleep and this time He says, “Keep actively watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing but the body is weak.” Again as Christ comes to them, He finds them asleep. This time He says, “Are you still sleeping and resting? The hour has come…..”
As we continue the story, we find that when they come to arrest Jesus, the disciples flee in fear. We read further that Peter, in spite of his boast, denies that he knew Christ- not once but three times.
The significance of this story is the way Christ and the disciples faced the temptation. Christ chose to face it with prayer and the disciples chose to sleep.
How we face every day’s challenges is also how we will face the increasing adversity leading up to Christ’s return. Jesus was clear in telling us that the troubles of the world would intensify just before His coming so we ought to be preparing for it in prayer. The larger the prayer life the stronger the resistance to temptation. The less of a prayer life the weaker our resistance to temptation. There are no exceptions.
In the book of Jeremiah, Jeremiah has come before God in prayer to say that it’s a struggle resist temptation and to stand against evil. Hear God’s response:
“You, O Lord are [uncompromisingly] righteous and consistently just when I plead my case with You; Yet let me discuss issues of justice with You: Why has the way of the wicked prospered? Why are those who deal in treachery (deceit) at ease and thriving? You have planted them, they have also taken root; They grow, they have even produced fruit. You are honored by their [hypocritical] lips But [You are] far from their heart and mind. But You, O Lord, know me [and understand my devotion to You]; You see me; And You examine the attitude of my heart toward You. Drag out the faithless like sheep for the slaughter [O Lord ] And set them apart for the day of slaughter. How long must the land mourn And the grass of the countryside wither? Because of the wickedness and hypocrisy of those who live in it, The beasts and the birds are consumed and are swept away [by the drought], Because men [mocking me] have said, “He will not [live long enough to] see [what happens at] our final end.” [The Lord rebukes Jeremiah for his impatience, saying] “If you have raced with men on foot and they have tired you out, Then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace [where you feel secure], Then how will you do [among the lions] in the [flooded] thicket beside the Jordan?” (Jeremiah 12:1-5)
Jeremiah’s complaint to God is valid for he, like us wondered why it seemed that the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer. He is seeing Israel living and acting in a wicked way, choosing to ignore the warnings and pleadings of God to return to Him. He is observing that even nature is being destroyed because of the wickedness of men and he himself has been subjected to mockery as he faithfully proclaims the word of God.
God’s reply somewhat takes us back. We might expect God to speak to him that everything was going to be all right, that everything was going to get better, that somehow the people would get through it and that someday life would be good again. Instead we hear God say, If you have raced with footmen and they have tired you out, how can you compete with horses. If you fall down in a land of peace, how will you do among the lions in the flooded thickets beside the Jordan?”
What Jesus taught and what this passage from Jeremiah tells us is that the troubles of this world will increase just before Christ returns.(See Matthew 24). What God is saying to us in Jeremiah and what Christ said to the disciples in the garden is that our only preparation is through prayer. They both are saying that if our prayer life is barely sufficient for us now, what will we do when it becomes more difficult.
John,as he is giving us that powerful promise that now we are the children of God and that when He appears, we shall be like Him says that those who have this hope purifies themselves. How shall they do that? Through prayer, earnest prayer, constant prayer, and persistent prayer. “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
Dr. John Thompson