Strength for Times of Strain
Introduction: Katrina and I have been watching the newly-released Kennedy miniseries, and we just finished the segment on the Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember something that British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan said. The week of the crisis, he recalled, was “the week of most strain I can ever remember in my life.” He said he did not sleep during the whole seven days. Robert McNamara later called the crisis, “The most intense strain I have every operated under.” Attorney General Robert Kennedy said about the meetings at the White House: “The strain and hours without sleep (took) their toll… (We experienced) impatience, fits of anger. Each one of us was being asked make a recommendation, which, if wrong and if accepted, could mean the destruction of the human race. That kind of pressure does strange things to a human being.” None of us has ever known that exact kind of strain, but we’ve all been in tense and stressful situations sometimes involving life and death matters; and we know that prolonged strain can do strange things to a human being. Jesus was under the greatest strain of His life in Luke 22 (see v. 1-6). Yet of all the people and groups mentioned in this chapter, He remained the strongest and most serene. How did He do that?
1. Drawing Strength From Friends (v. 7-16). He knew His disciples were of questionable dependability, but He loved them and He knew they loved Him. If we had time to look back over the years here at TDF, we’ve had periodic crises. The first major crisis I can remember was in the early 1980s when we were building the old educational building and we paid our general contractor but he went bankrupt before paying the subcontractor and we suddenly found ourselves facing incredible financial exposure. The last major crisis we encountered was last year’s flood. Between those two events I could probably list ten or twelve stressful periods. I could also tell you the very people from whom I drew strength during each of those periods. As we saw the other week in Ecclesiastes two are better than one because if one falls the other helps him up, and a cord of three strands is not easily broken. We need to keep our friendships healthy.
2. Drawing Strength From Thanksgiving (v. 17-18). In both these verses, Jesus paused on this foreboding night to give thanks. It’s really remarkable that Jesus do so, for that bread and wine represented His own impending death. But He was conditioned by grace to say grace, and He knew how to be thankful for the simplest things. Sometimes we have a special opportunity with children and grandchildren, and recently I had a youngster who was very distraught about something. We sat down and had a long talk, and at the end of it I said, “Now I want to make me a little list of four things you can be thankful for in this situation.” A couple of days later, she brought her list and it was very well thought out and impressive. I learned a lesson myself.
3. Drawing Strength from Communion (v. 17-20). Jesus instituted and observed the first Communion Service on this evening, and He told them plainly that the bread and wine represented His body and blood. I think He drew strength from knowing the redemptive nature of His sufferings. He said that His body was given for us, that His blood was shed for us. His experience was not wasted suffering but purposeful and redemptive. If you go in a Catholic hospital or a church or basilica you’ll see the crucifix. Several years ago in France, I attended an exhibition of crucifixes being displayed in a particular church. There were dozens of them, very old, very ancient, carved and adorned, each showing Jesus in various stages of agony on the cross. As Protestants, we don’t typically display a crucifix. Our symbol is an empty cross, signifying that Jesus didn’t stay on the cross on in the tomb, but finished His work and ascended to the heavens. Nevertheless it’s important to contemplate the Lord on the cross. It does two things for us. He tells us how greatly He loved us; and it puts our own problems into perspective. As the hymnist said, “When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died, / My richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride.”
4. Drawing Strength from God’s Determined Will (v. 22). Jesus used a very interesting phrase in verse 22: “as it has been decreed.” He was referring to God’s determinative will; that God foreknew and foreordained all that was about to happen. Events were not spiraling out of control; they were absolutely in the Father’s control.
5. Drawing Strength from Servanthood (v. 23-30). Not understanding the nature of the evening, the disciples continued their squabble about leadership, which was the one who should tell the others what to do. Jesus told them there is great comfort in simply serving. Jockeying for power and position is stressful and exhausting. Serving is satisfying and comforting.
6. Drawing Strength from Scripture (v. 31-38). In verses 37-38, Jesus used a key phrase: “It is written.” Referring to the Old Testament, He said, “It is written” and He quoted from Isaiah 53, adding: “I tell you that this must be fulfilled in Me. Yes, what is written about Me is reaching its fulfillment.” Evangelist Tony Evans wrote in one of his books that we must study the Bible both objectively and subjectively. We study it objectively; we apply it subjectively. The Lord often takes a verse about Abraham, David, Peter, or Paul, and gives it to us as a personal promise we can apply. When that happens, we say, “God has given me a verse for today or for this situation.”
7. Drawing Strength from Prayer (v. 39-46). Prayer is a very powerful force, for it takes us to the very Throne of God. In heaven, we’ll be able to visit the Throne whenever we’d like. I think it’ll be in the heart of New Jerusalem at the head of the Crystal River. When Jesus knelt on the Mount of Olives, He was not physically at the Throne, but He was there spiritually. This seemed to have a markedly strengthening influence on Him (see v. 45ff).
Conclusion: The very resources available to Christ on the worst night of His life are available to us every hour of every day.
 Robert F. Kennedy in Thirteen Days.