Gethsemane: Watch and Pray
Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46
Matthew Series #174
October 22, 2017
“Father, we’re thankful we have this time to come together to focus upon Your Word. Our Lord prayed the same night that we’re studying in His high priestly prayer, “Father, sanctify them in truth. Thy Word is truth,” emphasizing that it is by Your Word that we grow and mature spiritually.
“That is how You have determined it in this dispensation, that through Your Word and the Holy Spirit, we grow and we mature. There is no shortcut, and there’s nothing mystical or magical. It is a study of Your Word under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit that we grow and we mature.
“Father, we pray that we might be responsive to the challenge, as we are given instruction in righteousness, as Your Word breathed out by You has provided for us to do as it equips us for every good work.
“We pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”
Last night Houstonians had absolutely no problem staying awake and watching and praying. This morning we’re going to study three disciples who had a terrible time trying to stay awake, and they could neither watch nor pray.
For those of you who are listening and not paying attention to sports, the Houston Astros won the American League title last night, so we’re all in a celebratory mood because after dealing with all of the stuff going on with hurricane Harvey, it’s nice to have a distraction of a winning baseball team and getting ready to go to the World Series next week.
It also reminds us that one of the reasons that we have sporting events is to distract us from the ongoing details of life. This is why politics and social issues are to be kept far away from sports, because it violates the purpose. We go to sports to live in an environment that distracts us from reality. That’s just one of many things I could say on that topic.
This morning we’re going to take a look at these disciples and what Jesus tells them in terms of watching and praying. In Matthew 26:36 and following, we’re going to continue our study of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, as He tells His disciples to watch and pray.
There is so much that is going on in this episode, we can’t plumb its depths. I have taught, two lessons back, on the God-Man, on Jesus’ hypostatic union. We can understand that’s what Scripture teaches: we can articulate it; we can define it. But when we start to really think about it, it’s beyond our finite ability to comprehend everything that is going on.
As we look in on Jesus and the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, and we listen in to His prayer, we are exposed to some things that I don’t think we can ever quite comprehend. But that which we can comprehend is revealed to us so that we can learn from it, and so that it will teach and instruct us on how to pray in times of testing.
We see in this section basically three things that we will answer.
1. What was Jesus’ prediction for the disciples that night?
He makes a specific prediction that night and what He says to His disciples all fits within that framework.
2. A reminder and review of Jesus’ own spiritual struggle and His victory, and this is revealed in the three stages of His prayer.
Three times we’re told that He prayed, and each time it reveals the strength of His conviction. He is not waffling, as I pointed out. The grammar really doesn’t allow that, but the way it’s often translated, something is lost in translation, doesn’t reveal the confidence that He actually has.
3. What do we learn about facing temptation?
- What were the two temptations?
- What was the solution? Watch and pray.
- What was the warning? The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak
There are two temptations—two tests; that’s what the word actually means in the Greek—going on here: one related to Jesus and another related to His disciples. The solution for both is to watch and pray.
That’s important because people often think that different problems need different solutions, and at some level, that’s true, but fundamentally, in the Christian life every testing, every temptation, every assault related to our spiritual life demands prayer. That’s the focal point. We have to be people of prayer.
What’s interesting is that Jesus keeps telling these guys to watch and pray. We have no revelation here that they either watched or prayed at all. Sadly, that is too true of too many of us in our Christian life—prayer just seems to be something in addition.
Too often people get the idea, “Well, the Lord’s in control,” and they use the sovereignty of God as some sort of excuse to not pray, not witness, not get involved because they’ve really adopted some sort of fatalistic idea of the sovereignty of God.
In the midst of His warning to our admonition to watch and pray, He gives a warning that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. We need to understand that.
As we approach and have approached this study, what should impress us is what is going on in Jesus’ soul. Because He is the God-Man, we often do not think of Him as someone who is distressed, someone who is sorrowful, someone who is grieving, and yet those are the words that are used, and they’re used profoundly.
I mentioned before we sang Philip Bliss’ hymn, “Hallelujah! What a Savior!” that Isaiah 53:3 makes it very clear that He was “… A Man of sorrows …” That means He sorrowed, He grieved. “And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him ...”
That means He’s rejected: He’s rejected by His disciples, He’s rejected by the religious leaders of Israel, He’s rejected by the nation Israel to whom He came. That’s John 1:11, that they did not receive Him or accept Him as Messiah.
On the Cross He is going to be separated judicially from the Father. No one has experienced the depths or even thought about experiencing the depths of the loneliness of being alone, that Jesus experienced on the Cross. He was profoundly isolated during those three hours when He bore our sins on the Cross.
As I was thinking about this yesterday on my way up to the men’s prayer breakfast, I thought about Jesus and the emotion that He exhibits. This emotion demonstrates that He is truly human. We’re told in Scripture many times that He was sorrowful, that He grieved, that He wept.
He wept over the crowd that was grieving for Lazarus. He didn’t weep over Lazarus. A lot of people make that mistake. He didn’t weep over Lazarus. He knew that in two or three minutes He was going to say, “Lazarus, come out,” and Lazarus was going to come out, and they were going to hug and high-five and everything was going to be great.
So He wasn’t grieving for Lazarus, He was grieving because the crowd is going through grief because of death. That was not God’s original intent for the human race. Death is a result of Adam’s original sin; death is abnormal.
That’s why when we grieve, there’s something inside of us that is saying, this isn’t right; this shouldn’t be happening. That’s God getting our attention that sin has destroyed what He intended for us, and that we are grieving because of the consequences of sin.
Jesus demonstrates these emotions and profoundly demonstrates them in the Garden of Gethsemane. What is Jesus’ response to this? He cries out to God.
We see the same thing on Tuesday night—if you’re not following, we are studying Samuel— we’ve finished the first book of Samuel; we’re getting ready to start the second. At that time, what separates the two is the death of King Saul and David is now going to be king.
David has been persecuted for the last somewhere between five and ten years by Saul who sought his life. We’re told that he wrote Psalm 18 as a Thanksgiving Psalm for God had delivered him. He wrote it on the day that Saul died that God had delivered him from his enemies.
In Psalm 18:3, we learned that David says, “I cry out to You,” and it’s expressing what he normally did. Then in Psalm 18:6 He says, “I cried out to You in my distress.”
Those two verses emphasize that the response to any adversity should first and foremost be crying out to God, the emphasis on prayer.
If that’s what our Lord did—Who was absolute perfect humanity without sin and who was always totally dependent upon the Father—if Jesus did it that way, then we certainly must. Because we are much more in need of prayer as fallen creatures than Jesus was.
In His deity, He was omnipotent and omnipresent and omniscient, but is not relying on His “omni” attributes while He’s in the garden because at this test, He has to demonstrate the sufficiency of God’s power, God’s grace and go to the Cross dependent upon God and the Scriptures to sustain Him.
Jesus is emphasizing the same thing, and He is going to go through an unimaginable physical torment in the coming hours. He will be flogged with the Roman flagellum, which had bits of bone in it and would rip and shred the flesh and the muscle from the skeletal structure, even to the point of exposing internal organs.
He would be beaten mercilessly. He would be ridiculed; He would be mocked; He would be spat upon. All of these things would happen.
We are told also in Isaiah 53 that “He was oppressed and He was afflicted …” Mild words for what actually happens; we just can’t grasp it. “… yet He opened not His mouth …” He didn’t cry out, He didn’t scream.
When Jesus is praying in the garden to the Father to “let this cup pass from Me,” He’s not praying about physical death, physical torture, and physical pain. That’s not what has Him grieved, sorrowful, and distressed.
What has Him grieved, sorrowful, and distressed is that He is going to be going to the Cross where God the Father will impute to Him all of your sins and my sins. All of the sins of all humanity throughout the centuries, the millennia, will be poured out upon Jesus, and He is going to be spiritually separated from the Father: that is spiritual death.
Physical death is when our immaterial part, our soul or spirit, is separated from our physical body. Spiritual death is when our soul and spirit are separated from God the Father. That will happen to Jesus for three hours on the Cross when He bears the sin of the world and receives the judicial imputation of our sins.
As we sang earlier we are saved because we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness. He took on our sin, so that His righteousness could then be imputed to us. This is stated in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He who knew no sin was made sin for us that the righteousness of God might be found in us.”
Alfred Edersheim, who was a Jewish believer, trained as a rabbi, brilliant man from Austria, I believe, wrote a mammoth work called The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, which has been the standard work to understand what the Scriptures teach about Jesus from a Jewish perspective.
It’s being supplanted now because Arnold Fruchtenbaum is coming out with a four-volume work, and the fourth volume is due out in December, on the life of Messiah—Yeshua: The Life of Messiah from a Messianic Jewish Perspective.
Edersheim says this about Jesus: “He disarmed death by burying its shaft in His own heart and death thereby had no more arrows.”
He had victory over death and the resurrection, but in His death, He conquered the sin problem of death, providing for our reconciliation. This is the context. Jesus is going through this suffering to a degree we can never contemplate, fully understand, or even partially understand.
But what He is showing us by His example is that if He can do it—suffering to that degree—then the minuscule grief and sorrow and suffering we face can also be handled by taking those requests to the throne of God and depending upon Him.
This is what Jesus is teaching us—that it is through prayer, through Scripture, and from other passages we know, dependence upon the sustaining ministry of God the Holy Spirit—that that is the only way to handle adversity.
The first thing we’re going to look at is what was Jesus prediction for the disciples on that particular night? This is the context and we must understand what is taking place.
So just prior to their coming to the garden in Matthew 26:36, Jesus made a prediction in Matthew 26:31, “Then Jesus said to them, ‘All of you …” He’s talking about the eleven because Judas is off betraying Him at this point. “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night.” He didn’t say some of you, most of you; He said all of you.
He’s addressing people, these eleven men, who have stuck with Him for 3+ years. They believe He is the promised Messiah, the Coming King who will bring in the kingdom. They are still expecting that. In Acts 1 after the resurrection, just before the Ascension, they say, “Lord is it at this time you’re going to bring in the kingdom?” They still expected that. They were going to stick with Him no matter what.
If you carefully read the Gospel of John, the more Jesus taught, the more He challenged His followers with the demands of discipleship, the more people left. By the time He gets to Jerusalem, there are crowds that welcome Him in, but by Gethsemane, there are only the eleven that are sticking with Him.
There’s just a handful that are willing to stick with Him. That doesn’t mean only a handful were saved, but like many Christians, only a handful are willing to really stick it out, to really grow, to really make their spiritual life a priority, to really do what is necessary to honor God with their lives.
A lot of people give it lip service. A lot of people think, “I’ll show up on Sunday morning and go to some church where it makes me feel like I’m worshiping God,” but all of that’s just wood, hay, and straw. It’s not going to get anybody anywhere. It doesn’t fit any of the patterns Jesus teaches about what is necessary for discipleship. Not salvation, that’s a free gift.
But to grow and mature, we have to focus on growing and maturing. We have to make the study and knowledge of God’s Word the highest priority in our life. And that means there’s a lot of fun, great wonderful things in life we’re going to have to choose not to do because our focus is on our spiritual life, our spiritual growth, and serving the Lord in this life.
This is what’s going to happen to these eleven. They’ve all made the promises, they’ve made the declarations of loyalty and faith, and they’re about to do it again. Jesus is saying when it gets tough, the tough leave; they don’t hang in there.
The word that is translated “stumble” is the Greek word SKANDALIZO, from which we get our English word “scandal.” It comes from a term that originally in Greek it referred to the stick that held up a trap for an animal. You may have done this when you were a kid: get a box, put a stick in there, tie a string to the stick, go off and hide somewhere and put some bread or something in there.
Hopefully, a bird or squirrel will come under the box, and you’ll pull the string and that stick will come out, and then the animal is trapped. That stick in that action is SKANDALIZO: it is a picture of entrapment.
That’s what’s happening here—you’re going to be trapped by sin. We could paraphrase it that way “… because of Me this night ...” You’re going to have a situation where you can decide to follow Me or not, and you’re all going to choose “not,” no matter how much you protest to the contrary because this is what’s prophesied.
This is prophesied in Zechariah 13:7, “I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” I’m sure that when Zechariah wrote that, that very few people really understood what that meant. Now it became clear. This was a messianic prediction that those who are followers of the Messiah would be scattered. Israel would be scattered. It’s even a hint there of the scattering of the Diaspora and the discipline on Israel for rejecting Jesus.
Of course, Peter, who is always the first to talk before he is the first to think, and he immediately says to the Lord, Matthew 26:35, “‘Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!’ And so said all the disciples.”
That’s the point I want to make out of that verse. We all know Peter said he wouldn’t deny the Lord and then he did, and we will get to that as it’s fulfilled later in the chapter. But the point I wanted to bring out from this verse is that all of these guys said the same thing. They all said that they would stick with Jesus no matter what, and they could not envision in any way that they were going to leave Him, betray Him, or fall away from Him on that particular night.
We see the tests that will come upon them, Jesus is trying to teach them to handle that particular test. He is going to be saying to them in different ways, Matthew 26:41, “Watch and pray …”—that’s the solution—“… lest you enter into temptation.”
Entering into temptation is not just having the test. Entering into it is failing the test. It is entering into the trap. It’s being trapped by the test, so that you have failed, you have sinned.
We’ll get to the last part about the spirit and the flesh, but what we see here, as Jesus says this to His disciples, is that He’s going to give them an example of how to handle testing, even as they fail.
The second part of what we’re looking at in this last lesson on the Gethsemane prayer is that Jesus’ own spiritual struggle and victory is revealed in His prayer. I mentioned this last time, did not get to it. But as we look at each of His prayers, we come to understand what is going on in Jesus’ mind, and that helps us to understand the role of prayer, as we face the challenges and adversities of life.
In Matthew 26:39 we’re told that Jesus had separated from the disciples; He set them down. Luke tells us that He told them to “watch and pray lest they enter into temptation” before He separated from them the first time.
Matthew doesn’t tell us that. Matthew just says, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” But Luke tells us He said, “Sit here and you pray lest you enter to into temptation while I go and pray over there.”
He goes and separates about a stone’s throw away, and “falls on His face.” That shows the emotional intensity of the time. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a situation where you have heard bad news, and you have fallen to your knees or fallen down on the ground just because you’re just overwhelmed by what you have heard.
Some people have done that. I have been in a situation where that has happened to me. It reveals the overwhelming emotional situation, circumstances, the extreme that is going on here. Jesus falls on His face and He prays, and we studied this last time, because He is aware of what is going on here.
In Luke 22:42 we have Luke’s rendition of this. It’s not a conflict; He says, “Father, if it is your will.” He uses a first-class condition, which here doesn’t mean “since,” it’s more “if it’s Your will, assuming that it is Your will, take this cup away from Me.”
But He knows it’s not God’s will, and I’ve emphasized this several times, that so many of us pray, “Lord, please intercede in this,” and then we sort of negate the whole thing and we say,” Father, not my will be Your will be done.” That’s not what’s going on here.
Jesus is affirming both in the first statement “if it is Your will,” because He knows it is not God’s will to remove the cup. He said that many, many times, and He’s simply, at the end, He is affirming that He is completely committed to God’s plan and purpose for His life, as He’s always understood it—to go to the Cross.
He’s not wavering here, which is what the English often communicates, and how it’s often poorly interpreted. He is affirming. He recognizes in His humanity, He recognizes the aversion to being identified with sin. He’s perfect, sinless.
In Habakkuk 1, Habakkuk says, “God, You can’t look on sin.” This is intense. He knows exactly what He’s going to get into, but He’s not wavering at all in terms of His focus on God’s plan and God’s purpose.
But this is a test. Like many things in life, we are tested. Sometimes we’re tested by our own sin nature. Jesus didn’t have that problem because He didn’t have a sin nature. Sometimes we are tested by the pressures from the cosmic system. That’s the philosophical religious system that Satan has developed in every culture in the world in order to challenge and give people a rationale for rejecting God’s Word, to make us think that somehow we can make life work apart from God.
That’s the cosmic system. It has to do with the world system, and that differs from culture to culture: Asian, European, South American, African; everyone. Every culture is shaped by sin and human corruption.
That’s the flaw in multiculturalism today because that’s just another term for “we’re going to validate everybody’s sin nature and corruption.” There is only one culture that ultimately matters and that’s a biblical culture, and we’re all to be transformed by and have our minds renewed by the Word of God, Romans 12:2: we’re not to be conformed to the zeitgeist—the thinking of this age.
The world system is really promoted by Satan. Satan is the enemy of God and Satan is the arch-enemy of Jesus, and his goal is to keep Jesus from going to the Cross. The Cross is not Satan’s plan; a lot of people think that. The Cross was God’s plan. Satan wants to prevent the Cross because He knows that at the Cross, Jesus will solve the sin problem.
So he’s been challenging this. The first time that we see Satan challenge this, of course, is as an infant. He would have been the inspiration behind Herod’s attempt to kill all the children. Just eradicate Jesus at the beginning and prevent Him from ever growing to adulthood and fulfilling the mission.
The next time we see an attack on Jesus is in His 40 days in the wilderness: the temptation in the wilderness where Satan tempts Him three times. The focus of those temptations is to get Jesus, the God-Man, to rely on His deity rather than His humanity to solve His problems. At that point it would void what’s going on here because Jesus is supposed to live His life as a human being on the same resources that every human being has, in order to demonstrate that the only way to make life work is radical dependence upon God.
He’s going to be dependent, and He passes all the tests, but make a note of the last temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Satan took Him where? He took Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the earth and as he showed Him all the kingdoms of the earth, He offered these kingdoms. He said, “I can give them to you.”
Jesus never doubted that Satan could give Him those kingdoms. Satan is saying, “I can make it happen that You can get to the kingdom without going to the Cross.” It’s an attack on the Cross. “Accept the kingdom from my hand, and You don’t have to go through the Cross.” He is trying to prevent the Cross and God’s solution for sin.
As we read through Jesus’ life as He is healing people and He is presenting the claims of the kingdom, what happens? There are a lot of distractions from people who have been targeted by Satan, and demons have entered into those people.
You don’t see demon possession in the Old Testament. You don’t see it much towards the end of Acts. You see when everything gets stirred up, when the King is coming to present the kingdom, that’s when the opposition intensifies, and that’s when you have all this demonic activity taking place—this distraction from Jesus—but He demonstrates that He is God by casting out the demons.
An interesting episode is in Matthew 16:21–23, where Peter comes along and says something to Jesus, and Jesus whirls around and looks at him and says, “Get behind Me, Satan!” Now what was going on? Remember what was going on there?
Matthew 16:21, “From that time, Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.”
What’s the point? Jesus is beginning to teach them that He has to go to the Cross and this is where He is going to pay for the sins of the world.
Peter then takes Him aside, Matthew 16:22 and says, “Wait a minute, Lord. You’re doing really great. You’ve got a great ministry. Come on over here and let’s talk about this a little bit. This isn’t a good idea.” As he’s rebuking Jesus, Jesus says in Matthew 16:23, “Get behind me Satan!”
Why? Because the mission is to go to the Cross, and Peter is following in the footsteps of Satan and saying, “We’re trying to stop You; You don’t need to go to the Cross. We can have a good ministry and bring in the kingdom without the Cross.” That is satanic thought. That’s the adversary opposing Jesus. This is what Satan is trying to do is to get Jesus to avoid the Cross.
Some people have speculated that at this point in Gethsemane, perhaps Satan was able to make Jesus realize in some way the horrors of becoming sin. I don’t know; I think that’s too much speculation. But whatever’s going on, in a fresh way Jesus is realizing the intensity of what’s going to happen the next day when “He who knew no sin is made sin for us.”
Certainly, Satan is involved in this. In John 13:2, as Jesus is meeting with His disciples for the Seder, He’s going to introduce the Lord’s Table. At the very beginning in John 13:2 we’re told that Satan put into the mind of Judas the idea of betraying Jesus.
So even though when we look at those stories, the description of the last Seder in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, there’s no mention of Satan, Satan is mentioned by John. Satan is present; he’s tempting Judas. Judas yields to that temptation.
Then in John 13:27 we’re told that Satan entered into Judas. So Judas is Satan possessed, and then the Lord tells him to leave and go do what he must do, and he is off at this point betraying Jesus.
While Jesus continues to teach the disciples in John 14:30, He says, “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me.”
He says this just prior to walking from the upper room to Gethsemane, and He is anticipating that the ruler of this world is coming. He knows there’s this conflict again between Satan and Himself, and this is going to center not on the Cross, but on trying to block Him one more time from going to the Cross.
Jesus makes the comment, after He’s arrested, to the Pharisees and the chief priests and the elders, Luke 22:53, “When I was with you daily in the temple, you did not try to seize Me …”—that would be the three or four days earlier in the week. He says—“… But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”
Well, who’s the power of darkness? That’s Satan. So even though Matthew, Mark, and Luke don’t mention anything about Satan, when we look at the descriptions of what’s going on in John, John tells us that there is definitely satanic opposition, direct opposition, to Jesus during this time.
He is dealing with this, and what He shows us is that the solution in spiritual warfare is not head-on confrontation with Satan. If you go to 80% of the churches in this country today, and you talk about spiritual warfare, all they’re going to talk about is casting out demons and taking dominion over Satan and a whole lot of other stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with the biblical text.
The Bible doesn’t say that; the Bible says that we are to resist Satan. That’s not attack Satan: that’s a defensive term, not an offensive term. We are the defense. We’re trying to keep Satan from scoring on us, and as in good military there is someone on the offense who is going to take care of the enemy, and that’s Jesus.
We are to submit to God. That’s what James says in James 4, and this is what Peter says in 1 Peter 5. Wonder where Peter got the idea? Maybe he got it and learned it here at the Garden of Gethsemane. We’re not to engage Satan.
I’ve seen these televangelists get out there, full of arrogance, stomping on Satan and all of these histrionics and dramatics. People get all wrapped up in that, “Isn’t that wonderful?” It’s garbage. It’s paganism. It is heresy. And those people ought to be fired from their job, but it’s become popular, so they can build big churches and ministry that wastes billions of dollars on their egotistical schemes.
But it has nothing whatsoever to do with what the Bible teaches about spiritual warfare. The Bible is very different. What are you supposed to do? Watch and pray. Not go engage Satan.
So Jesus has prayed at this time, that “this cup would pass from Me …”—that is the spiritual death that He will be engaged in at the Cross. That’s His first prayer and the way He states this in Matthew 26:39 indicates, shall we say, it’s not as strong a statement of conviction as the second. He is saying to some degree, if it’s possible, but He also knows it’s not possible.
But the way He expresses it is not as strong as the second time. So we see this progression. This is what happens in prayer. We don’t pray to change God. We go to God in prayer and pray through the Scriptures that God and the Scripture will change us and conform us to His will. We’re not trying to get God to conform to our will.
In the second prayer, Jesus says, “O, My Father, if this cup cannot pass from Me,” and here He uses a first-class condition again, but He’s not saying if it’s possible, like He did the first time using a debater’s sense of the term.
It is used in the sense that He’s expressing a very strong conviction again in a lot clearer way than the first time, “If—or since—this cup cannot pass from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” “I’ll drink it, I will be identified with their sins.”
In the way I put together the harmony that I read earlier—I didn’t catch it until I was reading it today—but Luke doesn’t tell us about all three prayers, so it’s a little hard to fit the chronology of Luke into Matthew and Mark. But Luke 22:43 tells us something the others do not, and that is that “an angel appeared to Jesus from heaven, strengthening Him.”
After going through this several times this week and looking more precisely at Luke, I am convinced that Luke at the end just tells us about the third prayer, and then what happens after Jesus passed the test. Now that’s important.
Jesus isn’t passing the test because the angel is strengthening Him. The test is to conform to God’s will, to be obedient to the point of death. Jesus affirms that conviction through the challenge of the task.
Once He’s passed the test, the angel strengthens Him. It’s a lot like the wilderness temptation. The Holy Spirit ministers to Jesus after He passes the three tests. So this is the consolation prize, as it were. You passed the test, now the angel comes and comforts Him.
So what do we learn about temptation, facing testing? That’s what the word means. The noun form is PEIRASMOS, and it can refer to a temptation, and it can simply refer to the objective test. Now when most of us think of temptation, we think of already having an internal attraction to something.
When you have been on your diet for three weeks, you’ve lost 6 or 7 pounds, and now you’ve been thinking about that cheat meal and somebody comes along and also offers you a nice big piece of chocolate cake with ice cream on it, and you just gobble it up. You’re drawn to it. You want it.
But if you’ve ever tried to diet you know that there are times when you’re very susceptible to whatever comes along, and there are other times when you have eaten healthy, you’ve done well, your appetite is satiated, and somebody offers you dessert, and it doesn’t even appeal to you.
See Jesus is like that. As perfect righteousness, He’s not internally attracted to sin or disobedience. But as sinners we’re like the dieter that’s hungry and we’re always attracted to the sin. We’re always attracted to failure.
We have two temptations here. We have the testing of Jesus, who is without sin, and we have the testing of the disciples, who fail consistently and miserably.
The disciples are told that just like Jesus Who is perfect, their solution is to pray, but they don’t pray. They didn’t pass the test of obedience; whereas, Jesus, we’re told in Philippians 2:8, passes the test of obedience, “He humbled Himself …”—that is submitted to the authority of the Father—“… and became obedient to the point of death.” That’s Jesus passing the test.
Now there are a couple of verses, good promises that you should have in mind. You should make a note of these. You should memorize these. These are critical verses for instructing us on temptation.
First of all 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation …”—no testing—“… has overtaken you such except such as is common to man.”
Every category of testing every one of us goes through. Now some people may have it worse; some people may have it less, but you never know. You never see what’s going on inside people.
There is a horrible, horrible, tragic myth that is going on. I’ve heard it today in relation to other things that are going on socially in our culture, and that is the idea that nobody has the right to express an opinion or talk about something, unless they’ve gone through it themselves.
That’s just not true because I as a pastor have not gone through everything, but I have on the authority of God’s Word, the responsibility to talk about what is necessary to go through whatever you’re going through. I may not go through the same thing you’re going through, but I’ve gone through other things that you have no knowledge about, but I do know what the solution is, and it always starts with the grace of God, the Word of God, the Spirit of God. God’s word is sufficient, and He has graciously given that to us.
Whatever the test is, you’re not unique. You’ll never experience it to the degree Jesus did, so don’t even think about it. And your solution is the same as His: that’s the Word of God and the Spirit of God.
Paul goes on to say, “… but God is faithful …”—that’s the issue—“… who will not allow you to be tested beyond your ability.”
As a believer in Jesus Christ, you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, you can be filled by the Spirit, and you have the Word of God, so don’t get caught up in this trap, “Well, Jesus has given me this test, so He must think I can pass it.” If you’re a born-again believer in Jesus Christ, you have everything you need to pass any test, no matter how extreme it is.
So don’t think that because you’re going through a tough time that God’s given you a pat on the back and an extra special test. Every one of us is given the assets at the instant of salvation.
He will not test us beyond our ability because we have the Word of God and the Spirit of God, “… but will, with the testing, make a way to escape …”—not to avoid it, but to endure it; that’s the last line—“… that you may be able to bear it ...”
Sometimes God will pull you out: He’ll take you home and you won’t live to go through it. Other times, God’s gonna remove the testing completely, but most the time we’re going to go through those crises over and over again.
In Hebrews 2:10 we’re told about what Jesus went through, “It was fitting for Him …”—that is God the Father—“… for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation …”—that’s Jesus Christ—“… perfect …”—that means mature—“… through sufferings.”
If the perfect God-Man had to mature through adversity, don’t you think we have to go through that same route? It’s going to be tougher for us, but we have to mature through suffering.
But we have a high priest. That’s what the writer of Hebrews goes on to say, Hebrews 2:18, “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted …”—this one place in the garden—“… He is able to aid those who are tempted.”
Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” He’s tested objectively, and He never yields.
The solution that He gives to the disciples is “Stay here and watch with Me.” Luke 22:40 adds that they are to “pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
This is at the beginning. It’s interesting He says this at the beginning. He says that after each time He returns, and at the very end He says this. He keeps saying it. There are four times that He says this, and they failed to do it each time.
Peter learned this lesson in 1 Peter 4:12, He says, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you.”
Those of you who are coming on Thursday night, we know the context here, that all through this part of Peter, Peter is using Jesus as the example that: you’re going through hard times? Here’s the example: look at Jesus and His suffering. Undeserved, unjust, and He handled it, and showed you how you’re to handle it.
In terms of the spiritual dimension, Peter also tells us in 1 Peter 5:8–9, “Be sober …”—that means to be objectively minded. Doesn’t mean not to have alcohol in your system. The word has to do with being an objective, clear thinker and you only get that from the Word of God. “… be vigilant ...”—that is to watch—“… because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”
I should’ve thought of this when I put this together—one of the things that we saw when we were in Italy. You go to the Sistine Chapel, and there’s this enormous work that Michelangelo did on the Last Judgment.
Then when we were in Florence, we went to the main cathedral there, the Duomo, and you have Brunelleschi’s Dome, which is an architectural marvel, and it’s painted with all these scenes on the inside of Jesus, and judgment, and heaven, and if you look closely at the images—and I’ll show you these pictures—they’re just incredible.
You have this depiction of Satan as this grotesque beast and out of his mouth, you see somebody’s leg’s wiggling: he is devouring people. That’s in hell. You also see some other pretty remarkable things too, but we will get to those when I can show you the picture. That is how inspired that artistry is: the devil walks around seeking whom he can devour.
Somebody made the point, we used to have these tracts, “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” We could revise it and use these pictures and say, “Satan has a horrible plan for your life, and he wants to devour you over and over again throughout all of eternity.” It should put the fear of the devil into you.
The solution that 1 Peter 5:9 gives is, “Resist him …” That is not attack him; it’s resist him. It’s a defensive term in the Greek. “… steadfast in the faith …”—stand firm, in other words, which is used in Ephesians 6:10 and following—“… because you know that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.”
The solution is to watch and pray. The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak. This is really illustrated in Romans 7:15–20 as Paul says there that “I do the things I don’t want to do, and I can’t do the things that I do want to do.”
The spirit—our immaterial part— we’re regenerate, we want to please God. We’re devoted to it, we’re committed to it, but we can’t pull it off. That’s what Paul is saying in Romans 7:15–20. We can’t pull it off in our own power because the flesh is weak. It’s influenced by the sin nature, the “flesh” there is often a term for the sin nature.
The solution comes up in Romans 8:1, “Therefore there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh …”—the sin nature—“… but according to the Spirit.”
All through Romans 7 Paul struggles with “I can’t obey God because I do the things I don’t want to do and I don’t do the things I do want to do.” What’s the solution? The solution is to walk by the Spirit.
It is through the Spirit of God and the Word of God that we can engage in an effective focused prayer. That is how we take all those spiritual skills, problem-solving devices, faith-rest drill, doctrinal orientation, grace orientation, all those things get focused through prayer.
At the end, Jesus comes back and He “… finds them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy.”
And again He says, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”
Luke tells us one thing that the others don’t. He’s the doctor. He says they were sleeping because they grieved. Now if you’ve ever really been depressed, you know that it’s hard to stay awake because you’re just tired.
That’s what seems to be going on here. They’re grieving. They understand. They may not understand everything that’s going to happen, but they understand that something really bad is taking place and they’re in the middle of it, and this pressure on them, they’re not handling by prayer, they’re handling by escape, and they’re just falling asleep.
What we learn from this, five quick things:
1. Prayer must come before and throughout the crisis. Prayer, prayer, prayer; and we need to discipline ourselves to constantly have focused, intense prayer.
2. The content of the prayer expresses submission to God, our orientation, His plan, and His purposes for us. It’s not a prayer for one thing and then using “not my will but Your will be done” as an escape clause. We are to express a total focus on God’s will for our lives.
3. We’re to pray to not enter into temptation, to succumb to temptation, that God would strengthen us, and recite Bible verses, and focus on the Scripture. God will strengthen us. The Holy Spirit will strengthen us.
4. Failure to pray and pass the test for the disciples led to further failure and sin that night. If we don’t take it to the Lord in prayer and fight our way through the problem in prayer, then we just open the door for more failure and worse consequences.
We learned from the statement that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”:
5. Good intentions are not enough. The apostles, the disciples, had great intentions, “Lord, we’re not going to desert You!” But without prayer and without the Holy Spirit, they fell apart.
Of course, they didn’t have the Holy Spirit then as we do, I understand that, but for us the only way to survive is through Scripture—the Word of God—and the Spirit of God. That is the only solution.
God has provided us everything to pass the tests. The issue is now your choice and my choice: are we going to utilize what God’s provided for us or not? What are we going to do?
With our heads bowed and our eyes closed.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things and to be reminded of just the horrors of what our Lord went through, not the physical horrors, but the spiritual horrors. We don’t understand the sinfulness of sin.
“We do not understand the horror with which He looked at what would happen when He became sin, when He received the imputation of our sin. He didn’t become a sinner, but He became the One who bore our sin, paid the penalty.
“Father, we pray that if there is anyone here who’s never trusted Christ, never understood the gospel that they would understand that the gospel means “good news.” The good news is that, first of all, that we were born spiritually dead, but God has provided a solution.
“He did everything in the solution; we can’t add to it. We can’t do anything to make it better, because it is a perfect solution. Jesus Christ died for our sins; He paid the penalty. All we need to do is believe it, to trust in Your provision of eternal salvation, and we’re given the free gift of eternal life. No strings attached.
“Father, we pray for those who are saved, who’ve trusted in Christ in the past, that we might be challenged to be prayer warriors, to make prayer a higher priority in our life, to ratchet up our ongoing communication with You.
“Not just while we’re doing other things, but setting aside time, as Jesus does in the garden to get away from others, to get alone in privacy, and to pray during this time of intense temptation.
“Father, we pray that You would challenge us with these things. In Christ’s name, amen.”