Gethsemane! (Part 2)

Mark 14:32-42

Tom Pennington  •  July 29, 2012
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You know, we often joke that the only certainties in life are death and taxes, and that's partially true, but there is another, and it is the ever-present reality of temptation. As long as you live in this world, you will be relentlessly assaulted by various solicitations to sin against God. So, you and I had better know how to respond to temptation.

What amazes me is that in His most difficult hour, Jesus was concerned about this very thing regarding His disciples. And so, He taught them, in Gethsemane, and He teaches us as well, how to respond when we find ourselves faced by temptation.

Let's look at this passage again, to, together. You read along with me. Mark 14 and verse 32,

They came to a place named Gethsemane, and He said to His disciples, "Sit here until I have prayed." And He took with Him Peter and James and John and began to be very distressed and troubled. And He said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch." And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. And He was saying, "Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will." And He came and found them sleeping and said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." Again, He went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again, He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him. And He came the third time and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough; the hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. "Get up. Let us be going. Behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!"

Now, as we noted last time, there are two distinct, but related themes that are woven together throughout this account. The first and most important of those has to do with Jesus and with His suffering for us. Some of what happened that night in the Garden of Gethsemane cannot happen to a single one of us.

But the second theme that weaves its way through this passage does have to do with Jesus' disciples and with their response to temptation, and by application, therefore, it has to do with us as well. Those two themes overlap throughout this passage. What we have done in our study last week and this is to pull those two themes apart and look at each of them separately.

Last Sunday, we noted together Jesus as Savior. We learned that He willingly embraced the cross for His own, and He embraced it in obedience to His Father. We looked at Jesus. This passage focuses primarily on Jesus and on His wrestling in the garden, and it shows Him as our willing Savior. As we traced our way through this passage, we looked at the unlikely setting of Jesus' struggle, this garden and all that was behind it. I'm not going to touch on what I covered last week. So please, if you weren't here, you need the other side of it, and really, the primary issue, which is Jesus' own struggles for us in the garden.

We looked at the description, the shocking description of His struggle. And it is one of incredible, agonizing torment, as He wrestles over what He is facing; not the physical pain, not the physical suffering, not even death itself, but the cup of the wrath of God, the alienation from the father – that's the struggle.

But in the middle of all of that, we saw Jesus' profound concern for His disciples. He kept coming back to check on them. He was concerned about them. And it's out of that point that I want us to develop our thoughts tonight.

And then we noticed Jesus' renewed resolve to drink the cup. He ends by saying, "The hour has come." He was praying, "Father, let the hour pass." And He ends after those times of prayer saying, "The hour has come, let's be going," Jesus' renewed voluntary resolve to drink the cup of the wrath of God in the place of every sinner who would ever believe. That's what we noted last time. In Gethsemane, Jesus not only showed His true humanity, but He showed that He willingly volunteered to go to the cross for you.

Now, tonight, I want us to look at the second theme that is woven throughout this passage, and it doesn't present Jesus as Savior, but rather, it presents Jesus as pattern. What we'll learn in this second theme is that Jesus taught us specifically how to respond to life's temptations. You see, not only was Gethsemane the place of the greatest temptation that Jesus faced during His earthly life, but it was also the place of greatest temptation for His disciples.

And so, in the midst of His own great suffering and His own mental anguish, Jesus was deeply concerned for them. He wants to help them, to help them survive the temptation that they were to face that night, as well. And so, in spite of the turmoil of His own soul, Jesus was still the Shepherd. He was still shepherding His disciples, still teaching them. Specifically, that night in the garden, He was telling them how to face temptation, both by serving as a pattern, as well as giving them concrete instructions that they and that we must follow.

What I want you to see is that this passage is imminently practical for every single one of us. You and I face temptation every day. And there are times, when like Jesus and the disciples, that we face great and unrelenting temptation. So, how exactly, do we deal with it? How can we face temptation, endure it, and emerge victorious? Well, in Gethsemane, our Lord taught us how. He taught us how to face temptation and be victorious. In fact, that was exactly His intention in what He said to the disciples that night.

Verse 38, note it says, "Keep watching and praying that you may not fall into temptation." Literally, the text says, "In order that you may not come into temptation…." This was His purpose. This is how He was trying to help them. So, the question is, what does it mean to come into temptation? Jesus says, "I want you to avoid that." What does that mean? It does not mean to avoid temptation altogether. Nowhere does God promise you that you will not be tempted. He didn't even do that for His Own Son. He's not going to do that for you. According to I Corinthians 10:13, all the temptations we face are common to man, and they are common, and we're not going to get away from them. To live in the world, according to the Apostle John, is to face unrelenting temptations that appeal to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life.

So, Jesus is not here promising the disciples that if they will merely follow His instructions, God will remove all of their temptation. I say that because I think that this is where a lot of well-intentioned Christians fail. They keep living under this idea that if they pray enough, if they're spiritual enough, God is going to remove temptation. As I said, God didn't even do that for His Own Son. He's not going to do that for you. So, you've got to get over that idea altogether. That's not what He's promising here.

They, these folks who have this mind-set, they ask God to completely remove the temptation. And when God doesn't remove it, what do they conclude? They conclude that God has somehow failed them. But they're depending on God to do something He hasn't promised to do. Understand this. God never promised, never promised to remove temptation from you. So, what does Jesus mean, then, when He says, "… [In order] that you may not come into temptation?" He means that if you will follow My instructions, you can remain strong through the temptation.

You can, Jesus says, like me, face the temptation without giving in. By the way, I think that's the way of escape in I Corinthians 10:13. He will make a way of escape. The way of escape is to go through the temptation, to bear up under it and to come out the other side without sinning, and God can do that. That's what Jesus was promising His disciples, and if we follow His instructions, that's what He's promising us, as well.

So, in this passage, H gives us two specific instructions for how to respond to temptation and be victorious. Look at verse 38, Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation. Keep watching and praying in order that you may not come into temptation. That is, not that you will avoid temptation, but that you will endure through it and not find it to reign over you.

This is very similar to what our Lord says in Luke 21:36 in a different context. He says, "But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place and to stand before the Son of Man." Keep on the alert and pray that you may have strength; this is God's way. This is our Lord's way.

You remember two weeks ago? Two weeks ago, we were all greatly encouraged when we saw that we are not kept by our own willpower. Instead, we are kept by God's power through the intercessory prayer of Jesus Christ. Do you remember those amazing verses we studied together? Well, here's the balance of that. It is true that we are kept solely by God's power through the intercessory prayer of Jesus Christ; right now, He is praying for us, and we are kept that way.

But when we face temptation, we have a responsibility as well. It's to keep watching and to keep praying. It seems so simple and in some ways, can we just be honest with each other? It seems almost too simplistic – that's it? That's the answer? And yet, these were Jesus' profound instructions to His disciples and to us for dealing with temptation in our lives.

So, let's examine these instructions together briefly in the time we have remaining. First of all, if we're going to fight temptation and emerge from it victorious, we must keep watching. We must keep watching. I want you to notice, first of all, Jesus' instruction about watching. He says to them, verse 38, He says, "Watch. Keep watching." The Greek word translated "watch" means to be in constant readiness, to be on the alert. In light of the overall context, Jesus is not just talking about staying physically alert.

He is not saying to the disciples, "Stay awake physically." Instead, He's talking about staying alert to spiritual danger. He's already told them that they're in a great place of spiritual danger, that God is going to strike the shepherd, and the sheep will scatter. He's already told them that's going to happen. He's told them that He's going to be delivered over, betrayed into the hands of sinful men. Their lives are going to be turned on end. He's just told them that in the upper room, and they need to be alert to the spiritual danger.

This is what they were failing to do. Look at verse 37. He came and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, "… Are you asleep? Could you not … watch for one hour?" Look at verse 40. "… Again, He came and found them sleeping [a second time,] for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what do answer Him." Verse 41,"And He came a third time and [He] said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting?"

Jesus had warned them that the greatest trial of their life was coming. They knew that during this very night, because He told them this, that He would be struck down, and they would scatter. They knew that they were facing absolutely uncharted waters, but what they failed to grasp was the spiritual danger that faced them, and to remain truly alert. That's what Jesus is saying to them. He's saying, "You've to go understand. You've got to look ahead. You've got to be alert to those times of danger, and this is one of those. Listen, if you want to effectively resist temptation in your life, Jesus' first instruction to you is, keep spiritually alert.

What does that mean practically? Well, it means you need to be aware of those times when you are most likely to face temptation. First of all, you need to be aware of those seasons when all of us are likely to face temptation. Let me give you just a couple of examples. This is not exhaustive at all, just something to think about – a couple of examples. One season when we are especially susceptible to temptation is when we have unfulfilled expectations. We think things are going to turn out a certain way, they turn out differently. That becomes a huge season of temptation.

If you doubt that, go back and read the story of Elijah, 1 Kings 17 and 18. Do you remember what happened? That wonderful victory on Mount Carmel, the prophets of Baal destroyed, and he thinks the people are now going to turn from Baal and worship the living and true God, and then the next day, he hears from Jezebel. "[See if I don't] … make your life as the life of one of those prophets by [this time] tomorrow…."

And what does he do? He runs discouraged to the desert? Why? How could that happen to Elijah? Well, I think there are several explanations, but part of it is, he really believed this was the turning point, and Jezebel turned all of that on its head.

I think you and I, when we face unfulfilled expectations, can easily find ourselves in a season of temptation. When marriage doesn't live up to our expectations, we can be tempted to sin in various ways – by lust and pornography, by neglecting our marriage, by satisfying, or I should say by pursuing satisfaction in a career, or by even pursuing an unbiblical divorce. I think many Christians face unfulfilled expectations and a kind of mid-life crisis.

You know, we talk about "mid-life crises." What is that? Understand that the world calls a mid-life crisis is nothing but a special season of temptation that comes from the realization that this life is flying past, and it hasn't met my expectations. And in the middle of that can come temptation. You better be prepared. You better be prepared.

Another season, I think, is seasons of rest and relaxation. David comes to mind. Do you remember in2 Samuel when he sins with Bathsheba? It was the time when kings go forth to battle, and yet he stayed still in Jerusalem. He was rising from his bed in the afternoon. A lot of people, temptations don't come for them primarily during the business of life, but during downtime. We need to be alert to that reality.

For other people, the season is peer pressure. They find themselves in a certain group, and when they're in that group, they are very much tempted to sin. I think Judah is a great example if that.

You remember Judah was the hesitant one to do what they did to Joseph. He, didn't want to go along. He was very much hesitant, but he found himself pressed into it in that group, and he wouldn't, he wouldn't stand – Genesis 37. You see the same thing with Peter, in Galatians 2. Those who came from Jerusalem, those Judaizers who came from Jerusalem and he gave in to the peer pressure.

Often, temptation especially comes for some people when they're with a certain group of people. If that's when you face temptation, be aware of that. Be alert to the danger. Ask yourself, what are those seasons when I am especially tempted, when I need to be especially watchful?

But also, I think more than that, in addition to those seasons when we are all especially susceptible, there are times that are unique to each of us as individuals, and we need to be aware of that.

I want you to think for a moment about the major temptations you face. What are the major issues you struggle with, in your Christian life and experience? Think about the two or three sins that are especially troublesome in your life. Each of those temptations, I can promise you this, each of those temptations are especially a problem at specific times, maybe a specific time each day; maybe a specific day of the week, maybe it's the weekend. Have you ever thought that through?

Have you ever even been concerned about when you face spiritual danger and be alert to it? That's what Jesus is saying - keep watching, be alert. Have you even considered those times when you were especially susceptible to temptation? Jesus says, "Keep on watching. Be alert to those seasons, and be alert to those specific times when you are likely to face spiritual danger through temptation."

A lot of winning the battle is being aware the battle's coming and not being surprised. According to our Lord, the first step toward surviving temptation is not being caught off-guard. You're shocked that temptation you've faced so many times before happens to come at the same basic time frame, it's come before? Really? You're surprised by that? Jesus says, "Keep on the alert! Beware of the spiritual danger!"

By the way, Jesus didn't just teach us this truth, He modeled it as well. Look at Jesus' pattern of watching. This is what He's doing in the garden. This is why He's there. He was alert and realizing that this was a special time of temptation for Him. He saw it coming, as He approached and anticipated the cross. Contrast His spiritual alertness to that danger with the disciples' complete obliviousness to the spiritual danger they faced. Part of the reason Jesus endured without falling, and that they fell, had to do with the level of spiritual alertness. Let that sink into your mind.

You've got to be aware when the danger is coming, when you're going to face temptation. Through his Word here in Mark 14, Jesus is still giving to us, as His disciples, the same instruction He gave to His disciples that night – keep on watching. Be alert to the danger. Don't let it catch you off-guard. Be alert for those seasons and those unique times when temptation is likely to come.

But that's only half of our Lord's instruction regarding how to keep from coming into temptation. His second instruction to us is keep praying. Look at verse 38; notice His instruction about prayer. "Keep watching and keep praying that you may not come into temptation." Being alert to temptation is not enough.

We must also humble ourselves and acknowledge our complete dependence on God for resisting temptation. And we do that through prayer. You remember the last petition in the Lord's prayer, Matthew 6:13? We're told to pray this as a part of our regular prayer lives. Do not lead us into temptation – don't allow us, oh God, to get into a situation where we will be tempted in a way that we will fall into sin, but deliver us from evil.

So, what exactly should we pray? We're told to pray, keep praying, but what do you pray? Well, when you're in temptation, or when you're anticipating a time of temptation that's about to come, we learn how to pray in that circumstance by studying Jesus' pattern of prayer. Look back at verse 36: "And he was saying," (here's all that's recorded of His prayer in that time of intense temptation in the garden. He was saying, "Abba! Father! All things are possible for you; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what you will."

I love that. Jesus here teaches us so much about how to pray when we're facing temptation in just this one brief summary of His prayer in Gethsemane.

How do you pray when you're facing temptation? You don't say, "God, if you're going to be fair to me, you're going to remove all the temptation toward this sin." No, look at what He prayed. Let's look at it. Let's take it apart a little bit.

First of all, notice that we should reaffirm our trust in the Father's love. When you find yourself in temptation, start, as Jesus does, by reaffirming your trust in the Father's love. Notice what He says: "Abba! Father!" We talked about that term last time. It's roughly equivalent to our English, "Papa." There's intimacy and respect. He refers to God in the Aramaic tongue and in the Greek tongue at the same time. It's sort of an overflow of His heart – "Abba! Father!"

When He found Himself in the moment of temptation, He reaffirmed and rehearsed that God was on His side, that the Father loved Him, and when you and I find ourselves in temptation, that's a wonderful place to start – reaffirming that reality.

Look at Romans 8. Romans 8, I love this passage. I know you do as well. But I want you to notice just a couple of verses here, Romans 8. Paul is dealing in verse 12 and onward with this struggle that we experience, this struggle with sin. And he says, verse 14,

… all who were being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. [And] … "you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again," [so how do you respond when you face that struggle with sin?] … you have received a spirit of adoption as sons, by which we cry out, [and here's the same expression, Paul uses it twice, copying our Lord in the garden,] Abba! Father!

Paul says, This is how you're to pray. This is how you're to think of God. You are to reaffirm your confidence in the Father and His love for you. Nothing's changed because temptation has come, just as it hadn't for the Son of God. The Father's love was still constant.

Look down a little further in this chapter, down to verse 31. "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?" Listen, when you find yourself facing temptation, reaffirm in prayer, as Jesus did, that you still enjoy the Father's love, that He's still for you, that those spiritual realities haven't changed because temptation has come.

Secondly, Jesus' prayer teaches us to reaffirm our trust in the Father's power. He says, "All things are possible for you." [Father, there is nothing you can't do. You must truly believe. When you come to God in the midst of prayer, in the middle of temptation, you must truly believe that God has the power to do whatever He chooses to do. He has the power, if He should choose, to change your circumstances. Jesus prays,] "Remove this cup from me."

He acknowledges that Jesus, that God has the power to do that. In our case, we must remember not only that God has the power to change our circumstances, but unlike Jesus, who didn't need to be changed, He has the power to change us and leave our circumstances alone, to gradually change our affections, so that we love the right things.

Philippians 2:13, "… God is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure." God has the power to strengthen our wills, so that we choose obedience. I Corinthians 10:13, "… God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but will, with the temptation, provide the way of escape…." [That is, the way through, enduring, and coming out the other side without falling. Reaffirm your trust in the Father's power. He can do whatever's best for you.]

If that means removing the circumstances, He can do that. If that means leaving you in the circumstances but changing you, He can do that as well. Ask for the Father's intervention. Jesus asks, He says, "Father, remove this cup." [Remove the cup of your wrath and the alienation and separation that I'm going to experience,] "if possible." He says, according to Matthew's gospel. It's okay to ask God to intervene in your situation, but express your submission to the Father's will, just as Jesus did – "Yet, not what I will, but [what] … You will."

You see, the primary purpose of prayer is not to change God's mind, but to align our wills with His. Don't make demands of God – "God, you've got to remove this temptation from me. You have to take away this propensity. It's right to ask God to intervene, and even to ask in specific ways, but make sure, unlike Jesus, you need to make sure, and I need to make sure that we acknowledge our ignorance. You don't know what's best for you. And you don't know what's best for the Father's glory. And so, you and I must submit our request to the Father's will.

Listen, God may not choose to remove the source of your temptation. Instead, He may choose to allow the relentless temptation to continue, but He may begin to work in you to sustain you through it.

This is how we respond. Again, it seems simple, almost simplistic. But this is what Jesus taught His disciples. Do you believe it? Do you believe that this really is the way to remain victorious in temptation? That's what Jesus said. Keep watching and keep praying in order that you may not come into temptation. They failed to do it, and they fell. Jesus did it, and He came through victoriously.

So, why is watching and praying so important? Well, notice the end of verse 38, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." What does that mean? Well, there are two possibilities – one is, the soul is willing, but the body is weak. In other words, the first part is talking about the immaterial part of man. The second part is talking about the material part of man, that's one possibility. But I don't think that does justice to the text or the context, and most commentators here would agree with me.

The second possibility is this – the new redeemed self, the new person you are in Christ, is willing, but our unredeemed flesh, that part of us that remains unredeemed, that finds its beachhead in our body is weak, or it can even be translated as it is in Romans 5:6, "spiritually helpless." I think Jesus' point is that when we face temptation, our new redeemed self longs to obey God and to resist the temptation, but on the other hand, our flesh, that part of us that remains unredeemed, gravitates towards the temptation. This is what he talks about in Romans 7:18, "For I know that nothing good dwells in me that is in my flesh." The new man that God's created is, it's wonderful, it's new, it loves God and loves the things of God. But that part of me that's still unredeemed, it doesn't.

Galatians 5:17, "For the flesh sets its desire against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. In other words, the reason temptation is such a huge struggle for us is because it finds an ally inside of us. That's what James said in James 1:14, "Each one of us, unlike Jesus, is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust." As Pogo said, "We have met the enemy, and it is us." That's why we must pray. We must never rely on our own strength to overcome temptation on our own resolve, on our own promises, on our own willpower.

That's exactly what Peter, James, and John, and the rest of the disciples had done already that night. You remember? Huh, oh, [Lord, everybody else in the world may desert You, but not us. We are determined! We've made a resolve! We'll be faithful, we'll be loyal.] And that, brothers and sisters, is why they fell into sin. Instead, our dependence must be entirely in God, in His love, and in His power, and in the reality, that He is for us, and in submission to His will. That's why we have to be spiritually alert, and we have to pray.

So, just to summarize what our Lord taught that night to His disciples. How should you respond to the temptation that comes in your life? Follow both Jesus' instruction and His pattern in Gethsemane. Keep watching; stay spiritually alert. Be aware of those times and seasons when you're going to really face temptation. It shouldn't surprise you. There's a pattern. Be aware it's coming, and then keep praying in preparation for that time. For what purpose? In order that you may not come into temptation. And why is it important for us to take this approach? Because the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Alan Cole writes, "Peter and his fellow disciples were warned in vain, for they failed to take the only steps which could have saved them from falling into temptation – earnest prayer and continual watchfulness. This, again, is not arbitrary. Such prayer is at one and the same time, a confession of the weakness of our flesh and a showing forth of the readiness of our spirit joined with the realization of the power of God to whom we pray."

Ultimately, understand this – our faith will not fail. Your faith, if you're in Christ, it will not fail because you are kept by the power of God through the intercession of Jesus Christ. But much of the reason that we so frequently give in to temptation is that we refuse to follow our Lord's simple instructions here – keep on watching. Be aware for those times of spiritual danger, and keep on praying. The only way to face temptation and to consistently win is through consistent watchfulness and dependent prayer.

Let me say to you, listen carefully, if on a daily basis, on a daily basis, you are not alert beforehand to those times when you will especially face temptation, and if you are not consistently praying in anticipation of those times to be strengthened and supported, and to be brought through victoriously, then I can promise you, you will be consistently sinning. And what you'll do is blame God. You know, "God let me down again," when you haven't followed the basic instructions our Lord has given us. You cannot and you will not have what is necessary to follow Christ. This is how Jesus prepared for His greatest temptation, and it's how we must prepare for our temptations, as well.

Let's pray together.

Father, we acknowledge Your love for us. We acknowledge Your power. We acknowledge Your desire for us not to sin. And yet, Father, we seek Your forgiveness, because if we're honest with our own hearts, we have neglected the very clear and straightforward instructions of our Lord. We have made our wills resolute, we have made our decisions, and we've seen them fail like smoke and vapor.

Father, help us, help us to follow both the instruction and pattern of our Lord in the garden. Help us every single day to be alert spiritually to danger, to see those times coming, and not to be surprised by them, and in anticipation of them, oh God, to be genuinely praying to You for the strength and capacity and the resolve to endure them, to come through them the other side successfully, having faced the temptation and come through it victoriously, even as our Lord did.

Father, we know that we'll never be without sin in this life, but may there be those here tonight who hear the simple instructions of our Lord and who begin practicing it and begin seeing an increasing pattern of righteousness in their lives and a decreasing pattern of giving into temptation.

And we pray it in His name and for His glory, Amen.