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April 2, 2017



4.2.17                                    Lent 5                    - Mark 14:32-38 ESV


32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? 38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”




Do you remember the “Church Lady”?  The character played by Dana Carvey on Saturday Night Live became a hit for blaming celebrities’ scandals on “Hmmmm . . who could it be?  Satan?!”   Comedian Flip Wilson’s famous line was: “The devil made me do it.”  For years cartoon characters would have a little devil on their shoulder whispering in their ear some nefarious idea as if it weren’t so bad, just mischievous behavior.  Making fun of the devil has been a tool of the devil to play down the seriousness of temptation.  Centuries ago, Paul proclaimed, not on prime-time TV but on the pages of Scripture: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.” (1 Co 10:13a).  Temptation is a fact of life, but it is no laughing matter. 


Temptation has been around since that awful day in Eden when our first parents fell for the serpent’s sly lie that if they ate the forbidden fruit they would be like god.  It continues to rear its ugly head on a daily basis in the real-life experience of every human being.  Perhaps the comedians are on to something: it’s easier to laugh about temptation than it is to resist it.  But the smiling face often hides a broken heart and a sobbing soul.  We pray, “lead us not into temptation,” but we see so many people rushing headlong into temptation like a spring break.  Sometimes we see it in the mirror. 


As long as we live in this world, we live on the devil’s turf.  Until that day when Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead, the devil will never stop tempting us.  Though his time is short, his fury is great.  Where can we turn for help in time of temptation?  This series on repentance, the first of Luther’s 95 Theses, tells us: TURN TO JESUS; WHEN YOU FACE TEMPTATIONS. 


From the beginning of His ministry to the end, Jesus knew all about temptation.  The water from His baptism was barely dry when the gospel-writer Mark reported: “At once the Spirit sent (Jesus) out into the wilderness, and He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.”  For almost six weeks, Jesus went toe-to-toe with the devil.  Wild animals prowled in the darkness; Satan prowled like a roaring lion stalking his prey.  Three temptations in particular he used. You’re hungry, no one’s looking, use your magic powers for yourself, change stones into bread.  You want to be famous, make a name for yourself - take a flying leap off the pinnacle of the temple and hope the angels catch you.  You want to rule a kingdom, bow down to me and the world is yours (not).  In his temptations the devil is brazen enough to use God’s Word against the Word of God made flesh.  His purpose was to derail God’s plan of salvation before the train left the station. 


Yes, Jesus knows all about temptation. “He was tempted in every way just as we are,” Hebrews 5:15 tells us.  And Satan was still there tempting Jesus on the night before His suffering and death.  In Gethsemane Jesus “began to be distressed and troubled,” we read.  No doubt the devil took advantage of that emotional duress and hit Jesus with a barrage of temptations.  Not softballs now, but hardballs.  Satan tempted Jesus with raw fear.  The fear of desertion by his followers.  The terror of the thought of torture.  The dread of dying on a cross.  The horror of the hellish abandonment he would suffer.  “My soul is very sorrowful,” He spilled His gut feelings.  


And He begged His Father: “Remove this cup from me.”  What’s so bad about a cup?  That depends on what’s in the cup.  Jesus knew He had to drink the contents of the cup of mankind’s sins.  The rebellion of an Adam. The murder of a Cain.  The drunkenness of a Noah.  The lies of an Abraham.  The deceit of a Jacob.  The adultery of a David.  And on and on, the sins of these great biblical characters.  All in the cup.  And so much more.  The sins of my past that I want to keep secret.  They’re in the cup.  The thoughts in my head that no one should know.  They’re in the cup.  The words that came out of my mouth to hurt others.  They’re in the cup.  The deeds I shouldn’t have done and the ones I should have but didn’t.  They’re in the cup.   What have you thought, said or done that’s in the cup?   Now hear this: the One who knew no sin drank the cup and made these sins His very own.


Like peas in a pod, where there is sin there is the wages of sin: death, judgment, wrath.  And right here we come face to face with the profound depths of Christian truth.  The Son of God who is pure holiness takes mankind’s sordid sinfulness on Himself.  The Son of God who is life eternal, accepts death by cruel crucifixion.  The Son of God who is love personified, experiences the vile hatred of villainous enemies.  Jesus is true God but also true man.  Knowing what was about to happen to Him terrified Him as a man, even as it disgusted Him as God.  In spite of it all, He remained perfectly in tune with the Father’s will.  “All things are possible for You . . . yet not what I will, but what you will.” 


When faced with unimaginable temptation, Jesus turned to His Father in prayer.  Temptation was trounced.  The cup was drained.  Jesus would go meekly to trial, endure the scourging, carry the cross to Calvary, and there God would punish the sins of the world.  In Christ, God’s justice was served.  Through Christ we are served with mercy and forgiveness.  In a garden our first father Adam sinned and tried to hide and make excuses.  In a garden Jesus our brother remained holy and openly accepted His fate.


Meanwhile, a stone’s throw away, His disciples, His friends were sleeping.  Even the big three – Peter, James, and John – couldn’t stay awake and support Him.  Jesus picks on Peter, who had been so bold before, “Could you not watch one hour?  Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”


Peter, James and John, had a special relationship with Jesus.  They were the inner circle of the twelve disciples.  They had witnessed amazing things.  They were there when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead.  Imagine being in the room for the hugs with her parents. They were there when Jesus was transfigured before their very eyes in heavenly glory.  Imagine that dazzling sight burned into their memories.  Oh, the things they had heard and seen.  And yet, they were capable of some pretty lousy examples of discipleship.  Remember when James and John sent their mother to ask Jesus to let them sit at His right and left in the kingdom?  They assured Jesus that they would be able to drink the cup that Jesus would drink.  Peter promised Jesus that even if everyone else fell away from Him, he never would – why, he was willing to die for Jesus!


The ones who were willing to die for Jesus and reign with Jesus couldn’t even watch and pray with and for Jesus.  Instead of being a source of comfort for Jesus they became a further burden for Him.  Oh, we can’t be too critical of them, can we.  The disciples were exhausted; it was late at night after a full Passover meal.  Eyelids were heavy.  No caffeine.  Sleep came easily.  Even when Jesus asked them to watch and pray.


Watch!  How many accidents have happened because someone took their eyes off the road for a few seconds to look at a text message?  How many batters have struck out because for a split second they took their eyes off the ball?  Watching with Jesus doesn’t require us to be insomniacs.  But it’s an attitude of being watchful, aware of what’s happening in the world, alert to what’s going on in our own lives, vigilant to the dangers of temptation. 


Pray!  The flesh is weak but the spirit is willing to pray!  In fact the Holy Spirit helps us to pray when we don’t know what to say.  When temptation comes, turn to the Lord in prayer.  He’s stronger than Satan; He’s tougher than temptation.  With God all is possible, His will will be done.  What does He want?  He wants us to be saved. So His Word tells us: “God is faithful.  He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out.” (1 Co 10:13b)  Don’t go down with the ship.  Pray that you can find the escape hatch. 


Martin Luther quipped about temptations: “You can’t keep the birds from flying overhead, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”  Temptation is no joke.  When you face temptations, turn to Jesus.  Whenever you do, you’re shooing Satan’s birds away.  Don’t forget: Satan is very good at tempting, but Jesus is absolutely perfect at saving.   Amen.