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Overcoming Temptation — Lessons from Gesthemane, Part 3
The Disciples’ Failure and a Prescription for Success

August 18, 2017

In Part 1 of this series, we learned from Jesus’ example in the Garden that He overcame temptation, not because He was God, but because it was humanly possible. In Part 2, we discovered that Jesus did so because He confronted His suffering, sought His Father’s will, and then persistently petitioned His Father in prayer for the strength to obey. Underlying all of this was Jesus unmitigated love for His Father.

Why, then, do we so often fail? The answers may be found in the disciples’ attitudes and actions in Gesthemane.

A remarkable drama was playing out in the Garden on the night of Jesus’ arrest. Within a stone’s throw of one another, two groups of men were facing the most severe trial of their respective lives. The sinless Son of Man was facing the temptation to deny sin-bearing, and the disciples were struggling to obey their Lord’s desire that they remain awake, keep watch with and pray for Him before His death. Same setting, same humanity, same resources, dramatically different outcomes. Jesus persevered and the disciples fell asleep. 

Why?

Luke notes that the disciples were “sleeping from sorrow” (Luke 22:45). They were broken-hearted … so they slept. The Lord was grieved unto death … so He prayed. The disciples slept in their sorrow. The Lord prayed because of His sorrow. Why such different responses?

There is a measure of lovelessness, indifference and self-will in the disciples’ response, which shows that they had not yet matured in their love for and devotion to Jesus. Whereas Jesus confronted His suffering in order to overcome temptation, the disciples gave into temptation to avoid their suffering. In prayer, Jesus sought the strength to do His Father’s will. The disciples ignored Jesus will that they pray and were overconfident in their strength. Jesus mastered His flesh in order to steel His resolve. The disciples instead resolved to sleep and were mastered by their flesh. While Jesus was willing to endure anything to be obedient to Father, the disciples were obedient to Jesus as long as they did not have to endure anything. Finally, whereas Jesus loved the Father more than His life, the disciples at this point cherished their lives more than they loved Jesus.

The anatomy of failure is complex and there are many reasons why a person may give in to temptation, but the over-riding question is ultimately one of love: do we love Jesus more than we do ourselves, and do we desire His will more than our own?

For the disciples, overconfidence, lack of vigilance, spiritual lethargy, self-will, self-focus and self-reliance leading to a lack of prayer, were among the other reasons they failed. At a minimum, we should ask ourselves the following questions as we prepare for trials:

  • Do we love Jesus more than we do any and all sin? 
  • Are we willing to reject sin no matter the discomfort and the cost?
  • Are we on guard? Do we take sin seriously? Do we curate our lives so as to avoid unnecessary exposure to temptation?
  • Are we willing to acknowledge our weakness and humbly seek the Lord’s strength in prayer?
  • Are we willing to do so consistently, persistently and wholeheartedly? Or, are we half-hearted in our prayers because we are not wholehearted in our love and commitment?
  • Are we prepared to confess our sin when we fail?

One last consideration. If we are to be strong in the way that Jesus was, we should have a proper understanding of the manner in which we ought to “keep our eyes on Jesus”.  It is self-flattering to adore the supernatural Jesus who walked on water, rebuked the storm, healed disease, and raised people from the dead. It another to remember the Jesus lying face down in the dirt bleeding from the intensity of His prayer. To remember Him seeking the strength to avoid the one thing He could not bear—failing His Father. In our pride, we are attracted to the former. In humility, we ought to aspire to be more like the latter.

When I fail, and each time I do, I must look in the mirror and remind myself that my Lord’s victory means that I, too, can triumph over temptation. Salvation cost me nothing because Jesus denied Himself, took up His cross and followed His Father’s will. On the other side of glory, it is sobering to realize as I deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus, that sanctification will joyfully cost me everything.

It is that simple and that convicting. 

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