40 And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? 41 “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
This has always been a curious yet often used passage. We often refer to the second half of verse 41 to refer to our struggles with temptation, but do we truly understand what Jesus is talking about here? We tend to use this as an excuse to give in to temptation. Did you notice that Jesus was speaking directly to Peter, the one who just told Jesus at dinner that he would never forsake or abandon Christ? Let’s pull a couple more verses about temptation so that maybe we can get a clearer picture of Jesus’ point.
“Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.” (Luke 8:13)
Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)
then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, (2 Peter 2:9)
There are other passages and lessons throughout the bible about avoiding or resisting temptation but the key to all of them and these we are reading through today is that our ability to resist temptation is comparable to our closeness with God. Jesus’ exhortation in verse 41 is a spiritual application to a physical situation. Physically they fell asleep while “keeping watch”. In the previous verses Jesus Himself asked them to pray along with Him. They couldn’t even do it for one hour! They were at war at this point and Jesus was in need of some serious prayer, but these guys (His closest friends and best disciples) couldn’t hang! So Jesus warns them about keeping watch, being alert, and remaining in prayer so that they would not enter into temptation. The word written here in the original Greek is eiserchomai which not only means to arrive or come into existence but also to “allow your mind to go there”. We generally talk about temptation as something that happens to us or that we must fight once we are in it, but if we remain close to God, temptation will not even find us! We will be so strong in the Lord that temptations will be squashed before it even gets to us. Imagine a raw egg being thrown at someone in a suit of metal armor. The wearer doesn’t even flinch! This is the opportunity we have in God if we remain in Him.
So what do we do until we get to that point? How do we stave off temptation and thus prevent ourselves from falling into it? Consider what we read in James 4:
5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? 6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” 7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
We must desire the Spirit of God to dwell and work in us. We must humble ourselves and recognize we cannot stand against the devil’s schemes on our own. We must bask in His grace and submit to His will, not our own fleshly desires. As we continue to work at this, our desire to sin is reduced and we will be no longer as susceptible to fall into temptation. As we draw nearer to Him, we will cleanse our hands and purify our hearts so we no longer identify with our sin but with the Son.