Imagine Peter, James, and John sitting in Gethsemane, waiting for Jesus to come back from praying…
It had been a long and significance-laden day, starting when Jesus sent a couple of disciples into town to find some man carrying a water jar. Random. But that man had a room available for Jesus and the disciples to observe Passover. Who still has a room unoccupied on the morning of the biggest celebration of the year? But there he was, and there it was. Mark 14:12-16
The Passover was weird too. Jesus said some unusual things, and He even got down on his hands and knees to wash all the disciples’ feet. There was a little…exchange with Peter, and there was also that moment when Judas got up and ran off. John 13
After they finished eating, Jesus started talking. He talked for a long time. Some of it was encouraging, but some was just plain confusing. He may have continued talking as they walked over to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus liked to go there in the evenings. Maybe it reminded him of the Garden of Eden. John 14-17
And then there’s this. Mark 14:32-42.
The closer they got to Gethsemane, the more anxious Jesus must have become. He didn’t normally get anxious, so this must have been puzzling to the disciples as well. Once He had Peter, James, and John alone, He confessed, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34a). They still had no idea what was going on. Then Jesus asked them to stay back and pray while he went off by himself.
Stop to think: When I was in college, I had this one history class right after lunch. The professor always lectured using slides (Yes, I’m that old.) so the lights were off…for an hour and a half…on a full belly…after five or six hours of sleep the night before. You know what happened. There were multiple illegible lines in my notes every day because I fell asleep. Study groups met hoping everyone hadn’t fallen asleep at the same time so we could each fill in our gaps. I didn’t want to go to sleep. I did everything I could think of to stay awake! But nothing worked.
That’s the situation in which the disciples found themselves. It was super-late at night. They’d had a stressful, puzzling day followed by a traditional holiday feast (think turkey and dressing: tryptophan, people!). It was quiet in the garden, and Jesus? Well, He was gone for a long time.
Our three disciples fell asleep. Three times. Frankly, after that first scolding, I think I would have tried walking around, doing some jumping jacks, whistling…anything to prevent disappointing Jesus again. Jesus even called Peter “Simon”—ouch (Mark 14:37). (He would do it again later.) But they fell asleep. Again.
I don’t want to make light of what happened that night, when Jesus struggled with His humanity (more on His prayer), when God’s ears must have ached with the pleas of His Trinitarian self even as the blood-sweat dripped from Jesus’ forehead, when Jesus resubmitted His will to the Father’s. At the same time, there’s a real lesson for us back there with the disciples, and it’s bigger than “Don’t fall asleep while you’re praying.”
Spiral of Temptation: Discounted Obedience
Jesus told the disciples, “Keep watch” (Mark 14:34b). But the disciples didn’t do that. Maybe they chose one person to be on guard, but from what? They didn’t know why a watch was needed, so they didn’t prioritize obedience. They sat down, and they weren’t paying attention. That’s when temptation loomed large.
An attitude of I-know-better is the
ladder to the spiral slide of temptation.
Because His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9), sometimes we can’t see the purpose in His commands. That makes it easy to discount them, to consider them unimportant. But an attitude of I-know-better is the ladder to the spiral slide of temptation. If you never go up, you never have to worry about going down.
Spiral of Temptation: Inertia
When you start down the spiral
slide, it’s almost impossible
to stop on your own.
For the Christ-follower, as for the disciples, there usually isn’t a conscious decision to sin. Instead, inertia sets in.
Peter, James, and John sat down when they could have stood up;
they slumped when they could have strolled;
they were silent when they could have shouted their prayers.
There was no sin in being sleepy, but it tempted them, and disobedience became virtually inevitable. When you start down the spiral slide, it’s almost impossible to stop without external intervention.
When Jesus returned the first time, He said, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). He knew how sleepiness was stalking them, drowsiness was dominating them. (Sorry, another random moment of alliteration there. I was overcome by temptation. Haha.)
We have to break out of the inertia that propels us toward sin. When you’re going down the slide, you really don’t do anything. Everything happens to you. On our figurative slide, however, we have to put our feet down, sneakers squeaking on the plastic slide, hands gripping the shallow rails, until we win the fight over gravity and come to a stop mid-slide.
But what if we don’t stop on the way down?
Spiral of Temptation: When Your Butt Hits the Dirt at the Bottom
The disciples didn’t
The disciples didn’t access the power available to them. They didn’t stop themselves on the spiral slide of temptation. (In their defense, they didn’t have the Holy Spirit like we do.) As a result, Judas and a crowd of weaponized temple representatives came upon Jesus without warning. Had Peter, James, and John been watching, I think they would have warned Jesus a few minutes earlier, and everyone could have taken a deep breath before the kissing, the ear-cutting, and the fleeing.
Their attention wouldn’t have changed the final outcome (Jesus’ inevitable crucifixion), but it might have changed their perspective, their sense that everything was going wrong.
Spiral of Temptation: Jesus Pulls Us Out
Like a parent swoops in to lift
a frightened child off the playground
slide, our God meets us in the
If we can recognize that inertia, or the slide, or the compulsion (whatever you want to call it), we can break out of the spiral before we actually arrive at sin. We can stop ourselves. Then, like a parent swoops in to lift a frightened child off the playground slide, our God either separates us from the temptation or coaches us through it to a successful dismount.
Consider verses like these…
That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand… –Ephesians 1:19
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And 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 so that you can endure it. –1 Corinthians 10:13
So there is a way out, even if we can’t see it. Those twists in the slide sometimes obscure the exit.
Just so you know, I have nothing against slides. I like them, as long as they aren’t metal on a sunny summer day when I’m wearing shorts. I like tall slides and spiral slides and water slides…especially water slides. We once went down the highest water slide in the southern hemisphere just because we could (no pictures, unfortunately!). I always loved “catching” my children at the bottom of the playground slide when they stretched their arms out to me and I did nothing but slow them down a little. I hope I haven’t ruined your playground or water park experience with this comparison.
Also, my apologies to my college history professor. It wasn’t that she was boring…
So. The spiral slide of temptation…ever had to dust your pants off at the bottom? Want to share what you could have done differently? Want to add your own analogy for temptation? I’d love to hear from you!