(from our midweek Lenten Series: Three Words of Truth)
They called her ‘unsinkable.’ Shipbuilder Thomas Andrews had designed Titanic with sixteen individual compartments, each with its own watertight door. In case of flooding, the crew could swing the door shut and seal off the damaged compartment. The water would then only fill that compartment and still leave the ship fully operational. In fact, Titanic could suffer four flooded compartments and still float. Andrews and his associates prided themselves in this cutting-edge technology that they supplied Titanic with only 20-lifeboats. (That’s enough to hold about half of the passengers on board.) Even Captain Edward Smith believed in Titanic’s unsinkability; he plowed through a patch of icebergs at 22.5-knots (about 25 miles-per-hour).
Then, on Sunday, April 14, 1912, an iceberg scraped Titanic’s right side, ripping open six compartments. Watertight doors could not stop the flooding. Titanic sank in just three hours. The 20-lifeboats rescued only 705 of the over 3,000 on board. To this day, Titanic stands as the fourth deadliest marine disaster in modern history. Titanic was unsinkable— that is, until she sunk.
The disaster shocked the world. I mean, the media, the passengers, the architect, the builders, and the captain boasted in Titanic’s abilities. New technology promised that the days of sinking were over. Overwhelming trust was placed in the designs, the steel, and the handiwork. Pride had blinded many to potential flaws and catastrophes, meaning misplaced confidence brought disaster.
For that same reason Jesus warns you to Watch and Pray! Temptation may appear harmless. Temptation may appear manageable. Temptation can unleash total spiritual disaster. So, Watch and Pray! Watch our Savior overcome his flesh by the Spirit. Pray that your Spirit is not overcome by the flesh.
That requires struggling. For Jesus, Maundy Thursday is racing into Good Friday. Soon, Judas will appear— not alone, but with a detachment of guards. Eleven dear friends will scatter, bolting into the foggy darkness. Guards will bind Jesus hand and foot and push him through trial. Each passing second brings the future a little closer— and before Jesus towers the cross.
So, Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father (John 13:1). He knew it because the Bible foretold it. Zechariah prophesied that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, would be struck (13:7). Psalm 22 put Jesus on the cross and cruel insults all around him. Men would cast lots for his clothing. Humanity would despise him. God would reject him. Isaiah pointed at Jesus, saying, “You will pierced for transgression and crushed for iniquity. You will receive the world’s punishment for sin” (53:5). Little-by-little the weight of the world slides across the back of Jesus
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” In this cup bubbles the most absolute concentrated form of God’s wrath. The bone-crushing, muscle-aching, organ-piercing, soul-wrenching suffering. The Father tips that cup for Jesus to drink. This is what your Jesus must consume for you. This is what your Jesus must remove from you— and the devil knows that.
Before Jesus lies God’s unchangeable path: ‘Death for the sins of the world.’ Now the devil illuminates another path: ‘Escape from the sins of the world.’ The devil kneels beside Jesus, slips his arm across his shoulder, and pans over an alternate choice. “Jesus, there’s still time. Judas is not here. Run! Flee! Save your life!”… “Jesus, stop and think for a moment. You are innocent. You do not need to endure this. Do you really want to suffer for people who do not want to suffer for you?”… “Jesus, you are the Holy One of God. God does not deserve such insolent treatment from his creation. Blast your enemies away!” The pressure becomes so intense that Jesus’ sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:44).
When I stop to consider this, two thoughts appear: (1) Jesus is fighting and (2) I do not always fight. Jesus has every justifiable reason to agree with the devil. After all, Jesus is innocent. I am not. That is through no fault of Jesus. I stand guilty because I choose to soil my thoughts, I choose to insult, I choose to push. Jesus resists temptation for me. How quickly I surrender to temptation! Gossip? Sure! Thinking the worst of others? Yep! Letting anger fester? It feels fine. Even right now, a part of my heart cannot wait for this Lenten worship to be done and over so that I can pamper my body with rest, my mind with television, and my mouth with food. Jesus is sweating drops of blood so that he can do the will of God. I would rather avoid the sweat and satisfy my will, my wants!
How merciful, how gracious, how undeserving that Jesus still pleads: Not as I will, but as you will. The will of God the Father is that Jesus die as our sacrifice for sin.
So, God hangs Jesus on the cross. Yes, even though God has made abundantly clear: The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), Jesus is sentenced to death. I am the one who did the crime. I am the one who should serve the time. Jesus is the One who obeyed as his Father commands. Yet, Jesus is the One who drinks my suffering (and yours)— to the very last drop— and he drains away eternal death forever.
Watch our Savior obey what God demands. Watch our Savior resist temptation for your benefit. Watch our Savior overcome his flesh by the Spirit. Watch him forge forward to the cross. Watch him conquer temptation once for all. Watch— and Pray. Pray that your Spirit is not overcome by the flesh.
That requires struggling. The devil knows he lost. He knows nothing will stop Jesus from returning to gather those who belong to him. The devil also knows the only way you will enter hell is if you stop following Christ. That means, he will hurl one temptation after another in the hopes of getting you to stumble and lose your faith.
Yet, your risen Lord does not leave you fighting temptation alone. [Jesus] returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. For one hour! Peter, James, and John see Jesus in distress. They could offer encouragement and support. They could share Bible passages. They could pray with him. Yet, they sleep. Could they keep watch? The answer is pretty simple: ‘No.’ Understand, Jesus is not concerned about the amount of sleep these men receive. His question exposes our limitations. Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak. The disciples wanted to stay awake, but fatigue conquered their bodies.
How strong our fight against temptation! As children of God, we love our God. We want to read and hear his Word. We want to put his teachings into practice. We want to grow our knowledge of his promises and better understand our Bibles. This is our desire. This is how we sometimes live. We still fight a sinful nature. The heart cries out, ‘Watch your words!’ but cutting a reputation to shreds feels so deserved. The heart urges, ‘Forgive one another,’ but the mouth just cannot (or does not) want to form those words. The heart loves the thought of worship, but the body loves the thought of laziness. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak. We need help— and we have help.
In the Lord’s Prayer, you pray: Lead us not into temptation. God does not tempt us, nor does he steer us into temptation (James 1:13). You are asking God to break, defeat, and destroy every devilish temptation. How does he do this? Well, the devil only seeks to lead astray. The Bible teaches what is pleasing to God. For example, the devil may pull on you to doubt God’s love for you. Yet, the Bible promises: I am with you always (Matthew 28:20)—and the same Bible assures you that God does not lie (Numbers 23:19). The Bible exposes the devil’s temptation as the lie it is. God puts his Word in your hands and in your heart so that you can resist temptation, protect faith, and remain a child of God.
Yet, God not only hands you his Word, but he fights for you. Your God powerfully drives the devil away. He may do that by removing a personal challenge. A habit (or addiction) no longer entices you. You have renewed confidence to face cancer. You have the strength to remain patient with those that may irritate you. God may even drive the devil away by saying: “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9). When fierce temptation presses into you, look up to your victorious Jesus, fighting, protecting, watching, and keeping. Watch and Pray— pray that your Spirit is not overcome by the flesh.
The Titanic disaster has been called a “legendary story about the dangers of hubris” (https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/unsinkable-titanic-sinks). ‘Hubris,’ that is, ‘exaggerated pride or self-confidence.’ The media, the passengers, the architect, the builders, and the captain boasted of Titanic’s abilities. New technology promised that the days of sinking were over. Overwhelming trust was put in the designs, the steel, and the handiwork. Pride had blinded many to potential flaws and catastrophes. Misplaced confidence brought disaster.
For that same reason Jesus warns: Watch and Pray! Temptation may appear harmless. Temptation may appear manageable. Temptation can unleash total spiritual disaster. So, Watch and Pray! Watch our Savior overcome his flesh by the Spirit. Pray that your Spirit is not overcome by the flesh.