Mar 9 2013 - Mark 14:22-52 – The flesh is weak
Jesus knew that he was soon to be arrested, tried and put to death. Taking Peter, James and John with him into the garden of Gethsemane, he poured out his heart in prayer. He had wanted these three disciples to be his companions in his agony and prayer, but they fell asleep. Jesus' words to them are full of sad accusation, "Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Mark 14:37-38).
The disciples were beginning to learn more about themselves. Soon they would run off and desert Jesus when he is taken captive. Before the night is out, Peter will deny that he ever knew his Lord. The flesh is weak.
And we are no different. We are full of good intentions and grand plans, but we all too often fail to live up to our words. Many years ago now, I was in Christian ministry as pastor of a church. I had, I believed, a clear vision of what a church should be and a longing to develop a community of the people of God where we would disciple one another and grow up into Christ. The stress of the work and a breakdown in my health led to me resigning from the pastorate. It was a devastating experience for me from which, more than 25 years later, I am still seeking to learn lessons. Above all, I was made painfully aware of my own weakness and the brokenness of all God’s people.
Such experiences underline the need for us to watch and pray, not just that we do not fall into temptation but also that we may have the strength to serve Christ as we should. We need to know ourselves and to be aware of own weakness and the frailty of others around us. But we need also to be fully confident that God's power is able to work in and through our weakness. As the Lord said to Paul, "My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness." And Paul responded, "I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me" (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul's testimony is therefore, "I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13). We need to watch and pray: watch for the dangers we face, fully aware of that we are weak; pray in the knowledge that we have one who is able to help us.
I am writing this during Lent, a time of preparation leading up to Easter. It's a time to reflect on our own weakness, but also upon the power and grace of God shown us in the Lord Jesus Christ – resurrection power; the power of life in the face of death. But the need to watch and pray will outlast Lent; it will last as long as we remain in our current weakness; it will only cease when we are finally transformed by God's power into the likeness of our risen Lord.
Lord Jesus, help me each day to watch and pray knowing that you are with me and that you pray with me and for me and never fall asleep. Keep me from the self-confidence that would boast that I will never let you down. Teach me the grace of humble dependence. Living God, by your Spirit equip me with everything good that I may do your will, working in me what is pleasing in your sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. And when I do fail, as I surely will, forgive me and restore me as you restored Peter of old, and then use me again for your glory.
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