Leaving there, He (Jesus) went, as He so often did, to Mount Olives. The disciples followed Him. When they arrived at the place, He said, “Pray that you don’t give in to temptation.” He pulled away from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, remove this cup from Me. But please, not what I want. What do you want?” At once an angel from heaven was at His side, strengthening Him. He prayed on all the harder. Sweat, wrung from Him like drops of blood, poured off His face. He got up from prayer, went back to the disciples and found them asleep, drugged by grief. He said, “What business do you have sleeping? Get up. Pray so you won’t give in to temptation.”
In most cases, we think of temptation as an enticement or allurement. An earthly or sinful attraction that pulls or seduces a person away from what’s best for them.
While the Bible does use the word ‘temptation’ in this way, the New Testament Greek and Old Testament Hebrew words for ‘temptation’ can also be associated with a testing of one’s virtue or character. Just as coin collectors and investors ‘test’ precious coins to see if the gold and silver content of the coin is legitimate, so the word ‘temptation’ can be used in this way in our lives.
So while God never ‘tempts’ a person to sin, He does certainly ‘test’ us to see what we’re made of. And as I read Jesus’ comments to His closest friends here in the garden, I’m wondering if He is referencing this type of temptation in their lives.
Now don’t get me wrong. I believe each of these men and women following Jesus in the first century had within them the same ability we all have to be self-consumed which leads to sin, screwing up our lives in countless ways. Judas is a prime example of one who allows his personal self-interests to pull him away from Jesus, opening him up to evil and all kinds of grief.
But as I see it, Jesus is pointing out to His friends that this three-day weekend they are all about to experience (Thursday evening to Good Friday, right on into Easter morning) will test them, and their faith, in nearly every avenue of who they are.
The roller coaster ride these disciples are about to get on will take them into the depths of despair, the valleys of doubt, the sharp curves of pain, the wild ecstasy of resurrection, and the complete testing of their hearts, souls and minds.
Yet as we know from reading Luke’s gospel, these followers of Jesus had not entered this time of severe testing without a lot of hands-on training and day-to-day preparation from the Master, Himself. For three years these guys and gals have walked and talked with Jesus. They’ve seen the miracles. They’ve heard the powerful teachings. They have had nearly 36 months to sit with Jesus on a daily basis and take in all of who He is, all of whom He offers to them.
So now, this Thursday evening in the garden on Mt. Olive, Passover 33 AD, the tests begin. And as we see from Luke’s gospel, Jesus is not excused from these tests, but looks to be taking the hardest ones of all. He sweats bullets and apparently blood as He agonizes over this life test God is giving Him. Keep in mind that one of the greatest gifts God gives all of us human beings, including Jesus, is our free will. And on this evening in the garden, Jesus is struggling.
Agonizing is probably a better word. Agonizing over His choice of using His gift of free will to escape the burdens of His life assignment versus walking forward with God into a gruesome death using His equally powerful gift of obedience.
This choice is before each one of us quite regularly down here on planet earth. It’s a test. A temptation. A choice. A decision.
Free will with emphasis on the me?
Obedience to God with emphasis on the Him?
Will we choose to be self-centered and self-focused, ignoring the call of God on our lives, and pick what feels good to us? Or will we be in a prayerful mode, as Jesus suggests, listening carefully for the will of the Father, ready to pass these ‘tests’ and ‘temptations’ of life?
As we see with the first-century disciples, they failed a lot of these earthly tests. That’s the bad news. But the good news is that Jesus didn’t. He sailed through these tests in the garden with flying colors. And in the process, He gives us a model to shoot for when we face our greatest testings and temptations in life.
My prayer: Lord, I’ve been trained well by the church to look for temptation as it relates to alluring sin in my life but I have little patience or wisdom for tests that are sent my way; ‘temptations’ that are designed to prove my weight in golden Kingdom character. These tests of character bring very hard choices and I ask for a greater empowerment of the Holy Spirit so I, like Jesus, will defer to Your will versus insisting on mine. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: So what tests (temptations) of character are before me today? Where is my self-consumed desire for independence overriding my long obedience in the same direction with God? How might an increase of prayer and listening time better empower me to make the right choices in these difficult decisions between my will and God’s?
So, what are you experiencing today as we are journeying through this Lenten Adventure?
Over a 48-day period (from Ash Wednesday through the Monday after Easter), you and I will be taking a deeper look at the stories surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus (especially the last week known as Holy Week) as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Our Lenten Journey home page for ease of use.
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