Willing Spirits and Weak Flesh

Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (v. 38).

- Mark 14:37–42

None of us will ever be able to fully imagine the grief and terror that our Savior experienced in Gethsemane on the night before He was crucified. Even Jesus could barely express the depth of His sadness and fear, saying that He was “sorrowful, even to death” (Mark 14:34). His sorrow was so great that He wanted at that moment to die, for He was about to suffer God’s judgment against the sins of His people. The Son of God who had lived in perfect fellowship with the Father was about to experience—as the incarnate Savior—the divine rejection impenitent sinners endure in hell. He—as the perfect human being and representative of fallen men and women—was to be forsaken (15:34). Such was the cost of our salvation, the drinking of the cup of God’s wrath, the experience of being cut off from divine approval (14:36; see Isa. 51:17; Jer. 25:15). And we can scarcely comprehend what it must have been like for a sinless man to face and endure being cut off as if He were a sinner.

Incalculably horrific as the prospect of hanging on the cross under God’s wrath must have been to our Lord, the aloneness He felt must have been intensified by His human companions’ failure to stand with Him in His hour of greatest need. Knowing their Master’s anguish, Peter, James, and John should have stayed up and watched for Jesus’ return from His time of prayer. They should have been alert and ready to offer consolation—that is what true friends do, after all. But Jesus went away from and returned to the three disciples no less than three times, and each time He returned He found them sleeping (Mark 14:37–41a). Despite having heard what lay ahead from Jesus Himself, the disciples did not understand their own weakness (vv. 12–31). They did not grasp their need to rely on the Lord and not their own strength for the trial ahead. The disciples were willing to stay with Jesus, but they did not take into account the power of their fallenness, of their flesh, to overpower their commitment to Christ.

John Calvin comments on today’s passage that believers, “being regenerated by the Spirit of God, are desirous to do what is right, but still labor under the weakness of the flesh; for though the grace of the Spirit is vigorous in them, they are weak according to the flesh.” In bringing us to new spiritual life, God enables us to will what is good, to truly desire faithfulness. But our will must contend with the remnants of sin in us, with our flesh. If we do not pray against our flesh, it will conquer our desire to do what is right.

Coram Deo

Matthew Henry comments on today’s passage: “The consideration of the weakness and infirmity of our flesh should engage and quicken us to prayer and watchfulness.” Even when we find ourselves the most willing to do what is good, we must pray that our flesh would not stand in the way. Let us seek God’s face and not trust in our own strength that we might follow through on all our desires to serve the Lord.

Passages for Further Study

Genesis 4:7
Proverbs 23:17
Romans 7:7–25
Galatians 5:16–26

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