The Gethsemane Temptation

As we come to celebrate the holy events of Passion Week, we are encouraged to remember once again the love suffering of Jesus Christ: His agony at the flogging post and death upon the cross. But perhaps less considered is the “agony of soul” that He experienced earlier when praying in the Garden. This “Gethsemane moment” was not the agony of the thorn or whip, but the mental and emotional torment of a will in conflict: a mind that seems to be struggling to choose the difficult will of God.

It is curious, isn’t it? We might have expected to see this moral dilemma played out a little earlier in Jesus’ life, especially during His trials in the desert. Three times, the weakened Nazarene was tested to the limit by a genuine devil. And while this time of temptation was real and no charade, yet we read of no such obvious conflict of soul, only His steadfast, unshakeable obedience to the law of God. Satan could not win against Jesus because the desire to sin was not strong enough within Him. As Gethsemane approached, He said, “The prince of this world is coming but he has nothing in me” (John 14:30). But, as we read the Gethsemane passage, for a moment there seems to be a slight hesitation, as Jesus faces the greatest temptation of all – so dangerous because it is so subtle, hidden like a snake in a tree. Not the temptation to do bad, but to avoid doing good.

Here is a sentence that may need to be read twice. Gethsemane teaches us that it is as much a sin to avoid doing something that we ought to do, as it is to do something we shouldn’t do (Romans 7:15). The secret of Jesus’ success in the Garden was His love-hate relationship with morality. To explain, Hebrews 1:9 says that Jesus hated lawlessness and loved righteousness. To survive the Gethsemane temptation, we will need both of those attributes. A character that says: “I won’t do bad and I will do good.”

Only eternity will reveal to what extent the centuries have been robbed of countless multitudes of God-appointed heroes, who were destined to do mighty things and to serve the purpose of God in their generation. But their books weren’t written, history was never made, not because they ran off with the blonde or the cash, but simply because their courage failed them when the moment to do the will of God was “right now”. To obey heaven when there is cost can be agonising. Let’s not kid ourselves that the will of God is always done. Many took the plans of God with them to their grave (Luke 7:30).

Then there are those who begin well but don’t finish. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work ” (John 4:34). Starting is so much easier than finishing. New ventures are so regularly stunted by the “half-doers”. These are the Pentecostal Jack and Jills who get excited for a few weeks, enjoy the laying on of hands ceremony, begin a work, only to pass it on shortly afterwards when the prophecy oil wears off. While this “pioneer and leave” approach may sound apostolic, for some the only voice that told them to quit things was the spirit of boredom, indiscipline and fatigue. God had no new plan. In destiny terms, for Christ and for us, the greatest temptation is to leave work early.

No, the Word is God commands that we finish that which we have started. The Corinthians were told in the matter of their giving to “finish the work” (2 Corinthians 8:11). Paul told his friend Archippus to “finish the work” he had begun for Jesus (Colossians 4:17), while the testimony of Paul at the end of his life was that he had “finished the race” (2 Timothy 4:7). As the satanic clouds of Gethsemane grew darker, perhaps the Lord Jesus was tempted to reflect on that which He had achieved in the past and to avoid the task which needed doing now. But the only place to say “It is finished” was on the cross, and the only right time was the ninth hour. No other place or time would do.

Let me ask you today: Have you avoided doing something that you know you ought to do? Or are you finding the work tough and you’re thinking of putting the baton down? We can all sympathise. But why not celebrate Easter this year in a unique way by revisiting that Gethsemane moment again? To tell God that whatever the cost, you will obey. There was an angel of strength in the first Gethsemane and he is still there, waiting to strengthen all who come to utter their expensive “Nevertheless” to the Lord. God knows what it means. He said it Himself once.

JOY Magazine, March 2008

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